Review: Once Upon a Time - 'Smash the Mirror'
The Good
Everything else
2.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (11 Votes)

Jane Epenson, a producer and regular writer for Once Upon a Time, is fond of saying that when you’re studying to become a screenwriter it’s important to look at the bad as well as the good. The bad can teach us so much because we can see clearly the seams of the work and can easily be frustrated by what good could be wrought from simple changes. Isn’t it wonderful that Epenson’s co-workers agree with her sentiment and thus elect to give us two terrible hours of television that can be taught in screenwriting seminars for years to come.

Once Upon a Time likes to do frustrating episodes often–those that could be extraordinary with a little work, but “Smash the Mirror” takes the cake. It is bad. It’s a floppy and bloated mess that’s also petulant and naive. It’s watching an angry child play with their toys.

The Bloat

This is a two hour episode. Not to one hour episodes laced together, but one two hour episode. Yet it could have easily been a one hour episode. We get a long confession from Hook to a phone, a whole subplot about Henry’s storybook, multiple scenes between Anna and Elsa that reiterate the same thing again and again and at least two scenes between the Snow Queen and Gold that are virtually identical.

What’s awful is that normal super sized episodes of shows are tremendous, simply because you get more time with characters you love, but this episode wasn’t loaded with fluff! It was just clunky plot being revisited over and over again. By the end I felt like I’d been stuck in a traffic circle for two hours staring at the same three billboards. Two of which could have been killed off and nothing would have changed.

The Hook Problem

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. Hook loves Emma. Hook figures something out. Hook does not tell Emma. Hook is tortured by not telling Emma. Gold appears and mocks him. Hook growls. Hook sees Emma and pretends nothing happened.

Colin O’Donoghue is a good looking guy and he can, when pressed, act. But Hook has been stuck in the same traffic circle I was on for the entire season. Losing his heart to Gold was fascinating when it seemed like it might end in death, than possibly interesting when it seemed like he’d be brainwashed, then just awful when it became clear that he would know he was being controlled and would spend a few more episodes grimacing while Emma dances around him oblivious to his inner turmoil.

Either do something with his Harry Potter angst or off him or actually integrate him into the cast and give him wants and needs beyond “Emma’s Vagina.”

The Vagina Problem

I actually wrote that and felt a little cis-sexist. But Regina and Emma are both cis-women and Hook and Robin are both cis-dudes and they are obsessed with their girlfriends’ “V.” To the point that they’re doing awful things and being awful people to keep close to what the magic V brings them.

That’s crass.

But also true. Hook is repeatedly lying to Emma because he “knows better” like some paternalistic dude you opt to stop dating somewhere around the age of 18.

But Robin…Robin has gone full on “the worst.” Helping Regina and worrying about her quest for a happy ending versus trying to save his wife from the fridge the writers stuck her in. He’s becoming less and less appealing in the process–loosing that Knight in Shining Armor quality he had that originally made him so compelling for a reformed villain like Regina.

It can’t be a comment on how all fairytales are gray and Regina can only get her happy ending at the cost of others. While the show believe there are no trully good and evil characters it also firmly believes in happy endings–Regina getting her happy ending at such a gross and high cost is just counterintuitive.

The Regina Issue

Regina being snuggly with her boyfriend (when you ignore the circumstances) is awesome. Regina waltzing into Mary Margaret’s all angy and her tit out? Great. Her telling Henry he’s special and then head nuzzling the little goober? Actual perfection.

Her truth bombs? Middling–largely because she was only allowed to lay out the truths after everyone was an idiot.

Half the episode is spent doing plot gymnastics to keep Regina out of the main action and when it isn’t doing plot gymnastics it is just carefully ignoring how easily she would resolve the central crisis of Emma’s out of control magic. Just three episodes ago the two women bonded over their magic and agreed to help one another out. Ignoring it and Regina’s own experience with alienation and out of control powers is indefensible.

It is bad plotting and the show’s story editors should be ashamed.

The Good

I will likely harp on this episode for eternity because it turned me into my mother–all being disappointed with life choices and squandered potential. But there were good things too.

Every bonding moment Regina had–as pointless to the plot as they were–felt earned. That means the head nuzzling with Henry and her multiple conversations with Mary Margaret. Particularly the one where Mary Margaret reminds her that they’re fairytales in name only and are not all “good” or “evil.” It’s a statement that the show has often danced around and it was nice for them to finally say it out loud and to Regina, who should be hearing it the most.

Jennifer Morrison was, again, also very good stuck out in the woods in her queer girl allegory. While the allegory continues to be insulting for excluding actual queer people Morrison is exceptional showcasing that scared lost girl aspect of Emma.

Also as goofy as it was, her joy over her big gay rainbow fireworks was pretty great.

Also as goofy as it was, her joy over her big gay rainbow fireworks was pretty great.

Elizabeth Mitchell is good too and her every scene with Robert Carlyle crackles on screen. That’s probably why Regina has been kept out of the plot. If she, Mitchell and Carlyle all shared the screen the awesome and evil on display would be so powerful our televisions would explode.

Even the Frozen sisters aren’t grating this week. When the show isn’t slavishly reproducing the film but simply crossing it over with Once Upon a Time things work quite nicely. Particularly when they’re up against the troll mirror sadly kept out of the film. I’ll admit I was actually a little giddy when Anna was struck by a piece of the mirror. That’s some old school fairytale magic that’s sorely needed to counteract all the magic hat stuff, that no matter how ominous they make it sound is still the hat Mickey Mouse wears in Fantasia. Even turning it into a cornucopia light show won’t change that.

Next Episode

No notes this week because I’m pretty sure they’re all covered above. Instead get excited for the week after next when the mirror finally breaks after a two hour filler episode and everyone sees the worst part of themselves and others. Except for Regina who sees that anyways because her self-esteem lives in a toilet.

  • merwordup

    Emma is really too good for Hook. And by the way, may I point out that Hook made himself look like a victim when HE was the one to blackmail Rumple first, and indirectly threaten Belle again who has victimize over and over again? And I am surprise you didn’t bring up the fact that when Hook’s heart was taken, it looked bright red, with no black marks like he was on par with Snow. A man that spent hundreds of years getting women drunk to sleep with them, selling and murdering kids, in a span to months being a puppy dog or Emma, does not qualify for a redeem guy. Anyway, thank you so much Alex for being a voice of reason of Once Upon a Time. Just, thank you.