Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 2 Episode 10 – Winter Premiere – The Cricket Game
Once Upon A Time closed its winter finale with the twin shock of Cora (Barbara Hershey) and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) arriving in Storybrooke, and the possibility that Regina (Lana Parrilla) isn’t so bad after all. The series continues with these cliffhangers and adds one more shocker: the death of one of Storybrooke’s most beloved denizens: Dr. Archibald “Archie” Hopper (Raphael Sbarge), the man who once was Jiminy Cricket. Genuine (well, I’m assuming it’s genuine) deaths are rare enough on this show, particularly with kindhearted types. It’s a show that threatens the killing of people we like, but rarely seems intent on pulling the trigger. So it comes as a fairly big shock to see him kick the bucket…
…until it’s revealed that he didn’t.
On the one hand, I was glad to see ol’ Cricket alive – on the other hand, I have to rescind whatever kudos I was about to give the show for boldness. The series likes to give off the idea that people could die or evil could win, but that’s not really the kind of show this is. So it’s only a matter of time before this spell is broken, or that couple is reunited. It’s kind of distressing, if only because the series could be much, much more if it committed to raising the stakes. But again, this review isn’t so much about fixing what, technically, isn’t broken. It’s more about dissecting the success or failure of “The Cricket Game”, tonight’s winter premiere. Ignoring the clumsy last act reveal, the episode is among the better hours of the season so far, thanks to a clearly-defined, engaging character arc for both Regina and Emma (Jennifer Morrison).
The main threat of the episode is Cora, who masquerades around Storybrooke as Regina and “murders” Archie while under that guise. The resulting investigation leads directly to Regina, a little too conveniently, for Emma’s tastes. She considers it an obvious frame-up job, while Charming (Josh Dallas) and Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) think it’s an open-and-shut case. The story is interesting less for the implications of the “murder”, or for the inevitable complication that Regina will be implicated for the murder despite actually being innocent for once, and more for how it puts Emma in the unlikely position of defending her former rival for Henry’s motherhood. Her staunch defense of Regina is initially portrayed as being for the sake of Henry (Jared S. Gilmore), who desperately wants to believe Regina has reformed. However, as the episode continues, it becomes apparent that Emma sort of wants to believe it too. If people can’t change, then the real world becomes subject to the same black-and-white morality of Fairy Tale Land, and given her checkered past, Emma is very much someone who needs to believe in the possibility of change. And so she soldiers on, on Regina’s behalf, even over the protestations of her parents, Charming and Snow – the latter of whom knows a thing or two about defending a lost cause.
In a nicely synchronous bit of storytelling, the Fairy Tale flashback mirrors the Storybrooke plot, as we take a look back to when Regina was set to be executed for her villainy in the public square for offenses against Snow and Charming’s kingdom. Yet Snow ultimately becomes Regina’s most vocal champion, attempting to earn her a last-minute reprieve, despite Charming’s insistence that she’s a menace. Snow meets with Regina in her cell and implies that the good-hearted young woman who once saved her life is still in there somewhere. In the spirit of “saving [Regina's] life”, Snow opens her cell and lets her go…at which point, Regina stabs Snow with her own dagger. Of course, it was all a test. Snow and Charming employed Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) to make a protection charm from a lock of Regina’s hair so that she could harm neither of them directly. A teary-eyed Snow shames Regina for having failed the test, and it’s an effective parallel with the Storybrooke storyline, as Emma eventually attempts to shame Regina with what she thinks she’s learned about the evil queen’s true nature.
When using her newly-found magical abilities to look into an enchanted dreamcatcher in Gold’s shop, Emma is able to look into the memories of Archie’s dalmatian (“Pongo”, in a cute little shoutout to “101 Dalmatians”) and sees what she thinks its Regina killing the lovable town shrink. Emma is devastated that Regina, apparently, is as bad as she’d feared, and sets out to arrest Regina – at which point, the episode becomes inundated with pathos. And I consider this a good thing. Hell, I consider it the best thing.
Lana Parrilla rarely gets enough to do with the role of Regina, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she’s encouraged to chew the scenery in her straight-up villainous scenes. Yet I feel like she really knocks this episode out of the ballpark. Much of her devastation at losing Henry to Emma is communicated through her eyes. In particular, her closing scene, in which she watches from a distance as Emma breaks the news of her treachery to a heartbroken Henry, who now embraces Emma as his mother, is devastating. It could be seen as a bit of a cliche for the villain to be created by the heroes, in a way, but it works here. It ties into an overarching theme of persecution that gives the episode a richer dramatic heft than it would have had otherwise. Regina didn’t do anything wrong. If anything, she did everything right, helping Emma and Snow return to Storybrooke after months of mastering her own evil impulses to finally earn the genuine affection of the boy she’s raised for ten years. Sure, she’s still done plenty wrong in the past, but if, say, Emma was held to the standard of her sketchy past, we’d still be at square one. Thus, this story is considerably effective in portraying a certain level of complexity in Regina, as any villainous impulses to which she succumbs in the future will have been motivated by manipulations and misunderstandings.
On the subject of manipulations, that’s all the “murder” of Archie ever was, as Cora simply killed some random Storybrooke citizen, disguised his body to look like Archie’s, and took the real Archie captive in Hook’s big, cloaked ship. Not entirely sure what she plans on doing with him, other than the vague notion that she’s going to utilize his knowledge of the denizens of Storybrooke (I guess doctor-patient confidentiality doesn’t mean squat when you’ve got a hook to your throat), I suppose to get a leg up in whatever war is to come? Assuming it’s a war and not just a skirmish. That said, I’m exhilarated not to know where any of this is going. We haven’t heard a word about Princess Aurora (Sarah Bolger) and Mulan (Jamie Chung), and Gold didn’t figure into this episode as much as one might expect for one of the primary figures in the show’s mythology. This much story threatening to spill out into the plot might give me pause with any other series, but this show tends to work better when it embraces a broader scope – as long as character remains the focus, and not straight plot. To that end, episodes like “The Cricket Game” work better than most. It’s only been a few weeks, but I’m glad to have the show back.
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