Just like the rest of us, even Charming has been bored with his own storyline self. So his desire to be more than the guy that just kissed that sleeping girl in the woods that time fits perfectly in with the Storybrookers’ journey into Camelot.
It’s too bad that his yearning for adventure doesn’t take him any farther than on a search for a giant toadstool: He’s still so excited to search for it he just tosses his baby at his wife and takes off. But on OUAT, we’ve almost gotten used to these wild-goose chases (remember Tinkerbell’s map or whatever on Neverland)? The gang is still searching for a potion that will let them to talk to Merlin in the tree, to finally help Emma.
Snow and Charming have their most interesting conversation in forever, as Charming is frustrated in Storybrooke as well. For someone who desires to be a hero, he appears to have had no shortage of opportunities to step up. But he’s been hindered by, well, I’m not sure what exactly, except maybe his hen-pecking wife (“David, just wait until we know more”) or more likely, the writers’ refusal to remember that he’s still actually around. He and Snow have had very little to do except wring their hands about the supervillain they’ve spawned so far, so it’s a relief to have Charming on some kind of quest, even if it is just for a giant mushroom. At least he gets to fight phantom knights and go after a horse with a pickup truck.
Especially since this trek involves a lot of bro bonding with Arthur. Charming’s a natural for the Round Table, even in the chair of the episode title, intended for the pure-hearted knight bound to find the grail. But in the most inventive twist this show has come up with in quite a while, Arthur is on the dark side! On OUAT, most people fall pretty clearly on the good or bad side (give or take a Rumple or Regina), so Arthur’s turn into treachery is a riveting path for the show to take. Fortunately, Lancelot even comes back from the grave to tell Snow about it (should have known that Cora couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth).
Maybe the Lancelot/Guinevere betrayal turned him. The legendary Arthur has always been painted as ambitious, certainly anguished after his best friend’s affair with his wife, and ruthless at the end in his ultimate showdown with Mordred. OUAT’s decision to flesh this character out more is a wise one. A less interesting villain would just have stabbed that manservant at the end, instead of coercing him into drinking the poison for the good of Camelot, which is much more diabolic. Another huge portion of the Arthur legend is how much loyalty he inspired in his subjects and his knights, and Grif’s tragic end here shows the dark side of that kind of charismatic power.
In another effective turn this episode, Hook and Emma have a throwback to their first date, right down to the ponytail. The familiar surroundings just highlight how much Emma has changed, which Hook fortunately is savvy enough to figure out (not savvy enough to hang onto his sword, however). Jennifer Morrison again shows that she is up for this challenge as the Dark Swan, so that the scene with Colin O’Donoghue brims with tension. When Emma says how much better she is now than she was—scarred and judgmental and closed-off—you can almost believe it, and it’s a reminder that the Dark One is an unholy merging of Emma and this evil side.
Also fortunately, Rumple is finally out of his coma, as Emma is somehow going to turn him into a hero who can get the sword out of the stone. Okay? It sounds far-fetched, but Robert Carlyle is certainly better conscious than unconscious, and it means that Belle can quit carrying that rose jar around with her everywhere (I started just thinking Belle jar, every time I saw her with it). Rumple appears appropriately terrified of the new Dark One, with Hook and Emma’s earlier conversation about his previous life as a coward coming into play. And Carlyle is so game at literally everything this show throws at him, I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out.
With so many characters moving forward, some have to get the shaft: an almost-pointless discussion between Regina and her mute handmaiden sister Zelena, some more bro bonding with Hook and Robin. We see that dwarves actually do whistle while they work. We find out that Arthur’s ultimate plan is to take over Storybrooke and turn it into a new Camelot, which is supposed to sound menacing, but would it really be so bad? Arthur and David’s conversation about how they’re trapped in their own legends is exactly the kind of dialogue that Once Upon A Time should be featuring more often. And the rich mythology of Camelot (unlike other lands this show has visited, like Arendelle) offers a wealth of material for the show to draw from. With any luck, Morgan Le Fay and Mordred are just around the corner.
- We have writer/producer Jane Espenson to thank for this episode’s script, her first of this season.
- “Well, to be honest, she did take a dwarf ax.” Is the power of the dwarf ax prevalent anywhere else in the canon?
- “I know Dopey’s a tree, but we’ve got to be more productive.”
- How can you can tell someone’s handwriting from one question mark?
- Snow White’s Camelot headbands are unfortunate, but not as unfortunate as her wig would be.
- Of course now when I look at Snow I just think: “Eyebrows.”