‘Once Upon A Time’ Review: ‘Siege Perilous’ Is An Hour of Intrigue, Double Crosses
Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 5 Episode 3 – Siege Perilous:
It would be easy enough for Once Upon A Time to settle back into the easier role of having one overarching villain with which to contend. But “Siege Perilous” turns away from the easier path in favor of embracing muddier waters. Instead of one big threat, we have two. And, in both cases, their morality remains largely uncertain to the good guys.
While Emma (Jennifer Morrison) may be The Savior these people have all known and loved for years, she’s still the Dark One, after all. By the same token, while King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) appears to be a noble and upstanding king, the truth is far more sinister, as it turns out he plans on eliminating the residents of Storybrooke to craft a new Camelot in the old one’s image. Of course, while I could say that Arthur is a fairly straightforward villain, “Siege Perilous” suggests that there are loftier motivations in place beyond power. Namely, Arthur is doing this not for himself, but for the greater good of Camelot. This episode works not because of its quest for a magical toadstool, or because of the search for a magic bean, but because it takes an earnest look at the responsibilities of ruling. It’d be one thing if Arthur were just a king, but he’s actually quite a bit more than that: he’s a prophesied king. He’s doing all these things because he feels, in some way, that it is his destiny to do them. It’s a motivation that applies to his actions here. In the flashback, he and David (Josh Dallas) go searching for a magic toadstool that will allow them to communicate with Merlin through the tree in which he’s trapped. Sounds easy enough, no? But after David obtains the magic artifact, he’s dragged below water by undead knights, and although Arthur manages to save him, the toadstool has been lost.
Except for the fact that it hasn’t been. Not really, anyway. As it turns out, Arthur swiped the toadstool for his own purposes. As he explains to Guinevere that while David may be a good man, being a king isn’t always about doing the easy thing. It’s about making difficult choices. So even though he might like David enough to knight him, and give him a seat at the Round Table in the fabled Siege Perilous (a chair for the knight with the purest heart), his duties require that he lie to people he otherwise likes, if he has to. The banished Lancelot (Sinqua Walls) recognizes the faults in his king, and tracks down Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) to warn her that Arthur is a villain who must be stopped. But the big question here is if anyone will remember that warning in the present day. And if they do, will they remember it in time to stop Arthur? That all seems like a tall order, at the moment, particularly with Arthur off on his secret crusade. His seemingly noble “for the good of Camelot” motivations basically fall apart with his Storybrooke plan, since it involves not only deception and intrigue, but also a form of cult-like forced suicide. Here, Arthur and David go on a manhunt for Arthur’s squire, who has supposedly stolen a box of magical artifacts that included a magical bean that could have transported the men of Camelot home. In the process, they find the toadstool, and David takes it to Regina (Lana Parrilla), confident that they can now use it to contact Merlin. David seems pretty stoked, since so much of his self-worth in this episode is tied to his failings in the past. This hunt with Arthur is basically the most useful David has felt in ages, which is no small coincidence, since this is also the most prominently the show has featured Josh Dallas in some time.
I’ve always felt Dallas was a far better actor than he’s ever been given credit for being, and the scripts he’s been given have woefully under-served him. But “Siege Perilous” allows him some solid moments in the spotlight, such as his outburst over his inability to prevent Emma from being taken by darkness, or his failure to “change the world” and overcome the stain on his family name that was left by his father and brother. He genuinely added a lot to the episode tonight with his performance, particularly when David is knighted by Arthur. You could see how David viewed this as a form of redemption, and how the honor of sitting in the Siege Perilous, swelling with pride upon seeing his coat of arms affixed to the chair, could remedy the damage he felt had been done to his family name. I actually found myself fairly touched by it all, in fact. To such an extent that I wouldn’t mind seeing him featured more prominently in the future. I mean, the guy has a pretty rich backstory that’s worth integrating into his character in the present (such as his residual angst over having a drunken father and an evil tyrant for a brother). This quest with Arthur, both in the past and the present, felt like progress for the character, and it was kind of endearing to see David so motivated. But, unfortunately for David, the quest in Storybrooke is all a ruse. This was apparently a plan Arthur concocted with his squire in order to trick the citizens of the town as part of his goal of taking over Storybrooke. And to keep it all a secret, Arthur pressures his squire into drinking poison to become a martyr of sorts, dying “in service of Camelot.” It’s a surprisingly dark moment for a series which, even in its darkest moments, still has the veneer of a fairy tale. But this helped paint Arthur as a more easily detestable villain, someone who might have qualities that inspire empathy, but whose actions inspire contempt.
However, Arthur isn’t the only big bad out there. Emma is actually growing worse by the day, as she manages to trick Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) into meeting up on the Jolly Roger under the pretext of mending their relationship with a romantic lunch date. It seems a bit silly at first, especially when weighted against the darker stories being told here, such as Gold’s imminent death (the rose petals in Belle’s jar continue to fall, indicating that he isn’t exactly long for this world). And yet, the scenes here wouldn’t have worked nearly as well as they did without Morrison and O’Donoghue’s chemistry, as the two basically sell this as Hook and Emma’s goodbye. It’s a great scene, but it also serves a practical purpose. As it turns out, Hook was right when he guessed that Emma invited him there because she needed something from him: Emma needed Hook’s sword, since the only way she could awaken Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) from his coma was to cast a spell using an object he touched from before he became the Dark One. The spell works, leaving a confused Gold to wonder what, exactly, Emma wants with him. While it’s not exactly a twist when Emma reveals to Gold that she needs him to become the new Savior, it still has a lot of dramatic punch to it. As Emma explains, Gold is no longer the Dark One, but he’s not exactly a hero either. He’s a clean slate, which leaves him with the potential to be the “purest hero who has ever lived.” The potential in this story is evident, as Gold is now primed to finally (well, I hope) give up villainy for good, without any confusing, poorly-managed slides back into evil like he had last season. I want to root for Gold, because Carlyle and, especially, the heart-aching performance of Emilie De Ravin as Belle, makes me want to believe there’s a better man in there somewhere. Ultimately, the show got a lot of good drama out of Regina’s redemption, so I see no reason why they couldn’t work the same magic with Gold. “Siege Perilous” is certainly as good a starting point as any for Once Upon A Time to once again explore what makes a hero.
What did you think of Once Upon A Time, “Siege Perilous”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Once Upon A Time, watch video highlights from tonight’s episode right here!