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Once Upon a Time - Darkness on the Edge of Town - Review

Well, we are back and better than ever! After a nice little vacation, Once Upon a Time came back in fine form. Things have certainly thawed out after the Frozen arc and are getting darker by the second. I know in past reviews I talked about how the show has been really getting back to its season one roots with the mystery and slower, less chaotic story arcs, but this episode felt the most like season one than any new episode has. We’ve slipped back into the Storybrooke rhythm where the threats to everyone’s happy ends are more internal, even with the arrival of some new villains on the scene. “Darkness on the Edge of Town has set us up for some truly great twists and turns. I love the idea of the Queens of Darkness integrating themselves in the town and the Storybrookian’s lives, trying steal their happy endings from the inside out. Once again we see Rumpelstiltskin playing the long game as well as ever and these new villainesses are stealing the spotlight for me, in a good way of course. I was worried they would be too campy, but the sass is leveled out with just a hint of the sinister, just enough to give them an edge that will make things interesting. And speaking of interesting, Snow White and Charming harboring dark secrets is something I am so ready to see on Once Upon a Time.

The episode opens back in the Enchanted Forest and more specifically the Forbidden Fortress where Maleficent resides. Ursula arrives in all her be-tentacled glory, only Maleficent doesn’t know who she is. The pair get into a scuffle with Ursula insisting that she was invited even though Maleficent didn’t summon her. I like the look of both characters, though I probably would have preferred if Once Upon a Time stuck with Maleficent’s look from season one. To me, that really made this version of Maleficent the show’s own. The sea witch and the dragon queen’s fight is interrupted by a pair of Rottweilers bounding into the room, followed shortly thereafter by Cruella De Vil. I’ve said it before; this is the character that intrigues me the most. In her original incarnation, Cruella was without magical powers, so I wondered what the Once Upon a Time twist would be with her character. It seems that this Cruella holds a magical form of persuasion that manifests itself in an eerie green smoke permeating from her lips. I like that this is a nod to the ever present cigarette holder Cruella had in the Disney version and am interested to see how she acquired these powers. The Queens of Darkness continue to be antagonistic towards each other until Rumpelstiltskin reveals himself, claiming responsibility for inviting the trio here. The Dark One has summoned the Queens of Darkness because all four of them share one thing in common; that it’s time to get their happy endings.

In current day Storybrooke, we get slice of life scenes from all our favorite protagonists. We see Henry going to school in Snow White’s class, Regina once more taking up the mantle of mayor and doing a little “redecorating”, Emma out sherrif-ing, and Belle opening up the library. All of this is the heart of Once Upon a Time, the idea of community and family and all of your favorite fairy tale characters under one roof, or in one town rather. The pawn shop, however, stands mournfully closed during this montage and we see Hook and Belle in the library working on ways, with the help of a trusty pin board that looks like it could be from an episode of Criminal Minds, to free the trapped fairies from the Sorcerer’s Hat. Hook is frustrated that no solution has been found and you can see the guilt he feels for his actions. Belle, however, is more optimistic. The librarian has been reaching out via the internet for translations to ancient spells that may prove helpful. The pair discuss how Rumple got the best of both of them and in a way, had a hold on both their hearts. I like the metaphor mixing with the actual events regarding this. Hook does admit that Rumpelstiltskin was right, that love is a weapon and I wonder if that will come into play later in the season, not only for Belle and the Dark One, but Hook and Emma too. Belle and Hook being so friendly is a bit odd considering their rocky history, but they are the only two people who have known Rumpelstiltskin the longest so this is possibly what they have been bonding over. And while Hook assures the librarian that her husband did love her, Belle’s voice cracks when she states that he’s gone forever, wishing out loud that she hopes he’s found whatever it was he was looking for.

Apparently that something was lunch, for skip to New York and see Rumpelstiltskin wearing a ratty bathrobe in the middle of dingy apartment, microwaving ramen noodles. Oh how the mighty have fallen. I am highly amused at the idea of the Dark One couch surfing and more so at the fact that he appears to be a rotten house guest, as Ursula comes home and sasses the imp with the limp about how he is all talk, hanging about eating the last of her cup o’ noodles and seeming to make no progress. They continue to bicker and I love it. What is it about fairy tale characters in mundane situations that we love so much? Amidst their bickering Rumple reminds Ursula that she is lucky their goals are aligned. The Dark One then gets an email, one he appears to be expecting and proclaims it’s time to visit an old friend.

Hop over to Long Island and a mansion that looks like it is being raided by the FBI. This home belongs, or rather belonged to Cruella De Vil, and I would bet good money Rumpelstiltskin blew the whistle on whatever Cruella’s husband was up to just to get Cruella at her lowest so she’d be more receptive to the imp’s proposal. It’s interesting that Cruella makes a point to grab one of her fur coats from a rack being carted away, snarling at the agent who was about to stop her that it was “from before”. Could her magic be tied to this garment? Whatever the case is, Cruella is fiercely protective of that coat. Rumpelstiltskin and Ursula saunter up, with the former asking Cruella to join their cause and regain her former glory. There is an allusion to a rocky last meeting, but once again Rumple emphasizes that their interests are aligned. Cruella reveals her car, which just looks like money, though Rumple is quick to tell her that if she emptily pursues material wealth again, she’s be right back where she started. Cruella is incensed, proclaiming she will never go back to that state. This is screaming “back story” to me and I’ll bet right now Cruella De Vil started off in a low place if her entire being revolves around material wealth. Rumpelstiltskin, who has been careful to only give out bits and pieces of his plan, reveals that there is indeed magic in this land thought to be without, you just have to know where to look. The Dark One knows these queens don’t trust him, but he convinces them to leave for Storybrooke.

What we get next had me laughing long after the scene ended. We see Cruella, Rumpelstiltskin, and Ursula crammed in the De Vil-mobile. Rumple explains about the Author and The Book, about how this creator seems to dole out happy endings as he sees fit and is the key to forging new endings for them. The queens remain skeptical and then it’s shown that they aren’t sitting in traffic, as it appeared when the scene began; no, these villains are going through the drive thru before their big road trip to Storybrooke. How can something so ridiculous be so entertaining? I should be criticizing this little addition, and yet I feel as if it’s something I didn’t know I wanted until it was right in front of me.

Back in Storybrooke, we see Regina in the mayor’s office, pouring over The Book for clues. Emma brings her lunch and jokes a bit. I find myself warming up more to the idea of friendship between these two. A scene like this one seems so natural. Regina’s sarcasm is intact, but she’s not outright antagonizing Emma. The Evil Queen remains despondent over the fact that her search for the Author isn’t turning up any results, and that depression only grows when Emma, on the hunt for a bottle opener for their root beers, rifles through a drawer in the office and discovers the storybook page of Regina and Robin that was ripped up at the town line. Mayor Mills reluctantly explains to Emma how Robin mysteriously found the page and that she thought it was a sign of hope. That things would finally work out.

Regina has repaired the page interestingly enough without magic as you can see it held together with tape. Does magic not work on The Book? Or, that could just be a visual cue for the audience to tell them that Regina saved the destroyed page. Whichever interpretation, the fact that Regina held on to the page signifies that no matter what she says, in her heart she still has hope. The mayor hasn’t heard from Robin Hood and even saying his name makes her sound incredibly sad. However, Regina can’t dwell on this for long as Hook and Belle race into the mayoral office. They found a translation, or rather an internet contact of Belle’s did, to an ancient ceremony that would free the fairies from the Sorcerer’s hat. And for such powerful magic, they need Regina’s expertise.

Jump to a clearing in the Storybrooke woods, where torches have been lit and the hatbox brought out. Regina uses the Dark One dagger to open the hat bombastically, releasing the shaken fairies into the clearing. Mother Blueperior seems to be especially nervous and almost reluctant to thank the mayor. And speaking of Regina, she appears disturbed by the power that came forth from the Dark One’s dagger. I wonder if there will be other opportunities to wield this object and what they could mean for the Evil Queen. And since everyone is distracted, no one, fairy or otherwise, notices an ominous black cloud oozing from out of the hatbox. Well, it’s been six weeks without a monster on the loose, I’d say the town is due.

Flashback to the Enchanted Forest where an evil pow-wow is taking place. Rumpelstiltskin shares that he knows of a way for he and his fellow villains to get what they want, to win for once, and that they must work together to achieve this. This is very similar to what Rumple is scheming towards in the present day, only it looks as if he isn’t holding every card. And the Queens of Darkness prove to be formidable allies, women you want on your side of the fight, as an annoyed Cruella gets right up in Rumple’s face, revealing the steel behind the sarcasm. But Rumple is still running the show and tells his allies that what they are looking for is not a spell to get their happy ending, but a curse. A dark curse.

So, Rumpelstiltskin and company travel to Bald Mountain, where a number of challenges block their path to their prize. The first of which is a hoard of blood-thirsty scarabs that Cruella dismisses with her green-tinged “power of persuasion”. Ursula displays some magnificent eye rolling behind Cruella’s back as the fur-clad femme fatale swaggers into the next chamber. Allies yes, friends, no. The new chamber reveals the curse on a pedestal, surrounded by dragon’s fire. Dousing the flames is a simple task for Maleficent to complete and the effects look wonderful here. Finally, Ursula snatches the curse off the pedestal with her tentacles. I think Once Upon a Time made the right choice in incorporating Ursula’s tentacles the way they did and I like that they are used more often. The CGI is also continuing with the upward trend in quality that we’ve seen since the end of season 3, so it’s great to see more of the effects.

Speaking of special effects, the removal of the curse has triggered a final threat, the mountain’s guardian, Chernabog. This demon is most famously known for his role as nightmare fuel from Disney’s Fantasia. In the world of Once Upon a Time, Chernabog is a demon who seeks out the heart of those with the greatest potential for darkness and devours them. Effectively, Rumpelstiltskin just delivered a buffet to the demon’s doorstep. The way Chernabog was brought on the show is much better than the broomsticks from season 4A in my option. It’s more of a nod and a wink as opposed to a direct reference, a “hey look, this is Disney”, but that could be due to the fact that a creature like Chernabog just seems to fit in better on Once Upon a Time. The Dark One turns on his heel and betrays his former allies, leaving them to deal with the demon alone. My question is whether or not the curse retrieved is the number one Dark Curse, the one responsible for Storybrooke. If so, do you think we’ll see how Maleficent ends up getting it back from Rumple?

Back in present day Storybrooke, we find the De Vil-mobile screeching to a halt right outside the town line. Rumple has left a marker to note the spot where the enchanted town line begins and explains to the queens how Storybrooke is magically hidden. Again, the queens are skeptical, so much so that Cruella pulls out a gun and threatens Rumple. I like that these women have no time for his empty promises and are getting things done, but it does seem that the Dark One has been stringing them a long a bit. Ursula and Cruella must truly be unsettled and desire those happy endings if they are still entertaining what Rumplestilskin has to say. I think Rumple knows he is really gambling here too since he looks rather uneasy, like his gambit might not work. Also, Ursula’s comment that they could be dragged into the scheme because of “a girl” seems to be an emotional blow to the Dark One. Rumple once again asks the queens to trust him saying he has a way of getting them invited into town.

Meanwhile, past the protected town line, there is a party at Granny’s going on I assume to welcome back the missing fairies. And even though it’s a party, the Blue Fairy can be seen sitting off by herself, looking rather tense. If you’ve read my reviews before you know that I am eternally suspicious of the Blue Fairy, so this is just adding fuel to the fire for me. Regina approaches, having been prodded forward by Henry. Both the nun and the mayor seem awkward and reluctant. This is one of the few relationships that hasn’t called a definite truce in Storybrooke. Blue always seems so aloof around the villains and I wonder why that is.

Anyway, Regina shows Mother Blueperior The Book and Blue seems almost shaken to her core to see the tome, especially when she learns that the Sorcerer’s house is also in Storybrooke. Despite claiming to not know much, Mother Blueperior does give up quite a few tidbits of knowledge. She confirms that The Book has great power and that Regina’s plan to have the Author change her story isn’t a crazy as it sounds. Blue also explains an important detail; the Author and the Sorcerer are not the same person. In fact they are two very different people according to Blue. But Blue doesn’t know the identity of the Author, or if “he is a ‘he’” which makes me think that Blue knows more than she’s letting on. That’s an oddly specific admission. Mother Blueperior believes there are clues to the Author’s whereabouts hidden in his other works, but before we can get more details on the existence of other magical story books, a roar bellows throughout the town. Regina mutters a quip about the falling property values and out heroes rush to investigate, finding none other than Chernabog perched atop the iconic clock tower.

Flashback to the Enchanted Forest where we find the Queens of Darkness in a similar situation. Their alliance is uneasy; no one want’s to put their lives in the hands of the others. However, they seem to come to an agreement and step forward to allow Chernabog to go after the queen with the darkest heart, leaving the other two the freedom to escape and then rescue the third. Chernabog choses to go after Maleficent, which is important to note should alliances between either Ursula or Cruella and our heroes land on the table. Maleficent fights off Chernabog while Ursula and Cruella climb to safety. The dragon queen isn’t doing so well and is almost consumed by Chernabog before a swift green tentacle snakes down and reels Maleficent up to safety. Despite working together to best the beast, the three are still antagonistic to each other. It’s entertaining, but also causes me to wonder if this inherent mistrust could be a way to defeat the queens by turning them against each other.

In present day Storybrooke, Chernabog is still swooping about, terrorizing the town. I mentioned this on twitter, but do you think the citizens of Storybrooke have amazing stamina from all the cardio they get? Anyway, Chernabog can’t be stuffed back into the Sorcerer’s hat, so Emma and Regina team up to take out the winged terror. Their combined magic only stuns the beast, who veers off into the distance, biding his time to attack again. There is an amusing bit where Emma turns to give everyone tasks post-monster mash and our heroes are already jumping up to take care of things. I love how this shows the characters having adapted to the many many adventures that grace their town.

Back at the town line, Rumple has a number queued up in his cell phone, ready to set his plan in motion. He hands the phone to Ursula who listens intently as Regina answers the line, addressing the former as “the sea bitch”. I don’t know why but that line just makes me laugh every time I hear it. Ursula spins a tale for the mayor and eavesdropping savior about how she and Cruella ditched the Dark One and stole his phone after he told them about Storybrooke and how Regina changed for the good. They lie that they too want to change and that they want in to the town. Regina is all set to deny them, when Chernabog’s roar once again rattles the window panes. Ursula reveals the queens’ past tangle with the terror and is willing to meet Regina and Emma’s terms for entry; reveal how to defeat the beast and Regina will use the Snow Queen’s scroll to cheat the town line. Now I think I understand why Rumpelstiltskin has such magpie tendencies; you never know when something could come of use. And it is interesting that Regina and Emma are thinking like the Dark One. Learning that the beast is only after the hearts with the darkest potential, Regina immediately thinks she is Chernabog’s number one target. Emma isn’t so sure, but Regina brings up a good point. After all, who else could it be?

With some quick thinking and knowledge of the town line’s peculiar magical properties, Emma is quick to hatch a plan. She and Regina must lure Chernabog over the town line, into a land where magic can’t survive. This should vanquish the threat, so Emma and Regina hop in the yellow bug and speed towards the Storybrooke borders. Chernabog is soon on them, and more specifically on the top of the car, eager to get to the savior and mayor inside. As Regina poofs out of the car to draw Chernabog’s attention, Emma slams on her brakes, somersaulting the winged terror across the town line and out of existence. By this time the cavalry has arrived in the form of Snow White and Prince Charming, who are eager to make sure their daughter is ok. What they are not eager about is the fact that Cruella and Ursula want to enter the town. When they first heard the news, it was almost as if a wave of panic washed over the fairy tale pair and even now both Charming and Snow are insistent that the queens should not enter the Storybrooke borders. Emma remarks that this is very out of character for the both of them and then Regina finally pipes up, pointing out that she was worse than either of those two and yet she still got a second chance. It would by hypocritical not to do the same for Cruella and Ursula. With that, Regina chucks the scroll over the line, allowing the De Vil-mobile to roll into town. Can I just say, both Ursula and Cruella look so evil and diva-esque, I feel the general populace is going to have a hard time believing the ruse that they turned over a new leaf.

Later that night we see Rumpelstiltskin, waiting in the dark at the town line. He looks incredibly anxious and almost gives up and turns away before the Snow Queen’s scroll comes sailing into view. I think it speaks to how desperate Rumple is if he’s willing to give away even the tiniest piece of control in his long con to get closer to his goal. The Queens of Darkness did indeed decide to trust him, but the Dark One couldn’t have known that for sure. He had to use faith and hope, two things that are often found in the hero’s toolbox. I have to say the best shot of the night for me was Rumpelstiltskin limping over the town line and as soon as he steps across it his gait changes. With a twirl of the cane you can see Rumple’s confidence renewed. He is back where there is magic and I bet it feel good.

Soon Cruella, Rumple, and Ursula are strolling down main street, discussing the next step in the plan. Rumple instructs the queens to make friends and give the general impression that they are repenting, while the Dark One works behind the scenes. When questioned on the lack of work Rumple seems to have given himself, the imp reveals that it was he who translated the spell for our heroes, posing as an Oxford professor online. Rumple reminds his new allies that he pulled that off without magic when he was at his lowest point. I love Chessmaster Rumple, always six paces ahead of everyone else and we once again see him at his best… or is it his worst? Rumple also clues Cruella and Ursula in on his ace in the hole; he means to revive Maleficent who is not entirely dead. We did see her as that specter all the way back in season two, but one has to wonder the price it will cost to perform the magic needed to bring her back from the brink. Ursula believes they have bigger fish to fry, and expresses worry that Regina and her dark heart will stand in their way. Rumple seems amused at this and claims that the heart Chernabog was after, the one with the greatest potential for darkness in Storybrooke is actually that of Emma Swan. Now, that is a mystery. Why would someone who wields light magic, someone whose heart could not be taken even by the Queen of Hearts herself be the one most likely to fall to the dark side? I feel this might have to do with the savior’s compassion, her strive for others over herself. Will the Queen of Darkness blind her to thinking she is doing the right thing when in fact she is traveling down a dark path?

Speaking of the savior, we find her at Granny’s spending time with her favorite pirate. The pair watch Henry pour over The Book, looking for clues and wonder aloud where Snow and Charming could be as they were supposed to meet Emma and Hook a while ago. Cut to a remote location in the Storybrooke woods, where Charming and Snow White meet up with none other than Cruella and Ursula. Cruella comments that it’s been a long time since they’ve seen each other, but Snow gives them a frosty reception. The princess has steel in her voice as she coldly warns the queens never to reveal what happened between the four of them in the Enchanted Forest. And if they do, Snow White promises to rip their hearts out herself. Wow, I am so intrigued by what this connection could mean! What dark secret could possibly have Snow and Charming so riled that the former threatens cold blooded murder to keep it hidden?

And that’s it for the season 4B premiere! How did you enjoy “Darkness on the Edge of Town"?

"Darkness on the Edge of Town" was a wonderful mix of fun and mystery. This half of the season promises to be much darker than the Frozen arc and I love that. The idea that Emma has the potential for great evil enforces the idea that she and Regina are very similar women who took very different paths and I like the fact that we will be seeing Regina’s redemption and her search for happy endings go up against whatever darkness lurks in the periphery for Emma. Also, I desperately want to know what Charming and Snow did, what deal they struck or action they took with the Queens of Darkness that causes them to act so desperate. I honestly can’t even speculate what could be so heinous to cause the Charmings to act like this and I can’t wait to find out.

Acquiring the Dark Curse was a great way of tying Rumpelstiltskin’s familiarity with the Queens of Darkness to the over arcing mythos of Once Upon a Time. It made it seem like his current goal to achieve a happy ending was more premeditated since acquiring the Dark Curse would do that in reuniting him with the long lost Balefire. It’s interesting to see where this will go for Rumple now, if his happy ending is still with Belle and how he plans on using the Queens of Darkness to carry out this scheme. And also if he plans on betraying them once more. Also, how will the Dark One's dagger come into play with all this? Surely he'll have to regain it, but that means potentially facing Belle.

Past seasons of Once Upon a Time have been mostly about showing the light in even the darkest of hearts. We’ve seen why Regina, Rumple, Zelena, Peter Pan, Hook, and Cora have all turned towards the seductive clutches of evil to get what they want, to get their happiness. So now it’s time to see the dark side of our heroes. Once Upon a Time has always shown that the idea of “heroes and villains” has never been so straight forward, that these characters operate in grey areas. And now we are ready to see the dark spots in those heroic hearts.

Be sure to tune in next week for “Unforgiven”!

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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