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Once Upon a Time – The Apprentice - Review

This episode didn’t cause the “oohs” and “aaahhs” from me like the past episodes have. I felt we were just setting up the next stage of events. That being said, it was a solid enough entry in this season of Once Upon a Time. My favorite parts, surprisingly, were the interactions between Anna and Rumpelstilskin. Seeing pure goodness try to hold its own against pure darkness was interesting. The other portion of the episode I really dialed into was Hook and Rumpelstilkin’s interactions. How sure they were of each other’s nature and what Rumple revealed about Hook...I sense interesting things to come. For some reason this episode just felt very slow. However, considering how the past three have launched us into the Frozen story and the new threat of the Snow Queen, an episode displaying the king of the long game aka Rumpelstilskin would feel slower in comparison.

The episode begins with a flashback to long ago. We see what appears to be a temple, being swept by a solitary, elderly man. It turns out that this man is guarding the mysterious box that produces the Sorcerer’s hat. The lone sweeper sense a disturbance and the Dark One makes himself known. This guardian is not the Sorcerer himself, only his apprentice. I wonder at why an apprentice would be so aged, but it makes sense if his role was to protect the dangerous magic of the hat for all time. The Dark One we see here is Zoso, Rumpelstilskin’s predecessor. I think it’s very important to note that Zoso was not the very first Dark One, so there is lore here regarding the dagger that has yet to be explored.

Despite his best efforts, the Apprentice is overpowered by Zoso, who attempts to use The Dark One dagger to open the hat box. An enchantment protects the box and blasts the Dark One aside like his power is nothing. This must be some serious magic if even the Dark One can’t match it. The Apprentice explains that no one who has succumbed to the darkness in their heart can break this power magical barrier and that every Dark One has tried. With that, the frustrated Zoso disappears. In present day Storybrooke, we see Rumpelstilskin in his shop, easily defying what the Apprentice just said. With a wave of the dagger, the box produces the sparking hat. Does this mean that Rumple has truly turned over a new leaf and overcome his dark tendencies?

Elsewhere in Storybrooke, Emma Swan is steeling herself for a mission of her own. Henry isn’t 100% on board with what Emma is about to do, but he wants her to be happy so with a gentle shove, he gets his mother to go into Granny’s. There we see Hook expertly shooting darts and as soon as he sees the savior, he assumes more frosty shenanigans are afoot. Emma assures him that there is no immediate threat. Instead, she thought about his words, that he is a survivor, and decides to ask the pirate out on a proper date. This is a big step for Emma. Last episode she admitted to being terrified of getting close to someone for fear of losing them and now she is inspired to take a step closer and give in to what her heart desires. As Emma leaves, she is momentarily puzzled by a mystery puddle only under her car.

Back at the pawn shop, Rumpelstilskin returns from some errand and sees Hook cheekily perched atop one of his glass cabinets. The pirate wishes to make a deal and reminds Rumple that he can at any moment tell Belle about the real dagger, still holding that knowledge over the Dark One. What Hook wants is his missing hand, a trophy that Rumple has kept in a jar in his shop because let’s face it, the imp hoards everything. Hook simply wants to be able to hold Emma on their date with both hands. I guess he doesn’t think the inclusion of a hook in the mix as very romantic. The Dark One tells the pirate that the limb before them was cleaved from the man Hook once was, a cutthroat pirate, and that it will act as such and give in to those pirate-y impulses from long ago. Hook doesn’t fall for the Dark One’s words, so Rumple restores his missing hand, still sticking with the ominous warning that bad things could potentially happen.

Later that evening at Snow White’s loft, she and Charming have unearthed the Storybrooke censuses taken from the last two curses in an effort to learn more about the Snow Queen. As Snow plops these heavy books in Elsa’s lap, Emma appears, all ready for her date. She looks very fetching all dressed up and I think Snow White agrees because proud momma has whipped out her Polaroid to snap a few shots of the memories being made. Emma seems just slightly apprehensive, like she should be doing more to solve the mystery of the Snow Queen, but Elsa, ever the good friend, reminds Emma that one can’t put their life on hold indefinitely, which is pretty much what Emma has been doing since the beginning of season two.

Hook arrives at the loft, saving Emma from even more parental embarrassment. He’s in street clothes. Considering the man has been out and about in the real world for a while now, I agree, a fashion make over was in order and I like that his outfit is a modern update of his signature coat and vest. And of course, there is another addition as Hook presents Emma with a rose with his newly reacquired hand. Emma is surprised to see that change and quips that she should refer to the pirate as “Captain Hand” now, though it does bring up a good point. Initially, when I caught wind of Hook getting his hand back, I was not a fan. I always liked that tie to Hook’s fairy tale roots and felt that having the hook was an integral part of the character. As well will soon see, that new hand wasn’t destined to last long anyway.

The episode flashes back to the Enchanted Forest where Anna has stumbled into the home of the Dark One. Rumple is very fun in these scenes, always two steps ahead of Anna. Their interactions throughout the episode truly showcase dark versus light and cunning verse naiveté. Rumpelstilskin admits to Anna that her parents did pay him a visit, but isn’t forthcoming with why. Anna is willing to do “whatever it takes” to get the information she seeks. Don’t you know you are literally making a deal with the devil, Anna? Anyway, before Rumple will share what he knows with the girl from Arendelle, she must first pay a visit to an old man, one Rumpelstilskin informs her “probably eats children for breakfast”, and put a potion in his tea. That "kiddies for breakfast" line made me laugh out loud, just something about the delivery of it and how casually someone like the Dark One is quick to paint others with the same monstrous brush as he. And so Anna does pay a call to the baby-eating old man, only we find that her target is the Apprentice and the biscuits are baby-free. Not gluten free though, what a monster. Anna joins the Apprentice in his cottage and while his back is turned, she takes her chance and goes to dose the kettle. However, Anna’s inherent goodness shines forth and instead she pours the potion into the fire.

Back to Storybrooke and we are treated to a Lady and the Tramp reference as Hook and Emma enter a swanky restaurant for their date. Emma declines cocktails, just in case the Snow Queen decides to show up with more ice cream and the savior seem really stuck on why this icy villainess is interested in her. Emma ever references the mystery puddle, so you know wild theories are forming in her head at this point. Could memories be struggling to surface as well? Over at the restaurant’s bar, the Knave is knocking back a few, probably because he was banned from Granny’s for breaking in during the events of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. He spots Emma and immediately tries to sneak out, but after a few drinks, graceful he is not and the Knave manages to spill a glass of wine right in Emma’s lap. This sets Hook off, who immediately grabs in insolent Knave of Hearts with his new hand and demands the thief apologize. The Knave manages to flee as the savior recognizes him, and Emma lets the thief go, actually allowing herself some enjoyment and not letting the weight of being the savior encroach so heavily on her life. Hook, however, seems to be rather shaken at his actions and wary of his own hand. Hmm, it appears that Rumple might have been on to something.

After the date is over, Hook chivalrously walks Emma up to the loft and the savior remarks that the date actually made her forget Storybrooke is under siege. This, along with her allowing the Knave to escape, really does show how Emma put the town and its inhabitants ahead of herself, even when she didn’t need to. It’s no wonder she was so stressed and took Regina’s words to heart, the savior was trying to do everything and save everyone at once and has been doing so practically the moment the first curse lifted. It’s very nice to see Emma have a “normal” moment and I think that this was the crux of the date, that Emma so rarely has a moment to be just a person. After all, the reason so many of us love this show is because we were seeing “every fairy tale we’ve ever know” portrayed in a very human way. It’s nice that the show has continued to return to that after four seasons. Going along with this thought, after a good night kiss and the promise of another date, Emma enters the loft to find her parents sitting up, eagerly waiting her return, for different reasons. Momma and Papa Charming during date night have been all comedy and it was fun to see Snow eager for the gossip while Charming was eager for the pirate to mind his hand(s).

Out in the night, the Knave of Hearts is drunk as a skunk and has decided that breaking into the Storybrooke Library is a marvelous idea. Hook, on his way home, tries to talk the Knave out of this act and as the thief continues to brush him off, the pirate loses his temper and knocks the Knave a good one in the face, bloodying his nose. Hook seems thoroughly unsettled and decides Rumpelstilskin was right, rushing into the night in search of the imp with the limp.

Speaking of the Dark One, in a flashback we see Anna lying about using the potion on the Apprentice, much to Rumple’s delight as it seems the mystery potion was in fact an antidote for a poison already in place. Learning this, Anna admits she didn’t deliver the cure and is distressed to see in Rumple’s crystal ball that the Apprentice has been transformed into a mouse. I am christening this mouse “Mickey” until I hear otherwise. So Anna rushes to the cottage, intent on righting the wrong she had a hand in, with Rumpelstilskin poofing on to the scene after her. The Dark One explains Mickey the Apprentice’s role as a guardian and that the spell he wishes to break can only be bested by someone who has faced their inner darkness and beaten it. Anna admits that’s not what happened when she decided not to dose Mickey the Apprentice; she knew that she had to do the right thing right away.

And here is where it gets interesting because we see Rumpelstilskin, doing what he does best. He twists the dagger, so to speak, telling Anna since she reneged on the deal, she must spend her days in his tower, laying the guilt on thickly as he describes how Anna will never see her sister again. This causes Anna to snap and pluck a nearby sword off the wall, holding its point to Rumple’s heart. She only has to run the Dark One through to be freed from their deal. Rumpelstilskin goads her to do it, to kill him, but Anna can’t and here is where we see the fruit of the master manipulator’s plan. He gambled that Anna wouldn’t have the heart to kill him, even though she truly wanted to in order to be reunited with Elsa. Rumpelstilskin manipulated Anna into facing her darkness and he knew she would best it, thereby giving him a way to lift the enchantment of the hat box. Anna is disgusted that the Dark One would turn the love she had for her sister into a weapon, though Rumple reminds her that love is always a weapon, it just matters on how one wields it.

He is talking about literally playing with people’s emotions to move them like chess pieces, an idea utterly foreign to the inherently good Anna, and it is fabulous. I enjoyed this portion of the episode the most because we really dive back into the Rumpelstilskin who would perform a simple act that would have repercussions a long way in the future, the schemer. The Dark One descends into the temple below the cottage and is able to summon the Sorcerer’s hat with ease. Now that we know Anna’s love for her sister was the key to breaking this enchantment, I wonder if that is also the reason Rumple can summon the hat in the present day, or if it was as I said earlier, and that the Dark One had indeed faced his demons and thoroughly bested them.

Present day Storybrooke and we see Rumpelstilskin close up shop for the night, only do be joined in his Cadillac by an irritated Hook, the Knave’s blood still fresh on his knuckles. The pirate demands his steel appendage back, threatening Rumple in the process. The Dark One appears to be one up on Hook, claiming that after their deal had been struck earlier, Rumple switched the daggers back so Belle had the real one, leaving Hook without a bargaining chip. Only Rumpelstilskin’s magic can restore the pirate’s hook, so naturally the imp wants to make another deal, one he isn’t willing to give details on. Hook knows it’s an utterly terrible idea to take this deal blindly, but agrees after he loses his temper once again and his new hand drives the old hook into Rumpelstilskin’s chest. Rumple teases that next time the person Hook hurts may not be able to recover so easily and that sells it for the pirate, he agrees to meet the Dark One on the docks the next day.

When the pair reunite, Rumpelstilskin explains that the pirate is going to help him track down an “old friend”, summoning a broom in an instant and enchanting it to walk around town a la Disney’s Fantasia, leading them to their target. I do wonder how no one noticed a walking broom just sauntering down Main Street, but then again, there’s an ice wall around the town and the mayor is Snow White. Storybrookians probably see something weird and close their curtains while going “Nope!”

The broom leads Hook and Rumple to a small house, which we find belongs to the Apprentice. Rumple employs Hook as his muscle and has the pirate drag the old man inside. Rumpelstilskin then summons the Sorcerer’s hat, much to the surprise of the Apprentice, who regains composure enough to defiantly tell Rumple that he won’t be able to collect enough power to achieve his goal. The Dark One seems nonplussed and tips the hat over, unleashing a powerful vortex that sucks the Apprentice inside. There is a very nice touch of a new star within the hat’s swirly galaxy that twinkles after the Apprentice has been taken. So are we to assume that all the stars shown represent people? If that’s true, then how is this object not powerful enough already?

At least we get a few answers as we flashback to Rumple and Anna. As Rumpelstilskin emerges from the underground lair with the hat box, Anna demands to know what dealings the Dark One has with her parents. So Rumple tells of how the king and queen of Arendelle sought a way to be rid of Elsa’s powers forever. They feared their daughter and always wished for her to be normal, but they didn’t succeed in finding what they were looking for since no one has been able to activate the Sorcerer’s hat. This hat, as we saw in the present day, is enchanted to absorb magical power and store it. Rumpelstilskin needs it to be fully charged and then he can be unstoppable.

As Rumple is explaining this to Anna, Deus Ex Mouseina occurs, with Mickey the Apprentice dropping down from a beam and biting the Dark One’s shiny hide, causing him to drop the dagger, which Anna retrieves and soon realizes its power when the Dark One unwillingly follows her command. This is why Rumpelstilskin wants the hat, so he can be rid of the yolk of the dagger and still retain all his power. Anna realizes this as well and instantly commands that the Dark One turn over the hat box, which Rumple reluctantly does. There is nothing more sinister than Rumpelstilskin making promises, not threats, in that low quiet voice, detailing how much he will make you pay for crossing him. Anna is smart enough to realize that she must leave the land and with protection, so she commands that Rumpelstilskin send her and the box back to Arendelle and that he may never harm Elsa or Anna. Interesting she didn’t mention Kristoff, that might prove to be trouble for the future. Rumple carries out her orders, though Anna leaves the dagger behind. The Dark One is absolutely livid that the hat box as escaped his grasp, though now I’m even more intrigued by it. How did this powerful of an object only now arrive in Storybrooke? And what became of Anna? The mystery regarding that deepens as we see Anna did return to Arendelle and was reunited with Kristoff, though she is conflicted and heartbroken over how her parents viewed her older sister.

Back in the present day and with their dastardly deed done, Hook and Rumple retire to the pawn shop. Hook is adamant that since he fulfilled his part of the deal, Rumple needs to take back his demon hand. This entire scene is one of my favorites in the episode because we see Rumple and Hook trying to outsmart each other, trying to come at each other from different angles. Unfortunately, Rumpelstilskin has been playing that game longer. He tells the pirate that their deal isn’t complete and when Hook reminds the Dark One that he saw him use the dagger, meaning Rumple lied about switching the real one back to Belle, Rumple one ups him by producing a security tape from the Apprentice’s home. Rumpelstilskin questions how Emma would feel if she knew her boyfriend was involved in the magical demise of a poor old man, altering the security tape to remove his own presence from the proceedings. So far, the imp with the limp has one up on Captain Hand.

Rumplestilskin goes on to admit that the hand was never cursed. Hook was actually right when he initially believed the Dark One was playing mind games. Rumple goes on to tell Hook that having his old hand back was almost like a placebo effect, it gave the pirate permission to be the man Rumple says he really is, to tap into that darkness lying right under the surface. This an interesting conversation since I’ve seen many people discuss how Captain Hook has changed over the seasons, some enjoying it while others not so much. Personally, I like that he is a scallywag and I didn’t mind him becoming less cutthroat as the season went on since it made him a more interesting character, not simply a one note pirate cliché. This revelation that Hook has simply been holding himself in check is interesting and I’d like to see more of how this will affect his further integration into Storybrooke as well as his relationship with Emma. I guarantee his bro, Charming, will pound the pirate into dust should anything happen to the savior. And Rumple assures Hook that if he does anything to ruin the Dark One’s marriage, Rumple will retaliate against the pirate’s loved ones. So now Hook is reluctantly in business with Rumpelstilskin. This is a storyline that I’m surprised interests me so much, but I want to see where it goes. Will Rumple simply use Hook as a scapegoat, a spy, or something else? The pair’s shady dealings intrigue me and I wonder how long they will be able to keep all this under wraps before Belle and Emma get wind that something is no quite right.

Speaking of Emma, the savior is just cruising along, listening to the radio (sharp ears will detect a weather report from the ice wall and a song request from Rip Van Winkle), when her yellow bug spins out on a patch of ice. Stunned, Emma leaps from her vehicle and spots the Snow Queen. This impromptu game of hide and seek only lasts a short while, with Emma demanding to know why the Snow Queen is following her. I guess the icy villain wanted to keep tabs on the savior, going back to the theory that this woman is someone from Emma’s past who cared very deeply for her. However, Emma has more immediate problems. She gets a call from Belle and we see the Knave of Hearts has succeeded in breaking and entering the library, where he is now passed out, clutching a book.

Emma hauls the thief off to the drunk tank, where the Knave eventually wakes up, not at all pleased to see the sheriff. He certainly isn’t forthcoming with his evening activities either, though the book he was clutching is a bit telling. It’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and in the Knave’s pocket is a drawing of what appears to be the Red Queen. True, the Knave only introduced himself as “Will Scarlet” of the Merry Men, so Emma has no idea of the cross over to Wonderland. And to be honest, seeing the Knave carrying around a picture of the Red Queen breaks my heart. Something must have happened, either to their relationship or her specifically. I really hope their happy ending stays intact. I wonder, is the Knave in Storybrooke of his own volition, or was he sent there with a purpose?

The Knave of Hearts really doesn’t have a lot to say to Emma at all, buttoning up about Hook giving him a black eye when the newly be-hooked pirate walks into the sheriff’s station. I wonder if the Knave is trying to protect Hook from a similar fate to his own. Perhaps the Knave of Hearts couldn’t give up his old ways and this caused a rift in his and the Red Queen relationship, so they took a break. I swear though, I think it would be rather lazy if the writers retconned the ending of Wonderland to fit in with this story. To cap off this scene, Charming realizes that the name the Snow Queen used in Storybrooke, Sarah Fisher, is not in any of the census records, meaning she was not a part of either curse. One mystery for me is the significance of the name “Sarah Fisher” (my googling turned up nada) and the bigger one is where did this woman come from and why did she want to be in Storybrooke to begin with?

Finally, this episode did show Henry and Regina at the vault, trying to come up with ways to cure to frosty Maid Marian, as well as come up with a game plan to find The Book’s author. Regina doesn’t believe she has anything powerful enough to counteract the spell; however her son thinks that this is because Robin Hood still has feelings for the queen. As much as Regina wants to be whisked away in the romance, life has taught her to rely more on the cold, harsh truth. Old Regina would have already barbecued Marian and taken Robin for her own, but through all her experiences, the Regina we see today values others, not as pawns but peers, much more than she once did. When the pair shows little progress in their studies, Henry has a brainwave. He thinks Rumpelstilskin might have the answers as to The Book’s author since Rumple, a villain, now has his happy ending, with Belle. Ah, if Henry only knew about the shady dealings that have been happening at the pawnshop lately. Well, he just might because Henry wants to go undercover at the pawnshop. Jump to a scene a bit later and we see Henry at the shop, approaching Rumple for an “after school job”. I have to say, the kid takes after his grandfather, mentioning how the Dark One is the closest connection Henry has to his late father. Rumpelstilskin hesitates since he has so many plans in motion, but finally agrees on the conditions that Henry stay out of the backroom (which you know he won’t) and not to touch anything (which you know he will). Henry is now Rumpelstilskin’s apprentice and the episode closes on a shot of the Truest Believer sweeping the floor with a very familiar broom.

And that’s it for “The Apprentice”! What did you think of this one, readers? Drop us a line in the comments section.

Like I said before, this episode was slow for me. It was a lot of set up, but what it was setting up is of great interest. We now are taking the next step in our story and things are going to soon get more and more chaotic. I don’t have any more answers than I did after previous episodes, though understanding why Rumpelstilskin is so keen on the Sorcerer’s hat does help in formulating theories. I’m just surprised that Rumple is still pursuing freedom from the dagger even though he knows it is with someone who would never use it on him. This is a shadow hanging over Rumple and Belle’s marriage for me, because it seems as if Rumpelstilskin ultimately is unable to trust his one true love, not through a fault of her own, but because of his own fear.

Tonight’s episode was very much about the nature of one’s inner self. My favorite scenes by far were the ones with Anna and Rumpelstilskin. I liked pitting Anna, a person who is inherently good, but able to perform evil and chooses not to against Rumple, someone who is the exact opposite. Seeing them both view what they personally find to be strength as weakness in the other, Rumple’s views on Anna’s love for her sister, Anna’s views on how Rumple weaponized that love, is fascinating and a lot better on a rewatch to be honest. I think I was expecting the “wham” we received in previous episodes, but “The Apprentice” mimicked Rumpelstilskin in that is was slow and establitory, setting up the dominos for the future.

And now that Henry is Rumple’s new apprentice, I kind of want to see that walking broom back to give the kid a hard time in the shop. I am looking forward more and more to this storyline of Henry working with Rumple, not only because it means we will be getting closer and closer to the author of The Book, but there is some great comedy potential in these scenes. And most importantly, I’m looking forward to future scene between Rumpelstilskin and henry where they discuss Nealfire. I want both Henry and Rumple to get a bit more closure since Nealfire was a driving force in three seasons of plot. I’d like to see Rumple and Henry bond over his memory.

Tune in next week as things begin to reach a breaking point in “Breaking Glass”

About the Author – Ashley B
Ashley is as serious as a sleeping curse when she says television is her life. Professional event planner, avid movie viewer, convention enthusiast, and resident sass master, Ashley writes reviews for ABC's Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and Galavant, as well as Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. She looks forward each week to the weird and wonderful world her favorite television programs provide.
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