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'Once Upon A Time' 2.04: "The Crocodile" or "Hand On Your Heart"

 

I have to confess to being less than enamored with this week’s episode. I don’t know whether it’s because it felt like it was a slight stall in the ongoing adventures of the White Knight and her kickass mom, or whether it was because some of the themes and ideas in the episode bothered me a bit more than I care to admit. Either way, in an episode focused entirely on Rumplestiltskin, we were introduced to some new characters, one of whom is the beautiful Captain Hook. Yes, that’s right. More pretty, devilishly handsome men to ogle. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. That’s what I’m going with this week.

You know, I have mixed feelings about Rumple. On the one hand, he’s a fantastic villain and Robert Carlyle really knows how to tease each and every moment of pure malicious pleasure out of him. But he’s also pretty morally bankrupt and for me as a viewer, I’m finding it difficult to get behind his relationship with Belle and see it as the “twu love” that Rumple appears to both believe in and yet mock mercilessly at every opportunity.

The opening scene was interesting in that it exemplifies what we all fear, really – that idea of knowing who your lover is at heart, but not really accepting it until we’re forced to. Belle’s dream sequence not only tapped into her greatest fears, but also helped to solidify and bring to the fore what she truly suspects about Rumple; that his inability to change or, as it were, his unwillingness to change for HER is at the root of their relationship and the reason why it seems doomed to fail.

When she tries to encourage Rumple into the notion of change, his response is “Oh it’s me dearie, always has been, always will be.” Sad, really, that even though he gives her expensive gifts as a sign of his love, what she truly wants is for him to change. She wants him to indulge in his humanity as opposed to always falling back to his default position as The Dark One.

I’m getting the sense that the show is trying to offset the use of magic – possessing it and relying on it – as addiction. We’ve already seen Regina get “high” on magic and how it brings out the worst parts of her, and in this episode, the same is true of Rumple. I did like the contrast between who he used to be and who he became. That, for me, is far more interesting than any of the subplots that the story threw at us, especially so when we’re having brand new characters forced upon us at every turn.

But the real theme of the episode is relationships; the difficulty in loving someone and the hardship of accepting them for who they are. Belle’s dream is the catalyst to her realizing that she wants more – she wants someone who doesn’t always turn to magic as a quick fix; she wants a fulfilling life for herself – a job, a purpose, an existence that isn’t defined by being Rumple’s girlfriend. You have to admire her for that, especially as in Season 1 there was an unsettling notion of Stockhom Syndrome going on with those two.

The flashbacks to Fairy Tale Land in this episode centered around Rumple’s life before he became The Dark One. We see his wife, Milah (and don’t think I didn’t let out a squeal of joy to see Rachel Shelley guest starring) and Baby!Bae and get a real sense of who Rumple was before the magic.

In the local tavern, Milah is laughing it up and drinking with Hook and his crew. They mock Rumple; she tells him that she wishes he’d fought and that other women were “honored widows” while she was “lashed” to the town coward. Ouch. I loved Carlyle here; he didn’t really need to say anything because the disappointed, hurt look on his face spoke volumes and you know, in an odd way, I can kind of understand how he never wanted to relinquish the powers that being The Dark One gave him. Who would want to be weak when they could be strong? Who would want to accept the insults of others when they could punish them instead?

I’m not entirely sure how Milah and Rumple ended up together in the first place, but their meager home is full of sketches and drawings that Milah has done – an indication that her heart longs to be elsewhere. Anywhere but here, right?

It’s interesting, though, that Milah’s insistence that they should find a “fresh start” somewhere else is precisely what the basic premise of this show is about. And if we’re supposed to believe that Rumple engendered the curse in the first place, then Storybrooke is that fresh start where he only ends up doing exactly the same thing he did in Fairy Tale Land – using magic to assert control. So I suppose it’s all the more interesting that now the curse has been broken, he’s unable to leave Storybrooke without losing everything he relies on. His sense of self, in essence. He’s just as trapped in our world as he ever was before he became The Dark One in Fairy Tale Land. And he’s still a coward, really; unable to truly fight for the things he wants because of fear for his own wellbeing.

A particularly troubling scene is that in which Milah is taken by Hook and his crew. Cillian Jones is a devastatingly handsome character. I can even forgive him the guyliner because he’s charming, gorgeous and….well, gorgeous. But as Rumple pleads for his wife, there’s no mistaking the disturbing undertones of what Jones tells him: “I have a ship full of men who need…companionship”. And yes, I KNOW they’re pirates but really, show?

Jones challenges Rumple to a duel so that he can literally and metaphorically fight to get his wife back. I can’t help hating Rumple a little as he runs from the combat – “a man unwilling to fight for what he wants, deserves what he gets”. And this is the problem I have with the character, as later on in the episode, Rumple only focuses on how his wife’s perceived betrayal affects HIM. And yet, he was the one who condemned her to a fate that Jones laid out in no uncertain terms. So how much did Rumple REALLY love Milah? How much was he willing to sacrifice for her? Clearly, not a great deal. And I want to believe that Rumple was a good man once and was capable of much love, but his cowardice is pretty repugnant and overwhelms any grace I might be convinced to give him.

In Storybrooke, a tiny diversion from the main plot shows us the dwarves mining for fairydust and I’m happy to say that David Nolan is helping them. With his shirt off. Josh Dallas really does have lovely arms and I’m afraid I’m rather sucked into a whole diatribe wherein I’m convinced that Emma really IS Charming’s daughter because…well…Sacred Arms of Plenty times two, right? Yum.

Gold confronts Belle’s father and they both attempt, throughout the course of the episode, to do what’s “best” for her. See, even in Storybrooke, they’re attempting to control and manipulate her and, if anything, THIS is what bothers me most about the episode. I’m reminded of Regina’s line to Emma back in Season 1 about “People don’t change, they only fool themselves into thinking they can.” And nothing has changed for Belle in her relationships with the men in her life. They still want to force her into situations and can’t seem to allow her the tiniest shred of independence. And while we see Belle wanting to have a job (she professes a love of books and I’m humming “Tale As Old As Time” in my head as I watch her in the library) and explore the new world she’s found herself in, it all seems a bit futile as she’s let down quite horribly by the two men she loves the most.

We’re also introduced to William Smee in this episode, who claims to have a “magic bean” to help Rumple move between worlds. I was just excited to see Chris Gauthier, who was one of my favorite villains from “Smallville” – the Toymaster. Now, Smee turns up in Storybrooke and I’m still trying to figure out why the curse brought some people to our world and why it left some behind in Fairy Tale Land. I want that explained, please. And don’t give me that blanket theory of “it was the curse that did it”. That’s getting a bit old.

In Fairy Tale Land, Jones finally gets that duel with Rumple, although it’s hardly a fair fight. But Rumple believes he’s enacting vengeance for the fact that Milah is dead (or at least, that’s what Jones TOLD him). “Do you know what it’s like to have your wife stolen from you?” Rumple asks Jones. “To feel powerless to stop it? It feels like having your heart ripped from your chest.”

Yeah. Well…see, I don’t really believe that Rumple WAS powerless to stop it. But, as we keep being told, magic is power. And it’s the ONLY power that Rumple feels is worth anything. I can’t help thinking that the only thing stopping him from saving his wife was his own cowardice – I mean, he never even really tried. Not, at least, until he KNEW that Jones couldn’t hurt him. Which is, I have to say, something of a Pyrrhic victory, all told. But in this show, that seems to be the only sort of victory the villains get. “I just wanted to win, for once,” Regina said in “An Apple Red As Blood”. And winning is everything – it certainly is for Rumple in this episode. But it’s the spoils of victory, or, rather, the sacrifices one makes to get that victory that truly matter. And love, it seems, is the real victim here.

He moves to take Jones’ heart from his chest when Milah appears. Oh, so NOT dead then? Okay. Someone on the internet said that they didn’t know how much they wanted to see Rachel Shelley dressed as a pirate until they saw Rachel Shelley dressed as a pirate. I concur. I don’t mind admitting to being a complete fangirl over lady pirates. It might be the swash and buckle, or it might be the leather. Either way, I’m sold on it.

I really liked the scene between Charming and Gold in Storybrooke. The thing about the curse being broken is that everyone remembers their past lives and nobody wants to help Gold find kidnapped Belle. In fact, nobody wants to help him at all. But I love the man David/Charming has become. He even walks differently, never mind taking up the role as self-appointed Sheriff. It’s a subtle change for him, but one that works within the context of the show, particularly as he’s the one who tells Gold that “honesty” is the lynchpin of a good relationship. And let’s face it, Gold doesn’t tell outright lies, but it’s the dishonesty of omission that he relies on to manipulate people. “There’s a difference between literal truth and honesty of the heart,” Charming tells him. Oh yes, he really IS the feelingsiest man in all of Storybrooke. Perhaps the entire planet. But it actually works here, as Gold eventually DOES gain some emotional honesty with Belle when he realizes that he’s no good for her.

It’s a nice link between Rumple’s past and his present, where Milah says she “didn’t know how to tell…the truth”. She’s fallen in love with Jones, you see, because of his stories. Oh girl, we’ve ALL been there… But she promises to trade the magic bean for Jones’ life and Rumple, beset by his own needs and wants, takes her up on it.

On Jones’ ship, Rumple asks how Milah could leave Bae. “You left him! You abandoned him!” While I think that his love for Bae might just be the one thing that humanizes Rumple, I also think he’s talking about himself here. And he’s SO bitter and SO resentful that his broken relationship with his wife essentially becomes all about HIM. I hate that. I hate that Rumple seems to be using Bae as an excuse to try and assuage his own feelings here and, yes, Milah treated him with abject scorn and disgust but the fact that he kills her without a second thought really shows us just how corrupt Rumple has become. And there’s that magic theme creeping in again. I wonder if having that much power really does remove choice and how that notion might assert itself later in the season, particularly with reference to our villains who use it: Rumple, Regina and Cora.

“Sorry isn’t enough!” Rumple says. And Milah tells him that she never loved him. Oh dear. No wonder, then, that back in Season 1, Rumple was convinced that he was incapable of being loved…by anyone. That’s a tragedy and probably what drove him to the lengths that he’s gone to in order to regain the one person who loved him: Bae. I kind of understand him a little more now and that helps, but still…

Rumple cuts off Jones’ hand and the pirate swears that he will find a way to kill him. “Good luck living long enough,” Rumple says. Ohhh, so THAT’S why they set sail for Neverland, then. And hey! That’s how Hook became Hook! Oh, show, sometimes you delight me.

In Storybrooke, Belle finally asserts her independence from both her father AND from Rumple: “you’re too cowardly to be honest with me”. She decides to break away from both of them and you know, I have to applaud that. “You don’t get to decide what I do or how I feel; I do.” You go, girl! And Ruby supports her in that by offering her a place to stay and introducing her to the wonders of this world, which apparently include pancakes, bacon and syrup. Well, I can’t argue with that. I mean…bacon. Come on. Best. Invention. Ever.

Belle takes up a position as librarian – through Gold’s intervention. I have some concerns about that, even if it’s perhaps one of the first altruistic acts he’s committed in Storybrooke. And it’s interesting, isn’t it, that the library will open again. There’s a whole undercurrent of “knowledge” that’s creeping into this show – how Regina closed the library so nobody would ever really discover anything about the world in which they were living; about how now the curse is broken, people are free to explore that world in all its forms, particularly through literature. And if knowledge is power, then it makes sense that having the library open again would offer SOME power to the people of Storybrooke, even if it is only found in the pages of a book.

Gold finally tells Belle everything. He tells her about Bae and confesses that he’s still a coward, despite having all that magic. It’s a “crutch”, he says. Interesting word, considering Gold walks with a cane, right? He says he can’t walk without it and that “magic comes with a price”. He says he has to break this “new curse”. But surely, the only curse that exists now is the one he put upon himself. Ugh, more parallels between him and Regina. They really are the two most broken people in this show; the ones who need the most help but who have also isolated everyone likely to be instrumental in offering that assistance. If anything, that’s probably the biggest flaw they have, and it’s borne out of a lack of love in their lives.

In Fairy Tale Land, we see that Hook has tricked Rumple and kept the magic bean for himself. He uses it to open a huge whirlpool portal so they can set sail for Neverland, and takes Smee with him. Oh, I DO like it when my Disney characters come together. He swears to plot his revenge on Rumple or, as we’re told, the Crocodile. Hee. Good one, show.

At the end of the episode, Gold has Smee hostage in his basement (as you do) and asks for information about Hook. He wants to know where he is and Smee tells him that when the curse struck, for some reason (ugh, this AGAIN???) it didn’t take him.

And then…oh god…and then we’re transported to Fairy Tale Land where Hook meets up with Cora. She shows him the “sparkly dirt” which is all that’s left of the magic wardrobe and tells him that their “port of destination” is Storybrooke. “Excellent,” Hook says. “You’ll be able to see your daughter, and I’ll be able to skin myself a crocodile.”

You’ll have to excuse me while I run around the room screaming “NO!” and flailing. Because this can’t lead to ANYTHING good for anyone. I think I’m going to book myself a therapy session now while I can still form coherent words.

Notable mentions: Ruby…always Ruby. She’s wonderful in this episode – kind, caring, helpful and pretty badass as she channels her wolfish self in sniffing out Belle. I love what they’re doing with her character and can’t wait for her episode to come around.

Also, the promo for next week makes it clear that it’s Halloween Week on Once! Spooky goings on in Storybrooke. And quite possibly a nervous breakdown for Regina. Oh well, it was only a matter of time…

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