For the past couple seasons, Once Upon a Time has made the darkness within one of its major themes. Of course, since this series takes place in a world that revolves around fairy tales, the battle between good and evil has always been a major theme but now a big part of the fight is internal. While the last couple seasons have hinged on Emma’s possible corruption, this time it’s Regina who’s hanging by a thread, which certainly makes for a much more emotional, captivating story. Unlike Emma, Regina really was a bad person who not only wreaked havoc on Snow White, but pretty much everyone who crossed her path. Even her father, who loyally stood by his daughter through everything.
In short, Regina has fought long and hard to get from where she was to where she is now. Only to witness the death of her Robin and her past not only coming back to haunt her, but threatening to undo all she’s built. Too bad Once succumbs far too much to its inherent cheesiness for this to be really enjoyable in this episode, titled “A Bitter Draught.” Even worse, its characters shouldn’t still be making choices this stupid.
The Evil Queen is still on the loose and still trying to cozy up to Zelena, but it’s hard to see why the former Wicked Witch is still so isolated from everyone else. Why hasn’t Regina tried harder to reconcile with her sister, especially with the birth of her niece and the loss of her second great love? The questions don’t stop with her. Sure, Emma is trying to be smarter than she was in last week’s episode, but she’s still not being honest about the tremors in her hands and those visions where she apparently dies. How come nobody else notices this? At least we get Archie back as her therapist after an absence of quite a few seasons.
Usually the best part of Once is Robert Carlyle as Gold, but this time around it’s actually Lana Parrilla having a blast playing a character as delightfully twisted as the Evil Queen. Especially as she manipulates another new arrival, the vengeance-obsessed Count of Monte Cristo. Parrilla and Carlyle’s interactions have been interesting because of their deranged teacher-student dynamic and how that plays out. So does the show really have to veer into more cliché territory with the Evil Queen hitting on Gold? He’s meanwhile still moping over the loss of Belle, who seems to finally be done with all the lies and general bullshit he’s put her through. For a while the show placed on emphasis on his bond with his grandson Henry, and it would be nice to see that brought back into play again, instead of Gold and Belle eternally running around and around in circles.
Another reliable cornerstone of the show also gets the cringeworthy treatment. Hook takes Belle to his ship to hide out, and we’re reminded of just how crappy he was in general to Belle in seasons past. Oh yeah, he did hit her, tried to kill her…a couple times…and shot her! Huh. That guy used to be pretty dark. His and Emma’s relationship has become one of the more enjoyable parts of the show, but his corny apology to Belle, along with that maudlin music…yuck. I really hope they’re not trying to stir up more tension by tossing in some flirtation here.
The good thing about this show though, and why it’s lasted, is that its whole is greater than its weakest parts. If the promo for next week is any indication, we’re going to spend some time with Aladdin and Jasmine, which should be refreshing. Cinderella will probably get more attention, but on the bright side, it looks like her evil stepmother is gonna be rocking that Dracula hairdo.