Title Ill-Boding Patterns
Two-Sentence Summary As Gideon tries to fix the sword that he plans to use to kill Emma, Rumplestiltskin is reminded of a time in his past when he watched another son struggle with the siren song of darkness. Meanwhile, Killian is torn between his desire to be honest with Emma and his fears that his past will stand in the way of their happy future.
Favorite Line “How did I ever think removing my evil half would change anything? I thought I was rid of you for good, Queenie. But I guess I’ll always be paying the price for what you did…What I did.” (Regina)
My Thoughts Can I have some of the memory-erasing tea that was being passed around in this episode?
Some episodes of Once Upon a Time get better the more you think about them and analyze them, but some episodes simply don’t hold up to much—if any—deep thinking. “Ill-Boding Patterns” was sadly an example of the latter. What started out as a promising exploration of the pull of darkness and the strength it takes to resist it turned into an exploration of people doing bad things for what they believe are the right reasons or when they believe they’re backed into a corner. And while that’s an interesting topic to explore, it made for quite a depressing episode that seemed to rewrite some basic traits in beloved characters for the sake of fitting this theme.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Killian and Emma’s proposal was one of the moments that was tainted in this episode for the sake of fitting the narrative about making the wrong choice for what you convince yourself is the right reason. Should he have come clean before proposing? Of course. But he did not want to hurt Emma by telling her he killed her grandfather when she thought he was asking her to marry him, so he made the choice to do the less honorable thing to protect the heart of someone he loves, which was completely aligned with the theme of this episode, even if it was not very fun to watch.
Killian proposed to Emma under no small amount of duress. Of course he wanted to ask her to marry him; he bought the ring, talked to Charming, worked out some of his issues with Archie. But this wasn’t how Killian wanted it to happen, and, I’ll be honest; it’s not how I wanted it to happen. I don’t ask for much when it comes to proposals for my favorite television couples (or at least I like to think I’m pretty easy to please on that front); I just want it to be a moment—as it should be in real life—of genuine happiness for both parties. And no matter how much Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue sold their characters’ love and excitement at the idea of getting married, this couldn’t be a genuinely happy moment. The fact that it seemingly was one for Emma actually made it worse; she came to him with her walls down and totally open to the idea of getting married, showing how far she’s come as a character in such a beautiful way, but that openness was met with a major piece of information being withheld from her once again by someone she opened her heart to. The culmination of this part of Emma’s character arc deserved better; it was such a huge moment for her to be the one to take that first step toward lifelong commitment by telling him she would say yes, but it was tainted by this contrived drama and angst.
For as much as I loved Emma’s excitement (You know she tried on that ring a hundred times before he got home.) and openness, I couldn’t help but feel her character was done a disservice by making her so oblivious to his distress. Emma’s superpower might not always work when her emotions are running high, but she is typically good at knowing when something is not right with the man she loves. In this case, however, she ignored the fact that he clearly had consumed way more alcohol than was necessary to calm any pre-proposal nerves and that he was clearly upset rather than nervous. Emma has always had fairly good instincts when it comes to Killian’s moods and problems, so having the show ignore that part of her character to focus only on how excited she was to get engaged felt like a cheapening of one of the more consistent aspects of her character and their relationship.
I actually would have liked the moment better if they would have had Emma propose instead of pushing Killian to do it. That way, we could have still had some angst because he couldn’t say no to her, but it would have felt at least a little better than the restrained proposal we got instead. Killian Jones is a man known for his sincerity and his romantic speeches, and this entire show is supposed to be Emma’s unique fairytale. So to have his proposal to Emma feel so devoid of originality in terms of both the actual dialogue and the plot surrounding it was a letdown. (O’Donoghue did a great job of balancing the fact that Killian was getting to do something he always wanted to do with the pain of knowing he was keeping something from Emma while doing it. Watch the moment he slides the ring on to her finger again; the conflicting emotions came across so well.) Killian keeping secrets from Emma is truly an ill-boding pattern at this point, and I’m growing tired of it. I had high hopes that this would be handled like most of his secrets have been—angst for a few minutes until he comes clean—but, of course, this had to be one of the only times his secret got stretched out for dramatic effect (much like their first date being clouded by his secret surrounding his hand).
I know that things will ultimately work out for this couple; they always do. And I can hope that they might even get another chance at a proposal after everything comes to light. But this is a moment the characters will never get back—and neither will the fans. Once Upon a Time is a show about hope, happiness, and fairytales, so it was frustrating to watch such an important moment for its main character unfold in a way that kept it from being completely happy and hopeful. I don’t need this show—or this couple—to be happy all the time, but I also think that a few moments of genuine joy and fairytale romance wouldn’t hurt anyone. The bittersweet and melodramatic nature of this proposal is symptomatic of a larger problem the show has had in recent seasons; it’s darker than it once was, and that’s not when the show is at its best. Some quiet, happy, domestic moments for any characters would be quite welcome after season after season of growing angst, dread, and drama. (I know this is a drama and people can’t be happy all the time, but this is also a show about fairytales; it also shouldn’t be heavy all the time, either.)
That same sense of the show pushing to be darker permeated the flashbacks in this episode, as well. I have always loved Baelfire, but this episode did quite the number on his character for the sake of making things more complex and morally murky between him and his father. First of all, I know Dylan Schmid probably aged out of the role, but the recasting of Bae did not work for me at all. I thought Schmid brought such a beautiful balance of innocence and maturity to Bae, and that was completely missing from this episode. Instead, what we got was a Bae who was actually less able to resist the call of darkness than his father, which felt so wrong based on who we always knew the character to be. I know human beings are complex—and this show has always aimed to remind us that no one is completely good or completely evil—but to have Bae command his father to kill Beowulf seemed to being going a little too far to prove that he was not as innocent as we once thought he was. And then to show him eager to hurt another family to defend his own was just overkill.
That proclivity toward darkness and using dark magic to take shortcuts is something that was never shown to be a part of Bae’s personality; he wanted to go to another realm to help his father rid himself of the darkness, and he hated magic for his whole life. Drinking a memory potion (What a convenient contrivance, by the way!) shouldn’t have so easily erased the attraction to darkness that was clearly a part of this version of Bae. (I say “this version of Bae” because his actions and thoughts were so far from any other version of the character we have ever seen before that he might as well have been another character.)
Essentially, this episode was designed to carefully craft parallels between Rumplestiltskin and his sons—Bae and Gideon. Both sons saw giving in to darkness as the only option to save people, and both sons were willing to control their father using the dagger because of this mindset. However, in both cases, Rumplestiltskin was willing to sacrifice for his children to keep them from losing themselves to darkness the way he did. In Bae’s case, it was particularly painful because Rumplestiltskin took all the blame and forever jeopardized his relationship with his son because of it, which was also an interesting contrast to Beowulf’s desire for glory and to be called the hero, which fueled his own darkness.
Gideon was similar to Beowulf in his belief that being seen as a hero was more important than doing the right thing. He wants to destroy the Black Fairy, which is actually a heroic thing, but he believes the only way he can do that is by killing Emma. Wouldn’t working with Emma be much better? But Gideon wants not just to do the heroic thing but to be called a hero, and that means being the only one to do the saving. He was clearly traumatized by the Black Fairy (That story about the boy being beaten and him not having the courage to help broke my heart.), but dark acts don’t end the cycle of darkness. Darkness is a slippery slope, and Rumplestiltskin knows that all too well, which was why he chose to take the Blue Fairy’s blood and magic instead of letting Gideon do it. Rumplestiltskin has darkened his heart for his children before—namely, when he became the Dark One—and the conflict between doing the wrong thing for what seemed like the right reason at the time has always been at the core of his character.
However, I’m not sure actually committing dark acts is the only way to darken your heart, like Rumplestiltskin thinks; just like I don’t think it’s impossible to come back from a dark path, like he seems to believe. Gideon has already started down a dark path, and what will bring him back isn’t Rumplestiltskin’s memory potion or dark sacrifices but Belle’s sense of hope. Rumplestiltskin has very little faith in people’s ability to push back against darkness because he isn’t able to, and now we know that he also saw his son overcome by the pull of darkness. But he’s surrounded by examples of people who have started—and sometimes continued for hundreds of years—down dark paths but managed to find the light again thanks to the support and hope that comes from love (aka Killian and Regina).
This was an interesting episode for Rumplestiltskin. Robert Carlyle acted the hell out of the nuances it called for. I believed he genuinely thought he was doing the right thing in every situation, and I never once doubted his love for his sons. But the relatively docile nature of the flashbacks’ version of the Dark One confused me a little bit. In fact, a lot of things confused me about Rumplestiltskin’s story in this episode, so I’ll just list them in bullet form:
• When exactly did they take place in terms of the show’s timeline? Because, from what I remember, not long after becoming the Dark One, Rumplestiltskin was turning villagers into animals and spreading fear everywhere he went, so the idea that he was hailed as a hero who wasn’t feared by the townspeople seemed strange.
• If Rumplestiltskin killed all the ogres, how was there a Second Ogre War?
• Why doesn’t he protect the dagger better in the present time period? You’d think by now he’d know better than to have it on his person without some kind of protection spell around it.
• Why is the Blue Fairy so ineffective?
• Why is Belle always so eager to go along with Rumplestiltskin’s plans?
• Why has no one told Gideon that you don’t become a Savior by killing a Savior? (Unless you do and we’ve all been wrong about this part of the show’s mythology for six seasons.)
Beyond any plot holes I may have found and disappointments I may have experienced during this episode, I could still appreciate the way it connected to some of the show’s most important themes. One such theme is the concept of what makes someone heroic, and this episode reminded us that heroism requires selflessness—a desire to do good not because it benefits you, but because it’s the right thing to do. And perhaps the best example of that in this episode was Regina. She brought Robin back for selfish reasons, but she was willing to let him go if that made him happy. And she was willing to finally admit what we’ve been waiting all season for her to admit: She and the Evil Queen are parts of the same whole; she is both. The only way she can truly grow as a hero is to acknowledge that her darkest self isn’t something she can erase, separate from, or forget (as was Rumplestiltskin’s m.o. for his children); it’s a part of her that she must accept and live with. It was a powerful moment that can only mean good things for the character in the future. In fact, I was a little surprised that such a major revelation that we waited so long to see was crammed into such a small moment. It deserved more focus, but maybe that will come with the big showdown that’s been promised for next week.
• I knew that Robin and the Evil Queen were going to have some flirtatious interactions; you can’t put Lana Parrilla and Sean Maguire together again and not have them show off their chemistry in some capacity. At least this should be easier to watch than the Evil Queen and Rumplestiltskin—although I am hoping she goes away for good next week.
• I will forever be bitter than we didn’t get a scene of Killian asking Henry for his blessing before proposing.
• I get that Killian was already drinking and brooding when he said it, but it bothered me that he called himself broken when saying he wanted to confess his secret to Emma. I don’t want him to think of vulnerability and honesty as symptoms of brokenness when we all know they’re signs of strength.
• I’m sure part of my frustration with this episode was the lack of the Charming Family (besides Emma at the end). I’m not shy about the fact that they have always been my reason for tuning in.
• Can we please stop wiping people’s memories for plot purposes? It was old about three seasons ago; now, it’s just ridiculous.
• Gideon creeping around the sheriff’s office in his black cloak was the funniest thing I have seen in a long time.
• If anyone has “fix it fic” recommendations to make me feel better about Killian and Emma’s engagement, please share them in the comments!