Thursday, March 19, 2015

ONCE UPON A TIME "Dragon" This Year

Article originally written for Seat42F.

ONCE UPON A TIME rarely fails to let fans down these days, and this week’s episode, “Enter the Dragon,” is no different. In the hour, Regina (Lana Parrilla) goes undercover with the Queens of Darkness, ditching her friends to do so. In flashback, we see her at the beginnings of her evil journey, hinting that her status as a spy may not last. Elsewhere, Rumple (Robert Carlyle) does one of his worst deeds yet, with absolutely no real remorse in sight.

The first thing the Queens do when Regina joins up with them is to test her, which has many flaws. They do this by parking on a train track and daring Regina not to save them. She waits until the last minute to do so, but in the end, she poofs them away. What did they want her to do? Save herself but not them? Die at the hands of the train? And why does Rumple tell them they may be able to trust her in the first place, having witnessed Regina’s growth arc before he is banished from town?

Despite Regina ‘failing’ the test by allowing them to live, Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten) decides to give her a second chance. This may seem strange at first, until we see young Regina help Mal get her groove back during the semi-traditional unfolding of the Sleepy Beauty fairy tale. Mal is defeated when Regina finds her, Regina still in the early days of her magic training. Because of Regina, Mal is able to put Aurora (Sarah Bolger) to sleep and win the day. It’s no wonder the dragon feels some degree of sympathy towards Regina, Maleficent being the least obviously evil of the three new villains, and the most kindred to the current Regina.

Regina is told that the Queens are after The Author in hopes of changing the game, letting all the villains have happy endings at the expense of the heroes, whose lives are ruined. This seems evil for evil’s sake, not something worthy of Maleficent, who usually acts with defined purpose. So either they are lying about their plan, a real possibility, or, as in many other ONCE UPON A TIME plots, the motivations shown don’t make sense.

The one bright spot from this story is that August (Eion Bailey) returns! Formerly a main character, August was turned back into the boy Pinocchio (Jakob Davies) and has no memory of his former life. August knows things about The Author, so Rumple restores him from the child, whom Regina kidnaps. Setting aside that the Queens aren’t suspicious of how long Regina takes to nab the kid and that Rumple used to be redeemed, so should have restored August back when this first happened if he had the power to do so, it’s really good to see the character return to ONCE UPON A TIME.

The way Rumple has reverted makes me worry for Regina. Rumple is an excellent character, the show’s best, for two and a half season before being completely scrapped in the past year in favor of a flat bad guy. Not long before Rumple was ruined, Regina began her own redemption journey, which has been fantastic, making her the best deep, consistent part on the show. “Enter the Dragon” teases that she may lose that, and while she could go evil again in a convincing plot, it’s much more likely ONCE UPON A TIME would ruin her character if they choose to go that route, as they have done Rumple’s, negating what he previous did. I really, really like the Regina who has struggled for her happy ending, and I want to see that continue.

Rumple has the worst story, in “Enter the Dragon,” though, taking on Hook’s (Colin O’Donoghue) to trick Belle (Emilie de Ravine) into giving up the dagger that controls him. He then goes back to Belle to ask about her relationship with Will Scarlet (Michael Socha). This is cruel and stupid, and if Rumple ever really loved Belle, he wouldn’t do it.

In short, despite some wonderful acting from Parrilla and Bauer van Straten, “Enter the Dragon” is another disappointment in a long series of them. I don’t know why ONCE UPON A TIME went downhill so much after the near-perfect Neverland half-season, but it seems viewers should have taken the warning of the uneven first few episodes of the show and never got invested. Now, those of us who have put in the time are waiting around for it to end, teased by the occasional good hour, and hoping against hope the overwhelming problems will be fixed, which isn’t likely to be the case.

ONCE UPON A TIME airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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