Previously on this series: good transitions, bad world-building, jarringly different styles of dialogue! This week we're skipping to what was, to us, the most interesting arc. Prepare yourselves for an infinity of scenery-chewing, because boy does Robert Carlyle enjoy him some fiber in his diet.
We start with... a spinning wheel! Just so we know it's a Gold/Rumpelstiltskin ep. And incidentally, at the time we heard a lot of complaining (and there still might be some except neither of us is actively trawling the fora anymore) about how Rumplestiltskin was in every fairy tale somewhere and taking over a number of roles. Which is true to the extent that Rumplestiltstitters seems to be the Golden Boy of both Once Fandom and the Once Writers. That said, the way in which they made him the Beast of the Beauty and the Beast story is smooth and competent, in line with the way his character has been developed and without too many overarching contrivances. We start with the setting, the Ogre Wars of legend, apparently there have been several of them and within the show we're not given a number for this one. We'll call it Ogre War Z, if we have to. Rumor has it that Rumple had been Rumpling for a few centuries at this point, so it definitely wasn't the first.
We start with a blatantly CGI castle on a blatantly CGI background, which might be intended to set the location as fairy tale land and thus Not Of Our World but, you guys, really. From the sweeping vista to the vista represented on the map, it's apparently a war table with a bunch of forces laid out. We can't tell who is who, but from the first soldier's words to the guy in the fancy robes and crown who we'll assume is a king, it's not going so well for what we're supposed to consider the home team. Let's just deconstruct these first moments here, shall we? First of all, the people we first meet are usually the home team, fair enough. They're all standing around looking grave instead of cackling over some poor sod's demise, also a good indication of who we're supposed to be rooting for here. But as with the last war council we murderboarded out of Once Upon A Time, this one has elements that just plain make no fucking sense. For one thing, everyone is in the rough equivalent of their dress blues. The King is in his ermine robes which, unless that's a very drafty castle (in which case Belle is incredibly cold), is a ridiculously ostentatious display of I'm-the-King-and-you're-not. A simple "your majesty" and a slight amount of braid/cord on his uniform where everyone else is wearing plain uniforms would have served to highlight him as the king, but no. Once has to go for the blatant and heavy-handed, because apparently viewers are morons. The king is in his ermine robe, the courtiers are in rich-looking dresses, there are maybe two or three people who aren't wearing extravagant clothing. Even the soldiers. And for a country in wartime with provinces falling here and there, conspicuous consumption is in poor taste at the very least and at worst what the fuck are they doing wearing their dress outfits? Belle could be excused because she probably doesn't have anything that's both simple and socially acceptable, except Belle herself is another contradiction. If her role is restrained because she's a woman rather than because she's a princess, as is implied later on in the episode, then what the hell is she doing at a war council? We're never given any sign that she's actually there to participate in the war council or even that she's there to make a show of participating, and we're also not given a sign that these people are holed up in this room because nowhere else is safe. Belle is there because they want a straight line from Dire War to Dire Deal to Belle Goes With Rumplestiltskin, and they haven't bothered to spackle it over with worldbuilding paste.
The last chunk I'll tear out of the first thirty seconds of the scene has less to do with this episode and more to do with the worldbuilding of Once Upon A Time in particular: for a show or a pair of showrunners who took the time to think, hey, having everyone going around saying 'oh my gods' would remind people that this is a different world, do we ever actually see any evidence of gods worship? We started the series off with a religious ceremony for crying out loud. One that looked like it was cribbing off the Catholics, so while that gives me all kinds of faces, you at least could build off that and into some kind of Trinity Gods theological structure or saints-as-gods or... no? Nothing? We're just going to have people running around saying 'oh my gods' because it sounds cool. Okay, then. If we explore the religious practices of FTL in season two, of course, I take it back, but as far as I can tell the bulk of the worldbuilding background elements in this show exist purely as surface glitter with no substance underneath. What makes this even more depressing is that the writer of this episode, Jane Espenson, previously worked on a show that did spend a considerable amount of time and thinkmeats developing the religious and cultural background of their characters, even if only half or less of that was shown on screen. So it's not like it never happens, or that the writers of Once (at least one of them) aren't capable of it. Apparently no one decided to shore up this show with some stout worldbuilding, is all. K&H, I am severely disappoint.
Ahem. Rant over, or, more in line with what we're doing here, rant on pause while we poke at what's going on in the scene. Did he really just say Avonlea has fallen? Really? Because that did make me giggle. So does Brockelbank's incredibly wooden delivery of "If only he had come," but not at all in the good way. I don't know the actor's work well enough to be able to tell if he can't act or if he's decided to phone it in or if the director went with the most wooden, banal delivery of that line he could find in the dailies specifically because Gaston is supposed to be wooden and banal. If that last one, kudos! It worked. We are duly bored and annoyed. We don't know who 'he' is but given all previous and previouslies and who we, 11 episodes in, now know that all of FTL turns to in a crisis, we can take a damn good guess. King LookAtMe shows some temper by snapping at Gaston for that, and there's another thing while I'm talking about Gaston, why exactly was Belle supposed to marry him again? Because daddy said so? We are never given any damn reason why they were engaged, and while we can presume it's because daddy said so because land/wealth/troops/power/food/squirrels, all it would take is a line reference to Gaston's family holdings to shore that dangling plot piece up a bit. Even a bit in Belle's later conversation with Rumple, he's nice enough, and his father's soldiers could have saved our borders or something. Anything. Please. Throw me a freaking bone, here. But no, King WhinesALot snaps at Gaston, we get a pan over yet more awkward CGI, and the king flings himself into a chair. Seriously, guys, make up your mind, either pristine glimmering obvious CGI sets or massive piles of debris, pick one and don't leave a couple of beams and some masonry in a pile on your shimmering computer-generated floor. It looks fucking stupid.
The line "ogres are not men" seems to be orphaned from some other conversation elsewhere because, really, what point was that trying to make? In and of itself I'm not saying it's a bad line, but it implies that there was a whole lot more of worldbuilding to this scene that didn't make it and left that poor little word-dropping as the only sign it existed. There follows some requisite scenery chewing about how we have to stop them, no, they're unstoppable, all tried and true lines that are neither fresh nor entirely stale; like the mythical Twinkies, such lines live forever. Belle tries to reassure King Jerkass, it doesn't work, and we have a series of dutiful cues, everyone lining up their dialogue and their sound effects like good little show folk. It's too late, followed by BANG on the door, followed by everyone looking at the door, followed by Rumple appearing behind them. It's neither bad nor good, merely competent.
(I'm going to continue to bitch about once again we get a ruined hallway that looks like it's straight out of a video game and no line references, scene or prop references, or anything to what happened to the rest of the fucking castle population. Ahem.)
Not only has Rumple teleported across the room, he's picked up a little Tower thingie on his way to flick around and play with as he talks. He must be a Very Important Person. It seems to have no significance as far as implying anything from its details, just being another of Rumple's odd, animal-based costumes. Something about Rumple offends Gaston, though. Maybe he took an unnatural dislike to his face? Because Gaston approaches with sword drawn, not the smartest thing to do to someone whose help you're seeking but Gaston is never portrayed as the brightest crayon in the box. He's also still too richly dressed for even a minor lordling in the middle of a war. He is, however, dressed exactly as you'd expect someone to dress who's done all his troop commanding from the comfort of his own castle. So maybe that's the commentary here? Rumple mocks the King, Gaston, and everyone with his delivery of the alleged message and the way he slaps down Gaston's sword, entirely unafraid of it or him. Belle is the only other person whose reaction we get, and while she sticks close to her father she seems more intrigued by this dangerous stranger than anything else. Also, presumably, intrigued by the promise of salvation that he brings, which puts her above all the other nobles in the room who seem to want something for nothing out of Rumple. Apparently despite him having been around a few centuries nobody understands how he works? Which is, I suppose, roughly on par with the sort of privileged "surely the rules don't apply to ME" attitude that you would expect out of these dunderheads. I still miss Belle's father the inventor who's a shitty parent through neglect because he actually cares about something else. At least I had some empathy for that. Rumple has a price! We have our surprised faces in jars. Rumple also has Jareth the Goblin King's wardrobe and some lampshades, which would account for the dim lighting around the castle. Guys? Why would you pay someone who makes gold IN GOLD? And now we know why King Stupidhead is losing this war, because he can't logic his way through basic cause and effect. At least we're never supposed to like him. There's some nice detailed touches with all the armed people (including the guard by the door) keeping one hand on their sword through this scene, though again, you guys, you're dealing with a teleporter. The only reason you're not all dead and/or Belle hasn't been simply kidnapped by Rumple as his price is because he wants the deal to at least have the appearance of willingness on all sides. And because he doesn't actually seem to enjoy killing people. He gets his kicks out of manipulating them into untenable decisions and watching them slowly realize the consequences of their actions instead! Because he is exactly that sort of bastard.
So, yes, of course he wants Belle. Why he really wants Belle we're never told explicitly, not by Rumple, though Belle's guess later on that he's lonely is probably a safe bet. What made him fixate on this kingdom and what triggered him to want company now is, again, never actually specified. If I were feeling sufficiently masochistic and had the free time I might skip around to just this plotline to catch up and see about some of those unanswered questions, but shockingly, neither of these things is true. It's telling that Gaston and Belle's father are pretty much moving her around like a set piece during this whole thing; she doesn't resist, which is a good sign she's used to it, but she does crane her head around to keep her eyes on Rumple. Because he's both the most interesting and the most dangerous thing in the room. Smart girl. I'm not sure if the callback to Princess Bride is deliberate here, with the talk about "not looking for love" followed up with "as you wish" when he calls the king's bluff, but given Espenson I'm not betting against it. Belle, unable to contend physically, will make her deal verbally. Which Rumple can then uphold! Because words have power. It's a far more subtle iteration of words having power than we've gotten up to now, and this is a theme throughout Rumple/Gold's arcs in general but especially in this ep. You can just about see him counting the steps before Belle interjects to make her deal, with that self-satisfied smirk. (Jackass.) Gaston, the blockhead, is too startled by this to try and stop her and probably thinks himself too chivalrous to actually clap a hand over her mouth. There's some pretty clunky dialogue here, especially for Belle, which Emilie de Ravin does her best with, but "nobody decides my fate but me" is just... really, you guys? REALLY? That sells better as a dramatic line when we've had more stock to put in the danger involved. Speaking of which, we never do get a good sense of the Ogre Wars: how they started, why they continue, if they want anything other than being evil for the sake of evil. The ogres being under Regina's or Cora's or Maleficent's control (or, at this point, even Rumple's, since ogres mean more deals), some combination thereof, any of that would make sense, but throughout first season they're this massive plot device that has no explanation. To say nothing of the slipshod timeline. Anyway. Clunky dialogue, decent delivery for what it is, Rumple titters and giggles throughout the deal-making and if that's not cause to smack his manipulative ass I don't know what is. Carlyle does a good job at chewing the scenery but we don't actually need as much of the "I'm pretending to be evil and insane so nobody questions my HORRIBLE LONELINESS AND ANGST" as we get. And then we get the requisite lampshade calling Rumple a beast, which, sigh. I guess they couldn't resist throwing that in, but sometimes I promise less is more. Which could really be our mantra for this show. Gaston and King Dunderhead spend some time protesting, but a deal has already been struck. Notably, Belle is just polite to Gaston, almost as an afterthought; it's her father she cares about leaving. Rumple is again more of an ass than he needs to be and then we see the nobles standing around being useless and horrorstruck. Like they do.
We transition back to Our World, then, and again those are good transitions and again the modern dialogue is so much better. I know it's harder than it sounds to write decent archaic/fantasy style dialogue, but since they knew based on their concept they would NEED THAT, maybe it would have been worth investing some time in finding people for the writing staff who had done that well and consistently on other shows? No? Just me? Okay then. In Our World, Belle's father is a florist with a truck! Which is actually kind of a nice little jab at Gaston-the-rose later. I wish we'd seen anything at all of Gold's enforcer-muscle dude ever before or ever after, but alas, he seems to show up for this scene and never again. That is a very loud tie-and-shirt combination, too, I just want to note. Wow. And Gold totally arranged for the loan to come due on February 13th on purpose, because it was a convenient way to get some back at French. Especially since, given the outside confirmation that he's only recently remembered all of his life in FTL? We can safely assume he's spent the last few months setting up for revenge on... oh, everyone. So, yes, French loses his florist's van, and Gold is at least satisfied. I think it would be a far stretch to call him happy at any point in this show. Regina watches the display and I am deeply curious to know what she wanted to bring up with him. I assume it related to their past in some way, but whether that was Belle or Gold's current interactions with the town or something else, we sadly never learn. This is a heavily nuanced scene, with Regina trying to assert her authority over Gold and Gold saying, in essence, fuck you. Which is very much how that 'please' comes across, and he keeps doing it that way she's not even going to need the confirmation she gets at the end of the ep. Especially the suspicious look she has on her face as he walks away. Sigh. There's a great deal of animosity and layers in here, and despite my issues with their pacing and chronology this is a good example of foreshadowing both future events and backstory that we don't yet know. Unfortunately, this scene sets some of the tone for the ep inasmuch as this should have been at LEAST two episodes. There was a lot to unpack here, and they shortchanged a great deal on plot and characterization rather than giving us the actual meaty bits, or context for the meaty bits, which is just as important. It's very jarring to go between different writers and have absolutely no substance in certain plotlines and so much substance in others that we feel like we're on a teeter-totter instead of a rollercoaster.
Speaking of no substance! We follow Ruby around with the camera for scene setting, and I will say that for all that she dresses in a highly sexual manner we're never given reason to fault her for it. It makes her an outcast/outsider in the town to some extent, but that's on the town rather than on her. Hey look, it's the storyline I hate most out of this entire fucking show. I realize that happy endings and memories have been taken away, but we're still, somehow, supposed to root for David and Mary Margaret to realize their Twu Wuv; it's implied consistently (though this is misleading) that this is what will break the curse over Storybrooke, and we spend a whole lot of time as a result on characters being shitheads. There's a scene later in this ep where we get to cheer for MM having a shred of common decency and sense, at least, though from my recollections that doesn't last too long. Mostly because David's an ass. Now, I realize that these two were the focus of Regina's curse in a lot of respects, but everyone else in town retains some degree of their original personality and capabilities. Except these two, who are painful to watch, painful to follow the inevitable suck of an adultery-focused storyline, and in conclusion, writers, there were at least half a dozen different ways you could have gone with this. And they picked none of them. There's a difference between making a couple earn their happy ending and tearing them down so they become funhouse mirrors, flavor asshole, of the characters they started out as. You can make the one happen without the other. I'm just saying. We're not even touching how it would be as simple as telling Kathryn that he wants the divorce back on for David to be not cheating. Because that would take away from The Drama of it all, because they couldn't do one of them is unsure about the suddenness of the feelings or David has side effects from being in a coma for umpteen years or Mary Margaret has reservations about being in a relationship with a man with potentially compromised by coma and divorce judgment or... you get the idea. And apparently no one writing the overarching plotline knows how to inject drama without making their characters idiots, jackasses, or both. Or something.
Luckily, Emma comes in to interrupt their making calfs'-eyes at each other. Regina's recently declared that Henry and Emma can't see each other anymore; I forget the exact circumstances under which this occurs but it was obviously going to happen, pretty much from the pilot. Because Regina knows no other way to deal with her abandonment issues than to force abandonment on someone else and cling harder to the thing she's afraid of losing. She pretty much exemplifies not being able to set the thing you love free. Emma's checking on Mary Margaret! Really! Who sees through her clever ruse right away, and I do at least appreciate a lot of this relationship, and the ways in which MM takes care of Emma (or tries to) despite having no idea that this is her daughter. Likewise, the ways in which Emma ends up spending a lot of easily-justified time around Mary Margaret, because even if she doesn't believe Henry's stories yet she really, really wants a mother. We get a gag-inducing line about if two people are meant to be together they'll find a way, and then MM sticks her foot in it by assuring Emma that Henry's fine and his normal happy self. Leaving aside that we haven't seen much of a normal-happy-Henry on account of he would like this stupid curse lifted now please and why are all you grownups evil or stupid (or both; are we noticing a theme here? I thought we were!), this is pretty painful to watch. Emma wants him to be happy but she also has masses of abandonment issues, so not too happy. MM assures her that Henry does miss her, but she only sees him for six hours a day, and hi Ashley! Who would just love six hours off. I bet. She pulls up a chair which blocks David and MM's view of each other, and we get a bunch of craning around and smiling and making eye contact. Guys, you are the least subtle people ever to have an affair. EVER. Ashley is about as tired and dragging and cranky about life as you would expect, given a boyfriend working all the time and a baby she never gets a break from. Probably literally never, since wosshisface of blandness is working double shifts and thus has no energy to spare for housework or baby. At any rate, everyone's going to be alone on Valentine's Day tomorrow, and Ruby points out that they could all come out with her and do a girls' night out! I would appreciate this as more of a Bechdel pass, which is one of the ways I got sucked into this show in the first place, if the motivation here had anything to do with something that wasn't men. Say, if they were all going out to get to know Emma? Or something. Anything. Emma doesn't want to be got to known, anyway, and hey look, here's a convenient interruption in the form of a call from the station!
My, Regina, it didn't take you long to set that up and nudge French into making an utter mess of Gold's home at all. I will be over here giggling about how Gold's house is painted pink on the outside. I'm sure he appreciates that. It does look a little bit like a faded version of the castle interior we see in this ep, though, so I'll give them points for consistency there, especially since that's a big fuckoff house which doesn't quite have towers but manages to give that impression nonetheless. Well played, set designer! The door is ajar but nothing in the front hall is obviously out of place, good shorthand for Something Is Wrong And Maybe There's An Intruder, and I was tooling right along with this scene? And then I realized that it doesn't look like Gold opens anything to get that gun out. No, it's just lying around. It's possible that's a bad editing cut on someone's part, because if it's just lying around then I'm judging Gold for shitty handgun safety, French for not taking it for self-defense as a result of burglarizing the place, and Emma for not doing her goddamn duty as a cop. I'm going to go with bad editing for the sake of my sanity, especially since in the shot previous it looks like he might have already had a gun in his hand. Also, and this is mostly personal preference on character writing, but it would make a great deal more sense for him to be carrying at least since the day all his memories slammed into his head at freight train speed. Anyway, we move into the living room and because this is a three-shot series of recaplyses instead of an examination of every minute detail, I will pass over most of this by saying that yes, these are his trophies, yes, we've seen a number of them in the FTL scenes and yes, we can safely expect those we haven't seen in FTL to show up yet. (I still blame Monroe for the cello. Seriously, when we were watching both these shows together there was capslock of WHAT IS WITH CELLOS AND FAIRY TALE SHOWS THESE DAYS.) Ditto Gold's pawnshop, which I don't believe we see at all this episode (for very good reason, this is about his private self and life rather than his public facade in Storybrooke), but the strong implication is that his most prized trophies/possessions are kept at his house where they're safest. Emma shows up and we have a bit of a standoff with guns, which is nicely acted. Morrison definitely seems capable of acting up to the skill level of whoever she's in a scene with, and/or is at her best when given solid material and direction. Gold has a lot of facial tension in this bit, both over trying not to shoot an officer of the law (and his eventual salvation from the curse) and over the robbery. He's just been poked hard in his memories of Belle, and whatever his feelings for her were or weren't (as we'll soon see, they were far from unambiguous in their portrayal) this hurts. A lot. So, then, Emma makes a snide comment about his being robbed again (remembering Ashley with the candlestick, was it? I remember it being like a game of Clue) and Gold makes one of those far-too-revealing comments back about being a hard man to love. Aheh. Aheheheh. If Emma were the sort of person to pick up on that and run with it, she'd be narrowing her eyes at him for more than one reason and planning how to worm inside his shell. Whether or not she believes Henry's stories, Gold is clearly one of the keys to Storybrooke, and she would do well to learn all she can about him. Unfortunately for us, she's not the kind of person to call someone on revealing that much of themselves and just how badly they've been hurt.
We flip back to the one who did love him! I question what kind of a love this all qualified as, but we'll get there. It was a real love, and that's what matters. The CGI is showing on this, though not as badly as it shows on the vistas. We get to twitch over the puppets by the spinning wheel thank you guys EVER so much for that, and then Rumple tosses Belle into the dungeon. This, again, is a pretty good scene; it tells us that Rumple is inclined to fuck around with her in isolation for awhile before he lets her out to do any actual caretaking, and that whatever Belle expected it wasn't this. Which reveals at least partially the extent to which she's been sheltered, 'cause believe you me I would expect that kind of bullshit if I knew the first thing about Rumpelstillajackass. Anyway, we get worse CGI after the ad break that shows us the castle nestled in snowy mountains, which is certainly not a commentary on Rumple's frozen heart or anything. At all. They would never. AUGH THE JIMINY'S PARENTS PUPPETS AGAIN seriously, fuck you guys. We get a nice long litany of her chores, ending in what he calls a quip and I call being an asshat and the writers call a plot anvil. His look of puzzled near-disgust in response to Belle is entertaining; most likely he thinks her smiling and keeping up the conversation is bravado. Which part of it is, clearly, but it's also bravado from a real place of strength, which isn't something he's run into before. She's also truly afraid of his reaction to a chipped cup, since he's shown himself to be unpredictable and capable of violence in speech if not in action taken against her, which is a perfectly valid concern. Overall, this scene has decent dialogue delivered from good actors; it could be smoother and more meaningful but the performances are superb.
Emma has to yank a statement out of Gold, because he's an annoying closemouthed bastard even when he's showing fang. We get some very nice continuity and growth in character interactions, seeing Emma's antagonistic stance toward Gold as developed from the pilot. She's got reason and experience backing up her instinctive dislike of him from the pilot (which, though brief, was there) and she's got a pretty good idea of how to smack him into at least a modicum of compliance. What is lacking is any real empathy on either side, due in no small part to the fact that Emma doesn't believe the truth. There's a really, really nice eyeflicker from Carlyle on "indeed not" in response to Emma threatening him with jail time, which I'm sure brings back all the memories of being locked up in the dungeons in Snow and Charming's castle. Chosen captivity or not, I expect that grated. We get Moe French's first name, Emma goes off to do her sheriffly duty, and Gold delivers a not-if-I-see-him-first speech which is all the more menacing for being understated. The coup de grace of this scene is the line about bad things happening to bad people being an observation; we know and Gold knows that it's an observation about himself as much or more than one about French and any of Gold's other enemies. It sails right over Emma's head, though.
We have a lot of transitions between Our World and FTL coming on doors opening or closing this ep; I'm not inclined to go back and look just now but that's a definite trend with Gold|Rumple, that he believes a metaphorical door, once closed, can never be reopened. Because he's that kind of a moron. Um. I pause here to stare and inquire as to if Gold has the fucking golden fleece in his castle, because a) AHAHAHAHAHA and b) really? seriously? Belle's trying to get some light in the place and hey, costume reversal! This is a nice visual touch, since they're playing off the Disney so strongly: from the gold dress of Belle being comfortable in the castle as a princess to the blue dress of Belle being comfortable and relaxed and a peasant who can do as she please. She follows him around a lot, less to follow him like a puppy it seems like and more to watch him and, almost, intrude on his space, which he's not used to because he's usually the one intruding on others' space. Only she does it with much less malice than he does. He uses a very, very blatant dodge to get out of answering any questions about what he wants to forget (Bael, of course, and probably also his wife, and anything attached to who he was before he gained the Dark One's powers), and I have all the facepalm. This is one of those things where I wish they could decide what characterization they're going for with Belle, because we get flashes of a side of her that would call him out directly on that kind of a dodge. Certainly she wouldn't be laughing and ducking her head, but that's, of course, the childlike and unsure side of Belle. Again, this would be better done if it weren't so compressed and we had time for Belle's characterization to expand and breathe a little; we don't even get a good sense of how much time passes in FTL over the course of this ep. The setup for this scene is very cliched romance trope, but it's well-executed, at least: let's get some daylight in here oh look falling but wait he'll catch her! Subtle it is not, well-acted it is. Belle doesn't react when he gets in her space with anything other than amused/tolerant affection, either, which is not his usual reaction. Granted this has something to do with the part where he's just saved her from probably broken bones, but he also hasn't allowed himself to be in a position to touch/be near anyone with benevolent intentions in a long, long time. And he's finding he likes it, and that terrifies him. Not enough, though, to let Belle put the curtains back, and the chirping birds and music would like us to know that this is Romantic and Significant and Awww Aren't They Sweet.
Well. I guess they were, for a little while, until Regina stuck her fingers in things. We transition back with the wave of a tablecloth - a nice if slightly overblown magician's gesture from Emma - to reveal much of Gold's trophies sitting on a desk at the station. All of it fine china, fine fabrics, fine trinkets made of silver and the like. Exactly what you would expect out of Gold's treasure chest, and I wonder how much of the items taken were things that spoke to Moe's suppressed memories of who he used to be, given that. And then we get into some really bizarre police work. Emma knows Moe's the one who stole from Gold. Emma also was there for Gold to express violent or at least malevolent intent toward Moe French. We, of course, know that what Gold really wants is the cup back, and he's rattled enough to show how much that means to him, etc. Why the fuck has Emma decided it's a good idea to try and mollify Gold with his stuff rather than the perpetrator? She's not that stupid about people; she should know that he's just going to get pissier and pissier about needing to punish the man who stole from him. She's had long enough around Gold to have a pretty good idea of his reactions, even if they're taken to extremes right now because of the specific circumstances. Dragging Gold down to the station to show him what's been recovered serves no good purpose, from a Watsonian standpoint. If they needed an Our World scene here, they could easily have shown Emma actually committing police work instead of merely showing us the fruits of her labors. While I realize that the focus of the show is not the procedural, it would be nice to see Emma in action doing things that she is legally and professionally supposed to be doing, instead of breaking the rules when she's annoyed by them. Especially here, since her previous job did require her to specialize in finding people and bringing them back.
Grumbling aside, yay! More Belle and Rumple. We have the tea set, the cup which we're at least visually led to believe is the only one he'll drink out of at this point, and he's pouring for himself. It's not clear if Belle was doing any chores or simply following him around as she's been seen to do previously, and judging by the melted CGI snow on the CGI mountains (seriously, you guys need better sets, I know TV has less money than movies but you ought to be able to be creative with your shots to improve the damn CGI, it's very distracting) time has progressed. Belle's comfortable enough at this point to ask some very direct questions and make some very astute observations about why Rumple wanted her here. Because yes, of course he's lonely, and it's telling that the only dodge he can make to "any man would be" is "I'm not a man." Oh honey. That's painful, and you haven't had anyone to engage in wordplay with who can even begin to keep up with you, and it shows. We get a line reference about the passage of time, too! Because for Espenson these things aren't poisonous! Thank god. A couple of months, all right, that's a decent chunk of time; my main issue at this point is that this ep has too much stuff in it. The pacing is off and I would almost bet that this was supposed to be spread out over two or three eps but got cut down. (Personally, if I were going to do the slow build thing that they wanted to do? I would've had Emma believe in the curse by the end of s1, but save her actually breaking it for mid-s2, and then allow everyone to run around setting up whatever the current s2 plot is in the back half. But then I have this notion about how one engages with characters and does proper world-building.) Digression over, back to Belle poking Rumple in the soft places about his son. It's also a measure of how far they've progressed from master and servant that he doesn't brush her off and is instead all but on the verge of tears at the mention of Bael. Again, this would be better served by having another intermediary scene as they get used to each other and breaking the ep into two. There's a lot of that going on as we get deeper into the episode. Carlyle's gold makeup is a bit patchy as we get a glimpse of upper chest under that shirt there, heh, though I can well believe that's a pain in the ass to keep on. There's also a lot of small gestures and microexpressions as Belle pushes about getting to know Rumple if he's the only person she'll ever see again; he's looking at the cup, fingering the chip in it, and his expression's just a little bit softer while also going to the thousand yard stare. And she's giving him an out from talking about his son, and I think she knows it. Especially by her reaction when he accuses her of just wanting to know his weaknesses, fond exasperation. She has, at some point, decided that he's not going to hurt her physically, regardless of his inclinations toward others. She's also leapt to the exact wrong conclusion about the mirrors, and it would be very useful if Rumple came back from the interruption and told her why. Moron. Naturally, he hasn't gotten as far as trusting her with that, only as far as wishing he could trust her.
I will now pause to cackle wildly over the ways in which the rose and Gaston and the old woman selling flowers all tie neatly back into the Disney story. This is GREAT writing, and good acting, even passable from blockhead Gaston for the whole half line he gets out. This one scene made us willing to keep watching Once for awhile longer even when we knew we loathed a lot of the other storylines. It's dark and creepy and all the things I wish the show had done more of. Bonus points for the bow-and-curtsey bit where we're smiling at the cute even though we know better. (I must admit, we wondered for a long time if we'd see a paralyzed or amputee Gaston in Our World as a result of this scene, and if so how poorly they'd play disability for laughs.) We know, of course, though Belle doesn't, why Rumple is suddenly curious about her previous life, since it just tried to intrude. It's a nice bit of manipulation that he works his way around to Gaston as the last thing, and a standard bit of writing to leave the most important/immediate item for last, though I rather wish that Belle had gotten suspicious off of that ploy. (It would also be nice if the bit with Gaston was played for true horror and not a momentary shudder, because it is truly horrific.) She's far too close to being in love with Rumple at this point (or already in love with him, it's never quite clear where that line was crossed) to think he would do such things, and that really is where their love story ends in tragedy. If Belle could have acknowledged that she loves a person who does horrible things and is monstrous in many ways, and been willing to either accept that in herself or try and make him change... but she turns into the epitome of love-is-blind instead. (And then, we hear, into the epitome of the doormat due to abuse. AWESOME. No, wait, the other thing. Definitely the other thing.) I'm mildly annoyed at Standard Fantasy World Is Always Misogynistic, but Belle's life would have been fairly restrained on account of being royalty, and we've seen her spout fairly sheltered idiocies from a life of privilege before now. I find it interesting that she calls it saving her village rather than her kingdom and, once again, will be over here chewing the CGI and muttering about how their world-building is pasted on yay. We could have done with a line reference in the beginning (possibly from Rumple) that indicated how this was just a village and aren't they cute puffing themselves up like real royalty and no wonder they're being overrun. SOMETHING. But no. I will be distracted from my ranting, however, because I love that he's got a crown just sitting gathering dust on a shelf. And that's a nice callback with the clock and candelabra next to each other. Belle goes on about how she feels about her act of bravery and gets grilled about Gaston, her arranged marriage, and ends up giving away the homeworld when she talks about her personal definition of love. Oh honey. Rumple has this bemused look on his face about how innocent and sweet and everything he's not allowed to have or touch or be near she is, oh both of you quit it already. Which he will! Right when Belle tries to pull the I gave a lot now you give something in return card, which would work better if they were on truly equal footing instead of a parody of it. Rumple's deals never get him anywhere good, even the ones he throws out as a defense mechanism. Which, it's the only one he's got anymore, almost, and that's sad. Frankly, if it hadn't been for Regina, I daresay Belle would have come back and they would have continued the slow build, because that's her kind of stubborn. But we'll never know for sure.
From quietude in oh so many senses of the word over to frenetic and noisy, the girls are doing shots! And by the girls I mean Ruby and Ashley, and Mary Margaret's taking the slow sensible way out of drinking something red in a martini glass that might not even have alcohol in it. I'm not sure how we're supposed to interpret that the other two girls have something red and Ruby has a martini glass of something clear with an olive, but I think the implication is that she's drinking more of boozahol than they are. She's certainly implied to be more used to it! And doing shots on top of martinis is a great way to get really fucking drunk very quickly if you're not used to it. Which Ashley probably isn't. Which gives all kinds of implications about how this evening is supposed to go, just off the top of my head, either Ashley's finding an escape in rampant binge drinking or Ruby's ignorant of or ignoring her friend's alcohol tolerance (in which case I'd put a 'supposed' before that friend) or Ashley herself has no idea what her alcohol tolerance really is, or she really has been consuming that much boozamahol or, well, you get the idea. Basically, there's a lot of alcohol on the table, Ashley and Ruby are implied to be drinking most of it, and I think this is less a commentary on the girls and more that the set designer or props wanted a lot of glasses with colorful liquids to catch our eye. Which is okay as far as that goes, but I wish they'd given it just a little bit of thought to take it a little bit farther, because, again, the Ruby-Ashley-Mary Margaret dynamic is a fascinating one we'd like to explore! Outside of the context of everyone's love lives! Seriously! Anyone? Please?
No, of course not, because right after Ashley downs her second shot that we've seen her do, the first words out of Ruby's lips are "check out those guys." And I know we were supposed to get the impression that Ruby likes flirting and probably sex right from her introduction and Granny's comment about sleeping her way down the Eastern Seaboard but really? That's it, that's all the characterization we get on Ruby for episodes and episodes, she works in Granny's restaurant and hurr durr she likes to have sex? Come on. This is one place, unlike the time spent with Belle and Rumple, where a line reference or three would do a world of good, even one or two an episode. But no. All Ruby is allowed to talk about right now is booze and boys, who she is now off to join with her martini in her hand. And for as many options as we have for Ashley to compare the reality of her situation with the idea of it, for example, being an adult, being a partner in a relationship, being on her own without her family, even the girl's night out, her comment is only that she thought love would be different. And by love, of course, we mean romantic love, because Once Upon A Time is all about the One True Loves. You only get one true love in your life, and if you fuck that up, you're doomed. Or something. It's somewhere around as offensive as the idea that birth parents are best and you should always find your way back to them. Even if the birth parents are no prize themselves, vis a vis, Cora or from what we hear of Baelfire's mother or Belle's father, they're your parents and you're supposed to love them. And hey, speaking of parents, the way Ashley's talking sounds like she could be in for some serious either post-partum depression or young mother resentment of the burden of her child, but do we get any follow through on that either? No, no we do not, because it's all about her relationship with her love, not about the relationship with her child. That was her last episode. So, again, we have Once presenting a whole lot of very intriguing possibilities, seemingly without knowing it because they then turn around and offer the same storylines, the same small number of points outlined in twenty foot glowing neon letters, and nothing else. You guys, we got the theme already, we got it. You don't need to be so obvious and you do need to have more substance shoring up your big theme parks. Plots. That there.
Ahem. Rant over, because all we have left is Mary Margaret empathizing with Ashley about how love was supposed to be different. Really? Just love? Not marriage, relationships, dating, boyfriends, why do I bother. Over to the man in Mary Margaret's life, although calling him a man seems like high praise right now. He's in a convenience store, not even a stationery store (does Storybrooke even have stationery stores?) but we'll forgive him that because the purpose of him being there is so that he can talk to Gold and his lady problems can be hung with manic lampshades. Also the fact that he's in a convenience store highlights David not fucking thinking this through and doing it all at the last minute. David, if you'd stop lying to everyone and just shape the fuck up and tell Kathryn you want the divorce back on you wouldn't be having an affair. It's not even that this isn't necessarily a hard thing to do, because it could be, but we are never, ever given any indication that David is doing any emotional heavy lifting here. The agonizing he's doing is more over the fact that he can't be with Mary Margaret and he can't stop himself. Which is slightly to the side of where it should be, square on the fact that he's both lying to a woman he's made certain promises to and treating the woman he supposedly loves like a dirty secret. Both of these things should be making him feel like fifty pounds of shit in a ten pound bag, but do we see any hint of this? No, no we do not. And thus we have no sympathy for jackasses. Hey, Gold, how're you doing there. Speaking of jackasses. Gold doesn't seem to have any sympathy for David's little deceptions either, but then Gold has some skewed ideas about what is and isn't acceptable behavior, and dishonesty in contracts is definitely on his shit list. Particularly when said dishonesty results in being an asshole to a person you love, which he now remembers being both on the receiving and the giving end of. He does give David a kind of an out to admit his guilt with his comment about a complicated life, but David hurries to scratch sand over his dirty business and pretend nothing's going on. Gold is not fooled, David, nor is he amused. He is, however, very bitter, and will now take this opportunity to drip his bitters all over the counter as he buys, oh, look, duct tape and rope. What exactly are you doing with duct tape and rope, Gold? Duct tape, rope, and teeth, because he flashes some teeth at David as he limps out with that 'best of luck to you,' which sounds as though it should have a "dearie" at the end of it even though it doesn't. Or maybe that's just his face. Not that many of us at all wondered what he was up to, but we don't have to wonder very long, because the very next scene is Gold driving the Game of Thorns (ha. ha. ha.) van with a grim look on his face and a duct-tape-gagged Moe French in the back of it! Hi Moe. You asshole. Robert Carlyle is really fucking scary when he wants to be. And if this truly is the first Valentine's Day he's had with the full knowledge of Belle and what happened to her, oh honey. Oh you broken, broken bastard. This is going to be incredibly ugly.
The dynamic here as Gold opens the van and gets French out is interesting. Obviously he doesn't have the physical capability either in terms of size and strength or in terms of health and mobility to haul French around like a sack of potatoes. What he does have, however, is a gun and a reputation for being a nasty piece of work, and that seems to be enough not only to get French tied up and gagged in the back of a truck, but also to keep him there despite the fact that it's a goddamn flower truck which probably has a knife, a pair of trimming shears, or something he could use to defend himself, untie himself, and get away. If nothing else he clearly has enough mobility to get the duct tape off his damn mouth. I'd bitch about that more except that it actually does work; with Gold's reputation as far as we've seen in the town, everyone's scared of him. This whole scene just underlines that, so for once, the lack of thinking implications through works in everyone's favor. Especially Gold's. "Walk!" Carlyle grates out, in a voice that makes me want to hide under that truck, and after he walks French in and tells him he doesn't normally let people get away it's even more terrifying for us, the audience, because not only do we have this tiny toothy man with a fearsome reputation as a pawnbroker in front of us, we also have his reputation as a magic-wielding dealmaker. This whole episode has been about Rumple and his issues as much as it has been about the supposedly healing power of love, and all of those issues are about to come cascading down on French's head. Carlyle does an excellent job with that, and we are duly freaked out.
There's an interesting father-daughter juxtaposition here I could make, that I don't think was on purpose but will illustrate anyway. Because you have the transition from father to daughter of French to Belle, as well as the paternal teacher Rumple to the student, Regina. The juxtaposition we're probably supposed to draw is that for all Rumple says he doesn't usually let people get away, he did, once. And that would be Belle! Walking away from the castle in someone's draperies or couch fabric. I love that cloak, but, really, that's the kind of cloak we joked about at Renne Faires, how many couches does it take to make a lady's ensemble. It does, however, go with the super-saturated coloring of the woods in a way that Regina's coach-and-four with entourage does not. Regina is the Bad Guy, therefore she swans about all in black. I don't even have the energy to crack jokes about how unsubtle this is, especially given Belle for contrast. Of course she pulls up next to Belle for reasons that have nothing to do with carriage splashes, we know this because Regina doesn't think about other people unless it advantages her and because Belle being the only one out here on the road means she's Interesting. You know what would also have been interesting? If Belle had recognized either Regina or some insignia on her carriage from Belle's days of being a princess. Again with the village/kingdom dissonance, but it's more of a missed opportunity than an actual mistake here; we don't know how many kingdoms there are in Fairy Tale Land and for all we know, Belle could be on the other side of it and away from the nobility familiar to her. So I leave you a note about missed opportunities and go on to groan over Regina's wordplay. Walk with you for a spell? Aheh. Aheheh. Aheheheh. Come here so I can throw an apple at your head.
This whole conversation is both a giant lampshade on the problematic aspects of the Beauty and the Beast story, the idea that the Beauty falls for a monster holding her captive, as well as being a giant mess. The abuser/Stockholm Syndrome/true love messages in this are so utterly confounded that I don't think anyone has any idea what they wanted to say. Regina's commentary is both obvious and needling, picking out the right words and truths to poke Belle in the soft places. Running, for example, instead of escaping, and running from something instead of to. She also goes for the interesting yet facepalm worthy dichotomy of master or lover, someone you are forced to be with or someone you had chosen to be with. I will confine myself to stating that there are at least half a dozen more things to run from off the top of my head and leave it at that, because the one redeeming factor to that question is that it limits the conversation to what is immediately relevant: Regina's insinuation that Rumple is both master and lover to Belle. Of course, we know the latter isn't true, but not for lack of desire on either part. Belle attempts to bow out gracefully which, of course, Regina disallows without even acknowledging the attempt. Because people and their wants and needs don't exist for her unless she needs them to. I keep wanting there to be more layers in this. But there just aren't any. Regina nudges Belle to either admit or believe her love for Rumple, which she obligingly does, and then Regina flat out drops the 50 ton anvil of All Curses Can Be Broken By True Love's Kiss right on top of them ending all our misery in front of them using, for the most part, those exact words. It's a bit like a screenplay I wrote once, when I was seven, only acted out with real actors. And remember how possibly they weren't actually thinking about the abusive dynamic of Belle and the Beast in the original? Except it's hard to see how they could AVOID thinking about it, because the very next line is "Oh, I would never suggest a woman to kiss a man who held her captive, what kind of message is that." Really? Seriously. This is your sole concession to the Stockholm aspects of the Beauty and the Beast story, outright stating that it sends an awkward message and nothing else. Guys. Please. I know at least this particular writer is better than that. Please tell me this isn't all you've got. No? No. Because then we have the reiteration of if you love somebody you set them free, only without Sting's dulcet voice and jaunty backbeat. And of course because he let her go, obviously he loves her! Awww. Now go kiss him. Regina does everything but shove Belle down the road. Which is a nice if most likely unintentional metaphor for how this whole show is being railroaded down the path of True Love Works, Ask Your Fairy Godmother. We don't get any kind of discussion of the darker implications of love in an unequal power setting apart from that one sentence, and this doesn't even touch on Belle not asking him what he wants or telling him what she's going to do and essentially forcing his depowering on him. You can see that's what Regina has in mind when she smarms out 'an ordinary man.'
And if the writing on that entire scene were a little better I might overlook the truly hideous effect the bad CGI has on Rumple in this next scene. Because he's being adorable again, Carlyle-as-Rumple looking out of the castle window with that lost look, slowly recovering something he might passably recognize as hope as he sees her in the distance and pelts down the stairs to pretend he was spinning the whole time. But, honestly, it looks like someone ran him through Wonka's taffy pulling machine. And apart from that one amber colored liquid in the jug his entire workshop is devoid of the color we're used to seeing in it, just shades of gray. I mean, I might be exaggerating? That might be on purpose, to show how dreary and bland his life would be/has been without her. But no, because dreary and bland does not translate into thin and stretched with bad aspect ratio. I think it's just bad CGI. You know what else is bad? Rumple's show of nonchalance. Oh Rumple, that would be so much more convincing if you hadn't already told her you never expected to see her again. Doofus. Let's see what else we can get from this long shot of the setting, apart from the weirdass floor layout that at one point seemed to swallow up half that spinning wheel. (Seriously, the depth perception in a couple of places in this episode was proper fucked.) We can see the hat from the Sorcerer's Apprentice, which serves no purpose except to be an easter egg. We see that the windows are still uncovered, which is fairly adorable. We also see absolutely no living detritus in here, which goes along with the lack of rubble in the opening scenes and, really, the unnatural CGI state of all of fairy tale land. Rumple's sets seem to get the most attention, but would it kill them to throw a few things here and there so we don't look like we're in a video game setting where no one has time to code in extra pixel-props? The only things out are things of Significance, either easter eggs or that tea set on the table in the background that was apparently never cleared away. The last time we did that we got our very own ant colony.
Belle calls Rumple out on being a bad liar, which she sadly doesn't know him well enough to know how entertainingly remarkable that is and how special that makes her. Carlyle makes an awfully cute bashful monster, and Belle comes up and right into his space and lays hands on him, which she wasn't bold enough to do the last time we saw her. It's a good sign of how confident she's become and how certain of him as a result of Regina's cluehammering. She pulls him away from his spinning and I'm distracted for a second by how that yarn doesn't behave the way it should if it were actually fresh-spun yarn, and also he should really change that bobbin. Ahem. Still, she's more forward with him than she has been, actually manipulating his body in his own personal space, at the one place and activity where he should be most guarded or at home or both. And he lets her, which is a much better and more smoothly integrated sign of how much he has gotten used to her and gotten to care for her. As much as that, though, he still doesn't tell her the details. Possibly because they haven't written them yet, but at this point I think it's more because they're both irrelevant to the plotline and because Rumple still isn't certain of her. Nobody loves the monster, as he's about to remind us, he's too monstrous. Belle, in an egregious display of missing the point that makes me want to put my face through a wall, moves straight on from Rumple's son to the love aspect, and if what we had before were missed opportunities, this is a whole missed episode right here. Rumple, Belle, and Rumple's Abandonment Issues, both having been abandoned and feeling as though he's abandoned his son. But since we can't have them talking about Rumple's son because that has nothing to do with capital-L-love (another nice inadvertent parallel here to how there's no talk about Ashley's child either, just her True Love), we get some more admittedly tense dialogue about Rumple's issues with love. Followed by the requisite kiss.
So, in short, this would have been so, so much better if they hadn't tried to cram it into a single damn episode, or if they'd demonstrated rather than dropping a single line reference about the time it took to get here. (And yes, we do go on about line references, but there are things that can be referred to in a line to establish that they happened and there are things that should be shown. This is the latter.) The fact that she was going to leave but changed her mind could take up about five minutes worth of discussion, emotion, and significant blocking all on its own, never mind bringing Baelfire into the discussion or Rumple's image of himself. But all we get is that one question from him, one line from her, and then the kiss that should have taken much longer in any decently paced show to work up to. By way of a for instance, it took Grimm maybe six episodes to get two characters into a Significant Kiss even with a love spell attached to both of them like an evil will-sucking octopus. In this episode we barely get sixteen whole minutes of screen time from meeting to kissing, and we're supposed to be invested in the relationship or at least believe that true love could be happening here. The fact that we are invested in the relationship is, I think, almost entirely due to Emilie de Ravin and Robert Carlyle's abilities as actors.
And then we get such a massive bout of miscommunication and not thinking that it boggles the mind to watch. The curse starts undoing itself, like curses do in this world when confronted with the magical power of Twu Wuv, and Rumple proceeds to lose his shit in an epic way. Because, and if Belle had ever had the sense to stop and ask him things like she did in the beginning she might have known this, Rumple doesn't think of his Dark Powers as anything so simple as a curse. By now, his Dark Powers are what keeps him alive, with the enemies he's made. And his Dark Powers are in a sort of a way (a very twisted sort of a way) what make his life worth living, because if he stops believing that trading the life he had with his son for his magic was worth it, well, he's epically screwed up. And that's a belief that has hundreds of years of momentum behind it. Which Belle is now threatening to undo. So. Rumple loses his shit, Belle stammers about she, and Rumple figures it out and proceeds to go rant to an empty mirror. Or at least as far as we and Belle see it's empty, it might not be. I can indeed picture Regina laughing her evil little ass off on the other side of that mirror, but we don't get to see that. All we get to see is Rumple having the most dramatic tantrum I've seen this side of the Labyrinth, complete with boot-swagger and hand gestures. He demands to know if this is the Queen's idea or Belle trying to be a hero, which is fairly typical of word-playing dark characters like him; he remembers her words, but only in the light that makes them sound worst rather than what she actually meant. Belle tries to protest only to be shouted at how no one could ever love him, and oh Rumple you idiot. Did you forget EVERYTHING you ever knew about magic? And on the other hand, this also speaks to the depth of his issues that, in the face of what should be incontrovertible evidence that she does love him (his depowering) he still doesn't believe it's not a trick because, as he says, no one could ever, etc. Dungeon! Door slam!
And back over to the cabin, where the door's already slammed, in so many ways. There's some nice father-daughter parallels happening this ep; a pity we don't get more of Moe French in either of his incarnations. Because this whole scene would have gone over much, much better if they'd, again, stretched it out over more than one ep and told us what happened to Belle before he started beating on her father in this universe. If you're going to do a redemption/back story arc, you need to get your chronology (internal chronology and structural, the pacing, folks, the pacing) in an order that makes sense. We get a prolonged torture-interrogation scene with Gold and Moe here, and it's quite well done, the progression from I'm-a-reasonable-man to frothing lunatic beating Moe with a cane for reasons he doesn't yet remember. Clearly nobody here is aware of the axiomatic truth that torture doesn't work, though of all the people to know that one I'd expect it to be Gold|Rumple. Further indication of how far gone he is, and then, of course, because Narrative Demands It, Moe says exactly the wrong thing to trip all of Gold's buttons as far as Belle goes. Up to and including the one he doesn't want to look at too closely, where he believes it's his fault as much as anyone else's. (He's not wrong.) There's a nice look at the gun not quite on the mantel (on the table will do nicely), which, aheh, your visual pun is noted and my toes wince. In this case it's not going to go off, because Gold is so far gone that he wants to inflict maximum pain rather than going for the straightforwardness of just shooting French. A nice flashback, which in this case I think is meant to be more PTSD than anything, of Rumple smashing his cabinet doors and part of their contents to shards after Belle's supposed betrayal. If that is meant to be a PTSD style flashback, I will give them this much: it's one of the more subtle ones I've ever seen depicted, since TV usually goes for full on I have no idea where I am in reality immersion, and that's a very very rare symptom. Much more frequent is what Gold's showing here, where he knows where he is and he can't/has no desire to stop treating French like an inanimate object. Dissociation, ain't it grand! I do like that Emma seems almost as concerned for Gold as she is for Moe when she comes up on him. And then we have further flashback to Rumple's tantrum while Belle is in the dungeons, and the Significant Shot of the chipped cup. This isn't badly done, certainly not compared with a lot of the rest of the show, but it's so incredibly anvilicious that I just sigh and facepalm.
Moving on! Back to girls' night out, you remember that? No? Yeah, neither did we, because this ep is too full of stuff. I would just note, if you're going to have Mary Margaret coming back from somewhere, why waste that second of her off-frame without telling us where she was? Did she go try to dance and forget herself? Did she go to the bathroom but otherwise she's stuck by her friend's side all night? Again, this could be a great chance for some small bits of characterization that they don't take. Ashley will now proceed to lampshade the shit out of Mary Margaret's situation with David! Thank you, Ashley, at least you're giving someone a goddamn clue about how idiotic and forced this entire situation is. She also seems to have a clue about having stuck her foot in her mouth even if she hasn't exactly kept in touch with the gossip mills what with the baby. But wait! There's a boy! This proposal scene is fairly cute since we have a fair amount of evidence that Ashley would have said yes (I have so many things against public proposals when it's not a sure yes but that's a rant for another time), but it's again with the the girls' night out could have been so much better and it was nothing but a vehicle for boy angst. Which is such a pity because I wouldn't even object to the proposal if they'd done anything else with the women! It's terribly adorable, down to the 20 minute break nervous quip which is clearly a nervous quip. I will, however, sigh at the carriage-awaits comment to fucking Cinderella. If this weren't a multiple times an ep type of thing I wouldn't mind it so much, but it is and all I can say is, does Disney have an allusion quota they make the writers fill? I do also like that Ruby comes over, clearly enjoys Ashley's happy moment, and just as clearly isn't all torn up about how it's not for her. I wish she'd get more characterization (outside of 'her' eps) than woman who likes sex and is kind of a goth, but the actress manages to play it as a choice fairly well.
David you are the biggest fuckup in the history of TV fuckups. Still. Again. Both. I mean, we all saw this coming from the second he bought two valentines, but for fuck's sake, dude. He can't buy a clue, organize his way out of a wet paper bag, find his ass with a map and both hands, or ANYTHING ELSE USEFUL EVER. Mary Margaret, thank you for being the one with an ounce of sense. At least one of them does, for at least a little while. I approve of the you-moron look she gives him over finding a way; I would approve of it more if she showed a little more of the Snow White spark and kicked a pile of cluebats over him about how that's a very simple fix. Mostly because David is a sufficiently large moron that he needs the solutions to his problems pointed out to him. Slowly. In words of less than one syllable.
Back over to the crime scene where Gold clearly thinks he can get away with beating someone to the point of requiring a hospital and then walk away. Because he's so rattled that he can't remember the difference between who he should be in this world versus who he was in FTL. No, dearie, you don't have that power here. And he's a lying liar who lies throughout this scene - and, as typical for people like him, many of his lies are flavored with truth. Just truth that only we know or can guess at. Interesting that he can't even pull out a "Dearie" or any of his usual verbal tricks. And by interesting I mean painfully obvious. He looks about as close to broken, human Rumple as we've ever seen him in this scene.
And back to the castle! Which apparently needed another lampshade or three, it was looking a bit gloomy. From the last pieces of the tea set on the floor (which I bet came with an overture of not-apology of the wordplay kind that Rumple's so good at) to the dearie indicating that Rumple's mustered a few of his usual defenses. Just a few, though. And the coward comment calls back to Desperate Souls and rubs salt nicely in those wounds. It would be nice if the dialogue here weren't so incredibly clunky and bombastic, I know Espenson is capable of better. So on and so forth straight through with the anvils as she walks out. They seem to be trying to say that Belle is justified in leaving his idiotic ass, only then they apparently go straight back on that and turn Belle into the biggest doormat ever in s2, from what we're told. One of many reasons we're not going to it.
I do like the pastrami conversation, it's good for building rapport and, well, snark. It gives Gold a chance to be scowly and mean without being threatening or downright scary, it gives Emma a chance to poke fun at him without being overtly mean, because for all the illegal things she does in service of her job starving prisoners isn't one of them. And we can all be reasonably sure no one is serious about the sandwich. And then a wild Regina appears! Regina uses The Thing You Want Most! It's Super-Effective! No, really, bribing Emma with time-with-Henry is about the swiftest and most effective tactic she's done all season. Also the simplest and most elegant. Which is probably why it showed up in an Espenson episode. Emma does give Gold a quick look, and I can't tell if that's not trusting Gold or silently asking him if he'll be all right alone with Regina. Could be either, might be both, and either way it's a good nod in the direction of competence, which is something every damn adult in this show is sadly lacking. Gold goes squish for Henry, because child; that "bring me back a cone?" face is just heartbreakingly adorable. Heartbreakingly, because Gold is so far past the point of should-not-be-trusted-with-a-child he can't even see it by candlelight and he desperately misses his son. Still. That's another aspect of parent-child relationships the show doesn't address, because Jefferson and Gold for two examples have snapped so far they're not fit to be parents even if they love their children and even if they were fine parents once. Do we get an inkling of this? Well, not as far as we've seen.
Remember how that constant use of 'please and fuck you' was going to get you into trouble, Gold? Well, now it has. Here we get a good conversation that SHOWS NOT TELLS THANK YOU LORD the power of words and names in fairy tales. Really all the scenes with Regina and Gold, in both worlds, are excellent. At their worst they're scenery-chewing, and since that was the best we could say about the pilot this is a great improvement. Gold needles Regina with his command word over her, she needles him about strong men take what they need, they both go on about deals and exact terms and wants. I will say, Regina gloating over Gold would be a lot more powerful if we had some greater background on their relationship and who had what over whom, even if more in implication than specific details. Which we apparently get in s2 but again with the pacing and the consistent chronology. So what we're saying is this should have been a season 1 through season 2 plotline? Or something like that, we could spend another 13k words going through the show and picking out what should have been revealed when. The point being, this could have had a lot more impact than it did (which, admittedly, it had considerable on its own) if we'd gotten it in a better time. As it is, we have the implication of how they knew each other better (canny fans instantly theorized that he taught her), plus a twisted kind of pride when she finally corners him into coughing up his real name, plus the grim look when he does and she realizes shit finally got real. The fact that we get anything from this is about two-thirds the actors and their indulging in faces and mannerisms that must have had them picking drywall out of their teeth for days. We close in on a nice shot of Gold wrapping his hands around his precious chipped cup, retrieved at last. And now he's in jail so he gets a nice long time to think about what he's done, too! Not that this will result in anything productive.
Because this ep is all about the parallels, both intentional and (at a guess) less so, we then get to have Regina gloating over Rumple! Which is, actually, necessary to the arc, so that we know that she's fucked with him as regards Belle before. Again, the problem I have with this is the pacing; we can tell that there's something between these two - have been able to tell for awhile - but they're so disinclined to give us any kind of linear plotline that we have no idea what until, apparently, s2. You can do non-linear storytelling well. This show? Not an example of that. It would probably help if they didn't have so many plotlines, characters, and betrayals to keep track of, but then they'd have to pick a focus. Which might lend their themes some coherence. And god knows we can't have that. I, too, question Rumple's locks, because the hell he doesn't have Regina-specific wards and shit on there. We then have a prolonged scene in which Regina is very knowledgeable and Rumple, somewhat surprisingly, isn't. He doesn't question any of the assertions made here, and while a couple of them are due to bald-faced lies ("I can assure you I had nothing to do with that tragedy"), the biggest lie of them all he swallows hook, line, and sinker: that Belle is really dead. It's a neatly crafted lie, too, because whatever really did happen to her (and I would easily believe something like this happened), Rumple is responsible for Gaston being gone. He's not, however, responsible for her father's behavior, which means he feels free to blame King Stooge in all his incarnations. We even get a nice big lampshade on the fact that Regina's lying to him in the dialogue. "You're lying." "Am I?" She did, after all, learn from the best; pity that this is one of the few instances of her showing true cleverness in her evilling across the land. Regina twists the knife a good deal more on her way out, and Rumple puts the cup on a pedestal which, if I'm feeling generous, is a deliberate Pointed Point about how that's what he did to Belle herself, and when she fell off the pedestal he threw her out. I'm not sure I'm feeling that generous, but it's a nice visual metaphor regardless. This last scene with him is clearly meant to tell us that he did love her, truly and deeply, right back, and for the longest time we weren't sure if what the acting and directing was saying was what we were meant to take away from it, because that was an awfully condensed fall in love/end in tragedy sequence. Again with the pacing.
Back over in the real world, why look, we're getting confirmation on the lying! You know, on the one hand I sometimes appreciate not being left hanging on questions like this when the answer is blatantly obvious. On the other hand, the answer is blatantly obvious and they could have filled the space with any number of other worldbuilding things. Frankly, the only confirmation this scene needed was the shot of Emilie de Ravin curled up in the cell; if they really wanted to confirm it was Regina's fault they could have included Regina peering in at her. But no, we have to have a gratuitous Cuckoo's Nest reference or three. Hi there Nurse Ratchet. And the scenery is deliberately related to Regina's chamber of hearts, I think. The rose is an unnecessary callback and, frankly, makes very little sense in context of Regina's character, it seems to be pasted on yay for humor/allusion value. And I will just close by noting that the things this show has to say about mental illness are questionable at best, even when it's framing its statements with "but this is coming from Regina who's evil now so you should treat it as BAD." Guys, you have to make up your minds where you fall on the black-and-white versus shades of gray scale, and I don't mean bad Twilight BDSM fic. And without getting into a long digression, everything I've seen about mental illness in Once makes me think someone read the Wiki articles and at best the DSM-IV list of symptoms and made a little checklist rather than getting into anything useful, like what people who suffer from it actually go through, or their caretakers, or things that would be good information to have in your writing.