It’s far easier to hate a Dark One than it is to love one.Belle
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, Rebecca Mader, Sean Maguire, and Robert Carlyle.
“The Price”. What an enigmatic title. The Price, you say? The Price of what? I mean, if you don’t know the answer to that then, frankly, I don’t know what you’re doing here. Scroll on back to the Pilot, because this concept has bludgeoned me round the head so many times I flinch pretty much every time I hear it. All magic comes with a price. For us, it’s having to hear about it. For the characters, well, that’s an entirely different matter.
So far (and yes, I know that’s strange to say on episode 2), Season 5A is doing quite a good job of just focussing upon the dynamics between our main characters instead of exploring any new connections, which is a wise move. After all, we’ve got everything that we could possibly need. Family? Check. Friends? Check. Enemies? Sure thing. Frenemies? Heaps. It’s on these established relationships – and some surprise pairings that we haven’t seen so much – that much of the charm of this episode derives.
The role reversal between Emma and Regina is captivating, not least because of the winning dynamic between the pair that has been carefully cultivated over the past four seasons. It’s the brilliant thing about getting later into a show. The plot lines start to get absolutely horrendous, but the level of affection you have towards characters (not you, Snow) just gets better and, provided that the writers continue to nail the character development (not you, Belle), it makes the show somewhat bearable.
Regina in particular has come on such a journey. When you consider the development she has received since being the antagonist in the first season, compared to perennially self-righteous Snow, it’s small wonder that Regina, and Lana Parrilla, have become such fan favourites. And by fan favourites, I predominantly mean my favourite. She’s developed from a fully fledged villain, to reforming, to a certified hero. It’s notable, therefore, that her journey here isn’t whether or not she’s a hero, but whether she’s enough of a hero to be a saviour.
It’s a shift in perspective, and it’s more to do with Regina’s self esteem than it is to do with her villainy. She’s not used to the adoration of the people. In fact, it’s pretty much defined her character up until this point. Having said that, I’m not sure why Regina is so obsessed with the idea of being the Saviour. Sure, Emma’s incapacitated because of being the Dark One, but last I checked, the Enchanted Forest never suffered for not having a Saviour before she was born. It never stopped Snow and Charming from rushing headlong into danger, so simply being Regina should be enough, but it’s understandable that she doesn’t feel so confident leading the noble troops considering her chequered past. Part of that comes from the doubts of others, and I think part of it is just Regina’s inner saboteur telling her what other people might think.
Regina’s evolution to the leader of our protagonists is definitely necessary from a storytelling point of view, not to mention wonderfully satisfying to see Regina get all of the classic hero moments that she’s been working towards for the past few seasons. Narratively, it makes sense because, let’s face it, nobody else is going to be able to lead the heroes against Emma. If Snow or Charming did, everybody would turn the set off, not to mention get eye strain from rolling them so frequently. Having said that, it is strange that Snow and Charming, the helicopter parents that they are to their 30-year-old daughter, aren’t a tad more concerned or preoccupied by their daughter’s descent into darkness while in Camelot, and instead elect to give Regina dancing lessons – as delightful and touching as that was.
Jennifer Morrison was hugely engaging as the Dark Swan at the end of the premiere episode, and that continued here. It’s commendable that they’re not playing Emma as an entirely different entity. You can still see the real Emma lying underneath even if it’s hidden behind something altogether more sinister. The strange thing is Emma behaving as if the community can still accept her; as if she can still be mother to Henry or be in love with Hook despite her darkness. I haven’t quite wrapped my head around it, so hopefully this is explored the further we get. It’s difficult to reconcile these aspects with the idea of Emma scheming against them, so I have a feeling there’s more to this memory loss than just dramatic convenience, after all.
Having one of the heroes, Emma, as our villain allows all of the main cast to shine in circumstances where they wouldn’t if yet another mythical creature were imminently attacking. There are loads of tiny beats in this episode that highlight the brilliant chemistry between all of the main cast. Charming coaching Henry about girls at the Camelot ball was touching, and it’s nice for Charming to get something purposeful to do. Charming’s interactions with his family are always so touching, and all too infrequent in my view. Snow getting Emma for her first ball; Charming and Snow getting Regina dressed and teaching her how to dance. All wonderful little moments that remind us that, ultimately, the premise of this show is about finding the human within the fantastical, and I’m glad that they’re reconnected with that instead of just throwing the entire Disney back catalogue in our faces.
A nice side-plot here was the unexpected pairing of Hook and Belle. I mean, to be brutally honest, any pairing that contains Belle is unexpected, because she seems deathly allergic to screentime (a true travesty). Though Belle in Camelot seemed largely preoccupied looking at her CGI bell jar and masochistically asking Leroy to dance, it’s fitting that she and Hook should bond over their reversal of fortune. Though they haven’t always seen eye to eye, considering that Hook was desperately trying to murder Belle’s true love for a century or two there, Hook seeking her out for advice on how to free Emma from the Dark One’s influence was entirely appropriate. The embellishment from Belle that the curse can only be broken if they view it to be a curse is also interesting, and does help to explain that small inconsistency from their kiss in Season 1, as well as strengthen the lore of the Dark One without a pesky True Love’s Kiss providing an easy solution.
Another small moment that it would be amiss of me not to mention is where Regina gets ready for Camelot’s ball and instinctively gets changed into her Evil Queen garb. While it’s easy to pass this off as just a small moment of comic relief, or Regina not understanding the conventions or how to come across as a hero, I think it’s more indicative of Regina’s instinctive habit of pushing people away. Regina is brash and cutting, and her entire Evil Queen demeanour (I mean, hello, it’s in the name) all serves to instil fear in others, keeping her at a safe distance. I think that moment was more of a self defence mechanism, and Regina masking herself behind that armour, instead of allowing herself to be as open as she did when presenting herself as pure and genteel.
Despite our characters arriving in Camelot, we still don’t know a great deal about the inhabitants here. We’ve seen glimpses, but fortunately they haven’t detracted from our favourites. It does, however, mean that the impact of Knight Percival is somewhat lost, seeing as it’s the first time we’ve ever seen him. Ultimately, though, I’m getting quite a sinister vibe from King Arthur, which is quite out of sorts with the source material, and I wonder how that will factor into Emma’s curse and the memory wipe.
Emma having Excalibur and seeking to unite the Dark One’s dagger and Excalibur is an intriguing prospect, and it gives her something to do while everybody else trips over their tails trying to restore their memories and “fix” her. I’m not entirely convinced, though, that she does strive to eliminate all goodness, not least because of her warning to Regina about something coming to Storybrooke. After all, if Emma wanted to eliminate all the goodness, surely she would have known about the price with Excalibur when she enacted the curse to come back to Storybrooke? I can’t help but feel like Emma is still fighting the Dark One somehow, and she may use Excalibur for the opposite purpose.
“The Price” is a successful second part to Season 5A, bolstering my hope that this arc will continue to be wonderfully character-led. While slightly exposition-heavy, it helps move characters into their positions for the story ahead, even if there are a lot of mysteries still left to be uncovered.
Once Upon an Additional Brainthought
- The fury was hella creepy.
- If Regina made Emma revive Robin six weeks ago why did the fury only just attack now? Is there a waiting list? Or is six weeks like the cut off to pay your magical price? Was she sitting there with a clock like “Well this is just the final straw”?
- Is it just me or is this the first time that they’ve mentioned the underworld on Once? That’s sort of a big concept to bust out so flippantly, and certainly opens a whole host of further storylines.
- I couldn’t quite help but be reminded of the X-Men cartoon when Regina and the others banded together to give their soul in exchange for Robin’s. Leroy and King Arthur joining the group was a bit of a stretch though. They could have kept it as a main character affair.
- I know they say that Merlin is trapped in the tree, but couldn’t he actually be the tree, the way that Dopey became one?
- On the topic of Dopey, why on earth didn’t Leroy go over the line? He’s such a bully. He honestly offers nothing to this show other than low-to-high levels of irritation. My irritation.
- Why did all of the Storybrooke characters change back into the clothes they first arrived into Camelot in when they returned to Granny’s? I mean, I get not wanting to run around in Camelot-wear. Actually I don’t, those costumes were divine, but where were those Storybrooke clothes? Were they in Granny’s? Was that part of Emma’s curse, that their clothes come with them? Also, if they were going to change and treat that as a priority, wouldn’t they just go home and get changed into a different outfit that they hadn’t just worn so they could feel a bit more…showered and not gross while taking down Emma? No? Am I overthinking this? Maybe.
- I am honestly shooketh that Snow and Charming aren’t being a bit more irritating about Emma being the Dark One.
- I cackled when Snow exploded REGINA just because Regina pointed out that she could destroy all of the Camelot soldiers. She could, Snow. Calm down. Get that stick out your butt. God, you used to be feisty, now you’re just soooo preachy. Fix it.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.