Once Upon A Time – Recap: No Take Backs
Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 4 Episode 14 – Unforgiven:
As it tends to do in cases when we’re meant to question the motives of a villain, Once Upon A Time once again blurs the line between heroism and villainy. “Unforgiven” takes two heroic characters and darkens their backstory considerably through a vague, but unforgivable, action.
That big secret Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) referred to last week? The terrible thing that she and David (Josh Dallas) did that cannot be undone? It turns out that they’re responsible for Maleficent (Kristin Bauer Van Straten) losing her child back in the Enchanted Forest. This happened decades ago, before Emma (Jennifer Morrison) was even born, but while we’ve had no hint over the past three seasons that this has been a secret weighing on David and Emma, it becomes clear that it haunts them now, since Cruella (Victoria Smurfit) and Ursula (Merrin Dungey) are back and trying to resurrect their dead friend. To this end, tonight’s story features David and Mary Margaret attempting the tricky balancing act of stopping Cruella and Ursula from achieving their goal, while also hiding from Emma the circumstances of her birth. The present story is looped in with a flashback to the Enchanted Forest, as Snow White and Prince Charming are being used by the Queens of Darkness to access something called the Tree of Wisdom, which will allow them to discover the secret to defeating Regina (Lana Parrilla) and preventing The Curse. But the tree, which requires two of the greatest heroes in the land to operate, rejects their attempts since Snow White bears a child with a potential for great evil. As the product of true love, Emma was born with the potential for either great good or great darkness, so this is why David and Mary Margaret are going out of their way to protect Emma from the truth, since their actions in the Enchanted Forest all those years ago could send her down that potentially dark path, and result in Emma fulfilling her potential for villainy.
Goodwin does a tremendous job embodying the depth of Mary Margaret’s guilt, and while I was initially skeptical of the decision to bring Maleficent back from the dead, as I am any time where the permanence and high stakes of death are reversed, I’m glad Kristin Bauer Van Straten is back, since she does such great work playing Maleficent as a villain who feels a certain justification in her villainy. It’s a story that is far more interesting than I expected it would be. Going in, I figured whatever David and Mary Margaret’s secret would be wouldn’t carry a whole lot of personal culpability with it. It’d be something that they were blowing out of proportion, like accidentally releasing a monster that destroyed a village. I mean, yes, if they’d have released a monster and destroyed a village, that would have been absolutely awful. But at least then, they might have had some measure of plausible deniability about the consequences of their actions.
But by causing Maleficent to lose her child, David and Mary Margaret end up being responsible for a painfully personal, intimately damaging act. On the one hand, I’d be surprised if David and Mary Margaret had any idea what would happen when they did whatever it is that caused Maleficent to lose her child, but I also get the feeling that whatever it was they ended up doing, it was done out of desperation, possibly even to save Emma. That’s really the only way the story could play out while also salvaging David and Mary Margaret as characters. Otherwise, Mary Margaret’s vagueness, in which she hides the secret from Emma by saying the villains only hate their family because they’re heroes, comes across as hypocrisy. Then again, maybe that’s the point. Lord knows, Emma is already facing a certain level of secrecy in her personal life from Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), who insists on lying to Emma about his past with Ursula. Once again, this is a case where the secret remains close to the vest, but I’m actually looking forward to a flashback tale that puts Killian back at sea, encountering a watery witch, and doing something that is apparently far worse than breaking her heart.
As for the rest of the episode, I really enjoyed the story with Regina continuing her introspective search into whether or not she actually deserves her happy ending. She goes a step too far in getting in little Pinocchio’s face over his inability to remember anything about the storybook from when he was a man, and she’s just as bad to Geppetto. The old tinkerer tells her he doesn’t think she deserves her happy ending if she’s just going to revert back to her old ways to get what she wants, but Regina fires back by noting that Geppetto lied to get Pinocchio sent to this world with Emma in the first place. They both have a desire to protect their children, and they both have a certain instinct for self-preservation, at least when it comes to securing a happy ending for themselves and the ones they love. She apologizes to Geppetto, and this is enough to convince Geppetto of Regina’s goodness. He gives her a bag of the things Pinocchio/August had in Storybrooke with him as an adult, and it’s with these clues, along with the diligent work of Henry (Jared S. Gilmore), that we get the first significant clue to the possible location of the Author. It’s a very succinct story, but I found it to be pretty effective in developing Regina’s mea culpa tour, as she drifts away from the villainous actions of her past and towards a future as a hero. It at least fares better than Gold (Robert Carlyle) lingering around town, planning his next move, although I suppose there’s some value in having him witness Belle (Emilie De Ravin) kissing Will from a distance, since it hammers home the subtle, overarching theme of moving on. Belle is moving on in much the same way David and Mary Margaret are trying to move on from their mistakes, and in exactly the same way Regina is doing her best to move on from hers.
“Unforgiven” is another solid building block in the puzzle of Once Upon A Time, as heroes and villains continue to be two different sides of the same coin. Whatever the nature of David and Mary Margaret’s actions toward Maleficent, I think a strong narrative has been set up here. Enough for me to be excited about whatever’s next around the corner.