The return (hee hee – get it?) of ABC’s fairytale show starts off the final batch of new episodes for the season, which means that we should be tearing it up en route to the finale, right?
Let’s bitch it out…From what I’ve gathered from comments here and elsewhere on the net, there are a core cast of characters that people like. They include: Snow/Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin), Prince Charming/David (Josh Dallas), and then Evil Queen/Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) to lesser degrees (your enjoyment of them may depend on your tolerance for eating the scenery or acting stupidly, respectively).*
*Characters people are less fond of? Henry (Jared Gilmore), who’s good only in small doses. Like radiation. Or cough syrup.
And then there’s Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold, the character(s) played by Robert Carlyle. It’s fairly unanimous across the board that the Rumpel episodes are great, not only because they are interesting and mysterious, but also because Carlyle is easily the best actor on the show.
So it’s exciting that the show’s first episode back after a brief hiatus is a Rumpel/Gold episode, right? Yes…and no.
Before anyone grabs a pitchfork or a torch, allow me to explain. Carlyle is great, as usual, and ‘The Return’ provides us with details that unfolded waaaay back in 1×08 ‘Desperate Souls’ (more on that in a moment). But what the episode also does is once again reinforce some of the problems in storytelling that the show has struggled with during its freshman season. I’m specifically referring to the idea of an end goal.
I’m not doubting that the writers – or tonight’s writer, the great Jane Espenson – have a plan of where the show is going for the remainder of the season, or even the series. But what they’re not doing is sharing any idea of that with viewers. If we consider where the show is going for the next three episodes, what can we say? Emma is taking on Regina, Mr. Gold has plans, Mary Margaret and David are working out their romantic issues? I’ve just described the plot for the better part of the first season!
Remember back when the whole “Kathyrn (Anastasia Griffith) is dead” storyline began in 1×14 ‘Dreamy’? I took the episode to task for overlooking the main storyline in favour to exploring yet another one-off doomed romance. The reason I was so frustrated is because the show finally had a genuine end goal and things were going somewhere! David was a suspect, then Mary Margaret, then they found the heart, then it was going to trial, etc. And while I’ll admit I wasn’t too excited for the show to become Law & Order: Fairytale, it seemed like a logical direction to go in (the final episode could even have Kathyrn reappear just before MM is sentenced!). But now, with Kathyrn’s reappearance, the show’s central direction is once again in limbo. Once again we find ourselves asking the question where is this headed?!
I’m not saying that the writers owe it to us to provide a road map, but at it stands, ‘The Return’ feels like yet another episode in which the main storyline (Rumpel and son) could have been explored at any time – now, earlier this season, later next season – and it would have still worked. And that’s frustrating as a viewer because it doesn’t feel like the show is evolving; it just wants to keep telling us who these people are without letting the world breathe. It’s as though the viewers are Storybrooke and we’re still stuck, waiting for Emma to get off her leather clad butt and kick-start the show.
Now, I’m not suggesting that I didn’t enjoy this particular episode. As I mentioned, a little bit of Robert Carlyle goes a long way to making this recapper happy, and Espenson concocted a nice follow-up to the story of him and his son, Baelfire (Dylan Schmid) after Rumpel first acquires his powers. Like all power, it corrupts and transforms him – not just physically, but mentally. So much so that he’s prone to killing people for the slightest infraction. Naturally this descent into evil frightens Baelfire, who calls upon the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy) for help. With the help of a vortex-inducing magic bean, father and son will be swept away to a land without magic, but – and who didn’t see this coming? – Rumpel chickens out, allowing Bael to go through without him. For this reason, Rumpel spends the rest of his time in Fairy Tale looking to initiate the curse and reunite with his son. In Storybrooke he believes that that is August (Eion Bailey), which automatically tells us that he isn’t (the key to Espenson episodes is believing the opposite of what’s obvious). The truth – or rather the lack thereof – comes out at the end when it’s revealed that August is looking for the Rumpelstiltskin dagger and that he’s dying. So unfortunately the majority of the questions about August and Baelfire remain unanswered, though we do get some answers about the driving force behind Gold.
- In by far the stupidest scene of the night, Emma erupts on Regina after poor disgraced newsman, Sidney (Giancarlo Esposito), confesses to holding Kathyrn hostage. 1) They just did this story of the Justified season finale (and much better FYI) and 2) Why is Emma so bloody stupid?! Why would you tell your arch nemesis, whom you describe as a sociopath, that you’re going to begin playing “a whole new game” in order to “take the one thing” she values most? The reason that Regina is so successful at this is because she doesn’t walk around Storybrooke blabbing about her plans to every Tom, Dick and Mary she sees. Take a cue from her book, Emma, and keep your damn trap shut!
- Nice to see Raphael Sbarge’s Archie show up for a few lines when Gold needs someone to speak to. I liked the scene, especially when Archie tells Gold that honesty is the only way to communicate with his son. Well played, and makes me realize just how poorly this show has used Sbarge, who’s really only had 1×05 ‘That Still Small Voice’ to shine.
- I liked the recurring gag that everyone who sees Gold coming believes that he’s collecting the rent. Reminds me of a Christmas Carol’s Ebeneezer Scrooge.
- David and MM continue to dance around their romance. After David creepily stalks his ex in the hospital (“I was going to kiss your forehead” = weird), MM whines about how the universe doesn’t want them together. It pains me to say this, but I am so off these two with all the BS that’s gone on. I can only do so many false starts and in the space of nineteen episodes, we’ve had about a dozen too many. Call me when you decide to commit…
And that’s our return. With only three episodes, what are your most pressing questions you want answered? Do you think that August is actually dying? Do you think that Emma needs to bone up on her Machiavellian reading for dummies because she clearly doesn’t understand how to strategize? Sound off below!
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8pm EST on ABC.