It is the height of irony that Once Upon A Time can spin heartbreaking tales of familial love and super gay subtext love but that the show cannot, for the life of itself, write good straight up romance stories. Me. That’s the show’s bread and butter! When you first sit down to watch an episode you’re presented with a tiny FAQ explaining ships and pairings and what the hell “OTP” means. My mom forgets the show’s on every other week but you bet your ass she knows what Rumpbelle and Snowing are. Course, one of the reasons she watches only every other week is because the show insists on telling stories of straight people romancing each other and every damn one devolves into a cliff-notes version of a Disney romance with the depth of emotion my dog has for his nuts. (Spoiler: he’s neutered.) There is no struggle to be together beyond the physical struggles. Lovers don’t worry about how to make their relationships work, the flirters only rarely come off as flirty and everything’s assumed. There is no sublime push and pull–no sense of “will they or won’t they.” Somehow every romance on Once Upon a Time seems inorganic. Couples get smooshed together because it is ordained rather than because it springs up from the story and the interactions. Granted, sometimes the smooshing IS sexy as hell. Which is why Mulan and Aurora felt so fresh or Neal and Emma seem intriguing (despite the immense unlikability of the Neal character). There’s drama to be mined there that’s a far cry from the perfunctory sort of gen fanfic Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz provide most weeks. What’s worse is how all too often these romances are told either from the boring place of third person omniscience, or worse, from the point of view of the male characters. We are rarely allowed insight into how the women feel about these romances they are thrust into. Particularly egregious is the handling of Emma’s role in the Neal/Emma/Hook triangle. The romantic aspect is explored exclusively from Neal and Hook’s perspective. The camera lingers on them, and the other characters seek them out and demand their view points rather than Emma’s. And part of that does have to do with how private and anti-romance Emma actually is (there’s some more irony for you). The few times Mary Margaret or Regina have asked her how she feels she’s shut them down, but when its combined with the romance only being explore in the guys’ POV episodes its a recipe for a paternalistic misconception of what women desire from a love triangle story. We can spend all day tearing down the awful prose and narrative of Twilight, but at least that was actually from Bella’s point of view! She was allowed choices and allowed the chance to outline her feelings. Emma is left kissing Hook and leaving us and him to wonder if she did it to spite him or because she cares. We’re being forced to empathize with the guy, and personally, I get enough of that from every other movie, television show and video game. I’d rather not have it in my rare fabulous ladies’ show. Something Once Upon a Time actually can be. Just this week Regina, Emma and Mary Margaret worked together to get Henry a message and in the process explored the delicious knot of complicated feelings all three women have about one another and themselves. Their scenes were rife with history and every line seemed to have two meanings and seemed to strike each character differently. The high point being the moment Regina begged Emma to let her interrogate a Lost Boy. There Regina was embracing the theatricality of the Evil Queen while the wariness of the reformed villain she’s become weighed heavy on her shoulders, and Emma was the child desperate for her own mother’s approval, and the friend trying to comfort her best friend, and that “savior” knowing she had to get a little dirty to save her son and Mary Margaret was a victim watching her villain hurt another person, and a sister watching her sister (because Regina is absolutely not a maternal figure in Mary Margaret’s life) descend back into the darkness and a mother seeing her own daughter betray Mary Margaret’s own strongly held values. It was everything the show can be. To go from that scene to one where David hoisted the Captain Hook flag on his little fanboat and talked about how “rad” Hook is is maddening. Sheer quality and awfulness stapled together. The heart of the problem isn’t Hook himself (it would be disingenuous to hate his characterization when he’s just a slightly less evil and more male Regina), but the forced way they’re trying to ingratiate him to the rest of the cast–and all because he wants to get in Emma’s pants. She has very nice pants, and he has very nice pants, and if they worked together I’m sure a joining of those pants wouldn’t be so bad–but this episode felt like the writers were trying to convince us that Hook is a likable guy for Emma to get with rather than just letting him be a likable guy. And in their quest to make him likable but roguish they labored over ground they’ve tread before (he’s Regina remember) and made poor David look like the single biggest idiot on the show. “You want to bang my daughter!” “Absolutely not! This is all about helping my favorite sword fighting buddy live!” “You wanted to help me live! I am irresistibly drawn to your lips now!” “LOL. No homo mate. I definitely just wanted to bang your daughter.” And why? Because they can make two idiots wandering through the forest man hugging compelling, and they can make the most irritating kid on the planet’s slow descent into culthood interesting, and they can (and should) fashion a whole show around a stepmom, mom and daughter who are all the same age, but they cannot, for all the ratings of television, write good romance. If you’ve got an idea for a book they should read or a show they should watch to improve the romance aspect sound off in the comments! Notes Between Emma being the Chosen Uterus and Hook having to decide if she should know about her not-dead-ex this show is systematically removing all her agency and turning her into an object. Can we all stop shipping her with guys (Swan Queen and whatever she’s got with Ruby remains acceptable) and just start shipping her with agency? All aboard the good ship Swan Agency. Bonus? It sounds like she’s a spy! I did like the way she laid one on Hook because he annoyed her though. Jennifer Morrison always takes even the hammiest moments of a script and makes them something special. This thing between Hook and David is rapidly becoming as enticing as the thing between Emma and Regina. Bonus points because Mary Margaret has to be the odd woman out and that’s hysterical. Peter Pan is using Henry’s ego against him with all the talk of the chosen one and True Belief. In the process Henry is being treated like a character and the actor playing him seems to be improving at his craft. These are not bad things. Hook’s brother died in nearly the EXACT same manner as Regina’s boyfriend. They both thought they were awesome and then laughed in death’s face and got smote for it. This is why you never scratch yourself with potentially deadly thorns, and also why you never tell an evil sorceress you’re running away with her daughter who is engaged to the king. Colin O’Donoghue did some nice voice work at the end of the episode as he shifted from Lieutenant Killian Jones to Pirate Captain Killian Jones. His brother called him Leftenant, and that’s how I spent the entire episode calling his brother Ichabod. The sheer number of “mom” looks Regina and Emma shared was wonderful. They’re slowly forming into a parental unit that will be the scourge of Henry’s teenage years. Regina’s sass has been on another level all season, but her disgust at Snowing took the cake. A close second was her annoyance when Mary Margaret tried to explain to Emma what being evil felt like. It’s always lovely to see the show subtly pointing out Mary Margaret’s hypocritical nature through fan favorite Regina. That being said, I’m disappointed Regina didn’t have anything to say when Mary Margaret forced herself into Neverland’s first Facetime conversation. Grams totally pushing her sort of daughter in law out of the frame so she can say hi. GOD Grams if you’re not giving the kid money I guarantee you he doesn’t care. Bae spent the episode in a cage, we must presume either Gold or Tink spent the episode in the cage next to his. Next Week: The Little Mermaid arrives! And Regina is Ursula? But Jamaican? Expect to cringe. dcmc_fan Internet high-five for this review. This is everything I’m finding problematic with the show explained way more concisely than anything I could write. themoviegeekstrikesback Best review of this episode I’ve seen so far. ToWatchOrNotToWatch Very well put, covers most of my issues with the show! Hector A+ whatever wow, amazing review! Linden Why is it that American TV seems to hate giving agency to the female lead in nearly anything? “Darna” from the Philippines has a nearly all-female cast, many of the same tropes (Good mothers vs. evil mothers, lost children etc…), and a powerful superhero(ine?) that almost never needs rescuing. I’ve been watching “Beauty and the Beast:” and in the first few eps I could almost set my watch to the amount of time it took Kristen Kreuk to lose her gun, bust some purple belt moves and then finally need to be rescued by the Vincent character. But at least that show does have some romance, even if it is carried by a lot of talky dialogue. I agree with you an almost all points. Buffy/Angel and Buffy/Spike seemed more organic than most of these ‘ships and should perhaps be the model for Good/Evil bedfellows. David, Henry and Neal are all annoying. It is also amusing that a guyliner wearing villain is the manliest person the show. As for the POV complaints, Why would I watch a show with a number of cool women if don’t get a bit of a chance for some cross-gender identification? Seriously. It is why I watch shows like this, “Continuum” and “Lost Girl”. lilylulu I have to agree with you. It’s too bad they suck at romance and the irony is not lost on me. I like Hook and I love Emma. I just wish they had gone about it better. Although, I do feel she has the power in that relationship. Great article. carol Yep. Yep. And Yep. And a little Amen, Somebody.