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Once Upon a Time - The Broken Kingdom & Dreamcatcher - Double Review: "The fall and rise of the season"

The Broken Kingdom

It is really hard to write about an episode I outright don’t like. “The Broken Kingdom” lacks on almost every aspect: The pace is almost glacial, the acting is subpar compared to every other episode this season, the character’s motivation are weak and the writing doesn’t help at all. There are only just handful moments that redeem the episode from complete disaster.

The biggest sin of the episode is turning King Arthur from an interesting villain who may do the wrong things for the right reasons to one that is so obsessed with one goal that is just going to justify his actions on his own obsession. That’s a rather weak trait for a villain and quite cliché. I don’t know why OUAT shies away from creating an interesting villain: Regina, Hook, Zelena and Maleficent all succeed as villains because they were intriguing and complex, but there is neither of those aspects on Arthur.

It’s also no good that we spend the whole episode on Camelot: as proved by the following episode “Dreamcatcher” what’s going on in present day Storybrooke is far more interesting and engaging than Arthur’s origin story. The story is essentially the downfall of a man obsessed with completing his quest: it’s the kind of story that would work with the right execution, but all we see is Arthur obsession, and as a result I just couldn’t care less about him. What is happening to him is not heartbreaking nor surprising or anything for that matter. It’s just there as if we are supposed to care, but the episode does absolutely nothing to make Arthur compelling, he is just working on getting the dagger and nothing else.

Lancelot and Guinevere's storyline isn’t much better either: trying to help Arthur they go searching for the dagger themselves. And apparently, for a while Lancelot has had feelings for Guinevere; this seems like pulling romance for the sake of it, with no buildup whatsoever, just a corny scene with them dancing and then a kiss when they are on the dark one’s cave. Romance can be powerful on storyline when it is developed with care and time (I’ll get to that with Hook and Emma), but here it is so forced that it makes it hard to watch, as the writers obviously make the choice of having these two characters in love just to make a quick drama out of the situation and it honestly doesn’t work.

The dialogue of the episode is stale: by the moment we get to the scene with Lancelot and Guinevere confronting Rumple every single line of dialogue turns into forced plot demands fest. This following dialogue is the biggest offender:

Guinivere: “Why should I trust you?”
Rumple: “Because I know what happens when a woman’s heart is torn between duty and desire. And believe me… it never ends well.”

Ummm… that’s not a reason to trust someone, that’s just stating a fact. And besides, it’s boring, it stalls and it’s predictable. Everything is simply falling apart.

One of the saving graces of the episode is that Snow and David decide to double cross Arthur by making him think that David was on his side. There is only so much fooling the Charmings I can take, and it’s nice to see both Snow and David one step ahead this time as they make the right call and surprise Arthur. However, my enthusiasm about this development highly went down once Arthur puts the whammy on them with the enchanted sand: once again, Snow and David are rendered useless, and even if it’s just for the one episode, it still made me mad. The show clearly doesn’t know how to make good use of them. The past episode did wonders for David as a character, but we still have to see how both Snow and David can help on these situations.

Another good thing about the episode is the Emma and Hook storyline. The fact that they bond even further with Hook helping Emma by using his own experience with darkness is moving.
Here’s why Emma and Hook’s romance works: it has been developed over the seasons and both the characters and the actors have built a chemistry and a relationship that make their love for each other believable and actually moving. The scene with the middlemist flowers near the end where Emma’s head is clear is wonderful because it came from Hook sharing the side of himself that once was dark and showing her how he got through it. It’s nothing short of wonderful.

And that’s the big difference on Lancelot’s love for Guinevere and Hook’s love for Emma: one is slammed on our faces while the latter has been developed for a while and it builds a storyline based on what we know about the character. That’s how love is supposed to work: you can’t force it, it has to come naturally.

Sadly, the good moments on the episode are pretty short in comparison with the slow paced, boring ones. And while the idea of Camelot being a kingdom built on an illusion is a good one and the idea of Arthur being a man consumed in madness for an incomplete work could have been interesting, the episode does neither of them any favors with its lackluster execution.

This is pretty much the same thing as “The Apprentice” last season: an episode that drags down an otherwise promising path for the season. Thankfully, it’s only the one episode, because “Dreamcatcher” pretty much course correct everything that went wrong in this episode, but that doesn’t make “The Broken Kingdom” any less worse.

Grade: C-

Stray Observations

-Jennifer Morrison is doing a great job this season. On the Camelot flashback she is nailing the acting of going crazy while still grasping for her sanity. Emma’s line “He’s always here” as Hook is hugging her is pretty much spot on. Kudos Morrison.

-Hook: “Come on love, let’s sail away.”
Cutest line ever.

-This is the first time I’ve heard the expression “starstruck” and I’m happily surprised by how much it works when Snow says it.

-Snow: “Why is it that you became a knight of the round table. How is that helping? Or is it that you need to feel like a hero again.”
Snow is striking all the nerves!

-Emma: “He has a crush. And he straight-up lied to my face. And I’m the Dark One.”
Hook: “You are his mother.”
Emma: “Which is scarier?
Hook: “To him? That’s up for debate.”

-Now we know how Rumple got the gauntlet. I wish I could say it was interesting.

-One thing that really bugs me. Why Emma plans on using Rumple to free Excalibur? Arthur did it once, shouldn’t she just command him to do it? Or in its place, couldn’t she ask Merida to do it? She is a hero too. I don’t understand why it has to be Rumple other than giving him purpose for this season arc.


Now “Dreamcatcher” is a muuuch better episode of OUAT; it has an even pace, fun developments, and good character dynamics. There are some things that didn’t work, but as a whole the episode is pretty good, and even reminiscent of season 1 towards the end.

First off: thank god Emma stopped Snow and David! If the show leaned towards making the predictable storyline of using magic to turn Emma’s parent against her I would have been mad: I hate when characters do stuff under spell because it halts their development and it’s rarely fun at all. With no will they are not responsible for their actions and the personal stakes become that much lower, so I’m really happy that the writers stopped that plot before it could even begin.

The episode also gave me something that I always love: interactions between Regina and Emma. On Camelot, they are on the lead to free Merlin as they plan to use Regina’s tears of lost love to free the powerful wizard; this leads to an amazing moment where Emma watches Regina’s past, developing some true empathy for the horrible situation that Regina went through. It’s a warm moment of understanding between the two of them and that further indicates how key this relationship will be to save Emma.

I can’t say that I was very much excited about Henry’s storyline. I did feel for him when Violet told him that she just wanted them to be friends: I have been friendzoned before and it’s rough, very rough, and Jared S. Gilmore made it work. Not the best acting I’ve seen, but on his years on the show he has improved enough to make these showing of emotions more real, though he still struggles a bit to land them. The only thing I regret is that this choice wasn't Violet's, but rather Emma pulling the strings. It would have been much more fresh if Violet honestly felt that way, and honestly it would have been believable. As I said before, I hate when people do stuff under the influence of spells, but since this one leads to a surprising reveal that makes for exciting development I'll give it a pass.

Anyway, I’m glad that the show decides to develop Henry a bit more: just like any other human being he has his insecurities, he feels that he has to be more than a writer to win over Violet, that he needs to be a hero, to which both of his moms reassure him that he just has to be himself.

In present day Storybrooke Henry is able to prove himself to both Violet and her father by rescuing the horse that got lost. Not very impressive to be honest, but what makes it work is the reveal at the end that Emma probably set it all up to make up for what she did on Camelot.

It’s also nostalgic to see Henry and Emma on a mission together: it’s not the most exciting mission (getting a horse), but it does have plenty of throwbacks to season 1. One of the most exciting parts comes after Henry learns by accident that Emma took Violet’s heart on Camelot. It is reminiscent of the days when Henry was discovering just how evil Regina could get, and Regina takes on the same role as Emma, protecting Henry from his evil mother.

The end scene with Regina and Emma ignited my love for the show, especially when this dialogue was thrown:

Emma: “I had no choice,”
Regina: “There’s always a choice, Emma. You said that to me a thousand times!”

It highlights the role reversal of these two characters while making honor to the history they have together through the run of the show. It shows how far Regina has come and how deep in Emma is in the darkness. It’s also hopeful when Regina says “there’s nothing you can’t come back from”, which makes their interaction all the more impactful, since Regina does know what is to climb back from the darkness, and the sparks flies between Jennifer and Lana as both actresses bring their A game to the scene.

Although I still have no idea why Emma is so set on having Rumple pull out Excalibur, it’s fun to see Merida trying to train him, especially since she entrusts Rumple with the task of taking down Emma: even while in the control of the Dark One she still managed to make something of her free will, which is rather remarkable and makes Merida all the more likeable, especially since she is not afraid of being brash. She doesn’t sugarcoat it, she says it as it is and I like that.

It’s also interesting to see Merlin being freed so soon; I expected him to show up on the following episodes, but I’m glad to have him around sooner as he seems like a fun character. Also, he tells Emma that getting rid of the darkness means that she has to be able to let go of it, letting us, the viewers, know that Emma is actually enjoying the darkness, that it already has a strong grip around her. Which begs the question, how to loosen that grip? We shall find out soon enough.

The episode’s brisk pace make its less than exciting moments pass by faster while we get to the best character interactions. Emma and Regina steal the episode as Jennifer Morrison and Lana Parrilla show once more their prowess when they are together. When the show decides to let Emma and Regina interact, sparks flies.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations

-Emma: “We don’t have time for this.”
Regina: “Then make time.”
Regina can be scary and awesome at the same time. Lana nails every line.

-Merida teasing Rumple with the tea cup wasn’t only a smart move, but a very fun one.

Standout lines from Regina and Emma’s face off:

-Regina: “I thought you could be different. I thought you could escape the darkness, but then you had to go and rip a 13 year girl’s heart out.”
Regina telling hard truths. Flawless acting from Lana.

-Emma: “That’s breaking and entering.”
Regina: “Oh no! You don’t get to be self righteous with me! Not after what you’ve done!”
I love Regina’s sassy attitude while delivering that line more than what words can describe!

-Regina: “You forget. I have some experience with dark ones, everything is a manipulation.”

-Regina: “Wow, listen to you trying to justify everything. If I’m the one on the moral high ground, you have fallen quite a way, Miss Swan”
Emma: “Don’t ‘Miss Swan’ me!”

An afterthought:

What the hell happened to Lily and Maleficent? With Lily having all the darkness that was meant to be for Emma I thought she was going to be key for this story arc, but so far we have nothing on her, nor the storyline with her father. The show better re-take this storyline, at season 5B at the latest.

About the Author - Pablo
I'm currently studying Psychology while also writing fantasy books (one already published in my home country, Chile, you can check it out on the facebook icon). I watch many different types of shows, including my favorites Revenge, Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time and about 23 more. Currently writing reviews for Once Upon a Time, The 100 and the upcoming Supergirl
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