TV Time: Once Upon a Time 4.18

Source: onceuponatime.wikia.com

Source: onceuponatime.wikia.com

Title Sympathy for the De Vil

Two-Sentence Summary When Cruella kidnaps Henry, her connection to the Author becomes something of great importance to every character, especially Emma. That connection is revealed in flashbacks, which also show how and why the Author took away her happy ending.

Favorite Line “Forgive me if I don’t take advice from a woman who held a grudge for half her life because a 10-year-old spilled a secret.” (Emma, to Regina)

My Thoughts Sometimes it’s easy and fun for me to talk about challenging episodes of television. And sometimes it’s not. “Sympathy for the De Vil” falls into the latter category, so I apologize if my thoughts are a bit scattered this week. A lot of things happened in this episode; some I adored, and some I was less than enthusiastic about. Ultimately, this was one of those episodes that will probably be more enjoyable to analyze later on than in its immediate aftermath. So much of its emotional and thematic core depends on how actions and arcs are going to play out into next week and beyond. That’s the problem with cliffhangers—they’re cool to watch but not so cool to write about without devolving into pure speculation.

“Sympathy for the De Vil” did right by its title character in so many ways. It created a backstory for a villain that was engaging and unbelievably surprising. But the episode faltered a bit when its focus shifted from Cruella back to the Charming Family drama. This season has given us new characters with great stories to tell, and it’s also tried to build up a compelling story about Emma being tempted by darkness. However, I think both didn’t need to be in the same season. There’s such deep, complex emotional drama to be mined from Emma’s potential darkness and how her parents’ betrayal of her trust plays into that, but a lot of it is getting lost in the equally deep and complex backstories of this season’s many villains. I appreciate the scope of this season (and am happy these Queens of Darkness turned out to be so wonderful), but I’m ready for the focus to narrow down a little bit as the season finale approaches.

So much of this season—4A included—has been about self-definition and the difference between who we really are and who other people think we are. This episode was no exception. Point of view is such a great literary device, and it seems fitting that an episode dealing so heavily with the Author (who we now know is named Isaac) relied so much on it. The title of the episode implied that we were going to feel sympathy for Cruella, and that seemed to fit with the classic Once Upon a Time pattern of villain backstories. And then the opening scene was shot from the point of view of young Cruella, and I was immediately making Rapunzel comparisons and feeling sad for this little girl who was locked in a tower by her wicked mother.

However, looking back on the episode, there were hints all along that Cruella’s story was going to be different. When she and Maleficent had their confrontation, I thought she was lying when she said she left Lily to die because she was a horrible person. But it turns out that Cruella was being completely honest about who she is. It was only in the past that she lied about it in order to get what she wanted. She used the Author’s love for a good story to weave him a tale straight out of a fairytale, with herself as the captive princess, when in actuality she was the villain from the start.

Out of all the twists this season on Once Upon a Time, Cruella’s past may be my favorite (even more than the Zelena reveal in the last episode). I genuinely didn’t see it coming, and I love that this show still has some tricks up its sleeve and is self-aware enough to use its formulaic villain-episode plots to lull the audience into a false sense of security. The smart writing was also aided by the fantastic performances given by Victoria Smurfit and Patrick Fischler. Smurfit did such an excellent job of showing Cruella as being slightly off, which I attributed at first to her time as an abused child. And Fischler has always been great at playing unsettling characters, so I naturally believed Isaac was going to be the one to hurt Cruella by taking away her happy ending. Little did I know that, in doing so, he was acting as a hero.

Even when Cruellla’s mother went to Isaac to tell the true story, I didn’t believe her at first. It was only when she talked about not wanting to turn Cruella into the authorities because she was still her child that this story seemed too connected to this half-season’s themes of parents, children, and inherent darkness to be anything but true. And when we saw just how cruel Cruella could be—using her mother’s dogs to tear her apart—I was floored by how dark this episode seemed willing to go. Things only got darker when Isaac confronted Cruella and saw that she’d turned those dogs into her first Dalmatian-skin coat. Smurfit was genuinely terrifying in those two scenes, and I am going to miss the unique energy and charisma she brought to this show.

I am still a little bit in awe of how smart it was to have Cruella—a character nobody expected much from—to be the most purely evil character this show has ever had (with perhaps the exception of Peter Pan, but I think she might actually be worse than Pan). Cruella was a pretty ineffective villain in 101 Dalmatians, and on this show she seemed to be more about snark and gin than actual danger. Little did we know that the sass, diamonds, and passionate Angry Birds playing all masked a heart that seems to have been born dark. If we’ve been taught by this show to believe that evil isn’t born, it’s made, then Cruella just threw a big wrench into that theme. But it’s a wrench that somehow still seems believable. Some people are true psychopaths; some people want to kill because they like killing—not because of any deeper reason than that. And the realization that Cruella’s true happy ending was being able to kill again made her quite possibly the most chilling character in the history of this show.

There are still a lot of questions I have about both Cruella and Isaac, but I’m not sure they’ll ever be answered now. How did she get to the Enchanted Forest? Can the car cross realms, and, if so, how did Isaac travel without it? What happened to Isaac once his ink became the black part of Cruella’s iconic hairstyle? (That one I think will get answered this season.) And why did he still want to change people’s stories once he saw how manipulating Cruella’s story by giving her magic enabled her to do terrible things?

The flashbacks in this episode did such a great job of making me more invested in Isaac beyond just what he could do to the characters I already care about. They also brought up interesting ideas about darkness and intent. Cruella killed because she liked it; it made her happy. Isn’t that different from a person killing someone to protect someone else? I’d like to think so. But then again, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I think one of the key things we’ve learned this season is that when “villains” do something dark, they continue down that path and never look back. But when “heroes” do something dark, they try to atone for it. However, those lines between villains and heroes are blurring in such a complex way that this season seems to be leading to the eradication of those black-and-white labels altogether. Those labels generally refer to how the world sees these characters, when what really matters is how they see themselves.

Two characters who have always struggled with how they define themselves are Regina and Rumplestiltskin. In this episode, Regina seemed to embrace a middle ground between light and dark, which is exactly where I like her character the most. (There needs to be someone with a pragmatic, ends-justify-the-means mindset in the group.) I still don’t know if she had Belle’s consent when she took her heart, and I wish that was a bit clearer because that’sa pretty big thing to leave ambiguous. (Personally, I think she had Belle’s consent, but I can see why others would think she didn’t.) And Rumplestiltskin’s growing darkness continues to be explained in a believable way. The idea that his heart has grown so dark from his deeds that he could lose all ability to love is fascinating. I love when actions have consequences in fiction, and it’s amazing to see his quest for power come back to haunt him. However, his desperation doesn’t excuse the fact that he wants to corrupt Emma’s heart for his own sake. He’s still acting like a villain because he believes he can never be more than that, and it’s hard to completely sympathize with someone who isn’t even trying to be better than his worst self anymore.

It’s ironic to think that Rumplestiltskin went to such great lengths in this episode to manipulate Emma toward darkness, when her parents were already doing his job for him—perhaps even better than he was. What could be more of a push toward darkness than finally believing people loved your for who you are after a lifetime of struggling with that kind of hope, only to have the people you trusted the most make you wonder why you ever let yourself hope at all? That’s how I view Emma’s relationship with her parents right now. The very people who taught her to hope turned out to be people who had so little hope for her ability to be a good person that they did something terrible to another innocent life in order to take away her agency. And what was even worse was that they lied to her about it; they pretended to have the final word on being heroes when they were keeping this huge, dark secret from her.

One of the most important things to Emma is honesty, especially being honest with her about who you really are. Emma likes people who own who they are—for better or worse. She’s not from a world of heroes and villains; she’s from a world that is much more morally ambiguous. And that’s always made her more accepting of people like Regina and Hook than her parents have been. As Emma told Regina and Hook in the woods, they don’t hide the fact that they’ve done dark things. They (pardon my language) own their shit. But Snow and Charming let the world label them as heroes after doing something dark (and never trying to directly atone for it with Maleficent, as far as we know). And they’re still acting as if they have the moral high ground.

There are so many conversations I want Snow, Charming, and Emma to have right now, but the biggest one is an admission by Snow and Charming that Emma still has a right to be upset with them. My biggest source of disappointment with those characters in this episode was the way they invalidated Emma’s feelings. The show could have done a better job of indicating the passage of time, too. In my mind, Emma only found about the secret a couple of days ago at the most, so for Snow, Charming, and Regina to be telling Emma basically to get over it felt incredibly harsh. Instead of acknowledging Emma’s anger and helping her work through it, her parents seemed frustrated with her and continued to tell her that her goodness was a direct result of their actions rather than her choices. To be honest, that would probably push me toward the dark side, too.

Jennifer Morrison (and the makeup department) did such a good job of showing how broken, exhausted, and vulnerable Emma is right now, but I wish there was time for her to lay all her cards on the table with her parents instead of only getting brief moments of anger with them. Emma has had people lie to her and keep secrets from her many times, claim it was for the greater good, and completely dismiss her feelings about all of it. I want all of that to come out because Emma needs that catharsis (and viewers need it, too). Instead, we had to watch characters act as if Emma was supposed to forgive her parents because they deserve immediate forgiveness, which I didn’t enjoy at all.

The one character who was actually gentle toward Emma in her vulnerable state was Hook, and I thought Colin O’Donoghue did a great job of getting the point across that Hook didn’t want Emma to forgive her parents for their sake; he wanted her to forgive them for her sake. When he told her that even heroes make mistakes, he wasn’t trying to excuse what her parents did, which was so important. He was simply reminding her that things don’t always have to be black and white, which is something Emma has helped him believe about himself. He was trying to get her to stop holding onto her anger—because he knows all too well what that can do to a person.

But with anger still holding a tight grip around her heart, Emma was forced to confront Cruella as she held a gun to Henry’s head. Emma gave her time to put the gun down, but she eventually felt she had no choice; she had to kill Cruella to save Henry. It’s an act that I can never see as completely villainous because I could see myself doing the same thing if the person I loved more than anything had a gun to their head and I had magic. Could Emma have used her magic to get the gun away or get Henry out of Cruella’s grasp? Perhaps. But she wasn’t thinking clearly, and I think that was much more of a sign of darkness than the actual act of killing an immediate threat to her son’s life.

I’m a little concerned about the ramifications of this scene, especially for Emma and her parents. I’m worried about Snow and Charming acting judgmental about it once they find out (and it’s going to kill me to see them tell Emma Cruella couldn’t actually kill anyone), because that’s the last thing Emma needs in this situation. I’m worried that this is going to be shown as the one act that pushes Emma to the dark side (especially because of her facial expression in the last shot) instead of a stepping-stone on a path to darkness or an action that will make her question her ability to be a hero. But those worries could all be abated by how this is handled next week. I hope at least some of the focus is on the anger driving Emma’s actions and not just moralizing about the fact that she killed a dangerous person (which heroes have done before with no ramifications—Snow and Charming couldn’t have fought a war against Regina without taking some lives along the way).

The thing I’m most hopeful about in terms of this new challenge for Emma is the group she’s chosen to have around her in this difficult time. Hook and Regina are the backbone of Emma’s support system right now, and she’s going to need them more than ever. Regina can give her tough love, which Emma can give her right back. Those two women have never had unrealistic expectations of the other’s goodness, which is so important. And Hook’s understanding that heroes make mistakes is going to be vital in helping Emma understand that one dark moment doesn’t mean she has to completely give in to darkness. He promised to always see the best in her as she sees the best in him, and I have a feeling that vow is going to be very important in upcoming episodes.

Both Regina and Hook know the dangers of letting anger and self-loathing take over your heart and turn you away from the good person you once were. It’s no coincidence that they’re the people the writers decided for Emma to be closest to as she’s facing those dangers herself. While this story arc hasn’t been easy to watch at times, it has the potential to bring about huge moments of growth for so many characters. It’s just a matter of the writers giving those moments the proper amount of focus, depth, and time in the spotlight.

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39 thoughts on “TV Time: Once Upon a Time 4.18

  1. Hello.

    First, I’d like to say how much I love your analytical and wonderfully worded analyses each week (I’m mostly here for Once and Castle but since you’ve recently discovered Outlander too, I’m hoping your schedule will lighten up enough to write more about that as well).

    Second, you were able to get to exactly what’s been bothering me about the Emma/Charmings storyline this half season — that they’re invalidating her reaction/emotions. Every time I think they’re about to make a real apology they end up undermining it with some sort of explanation that, as Emma put it, downplays their own responsibility. They try to say that they regret what they’ve done but then you have Snow in last night’s episode saying it was “worth it.” Also, I think that, to an extent, they’re apologizing for the wrong thing. I feel Emma would be able to get over what they did to Maleficent/Lily if they would simply apologize to her (Emma) for lying to her about it. That’s the real thing that’s keeping her mad is that they didn’t trust her enough to tell her the truth (and as a viewer, that’s where my frustration with them really comes in; I mean, they literally watched her tell Hook that keeping a secret from her was okay it was lying about it that was a no-no and that somehow changed their minds about telling her the truth?).

    The Cruella stuff was fantastic. I loved the twist with her simply being a bad egg from the start. When they announced the Queens of Darkness, she was the one I was most skeptical about and has turned out to be the one I have actually been enjoying the most. I just wish they’d done this half-season arc as a full season arc. There are too many things happening that feel like they’re not getting enough time to fully develop. I loved the Frozen characters (because they did such a great job of capturing those characters from a writing and acting standpoint) but was ultimately underwhelmed with the Snow Queen arc as a whole (which goes back to my childhood love of the tale and the way Ingrid’s story was so closely reflective of what happened in Frozen).

    Ultimately, like you say, my full enjoyment will depend on how the rest of the season plays out (it’s the same way I feel about the Castle disappearing for two months storyline; it’s not sitting comfortably with me at the moment but I can’t decide how I’m really going to feel about it until I know how it ends; hopefully tonight’s episode will provide some answers and I’ll be able to start making up my mind).

    Keep writing what you love the way you love and I’ll keep reading. 😉

    • First of all, welcome to our fun NGN commenting family! Thanks for reading, and I’m with you in hoping my schedule lightens up enough to talk more about Outlander soon (because I have SO MUCH to say).

      I completely agree with your take on the Snow/Charming/Emma situation. They keep trying to justify their actions to her without ever taking a second to put themselves in their daughter’s shoes to understand why she’s so upset. And like you said, it’s the lying that seems to be eating away at Emma that most. That’s something they should be able to figure out, knowing what they do about their daughter’s past. But instead we’ve only seen them get annoyed with her for continuing to be upset instead of acknowledging that she has a right to be angry, which I think would go a long way in mending their relationship. I think some of their inability to handle her anger comes from their continued fear of her darkness, which I think they need to face just as much as (if not more than) Emma needs to face it.

  2. — I’m jumping on the random thoughts bandwagon. (Ok, yes, my responses are usually always this way. I’m pretending it’s deliberate now. Just roll with it.)

    — First, let me just echo the thought that’s it will be easier to analyze this episode once we see where these stories go. I also had some leftover questions about the car, how Cruella moved around in worlds, as well as what kind of story world Cruella was in. (Gatsby-land?) And wow, Smurfit rocked this. (I may have laughed at the Angry Birds.)

    — I did love that they played with our (or at least my) expectations on Cruella’s backstory. I expected her to be more sympathetic, and I didn’t expect to feel sorry for the Author at all much less this quickly. I did like the fact that one of our Villains is evil just because it feels good to her. There is that type of evil out there.

    — I assumed that Belle gave her consent to Regina. It’s the type of selfless and difficult thing Belle would do.

    — Hypocrite much, Rumple? Is he the only one who gets to manipulate Belle? I just wonder how much he told Belle is the truth. I know the dark is taking over, but does it truly mean he wouldn’t be able to love — or is it something else? I didn’t read his interactions with Belle as totally sincere, so I’m interested to hear other takes on this.

    — Poor Emma. I do think she has a right to be angry about the situation. I think the problem is that she wants to hold onto the anger. It would be one thing if Emma said, “I’m angry, and it’s just going to take some time to get over it. Just give me some space.” Right now, I don’t see Emma wanting to work through it. (I do agree that the Charmings’ attitude isn’t helping. They need to stop justifying their actions. That basically just sends the message that they didn’t trust Emma to be good on her own.) However, as you point out, it’s still early days, and yet Emma seemed determined not to see Hook’s (and even Regina’s) point on forgiveness. Hook at least knows enough not to keep pushing — whhich once again makes Hook all kinds of awesome.

    — Cruella’s death came as a result of Emma trying to protect Henry, so I felt like this was not dark in and of itself. We know, and the Charmings’ know, that Cruella can’t kill — but Emma doesn’t. And honestly, even if the Charmings had gotten there in time, would she have believed them about that? I think what made this a dark act — or has the potential to take her down a dark path — was that Emma was working out of a place of anger and bitterness.

    — I looking forward to seeing everyone else’s take on this episode.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us—I love reading your takes on each episode!

      I’m intrigued by your reading of Rumple’s scene with Belle. I saw it as him being sincere, but I have definitely been duped by his faux-sincerity before, so I am 100% open to theories about him lying to her about his heart. I initially thought that the problem with his heart was that it was going to stop working, which meant he was going to die (hence all the stuff in the hospital), so he needed the elixir from Zelena. But now it seems his heart problem means he won’t be able to love? Does that mean Zelena’s elixir can fix the physical problems with his heart but not the emotional ones, which is why he still needs Emma to be dark? Are they two separate problems, or are they connected? I have so many questions, which I’m sure will be answered as we get closer to the finale.

      I also agree with you about Emma wanting to hold onto her anger right now, which is why I wish the passage of time would have been clearer in this episode. Maybe it’s just because I’m someone who doesn’t get over things easily (and handles it even more poorly if people specifically tell me to get over it), but if only a couple of days have passed, then I think asking Emma to let go of her anger and accept everyone telling her to forgive her parents is asking A LOT. It would make more sense if more time had passed between the big reveal and this episode, but I’m really not sure exactly how much time is supposed to have passed. Regardless, it’s not healthy to hold onto anger and let it guide your actions, and that’s definitely a story worth telling the way they’re telling it through Emma.

  3. Great review Katie, and yet again I pretty much agreed with everything you said.

    Cruellla’s back story was a lot darker than I expected and I loved that her happy ending was that she could kill again – I did not see that one coming. Like a lot of people I’ve really enjoyed Cruella and I thought Victoria Smurfitt was excellent in the role.

    I continue not to care about Rumple – he obviously doesn’t care about Henry anymore as he was happy to let Cruella kidnap him. I have no idea why he needs to turn Emma dark but I guess we’ll find out in the next 3 wks.

    I too think that Belle agreed to let Regina take her heart – it was a bold move by Regina and I liked it. It’s good to see Rumple not get everything he wants. Also I really liked seeing Regina try to help Emma – even if it was with her normal snark! Those 2 have come a long way from S1.

    Katie I think you covered the Emma/Charmings situation really well so I don’t have anything else to say on it. I can’t believe we’ve only 3 wks left – there seems to be so much left to play out…..

    • Thanks, Joan!

      You brought up a great point about Rumple. Time and again this season we’ve seen him willing to put Henry in harm’s way or hurt people who matter to Henry (and mattered to Neal) in order to get what he wants. His total disregard for his grandson’s emotional and physical wellbeing is probably the biggest slap in the face to Bae’s memory out of all the terrible things he’s done since Neal died.

  4. I really enjoyed the Cruella parts of the episode, in both the past and present. Her getting frustrated with Angry Birds cracked me up and her past was just so interesting to me. Victoria Smurfit has done such a good job of portraying Cruella this season and I admit that it’s hard to see her go because she was just so much fun to watch. I loved the use of the Cruella De Vil theme and the explanation for her black and white hair.

    The rest of this episode (and other parts of this arc) largely left me wanting more and not necessarily in a good way. It’s less that I’m dying to see what comes next and am just impatiently waiting for next week, I feel like we’re actively missing key character moments. It’s been at most a couple days since Emma found out information that changed her entire conception of who her parents were and what that may mean for the way she’s always conceptualized herself and her actions. She’s allowed to be upset about that and not immediately get over it or forgive them. I’m having a hard time relating to and understanding Snow and Charming right now because I just don’t feel like we’ve seen enough of them feeling sorry for what they’ve done or trying to fix things. They seem like they are clinging to the belief that they did the right thing and aren’t the same remorseful people we saw in the Enchanted Forest flashback. So while their reactions aren’t entirely out-of-character, they still feel off to me.

    Which brings me to my slightly larger complaint, everything this season has felt rushed. I feel like we (and the characters) haven’t really had a chance to breathe. There has been SO much packed into this half-season and it feels a little cluttered. I feel like learning about the Author and his eventual defeat could span a full season but maybe I’m placing too much focus on his manipulations because I find them really interesting. I’m also not finding Rumple interesting at all so that could be part of it as well. In a season packed with villains, he’s just not working for me any more as either a hero or a villain.

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about OUAT’s pacing lately, and ever since Season Two, it’s followed the same pattern: The second half of each season has been rushed, with many storylines, characters, and plot plot plot competing for attention and focus. And we all know how I feel about plot development over character development. However, each season’s finale has delivered on an emotional level, so I’m hopeful that this crazy season will conclude with a finale that gives these characters time to interact in an emotionally fulfilling way.

      Your point about the difference between Snow and Charming in the last flashback we saw with them and the way they’re behaving now is a smart one. In that flashback, they were deeply troubled by what they’d done, but they haven’t seemed willing to give their daughter a chance to feel the same kind of disappointment with them that they felt with themselves. I’d love more dialogue between the two of them, because I hope they’re trying to get Emma to move beyond her anger at them because they don’t want that for her and not because they think they deserve to be forgiven so quickly. I don’t need them to beg for forgiveness, but a conversation with Emma that doesn’t immediately devolve into justifying their actions in taking away her agency would be a nice start. And I’d love to see them understand that implying to their daughter that she’s only a good person because they essentially made a deal with the devil isn’t a good way to handle this situation.

  5. Yeah, Emma was justified in killing Cruella. ‘Coulda woulda shoulda’ after the fact is great, but I am terribly disappointed in the showrunners using THIS as the push of Emma to the dark side. She had no way of knowing Cruella can’t kill anyone, and Henry was being threatened with death. Seriously, I have no problem with the ethics of killing Cruella and do not consider it in any way an evil act.
    They could have come up with something a tad less stupid as their ‘push Emma to the dark side’ mcguffin.

    • I can see killing Cruella as a moment on the path to opening Emma up to darkness, but I think it would have been more effective with a more sympathetic villain (Ursula? Basically anyone else? Heck, even Cora was more sympathetic when Snow killed her.) Or they could have had Emma find out that Cruella couldn’t kill anyone and still had her blast her over the cliff anyway. The way it was handled didn’t seem as “evil” or dark as it could have been with a few different writing choices.

      • I agree that the actual act of Emma shoving Cruella off the cliff was understandable, but like you’ve mentioned, it wasn’t that she killed Cruella that will be her push to the dark side, it’s that she WANTED her dead. To take a Star Wars view on it, the thing that makes a Jedi fall to the dark side is the emotions they have when taking action, and in that universe, killing someone in anger is always considered a dark act. I think they’re doing a very parallel fall to the dark side with Emma as a padawan. I can almost hear Palpatine in the background of that scene, “Embrace your anger, Emma, embrace your rage and use it to fuel your power.” Or maybe I just really love Star Wars, lol.

        I do want to add that I completely loved Cruella’s backstory and am happy that OUAT was willing to go as dark as it did. Killing her mother via dog was excellent, and only topped by sewing her Dalmatian coat. It was bold, and I enjoyed it. I am glad for the same reason that Emma also took action, even if it wasn’t from the right place. It needed to be done.

        Regina’s snark was great, she was returned to rare form, and though I liked Hook, I thought he was too backwashed this episode. He’s a great actor, I wish he didn’t stay on the sidelines so much.

        And about the Charmings, I totally agree, Emma wants an apology about their lying to her, not about what they did, but she gets neither. All they do is downplay it and accuse her of holding a grudg, which just feeds her anger more. In the end, even though Rumple thinks he’s pushing Emma over, I think it’s the Charmings, and more specifically, Snow. And I even thing this is ongoing from the 4A arc at Cinderella’s little new mom get together. Snow was the one Emma connected to first and trusted the most, and this whole season has seen her do nothing but undermine that at every turn.

  6. I’ll make a pretty bold statement and say that I thought this was probably the best episode of Once Upon a Time since Season 1, with the exception of last year’s finale. It harkened back to those shocking, compelling, fresh, dark first set of episodes when Red was a murderer, the Evil Queen slaughtered a village, and the most creepy scene of all; when Hansel and Gretel walked into the witch’s house to find bones of children scattered all in front of the fireplace. I also agree with you that it was hard to tie in the present day Charming family drama with the glory that was the 1920’s era De Vil family, and the episode might have actually be best served as a stand-alone that somehow tied Emma to the murder at the end, but it didn’t really matter. It was fabulous.

    For a character known as all bark, no teeth, who is more funny than dangerous, the writers sucked us right into complacency with Cruella, setting us up with frankly tragic backstories of Regina, Maleficent and Ursula, all of whom were made monsters by circumstance and were still flawed humans who could be redeemed. Throw in a little Cinderella meets Rapunzel initial backstory, and I bought it hook, line, and sinker. The poor girl locked in a tower and terrorized by those mean Dalmatians. The poor girl who saw her mother murder three husbands. The poor girl who was never allowed to roam free and meet other people or listen to music. The poor girl, who just wanted a happy ending of her very own. Holy crap, did they set us up.

    I loved the period-feel of the 1920’s timeless era with the dancing and music.. It was no accident that Isaac was reading The Great Gatsby in the cabin; he didn’t need to read it; he lived in that era while he was courting Cruella.

    For a character who was content to lounge around doorways and inside “her” nice car in Storybrooke, she certainly shined when the spotlight was on. The actress just did a phenomenal job in the role of the sweet yet naive, slightly weird girl from the tower, and somehow keeps it up even during her later chilling scenes. She foreshadowed the heck out of her personality when she told Maleficent that she left her baby to die in the woods, but it was the horrific murder of her mother followed by the murder of the dogs that really stopped time for a moment. I mean, have you ever read 101 Dalmatians to a child? The line “Cruella wants to skin the puppies to make a fur coat” is right out of a horror movie and OUAT delivers in spades. Wanting to be able to kill people again as her happy ending goes too far for even Regina in her darkest Evil Queen days. And it’s refreshing to see a true villain on this show. Cruella had no intention of being anyone else than a cold-blooded murderer, who kills for sport.

    I thought this episode gave layers to the Author because he, too, was not what he appeared to be. And the Charming family. You know what I love about OUAT? It finally gave us a good reason why Snow White (and Prince Charming, by extension) are so insufferably good and pure and right, and all that jazz to the point of being caricatures of themselves. After they basically did the worst thing ever, they went so over the top to erase their shades of gray that they no longer remembered what it was like to be just human; not all good, not all bad, but somewhere in the middle, where Regina and Hook–and most importantly, Emma–live. And they have lived so long as “heroes” that they can’t stand that someone–much less their own daughter–might think less of them. I hope Emma owns her murder better than Snow did. Snow had every right to kill Cora to win the war, and Emma had even more right kill Cruella. She had no way of knowing that Cruella couldn’t kill anyone; Cruella held a gun to her son’s head and threatened to kill him. I’m not sure there’s a hero anywhere who wouldn’t have that title cemented by killing a kidnapper and saving a child.

    All the same, it calls back to Regina taking the heart from the Lost Boy so Emma wouldn’t have to; as soon as Emma dips her toe in the revenge and murder pool, the dark side isn’t really that far off. I loved Hook reminding Emma that heroes sometimes do bad things and I hope he’s there to pull her back. Next week looks WILD.

    • I love this comment, Christy! Your unbridled enthusiasm is a breath of fresh air, and it made me look at this episode with new eyes. While it might not be one I consider a favorite, I loved all the same things you did about the flashbacks. It did feel like a Season One episode, and, in that vein, I also wish it could have been a standalone. (It deserved it even more than the Robin Hood story last week.)

      I wanted to bring up your mention of The Great Gatsby because I didn’t talk about it in my review, but I loved that Isaac was reading that book. It’s a story of a person who created his own identity—wrote his own story—all to give himself what he thought was his happy ending (which turned on him in the end). Now that I think about it, it’s the perfect book for this half-season of OUAT. And of course, now I want to write an essay about it. 😉

      Thanks again for sharing these very insightful and positive thoughts with us. It’s always a pleasure seeing you in the comments!

  7. Hi Katie this is the first time I have felt compelled enough to leave a comment on one of your reviews, as someone that has eagerly waited for them to come up every week when once is on generally I digest them and either view another perspective or nod sagely agreeing with every word you so eloquently write !. As a fervent Emma fan it is difficult to watch her cope with everything being thrown at her. The “dark Emma ” we see developing is such a stark difference to the Emma we know and love that has the grown with the acceptance of her home, family,love and magic that we saw developing since Neverland. I suppose I like to see the positives come out of her journey (maybe that makes me naïve) as opposed to the drained tired and heartbroken saviour we are seeing. I loved the fact that Killian again shows her the patience that she needs at the moment and that he is so gentle with her again confirming to me that he will be the light shining in the darkness that seems to be creeping up on her. I think with the lack of “good moments” for Emma it is very hard to watch sometimes with a modicum of hope. As a parent I completely understand what Emma did killing Cruella , but I get the feeling that I was not supposed to ? And again I completely disagree with Snowing’s actions and their seeming lack of understanding of who Emma is, but I question at this stage of the season as a viewer am I supposed to? Which makes this episode such an uncomfortable one for me.

    • Hi Emma! Thanks for taking the time to comment, and I hope to see you around these comments again! 🙂

      I’m with you on liking positive character development more than watching a character get repeatedly broken down and hurt. That’s been hard to take these last few episodes. I know that angst makes for good TV sometimes, but there’s a threshold for every viewer, and I’m reaching mine. It’s gotten to the point where I’d take one genuine smile from Emma and consider it a victory. I also just want someone to give the girl a hug and a warm place to sleep (and we all know who I’m thinking of for both of those things). For a show that’s all about hope, these last few episodes have felt very bleak.

  8. I will admit, this was the first ep in almost two years I almost didnt watch Sunday night. After a full afternoon of catching up on dramatic TV, I wasnt sure I was going to be able to handle it, but I ended up quite enjoying it (most of it anyway), and it actually put me in a better mood than before I watched it.

    I have really enjoyed all of the character pieces this half season. Ursula, Robin Hood, Cruella…all of these have been solid individual stories. The weakness has definitely been in the conflicts going on with our main characters. I had a hard time with the Rumple/Hook drama in 4A, and I am having a hard time with the Emma/Charmings drama in 4B. Its not killing my enjoyment of the show, but its not making me excited the way Seasons 1 and 3 made me excited (I suppose there is a pattern here and I just need to hold out for Season 5?). For me, POSITIVE character growth is what gets me excited. I love seeing people change for the better. I love seeing people that have had hard crappy lives overcome them and live happy lives (dont ask me why I watch GoT). So I will admit that this season has been hard for me since we are clearly in conflict zone, not triumph zone. Its hard for me to watch Emma’s happiness and stability slowly disappear in 4B. It was really hard for me to watch Killian lose his agency in 4A after trying so hard to do the right thing. Its hard for me to watch Snow and Charming screwing up so royally in 4B. Its hard for me to watch Rumple implode and to watch Regina be miserable throughout both 4A and B. When was the last episode one of our core group actually smiled in current time? Its at least two eps, maybe even three? I just cant take all these miserable feelings at once. Give me something positive that I can be excited about!!!

    Rumple, you are a master of manipulation, but you still seem to be acting like an idiot. I dont get why he thinks the only way to cure is rotten heart is by writing it as so. What was Regina’s character poster last year, something about believing that love is stronger than her dark heart? I guess Rumple didnt get that memo. If we are talking about a scale of goodness here, I would think “earning your happy ending” would be at the top of that scale, and “not dying because your heart has has completely gone black” is the absolute minimum. Its not like you have to go from one to the other ASAP, just dont dip below the absolute minimum and you should still have time to turn things around. All this energy he has been wasting on the author could have been spent trying to make up for his bad deeds and he would be moving towards the right end of this scale. Maybe his resurrection tipped the scales here against his favor? And no matter how hard he tries to atone, the darkness was is just one step ahead? Really thats the only explanation at the moment I can think of that I could understand and sympathize with.

    I am interested to see the aftermath of Emma killing Cruella. It does seem very light when it comes to “evil” deeds go. As others here have mentioned, I think its more the outburst of anger that is going to be alarming to Emma, which will be elevated when she learns Cruella actually couldnt kill Henry. But still, Cruella was pretty darn evil, I doubt there would be a jury in our world that would send her to jail for that.

    I think its interesting that the writer just has these pieces of paper that have things written on them that are now canon. Are they indestructible? Can you burn them? Can you write someone undead? Can you write someone back in time? I guess we can add author powers to “rules of magic” and “rules of time travel” and “rules of traveling between realms” and “rules of true loves kiss” to the list of things with infinite possibilities that I want to know everything about.

    I also assumed Belle gave Regina consent to use her heart, and that is a huge level of trust Belle is showing towards Regina, considering Regina really did a number on her.

    Like you, I think Emma has every right to be mad at her parents, but I find the idea that she cant trust them to try to find Henry a bit of a stretch. Does she really distrust them so much she thinks they would put Henry’s life in danger? Or perhaps its just their judgment she doesn’t trust (which I guess I cant blame her there).

    I enjoyed Hook cursing magic again when he realizes he’s been tricked. I have always loved his general annoyance with magic (unless its a part of Emma of course (but sometimes even then)).

    I dont have much to add regarding Cruella, but I did really enjoy her story, and was pleasantly surprised that the show decided to give us something new in regards to our villains. Sad to see her gone. There was no “poofing” here, so I assume she really is gone for good.

    Seeing how evil Cruella really was, and how not really evil Ursula was, I am really curious how those two became friends in the enchanted forest. Although trying to think of Cruella’s timeline just kinda makes my head hurt. I think all we know is flapper realm —->enchanted forest ——>our world (armed with dragon egg youth potion!) but no idea how the first two parts of that connected. If only Cruella and Ursula didnt use that dragon egg magic on themselves and found a way to market it to the masses…they would have been rich!

    • I was wondering about Rumple’s dark heart too. Back in the beginning of their story wasn’t Belle’s kiss enough to start loosening the curse on him, if he’d only let it? So is it different in this world? Can’t loving Belle (and making up for bad deeds and maybe NOT DOING HORRIBLE THINGS) help make his heart better?

      I still don’t know if we actually know all of what’s motivating Rumple right now. I’m having trouble putting everything together. I agree that the character pieces have been really good this season but the story lines for the main characters have been a little more difficult to enjoy. I am looking forward to seeing how everything wraps up.

      • I also wonder if Rumple is even telling Belle the truth about what’s going on or if he’s telling her the version that will gain her trust.

    • You brought up so many great points here, Shauna, that have very little to add except a whole bunch of head-nodding.

      I do want to co-sign your statement about enjoying positive character growth much more than the setbacks that will eventually lead to that growth. I know that these kinds of stories are necessary for all drama, but they’re not easy or fun for me to watch most of the time. A part of me always feels sad when show creators say “No one would watch a show where the characters are in a good, stable place all the time,” because I would. (I did—it was called Parks and Recreation.) I know that what’s going on in this half-season is going to lead to great amounts of growth for all characters and relationships involved, but part of me is genuinely worried that we’re going to have to wait until Season Five to see any of the growth that’s going to come from this drama—because my heart cannot handle a summer full of all angst and no hope.

      I guess that’s why I’m finding this “Emma’s darkness arc” so tough to watch: It’s about losing hope instead of finding it. And we haven’t gotten any small moments of joy or warmth to balance that hopelessness out over the last few episodes. I’m hoping that changes in even the smallest way in the next episode because it’s starting to feel a little oppressively dark, and I say that as someone who doesn’t mind a good angst-driven story.

  9. Yeah, this episode is a tricky one. This half season is feeling very rushed and chaotic at this point but I still have faith that by the end of it that everything will come together – I hope!
    I agree with everyone else that Emma killing Cruella did not seem like an evil thing to do. It might not have been the only way to handle the situation, but since she had no idea that Cruella was actually “defenseless” it was justified to use force to save Henry. If she’d been told that Cruella couldn’t kill Henry and then she’d decided to kill her anyway out of hatred, that would have been dark. Hopefully next week things will be clearer.

    I had told hubby that it was OK that we were going to miss the first few minutes of the show because we were just going to get Cruella’s back story and then we’d understand her and she’d get her happy ending and then she’d leave. haha! not quite. Nope. I did not see that coming at all. It was quite a good surprise. I liked wild eyed “angel” Cruella a lot more than I liked over the top evil Cruella. The look in her eyes when the Author confronted her during the thunderstorm was amazing – so disturbed!

    One thing I thought about with Cruella’s back story was that even though she is the most purely evil villain, a psychopathic killer, even she acknowledges that there’s an element of choice in that – she tells the author that some people make an effort not to give into the darkness but she doesn’t (I forget how she put it, but she clearly chooses to enjoy her darkness where she sees other people resist it). So although that does still suggest that some people are inherently dark, it could also be viewed as all people having light and dark aspects, but some people choose to revel in the darkest parts of themselves. I will say that Cruella does seem to have more inclination to darkness that others – obviously she wasn’t portrayed as acting in response to any negative influences like, for instance, Regina. And Peter Pan… well, we never saw what made him the way he was. It seemed like he was a lot more like Cruella – lacking empathy, lacking the things that make us moral and decent.

    As usual I agree wholeheartedly with pretty much everything you’ve said. I’m looking forward to this story being clarified and pulled together. I think they bit off a bit more than they could chew this season, but even if they don’t quite manage to make it all work in the end, it’s still damn good TV.

    • I absolutely loved what you said about Cruella choosing to revel in the darkness, Jo. In a season all about free will vs. fate, it was important to show that Cruella actively chose darkness because she enjoyed it. Yes, she may have been predisposed to it, but she never hid the fact that she used her free will every time she acted out of evil.

      I’m with you on believing this season will all come together in the end. If there’s one thing OUAT does well, it’s season finales. Heck, if they could make me look back fondly on the mess of Season Two’s second half with a killer finale, then I have faith that they’ll craft a finale for this season that brings all of these stories together in an emotionally compelling and satisfying way.

  10. I absolutely agree with you on all that you said about this episode. I feel like the problem with this storyline has been mainly a pacing problem, there’s too much happening all at once that the characters don’t have the time to analyze what is happening or even have a moment to breathe it seems, I personally feel uncomfortable with a story where characters merely react to the circumstances that surround them, instead of them acting to control or at least understand said circumstances.

    I also think that this episode was meant to be really dark from start to finish, and the fact that they left it in a pretty much unsettling cliffhanger didn’t help. Obviously they did this to make us wonder “Is Emma dark now? Does she feel no regret? Is the Savior corrupted?” and many other negative and worrying thoughts, and even Adam said so in an interview. This is clearly standard for a drama show but for some of us it’s not really fun to watch. I have the feeling this whole “Emma potentially going dark forever” thing has been talked about too much within the narrative, which makes me think it will be a red herring in the end; even when Emma has the tendency of being vindictive and reactive (as we have seen since season 1), she also acknowledges her mistakes and apologizes and tries to do better and learn from them (for example how she asked Henry to forgive her for lying to him about Neal), and I really don’t see Emma turning into the next villain teased by Josh in a recent interview because what would her motivation be? The only way I can see this happening was if Henry or any member of her family died, but I really don’t see them killing Henry off, or Killian (and they can’t kill either Charming or Snow without killing the other because of the whole shared heart thing).

    I do appreciate their effort because this is certainly a storyline that could be really meaty and interesting, but constraining it to 11 episodes was a mistake in my opinion, I would have preferred if they had dedicated the whole season to this plot, making everyone really do some soul-searching and understanding what constitutes villainy and at what point do mistakes can turn into something that pulls us down a dark path rather than being something we can learn from and atone for. I do think that they at least have made it clear that anger is that hubris-breeding seed from which darkness can spring up.

    Either way, at this point there’s sadly nothing else to do but wait and see how the rest of the season plays out, and hope we will get the answers we need.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us!

      “I personally feel uncomfortable with a story where characters merely react to the circumstances that surround them, instead of them acting to control or at least understand said circumstances.” – You and me both. That’s a sign of plot driving the characters instead of characters driving the plot, and I am much more of a fan of the latter.

      The idea of Emma’s darkness being a red herring is something I’ve thought a lot about lately. Even if she’s strongly tempted by darkness or “goes dark” for a period of time, I don’t think that’s going to be it for her story this season. If it is, then I feel bad that the whole plot was spoiled in the promos before it started. Emma turning dark has been talked about too openly, in my opinion, to be the climax of the season. But maybe we’re just analyzing things too closely and they really are just being incredibly heavy-handed. 😉

  11. I’m curious, has there ever been any precedence for darkness being transferred from one person to another? Perhaps killing Cruella actually physically filled her heart with the darkness that was within Cruella? My theories never pan out, but I suppose it’s just as possible as anything else at this point!

  12. I don’t think anyone is saying that Emma’s feelings aren’t valid. For Hook and Regina they’re both people who have been wronged badly, gave into their anger and grief and let it fester and eat them alive, turning them into their worst selves. They’re also both people who have wronged others badly and are now seeking redemption and forgiveness. So I think for them, they see it from both sides of the spectrum. They know how hurt & angry she is, but also know where holding onto all that can lead you. They also understand doing terrible deeds, accidentally hurting people you care about, knowing you can’t undo or change the past and desperately wanting forgiveness . For them to say “no they don’t deserve forgiveness, you should stay mad”, wouldn’t be true to where they currently are in their own personal journeys.

    Emma and Regina’s stories almost mirror each other’s. They both had the parents who decided they’d make the decision on who & what their child would become before/when they were born. Rumple took an interest in both of them prior to their births. Rumple has needed both of them to turn dark so he could use them to gain something he needs to achieve his happy ending. Rumple has manipulated a situation that tipped them over the line (Regina not being able to revive Daniel, Emma killing Cruella) in their lives, and pushed them down the path of darkness. The only difference is that with Emma, no matter how far onto the dark side she strays, she has a support team behind her that will do everything they can to try and pull her out. Like you said I think Hook and Regina will be the biggest help in Emma not turning. Hook simply by being there and loving her unconditionally and Regina by being the person who has experienced all this before and being willing to fight to stop Emma from making the same mistakes.

    Snow and Charming. The point Emma made about Hook and Regina doing bad deeds vs Snow and Charming was/is probably my main issue with them. It’s also why I wasn’t as quick to brush it off as just one mistake like I might have, had they actually attempted to fix thing with Maleficent instead of just vowing to be good parents, and maintain their image of heroism. I also cringed when Emma was telling them at no matter what she wouldn’t do something like what they did and Snow was like “and that right there, that goodness is exactly why we did what we did, it was worth it”. I’m conflicted because part of me wants to be and is still annoyed at the Charmings, but at this point I’m not even sure what I would want them to do, everything I wanted them to do was only really available back when it happened so I guess they should probably just leave Emma alone to cool off for a while and never, ever, EVER try and justify it again.

    I don’t think Emma blasting Cruella off the cliff was solely based on defending Henry. She was hesitating until Cruella taunted her saying she was a “hero” and therefore didn’t have it in her to kill and then Emma blasted her. I think some of her residual anger over this whole revelation with her parents and frustration at her identity (as hero) not truly being her own anymore came into the mix. For me, I honestly had no issue with Emma killing her, regardless of any other influences, she was threatening Henry’s life. It sounds dark but I would’ve probably blasted her off the cliff simply for having the audacity to point a gun at and threaten to murder my child. *shrugs*

    As much as Rumple manipulates people and really felt like he had Regina backed into a corner, I was so proud and happy to see Regina best him, turn the tables and find a way to both, not have to turn Emma and be able to go and save Robin

    As much as I love multidimensional characters who have genuine reasons for becoming what they are, I really enjoyed Cruella being very one dimensional. I love that she was evil just because she wanted to be and made no apologies for it. It was kinda refreshing. I really didn’t see the twist of her being evil the whole time coming. Watching her command the dogs to kill her mother, and then skinning and making a coat out of the dogs was so dark for OUAT, I enjoyed every moment.

    – I have been wondering for the last couple of week how angry (if at all) Lily would be after being told the story of what happened. Based on the promo for the next episode. I’d say I got my answer.

    – I was also wondering how dangerous she’ll be once back in Storybrooke with her anger at the Charmings, her magic & Emma’s evil (assuming the spell took).

    – I also love the little fun scenes Cruella has brought to the show like the drive-thru scene and now angry birds scene. Both moments were great.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Kaydee!

      First of all, I loved what you said about doing the same thing as Emma when it came to Cruella’s fate: “It sounds dark but I would’ve probably blasted her off the cliff simply for having the audacity to point a gun at and threaten to murder my child. *shrugs*” I keep telling people that I guess it makes me dark, too, because I would have done the exact same thing if Cruella had anyone I loved in that kind of situation. We can be dark together then. 😉

      You brought up such wonderful points about Emma and Regina’s stories mirroring each other. I’ve always said they’re two sides to the same coin, and this story has only been reaffirming that belief for me.

      I also think you’re right about Regina and Hook knowing what holding onto anger does to you and not wanting that fate to befall Emma. They’re not really who I was most angry with in terms of invalidating Emma’s feelings. (Although it did bother me a little bit to hear Regina tell Emma she was acting like a petulant child, but that’s Regina’s style, and Emma gave it right back to her so perfectly.) I’m more angry with Snow and Charming on that front. By repeatedly trying to justify what they did instead of just telling Emma “We’re so sorry we did what we did. And we’re sorry we lied to you about it. You have every right to be upset with us, but we hope you can forgive us someday,” it comes across as them feeling as if Emma shouldn’t be upset with them. In this episode, it even seemed like they felt Emma should be thanking them for making her good, which frustrated me to no end.

  13. I have a ton of backed up emotions from not having the ability to play in this space for the bulk of this back season arc, so apologies in advance if this reads as a stream of consciousness. Breaking it up into bite size thematic pieces here I go:

    Rumple – In an episode that I felt meandered quite a bit man did Rumple removing his heart hit pay dirt for all I had been feeling about him since he was outcast by Belle at the mid-season break. To see his heart blackened with slivers of light was the picture perfect way to explain his character and the quest for the author for Rumple. It wasn’t merely about getting Belle back, but about finding and possibly resurrecting his humanity. With Rumple he had his happy ending that everyone was in search of, he had Belle. But what he hasn’t had and what I believe died when he sacrificed himself for Neal was his humanity. I’ve always thought the resurrection of Rumple was suspect and Sunday provided me with a bit of clarity. Rumple being driven by power and the consequences of his actions have compounded and are slowly destroying him inside out. While his cowardice was once motivated by reuniting with his son, there is nothing pure driving Rumples motives now, so it makes sense to me he is dying. I think it is terrifically interesting that he seeks a reboot and reversal of fortune from a corrupt manipulative author. It’s a plan flawed in a way very similar to his own father’s quest for youth when he became Pan.

    The Villains – While I enjoyed it as a twist last week, I wasn’t thrilled with the return of Zelena and still remain nonplussed about it. However, making Cruella pure evil was a stroke of genius. I was both shocked and intrigued as she met her demise. I think making Cruella a ‘true villain’ and that her happy ending was to regain her ability to kill gives us the floor without ambiguity that we’ve never had for these characters that have been cast as villains. All of our villains, even Pan, had motives for their actions, some well intended, many misguided and a whole lot of them with extending consequences and ripple effect. It makes us empathize with them even when we disagree with their choices (for me often screaming at my TV set). Cruella’s story set us up to believe she was a victim led to evil – like a Regina. When the truth was she was the embodiment of someone who couldn’t be redeemed and whose happy ending meant evil reigning victorious (which is why I am glad she didn’t survive the episode). It reminded me about Regina’s choices last season and her ability to chose light magic. I loved what you said about her living in the midst of the two. I think there is a frankness and grounded reality to Regina that has offered a great compass that I am hopeful will navigate Emma out of the path she is currently on.

    Emma – Cruella being the line of what evil truly is allows us to measure everyone, including Rumple against that benchmark. It also provides a juxtaposition for Emma’s current journey. Emma wants and needs the clarity of heros and villains. Her parents betrayal undermines that belief. Their actions to fix the results and tip the scales is a Rumple move. It’s a reconciliation that she hasn’t had time nor ability to process. Forgiving evil seeking redemption is a whole lot easier to to do than accepting failure of character and judgment in the name of a greater good. It is because in the black and white of the theory the ends can not justify the means. That has been the lesson of Rumple and Regina over the course of the series. It reminds me of when I was cranky about Emma’s reaction to bringing Marion back from the Enchanted Forest and her inability to accept that her choices had implications and consequences independent of intention. The shoe is woefully on the other foot now and Emma is on the receiving end after a lifetime of not being able to have faith, the place where she needed and placed it blindly was taken out from under her. I think her journey towards evil and the ultimate redemption that is hopefully to come will reveal that forgiveness is as important as faith.

    The Author — So I am leaving my questions open for the author and his manipulation of the stories and who is deemed villains vs. heroes because I think the author leads us to a question of free will. Are we driven and predetermined by the destiny set forth by circumstances (and those who would author our self worth) or are we empowered to determine our fate independent of the outside circumstances that drive our identities. I think this is ultimately where Emma’s journey will take us. Her rejection/descent into evil isn’t about unlocking happy endings, but determining free will and how acceptance and forgiveness is where the power of our stories lies.

    • I LOVE what you had to say about forgiveness being just as important as acceptance because I think that theme came through really beautifully in Ursula’s story, which seems very important now in terms of what constitutes a “happy ending.” Ursula’s happy ending was about finding the voice that was stolen from her, but it was also about forgiving her father. I feel like—unbeknownst to us at the time—we were watching the show outline what would become the most integral parts of Emma’s story going forward: finding her voice (her truest self) and using it for good, and forgiving her parents.

      Your thoughts on Rumple were just as astute as ever, too. I loved seeing his dark heart because suddenly his lack of humanity this season made perfect sense. As you said, even when he set up the Dark Curse, he did so to find his son. Now, he’s only acting out of selfishness. It makes sense that it would be destroying him from the inside out.

      I’m so excited to watch the theme of free will play out over these final episodes. I think this episode was particularly hard to watch because it feels like many of these characters are buying into the idea that outside circumstances control who we are. I know that the season will end with that being proven incorrect (or at least I certainly hope so), but it’s tough to watch the long road there right now.

  14. Great review. You are right there was an awful lot going on in this episode. I agree that it is frustrating to watch Snow and David screw up with Emma. I believe its only been about 24 hours since she found out their secret, they need to give Emma a chance to process. But I found it very in character for Snow to push Emma towards something before she was ready. If they had been able to admit they made a mistake, then the conversation with Emma might have gone a different way. But one thing that has been consistent is that Snow and David don’t realize just what Emma has gone through and how much of her own agency has been taken from her. Despite their attempts to be a family, they still don’t know Emma as well as they think they do. The writers have succeeded in writing a complex family dynamic, not the happily ever after I think Snow (and maybe Charming) thought things would be. There have been issues that have gone unresolved or been glossed over for the past few seasons and perhaps this is the chance to finally deal with them?
    I loved that Hook was able to get through to her and she listened to him. I would have liked a little bit more emotional follow up as its been two episodes and while Emma is still angry, rightly so, I would have liked a little more of the emotional story to play out rather than the action.
    I don’t think Regina taking her heart was what Belle had in mind when she offered to help. And I think it was purposely left vague as to what happened. Just like Regina failed to mention her conversation with Gold in her vault when she met the Charming’s the next morning. During the episode Regina stated that it was Emma’s heart they were worried about, not hers. And I think that line implied some heavy foreshadowing that perhaps we should be more worried about Regina and her actions. The point of 4×15 was that by doing things the villains way you don’t get what you want, and Regina is still doing things the villains way. And Regina’s goal has been to get her happy ending by having the author write her one – which isn’t that different from Rumple’s. Despite my distrust of Regina, she has been much more interesting in 4B than she was in 4A.
    I’m rather sad to say goodbye to Cruella, she was a sassy sociopath, but it was a nice change from the tragic back story just to have a villain be bad because she wanted to be.

    • I completely agree, Snow and David still don’t really understand what Emma’s been through, and realistically, I doubt she ever just sat down with them and bottle of McCutchen’s and talked about it. It’s not really in character for Emma to talk about herself.

      Besides Katie’s quote, which was my favorite of the episode, my second favorite was Cruella’s, “Some people try to avoid the darkness and I say why not just splash in and swim in it.” That just so sums her up, lol.

    • I really liked what you said about this show creating a complex family dynamic. It’s definitely in-character for Snow to push Emma and deal with her with a bit of a heavy hand. And that just shows how little she understands her daughter. Hopefully this storyline will allow her and Charming to come to a deeper place of understanding of who Emma is independent of curses and savior titles and magic. I feel like they still don’t really get her as a person; she’s much more complex than they think, just like they’re much more complex than Emma thought. This season has done a great job of showing the problems inherent in trying to label people or fit them into nice boxes based on who we think they are. And the Charming Family drama is an extension of that important theme.

  15. I agree that the actual act of Emma shoving Cruella off the cliff was understandable, but like you’ve mentioned, it wasn’t that she killed Cruella that will be her push to the dark side, it’s that she WANTED her dead. To take a Star Wars view on it, the thing that makes a Jedi fall to the dark side is the emotions they have when taking action, and in that universe, killing someone in anger is always considered a dark act. I think they’re doing a very parallel fall to the dark side with Emma as a padawan. I can almost hear Palpatine in the background of that scene, “Embrace your anger, Emma, embrace your rage and use it to fuel your power.” Or maybe I just really love Star Wars, lol.

    I do want to add that I completely loved Cruella’s backstory and am happy that OUAT was willing to go as dark as it did. Killing her mother via dog was excellent, and only topped by sewing her Dalmatian coat. It was bold and completely in keeping with the character, and I enjoyed it. I am glad for the same reason that Emma also took action, even if it wasn’t from the right place. It needed to be done.

    Regina’s snark was great, she was returned to rare form, and though I liked Hook, I thought he was too backwashed this episode. He’s a great actor, I wish he didn’t stay on the sidelines so much.

    And about the Charmings, I totally agree, Emma wants an apology about their lying to her, not about what they did, but she gets neither. All they do is downplay it and accuse her of holding a grudge, which just feeds her anger more. In the end, even though Rumple thinks he’s pushing Emma over, I think it’s the Charmings, and more specifically, Snow. And I even think this is ongoing from the 4A arc at Cinderella’s little new mom get together. Snow was the one Emma connected to first and trusted the most, and this whole season has seen her do nothing but undermine that at every turn.

    And my final thought…Cruella’s car. While totally awesome, is a mystery. Even assuming it allows her to travel realms, how the hell did she retrieve it after falling into the Sorcerer’s portal after Lily?

    • Your Star Wars comparison is so perfect! As Yoda said, “Anger, fear, aggression—the dark side of the Force are they.” Emma is certainly giving in to all of those emotions right now. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all that these comparisons can be so easily made. We all know this show’s creators are HUGE Star Wars fanboys. 😉

  16. You posted this on my birthday, April 20.

    Cruella killed because she liked it; it made her happy. Isn’t that different from a person killing someone to protect someone else? I’d like to think so.

    I think ultimately, this will be addressed in the show. There’s a huge difference between killing someone for sport and killing someone in self-defense. And I think Killian and maybe Regina will be the ones to tell Emma this. Yes, she killed a person but she also saved a life — where she didn’t know what Cruella was capable of and for Emma, who is Henry’s mother, that’s very terrifying.

    I’ve always said the thing that separates heroes from villains is remorse. True villains don’t feel bad about what they’re doing, like Cruella and sometimes, Rumple. Heroes, good people like Emma, I expect her to feel remorse next episode and truly struggle with the darkness growing inside of her. I don’t think being evil/being good is an automatic on/off switch like a light. Emma’s going to struggle with her darkness but she won’t be alone. She has Regina’s friendship and Killian’s love to keep her grounded, and Henry too.

    I used to love Rumple but I’m at the point now, where I just can’t feel bad for him. Yes, he acknowledged to heartless Belle that his centuries of dark deeds corrupted his heart. But in the same breath, he admitted to her, that he’s going to continue doing bad things to make it better. In what realm or universe does that logic even make sense?

    It makes me think of that joke of when you go to see the doctors and the patient tells his doctor, it hurts when I do this and said patient hurt himself multiple times and never learned to stop doing it. Of course, the doctor’s advice would be to stop doing what hurts you but instead of listening to the doctor, the patient continues to hurt himself.

    That’s Rumple right now.

    He’s not doing himself any favors right now by continuing to do dark darks that will definitely continue to further corrupt his heart.

    I think another thing that might even be addressed in the next episode is if Belle gave Regina her consent, to take her heart. It was implied that when Regina approached her in the shop, Belle was willing to help her. So I can’t imagine somewhere after that scene, Belle said something like, “Do what you have to do to stop my ex-husband.” Hopefully, this gets cleared up. If not, Adam and Eddy need to clarify this.

    I think the thing that continues to bother me about how Snow and Charming, especially Snow , it’s that she’s trying to justify to Emma that they didn’t do anything wrong.

    Charming, Charming — as much I love him sometimes, he’s clearly not the man in the Snowing relationship. Snow is the one who makes the decisions and assumes Charming will go along with her, but in this case, I just wish Charming would step up and admit that they were wrong and that they’re sorry.

    I especially want to hear that from Snow. She’s been acting so self-righteous after telling Snow the truth, it really annoys me. Emma has every right to be angry with both of them because once again, Emma found out that she wasn’t in control of her destiny and or even her whole life. And for someone who didn’t have a lot of choices growing up, I think her anger towards them is quite understandable.

    But I hope when that apology from Snowing does come, please show, don’t make it about themselves but about Emma. I think the last thing she needs to hear is yet another apology where her feelings are not taken into account.

    The last bit I truly enjoyed about this episode was seeing Cruella trying to play Angry Birds on her phone and failing miserably. Even in our world, she can’t kill fake, angry birds. They’re not even real.

    I’m excited for what’s to come in the final episodes.  

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us—and happy belated birthday!

      I agree that Snow’s self-righteous justification of what she and Charming did is wearing a little thin. It would be frustrating if they were talking to anyone, but it’s even worse that she’s trying to justify her behavior to someone who was hurt by it.

      And as far as Charming goes, I actually don’t see him as taking a backseat to Snow on this one. He was the one who wanted to keep lying to Emma. It was Snow who told him they had to tell her truth. He’s breaking my heart the most right now because I always saw him as having a better understanding of how to treat his daughter than Snow, who often still treated Emma as a child. But it turns out they both can’t understand that they need to apologize without justification and help Emma work through her anger, and that’s the only way everyone can start to heal.

  17. [“Seeing how evil Cruella really was, and how not really evil Ursula was, I am really curious how those two became friends in the enchanted forest. “]

    That doesn’t mean anything. Don’t confuse moral compass with genuine emotions. People have a tendency to do that. Cruella may have been really evil, but she was capable of developing positive emotions toward others. This was very clear in her friendship with Ursula. Many noticed how she made a comforting gesture toward Ursula, when the latter encountered Hook for the first time in years. This would also explain why she was upset when Ursula decided to leave with her father, after getting her happy ending. Even monsters like Cruella, Rumpelstiltskin and Cora are capable of feeling love or affection toward others. I think Malcolm aka Peter Pan may have been the exception. But . . . wait, wasn’t he close to one of the Lost Boys?

    By the way, has Emma ever apologized to Henry for trying to maintain his amnesia, because she wanted to resume her New York City fantasy life with him? Did he ever find out?

    Emma has never been the epitome of goodness on this show, despite her title as “the Savior”. Neither have her parents or other so-called heroes. Like the “villains”, they have always been capable of both good and bad. And the show has revealed this in episodes from the past. Thanks to Season Four, it’s time for not only the Charmings, but also a good deal of the show’s fandom to stop ignoring the family’s morally questionable actions in the past and present; and realize they are humans, not saints.

  18. [” Emma found out that she wasn’t in control of her destiny and or even her whole life.”]

    From the moment she became an adult, Emma has been in control of her life. And despite the Apprentice’s spell, she proved she was capable of committing criminal acts or making mistakes.

  19. Pingback: The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (4/19 – 4/26) | Nerdy Girl Notes

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