‘Once Upon A Time’ Review: ‘Enter the Dragon’ is a Fun Undercover Caper
Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 4 Episode 14 – Enter the Dragon:
Once Upon A Time has often put forth the notion that appearances are inherently deceiving. Some characters are worse than they seem, while others are better. But some people can turn out to be exactly as bad as you’d expect, and so it is with the villains of “Enter the Dragon”.
The episode is a bit of a departure from what we might have grown accustomed to over the course of this season, in that this is the rare hour we spend almost entirely with the villains. Yes, the erstwhile heroes are still a part of the narrative, but they’re not the main part of it. And I found it to be a fairly refreshing change in pace. Here, we get a fun undercover caper in which Regina (Lana Parrilla) must go undercover to infiltrate the Queens of Darkness, in order to discover just what dark magic they’re hiding. Of course, she has no idea that the dark magic in question isn’t a “what” but a “whom”. Bringing Regina to that realization is a blast to watch, mostly because it focuses on Regina’s interactions with Maleficent (Kristin Bauer Van Straten), in a story that stretches from the past to the present. Honestly, this might be one of the few weeks where I preferred the flashback story to the present day story, since this was a case where the flashback informed the present: Regina helping Maleficent to reclaim her former glory as the queen of all evil is an interesting inversion of the present day storyline, where Maleficent holds all the cards. It says a lot of Parrilla and Bauer Van Straten’s talents that they were able to so convincingly portray the two opposite sides of their respective struggles this week. In the flashback, Maleficent is someone whose entire world has been ruined by King Stefan. She wants revenge against King Stefan, Briar Rose, and Princess Aurora, but she’s impotent to affect any real change, because she’s essentially lost her villainous mojo. Hell, she can’t even change into a dragon anymore! Meanwhile, Regina wants revenge against Snow White, but lacks the essential knowledge necessary to be able to reap it. The flashback is then the story about two women learning from each other, and while their goals are inherently villainous here, it makes for a story that has far more momentum than most, since it’s goal-driven.
In fact, I found myself enjoying a lot of what happened in the Enchanted Forest this week, which isn’t to say I don’t normally, but rather that I’m not always convinced it matters that much to the present. Sure, it offers character development, but too often it seems as though that character development is something that won’t factor into the story until farther down the line, essentially meaning we’ve spent an entire episode building to something that won’t pay off for weeks. Yet the payoff for Maleficent’s return to prominence manifests here: by giving Maleficent the support to reclaim her dark magic, Regina is repaid for it by having Maleficent apprentice her, which basically makes Regina the apprentice of two of the most powerful, dark magic beings in the universe. It draws a connection between the two women that carries into the present, as we now have a context for why Regina would be able to infiltrate the Queens of Darkness, since she has an in with its most recently-resurrected member. I admit that I thought it was kind of silly to have Regina have to “prove” her loyalty by getting drunk, playing a game of chicken on the railroad tracks, and other cartoonishly villainous activities. But it made sense, from a certain standpoint: who’s to say Regina hasn’t gone soft? Lord knows, she’s been around heroes long enough for some of that goodness to rub off on her, so they simply want to be certain that the Regina they’re partnering with is the same Regina who was the feared Evil Queen from the Enchanted Forest days.
As for the plan itself, it’s a do-over of sorts from last week, as the Queens must abduct Pinocchio from Marco/Geppetto’s cabin. It all results in a rapidfire series of revelations for Regina, who learns that not only is Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) behind all this, but also that they’re all after the same thing. They all want to find the Author in order to unlock their own happy endings, which sounds easy enough, but requires a whole lot more villainy than perhaps Regina is comfortable with at this stage in her life. She promises Emma (Jennifer Morrison) that she’ll keep Pinocchio safe and do her best to make sure that whatever the Queens have planned won’t affect the boy, but she ultimately fails, as Gold’s plan involves turning Pinocchio back into an adult in order to interrogate him about the Author. On the one hand, it’s great to see Eion Bailey as Pinocchio again, since I always found it kind of ridiculous that he got reverted back to boyhood after everything he went through (although I guess it would have been better than being a wood carving for all eternity). On the other hand, this could signify a slippery slope for Regina, as this represents what could be the best lead she’s had on the Author’s whereabouts since the search began. I mean, it’s not like Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) is making any real progress. And hey, if Gold is back in Storybrooke after being banished with the dagger, maybe Robin could come back!
Granted, the episode gives us no indication that Regina is sliding back towards villainy, but I feel the pieces are in place to have her slowly turn back to the dark side. If nothing else, the foundation is there to make it difficult for her to remain good. It’s a bit similar to Gold’s trajectory on the series, although a bit less extreme, since it felt like Gold slid back into cartoonish supervillainy after coming across as a fairly complex character before. Take his actions tonight, for instance, as he disguises himself as Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) and tricks Belle (Emilie de Ravin) into giving him the dagger. It’s a smart plan, but borders on silly when you consider how much screentime is spent on it. That said, it did make for a pretty fun reveal, since he was every bit as undercover as Regina was, and so both of them had to maintain the balance between credibility and transparency. One wrong move, and their cover would be blown, so the episode had a lot of tenseness based on that premise. “Enter the Dragon” is an episode that’s well-worth checking out if, for some reason, you missed it. I haven’t been shy about saying Once Upon A Time has been on fire this season, and I think the focused plotting of this second half of Season 4 mostly bears that out. I’m not sure where this is all headed, but I’m really enjoying the ride.