Sunday, December 21, 2014

ONCE UPON A TIME "Heroes" Threatened By "Villains"

Article originally written for Seat42F.

ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME wraps up its current Frozen arc in just a portion of this week’s mid-season finale, “Heroes and Villains.” The Arendelle trio return home through a portal, easily overthrow their conquers (off screen), and end with a blessed wedding (also off screen). It’s the fairy tale happy ending, one they deserve and it is satisfying to see them get. There’s even a portrait of Ingrid, The Snow Queen, shown in better times with her sisters, to add a bittersweet remembrance.

But while heroes have their dreams come true, villains do not. The rest of the hour is devoted to Rumple’s (Robert Carlyle) quest for power and Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) desire for a happy ending. It’s actually a pretty good episode, if one can finally bring themselves to accept Rumple as he is, rather than as he was. I’m not talking about Rumple developing into a different person through growth and natural story flow. He is instantly made completely different, and now the show is using revisionist history to ‘prove’ that he has always been this version, which doesn’t at all line up with the first two and a half years of the series. A mention of him changing while being under the Wicked Witch’s control is flimsy, at best, though that’s about the time the transformation happened.

I have come to the conclusion that Rumple’s devolution is made to serve Regina’s tale that villains don’t get a happy ending, but if only his shift were to be tied into the storybook, with an explanation that he got too close to a happy ending and so had to be re-written, then I could get on board. Sadly, it looks like that will not be the case and the show runners just want us to forget a rich, layered character who sacrificed himself for love. Bah humbug.

That being said, if you’re able to look past these inconsistencies and accept things as they now are, which has been a struggle to do but I’m getting there, “Heroes and Villains” provides a cool showdown. Actually, a couple of them. In flashback, we see Rumple face the Queens of Darkness, Ursula (Merrin Dungey, Alias), Cruella De Vil (Victoria Smurfit, Dracula), and the returning Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten, True Blood), demonstrating his true colors and his devotion to power. In the present, Belle (Emilie de Ravin) figures out that Rumple has been tricking her and banishes him from Storybrooke in the most moving scene of the finale, stripping him of his magic in the process.

Runner up for emotional scene goes to the moment Regina and Rumple share in the car, which is an excellent moment, though makes no sense to the story. I’d understand it if Rumple were trying to recruit her for his aforementioned villains team-up, but Belle hasn’t caught him yet at this point.

Rumple and Belle’s confrontation has been a long time coming. She has faith in him, faith that he has been abusing behind her back. She arrives at this conclusion very naturally, accidentally seeing something that raises her suspicion. Thank goodness she has the strength to stand up to him and kick him out, something Belle should be able to do, but not something I had faith that she would, given her inconsistent handling this year. The couple now appears back on track, story-wise, at least within the confines of the new Rumple character.

Now, Rumple is out in the world and is seeking Ursula’s help. One can surmise, given the flashback scenes, that Rumple learns that bad guys cannot win on ONCE UPON A TIME, but hopes that by teaming up with others, he might stand a chance against the mysterious Author, whom only Rumple seems to know. Though it is odd that Rumple tells Ursula they have two stops when we know Maleficent is under the library inside Storybrooke, a place Rumple can’t get to at present. And how did Ursula get outside the town to New York? Hmm. Will there be more story problems going forward?

A few hanging threads from this: Rumple does abandon his plans to take Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) with him, but that makes sense. Earlier, he is saving Henry from a town falling apart. Now, Henry’s mothers are still around and Rumple doesn’t need to save the boy. Secondly, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) forgives Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) for his misdeeds, but since she catches Rumple with Hook’s heart in his hand, she can be forgiven for assuming Hook only acts under Rumple’s control, which isn’t completely true, but close enough to reality to give ONCE UPON A TIME a pass on.

Regina’s story, as has been the case for many episodes now, is better in “Heroes and Villains” than Rumple’s. Robin Hood (Sean Maguire) chooses her over a re-awakened Marian (Christie Laing) and Marian doesn’t fight back. But the Snow Queen’s lingering curse forces Marian to leave Storybrooke to be cured, and Regina isn’t heartless enough to send Marian away without her son and, by extension, Robin, who cannot be separated from his child, leaving Regina alone again.

Luckily, while not having a romantic partner, Regina isn’t really alone. Henry is still set on helping the woman who raised him, and finds the Author’s library where he (or she) writes the stories. Emma also agrees to help, and for once, Regina seems happy to accept it. I think Regina is at a low point in “Heroes and Villains,” and having Henry and yes, even Emma, on her side helps relieve the pain a bit. People care about her, and thus she will be able to go on and love again, whether it be a returned Robin or someone else.

Though it is funny to think Emma, Snow’s (Ginnifer Goodwin) daughter, is buddies with Snow’s step-mother. The age differences and dynamics on this show are some of the weirdest on television.

“Heroes and Villains” is a pretty good episode of ONCE UPON A TIME, mostly consistent with the rest of the season, tying up the current stories and teasing out new ones. It doesn’t match all the previous years, but for the direction the show is going in now, it works well. I’ll miss the Frozen people, but their time naturally comes to an end, so I’m not complaining they’re gone.

ONCE UPON A TIME will return March 1st to ABC.

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