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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Once Upon A Time: “The Tower”

Illustration for article titled Once Upon A Time: “The Tower”
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Once Upon A Time goes the encapsulated episode route this week with “The Tower,” a look at defeating your fear, told from the perspective of Charming. Although he’s probably not the greatest character to devote an entire episode to, Charming’s internal journey here offers some nice opportunities for Josh Dallas, unshackled by Snow for once. And at least in “The Tower” our fairy-tale-of-the-week is introduced, has a nice twist, accomplishes some resolution, and now there’s no reason for us ever to see her again. Unlike characters who get their explanatory episodes and then are pretty much left hanging, like Ariel and Cinderella and the still-missing Tinkerbell.

The episode contains an ambitious metaphor of “The Tower” as the fear that isolates, with a Rapunzel so traumatized by her brave brother’s death that she prefers to stay in the tower rather than face her parents. (Not sure why she called for help then, though.) Charming is also paralyzed by fear, as his feeling of dread about Snow’s new baby has him worrying that he will fail his new child just like he failed Emma. But as he points out at the end (Charming insight!), you can’t hide from yourself forever, whether you’re in a real tower or an imaginary one.


OUAT is definitely going dark this season: just when we thought nothing could get inkier than Neverland, we get flying monkeys and episodes like this one. If there’s anything creepier than a spinning doll head, I’ve yet to discover what that might be. The fear embodiments from the Rapunzel tale look like something out of The Grudge, crossed with the Mother character in the recent animated version Tangled, so having the hooded characters to be the dark sides of Charming and Rapunzel was practically inspired.

Also veering out of dark into unsettling: Emma looks beautiful as the dream princess version of herself trapped in her nursery (foreshadowing the Rapunzel in a tower that we’ll soon meet), but she almost has too much chemistry dancing with her dad Charming, who’s her age. Another entry in this category: The steamy scene of Zelena shaving Rumple with the Dark One’s dagger left me praying that he’s her long-lost love and not her long-lost father (fortunately, she referenced a drunken parent who likes to put on appearances: sounds like a setup for the Wizard to be her dad to me). What Zelena is after is something Rumple has spent a lifetime seeking but that she won’t have to wait too long for: Snow White’s baby? Zelena’s meeting with Snow as a Mary Poppins-type midwife when she is actually anything but was its own, more subtle horror story, proving that a sunny, white kitchen can contain as much danger as a dimly lit forest. The off-kilter, tight closeup camera angles as Wicked makes menacing tea for the continually unsuspecting Snow and her husband highlighted this peril. If only OUAT focused more on direction like this, less on the CGI green screen.

After Zelena laces Charming’s tea with nightroot, both David and Rapunzel have to literally face down their fears. Again, the horror-movie camera angles of the fear embodiments are impressive as they creep up the tower or track Charming behind a tree. I actually gasped when the hooded creature showed up on top of the tower, then wound up inside of it, and the dark versions of both characters were appropriately ominous.

Meanwhile, the somewhat competent team of Hook, Charming, Regina, and Emma go out looking for the Wicked Witch, who of course is right under their very noses. On the search, Emma and Hook also test each other about bravery, as she admits her heart was broken by the Walsh the flying monkey and he’s just glad her heart still works. But he is acting somewhat dodgy about what his missing year was like, and is a little too hesitant to bust into the storm cellar: Could he possibly be in cahoots with the witch as well?


In the end, “The Tower” is a deft piece of storytelling, with some effective camerawork, a heavy-handed metaphor, and lots of mythology and legend nuggets for fans of these tales to mull over. Even the slight Oz references seem to be leading up to something bigger, and that story is so familiar, it’s hard not to get on board with it. It’s the difference between seeing a bicycle with a basket on a porch, and then realizing on second viewing that a bicycle with a basket on a porch is a nod to the Wicked Witch’s alter ego, Kansas’s own Miss Gulch.

Because Zelena is proving to be the anti-Wizard: she takes traits from people instead of offering them. Regina’s comment to Henry about the power of tokens and symbols certainly makes sense when you consider the diploma and plastic heart offered at the end of the classic Wizard Of Oz movie. So now it looks like Wicked has taken Charming’s courage, and is playing with Rumple’s mind, although, as Hook notes, at least Emma still has a heart: for now.


Stray observations:

  • Rumple is free! Thank God! Robert Carlyle is a living testament to vast effect one mere actor can have on the rest of a show.
  • Charming’s flask is a parting gift from his bro Hook, right?
  • “You’ll look for any excuse to use that thing, won’t you?”
  • Random facts I’m learning from OUAT: what the “hilt” of a sword is.
  • Love Regina’s smirk when she learns that Rumple’s alive.
  • “It’s a farmhouse. You have to appreciate the irony.” Because Dorothy was on a farm, and now the Witch lives there?
  • Apparently it’s helpful to have a dated cell flip phone and a sword when you are hunting things in Storybrooke’s crazy forest.
  • This episode’s classic Hook metaphor: “You look whiter than a fresh sail.” He also notes that Regina’s office offers “an austere sense of design.”
  • Actual pregnant Snow White quote: “With this curse, I had no time to prepare for the baby!”

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