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Once Upon a Time – A Bitter Draught – Review



When I first studied The Count of Monte Cristo many years ago, I’ll never forget how my teacher introduced it. He stood up at the blackboard and in gigantic chalk letters wrote one word; REVENGE. That was Edmond Dantes’s single focus and one has to reflect if at the end of his story, was it worth it to burn everything to the ground instead of embracing that second chance? This theme is heavily tied to Regina and runs throughout “A Bitter Draught”, though I do wish there would have been more than a once episode examination. The idea of unbridled revenge was such a motivator in the first two seasons of Once Upon a Time, on one hand I hate that Regina’s current point of view only had an episode to be examined, while on the other her thirst for revenge is no longer as fresh or relevant as it once was. I enjoyed ”A Bitter Draught”, but I wasn’t enraptured by it. It is one of those Once Upon a Time episodes that sprinkle a lot of great breadcrumbs, introducing ideas to be built upon by later episodes, but on a more wide scale view doesn’t quite hit the spot. It gave us more questions than answers, but didn’t overload us with either. I will say I’m very intrigued by the Evil Queen character and what her plans are for Regina. It makes me warm up to the idea of the split more than I did at the end of last season.

Can I just start off by saying that I love the look the Evil Queen has? The first visual we get is this evil disco ball affect coming from the shimmering stones from her outfit. It’s more opulent than Regina’s wardrobe ever was, not that her costumes weren’t flashy. Visually, the bigger hair and ridiculously fairytale flamboyant dresses tell the audience that this person is unrestrained and untempered. The Evil Queen is like pure ego running around Storybrooke. And she is a manipulative beast. With Zelena she is testing the witch’s loyalty and playing into her insecurities. Zelena does truly care about Regina but, as we talked about last week, she’s still learning how to be a good guy and avoiding the harder choices that come with that role. She’s taking the easy road, the familiar one. I have no doubt that by the end of the season at the very latest Zelena and Regina will be reunited, but it will take time despite Zelena’s doubts in the Evil Queen. The witch is still growing.

And speaking of growing, having both the Evil Queen and Regina on screen really juxtaposes where this character was and where they are now mentally. I know I said above that the Evil Queen was like the ego, but she’s also like the id. She’s very bombastic in her personality, which can be comedic, taking away a touch of her edge so that it’s a bit more consumable for the audience. She is fun to watch, you can’t deny that. And then there’s a more primal, sexual thing happening, particularly between her and Rumple that really turned me off. I always saw the two of them as student and teacher, and if there was a latent attraction between the characters, maybe I could see that too. The overt nature of the Evil Queen’s flirting with Rumple wasn’t for me, but also makes me wonder if she is preying on his current loneliness.

The reason I’m so interested in the Evil Queen now when back at the end of season five I was so against this storyline, is that the Evil Queen is operating like an abuser, bringing a sinister and real world presence to her involvement in the story. The way she manipulates Zelena, testing her loyalty then winning her back with presents like the rattle for Baby Robin, driving a wedge between Zelena and her family to keep the witch all to herself. This comes out even more when the Evil Queen and Regina interact. The Evil Queen feels slighted and tells Regina she should be thanking her for her actions. Her goal is to mold Regina into who she once was, trying to tell the mayor who she is and isn’t. At the end of the episode Regina even expressed regret over releasing the Evil Queen, apologizing for leaving a toxic part of her life behind. All of this makes me watch Lana Parrilla much closer to see how she will play both sides of the abused overcoming her abuser. I love Snow White’s frank line; “you won’t tear this family apart”. I feel as if the drama in Once Upon a Time has matured this season. There are still fairy tale problems to be had, but again the conflict is more internal for everyone than external. Emma, Regina, and Charming even are all struggling with their internal stories.

The action in “A Bitter Draught” was well used, serving to highlight the interpersonal conflict rather than take away from it. I love the stunt where the sheriff’s cruiser bounces off the curse on the town line. Speaking of the protection spell, curse, whatever, I find it’s are a part of Storybrooke as much as the clock tower or Granny’s is, so I don’t mind our heroes being trapped in Storybrooke every season anymore. The actual fencing, as opposed to the hack and twirl method of sword fighting, was a pleasant highlight of the episode. I especially love that a woman has an extended sword fight. I feel as if in the past it’s been a couple of swings, an attack, and then the scene is over. It feels very season one, and it didn’t go unnoticed that Regina threw her sword into the Count’s back similar to how Emma has been known to. Snow and Charming’s improvised dueling weapons, which make sense in Storybrooke, were also enjoyable, as was seeing them as a battle couple again. They didn’t have a lot to do in this episode, but it was nice seeing them do something. I have to say

I love the crashed dirigible set, I think it looks spectacular. It utilizes a more natural environment, preferable over CGI, but still has that fairy tale air. Not that the CGI was shabby at all, there’s just something different about seeing actors run around a town rather than a green screen. I hope they continue to use it through this season of Once Upon a Time, it’s a great open set that they can surely do a lot with.

I’m not exceptionally excited about this personally, but it was nice seeing Hook and Belle finally bury the hatchet after how many seasons. It’s easy to forget that Hook tried to kill Belle on more than one occasion and that the relationship between these characters has morphed and changed over the seasons out of necessity. I will always enjoy villain Hook a bit more than the Hook we see now, but I understand the writers addressing the elephant in the room with this. Hook and Belle used to come to blows every time they met, but things changed. Belle is even able to sympathize and points out how she tried for so long to change Rumple. It’s just nice to see the characters aware of their past and their faults, particularly their faults.

It feels as though Emma took a backseat in “A Bitter Draught” and I’m looking forward to more from her character as the season progresses. I will say, I appreciate the writers having Emma continue therapy instead of having Archie appear as a guest spot in the premiere to throw out some sage advice and then pronounce her cured. They are showing the process and frustrations that come with therapy, again reinforcing that there isn’t an instant fix. There was always a joke among fans that Archie must be the richest man in Storybrooke because everyone who lives there is in need of therapy, and I’m glad to see Once Upon a Time acknowledging that. Yes, these characters go through traumas and have revelations that rock their very existence every other week, so how do they deal with that? I find it intriguing and worrisome that Emma doesn’t know if she can trust Regina, that she isn’t sure if she fears the Evil Queen or Regina is under that cloak. While I’ve always been a touch leery about these two becoming besties, there is no denying Regina and Emma are friends now and are in a comfortable alliance. So what is it, aside from the vision, that is causing Emma to doubt Regina? This is just like how the savior shrugged off Hook last episode. I’m having a hard time understanding Emma’s motivations in season six. Hopefully her sessions with Archie and episodes focused on Emma will reveal more.

The flashbacks this episode didn’t add a whole lot to the current plot aside from establishing a rule about the Land of Untold Stories; when you go there, your story pauses, full stop. It even has the power to hold off death so long as the character is in that land. This adds a layer of mystery and makes me wonder where Aladdin’s tale fits in to all this, as well as that of Charming’s father. What I like the most about season six so far is that it is a revisit of season one. Instead of stories being trapped with no memoires, they are seeking refuge and don’t want anyone to discover their memories. That’s the real spark behind this season; its season one only everyone is in on the secret. We get to have that slice of small town life, we get the drama between literary characters, we get characters being confused about modern technology. I loved Henry’s dialogue about sequels at the end of the episode and how it confused Hook. It was also a sly way for the writers to nod and say “yeah, this is like a season one sequel”. The idea that pervaded this episode is that people don’t want their stories to be told, even our heroes. Why is that? There are obvious examples of this, but I feel the implication that there are more secrets to be had in the town in Maine is what’s drawing me further and further into season six.

Tune in next week for “The Other Shoe”!

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. She looks forward each week to the weird and wonderful world her favorite television programs provide.
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