Once Upon A Time: “Into The Deep”
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Once Upon A Time: “Into The Deep”

In this week’s episode of Once Upon A Time, people fall asleep a lot, which is a perfect representation of the experience of watching this week’s episode of Once Upon A Time. “Into The Deep” (or as I have retitled it: “Slow Story In A Burning Room”) is a string of convenient plot twists stemming from the Sleeping Curse that Snow White, Aurora, and Henry have all fallen under in the past, and it uses the curse to progress the plot in a passive fashion. Last episode’s cliffhanger revealed that Aurora can talk to Henry inside the netherworld of their dreams, and this week, that burning room becomes a magical telephone that allows the two worlds to communicate with each other. If you thought Henry couldn’t get more annoying, just wait until you hear Jared S. Gilmore yell all of his lines.

The episode begins with a conversation between Hook and Cora, who betrays her one-handed partner when she finds out he lost the Enchanted Compass to Emma Swan. Despite having two charismatic performers, the dialogue in this first scene is completely lifeless, and gives off a bit of a Power Rangers vibe. (Cora as Rita Repulsa just feels right.) It’s beginning to feel like the writers have completely replaced real stakes with magical ones, and it’s sucked the emotional momentum out of this show. Early on, the magic was a nice change of pace, but now, it’s taken a forefront to the character development. The most interesting character right now is Regina, and that’s because magic has become her central conflict. For all the other characters, magic is a means to an end, something with all kinds of different rules that bend to the wills of the episode writers.

Too much magic can make events feel arbitrary, and it’s hard to build suspense and tension when it seems like the writers always find an easy way out via magic. The major problem is that magic is built into the DNA of this series, but at least the first season was able to get some mileage from the contrast between the fairy tale world and the “real” Storybrooke world. As clunky as they may have been, those season one episodes had more of an emotional focus and were kept in line by the fairyback structure. I had hoped that replacing the fairybacks with present day sequences in the fairy tale world would give this show renewed energy, but it has only highlighted this series’ unsavory elements.

Let’s start with those little plastic hearts, which are just the saddest props on television. Cora uses those magic hearts to revive the dead men of the camp, and Barbara Hershey really does her best to act menacing while holding a glowing plastic ball in her hand. Could the special effects team not spring for something slightly less cheap looking? Even a glass heart would look better, and while it may seem like I’m nitpicking, the hearts are part of a greater artificiality that plagues this series. The props are fake, the backgrounds are fake, the relationships are fake.

Regarding that last one, the Emma/Hook pairing has been intensely forced by the writers, and Emma has as much chemistry with her current hairy hottie as she has had with her past burly lovers. Jennifer Morrison is not a bad actress, but Emma is a poorly written character, and after a season and a half of being the lead, she remains one of this show’s stiffest characters. She has the rare moment of badassery or tenderness, but she’s mostly a curmudgeon that is unwilling to trust others and quick to point out flaws. When all this fairy tale world nonsense is over, this show needs to do a girl’s night episode or something to lighten up Emma’s character, because it’s hard to pair her up with another character when she’s not engaging.

The key to stopping Cora is the magic ink that is hidden in Rumpelstiltskin’s old prison cell, and Henry tries to communicate this information to Aurora but isn’t able to when she’s awoken by an attack from Cora’s undead soldiers. The scene of Snow White, Emma, and Mulan fighting the zombies is a highlight of the episode, and if this show is admirable for anything, it’s in bringing more butt-kicking women to TV. Snow White has a strong episode this week, using her old hunter-tracker skills to fight off the undead and hunt down Mulan when she swipes the Enchanted Compass to give to Cora, who has taken Aurora prisoner. When Aurora is swiped, it falls on Snow to reenter the fiery room, where she’s briefly reunited with her husband Prince Charming, who has put himself under the Sleeping Curse to protect Henry from reentering his dreams and potentially getting burnt.

I never would have imagined that Regina would become my favorite part of Once Upon A Time, but keeping the character on the path of redemption has allowed Lana Parilla the opportunity to shine as an actress. Affection comes more naturally to her than anger, and putting Regina on the side of the angels has allowed her relationship with Henry to blossom. Being this show’s major villain, Regina is sure to relapse eventually, but the character has never been more interesting than she is now. There’s something to be said about the effectiveness of using fantasy elements as metaphors, and while magic as drug has been done before, the metaphor still helps ground Regina’s story in something real despite being fantastic.

Prince Charming has faith that if he goes under the Sleeping Curse, Snow White will be waiting for him, and sure enough, she’s taken a ton of Mulan’s sleeping powder and is awaiting his arrival. Charming initially appears in a black room full of mirrors, realizes that the burning room is underneath him, and then crashes through the ceiling to find his wife. He tells her about Rumpelstiltskin’s secret weapon, but when he tries to score true love’s kiss to wake him up, the fact that they’re incorporeal dream spirits means that he’s stuck under the curse until Snow finds her way back to Storybrooke. So Charming is out of action and Aurora is under Cora’s control after having her heart stolen by Hook, meaning that things are looking pretty dire for our heroes. But don’t worry! There’s surely some magical ointment somewhere in this show’s future that will solve everything.

Stray observations:

  • Rumpelstiltskin throws down a mermaid reference. How long until Ariel shows up?
  • I’ve always thought Regina’s wardrobe was campy, and now we know that she got her fashion sense from her mother. Cora loves her sparkling beads.
  • How about that Snow and Charming “Let it Snow” holiday ad from ABC? Pretty goofy.
  • How exactly did Hook get Aurora’s heart? Magic or impaling?
  • Why does the burning room look like the dance floor of a nightclub?

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