I swear if I’m forced to watch Snow and Emma try to make it back home for twenty more episodes I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it.
The episode begins with a flashback to Red, Charming and Snow in battle mode, planning an attack in order to take back their palace from the Evil Queen. The scene is well done and I would have liked it if I could fully understand the purpose of it. Why are we still doing flashbacks? Why? Is anyone else getting confused about how all of the timelines intersect? How Mulan and Aurora’s present are running almost simultaneously with Snow and Charming’s? Yet in another world? Not a good way to start an episode where the main complaint for the show is that it brings up more questions rather than answering them.
The group is attacked before able to put their plan into motion and while on the way to safety Snow is grabbed by Lancelot. Yes, Lancelot of the Round Table. The showrunners really are aiming to inject as many popular characters from literary history as they possibly can into this show. Lancelot however, unlike canon stories, has disbanded from his Arthurian likelihood and has become a sell sword to the highest bidder. He brings Snow to King George where he bemoans to her the righteousness of Charming, the woes of young love and his wish to seek his revenge on all the wrong doings that have befallen him. He poisons her with a potion that will make her incapable of bearing children. This is a weak plot point considering we know fully well that she will in fact be able to have kids, her child being the main focal point of the entirety of the show. So this storyline is solely used as a reason to manipulate viewer’s emotions and force upon them a saccharine familial story arc, which will last only an hour.
Back in real time, but in the fairy tale world, we’re with Snow, Emma and Cora (Regina’s mother) in the prison they’ve been tossed into. Emma begins speaking to Cora before Snow pushes her away, telling her that Cora is evil and not to be trusted. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to believe Ginnifer Goodwin as Jennifer Morrison’s mother, but I dare say, she felt very motherly in the scene. It was a nice acting touch to see her stand in front of Emma, a very capable woman, with her arms outstretched ahead of her in protection, and to hear her speak with almost an authoritative voice. These are subtle things, but it was exceptional for a show that typically doesn’t rely on such things as subtlety.
Charming and Henry are used this episode to apparently address the importance of family. Sadly, Josh Dallas is only interesting when playing against actors he holds chemistry with and Henry is the biggest nuisance on the show. Let’s address the elephant in the room; Jared Gilmore is not a very likable child actor. I’ve held off from saying this in the past because of his age but the fact is he chews scenery like no other character on this show and the better episodes are the ones where he has as little screen time as possible. I understand his necessity to the storyline being the one to bring Emma into the picture in the first place, but his usefulness has run its course. Obviously he doesn’t need to be written off of the show, but his screen time could be lowered substantially and the showrunners would hear zero complaints. Give me more Red, Archie, Pinocchio (did we ever learn what he’s doing now?) The kid does nothing but inspire second hand embarrassment.
Snow and Charming’s flashback storyline is almost too pointless, since its predictability is rather absurd. When Charming reaches his mother’s home he realizes they’re about to be ambushed and ushers his mother to safety and faces the gang of soldiers on his own. The fight scenes have gotten much better since the beginning but I can’t help but still see the choreography of the scenes and the way it is shot is formulaic. I wish the scene could have held more grit and had more moments of suspense. Oh well. During the attack Charming’s mother is, unsurprisingly, shot by a stray arrow because seemingly Josh Dallas has a clause in his contract that requires him to cry in at least every other episode. Snow and a guilty Lancelot run to their aid and as a group they decide to go the magical lake from last season to heal his mother. Once at the lake his mother tricks Snow into being the one to drink the water instead, allowing her ability to bear children to be restored. As they say good bye to his mother, Snow asks Lancelot to perform a marriage ceremony for Charming and her as a sendoff. The storyline ends with Snow revealing that her child is going to be a girl. Surprise?
Emma and Snow’s storyline is infinitely more interesting, although I wish it wasn’t dragged down by Aurora and her thirst for revenge, because the storyline is old and used and not interesting at all. The three and Mulan travel back to Snow’s old palace in order to see if the wardrobe that acted as a portal to Storybrooke is still around. On the way they face Ogres and when Emma is pitted against one it’s sadly laughable. I have begun to be impressed with the show improving scenery shots and CGI, accepting that it will never be blockbuster budget level quality, and have enjoyed the wide expanse shots that display the world they’re in. The costume design is gorgeous and allows me to forget that the budget for this show is not enough to create a realistic looking Ogre. So the outcome of the design is cartoony and is so obviously a tennis ball on stick against a green screen with Jennifer Morrison gaping at it in fear, that it pulled me out of the episode.
No matter, the emotional depth that occurs when the band of awesome women enter the palace allows the failing of the ogre to fade. It’s beautifully done and there’s great emotional resonance putting the audience back into a set that we recognize and sticking an all grown up Emma in her old nursery after she never even spent a day in it as an infant. Snow begrudges their missed opportunity to grow as a family in the land, in the home, that they were meant to be in. Emma brushes the worry off in typical fashion, saying that they’re a family now and they need to get back to other half of it. The boring testosterone side of it.
Just as Emma and Snow are about to learn if the wardrobe works, Lancelot appears with a creepy grin on his face that just screams something is wrong. It turns out, in a plot twist that I really should have seen coming, that it was Cora all along disguised as Lancelot and that Lancelot has been dead for quite some time.
Am I the only one who after the screentime we had gotten with him, was excited to see how he could be incorporated into the show? I will never understand this show’s compulsive need to discard interesting characters before we’re ever allowed to witness depth. The brief stint with Lancelot highlights the problem. A Lancelot from the old tales gone rouge is ten times as interesting as a Princess Aurora who’s grieving and “angry.” I understand the focus on core characters such as Emma and Charming but the fact is they’re simply not as interesting as some of the side characters who carry the show. It’s why we need Regina and Rumpelstiltskin. I don’t understand, however, especially after this episode, why characters such as Jefferson/The Mad Hatter, played by Sebastian Stan, and Red, played by the highly magnetic actress Meghan Ory, are pushed into the sidelines as new characters such as Mulan, played by a wooden Jaime Chung, and Aurora, played dismally by Sarah Bolger, are being given so much screentime. Showrunners, zero in on your talent and please, exploit it.
The positive of this moment is that Cora is officially the new baddie. I’m assuming this will lead into the story arc of Regina being redeemed (or maybe it’s just my fruitless hope) and other characters beginning to realize where Regina’s anger and hatred stemmed from. Also, Cora is just a wonderful villain, lurking and weaving in and out of episodes. I must appreciate her addition to the side of the grey and murky alongside the likes of Regina and Mr.Gold, however with a much clearer purpose, she wants revenge on her daughter and that’s it and for this show that’s enough.
Emma sets fire to the wardrobe so that Cora can’t use it and saves Snow from Cora’s clutches. Cora disappears for now as Emma and co. prepare to head back to the island. Yes, they did say the island…. LOST, you guys, the brief comparisons are all over the place.
The wrap up of the episode has some of the strongest moments if we are to overlook Charming and Henry’s bonding moment. Emma and Snow share an emotional scene about what it means to put someone you love first. Emma set fire to the wardrobe in order to save Henry from Cora, even though it means destroying her way back to him. Snow put Emma in that wardrobe in order to save her so many years ago, despite it meaning she may never see her again. The sacrifices made for those who you hold closest to you heart are substantial and often filled with risk. Emma is lost and trying to come to terms with so many emotions and feelings of hope that she discarded long ago. Most of all, she’s wrapping her head around the care that Snow has for her and as she says “I’m not used to someone putting me first”. It’s a great step in the direction of their reconciliation, and it’s beautifully acted by Ginnifer Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison. Neither actress choses to overact and relies on subtle facial expressions and a chemistry that conveys a mother and daughter relationship no matter my previous misgivings over the believability.
The other reunion comes with Jefferson finally making himself known to his daughter Grace. He’s been purposefully not contacting her out of his guilt for abandoning her but after a conversation with Henry (of course) he reaches out. It’s a very short scene, too short, but when he steps out of his hiding space and calls out to her, and when she turns and her entire face lights up, it’s truly effective. Again, while feeling actually moved for one of the only moments in the episode I can’t help but lament the underutilization of Stan, one of the best talents the show has along with Robert Carlyle.
It may appear that my opinion of this episode isn’t very high, and that is true, but only for half. I really enjoyed at least fifty percent of the episode, the part that focused on Emma, Snow and co. It was the other half that consisted of Henry and Charming and Charming and Snow’s flashback that had be rolling my eyes and willing for the plot to move more often than not. The discrepancy between the storylines is clear. Snow and Emma’s was well acted, fast-paced and kept me thoroughly interested throughout. It combined every positive aspect of the show while the storyline with Henry and Charming combined all of the worst. The episode’s major issues was it insisting to force feed us an unnecessary storyline that led to zero payoff rather than being confident enough as writers to allow the focus on the plot of Emma and Snow to carry the episode.
Who else is stupidly excited for the introduction of Captain Hook next week?