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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

ONCE UPON A TIME Beset By the "De Vil"

Article originally written for Seat42F.

ONCE UPON A TIME seeks to evoke “Sympathy for the De Vil” in this week’s installment on ABC. Through flashback, we see Cruella’s (Victoria Smurfit) evolution as a villain in yet another realm, and how she came by her powers. This unexpectedly influences the present, where Cruella has kidnapped Henry (Jared S. Gilmore), stalling Regina’s (Lana Parilla) attempt to go rescue Robin Hood, but furthering Gold’s (Robert Carlyle) mission to darken Emma’s (Jennifer Morrison) heart.

Cruella’s story mostly makes sense. Locked in the attic by her mother (Anna Galvin, Mr. Young), she is delighted to meet a young writer (Patrick Fischler) who just might be the one to set her free. What neither The Author nor viewers may see coming, though, is that Cruella is a demented villain, kept under control by her mother, who may seem harsh to us, but is actually protecting the world. This is realized too late, after The Author grants Cruella magic over the animals and Cruella slaughters her mother and her mother’s dogs.

What this does is paint Cruella as perhaps the least complicated bad guy on ONCE UPON A TIME. While others have turned dark because they’ve been unable to cope with outside events, many of them still having a chance at redemption, Cruella is nothing but a psychopath. Her whole mission is to get someone to kill The Author because, after the bad stuff went down, he removed her ability to kill anyone. She’s only slightly dangerous, but every bit unstable. This makes her an easy pawn for Gold to make use of Gold’s plan to turn Emma dark is an appropriately sneaky one that she doesn’t see coming. Letting Cruella kidnap Henry may be a risky move if Gold still cares about his grandson at all, an iffy prospect, but knowing Cruella can’t kill the boy surely brings him some comfort. When a child is involved, people tend to get irrational, and Emma will do anything she must to protect her son.

It’s too bad Emma separates from the others or she may have been fine. Her friendship with Regina in “Sympathy for the De Vil” has definitely progressed to a new, satisfying level. They are looking out for one another, and that’s even before they find out that Henry is in danger. Regina is the one most capable of pulling Emma back to the light, having earned her own goodness through much effort, and with Emma on the outs with her parents. This relationship must be protected.

Even Belle (Emilie de Ravin) trusts Regina these days, and considering Regina kept Belle locked up for years, that’s encouraging. Belle lets Regina take out her heart to distract Gold, which is putting a lot of faith in someone who hasn’t deserved it for very long. On the other hand, Belle has her own issues with Gold, and being allowed to mess with him and get a little emotional revenge may be enough to sway her to participate, concerns about Regina aside.

There are some glaring flaws in “Sympathy for the De Vil.” Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten) has worked with Cruella enough to know her powers, so why does she so easily allow Cruella to control her? Emma should not be turning so dark after one justifiable act, as others in the show may gain a hint of darkness this way, but never flip completely, so it seems completely out of character for Emma to do so. And Gold’s explanation about his dying heart is weak, still ignoring the arc that previously redeemed him. But, overall, this hour is better than most recent ones.

Oh, was anyone else sad that we didn’t at least see Archie concerned about Pongo? ONCE UPON A TIME just never gets it quite right, does it?

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

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