Once Upon A Time Defines Good And Evil With Baelfire Revelations
By Alex Cranz
Preceding the premiere of “Manhattan” many of the actors took to Twitter to talk about how it was their favorite episode since the pilot. And the love for the script, at least from Jennifer Morrison and Robert Carlyle, is palpable on-screen. They are clearly really excited to be playing something beyond “GREEN SCREEN REACTION”. Morrison in particular has had her character sidelined all season. Emma’s been there, but she’s been little more than a plot device disallowed to have emotions beyond what a script demands. She hasn’t been organic in quite a while and last night–last night she finally came roaring back.
This was the badass pragmatist bounty hunter who is horrified at the idea of responsibility or magic but desperately wants a family and a son and some measure of “happiness.” That woman who made a wish on a candle and then gave Regina a fragile smile as she explained it. I hadn’t even realized I’d missed this woman until she looked at Nealfire in horror and asked just how much of their affair was orchestrated for his father’s means. It’s really been that long since Emma’s been allowed to breathe as a character and I found myself wistful, because as fantastic as she was tonight you know the show will soon return to PLOT OVERDRIVE and she’ll go back to being whatever they require instead of the incredible character the show actually possesses.
But for now, how agonizing a day for Emma? Not just that brutal tackle, but finding out the one guy she’s ever really loved is magic too and abandoned her to “protect” her (a notion we know she abhors) and then having to tell Henry all about him while he and his father watch. It was a theft of agency, one that’s been experienced by a lot of the women on the show lately (Belle/Red/Regina), but watching Emma fight and scrap to preserve some small part of the life she’s carved out for herself with lies and love felt far more grounded. A domestic drama in the midst of a fantasy (much like the Emma/Henry/Regina triangle of season one).
Unlike those other woman Emma put herself in this position when she lied to Henry to begin with. She was trying to protect her son and give him a father that was good and noble and the perfect knight to populate his black and white world where any lie is as evil as a dark curse and a simple apology is enough to cure even a rift formed by uxoricide. Henry still clings to this idea of good and evil being divided so clearly. His mother lied to him and looked like a character in a book so he sought out a new mother who would better fit his worldview but she lied too and in his head that ranks her down there with an archetypal evil queen. What will happen when this third parent he smiles at so easily lets slip a lie of his own? Or actively works with his mothers to protect him from the greed of a grandfather who will always put his own life ahead of everyone else’s?
Its becoming clear that the dividing line between characters in Once Upon A Time isn’t one between Henry’s concept of quintessential good and evil but between altruism and selfishness. Emma, Snow and Charming aren’t “good,” they’re altruistic. Regina and Rumpel aren’t opaquely “evil” they’re survivalists who will damn any and all others for a chance at life. It’s almost necessary, at this point, to blur the lines of good and evil and make it about the tangible conflict of selflessness and selfishness because this show is bound and determined to make these villains characters we can root for even after they’ve murdered and mayhemed their ways to the present.
In those blurred lines we find the redemption and downfall of them. Rumpel is very much on a path to be a total loss, ignoring major emotional moments just so he can see his son and basically spending the present as an entitled jerk. Emma was selfish in hiding Neal’s existence from Henry (and vice versa in that fantastic bar scene) so Henry’s white knight has turned a bit gray. As has her perfect counterpart, Regina. Since Cora’s arrival in Storybrooke Regina has become chilly and standoffish and evil. She’s seemingly reverted because of a hug and undone a really fantastic half season of work.
But there are glimmers of that new Regina. There’s a flatness to her that strikes me as calculated and a melancholia bleeds through when she realizes Cora’s ultimate goal seems to be Rump’s dagger. Regina could actually be playing Cora and continuing on her path to being the mother she feels Henry deserves.
Let’s just hope that in her bid to be
selflessgood she doesn’t do something like sacrifice her life. She doesn’t ever need to be that good. Though it might change Henry’s perception of her, and give him a mother to root for. Ostensibly this episode was a “Gold-centric” one and the Pan’s Labyrinth flashbacks support that theory. Nevertheless Henry was the engine of the episode. Driving Regina in Storybrooke and driving all parties in Manhattan. And that’s where the show needs to be. These storybook characters are fascinating but this show’s biggest strength is in its exploration of the family a little boy is building from naiveté and hope.
- I actually REALLY like Neal. While I find the parallels between Emma and Regina kind of beautiful and their chemistry spectacular I also really like this regular guy who just happens to be the son of pure evil and I cannot WAIT until he and Regina meet. WHAT IF THEY BECOME FRIENDS?! OR WHAT IF THEY’RE SECRETLY SIBLINGS WHICH IS A POPULAR THEORY. Are you giddy? I am!
- Okay. So if I have this correctly Rumpel worked with Cora to turn Regina into an evil sociopath and then sought out a little baby to give her to raise so the savior would eventually show up and break the curse so he could leave, but he also sought out that baby because he needed a child to take him to his son and he has been planning, for as long as he knew Henry was a part of this fate, to murder Henry.
- That’s messed up man.
- Also messed? Rumbel offering to turn his son into a 14-year-old in a 30something’s body. WHY WOULD YOU THINK THAT WAS A GOOD PLAN?!
- Cora’s hair was fabulous.
- Remember when August opened his box and blew Neal’s mind and we didn’t get it and we all wondered what awesomeness was in the box? LET DOWN.
- Also Emma went to jail because of Pinocchio. LolololoL.
- This was the first episode in which I genuinely empathized with Henry. All these people talk about loving him but they all kind of objectify the little guy too.
- Snow and Charming. Charming being sad because he wanted to be the only grandpa and Snow thinking that the ridiculous family tree would actually mellow people out. Naive Snow and Charming I HAVE MISSED YOUR ADORABLE FACES.
- Ethan Embry saw Regina use magic which also explains why she was being all sassy and dancing doing that magic. So who the heck is he?
- Apparently Mila is a “bitch” in this episode. Sometimes I read people’s reactions to tv and want to leave Twitter forever.
- This was a very man heavy episode. Remember when this show passed the Bechdel test every week? It was one of the show’s most enchanting aspects. While I like Neal and Ethan Embry and Hook I could do with a little more lady bonding and a little less guys “protecting” dem ladies. Especially Emma. SHE NEEDS NOT YOUR LOVE SHE IS A TITANESS AMONG MEN.
- In Two Weeks: We learn if Regina’s been putting on and act and is secretly good and Hook somehow makes it to New York in his pirate outfit and stabs Gold and if we don’t see him making that journey I will RAGE.