Once Upon A Time: “Desperate Souls”
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Once Upon A Time: “Desperate Souls”

Once Upon A Time reminds me of one of those Saturday afternoon syndicated action-adventure series, only with better production values and bigger-name actors. It cashes in on its producers’ connection to Lost and apes that series’ structure, but it lacks Lost’s sophistication and insight, instead laying out plot in the plainest terms possible, no matter how tedious that may be. Take the Old Beggar’s info-dump in the middle of “Desperate Souls”, which, despite being delivered by the quite talented Brad Dourif (Deadwood, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest), is the kind of clunky exposition that’s bad on children’s television, let alone primetime drama.

I wish upon a star that the writers will have more faith in me as an audience member, and will stop spelling everything out so that their show becomes devoid of suspense or mystery. If OUAT isn’t going to embrace the camp (which it still may do, but not this week), it needs to mature the storytelling, because the plot is going to fizzle and die in the middle ground. It hasn’t even been ten episodes, and the formula is already starting to feel stale. The fairy tale segments haven’t remixed the stories to the extent I’d hoped after Rumpelstiltskin’s first spotlight episode, and this week’s fairyback looks at Rumpelstiltskin’s pre-imp past with a political allegory rather than a revisionist fairy tale. I’m starting to almost like these characters, and there’s potential in this world and concept, the writers just need to take fuller advantage of the wealth of mythology that the fairy tale stories give them.

Rumpelstiltskin is a coward of the Ogre Wars who wants to keep his son from being drafted into the same senseless military campaign. He sits at his spinning wheel, tends his farm, and makes you miss the goofy, hammy Rumpelstiltskin of past episodes. Terrorized by the king’s soldiers, Rumpelstiltskin steals a magic dagger from the castle to gain control of the Dark One, which he learns about from the Old Beggar in the aforementioned scene, who turns out to be the Dark One because this is Once Upon A Time we’re watching here. Rumpelstiltskin becomes the Dark One after he kills the Dark One (that’s a lot of Dark Ones), and then he’s awesome again, going on a killing rampage against all those guys that made him kiss their boots earlier. It only takes 50 minutes, but the payoff is Robert Carlyle back in ass-kicking, black-pupil mode, so it’s mostly worth it.

After Sheriff Graham’s death last episode, Emma has to run against Sidney Glass of The Mirror for his position, because the editor of a newspaper is totally qualified to be a town Sheriff. (About as qualified as a bail bondsman, I guess.) I’m always going to be excited to see Giancarlo Esposito after this season of Breaking Bad, and it looks like he’s having fun playing Sidney, which is probably an easy paycheck for him. On one show he’s a ruthless drug kingpin, on another he’s the Magic Mirror from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” There’s not much depth to his character, but then again he is a mirror.

Henry puts Operation: Cobra on hold because he’s convinced that good can never defeat evil, and Emma devotes herself to getting elected to prove that good can still triumph by playing fair. When Emma allies herself with Mr. Gold, who commits arson to turn her into a town hero, she has to choose between standing up for her morals or gaining a new enemy, and she chooses the latter, which will hopefully mean good things for future episodes.

Mr. Gold is becoming the Benjamin Linus of this series, a charming villain with a big brain and mysterious motives, and this episode’s fairyback shows a glimpse of the man before the monster, who is pretty pathetic. There’s no concrete reason given for Rumpelstiltskin’s cowardice, and his protestations against the war seem to come out of self-preservation rather than his issues with the political rationale. He looks out for himself but needs power to reach his full potential, which he gets in both the fairy tale world and in Storybrooke. Emma still owes him a favor, and who better to owe a criminal a favor than the town Sheriff?

Stray observations:

  • Potential spoiler alert for the only thing that really matters: according to the ever-reliable IMDB, Jamie Dornan is signed on for 19 episodes this season, so he’s probably not dead. But really, did anyone doubt that?
  • This episode has people saying “Storybrooke” out loud a lot. They shouldn’t do that. When you say “Storybrooke” out loud, it sounds really stupid.
  • Those “Swan For Sheriff” posters look so bad.
  • Archie saying “crickets” and “conscience” at the debate is super groanworthy. So bad.
  • Explicit Lost reference:  The bottle of MacCutcheon whiskey returns.
  • Yes, Buffy fans, that is Emma Caulfield as Hansel and Gretel’s blind witch next week, which is easily the casting I’ve been most excited about on this series.
  • “Maybe I just want to beat her.” Openly antagonistic Emma is the best Emma.
  • “Kiss my boot!”

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