This is the kind of OUAT that I loathe, where nothing much happens, and all the plot twists hinge on something simple yet improbable, even in the Enchanted Forest. Like the Sands Of Avalon, which bring with them a layer of false reality. Everyone in Camelot is gooped up on gop right now.

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Arthur has gone from “maybe a villain whose heart is in the right place” to out-and-out dastardly. Apparently the bullying we see that he was subjected to as a child (and kudos to whoever cast the younger versions of Arthur and Guinevere, spot on) makes him unreasonably obsessed with finding the Dark One’s dagger to complete Excalibur. Which will prove that he’s an excellent leader, not just a stableboy who happened to pull a (broken) sword out of a stone.

We can easily draw a parallel here from the vast Arthurian legend of the Knights Of The Round Table’s continued search for the Holy Grail, representing the unattainable goal always out of reach. Arthur is so obsessed with appearances, he uses the Sands Of Avalon on the entire kingdom, which for all its easy trickery (one puff out the window, yep, that should do it, the castle is fixed now), brings up an intriguing plot point. Namely, the difference between perception and reality. Arthur is the only one who actually knows that Camelot is all fluff, and if he doesn’t care, should anyone else? Of course, the problem lies in the fact that people under the influence of the Sands don’t believe what they’re actually spouting. Guinevere really loves Lancelot, not Arthur. Charming and Snow trust Lancelot, not Arthur. But under the magical Sands, everything is falling into place for Arthur, until someone, probably Regina, figures out that everyone’s tripping on pink dust.

It also points to what we want to believe in. The fairy tales Once Upon A Time bases itself on are of course complete fabrications, but fun to think about: castles and princes and magic. Camelot is always held up as the perfect society (most recently used as a metaphor for the Kennedy administration in the ’60s), so it’s an interesting plot twist to have it all based on a throne of lies, as Buddy The Elf would say. Also, to have the kingdom’s downfall kicked off not by the tragic betrayal of Lancelot and Guinevere, but by Arthur’s own ruthless obsession. (And all three players here are actually selling this twist, especially Sinqua Walls and Joana Metrass, as their love affair appears based more on affection and respect than passion.) Maybe nothing’s that great. Maybe we just want to believe the illusion.

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Not unlike, say, Hook and Emma, as they keep hoping that true love will get them out of this Dark One spiral, although even that horse knows what’s really up. There are some touching moments between the two, and Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue keep bringing the heat. But thanks to the season opener, we know how this ends up, so again, this also seems just like a fleeting glimpse of falseness, despite the couple’s protests, despite the fact that Rumpelstiltskin appears to fade away at the end. Speaking of fakery, what’s with the pink roses that appear to weigh so heavily throughout the episode? Arthur gives one to Guinevere when they’re children, a bouquet of them as they dose the kingdom. Lancelot wins over Guinevere at her birthday party with a shower of pink rose petals. The flowers also show up in the castle by Regina and Robin, and Hook pointedly gives one to Emma and they kiss in a lovely overhead shot in a field of flowers. But roses, of course, don’t grow that way in a field, but in a prickly thorny bush. Just another example of fantasy not matching up with reality.

Since Emma’s not really evil yet, the Storybrookers were going to need some kind of nemesis in Camelot, and it’s a a surprising route the story has taken to highlight Arthur as a villain. I was hoping against hope for Morgan Le Fay to show up, because outside of Guinevere, Camelot is pretty much a dudefest. But Adam Horowitz recently pointed out at a Comic Con that she will not be appearing, that they just didn’t have room for everyone, which is too bad. The knights are fun, but the earthy witches and sorcery of the women of Camelot (Morgan, Morgause, and Vivian) add a deeper dimension to the story. At least in between we get Snow and Charming having another real relationship talk (well, fight, but even that was refreshing), along with a simple example of trickery with a fake dagger that enables them to reveal Arthur’s menace. But it’s not a lot to pin a whole episode on, unless we all start sniffing the pink stuff.

Stray observations

  • Brave, like Frozen, is one of those titles that does not appear to have earned its stripes to be able to appear so prominently in this show. Merida is getting a lot of play here, as seen in the setup for next week, she’s not only Lancelot’s ally but Rumple’s bravery tutor, which seems like a lot of Merida. Maybe I’m with Rumple and I just think the accent’s a bit much.
  • Just so we’re clear, Emma is crafting Rumple to become a perfect knight so that he can pull out the sword? Does that even make sense?
  • For all this fear of the Dark One, Emma really hasn’t done too much treachery yet.
  • Charming on the Dark One’s Dagger: “I’ve heard tales of it.” Charming is the worst liar in the whole wide world.
  • All the “where we are in Camelot right now” time jumps were a bit jarring.
  • “I was looking all over the castle for you!”
  • Essay question: Snow’s headband: more or less annoying than her wig? (Please discuss and show your work.) I’m going with headband, despite the fact that Snow’s wig looks like dead animals nest in it. That headband is just painful every time she shows up in it, like it’s strapping her brain in, like she’s late for the after-hours party at the Camelot disco. Check out the later scenes where she’s not wearing it: so much better! Winner of most annoying this week: Headband.
  • “Best chance.” Woof.
  • Big swirly tornado of black electrical tape comes at you: Stand there with a sword, or run? I would run.

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