Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Once Upon A Time Recap: “Darkness on the Edge of Town” [4x13]

     I don’t know about you, but after two full months back at work, I am ready for vacation. And there are few places better than an enchanted little corner of Maine that serves some killer hot chocolate.

     Has it really been over ten weeks since we were last in Storybrooke? If anything it feels longer than that. Then again, I suppose the inhabitants of the oft-attacked town deserved a nice long respite before the next dose of villainy descends upon them… But that recess is over now, and evil is looming in the form of three queens, the Dark One, and "their secret weapon." Man, Storybrooke just can’t catch a break.


     When last we left the Charmings and the rest of their modern domain, Regina and Belle both lost their loved ones to the Town Line (though of course, under very different tragic circumstances). Operation Mongoose (Henry and his mothers) found a room of blank books belonging to The Author, and they want to ask him for Regina’s happy ending. And lastly, Rumpelstiltskin snuck off to New York to recruit the three “queens of darkness” to hunt down The Author.

     Back in the Enchanted Forest and long before the curse was ever enacted, Ursula and Maleficent find themselves face to face with one another. They start bickering right off, of course: then Cruella Deville herself shows up, too: flanked by two rottweilers. Apparently Cruella can... hypnotize dogs with her magic green breath?

     The ladies bicker (and quite well, too) because they've no idea who summoned them to meet. Naturally, it was a certain impish Dark One.

     It would seem that his plot to involve them in happy-ending-hunting began many years before Operation Mongoose; he wants to recruit the three queens and use their combined strength to acquire the happy endings that they all desire.

     Meanwhile in present-day Storybrooke, the inhabitants are developing a norm. School has even started back up, and all of the town children are loading the busses — including high school Henry!? When did he get so tall!?

     He heads off to learn all sorts of useful things like ornithology, which is now also taught by Mary Margaret, his former fifth-grade teacher. Apparently non-nuns can teach any grade K-12th in this school.

     Meanwhile, Regina's content to practice her magic by burning paintings of birds for... some sick reason... Emma's taught Hook how to function without guy-liner and fetch coffee before their morning sheriff duties (boy, he's certainly cleaning up into a modern, well-mannered fellow) and Belle seems happy running the library. She and Hook spend most of their time looking through old tomes (Hook insists that he doesn't trust Belle's "magic boxes" that use the internet, ha ha). They're trying to find out how to use the magic hat; after all, the town fairies and and Yensid* are still trapped inside it.

     * You know, the sorcerer's apprentice that got turned into a mouse at one point. He doesn't have an official canon name (unless you want to call him the not-so-fairy-tale name Mickey), so I took the liberty of 'inventing' one.

     Despite the rocky past that Hook and Belle once shared (I seem to recall Hook making multiple threats on her life in order to manipulate Rumpelstiltskin), the situation isn't as awkward as one might think. In fact, now that they've both been used and betrayed by the same trickster, they're able to bond surprisingly well. Hook is a perfectly respectful gentleman and tries to comfort Belle when she nearly tears up over her past mistakes. They have a surprisingly pleasant chemistry as allies, and while I hope that they'll never try to become more than friends, I could see some adorable bonding to come of their relationship.

     Meanwhile, there's another pair of characters with interesting chemistry out there... eeexcept that it's Rumpelstiltskin and Ursula, who are now sharing a New York apartment and a stash of ramen noodles.

     They snap at each other about freeloading and how to use a microwave and how Rumpelstiltskin only cares about himself. The whole exchange ends up being entirely witty... if not entirely comfortable. It would seem that Rumpelstiltskin, still acting fully-confident and in-control (which is always exciting) has been using the internet to further his plot (cough, cough), and now it's time for them to recruit another confidant.

     That confidant would be a one British Cruella "Fineberg" of... Long Island. Seriously? They not only gave her weird magical dog hypnotism, but now she lives all the way across the pond from London? Is there any part of this villainess that will remain canon in this saga?

     But it would seem that Cruella's world has grown a little less sunny; police are crawling all over her mansion and her furs are being confiscated. Her only valuable possession left is her classic antique car: how convenient, as it can now take her, Rumpelstiltskin, and Ursula to the one place in the world where they can regain their magic. She nearly refuses the idea since she doesn't trust the Dark One (nor does Ursula), but all she has to do now is drive, and then she'll never have to feel worthless and un-magically-ordinary again. So why not?

     Back in the Enchanted Forest Flashback, Rumpelstiltskin has called a meeting with the three queens of darkness. They've acquiesced enough to listen to him... but why is Cruella stroking her rottweiler while listening!? Seriously, Cruella is not an animal person! She is the exact opposite of an animal person! If she wants an animal for anything, it's because she's either going to eat it or wear it!

     But I digress (again). Rumpelstiltskin uses his usual convincing power of speech to request the aid of the queens in seeking out a certain curse. If they help him acquire it, then they will each get their heart's desire; apparently he knows what they each want However, he'll respect their secrecy as an admirable strategy to earn their trust. And in the end, according to him, their combined strength will allow them — the villains — to finally win.

     Back in the present day, the same evil band (sans-Maleficent, since Emma killed her near the end of the first season) is on the road for Storybrooke. Rumpelstiltskin explains that this time they will finally get a happy ending because they're allies now; he blames their previous failures on unfair odds (and possibly tacos, given his disdain for the cheesy drive-thru that they stop the car for. I can't say I blame him; any fictional villain who means business will lose my respect if they frequent Taco Bell — unless their name is Deadpool).

     Meanwhile in Storybrooke, Emma meets up with Regina to look for the sorcerer (and bond over some sodas). While looking for a bottle opener, Emma stumbles upon the torn page of Regina's almost-happy-ending with Robin Hood. Regina explains to her that it was a sign of what might have been.

     Then, good news! Belle arrives with the announcement that she found an ancient incantation that might release the fairies! It was originally in a different language, but she managed to find a random oxford professor who could translate it for her over the internet. Because that’s not suspicious at all!

     The heroes gather for a forest ceremony centered on the dagger: Regina handles the blade and doesn't even use an incantation that we can see... though we can see that there doesn't appear to be a name on the dagger anymore!

     The hat is ripped open by magic, and the fairies are freed. They and Regina are all rather traumatized — Regina's grip on the dagger is full of tremors. However, as they recover and rejoice, none of them notice that Yensid is still missing... and that an ominous cloud of evil-eyed black dust is escaping from the hat...

     Back in the Enchanted Forest Flashback, Rumpelstiltskin takes the three queens to an ancient mountain where the curse resides. If they acquire it, they may get their happy ending... but of course, careful traps lay in wait to snag any who desire the prize.

     Fortunately for the villains, the traps are conveniently relevant to their individual talents. Rumpelstiltskin recruited them each for a task. He brought Cruella along because her powers of persuasion apparently extend to all of animal-kind, and so she used that ability to remove a wall of bloodthirsty venomous cockroaches. As if a wall of normal cockroaches isn't unsettling enough.

     Next comes a dark curse forged from the fiery breath of dragons... so of course, Maleficent can simply absorb it into her staff.

     If I didn't know better, I'd say the person who put the curse in the mountain (coughAUTHORcough) was planning the traps just for them to break through.

     But there is a fourth obstacle that Rumpelstiltskin failed to mention: the Chernobog. Straight out of Fantasia for his latest cameo since Kingdom Hearts, this ancient demon of darkness feeds on those with the greatest potential for evil. And with the three ladies unable to escape, Rumpelstiltskin can make his getaway safely.

     Back in the present, the Deville car stops on a forest road: Rumpelstiltskin shows them the necktie he left hanging on a tree branch, 100 yards from the town line. Only now does he admit that he lied, because the town is hidden by a protection spell... and out comes Cruella's handgun!

     Ursula and Cruella are finally fed up with Gold's lies and shenanigans: they even figure out that it was Belle who banished him in the first place. But Rumpelstiltskin insists that they need magic to conquer the heroes and achieve a happy ending -- and the only way to regain their magic is to enter town. He's created a plan that will allow the queens to be invited into the town (the only way an outsider can enter). After that, he puts himself entirely in their hands; they will have to be the ones to let him into town once night falls. As he so eloquently puts it, "This plan requires not your trust of me, but me trusting you." He is rather known for his powers of persuasion, though when you think about it he always has the same motive in mind...

     Meanwhile, the town is throwing a celebration to welcome the fairies back -- at Granny's, of course. Emma even persuades Hook to come despite his remaining guilt. At the party, Regina tentatively approaches Blue (the head fairy godmother, remember) to ask her about the blank books that they found in the sorcerer's house. But Blue warns her that the sorcerer and the author aren’t the same person.

     In fact, they're very different people... and judging by her tone, it seems that one of them (perhaps the sorcerer, judging by his demeanor in Fantasia) is not to be trifled with. But if it's the Author that they seek, he hasn't been seen for many years... but he left hidden clues in his works.

     Does this mean we could potentially find clues to Once by watching Disney movies!? Get out.

     Still, there's a whole lot of talk going on in this episode, and not quite enough action.

     So, right on cue, the Chernobog roars over Storybrooke! Apparently it took some time to take solid form and get its bearings, because otherwise I don't know why it wouldn't have attacked right away. Still, the pressure's on! Who will it target? Regina? Emma? Perhaps Snow White? (Of course it will be Emma, but it's still a tense moment.)

     Meanwhile in the Flashback, the Chernobog is descending on the queens of darkness. They're formulating a plan for the two escapees to rescue its victim. Maleficent heads up the plan, because of course it's she that is the most evil. So while Ursula and Cruella head for a large crack in the cave ceiling, Maleficent does battle with the beastie.

     Back in Storybrooke, the Chernobog swoops down over the town. At first the heroes consider re-trapping the creature in the hat... until it conveniently comes to light that anything, once freed from the hat, can never be re-trapped. Instead, Emma and Regina team up to fight the monster side-by-side in the streets.

     They stun the beast enough to drive it off for a while, and so everyone goes into emergency mode — or, as they call it in Storybrooke, basic routine. Emma and Regina will figure out how to track the monster before it can strike again, Belle will do research on it, Snow and Charming will get the townsfolk to safety, and Hook will make an unwitting monster mash reference.

     While holed up in the mayor's home, Regina receives a call from Mr. Gold's number: it's Ursula and Cruella, who claim that they stole it it from the Dark One and came to Storybrooke looking for redemption. The queens do not sound one iota repentant, so Regina ain't buyin' it.

     But Ursula and Cruella bargain, saying they know what the Chernobog is. They trade their information for a pass into Storybrooke. And if, as they say, the beast indeed targets victims with the most potential for evil... then they will be let in.

     Back in the Flashback, Maleficent finally gives up fighting the Chernobog, and is just about to go down with out a fight in a very uncharacteristic death... but of course, Ursula and Cruella save her at the last moment and make good on their bargain. They escape through the crack in the cave together, leaving the Chernobog trapped in the mountain chamber.

     Back in Storybrooke, Regina insists that she's the Chernobog's target. Then Emma has an idea; if it's a magical beast, suppose they force it to cross the town line? The two of them hop into Emma's bug and speed out of town, drawing the beast as they go. Still, Volkswagen didn't test their vehicles on medieval beasts before manufacturing... the Chernobog punches a sizable hole in the windshield and starts tearing at the roof. Unwilling to spend her final moments trapped in a car, Regina decides to apparate straight to the town line and lure the beast there herself. But when she disappears, in the few seconds before Emma hits the breaks, the beast stays on the car. It's trying to get to Emma, not Regina.

     But there's little time for either of the characters to notice; with a screech of breaks and a poof of smoke, the car stops and throws the Chernobog across the town line and it disappears. Now the only danger is posed by Cruella and Ursula, who are sitting just outside the line without a clue of what just happened.

     Now the heroes have to decide whether they're going to make good on their deal. Snow and Charming aren't too keen on the idea, though they can't give much solid argument.

     But Regina admits that she was worse than either queen, and if she deserved a second chance then so do they. That said, she tosses a scroll across the town line. Cruella and Ursula read what suspiciously looks like Tolkien Dwarvish, then they look up and see the Storybrooke inhabitants waiting for them. They drive in and tell Regina she won't regret it. She certainly doesn't want to, but their wicked smiles aren't making it easy.

     That night, Rumpelstiltskin awaits the two queens at the town line. Long after darkness has fallen, he finally turns to limp away in dejection... but then a scroll pops across the town border! Now perhaps this will never be revealed, but I get the feeling that Ursula and Cruella just stood there watching him for some time to savor their power over the whole situation.

     But at any rate, Gold is able to unroll the scroll and then cross the town line and discard his cane in a most epic fashion!

     Then the three of them stroll down main street together in broad street-light (seriously, do they think no one might look out and see the Dark One with two evil queens out in the open?) to discuss their villainous plans. As it turns out, Gold had planned to release the Chernobog. He had pretended to be that Oxford professor to translate the hat incantation, so he was able to not only release the beast with the fairies, but also keep Yensid trapped. Now he wants the queens to make friends and fake redemption while he goes to work fetching Maleficent. "But didn't she die?" they ask.

     Then they can recruit their greatest ally yet. Their target is not Regina, though... it's Emma.

     But before we leave Storybrooke, we find ourselves out in the woods one last time: witnessing a meeting between the Charmings and the two queens of darkness. It appears to be an arranged encounter, with the makings of a very uneasy sort of parley.

     Snow and Charming warn the queens that they will only be allowed in Storybrooke so long as nobody — especially Emma — knows of their past in the Enchanted Forest. And if anyone does find out, Snow warns them: "I'll rip out your hearts myself."

     My, my: our heroine certainly is descending into dangerous moral territory.

     Tune in next week, because—

     Rumpelstiltskin is about to use some of Maleficent's remaining blood to resurrect her, and there's a good chance she'll be making an appearance in dragon form.

     We're going to find out what happened between the queens and the Charmings back in the Enchanted Forest... and we're also going to see Snow reduced to begging when the life of Baby Neil is threatened by her enemies.

     (I know targeting someone's child is the most convenient and heartless mode of manipulation a villain could want, but that infant better not have a scratch at the end of the episode.)


Current Questions:
A. How and when did Cruella and Ursula wind up in the modern world? Regina's original curse banished the magical realm's inhabitants to Storybrooke. The only other methods of transport are Peter Pan's shadow, magic beans and the Hatter's hat (but banishing the queens via any of those methods would be more trouble than it's worth). Maleficent was banished to the library basement for all those years, so Regina certainly had the power to bring Ursula and Cruella along with her curse... but why place them outside of her domain?

B. Can Robin and his family come back at some point? Because Regina really needs to stop winding up all alone.
     1. Will the ice-curse resume its work on Marian if she returns? At first, when Gold re-crossed the town line and tossed away his cane, I thought that all spells would indeed resume in Storybrooke. Then I wondered if perhaps Gold's leg was only healed by a spell that he re-cast as soon as he was back within Storybrooke boundaries. But perhaps I'm reading too much into it.

Current Theories:
A. I've the feeling that Yensid (the sorcerer's apprentice) may also be the Author, or at least related to the author in some fashion. Seeing as the original apprentice in Fantasia was Mickey, the embodiment of Disney's founder (that's right, folks: good old Walt had his own OC long before the term was even invented), and Walt Disney is more or less "the Author" of all Disney fairy tales.

B. Something big is coming for Hook and Belle. Whether it's a trial of their friendship or some muddled romantic mess, I think they're going to be working together a lot more now, and they're going to get in some deep territory.

C. I've considered this for some time now: though The Swan Princess wasn't a Disney production, Emma's last name does make me wonder if/when she'll be roped into that particular fairy tale. I think it would be awfully delightful.

E. You know what we need? Hans. That fella could do with a session in Storybrooke. Besides, we need more non-magical villains; this town is getting to be largely a magic-fest, but it's characters like Gold who manipulate others without magic that makes the show intriguing.

F. Three words: Into the Woods. (It was a Disney production, after all: why not have the Baker show up some time? James Corden cameos for the win!)

G. Also Tarzan. And Hercules. And Tiana. Basically all of those Disney characters that we haven't seen yet. Oooooh, could you imagine Dr Facilier running around with his band of shadows!? Now we're cookin'!


Post a Comment