Five seasons in, we can all agree that the most interesting part of the Once Upon A Time trajectory has been to watch formerly irredeemable characters like Regina and Rumple gradually inch toward the good side. Rumple fell in love, but still couldn’t give up his taste for power, which proved to be his latest undoing. Regina fell in love too, and now appears determined to redeem herself, switching places with Emma so that she is the savior as Emma slowly becomes the villain.

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The main problem, though, and one that the show nicely picks up on here, is that Regina once massacred an entire village looking for Snow. That’s not something you can ever truly be forgiven for, nor get any resolution for, even though the Storybrooke people with knowledge of the Evil Queen’s misdeeds generously appear to accept her good side. Maybe they’re just glad she isn’t torturing them anymore, who knows. But Regina has so many black marks on her heart, can she truly become the savior? It’s an interesting quest, and I’m glad that Percival called Regina out on it, even though he dies through no fault except trying to avenge his town against a really evil sorceress.

Emma’s side of the Dark One is eye-opening as well, because really, you have to be pretty isolated when you’re the personified embodiment of evil. The only person you can talk to is the voice inside your head. Fortunately it looks like Emma’s maternal love transcends her evilness, but that evilness still surpasses true love’s kisses from Hook. However jarring the jumps from “six weeks ago” to “present day” are, it’s almost chilling to see how slowly Emma slides toward becoming the Dark One, enjoying the power she has, and getting pissed off when Regina receives attention that is rightfully her own. It’s set up so well that it offers a promising future for the rest of this arc. As Grumpy points out, taking on the Snow Queen or Pan or the trio of villainesses from last season will not be as devastating for the Storybrookers as taking on Emma will be. Belle tells Killian that it’s far easier to hate a Dark One than it is to love one. They’ll have to destroy her to save her, or, more likely, find a new Dark One (I suspect Zalena). The show has continually called out that we all have both good and bad inside us, even Snow, even Rumple. And even he realized that no matter how much power the dark side brings you, it’s hard to make up for being completely unloved, a truth Dark Emma is beginning to acknowledge.

Calling this episode “The Price,” and ending it with those exact words fits right in line with OUAT’s classic heavy-handedness (see also: “happy ending,” “best chance,” etc. etc.) I’m not an Arthurian scholar or anything, but I am a big fan of the books Once And Future King and especially, The Mists Of Avalon. So I was glad to see Merlin walled up in a tree as is legend. And there was a nice continuity with Merlin’s tree, Dopey turning into a tree, and those nature furies, which held up well in the special-effects realm. In Storybrooke, you can get pulled into the Underworld just off of a pond or something! The efforts of everyone to save Regina smacked of the end of Guardians Of The Galaxy (another Disney/Marvel product), but her willingness to sacrifice that much for Robin adds another positive check mark in her favor.

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Sure, there’s a price for everything, and in a perfect fairy-tale world, no one gets away scot-free from the consequences of their actions. Once Upon A Time is deftly drawing on the show’s own history to show how much of a problem that will be for Regina, the only one left who can save the town. She still has enough power to silence both Zalena and Emma this episode, and save Sneezy from his statue state with just a wave of her hand. But even that path isn’t as interesting as seeing the town take on one of their own, in a far more intriguing plot development than fighting Cruella DeVille.

Stray observations

  • I refuse to believe that Regina never learned how to dance, and instead posit that the show just tossed this scene in as a way to draw sympathy for Regina and bond her with the boring Charmings. Also the way that Snow was talking to Emma like it was her first ball: Emma has been to many balls to my recollection, like the one she and Ariel crashed, or when she and Hook went back in time at the end of season three?
  • As I was watching this with my family, my son wanted to know: “Why is Robin always almost dying?”
  • We’re on a giant quest and everything, but hey, stop the world, Henry has a crush on somebody!
  • Worst rhetorical question: “Didn’t anyone ever teach you not to mess with a dwarf and his pickaxe?”
  • Petty observations: Hey, OUAT hair and makeup and wardrobe people: Emma looks bewildered as the newly cursed and devastating as the Dark Swan, well done. But Mary Margaret’s makeup looked like she had two black eyes and that safari jacket or whatever she keeps wearing is really unfortunate. But the real loser here is Regina’s hair, which is reaching David Cassidy levels of featheredness. Please, make it stop.
  • I was prepared to give Once Upon A Time 1,000 extra points for the use of Yaz’s “Only You,” from an album I wrote about on this site not too long ago. But it’s not really a jukebox song, now is it?

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