Once Upon A Time – Recap: The Best of the Worst
Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 4 Episode 13 – Darkness on the Edge of Town:
Once Upon A Time is back, and after the Frozen arc came to a close, the show had to reshuffle its deck and reorient its focus for the second half of Season 4.
“Darkness on the Edge of Town” is an episode that is somewhat cluttered, mostly because it has the mammoth task of setting the stage for what’s ahead. But it largely succeeds in building tension for the half-season ahead, despite the fact that we don’t really know the specifics of what Gold (Robert Carlyle) is planning. Actually, I found that vagueness to be one of the big assets to the start of this new threat to Storybrooke, since there are few things quite as scary, or quite as threatening, as the unknown. Of course, the good comes with some bad: for one, I’m not particularly thrilled that Gold is back in Storybrooke already, since it somewhat cheapens his banishment earlier this season. It didn’t feel like he had to suffer all that much, or for all that long, before finding a loophole to allow for his return. In effect, it feels like he was hardly even punished for what turned out to be some pretty vile actions. Worse, it seems to contradict the power of the dagger, since he can apparently circumvent Belle (Emilie De Ravin) banishing him forever simply by using the Snow Queen’s scroll to re-enter Storybrooke. It feels like a cheat to get the story moving, and yet…well, I can see why he’s back already. Narrative urgency couldn’t allow for us to spend countless episodes in limbo, waiting for a point in time where Gold had suffered sufficiently enough to allow for his return. The story needed to start now, or this would be the driest season of all-time. And so it is, as Gold is back, and he’s got Ursula (Merrin Dungey) and Cruella de Vil (Victoria Smurfit) on his side, with plans to bring back Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten). So yeah…he’s pretty much brought the best of the worst.
The story feels a little less focused with four villains than it did in the first half of the season with Ingrid, but I think it’s a bit too early to judge whether this storyline direction will be stronger or weaker. If nothing else, there’s a lot of intrigue on the table, thanks to some vague hints at the darker nature of some of our heroes. Belle gets an Oxford Professor to translate the Snow Queen’s scroll, which allows Regina (Lana Parrilla) to reverse the trapping effects of the Sorcerer’s Hat, freeing the fairies along with Mother Superior (Keegan Connor Tracy). Unfortunately, this spell also releases a hellish creature that proceeds to attack the town, paralleling the flashback story in which the Queens of Darkness are forced to ban together to defeat the same creature after Rumpelstiltskin betrays them in an underground cavern. Threaded throughout the episode is a lot of haughty talk of happy endings, and the lengths to which villains will go to achieve those ends, and whether or not the good characters who’ve earned those happy endings actually deserve them. The beast is compelled to seek out and consume the heart of the person with the greatest potential for darkness, and so it chooses to go after Maleficent in the flashback. But in the present day story, we learn the creature is after Emma (Jennifer Morrison).
It’s a clever misdirect, as Emma and Regina fight the creature side-by-side, giving the mistaken impression that the beast is after Regina. But Emma makes more sense as the target, in a certain way. Regina is a known quantity, and her potential for darkness has already been realized. But Emma is someone who’s still struggling with the abandonment issues carried over from her orphaned childhood. She’s been left behind more times than she can count, and although she tries to do the right thing, it’s easy to imagine that there’s some lingering resentment hidden just beneath the surface at how much she had to suffer in her youth. The happiness she’s had in Storybrooke has taken whatever angst and resentment she might have had and pushed it deep down, so that it might seem as though she’s well-adjusted. But I imagine there’s a lot of potential for villainy in Emma if her dark side was something she’d be willing to explore. This isn’t to say that Emma is a dark character, or that she will turn toward villainy, but rather that she’d be formidable if treachery were something she had a mind toward embracing. This development has the potential to make Emma a more complex, complicated character, which should do wonders in making her feel like more than a straightforward savior figure.
But Emma isn’t the only one who possibly has darkness coming to light. David (Josh Dallas) and Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) confront Ursula and Cruella outside of town after Gold’s plan has successfully gained them entry into Storybrooke. In a fairly chilling moment for someone so relatively wholesome, Mary Margaret threatens to rip the villains’ hearts out of their chests with her bare hands if they dare speak a word to anyone — ESPECIALLY Emma — about what happened between them in the Enchanted Forest. It’s unknown what, exactly, Mary Margaret is referencing, but it’s yet another instance where the narrative lets our imaginations run wild, and our imaginations build tension more than any exposition possibly could. Hell, I’m genuinely interested in figuring out what the history is there, and how it would affect Emma to learn of it. The Queens of Darkness have all the potential in the world to be the most intriguing villains the show has had yet (although, really now, why do women always have to be the villains every season? Regina, Cora, Zelena, Ingrid, and now these three. You’d think someone in the writing room got his heart broken in high school and never got over it). Coupled with Gold, who proves himself formidable at non-magical villainy (turns out he was the “Oxford Professor” who sent Belle the translation, setting this entire hot mess into motion), and it looks like all Hell could break loose at any moment. And I love that kind of chaotic potential.
“Darkness on the Edge of Town” is a busy episode, but I still found it to be an engaging episode despite all the ground it had to cover, from Gold looking for a way back into Storybrooke, to Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) searching through storybooks for hints to the author’s identity. A lot of mysteries are looming in the air, and I find that exciting. Who is the Sorcerer? Who is the Author? What’s the secret shared between Ursula/Cruella/David/Mary Margaret? And will Emma turn to the dark side? Once Upon A Time is back, and this episode got me pretty stoked for what’s ahead, largely because I don’t have the first idea what that’s going to be. A little mystery can go a long way.