Becoming “the Dark One”

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I wrote this article during the summer of 2015 – a month or two before Season Five of “ONCE UPON A TIME” aired:

 

BECOMING “THE DARK ONE”

I have a confession to make. I was disappointed at how Emma Swan became the new “Dark One” in the ABC series, “ONCE UPON A TIME”. She did so by committing a noble act. And I found that . . . unsatisfying.

The Season One episode, (1.08) “Desperate Soul” had revealed that Rumpelstiltskin had originally become “the Dark One” when he was recruited by the title’s previous holder, Zoso, to find the dagger that would either allow the former to control him or acquire magical power by killing him. Zoso goaded Rumpelstiltskin into anger by questioning the paternity of latter’s son, Baelfire/Neal Cassidy, and the latter killed him. Rumpelstiltskin became the new “Dark One” and remained so for several centuries.

But nothing similar happened to Emma. Instead, she had become “the Dark One” in the series’ Season Four finale, (4.23) “Operation Mongoose, Part II”, by saving Regina Mills from an entity that would allow the latter to assume that title. She did so by allowing herself to become possessed by said entity. Before becoming possessed, Emma told Regina that she wanted prevent Regina’s moral progress from being disrupted. Well, I am glad that Regina was prevented from becoming “the Dark One”. But . . . pardon me for saying this, but Emma’s reasoning struck me as rather patronizing. And it seemed that Horowitz and Kitsis may have taken the whole “savior complex” a bit too far this time. At least to me.

Emma had been worried about the regression of Regina’s moral compass? She should have been worried about her own. Despite the Sorcerer Apprentice’s spell that had allegedly transferred Emma’s inner evil to the daughter of Maleficent, Lily Page, in a (4.17) “Best Laid Plans” flashback, I personally suspect that his spell went no where. After all, I had regarded Emma’s moral compass already questionable by the she first had arrived in Storybrooke back in Season One. She had spent most of her adolescent as a thief. Both she and former boyfriend, Neal, had stolen a yellow Volkswagen . . . which was never returned by Neal or Emma. When she told Regina that her car was stolen in (4.13) “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, she seemed to be lacking in any remorse over her crime. She had also committed a series of petty crimes – including destruction of private property, and breaking and entering – that should have landed her behind bars in Storybrooke or fired as the town’s sheriff back in Season One. Her rescue of son Henry Mills from the clutches of Cruella de Vil in (4.19) “Sympathy for the De Vil” nearly endangered his life. Yet . . . very few people have commented on this. While trapped in the Enchanted Forest’s past, her decision to save Maid Marian from being executed by Regina in (3.22) “There’s No Place Like Home”, literally ended in disaster. And if viewers really believed that the Apprentice had removed all signs of Emma’s inner evil before she was born; why did the Chernabog demon, which allegedly only sought out one with the heart with the greatest potential for evil in order to devour said heart, went after Emma, instead of the former Evil Queen in “Darkness on the Edge of Town”? What did that say about Emma’s true nature – spell or no spell?

Unfortunately, the series’ reluctance to openly acknowledge Emma’s unpleasant side has not done her character any credit. Sometimes, I get the feeling that Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis are afraid of a deep exploration how low Emma can sink on her own. Or when they are willing to do so, they are either very vague about it or sweep it under the rug. Why, I do not know. To this day, no one seems willing to criticize Emma for keeping a stolen vehicle. No one bothered to point out that her decision to act as Marian’s savior had led to disaster. No one. Not a single character on the show (aside from an angry Regina in early Season Four) or any of the series’ viewers. No one had questioned Emma’s method of killing Cruella de Vil in “Sympathy for the De Vil” . . . especially since she could have saved Henry without ending Cruella’s life and nearly endangering his. Well, I take that back. Horowitz and Kitsis claimed that Emma had “stepped over the line” by killing Cruella. The problem is that they never made the effort to clarify their comment – not to the fans or on the show. I have noticed that the only times Emma’s actions were really criticized happened during late Season Three when she was determined to upset the Charming family dynamics by returning to New York City with Henry.

Then . . . Emma has become “the Dark One”. Through an act of noble sacrifice. UGH! Kitsis and Horowitz spent most of Season Four building up to how unpleasant Emma could be . . . and ended it all in a nice bow tie with forgiveness toward her parents’ perfidy. And what did they do next? Allowed Emma to become “the Dark One” through an act of sacrifice. This whole story arc would have been more interesting if Emma’s Season Four descent into evil could have ended with her falling under “the Dark One” curse via her own emotions or acts. But noooooo! Once again, the possibility in revealing how low Emma can sink winds up being pushed aside or in this case, sugar coated.

When will “ONCE UPON A TIME” be willing to expose Emma’s true potential for evil without resorting to vague or evasive storytelling, or possession by magical entity? They managed to do so with her parents, Snow White and David, Prince Charming during late Season Four. The show finally had a big chance to explore Emma’s less than sterling qualities in early Season Five, thanks to her actions as “the Dark One”. However, by the second half of Season Five, the Charmings had blamed her actions on “the Dark One” curse and swept her acts under the table . . . as usual. Worse, many fans had decided to condemn Killian Jones aka Captain Hook’s actions after Emma had transformed him into a Dark One and ignore her own actions.

There is still a chance for Emma to become a more interesting character if Horowitz and Kitsis would allow this to eventually happen in Season Six. But I have a deep suspicion that the series will end before the two show runners would be willing to do so.

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The Great “ONCE UPON A TIME” Costume Gallery II

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Below is a gallery featuring the costumes designed by Eduardo Castro from the third and fourth seasons of the ABC series, “ONCE UPON A TIME” and the 2013-2014 series, “ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND”:

THE GREAT “ONCE UPON A TIME” COSTUME Gallery II
The Ladies

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Five Favorite Episodes of “ONCE UPON A TIME” – Season Four (2014-2015)

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Four of “ONCE UPON A TIME”. The series was created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “ONCE UPON A TIME” – SEASON FOUR (2014-2015)

1 - 4.16 Best Laid Plans

1. (4.17) “Best Laid Plans” – While Rumpelstiltskin and the Queens of Darkness continue their search for the “Author” of the town’s Fairy Tale Book, Snow White and David try to stop them in order to keep their daughter Emma Swan from discovering their past misdeed, which is finally revealed in flashbacks.

2 - 4.12 Darkness on the Edge of Town

2. (4.13) “Darkness on the Edge of Town” – Rumpelstiltskin returns to Storybrooke with Ursula and Cruella De Vil in tow. Meanwhile, the Charmings, Regina Mills and Killian Jones (Captain Hook) set about freeing the fairies from the Sorcerer’s hat and deal with a threatening Chernabog demon, which was also freed.

3 - 4.17 Heart of Gold

3. (4.18) “Heart of Gold” – Emma, angry over the discovery of her parents’ misdeed, joins the search for the Author. Meanwhile, a captured Regina learns from Rumpelstiltskin on how Robin Hood ended up in the clutches of her allegedly dead sister Zelena in New York City. And Robin has his first encounter with Zelena in the past Land of Oz, as he sets about stealing a magical elixir for Rumpelstiltskin.

4 - 4.07 The Snow Queen

4. (4.07) “The Snow Queen” – The origins of Ingrid, the Snow Queen in Arendelle, are revealed in flashbacks, along with her relationships with her two sisters. In the present, Ingrid manipulates Emma into losing control of her magic in order to make the Charmings fear her.

5 - 4.22 Operation Mongoose Part 1

5. (4.22) “Operation Mongoose, Part 1” – In the first half of the season finale, Henry Mills tries to undo the changes in the universe created by Isaac Heller aka the Author and Rumpelstiltskin.

HM - 4.04 The Apprentice

Honorable Mention: (4.04) “The Apprentice” – Killian blackmails Rumpelstiltskin into giving him a genuine hand for the former’s first date with Emma and ends up facing consequences, and Emma is constantly taunted by Ingrid about the former’s relationship with her parents. Flashbacks reveal Princess Anna of Arendelle’s encounters with both Rumpelstiltskin and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

“ONCE UPON A TIME”: Tolerating Ambiguity

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“ONCE UPON A TIME”: TOLERATING AMBIGUITY

A good number of the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fandom seemed to be divided over what was revealed in the series’ latest episode called (4.16) “Best Laid Plans”. This division seems to be especially apparent in the episode’s flashbacks and the moral implications hinted from those sequences.

Since the second half of the series’ Season Four began, there have been rumors and hints on the Internet that two of the series’ leads – Snow White aka Mary-Margaret Blanchard and Prince Charming aka David Nolan – may have done something questionable or even terrible in their past in the Enchanted Forest. The first hint appeared in the episode,(4.12) “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, when the couple had protested against allowing villainesses Ursula the Sea Witch and Cruella DeVille to enter their Maine community, Storyrbooke. Later in the episode, both Snow and Charming warned the villainous pair not to say a word about their past to anyone, especially their daughter Emma Swan.

The episode, (4.13) “Unforgiven” gave further hints of the royal pair’s ominous deed. The Storybrooke sequences featured Snow and Charming’s failed efforts to prevent Ursula and Cruella (with Rumpelstiltskin’s help) from resurrecting their former comrade, Maleficent. The latter had been trapped in dragon form by Regina Mills aka the Evil Queen in a cavern underneath Storybrooke during those 28 years of the first curse, until Emma killed her in the Season One episode, (1.22) “A Land Without Magic”. But the flashbacks for “Unforgiven” revealed that the Charmings had briefly formed an alliance with Maleficent, Ursula and Cruella to find a way to prevent Regina from casting the first curse. The alliance fell apart after Maleficent killed a pair of guards who blocked their way to a magical tree that could give them advice. Snow and Charming eventually learned – ironically from Maleficent – that the former was pregnant with Emma. They also learned that their unborn child would not only have the potential for good, but also for great evil. To anyone with common sense, this would be an apt description of any sentient being. Yet, the idea of their future child – who became dubbed as “the Savior” – possessing a potential for evil frightened the Charmings . . . especially Snow White.

So, what actually happened between the Charmings and the “Queens of Darkness” in the Enchanted Forest? “Best Laid Plans” provided the answer. The episode revealed that the royal couple had stopped to help a roadside peddler, who warned them that Maleficent had torched a village after becoming a dragon and laying an egg. He also advised them to seek advice from a “man in a cottage”. The latter turned out to be the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the same elderly man who had directed Queen Ingrid aka the Snow Queen to our world and whom Rumpelstiltskin (with Hook’s reluctant help) had entrapped inside the Sorcerer’s Hat. It was the Apprentice who told the Charmings that their child would grow up with the potential for both good and evil . . . like everyone else. He also added that if they wanted to ensure Emma would remain good, they would have to find another sentient being to serve as a vessel to absorb their unborn child’s potential for evil. In the end, the Charmings kidnapped Maleficent’s egg, which carried an unborn child to use as a vessel for Emma’s inner evil. And the Apprentice, who cast a spell that sent Emma’s inner evil into Maleficent’s unborn child, took the royal pair by surprise by declaring that such evil should not reside in the Enchanted Forest. He sent Maleficent’s child to “the Land Without Magic”, sucking Ursula and Cruella into the portal, as well.

The reaction to the Charmings’ actions in the Enchanted Forest and their subsequent lies in present-day Storybrooke proved to be very emotional and mixed within the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fandom. Many fans accepted what the Charmings did and recognized what they had done was wrong. However, other fan reactions to the Charmings’ actions and “Best Laid Plans” has been . . . well, interesting. Some fans have accused show runners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis of retconning Snow White and Charming’s characterizations . . . and bad writing altogether. Others have made excuses for the Charmings, claiming they could understand the couple’s need to save Emma from a life of evil. Others have used the peddler, who turned out to be the Author that many have been seeking, as an excuse for the Charmings’ terrible act. The episode revealed that instead of recording the going-ons in the Enchanted Forest, the peddler had been occasionally manipulating the actions of the inhabitants to “make a better story”. And since the episode revealed that the peddler/Author had manipulated the Apprentice into sending Maleficent’s unborn child to “the Land Without Magic”, he must have manipulated the Charmings into kidnapping the child in the first place. Ironically, the charges of bad writing and excuses reminded me of the reactions to Snow’s murder of Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts in Season Two’s (2.16) “The Miller’s Daughter”. For some reason, a certain portion of the series’ fandom find it difficult to accept any signs of moral ambiguity from either Snow White, Prince Charming or their daughter, Emma Swan. And there are those fans who have raked the Charmings over hot coals for their deed. I get the feeling these particular fans are angry at the couple (or at Horowitz and Kitsis) for shattering their ideal image of innate goodness.

Personally, I had sighed with relief over the revelation of the Charmings’ past misdeed. No one was more happier than me when Snow and David proved how low they could sink. Some might view my comment as crowing over the couple’s downfall. Trust me, I am not. I am happy that Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis has finally resumed portraying the couple’s moral ambiguity after . . . how many seasons? I believe the last time audiences really saw any signs of questionable morality from either Snow or David was in Season Two’s (2.16) “The Miller’s Daughter”, when Snow murdered Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts by cursing the latter’s heart and emotionally manipulating Regina into placing that heart back into Cora’s body. Many fans – to this day – have used Cora’s own moral compass and goal to become the new “Dark One” as an excuse for her murder. These same fans continue to claim that Snow’s intent was to save Storybrooke from Cora’s machinations. But Snow White’s declared intent to murder Cora in revenge for her mother’s death in (2.15) “The Queen Is Dead” makes it clear that Snow White’s only intent was to exact revenge.

There have been other signs throughout the series of Snow’s moral ambiguity. Flashbacks revealed in episodes that she was a kind, yet spoiled and slightly bratty child. I have always wondered about her attempts to redeemed Regina on her own terms, instead of allowing the latter to make the choice to seek redemption, herself. Was this some effort on Snow White’s part to regain the affection of the young woman who first saved her when they met? Or to be the “loving” stepmother and mother substitute she had assumed Regina was before King Leopold’s death? Who knows. I also recalled Snow White’s attempt to murder Regina in the flashbacks featured in Season One’s (1.16) “Heart of Darkness”. Many fans had attributed Snow’s murderous intent to the potion given to her by Rumpelstiltskin, which stripped away her memories of Charming. Those fans seemed to forget that the potion merely erased her memories of Charming. It did not make her murderous. I suspect that the stress of being a fugitive, along with anger and resentment over Regina’s part in Leopold’s death had finally got the best of Snow and she decided to resolve her situation with an act of murder. Thankfully, Charming managed to stop her.

And for quite some time, I have brought up Snow’s action against Mulan in Season Two’s (2.08) “Into the Darkness”, in which she and Emma were trying to leave the Enchanted Forest and return home to Storybrooke. As many know, Mulan had snatched a magical compass that mother and daughter were planning to use to return home. But Mulan wanted to exchange the compass for Princess Aurora, who had been kidnapped by Cora. Snow and Emma managed to catch up in time, before the former engaged in a tussle with Mulan that led to an implausible victory for her. Angry over Mulan’s theft, Snow demanded to know the reason behind it. Even though Mulan admitted that she stole the compass to save Aurora’s life, Snow gave into her anger and tried to kill the former. Fortunately for Mulan, Aurora (who had been freed by Killian Jones aka Captain Hook) stopped Snow from committing murder. Emma, on the other hand, had done nothing to stop her mother. Wow. Snow managed to commit two murder attempts before finally achieving one, when she arranged Cora’s death. Now, her body count is a far, far cry from the likes of Rumpelstiltskin, Regina, Cora, Zelena and other villains. But for someone with a reputation for innate goodness, her penchant for murder (whether successful or not) is at least worth contemplating.

As for David, one of his major character flaws has always been his penchant for judging others with extreme prejudice. Not only has this trait been apparent in his attitude toward Regina – even when she finally managed to achieve some form of full redemption – but also toward others whom he would view as different. This is a trait that Snow White also shares. How else could someone explain the couple’s willingness to use Maleficent’s child as a vessel for Emma’s inner evil? As far as they were concerned, the baby was nothing more than a replica of her mother – a personification of evil. Transferring Emma’s inner evil to her would cause no harm . . . or so they would believe. David was also willing to destroy the book’s page that contained the entrapped Author – an act that could have killed the latter and robbed anyone else of a future “happy ending”. He wanted to destroy that page to hide his and Snow’s theft of Maleficent’s child from everyone . . . especially Emma. His willingness to destroy the page struck me as a stark example of his own personal cowardice that has manifested itself, time and again.

In the Season Two episode, (2.02) “We Are Both”, he told the citizens of Storybrooke that the cursed David Nolan who was too cowardly to be truthful about his adulterous affair with the cursed Mary Margaret Blanchard; and the heroic Prince Charming were one and the same. In Season Three’s (3.14) “The Tower”, he resorted to hiding from others for a few nips of booze in order to hide from his guilt over Emma’s upbringing away from the family and a fear that he might prove to be an ineffective father to his son, Neal, with whom Snow was pregnant at the time. In “Unforgiven”, Snow woke up in the middle of the night following a nightmare about Maleficent, and found David drinking on the staircase to hide his worries over Ursula and Cruella’s arrival in Storybrooke. I am beginning to suspect that he might be a secret lush. Oh dear. And most addicts, if not all, tend to resort to this behavior because they are afraid to face the complete truth about themselves – especially their less than admirable traits. Charming has always struck me as the type willing to face external dangers like evil magic practitioners, dragons, a dangerous water temptress and his malevolent adopted father. Facing his flaws, personal mistakes and demons has always been a problem for him.

Why is it so difficult for some fans to view the Charming family – Snow White, David, Emma and Henry – as morally ambiguous? I never understood this attitude. “ONCE UPON A TIME” is not a television series solely for children. If it was, ABC/Disney would have aired the show on Saturday mornings, instead of during the usual prime time hours. This is the same series in which other heroes and villains have been portrayed in an ambiguous light. Why should the Charmings be exempt from such ambiguity? Because they are among the show’s main protagonists? Some would point out that Emma is a morally ambiguous character, due to her past as a thief and ex-convict. But Emma has committed some questionable acts since the series began – destruction of property, breaking and entering, accessory to her mother’s attempt to kill Mulan in “Into the Deep”, changing the timeline and lying to Henry. In fact, she is still driving the same yellow Volkswagen that she and Neal Cassidy (Baefire) had stolen when they first met. However, many fans tend to brush aside these acts – including the stolen Volkswagen. With the exception of her lies to Henry, which they saw as a threat to the Charming family’s reunion, many fans were willing to brush aside Emma’s questionable acts as long as she was not guilty of murder. Personally, I find this viewpoint rather hypocritical and an example of certain fans’ insistence upon viewing protagonists like the Charmings as morally ideal.

I personally do not care for morally ideal characters. I find them rather boring and unrealistic. I remember reading in a few Agatha Christie novels in which the main character – usually Miss Jane Marple – tend to express the view that just about anyone is capable of murder, given a specific situation. I agree with this assessment. I sometimes feel that human beings like to regard themselves as better than we really are. Perhaps this is why they love the idea of fictional characters – especially those dubbed “the protagonist” or “hero/heroine” – as being morally ideal. Mind you, this is merely an opinion of mine. I tend to find morally ambiguous characters more interesting. Such characters are very entertaining and really do make a story bridle with energy. Characters of one-dimensional morality do not. Even one-dimensional villains. Both Regina and Rumpelstiltskin had struck me as a pair of uninteresting villains in Season One, until episodes like (1.08) “Desperate Souls” and (1.18) “The Stable Boy” revealed just how ambiguous and interesting they truly were.

After Season Two, both Snow White and Charming seemed in danger of becoming a pair of rather dull characters. Between (2.17) “Welcome to Storybrooke” (in which Snow tried to me avert the emotional impact of Cora’s death) and“Darkness on the Edge of Town”, they were not that interesting to me. Well . . . there was the (4.11) “Shattered Sight”episode, in which Queen Ingrid of Arendelle aka the Snow Queen’s spell in which the couple exposed their . . . um, inner resentments and anger toward each other. But for me, that was not the same as deliberately indulging in or utilizing one’s unpleasant traits. After all, they and other Storybrooke’s citizens were under a spell. However, this story arc featuring Maleficent’s stolen child is an entirely different matter. Yes, Snow and Charming’s crime happened in the past. But they were not under a spell.

But there is one potential problem. Earlier, I had revealed that in “Best Laid Plans”, audiences learned the true identity of “the Author” – a peddler who had been commissioned by the Sorcerer and his apprentice to record the happenings in the Enchanted Forest and other “fictional” realms. After the Apprentice had sent Maleficent’s child to “the Land Without Magic”, he confronted the Author and accused the latter of manipulating him into banishing the unborn (or unhatched) child to our world. He also accused the Author of manipulating past events in the “fictional” realms. Certain fans jumped on this narrative turn-of-events and claimed that the Author had manipulated Snow and Charming into stealing Maleficent’s child. Yes, it is possible that the royal pair had been manipulated by the Author. Then again, the Apprentice never accused the Author of that particular act. So, the audience will never learn the truth, until Horowitz and Kitsis decide to reveal it. If they reveal that the Charmings’ act of kidnapping had been manipulated by the Author, then I will be sadly disappointed.

But you know what? Even if the show runners decide to include that Snow and Charming had been manipulated into kidnapping Maleficent’s child, the royal pair still managed to commit some morally questionable acts since the Apprentice had entrapped the Author in that book. And because both of them, along with other characters in “ONCE UPON A TIME”, have shown they are capable of both decent and very questionable acts, I can never regard them as innately good. Frankly, I see that as a good thing. Because in my eyes, there is nothing more boring or damaging to a good story than a morally one-dimensional character.