TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.02

COLIN O'DONOGHUE, JARED GILMORE, LANA PARRILLA

Source: ABC/Eike Schroter

Title A Bitter Draught

Two-Sentence Summary When the Count of Monte Cristo shows up in Storybrooke, he tries to finish the job Regina gave him years ago—killing Snow and Charming. As the Count’s plan begins to unfold, Regina discovers that the Evil Queen is not only still alive, she’s planning a twisted game to prove to Regina that she still has darkness inside of her.

Favorite Line “I have a long road to travel before I can be someone I can be proud of. Despite the forgiveness of others, I must forgive myself, and I’m not there yet.” (Killian)

My Thoughts Sometimes thinking about the future is exciting, but sometimes it’s terrifying. Sometimes it feels easier to hide from a future that could end in pain, and sometimes it feels easier to ignore or push down the things we’re afraid of rather than facing them. Fear is a powerful motivating factor, but there is something more powerful: hope. As such, it seems fitting that this season of Once Upon a Time seems poised to address that universal conflict between fear and hope in a number of major storylines.

On the most obvious level, that conflict was addressed immediately upon finding out what the Land of Untold Stories really was. It was a land people escaped to when they were afraid of finding out how their stories would end. It was a place they ran to out of fear and hopelessness, thinking it was better to have no story than to have a story that could end badly.

That’s where Operation Cobra Part 2 came in. The original Operation Cobra was about restoring happy endings for people who’d forgotten their stories, but, as Henry so astutely pointed out at the end of this episode, the sequel is going to be a lot more complicated. From what we know so far, these people actively chose not to have a story; their lives weren’t put on pause by a force beyond their control. So it’s going to take more work to get them to believe in their own ability to have a story that ends happily. But if anyone can do it, it’s Henry. As the Truest Believer and the Author, he has the unique ability to help people believe their stories are worth living out. And not only do the citizens of the Land of Untold Stories need that hope, Henry’s mothers need it, too.

Right now, Emma is afraid of her story—and not just the story her visions are telling her. Although I still wish she would tell her parents and Killian about those vision, it was nice to see her tell Archie about them. I’m thrilled that the show is featuring scenes of her getting help from Archie because it helps normalize therapy and mental health care. Emma is not depicted as weak or any less heroic because she is seeking help; in fact, her session with Archie was shown to be something that could make her stronger, as long as she is open to his help. And I’m equally thrilled to see that she and Killian are at least talking openly about her sessions with Archie. His sincere support of her seeking help was such a great thing to see because there can never be enough portrayals in the media of people getting encouragement from their loved ones as they seek help for mental/emotional health issues. And in her sessions with Archie, Emma discovered something she wouldn’t have without his help: This is about so much more than a vision. This is about how she defines herself. This is about her story.

Emma is the Savior. That’s how she defines herself. She puts others’ happiness before hers. She risks her life for other people’s happy endings. And when Archie suggested that she take a moment off from being the Savior in order to protect herself, she freaked out because she’s afraid of who she is if she’s not being the Savior. She didn’t particularly like herself before she was the Savior; she didn’t like the lonely life she was living. Being the Savior has given her something to be proud of and something that can make others proud of her. If she asks for help and stops acting like the Savior for a moment, would she be letting people down? We know the answer is no, but unconditional love is still something Emma is learning how to accept. Saving people makes her feel like she can earn the love she’s been given, and it breaks my heart to think that she’s afraid that she wouldn’t be worthy of that love if she was anything less than the Savior.

Emma seems to feel as if she has to be perfect, selfless, and brave all the time, and that is no way to live. It fosters a crippling fear of failure, and that fear gets even worse because it’s often a fear you keep to yourself. When you place unrealistic expectations on yourself and feel as if those expectations are reinforced by your role in the world around you, you never want to share those moments when you don’t feel like you can live up to them—not even with those closest to you. So instead of opening up to her family about her visions, Emma continued to hide them, thus continuing to spiral deeper into the feeling that her story is no longer hers to write. Trying to be the Savior all the time has given her a false sense of control, when all she’s doing is defining herself by who others need her to be rather than who she needs to be for herself. And as that false sense of control slips away with these visions and tremors, she needs the help of her loved ones to accept the fact that she deserves a happy ending—not because she’s a Savior but because she’s Emma Swan.

At the heart of Emma’s fears right now is the sense that her story has already been written and she can’t escape her fate, and that same fear is creeping into Regina’s story this season. Like Emma, Regina believed she was destined to be unhappy because of who she was, and she was afraid of watching that story play out. As long as the Evil Queen was still part of her, she believed she would always live her life afraid of slipping back into that dark place. So she forcibly removed that part of her, but this episode made her come face to face with the realization that you can never truly escape your worst self.

For as frustrated as I can get with the talk of separating Regina and the Evil Queen—especially when Emma and Snow do it—I understand it. Don’t we all have parts of ourselves that we treat as separate entities when we don’t want to face who we are at our worst? Personally, there have been more than a few times in my life when I’ve treated “Anxious Katie” like my own “Evil Queen” persona, something I can distance myself from and separate from “who I really am.” But the truth is “Anxious Katie” is a part of me—just like the “Evil Queen” is part of Regina. It’s brutally realistic to watch people try to excuse away the worst in others and themselves as the behavior a separate entity, and it’s setting up a powerful moment of realization this season, as these characters come to accept that they are the sum of all their parts and not just one aspect of themselves—no matter how much others want to define them by that one aspect.

For Regina, that moment of realization is going to come after a long battle with her worst self. It was fun to watch Lana Parrilla play both sides of Regina and wear those amazing costumes again, even if I did find some of the Evil Queen’s scenes to be a little too far on the “campy” side for me. (Also, what was up with her and Rumplestiltskin? I’m not here for that happening. I always loved that their dynamic has managed to avoid becoming romantic, because I feel like that made it so much more unique and unexpected.) If this whole season is going to consist of Regina working to right the wrongs she committed when she was at her worst—while also discovering that some things simply can’t be fixed—then I am going to love it.

In this episode, Regina was left to fix the metaphorical poison she let seep into the life of the Count of Monte Cristo when she fanned the flames of his vengeance. I thought his inclusion in the show was a fun surprise, especially because so many characters—Regina included—have been driven by vengeance throughout the last six seasons. The Count was living in a hopeless place until he was tasked with killing Snow and Charming. They reawakened his humanity and reminded him that some people are truly good. And they also introduced him to Charlotte, Snow’s handmaid, who he ended up finding the hope of a romantic connection with. As such, when the time came to poison them in order to obtain Regina’s list of names that he needed to exact his revenge, he couldn’t do it. He came to learn that maybe there was more to life than vengeance, which is one of the central themes of this show.

Watching the Count open his heart to the possibility of a life filled with hope and not vengeance made it even harder to see it all fall apart when Rumplestiltskin poisoned Charlotte. In order to keep her story from playing out in the fatal way it was destined to, the Count traveled to the Land of Untold Stories. Hopelessness set in again, and it made him run away from his story and her story rather than finding another way for it to end.

In Storybrooke, the Count still didn’t have control over his story. He was being controlled by the Evil Queen, who had his heart. It was painful to watch him fight Snow and Charming, knowing that none of them truly wanted things to come to that. (Although it was anything but painful to watch Snow and Charming be a badass team together again. I have hope that this scene was a sign of good things to come this season for the two of them.) And it was even more painful to see Regina feel as if she had no choice but to kill him in order to save Snow and Charming.

We’ve watched heroes go through this before—Emma with Cruella, Snow with Cora. Sometimes heroes kill, even when they could find another way. Those actions don’t have to be the start of a descent into darkness; they don’t have to mean a character is irredeemably evil or dictate how their story ends. But the Evil Queen wants Regina to believe otherwise; she wants Regina to abandon all hope for herself. The Evil Queen knows better than anyone what Regina can become when she feels hopeless, so her goal is to bring Regina back to that dark place to validate her own existence. And she is doing that by making Regina afraid of herself, afraid of her story, and afraid of how her story might end.

The Evil Queen’s speech to Regina reminded me of Emma’s confrontation with Nimue last season. Unlike Emma, though, Regina was hearing all these terrible things about herself from herself. And that is a powerful, heartbreaking visual: a person’s worst self telling them that all it takes is one slip for them to start back down a dark path.

The Evil Queen is telling Regina how her story is going to end, but this entire season seems to be centered around the idea that no one can tell you how your story is going to end. Only you have the power to choose how your story plays out. But before you can choose your ending, you have to choose to live out your story and not live in fear of it. I believe that both Emma and Regina will learn that they are the only ones who get to decide their fate, and it is my greatest hope that they decide to embrace the fate that comes from living a life of acceptance. Regina needs to accept that she will always have darkness inside of her; she can’t rip out who she once was, but she can choose to be better than that version of herself. And Emma needs to accept that she is more than just a Savior; she can’t define herself by that one facet of her identity. They can’t take the shortcuts to self-acceptance that they want to take right now. Both women seem to be consumed with parts of their identity that have more to do with that they’ve done to and for others rather than who they are at their core, and I can’t wait for them to accept every part of what makes them the multifaceted characters that have captivated viewers for years.

If Emma and Regina are looking for an example to follow, they don’t have to look too far. “A Bitter Draught” did a beautiful job of showing that there is one character who has learned that the only way you can take control of your story is to take ownership of every part of who you are and accept that you can choose a new path for yourself, and that character is Killian Jones. Killian has always been one of the most self-aware characters in this world, and that continued in this episode. His friendship with Belle has always been a meaningful one, but this episode took it to a new level of depth. I was deeply moved by his admission that he is consumed with guilt for having laid a hand on her and shooting her while he was blinded by his need for revenge. This was one case where it was better to “tell” than “show”—and not just because it allowed Colin O’Donoghue to stun us all with his sincerity once again. It allowed Killian to acknowledge the terrible things he’s done and openly voice his remorse concerning them, which is the most believable way to allow characters to grow after they’ve done terrible things. Killian has never tried to separate Captain Hook from Killian Jones. He accepts what he has done as his actions and his alone, he openly seeks forgiveness for his wrongdoings, and he works to be better—in this case, by offering Belle his ship for shelter from Rumplestiltskin. (I guess we can all assume he’s officially living with Emma now since he doesn’t need his ship.)

Killian is still working to forgive himself and accept the good parts of him as well as the dark parts, but his openness and honesty is a treasure on a show that is often filled with secrets and dark deeds that are forgotten very easily. His journey has provided the roadmap for true character growth, and it continues to be a pleasure to watch him progress toward the best version of himself. He has a sense of hope now that comes with finding True Love, a family who cares about him, and a second chance at life after dying. It is this hope that has allowed him to believe that—with hard work and learning to forgive himself—he can have a truly happy ending. I want him to share that sense of hope with Emma, and I even more desperately want him to share that sense of hope with Regina.

Everyone on this show has parts of themselves that they’re afraid of, destinies they fear fulfilling. The end of this episode hinted that Charming is about to head down a dangerous path in search of a missing part of his identity—his father’s true story. And he will surely not be the only character working through untold parts of their own stories this season. But I can sense the overarching theme for all these arcs establishing itself now: There are times when we are afraid of how our stories will end, but with the support of those who love us and the strength that comes from self-acceptance, we will be able to live out our story with the belief that we can write our own happy ending.

Extra Thoughts
• I’d love some more scenes like the one in this episode with Snow, Emma, and Regina doing nothing but sharing drinks and talking. This show began with those three women and their relationships with one another as the main focus, and I always love when those relationships are brought to the forefront—especially now that all three women so openly support and lean on each other.
• Granny’s line about not having Monte Cristo sandwiches on her menu because she doesn’t like the “eggy bread” made my entire night.
• Does anyone else just want to move Zelena as far away from the Evil Queen as possible? She was doing so well before she showed up!
• I’m looking forward to the inevitable showdown when Rumplestiltskin confronts Killian about Belle living on the Jolly Roger. I need some new scenes between O’Donoghue and Robert Carlyle in my life.
• Who do I have to pay to actually see Henry and Killian have that movie night?

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20 thoughts on “TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.02

  1. Fantastic review Katie! I thought as a set up episode to establish what the ‘land of untold stories’ is, this worked great, and I loved your thoughts on the idea of fear vs hope as it relates to our main characters. I actually went and pulled my copy of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ off the shelf, and found the Count’s final words appropriate: “…Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. It is necessary to have wished for death…in order to know how good it is to live…live, then, and be happy…until the day God designs to reveal the future to man, the sum of all human wisdom will be contained in these two words: Wait and hope.”

    I will hopefully be back later with my full thoughts on the themes, but until then, some of my fav parts of this episode:
    – Trash can shields. Way to be resourceful Charming!!
    – I laughed so hard when Charming offered the Count a job as their wine steward. They might be in exile, but they arent going to stoop to the level of having to pour their own wine!
    – I love how Cora used the exact same “kill a village and plant a spy” method with Hook. Classic Mills family move.
    – The costumes were SO GORGEOUS. I loved the world building in this one.
    – Major props to the writers for managing to condense an entire novel worth of plot into a quick monologue. Sad the Count met a much more tragic fate in this version.
    – KILLIAN JONES. I like that this episode established that he is trying to be a better man for himself, no just for Emma.
    – Belle finally sticking up for herself!

    And one thing I never want to see again: The Evil Queen/Rumple coming on to each other. :::Shudders:::

    • “I love how Cora used the exact same “kill a village and plant a spy” method with Hook. Classic Mills family move.”
      Yes! When I saw him there I was thinking “we’ve seen this before! don’t fall for it!” but of course this scene actually happened before Cora’s version, and Snow couldn’t learn from it because the Count’s true intentions had not been revealed yet. Gah! Gotta love these Once timelines.

  2. Lovely job on this, Katie. As you know, I LOOOOOOVE explorations of identity (whether through names or stories). Love how you’re digging into those themes here. How do we define ourselves? — not just in terms of descriptions, but what parts of ourselves, our pasts, our actions, our stories, the stories others tell us etc. do we choose to include (or not) in how we view ourselves? Am I my job? My past? My actions? How others see me? How I see me? We see everyone struggling with this to various degrees.

    Like you, I was seriously happy to see that Emma is going to see Archie. As I mentioned last week, the flopping and reverting is understandable and in character. I’m glad to see her build on her progress and seek help. I also love that this is a struggle for her. Of course Emma is going to try and control therapy. I love that she comes back. I love that she’s struggling with how to deal with this. I love that we’re seeing this struggle.

    Hopefully, Regina will learn from Emma’s struggles and accept the help she needs to fight the Evil Queen — help which the Charmings (and others) offer willingly. And yes, who doesn’t love watching the Charmings work as a team. That trashcan shield was awesome.

    Killian and Belle. I was really hoping we’d see more of them together last season — as part of the whole how-to-love-a-dark-one club — so, I loved this scene. (However, I must admit I tend to like anyone these two are partnered with. I really wanted a series of webisodes of Belle and Ariel as detectives in Storybrooke. I want Killian-Charming scenes.) As you noted, Katie, Killian is the best about owning his past and all of who he is. In past seasons, Regina seemed to think that once she chose good that everything should go smoothly for her and that she shouldn’t have to bear any repercussions for her past. We’ve never really seen that with Killian. While I did want Regina to understand that consequences for her past actions wouldn’t magically disappear, I really didn’t expect her to have to learn it to this extent. I also loved that Belle accepted his apology (and offer of a place to stay) when she realized just how much he needed her to accept.

    A moment of sniffle for the Count and Charlotte. It’s a good reminder of how manipulative and callous both Rumple and the Evil Queen are — people are just pawns to them.

    Stuff I loved:

    — “I’ll never understand why you parade around in these death-traps when you could just magic yourself around.” Absolutely. We all know that poofing would be the first thing I would DEMAND to learn. 😄

    — “Errol Flynn isn’t backing down.”

    — “I’m not running from our wine steward!” That’s right, Snow. Keep those priorities in place. 🙂

    Stuff I need:

    — More fighting scenes with the Charmings — specifically, with random stuff they find . . . like trashcan lids.

    — Killian and Henry movie night.

    — Girls night at Granny’s.

  3. Great to see Snow back to being a badass, although that fight scene was so hard to watch knowing that the Count was being forced to attack and the Charmings had no choice but to defend themselves. The trash can shield was awesome!

    The scene with Killian and Belle was great in so many ways. I love their potential for true friendship. And everything Killian said about forgiveness and forgiving himself and being able to feel good about himself not coming from external validation of his goodness was so perfect. It contrasts so strongly with Regina’s redemption arc. And it ties into my own beliefs about self esteem in general – it comes from doing the hard thing and beating your own expectations for yourself, not necessarily from winning, and certainly not from people telling you you’re good (relying on praise just sets you up for a fall when praise doesn’t come or turns into blame). Our society has a really messed up view of self esteem, especially for young females, but really for everyone, and most of the efforts to be better actually end up doing more harm than good.

    I like the set up they gave us for the world of Untold Stories too. That should give us some interesting ideas to play with this season. I hope the new people keep the Steampunk thing going. I want to see all of Eduardo Castro’s genius thrown at Steampunk looks!

    I wonder if I’m the only person thinking maybe I should read/should have read The Count of Monte Cristo? I’m embarrassed to say I can’t even think of who wrote it. Hopefully this season will also expand my reading list!

  4. Great review, Katie! I really enjoyed your analysis of what they key characters were going through in this episode.

    Was anyone else a little shocked by the final scene, and Emma’s suspicion that it could be the Evil Queen OR Regina in her vision? I know her “I don’t know” was meant as a cliffhanger, to raise dramatic tension, but it stung to think that Emma could believe that it was possible or likely that the EQ was going to “win” and bring out Regina’s worst self, such that Regina was capable of killing Emma. I am not even a viewer that thinks of those two as “BFF’s” – they have too many conflicting personality traits and such a fraught history – but it is a bad sign for Emma’s mindset that she is willing to start to look at Regina, who IS an ally and a real friend/family, as a potential enemy again. Really hoping that next week she tells someone (besides Archie) what is going on!

    Also, I heartily echo everyone’s sentiment that we don’t want anymore EQ/Rumple flirting. Eww.

    Finally, I am now super worried that Hook was involved in Charming’s father’s death. Hope it’s not true!!

  5. I love love love this show and I love love love your reviews. I also love everyone else’s comments. So thought that I would add my appreciation. Thank you for having a site that is positive and gives such an in depth analysis. I think that is why I love this program so much, because like with fairy tales of old, there are real life morals to the stories and Katie, you hit them on the head every time.

    Your analysis on hope and fear hits a strong mark with me at the moment personally. I have always been a very optimistic person but recently I have had a huge number of set backs that have made me loose hope that all will work out and this has got me stuck for the first time ever as my fear of the future has become crippling. I think that the way the show is presenting this is brilliant as is the way that they are normalizing mental health care and getting help in general as well as showing that there is always hope. I just love this show even more.

    I found this episode particularly awesome. So much fun!

    Yes, I was also grossed out by the present day EQ and Rumple. It just didn’t seem right. But maybe the pure evil part of Regina did have an attraction because that part loves power and darkness and Rumple is the pure embodiment of that. What was interesting was that the past evil queen that was both Regina and EQ was not attracted to him at all. I wonder if Present day EQ is up to something and it was just a manipulation play of some kind.

    I’m so nervous about who is under the hood, but my gut says it is Regina/Evil Queen and that is why Henry can’t watch (Killian is sheltering him) because it’s both his mums. EEK.

    I’ve never had an appreciation for Belle, I thought her story was unrealistic but I like where her new arc is headed. Finally breaking away from a bad man. Be interested to see if the show can finally make me like/have an interest in the only character on the show I cant stand.

    Lastly, ever since the SD comic con panel and interviews, I have thought that Charming’s fathers death was because Hook murdered him. I’m sure that this is what it will be. I do miss the more confident, cheeky, sexy, bit of a bad ass, Hook.

    • Welcome MeMe! We love long enthusiastic comments around here! I like what you said about the EQ being attracted to Rumple’s power. I think on paper it makes sense, but watching it was just kinda painful!!

      Hope to see you around for future discussion!

    • Welcome to the NGN Comments Family, MeMe! We’re so happy you found us, and I loved all the excellent points you brought up in your comment (especially about the EQ possibly manipulating Rumple, which would be a pretty fantastic turn of events for their dynamic).

      More than anything, though, I love your enthusiasm. It’s always nice to find another person who loves the depth and thematic resonance this show can have if you open your heart to what it’s really about. I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through a tough time, and I hope this show’s message of hope can give you some of your own when you need it. I also hope that you can find some encouragement (and some fun to distract you when you need it) in these posts and the discussions they generate. I hope to see you around these parts more often because it’ll be so nice to have you join us to talk about the show we all love so much each week!

    • Welcome to our merry band!

      Love your points on how they’re showing analysis . . . that this is something that could help Emma — that this is a type of hope . . . Killian being supportive. I also like that it’s not an instant fix. These things take time.

      Great point about the EQ and the possibility of manipulation . . . or perhaps a distraction? I know I was distracted. :-/

      Tempest

  6. Lovely review, Katie! I have mixed feelings about this episode, but it really did have some beautiful high points. The scene between Belle and Killian was so lovely and sincere, and watching these two go from enemies to forming a true bond based on shared experiences has been a joy to watch. I also can’t wait to see what is coming up for Charming in the next few episodes. The end of 6×02 setup what I’m sure is going to be an interesting arc for him and I can’t wait to see how it plays out. I also loved the flashbacks. It always makes me happy to see Rumple at the height of his darkness as the Dark One, especially when he is interacting with the Evil Queen. It’s such a fantastic and complicated dynamic. I really enjoyed the scenes with Snow and Charming. Seeing them in the Enchanted Forest had a kind of season 1 vibe that I adored. And I agree 100% about movie night! Who do I talk to about making that scene happen?

  7. Excellent review, Katie! This was a good episode.

    I think the only two things that bothered about the episode was seeing scaly Rumple smell Evil Queen Regina in the flashback, then later seeing the Evil Queen flirt with Gold. I’ve always said, this show is nowhere near soap opera levels and it hasn’t been. But that moment, I physically recoiled in my boyfriend’s arms. I mean, Rumple had an affair with Regina’s mother!

    And it’s like that scene was implying that there was more than a teacher/student relationship and I know, the Evil Queen used her sexuality a lot to get what she wanted but good lord, that is one untold story I don’t want to see.

    The other part that bothered me was the Evil Queen’s speech to Regina. I had this same problem back in season 4B with the whole Emma will go dark now because she killed Cruella. I remember reading a lot of the reviews after that episode and there were a lot of confused fans.

    Yes, Emma killed Cruella but she called killed in self-defense. She didn’t know what Cruella was capable of and I’m not a mother, but I think most mothers if they felt that their child was threatened, that person threatening the kid better watch out.

    Regina is not Snow and Charming’s mother, but they are family to her and she is in a much better place with them than in past seasons. She killed a man who had no control over his actions, but she saved her family too.

    The whole “self-defense” thing is used very oddly on television. I even see this on my soap operas, and it drives me nuts. Then, I also see how the “self-defense,” gets abused in real-life too and that is inexcusable too.

    I think the other thing to take away from this episode, is that now that Regina and the Evil Queen are two different people (yeah, I still don’t understand it), they have two hearts.

    We’ve seen the Evil Queen’s half is really dark, and I think since Regina can’t use her magic — because it’s tied to her Evil Queen half — that might also mean that her heart is pure now with maybe a few flecks of dark, or no dark spots at all. Regina is trying to use Evil Queen’s magic when probably she should be trying to use that light magic she gained in 3B. It’s really fascinating to think about and I really hope we get to see Regina’s heart this season, so maybe it can be confirmed as true.

    (Sort of like that time Snowing split their heart like an oreo cookie. I can see Once trying to pull the same thing with Regina; she gets the good half and the Evil Queen gets the bad half).

  8. . The Count was living in a hopeless place until he was tasked with killing Snow and Charming. They reawakened his humanity and reminded him that some people are truly good.

    No one is truly good. Not even Snow and David. And they have proven this in the past.

  9. Yes, Emma killed Cruella but she called killed in self-defense.

    I forgot to add this. Sorry. However, Emma had committed murder. She could have saved Henry without murdering Cruella. But she allowed her emotions at the time – a great deal of anger – dictate her actions. It was murder, not merely an act of Henry’s defense.

  10. Pingback: TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.03 | Nerdy Girl Notes

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