So, that happened. And by that I mean, arguably, the most blah episode of Once Upon A Time we’ve been subjected to in a while. I mean, things moved forward ….yes. And they’re doing a nice job of setting up …eh, stuff and things. I guess. But, was I the only one who felt like the flashbacks were at the Arrow circa Season 4 level?
Aka, a good time to go get a snack. Go to the bathroom. Take a catnap.
For one, they were boring. For two, they didn’t really manage to strike an emotional chord. And, yes, of course, they also assassinated one of the most interesting characters in literature.
So, join me as we discuss how bitter it was to swallow watching “A Bitter Draught”
THE COUNT OF BADLY TOLD STORIES
(Wait, no. That’s not the right gif. But who cares? Right gif is boring anyway)
Look, I’m a big fan of The Count of Monte Cristo. I own a leather-bound copy of the book that I keep on my bedside table. As such, my expectations were probably too high to begin with. They were never going to satisfy me. But, it would have been good if they’d manage to satisfy …well, someone?
I get that he was only there to further Regina’s story, I do. That’s what often happens in Once Upon A Time with minor characters. But this is not Gaston, who we didn’t care about. This is a wonderful character with a rich history that, frankly, deserved better.
You know what I learned while reading The Count of Monte Cristo? I learned that being prepared is more important than anything, (Was this version of the Count ever prepared? No). I learned that revenge is a dish best served cold. (Aka, don’t tip your hand in your first ball, kill one of your enemies in front of everyone and ruin any chance at actually getting revenge on all who wronged you). I also learned that knowledge is more important than riches.(Yeah, not much to say there either).
Being reduced to a mere mercenary that Regina killed wasn’t that bad. Having the story dumbed down enough as to be unrecognizable, that’s something different altogether.
And then, to add insult to injury, they kill him! Just like that. For people supposedly concerned about the happy ending of others, that was surprisingly callous. Message or no message.
THE EVIL INSIDE THE QUEEN
And, finally, the Evil Queen has revealed her endgame, and I must say this was probably my favorite part of this so-so episode. Because it can’t be as easy as Once Upon A Time was making it seem. Being a hero is about admitting your mistakes, about apologizing, about realizing that you might never be able to make up for what you did – and yet trying nonetheless.
Regina hasn’t cleansed herself from the evilness by casting the EQ away. No, Regina still has to reject what comes with being evil. She has to fight the darkness every day, and then, when she’s won one battle, she has to fight another one, and another one. And she has to find ways to not just save her newfound family, but to do it without hurting other innocent people.
The Count of Monte Cristo probably didn’t deserve to die. And yet, Regina made a choice, and as much as the Evil Queen might mock her for it, it was the right one. Ironic, how this show started with Regina risking everything to kill Snow and now we have her, arguably risking her soul to save her.
But that’s the Regina of today. And, she had a bad day, yes. She made a bad choice. She maybe could have found another way. But that doesn’t mean she’s not a hero. That doesn’t mean she’s what the Evil Queen wants her to be. It’s all about choice. And as long as Regina realizes that, and as long as she has a family to support her, she’ll be okay.
THE EMMA BEHIND THE MASK
Emma has always had a difficult time being vulnerable. It’s not that she doesn’t feel – if anything, Emma feels too much. It’s that she doesn’t know how to share those feelings. She has this expectation of herself – not just as Emma, but as the savior, as Killian’s TL, as her parent’s perfect daughter, as Henry’s Mom who rescued him, and most times, it’s impossible to live up to the standard she’s set for herself.
Which is why talking to Archie is such a big step. Emma has never felt free to be completely open with her parents because, in a way, you don’t choose your parents. And the element of choice is very important to Emma. It was easier to be open with Mary Margaret when she was just a friend who took her in than it is to be open with Snow White, her mother.
In a way, this is why it’s easier for Emma to be open with Killian. He chose her and she chose him and they’ve chosen to move ahead and plan a future together. However, that’s also what makes it hard. The future together doesn’t work if she’s dead – so by confessing to Killian what’s troubling her she’s essentially telling him that both their happy endings are doomed. Because if there’s one thing Emma understands at this point it’s that she’s Killian’s happy ending.
Her words to Archie: “If I don’t help people, then who am I?” speak a lot to the person she’s become. She used to be a loner; she used to put Emma first, second and third. And that was easy when there was literally no one else in her life. But now, Emma literally puts herself last. She’s got a long list of people to save, and for her that’s not just a responsibility, not just what she does, but who she is.
In saving people, in being the savior, she’s found who she always wanted to be. She’s not a lost kid anymore, she’s useful, she’s necessary. People look up to her. And a part of Emma doesn’t want to give up that.
Add that to the part of her that’s just scared of her family’s reaction, and, of course, the part that thinks Regina (or the Evil Queen, as it were) is the one who’ll end up killing her, and this week it’s easier to understand why Emma just won’t confide in the people who love her.
It’s also easy to see that it won’t last long. Hook will push, because that’s what he does best. He respects her choices, but he won’t stop reminding her that there are better ones. That’s what a relationship is all about, after all. Bringing out the best in each other, helping the other person see when there’s a better path.
Emma’s not alone. She will never be again. And as heavy as her burden is, there are people willing to share her load. All she needs is to understand that it’s okay to share it.
“I have a long road to travel before I can be someone I can be proud of,” Hook says to Belle, adding that as nice as the forgiveness of others is, he must forgive himself – and he’s just not there yet.
This is a nice glimpse at the complications of redemption. We’ve seen them a lot with Regina, and we tend to push aside the fact that Hook did his fair share of reprehensible things. But truth is, Belle deserved this apology, and Hook needed to give it if he’s going to continue to walk the path of heroism.
Being a hero, at least by Once Upon A Time standards, is not just about doing the right thing. It’s about accepting when you do wrong; it’s about having hope and trying to be better, every time. Even when you fail.
Especially when you fail.
Is Hook a hero? Yes. Is he perfect? No more than Regina. But that’s not the point. It never has been. The point is to not get lost in the past, but raise your chin, look into the future, and try to make that better.
That’s all we can ask. Of these characters, and of ourselves.
THINGS THAT DO NOT MAKE SENSE, A LIST
Here we go again with the list. Because, hey, even in a somewhat boring episode, Once Upon A Time always provides moments for us to go all …huh? It’s a gift. Truly, it is.
So, without further ado, we have:
- Regina taking Henry to fight the Count of Monte Cristo. People, Henry is a teenager. One who has NO actual powers. I get that he’s not a child that needs to be coddled, and I get Jared Gilmore is now old enough to log more hours or something, but some common sense wouldn’t go amiss, okay?
- The disappearing act of Baby Charming. (Never using his name. Never, ever. EVER.) No, seriously. Where is the kid? Who’s babysitting? How much do the Charmings pay for babysitting a week? How old is he by now?
- Charming just having a casual conversation with the Evil Queen. Do these people never learn? Did he think the EQ was going to tell him something nice? After six seasons, can our heroes finally learn to NOT LISTEN TO THE VILLAIN?
- Where is Killian living? Seriously, though, he’s not gonna stay in the Jolly Roger with Belle, that’s not the kind of man he is, and if he offers so freely, then it just makes sense to think he’s living with Emma. But, if he IS, then why won’t the show just SAY IT? It’s 2016, not 1956.
- All the assassin’s Regina hires end up NOT KILLING ANYONE. You’d think she’d do a more through background check, or something.
OTHER THINGS TO NOTE
- Operation Cobra 2, Henry? Really? You’re losing your touch.
- What was Regina wearing in that first scene when she meets the Count of Monte Cristo? Her drapes?
- “Do you really want to hear about every time I tried to kill you?” is the best line in this episode.
- I want in on this Captain Cobra movie night.
- Also, the fact that Henry says it so matter-of-factly means a lot. It means he’s comfortable enough with Killian’s place in his life – whether that be as a friend or as a possible father figure – to realize that Killian will be there to do something of the sort with him.
- Were the 3 guys dressed like the 3 musketeers actually …the three musketeers? Is that too much to ask?
- The Evil Queen/Rumple scene was both uncomfortable and somewhat intriguing. I think I could go for that. I mean, an evil power couple IS the one thing this show has yet to do properly.
- Rumple poisoning Charlotte is …well, so like Rumple. He just doesn’t care about people. Why did we ever pretend he did?
- The EQ + Zelena team-up is so predictable I don’t even have anything to say about it. Zelena just wants her sister to love her. It’s as clear as day. Why can’t Regina see it?
- Not saying Regina shouldn’t have questioned her, but, for crying out loud, approach with caution. And kindness.
- Lana Parilla deserves kudos for the amazing performance she gives in this episode. There’s an extra softness to Regina, an edge to the Evil Queen, that makes it easier to separate them, even without the wardrobe. That takes skill.
- I love that, when Emma’s trying to take her parents out of town, Snow is in the front seat and Charming’s in the back. Mom always gets the front seat.
- Who else missed bad-ass and resourceful Snow and Charming?
- When Regina, Emma and Snow were having their ladies night, what exactly were Charming and Hook doing?
A BIT OF SPECULATION
Regina or the Evil Queen indeed. Problem is, the Evil Queen is too obvious, so it must be Regina. Except, that’s also too straightforward. So, is it Regina playing a long con? Are they switching places at some point? Will Regina get to save Emma this year, and, in a way, atone (if that’s even possible) for all the pain she caused Snow?
I wouldn’t mind that. I really wouldn’t.
The other bit of speculation involves Charming and Hook – who are obviously going to team up to find about Charming’s father. Does anyone else get the sense Hook and perhaps, Captain Nemo, might be involved in one way or another?
Why not? This is Once Upon A Time, after all.
NEXT, ON ONCE UPON A TIME
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.