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COLIN O'DONOGHUE, JENNIFER MORRISON

TV Review: ONCE UPON A TIME – “Heart of the Truest Believer” (03.01)

TV — ONCE UPON A TIME

KATE NAGY

Written by: Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by: Ralph Hemecker
US Air Date: Sunday, September 29, 2013
ABC

In Short: The action shifts to Neverland. Henry makes a new friend, and Emma takes a leap of faith.
Recommended: Sure.

EMMA: You say good always wins? It doesn’t.

Greetings, and welcome back to the Fairy Tale World! When last we left our intrepid crew of lovers, fighters, dreamers, and schemers, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and her parents (Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas) had taken ship – in desperation and under duress – with Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), Regina (Lana Parilla), and Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle). They were searching for Henry (Jared Gilmore), who had been kidnapped by Tamara (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Greg (Ethan Embry) under the direction of the sinister “Home Office.”Baelfire/Neal (Michael Raymond-James) had jumped or fallen into a portal – please don’t make me re-watch the episode to find out, the very thought of doing so fills me with ennui – and had just been rescued by Aurora (Sarah Bolger), Mulan (Jamie Chung), and some pasty-looking prince (Philip? He hasn’t grown on me yet).

Now, in this first episode of the new season, all the action converges on Neverland, where Henry finds himself a popular young man indeed….

Look, I’m not going to recap this thing. I’ve already lived through it once. I mean, it wasn’t a bad episode – in fact, it had at least one excellent twist, and some really good lines. On the other hand, it appears that Season 3 will suffer from the same problem that Season 2 (and, for that matter, Season 1) did – i.e., the villains are about a thousand percent more interesting, compelling, and watchable than any of the heroes – but it’s not like that’s a new issue for this particular show and anyway that’s what you get when you try to put the likes of Josh Dallas up against Robert Carlyle.

Moving along, here are some things that caught my attention this week:

  • The promos and interviews promised “family conflict” among La Famille Charming, and indeed we do see Emma at odds with Charming and Snow. But this crowd is far too milquetoast to be at one another’s throats for long, and indeed, by the end they’re back to fighting Regina, the mermaids, and the elements, rather than one another.
  • Best lines, part 1: “I will not be capsized by a fish!” (Was that supposed to be funny? Because it was, but Dallas delivered it so earnestly I had to think he meant to be completely serious. Discuss.)
  • Henry’s scarf sort of looks kind of like Harry Potter’s, don’t you think? Is Henry=Harry=The Boy Who Lived. Interesting. (Okay, maybe just interesting to me.)
  • Is Jamie Chung taking acting classes? She’s improved, which is to say that instead of being really, really wooden and bad she’s merely wooden and bad. Also, her hair looked really pretty in this episode.
  • Best lines, part 2: “Filet the bitch.” And then Regina waves her hand and turns the mermaid into wood! Runner-up: “Undo your spell. Bring back the mermaid.” Not quite “Leave the gun, take the cannoli,” but probably high up on the list of things the actors never dreamed they would be called upon to say.
  • So the Lost Boys are the “Home Office.” I was picturing a somewhat more… organized outfit, but whatever. I’ll roll with it. For now.
  • In that same vein, Greg and Tamara are…dead? Not dead? Incapacitated? Out of commission, at any rate. So long, boring people!
  • Best lines, part 3: Hook complimenting Gold on his “costume change.”
  • Henry is saved from DOOOOM by a mysterious runaway, who turns out to be – dun DUN – Peter “Pan” Pan himself. And Pan wants Henry because Henry possesses “the heart of the truest believer,” although what benefit accrues to PP in this instance remains unclear. There isn’t a barf bucket big enough, beloved friends and readers…
  • Pan and Rumpelstiltskin square off; Round 1 decisively goes to Pan, who makes Rump weep by handing him a doll and then signing off with an insouciant “See ya ‘round, Dark One” (Best lines, part 4).
  • Oh, and Neal’s still around. Something about Michael Raymond-James makes me think that in the right role, he’s an excellent actor. This is not the right role.
  • My wish list: Just one thing — Ruby + Whale. I’ve been waiting patiently for an update since “In the Name of the Brother” last year. Seriously, I need this to happen.
  • Okay, just one more thing. Bring back Amy Acker – as Nova the Fairy or anyone else!

Next week: King Arthur. Belle, maybe. Better CGI, if we’re lucky. The effects were terrible this week.

The Checklist

Mr. Gold calls someone “Dearie”: Check
Snow kicks someone’s ass: She and Regina throw down, but Regina doesn’t seem that much worse for the wear afterward.
New Characters are introduced: Check (Pan, Lost Boys, Sex-Bomb Mermaid)

– Kate Nagy

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Regina and Sherrif

TV Review: ONCE UPON A TIME – “Welcome to Storybrooke” (02.17)

Written by: Ian Goldberg, Adam Chambliss
Directed by: David Barrett
US Airdate: Sunday, March 17, 2013
ABC

In Short: Regina’s her name and revenge is her game, in both 1983 and the present day.
Recommended? Yes!

HENRY: You used to be heroes. What happened to you?

This was a fun episode that ended with a twist I totally did not see coming. But before that twist, about which more anon, we were treated to a graduate-level seminar courtesy of the distinguished Professor Regina Mills on why revenge is a dish best served cold – colder than snow.

Our adventure begins in 1983, when Regina has just enacted the great curse that brought the Fairytale World to Storybrooke. Mr. Gold is limping determinedly down the street to his store; Marco is trying to fix the sign above his workshop; a tarted-up Ruby is fighting with Granny about having stayed out all night (is the nightlife in Storybrooke really that exciting?). Regina takes it all in with a smile. After determining that a mousy Mary Margaret doesn’t recognize the comatose Charming, she makes a date with her lover – handsome Sherriff Graham (!), and strolls back to Granny’s for breakfast, where she meets Kurt and Owen Flynn, two campers who have stumbled upon Storybrooke (well, in a sense it stumbled upon them, but same difference). She’s charmed by Owen, and quickly realizes that she’s bored with the *Groundhog Day-style sameness of life in Storybrooke. (Even Gold isn’t giving her a hard time.) A child, she decides, would be just the thing to bring the spark back to her life… and Regina is someone who is accustomed to getting what she wants.

In the present day, Snow is feeling so guilty over her actions back in “The Miller’s Daughter” that she’s curled up on her bed, near catatonia. Charming enlists Gold’s help in protecting her, and Gold says something very perceptive: “Cora was dangerous because she didn’t have a heart. Regina is more dangerous because she does.” Love creates; love sustains; love destroys. And Gold would know.

But anyway. Regina is planning on using the Curse of the Empty-Hearted, bequeathed to her by her mother, in order to compel Henry’s love. Just as an aside, though, if she really wanted to create havoc, she’d use it on Charming David. Can you imagine? Snow, anguished because her nemesis has stolen her man; Henry, torn between his grandparents; Emma, suspicious but unable to act? Plus, she’d be getting a little something something every night, and we know that she’s made her play in that direction before (last season, if memory serves).

Speaking of Henry, he decides that the way to put a stop to all this nonsense is to destroy magic in Storybrooke. He steals some dynamite from the mines (and someone needs to be talking to Leroy and the gang about security at that place – what kind of idiot leaves unsecured dynamite lying around?) and heads for the magical well, where he makes a big deal of being Over It and gets ready to blow it (and probably himself) to Kingdom Come. His family talks him down, and Regina burns the scroll with the Curse on it. Crisis averted, for now.

Meanwhile, back in the 80s, Regina has decided that she needs to keep Owen, so she arranges for Kurt’s trumped-up arrest (hilarious scene where she pulls Sherriff Graham’s heart out of her desk and speaks into it like a walkie-talkie). But then she lets Owen escape – her heart isn’t completely black – and when he comes back with the police a couple of days later, she has cast a spell to conceal the town. The sympathetic cops take the boy away.

This was a surprise. I was sure that Owen was Henry and that Regina had given him a new name to go with his new life. (Either their voices are nearly identical or Jared Gilmore overdubbed Benjamin Stockham’s lines.) However, I was wrong, as we shall see.

Later, Snow finally rises from her Bed of Guilt and Anguish and goes to Regina. “Kill me,” she begs. She knows that this terrible and destructive feud can only end with her death or Regina’s, and she’s just tired. Regina considers, and then obliges, ripping Snow’s heart out. Then she notices the little black spot in Snow’s previously snow-white heart, and returns it to its home. Death, it seems, would be the easy way out for Snow. “Once you blacken your heart, it only grows darker… and darker. Believe me, I know,” she says. “I don’t need to destroy you—you already did. And along the way you will destroy that perfect little family you fought for so hard. I can have everything… thanks to you.” Little does she realize that the Stranger, aka Greg Mendell, has been filming the entire scene on his little phone. Yikes!

In fact, Regina has problems she doesn’t even know about, because while she doesn’t know Greg, he certainly knows her. That’s right: Greg is Owen, and he’s back in town to find his father, from whom she separated him all those years ago. “I’ll find you, Dad. I promise,” he mutters as he drives away from Regina’s house, incriminating video in hand.

I did not see this coming, and hadn’t considered that Greg had actually come to town on business, so to speak. So many questions! Where is Kurt? How did Greg/Owen find Storybrooke? What took him so long? Who is the “Her” on his cell phone? What’s he going to do to Regina, and what will Regina do when she realizes who she is? This ought to be good. Things just got very interesting in Storybrooke.

The Checklist:

Mr. Gold calls someone “Dearie”: Check
Snow kicks someone’s ass: No.
New characters are introduced: Yes – Kurt and Owen Flynn.
We are reminded that “magic always comes with a price”: The whole episode is about the price of wielding dark magic. Per Henry: “Magic makes good people do terrible things.”
Lost Re-Employment Program: No.

– Kate Nagy

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Young Cora

TV Review: ONCE UPON A TIME – “The Miller’s Daughter” (02.16)

Written by: Jane Espenson
Directed by: Ralph Hemecker
US Airdate: Sunday, March 10, 2013
ABC

In Short: Cora’s backstory is revealed, and Princess Eva’s death is avenged… but at what cost?
Recommended? Hell Yes!

CORA: I don’t like what that enchanted box is saying.
REGINA: It’s not an enchanted box. It’s a phone tap.
CORA: I don’t care.
— best dialogue in the entire episode.

Hurry! Somebody bring me a cold compress for my throbbing forehead and a soothing tisane to calm my jangled nerves. My heart is still racing. This was such a complex episode that I can’t possibly do it justice here, which is a shame, because it’s the best of the season so far.

So remember Snow’s mother Eva (Rena Sofer), who only just last episode was making a big show of being all polite to the help and whatnot? Evidently, she wasn’t always so democratic in her leanings. As a teenager, she made sport of a peasant who was hauling flour into the castle, and Xavier, the King, backed her questionable play. Big mistake on both parts: The peasant was none other than the young Cora (played by Rose McGowan), and we all know by now that Cora is exactly the wrong peasant to vex.

And sure enough, Cora eventually turns up at a royal masked ball, intent on marrying into the royal family and putting her lowly past behind her. Although Prince Henry is charmed by her pluck and sass, King Xavier is like “Nice try, your costume is crap, I know who you are and I’ll be showing you the door now,” and she’s all “But you’re broke, and I can spin straw into gold, and wouldn’t you and the royal treasurers like a piece of that action?” and he’s like “Oh, a bluff, whatever. HEY EVERYBODY THIS HOOKER HERE SAYS SHE CAN SPIN STRAW INTO GOLD YAY!” Then he locks her into a tower containing a spinning wheel and a buttload of straw and tells her to have at it. Her situation appears dire indeed. Then Rumpelstiltskin arrives.

Rumpelstilstkin offers to help her by turning the straw into gold himself, but she has a better idea: “Teach me to do it.” He says okay, but there will be a price: Her first-born child. Cora is fine with that, so he teaches her to channel her rage into magic. Also, he seduces her. SIZZLE. The chemistry, holy cats. The next morning, Cora has a new fiancé (Prince Henry) and a new lover (Rumpelstiltskin). Whoo boy.

The affair continues apace, but on the night before the wedding, Rumpel and Cora meet, and it’s evident that they actually love one another – in fact, Rumpel voluntarily amends their contract so that Cora owes him his child, not hers, and teaches her to rip other people’s hearts out (a skill she’s employed several times over these past episodes) so she can finish off her arch-nemesis, King Xavier. But Xavier surprises her: “Of course you don’t love that nincompoop, my son, but you could spend the rest of your natural life banging that disgusting imp of a Dark One or you could have real power. What’s it gonna be, Sweet Cheeks?” So instead of ripping out Xavier’s heart, she rips out her own. “You’re my weakness,” she confesses to Rumpel before sending him on his not-so-merry way. Oh, my.

Back in Storybrooke, Gold is dying, and Cora, who has Rumpel’s dagger, is on her way to the shop. I’m not sure why she doesn’t teleport to his bedside and plunge the thing into his throat, because her hesitation – could it be that she still loves him just a little bit, even after everything? – gives him a window of opportunity in which to gift Snow with the candle that she could have used last week, but didn’t, to save her own mother. You know, the one she can use to save a life, but someone else will die. She can save Gold – Henry’s grandpa! – and all she has to do is obtain Cora’s heart from the crypt, burn the candle over it, and return the heart to Cora’s chest. Cora will die, Gold will live, and Snow will be a hero.

Cue Emmy reels for Carlyle, for Parilla, for Barbara Hershey, and, yes, for Ginnifer Goodwin too.

Gold reconciles with Bae, but first he calls Belle, and makes this remarkable speech:

“I know you’re confused about who you are. You are a hero who helped your people. You’re a beautiful woman who loved an ugly man – really, really loved me. You made me want to go back, back to the best version of me, and that never happened before.”

SWOON. Robert Carlyle is officially forgiven for “Manhattan.”

And then – and then! Snow goes to the crypt, finds the heart, and burns the candle… but how is she ever going to get close enough to Cora to return it to its rightful owner? Answer: She’s not. Enter Regina, bent on stopping Snow. Butter wouldn’t melt in Snow’s mouth as she says “I was going to give it to you.” Sweetly, she tells Regina, “[Cora] can’t love you because she doesn’t have her heart.” Wouldn’t Regina like to have her mother’s love? Wouldn’t she like to be part of a big, happy family, her mother and her son by her side? All she has to do is give back what was so cruelly taken away…

ICE ICE BABY. Snow is ICE COLD.

In short order, Cora poofs over to Gold’s bedside and teleports Emma and Neal to the forest (there’s a really funny shot of the two of them being all “WTF?” among the trees). Regina bursts in and plunges the heart back into her mother’s chest. The two women share a smile – and Cora falls to the ground. “This would have been enough,” she gasps, looking into Regina’s eyes, and she dies in her daughter’s arms, just as Snow (who has decided that she’d rather be good after all) and Charming burst in to stop her.

Ho. Lee. Shit. God in His mercy and Her grace, y’all. Snow didn’t just kill Cora – she manipulated Cora’s daughter, who only ever wanted her mother’s love, into doing the deed for her. That? Is hard core.

So where are we now? Snow needs to deal with the fact that she’s not the pure-hearted ingénue she thought she was. Charming needs to deal with the fact that his wife is a cold-blooded killer. And Regina is on the warpath, and for once she’s not entirely in the wrong. And Gold… well, he got his revenge on the woman he once loved, too. That’s two exes who have come to highly unfortunate ends because of him. If I were Belle, I’d be keeping that in mind, passionate speeches notwithstanding.

That’s all for the future, though. For this week, I am amazed, in awe, overwhelmed, and in serious need of a quart of Pinot and a couple of Xanax. Truly, I wish every episode were this good.

The Checklist:

Mr. Gold calls someone “Dearie”: Check
Snow kicks someone’s ass: Snow manipulates Regina into killing her own mother. You don’t get much more badass than that.
New characters are introduced: In a matter of speaking; we learn the identity of the Miller’s Daughter
We are reminded that “magic always comes with a price”: Not in so many words, but I think it’s safe to say that the concept is implicit throughout the episode.
Lost Re-Employment Program: No.

– Kate Nagy

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Baby Snow and Eva

TV Review: ONCE UPON A TIME – “The Queen is Dead” (2.15)

Written by: David H. Goodman and Daniel T. Thomsen
Directed by: Gwyneth Horder-Payton
US Airdate: Sunday, March 3, 2013
ABC

In Short: Both Snow and Regina are finally pushed just a little too far.
Recommended? Yes.

REGINA: Well, there you go. See where good gets you?

Well, well. The chickens have really come home to roost, haven’t they? The good people of Storybrooke have responded to Regina’s (Lana Parilla) attempts to reform herself with indifference at best, and more often with self-righteous skepticism. Emma (Jennifer Morrison) has taken Henry (Jared Gilmore) out of town without telling Regina (don’t they have Family Court in Storybrooke? Anyone else would have an iron-clad custody agreement in the works by now), and the only person who seems to believe in our beloved Queen is her evil mother, Cora (Barbara Hershey). It was probably inevitable that Regina would finally throw up her hands, roll her eyes while saying “fxck it,” and turn back to the Dark Side. In all honesty, I’m a little surprised she held out for as long as she did.

In any event, Regina and Cora are a team, and their objective is to find Rumpelstiltskin’s (Robert Carlyle) dagger and use it to compel him to do their bidding, i.e., kill Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and anyone else who stands between Regina and Henry, which in practical terms means Emma first, then certainly Charming (Josh Dallas) and probably more than one other townsperson. Snow stumbles onto their plan, however, and although she attempts to warn Mr. Gold, he actually has more pressing concerns, having just been stabbed in the heart with Hook’s (Colin O’Donoghue) Poisoned Hook of Doom. So it’s up to her and Charming – who started his workday by being knocked unconscious and having his office robbed, to your reviewer’s complete amusement – to find the dagger first. They do, but Cora is not far behind them.

Meanwhile, back in the Fairy Tale World, young Snow – all the respect in the world to young Bailee Madison, who totally ripped my heart out (and not in the magical Storybrooke way) in this episode – is rude to her faithful servant, Johanna. Johanna is played by MRS. PATMORE (Lesley Nicol), and I will neither confirm nor deny that I squealed when I saw Mrs. Patmore appear on my screen. Anyway, Baby Snowflake’s mother, Eva (remember that name; we’ll meet Eva again) reminds her that there are no Divas in this dojo and she needs to be humble and serve her people like a real queen does, etc. Baby Snow apologizes to a gracious Johanna, whereupon Eva (Rena Sofer — excellent casting) drops to the floor, deathly ill.

A visit to the Blue Fairy yields Baby Snow a magical candle that can restore her mother to health. But there’s a catch – for every life she saves, another will be taken. Baby Snow wavers… and in the end, she can’t go through with it. Her mother is remarkably understanding, considering the circumstances, and notes that Snow’s ability to withstand evil is what will make her a great Queen. Then she dies, and Baby Snow cries, and it’s just heartbreaking, but what is with all these mothers who are perfectly okay with DYING so their children can reap some theoretical benefit down the road? First Charming’s mother (http://geekspeakmagazine.com/2012/10/review-once-upon-a-time-lady-of-the-lake-02-03/), now Eva… Rage, rage against the dying of the light, ladies!

In Storybrooke, Snow is reunited with Johanna, and the unfortunate servant is on hand when Snow and Charming find the Dark One’s dagger and Regina and Cora arrive seconds later. Cora wastes no time in appropriating the dagger and tossing Johanna out the window to her death. “BITCH, IT IS SO ON,” hisses Snow. (Well, actually she says “I’m gonna kill Cora,” but same difference.) I love this twist. For all her badassery, I usually find Snow rather cloying, and honestly, Cora needs to be killed, or at least contained. It’s not just the Charming family (and Mr. Gold, who can take care of himself) that is in danger; Cora has proven that she’s capable of just about anything. And Snow on the rampage promises to be a whole lot of fun, plus it will give the talented Ginnifer Goodwin something to do other than simper. Two thumbs up for Dark Snow!

Just a few words about the New York scenes. First of all, this week’s director, Gwyneth Horder-Payton, obviously took Robert Carlyle aside prior to the shoot and said, compassionately but firmly, “No Red Bull for you today,” because Gold was back to his controlled, contained self. Much better, there. And – surprise – Bae (Dylan Schmid) is engaeged. Does his fiancée know that he’s the two-hundred-year-old son of the Dark One? We don’t find out, because she kisses him goodbye and exits stage right almost immediately. Whatever. I don’t really have an opinion about Nealfire — he and Emma are fine together, but they don’t scorch my face with their sizzling chemistry or anything – and at this point, the fiancée seems like a pointless distraction and yet another character in an already overpopulated show. They could ride off into the sunset together and they wouldn’t be missed (at least, I wouldn’t miss them).

Overall: A definite step up from the last episode’s shriek-fest. See, show? You don’t have to be over the top and loud to be intense! Keep up the good work!

The Checklist:

Mr. Gold calls someone “Dearie”: No.
Snow kicks someone’s ass: No, but she’s thinking about it.
New characters are introduced: Check – Johanna and Neal’s fiancée, What’s-Her-Face
We are reminded that “magic always comes with a price”: Yes – by the Blue Fairy
Lost Re-Employment Program: No. But Downton Abbey Employment Program: check!

– Kate Nagy

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Manhattan

Review: ONCE UPON A TIME – “Manhattan” (02.14)

Written by: Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by: Dean White
US Airdate: Sunday, February 17, 2013

In Short: Scenery: It’s what’s for dinner, as fathers and sons are reunited, secrets are laid bare, and dastardly plots are hatched and executed.
Recommended: Heh. No.

AUGUST: I know you’re Baelfire.
– A very special message to Neal

This may not be the most popular opinion I’ve ever put forward, but “Manhattan” was a train wreck of near-epic proportions. Staring in disbelief, I couldn’t tear my eyes away, profoundly as I wished I could. A perfect storm of bad writing, bad acting, and bad direction, “Manhattan” left me with but one urgent question: To whom do I speak about getting that hour of my life back?

Okay, okay. It had its moments, and the plot did move forward significantly. I’ll give you that. It is revealed, to the surprise of no one, that Rumpelstiltskin’s long-lost son and Emma’s vanishing ex are one and the same, making Gold Henry’s grandfather and Emma’s sort-of father-in-law. Then the shouting starts and pretty much doesn’t stop for the balance of the episode. “IS HENRY MY SON?” bellows Neal/Bae. “You left me and let me go to *prison because Pinocchio told you to?” gasps Emma (with Jennifer Morrison keeping an entirely straight face, a feat that impressed me more than just about anything else in this episode). “Mom?” Henry winsomely lisps, as he interrupts the grown-ups’ argument mid-stream. For the second or third time. “You LIED to me,” Gold accuses Emma, after she regretfully informs him that Bae has once again gotten awae, as if dishonesty were a *surprise to the Dark One.

Meanwhile, back in the Fairytale World, Rumpelstiltskin deserts the Ogre Wars and is forever branded the Coward of the County. Sing it with me: “Promise me, son, not to do the things I’ve done. Walk away from trouble if you can…” TANGENT: This may be the single most offensive song I’ve heard in my life – can you say “Gang-rape of a woman reduced to a convenient vehicle for a man’s personal growth?” – and the fact that this episode reminded me of it DID NOT WORK IN THE EPISODE’S FAVOR.

Anyway. Elsewhere in Storybrooke, Cora and Regina team up to steal Gold’s magical dagger, but those mean girls exclude Hook from their clique, and he smolders and sneers. And it looks as though the Stranger intends to stick around for a while.

– Why? So he can listen to the residents bellow and fling accusations at one another? I mean, this week even the normally reliable Robert Carlyle rants, storms, and all but froths at the mouth. Watching his manic interpretation of the desperate Mr. Gold, I envisioned director Dean White capering about the set yelling “I NEED MOAR ANGUISH, BOBBY!” while Carlyle was thinking “Oh, holy shit, Junior’s soccer game starts in forty minutes, and I promised the wife I would drop the wee Princess off at ballet, and my P.A.’s gone out for Baskin-Robbins so I can’t ask him to help out, so let me just shotgun a couple of these Red Bulls off the craft services table and OKAY DEAN LET’S DO THIS I’M READY FOR MY CLOSEUP NOW.”

The episode’s salvation, such as it is, comes from two unexpected sources. First, there’s Henry’s reunion with his father, which is a quiet, gentle, and low-key ending for such a whirlwind episode. And then there’s Charming and Snow’s conversation in which they untangle their messed-up family tree, which is actually, well, charming. “It’s a good thing we don’t have Thanksgiving in our land, because that dinner would *suck.” Hah! And, true! I actually kind of…*liked the Charmings in this episode. They didn’t bore me even a little bit. Black is white! Up is down! The cat lies down with the dog! Somebody hold me, because I’ve stumbled into Bizarro World!

Oh, and the redheaded seeress is creepy; clearly someone is a fan of Guillermo del Toro.

So… the good news is that we have nowhere to go but up, right? The show takes a much-needed break to regroup and will pick up again, having gotten “Manhattan” out of its system, on March 3.

The Checklist:

Mr. Gold calls someone “Dearie”: Check
Snow kicks someone’s ass: No
New characters are introduced: No
We are reminded that “magic always comes with a price”: No.
Lost Re-Employment Program: No. The witch sort of looked like Rebecca Mader, but I don’t think that’s who it actually was.

— Kate Nagy

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JORGE GARCIA

Review: ONCE UPON A TIME – “Tiny” (2.13)

Written by Christine Boylan & Kalinda Vazquez
Directed by Guy Ferland
US Airdate: Sunday, February 10, 2013

In Short: Emma and Gold embark upon a journey, and Anton the Giant’s backstory, which we have all been breathlessly awaiting, is at long last revealed.
Recommended: Zzzzz.

ANTON: All you humans do is lie and cheat and kill, and I’m sick of it!

This is going to be a short review, because “Tiny” was a deeply underwhelming episode. To jump right in:

Emma and Gold leave Storybrooke to search for Gold’s lost son, Baelfire; young Henry tags along, but no one bothers to inform Regina that he’s going. I’m thinking that people may want to consider rethinking that policy, starting pretty soon here. Sooner or later, Regina is going to say “What’s the point of all this boring goodness, anyway?” and revert to her old evil ways, and Emma will have no one but her own sanctimonious self to blame. Anyway… the most interesting moments in this particular subplot involve Gold flying on an airplane for the first time (to the TSA agent: “Have you ever been impaled on a cane before?” – hee), and even that’s pretty dull.

Except: Who else noticed that our intrepid trio is flying on Ajira Airlines? If next week doesn’t start with a chipper flight attendant on the intercom: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve begun our initial descent into New York City. Captain Lapidus has turned on the seat belt sign…” I will be deeply disappointed. (A 10-second cameo with Jeff Fahey shaking Gold’s hand on the way off the airplane all “Thanks for flying Ajira! Have a great day,” would MAKE MY WEEK.) In any event, this whole Baelfire business has dragged on long enough that I really don’t care about the guy any more. How they expect to find him in a city the size of NYC anyway, particularly when Gold’s magic seems to be on the fritz, is beyond me. Maybe they’ll look him up on whitepages.com. (“There are 68 people named BAELFIRE in Manhattan…”)

Elsewhere, Ruby tries to re-befriend the amnesiac Belle, who freaks out whenever anyone calls her by name. (Just out of curiosity, what does Belle think her name is?) Anyway, the Stranger (Ethan Embry) also befriends her, and it looks as though they’re going to join forces. I hope this whole NYC interlude turns out to be a red herring and the Stranger is actually Baelfire, and he begins a torrid affair with Belle. That would be soap-tastic, wouldn’t it?

In the A story this week, we return to the Fairytale world for the Giant’s backstory. It seems that rather than being the biggest and baddest of them all, the Giant, aka Anton, was the runt of his particular litter, and was obsessed with humans and humanity. Betrayed in the most dastardly way by Charming’s douchey identical twin, James, and James’s sex partner Jacqueline, aka “Jack the Giant Killer,” Anton withdraws into his lair, brooding on his misfortunes and bearing a heavy grudge against all people everywhere. Shrunk by Cora and imprisoned on Hook’s ship, he is released only to go after Charming – excuse me, “David” – until Charming David and the good citizens of Storybrooke save him from certain death and he and the Dwarves go into business together as bean farmers. He’s definitely One of Them – his pickaxe magically reads “Tiny,” and the axe doesn’t lie – Grumpy says so, and Grumpy would know. Well, good for Anton/Tiny, I guess.

So we’ve got a possible way back to the Fairytale world (i.e., Tiny’s beans), which is nice, and it’s always good to see Jorge Garcia, but the Giant’s backstory was not necessarily one we needed, and even the twist of making Jack a woman was kind of shrug-worthy. Overall, I kind of felt like the show was spinning its wheels this week. As for next week… Gold in the City should be good for a laugh or two, but I’m praying — praying, I’m telling you – that Emma’s ex Neal is not, as has been widely speculated, Baelfire. There are so many interesting and surprising things they could do with Bae – make him a 110-year-old nursing home resident who remembers when the Titanic sank; a schizophrenic, heroin-addled transsexual prostitute living in a flophouse and playing his mandolin for spare change on a street corner; an organic farmer and sometime J. Crew model with a husband and three adopted children who all work together at a farmers market in Park Slope; the star of a popular soap opera that films in New York; a New York Knick; or a magically-transformed horse that pulls carriages full of young lovers around Central Park. Merely Emma’s ex? Wake me when it’s over.

We shall see, and here’s hoping that the next episode picks up the pace.

The Checklist:

Mr. Gold calls someone “Dearie”: No.
Snow kicks someone’s ass: Not that I can recall. She schleps her quiver around all ready to kick it Katniss-style, though.
New characters are introduced: Check — Jack
We are reminded that “magic always comes with a price”: No.
Lost Re-Employment Program: Yes: Alan Dale appears for about a minute, and of course Jorge Garcia is front and center. And Ajira Airlines, too!

— Kate Nagy

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In the Name of the Brother

Review: ONCE UPON A TIME – “In the Name of the Brother” (02.12)

US Air Date: Sunday, January 20, 2013
Written by: Jane Espenson
Directed by: Milan Cheylov

In Short: The world comes to Storybrooke, triggering controversy among the residents and a cascade of memories in a drunken Dr. Whale.
Recommended:

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN: Rumpelstiltskin says magic has a price. I think science does, too.

“In the Name of the Brother” picks up where “The Outsider” left off – Gold is holding a freaked-out Belle, Hook is writhing in pain on the ground, and the Outsider is unconscious and gravely injured in his car. Long story short, the entire crew ends up at the Storybrooke hospital, where a drunk and depressed Dr. Whale, aka Dr. Frankenstein, finds himself in the middle of a rousing argument – should he let the Outsider die?

On one hand, dead men tell no tales, and Gold’s magic was flying all over the place out there (he healed Belle’s gunshot wound and was getting ready to magically fry Hook). On the other hand, denying the man treatment is morally reprehensible and probably illegal. While the assorted townspeople are hashing it out, however, Whale takes the opportunity to disappear and reminisce about life with his adored younger brother, Gerhardt, who died during a grave robbery perpetrated by Victor, was brought back to life, also by Victor, and who ended tragically, much like Regina’s ex. So overcome with self-loathing and remorse is poor Victor that he’s prepared to end it all in Storybrooke Harbor, but fortunately Red has sniffed him out (literally) and pulls him back from the edge. Viewers looking for a new couple to ship say “… huh. Okay.” And Victor sobers up enough to operate on the stranger, who survives.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gold plants one on Belle in the hope that True Love’s Kiss will restore her memory. It doesn’t.

… Now, hold the phone, here. I suppose we’re to believe that with all of Mr. Gold’s knowledge and all of his magicks and all of his guile, he can’t figure out a way to solve amnesia? I call bullshit. The next thing you know, Belle will be lured into marriage with Victor Kiriakis (http://soapcentral.com/days/whoswho/victor.php), but then during the wedding, as she stands at the altar, Gold will whoosh in and grab the processional cross and swing it at Kiriakis, but miss and whack Belle in the head instead. Her memory instantly restored, she will fall into Gold’s arms… just in time for the police to rush in and arrest him for his trumped-up role in a Macedonian drug ring, an offense for which Kiriakis framed him, just in case. Belle and Gold will escape and go on the run together during May sweeps. Their smiling faces will appear on magazine covers above the headline “At Long Last …Lovers!” Kiriakis will snort and stomp and fume. (Daytime) Emmy awards for everyone!

I mean, if Victor Frankenstein can exist in Storybrooke, why not Victor Kiriakis? Even Henry recognizes that Frankenstein is not part of the Fairy Tale World’s story (even though Rumpelstiltskin is able to visit Frankenstein’s world to offer to underwrite his research. Again, how many different worlds are there?) The clever writers have just given themselves an opening to bring any and all iconic characters from myth and literature to town. Just you wait: Jane Eyre will take tea with Aragorn, while Beowulf courts Emma Swan and Captain America tries to decide between Mary and Kitty Bennet. Victor Kiriakis remains the town’s evil mastermind, and every once in a while the U.S.S. Enterprise flies overhead and Scotty beams down for a pint with the Seven Dwarves. I’m telling you, this show could go on forever.

So could this review, so I’ll wrap up quickly, saying only that the dialogue in this episode was positively inspired (“Gold! Are you insane?” “Yes. I. Am.”) and the Stranger is such a dork – the Star Wars ringtone! The tweeted photos of meals! The sheepish confession: “I was texting.” – that he can only be evil, can’t he? Oh, and I thought Emma’s special talent was that she can always tell when someone’s lying? Investigative FAIL. It’s only a matter of time before, as Gold puts it, tour buses are driving up and down Main Street, looking for The Magic. That will be hilarious. I can’t wait for the first bus full of yahoos to pull up to Granny’s.

Next time: A Gold and Emma Road Trip! I like the episode already.

The Checklist:

Mr. Gold calls someone “Dearie”: Probably? I, like Belle, have temporary amnesia on this point.
Snow kicks someone’s ass: No
New characters are introduced: Yes: Gerhardt Frankenstein AND the Stranger – I spent the entire episode thinking they were the same guy and wondering why Whale didn’t tell anyone he was operating on his own brother. Also, aren’t there any other doctors in town?
We are reminded that “magic always comes with a price”: Yes
Lost Re-Employment Program: No, but it looks like Jorge Garcia will be back in a few weeks.

– Kate Nagy

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The Outsider

Review: ONCE UPON A TIME – “The Outsider” (02.11)

US Air Date: Sunday, January 13, 2013
Written by: Andrew Chambliss & Ian B. Goldberg
Directed by: David Solomon

In Short: Belle goes adventuring.
Recommended: Yes!

HOOK: My dear Belle, you should have stayed with your books. Real life can get so… messy.

“The Outsider” is Emile de Ravin’s episode, and I’m happy to say that she rocks it. In fact, I was so happy with her story in both worlds that I almost didn’t mind the cheesy plot twist at the end. (Amnesia? Are we seriously going to go there, show?) Here’s what happened:

First, in Fairy Tale Land, Belle is longing for adventure, and when she overhears some men talking about hunting for a vicious beast called the Yaoguai, she’s all in – much to the men’s disgust. She uses her book-smarts to track the beast down, her good nature to win over a skeptical Mulan, who has also been hunting the Yaoguai, and her kind-heartedness not to kill the Yaoguai but to sprinkle fairy dust on him, revealing that he is none other than an enspelled Prince Philip, a.k.a. Aurora’s true love. For her trouble, she’s arrested and imprisoned by the Evil Queen.

Then, in Storybrooke, she discovers that her relationship with Mr. Gold has placed her in danger when Captain Hook shows up in the library after hours, mayhem on his mind. Gold saves her, but later on she finds a knotted piece of rope on the floor and deduces that a sailor has left it there. She goes to the harbor and discovers Hook and Cora’s invisible ship, where she frees the imprisoned and not-so-very-dead Archie Hopper, and when Hook and Gold inevitably arrive to continue trying to kill one another, she stops Gold from finishing Hook off. (cf. the “Too Pretty to Die” trope on V.) And she rescues an ancient shawl, Gold’s most treasured possession (hey, I thought the teacup was his most treasured possession!), which will – if suitably magicked – allow him to cross the town line without losing his memory. As the two share a tender farewell at the town line, Hook shows up and shoots Belle (with Gold’s gun, the dastardly cad) such that she falls across the line and loses her memory. An enraged Gold is preparing, yet one more time, to kill Hook dead when a speeding car tears across the town line and runs over Hook. Now, that’s what I call a cliffhanger!

This is a great episode, although I can’t really endorse Belle’s going to the Ghost Ship without telling anyone – not Gold, not the Sheriff, not her great and good friend the werewolf – about her plans. However, other than that brief lapse into idiocy, Belle is smart, plucky, and good, and I particularly like the show’s demonstration that it’s her book-smarts that lead her to the answers.

I also am enjoying the fact that the town’s inhabitants seem to be split on whether to stay in Storybrooke or return to the Fairy Tale World. Some (Beige et al.) feel a responsibility to save the Fairy Tale World from whatever malign enchantment it’s under; others (Grumpy, Red) feel that they aren’t safe in a world that can’t understand or accept their magic. In fact, a lot of concern is expressed about what will happen when an outsider comes to town, and it does raise the question of what happens when a civilian, for lack of a better term, comes in. Will s/he lose his/her memory upon leaving? More to the point, aren’t there people in and out of there all the time? Is the town entirely, 100% self-sufficient? Aren’t there delivery trucks, state snow crews, internet providers, etc. who have come in? Do Storybrooke residents even use the internet? (I’ll bet Red would find a lot of werewolves, or maybe “werewolves,” out there as soon as she got on line. She could order a Team Jacob t-shirt and wear it as a badge of honor.)

Should I stop overthinking this?

Probably I should, and in any case I’m thinking we’ll find out soon rather than late what happens when Storybrooke lets the outside in. With any luck, the mysterious Outsider will turn out to be a hypnotherapist who specializes in treating amnesia. (I still can not believe they’re going there.)

The Checklist:

Mr. Gold calls someone “Dearie”: No.
Snow kicks someone’s ass: No
New characters are introduced: Everything old is new again, as we welcome Philip back to the fold.
We are reminded that “magic always comes with a price”: It’s heavily implied, if not stated outright.
Lost Re-Employment Program: No

– Kate Nagy

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JENNIFER MORRISON, GINNIFER GOODWIN, MEGHAN ORY, JARED GILMORE (OBSCURED), RAPHAEL SBARGE, FAUSTINO DI BAUDA

Review: ONCE UPON A TIME – “The Cricket Game” (02.10)

US Air Date: Sunday, January 6, 2013
Written by: David H. Goldman & Robert Hull
Directed by: Dean White

In Short: Archie Hopper is murdered, and Regina is the only suspect… but there’s more to the story than (literally) meets the eye.
Recommended: Yes.

EVIL QUEEN: I regret that I didn’t cause MORE pain.
— A badass Fairy Tale Queen defiantly faces the firing squad.

See, this is why you want to live a clean life. If you’re known to have been a vindictive, murderous, overdressed sorceress back in the Old Country and then kindly Archie Hopper (Raphael Sbarge) suddenly turns up dead, and what’s more you were seen entering his office shortly before the body was found, it should come as no surprise when people jump to conclusions (or, to paraphrase Buffy, when people take a tiny little step and there the conclusions are). Indeed, most people will be more than happy to believe the worst of you, your feeble protestations that you’ve chaaaaanged aside. Just for example, sweet Ruby is never even considered a suspect in Archie’s murder, even though she was in the neighborhood when shit went down and she totally ate a guy back in the Old World.

Take-home message: Be a nice person, and it will be a lot more difficult for your psychotic mother and her sexy pirate boyfriend to frame you for homicide.

Meanwhile, back in the Fairy Tale World, the Evil Queen slakes her thirst for vengeance with trash talk…and blood. Snow and Charming debate whether to execute her but finally decide to offer her one last chance to repent. When the only thing she’s sorry for is not killing Snow when she had the chance, the Queen is banished. That’s when Rumpelstiltskin reveals that although technically, yes, he created the spell that protects Snow and Charming from harm at the Queen’s hands, he built in a little loophole in which the Queen might take an interest. Specifically, she can’t hurt them in the Fairy Tale World, but in any other world, all bets are off.

How many worlds are there, anyway?

It’s interesting how, in this world, Emma is willing to believe Regina at first, even though Regina doesn’t offer much of an alibi beyond “If I wanted him dead, you’d never know it was me.” (Heh.) And I loved Mr. Gold’s cheerful sangfroid as he’s accused of murder, and in front of Belle, no less: “Wasn’t me, dearie!” Gold does possess a magical Dreamcatcher that draws the damning memories from Archie’s dog – uh-oh – but for a smart cookie, Regina could have played that one a lot more intelligently, to wit: “You’re arresting me based on the testimony of a canine? How is that even admissible in court? I’m calling my lawyer.”

Do they even have lawyers in Storybrooke?

Of course, we find out fairly quickly that the guilty party is a shapeshifting Cora, and that Archie isn’t really dead – he’s tied up in the hold of Hook’s invisible pirate ship. (I had thought that the show was starting to cull the herd a little bit, but apparently not.) And everyone, including her own son, hates Regina. Again.

Don’t these idiots know that hate leads to the Dark Side?

I can’t wait for the truth to come out, actually, and I hope that when all of these sanctimonious ding-dongs go to Regina to apologize for not believing her, she makes them grovel. And then I hope she turns Henry into a really tacky paperweight, because the kid’s totally working my nerves lately.

The Checklist:

Mr. Gold calls someone “Dearie”: Check
Snow kicks someone’s ass: No
New characters are introduced: No
We are reminded that “magic always comes with a price”: Check
Lost Re-Employment Program: Not this week.

– Kate Nagy

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Once Upon A Time 2x09 Queen of Hearts

Review: ONCE UPON A TIME – “Queen of Hearts” (02.09)

Written by: Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by: Ralph Hemecker
US Air Date: Sunday, December 2, 2012

In Short: How far will Regina and Gold go to prevent Cora from coming to Storybrooke?
Recommended: Yes!

CORA: Oh, you foolish girl. Don’t you know…love is weakness?
EMMA: No. It’s strength.

Whew! What a fun episode. What twists, what turns. It’s making me deeply impatient for January – which is a 180-degree turn from where I was a week ago, let me tell you. And how, precisely, did this episode rock my world? Let us count the ways together:

First, we have the Gang of Four imprisoned in Rumpelstiltskin’s old cell back in the Fairy Tale World, thanks to the fact that Aurora is basically a remote-controlled robot under Cora’s thrall. As an aside, I can’t help but think that Cora tipped her hand too soon on that. Why stop at stashing Snow et al. together in a cell full of magical squid ink when you can compel Aurora to swipe the Littlest Ninja’s sword and gut the Savior and all her friends like so many fish? As soon as she arrives in Storybrooke (which will be soon), Cora needs to locate the nearest WiFi hotspot and look up the Rules for Evil Overlords. Learn it, live it, Cora.

Anyway, back in the cell, our heroines find an empty bottle that once contained the magical squid ink they need to effect their escape. They also find a scroll with Emma’s name written on it over and over again. Written in ink, of course. Much hand-wringing ensues. The bottle is empty! If only the ink were somewhere else! If only it were, say, written all over a scroll that we have in our hands, just for instance. I mean really. It took those ding-dongs far too long to figure that out.

Be that as it may, the ladies escape, AND Mulan retrieves Aurora’s heart, AND they run off together to rescue Prince What’s-His-Face, the existence of whom I had pretty much forgotten about until now. I’m telling you, there was a LOT going on in this episode! Then we’ve got Gold stealing all the fairy dust (that’s the Rumpel we all know and love!). And Cora and Hook renew Lake Nostro, where Charming’s mother died for want of the magical lake water. And at the end, Gold and Emma have a very intriguing conversation in which he once again suggests that he’s not just a unicorn-killing fey psycho and hints at a broader awareness of her destiny. And finally, Hook and Cora sail up into Storybrooke Harbor, having outwitted the good guys for now, although I have no idea where they got their hands on that ship. (What’s more, it raises the question of what happens to “normal” people who stumble upon Storybrooke. How do they experience the town? Sounds like an awesome fanfic waiting to be written.) Like I said – never a dull moment here.

But mostly, I want to talk about the continuing evolution (and maybe… devolution?) of one Ms. Regina Mills. This poor lost soul genuinely wants to be a good mother to Henry and a good person overall. The problem is that no one, including that little shit Henry, seems at all reluctant to use her newly awakening conscience to manipulate her into doing what they want. In this episode, her sometime mentor, Mr. Gold, wants her to close the portal at the well so Cora can’t come through. The aforementioned Henry wants her to expend her every effort keeping the portal open so Snow and Emma can come through (even absent any firm evidence that they’ll be able to do so). Because her moral compass is somewhat rusty from disuse, Regina doesn’t really have the inner resources to discern for herself what the appropriate course of action might be…

…so she defaults to Henry’s point of view, at some cost to herself. Fortunately, that all works out for everyone. But – and here’s the interesting part – how is she rewarded for her heroism at the well? Henry gives her a quick hug before shrieking “Mom!” and running to Emma. Emma exchanges a brief “Cora. Seriously?” “I know, right?” with her. And then the whole gang decides to go to Granny’s to celebrate, leaving her behind.

The look on her face when she realizes that her efforts are going to go largely unrewarded is heartbreaking, and you just know that she’s asking herself what the point is. If she can’t be loved, why not at least be feared? Anything is better than being ignored. Between this episode and what happened to poor Dankenstein back in “The Doctor,” the path of virtue has got to be looking pretty tedious to her right about now. I know I’m supposed to be cheering her ongoing redemption and insisting, along with that insufferable tween twit (tweet?) Henry, that Love Conquers All and she just needs to let her little light shine etc. etc. etc. But really, I’m hoping that Regina gets back in touch with her sacred inner bitch and throws some whoop-ass down on the entire town.

The Checklist:

Mr. Gold calls someone “Dearie”: Check.
We are reminded that Magic Always Comes With A Price: No.
Snow kicks someone’s ass: I think so.
New characters are introduced: No.
Lost Re-Employment Program: No.

– Kate Nagy

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