Monday, March 16, 2015

Once Upon A Time 4x14 "Enter the Dragon" (Harnessing The Evil Inside)

"Enter the Dragon"
Original Airdate: March 15, 2015

I think that Once Upon A Time had the right idea when it chose to spend this season focusing on the dichotomy between good and evil and how both can be present within an individual's soul: how goodness and heroism and evilness and villainy aren't mutually exclusive. Redemption has also been a theme this year -- a year which has seen some amazing characters do extraordinary things in order to protect those they love. And in this season, we're being asked to contemplate exactly what makes someone a hero or a villain. What we're learning is that it's not as cut-and-dry as we might anticipate.

For example: do malicious decisions in your past make you a villain? We might answer "yes," but then Once Upon A Time directs us to examples like Charming and Snow and Hook and Emma. And then there is Regina, someone who has made horrible decisions in the past. Someone who has chosen vengeance and death and destruction over love and sacrifice and whose current actions come in direct opposition to the way she used to be. If you are once a villain, does this mean you're always a villain? Does it mean that there is always something evil within you, remaining dormant until the day something or someone awakens the -- as it were -- dragon? Or does it mean that you can change and become someone better?

"Enter the Dragon" is an episode that focuses a lot on Regina Mills and her relationship with Maleficent. The two share a complex past and an even more complex present and their entire relationship and dynamic really hinges on the idea that once you have an evil heart, you always have an evil heart. The only thing that can awaken it is the desire for revenge. In the episode, Regina decides to go undercover -- thanks to the prompting of Snow and Charming -- in order to find out what the Queens of Darkness are planning. As she does, we're able to see the parallels to present!Regina (who believes she is in control and can convince the Queens that she really is evil without having to actually compromise herself or hurt anyone) and past!Regina (who spurred Maleficent toward revenge and hurtled herself toward the path to darkness). So let's talk more about this, shall we?

Regina/Maleficent (+ Cruella, Ursula)

Once Upon A Time likes to ask deep questions and it likes to remind us of characters' pasts. Why?  Because it helps us identify with where they are in the present. It's why flashbacks are important to Arrow: the only way we can understand a character fully is to understand where they have been and what made them who they are. Regina has a really dark past. At this point in the flashbacks in "Enter the Dragon," she is angry at losing the love of her life and desperate to get revenge on Snow for what she did to cause it. And so, she seeks out assistance from the great and powerful Maleficent. Except... well, the former dragon is no longer a dragon. She stays inside of her castle, despondent and hopeless. She hasn't been able to turn into a dragon in ages. She once had a fire within her and now it has entirely burnt out. She has lost it -- her will, her anger, her desire for revenge, etc.

But Regina has not and she's absolutely stunned that Maleficent won't fight anymore; that she would rather sit back and watch other undeserving people get their happy endings rather than fight for revenge on those who have done her wrong. Flashback!Regina has the fire that Maleficent lost. And there's an especially nice and telling parallelism there because essentially Regina could very well become Maleficent if she never loses that fire -- just as evil and as calloused and as heartless and hardened. Regina is the one fighting for Maleficent when Mal can't even fight for herself anymore. Regina and Mal have a really interesting relationship in the flashbacks and even more so in the present. Mal actually fights for Regina and she doesn't intentionally do her any harm. She offers Regina asprin. She tells Cruella and Ursula that Regina is in with them. And I can't help but think that this inclination toward kindness for Regina mostly has to do with the fact that she would literally not be who she is without Regina having spurred her on.

Speaking of, Regina DOES spur Mal on in the flashbacks and Maleficent manages to re-harness the darkness and dragon within her in order to put Aurora into a deep sleep and gain her revenge on the kingdom. And in the end, she thanks Regina who seems quite proud of herself. What I really loved was that Regina in the past and Regina Mills of the present aren't that different. I mean, sure, the young version of Regina was inclined toward anger and bitterness and rage, but she FOUGHT for someone (Mal). That's a defining characteristic of Regina: she will never stop fighting for the people she believes in. Now, the question of the episode that lingers is this: how far can Regina go into darkness without emerging tainted by it? Is a heart blackened once, like Mal's was in the flashbacks, doomed to become reignited by someone or something? Even though Regina has chosen the path of the good -- chosen to fight for her happy ending the right and noble way -- will there be a part of her that can be swayed back toward darkness because she was (essentially) born out of it?

It's a really interesting question to ponder, really, in a series where no one is who they seem and where everyone has both darkness and light within them. It actually is pretty cool because what Once Upon A Time does is give characters agency this way: it gives them the choice to be good or the choice to be evil, rather than having its characters predestined to be a certain way just because they're The Evil Queen or Snow White or The Savior. And so, I'm quite intrigued to see how far Regina can go back into darkness without allowing it to change her newly formed hero's heart.

Belle (+ Rumple)

Have I mentioned enough recently that I loathe Rumple? Because I do. I really do. In this episode, Belle and Will are still dating, but there are bigger problems: the Queens of Darkness are in Storybrooke and Belle and Hook have a good idea of what they might be after: The Dark One's dagger. So Belle brings the object out of hiding and -- because she and Hook have recently formed a friendship -- trusts Hook with the task of hiding it. In case Belle is ever questioned about its whereabouts, she will honestly not know. Unfortunately for Belle, it's then revealed that "Hook" was really Rumple masquerading as the pirate (a very clever trick was for her to "summon" The Dark One with the dagger and for Hook to tell Belle that Rumple must not really be in town, or else he would have to face her when IN ACTUALITY HE IS OBVIOUSLY STANDING RIGHT BESIDE HER).

Rumple has constantly exploited Belle's inherent goodness in order to meet his own agenda. It doesn't mean he didn't love her, but it certainly means he loves himself more than he loves her. He loves his power. He loves his ability to manipulate and get others to do his bidding for him. He may have loved Belle, but I don't think she's his true love. And it's pretty evident from "Enter the Dragon" that she isn't. While he sulks after watching Belle receive a red rose from Will, it's hard -- nay, impossible, really -- to feel sorry for Rumple, a man who screwed himself over by choosing power over being honest and bettering himself. Belle always accepted the good and the honesty and the humanity that was within Rumple. Yet time and time again, he chose power over her and magic over her and lies and manipulation and self-serving agendas over her. So when he loses her and when she banishes him and when she moves on because Belle, this woman who is so good and noble and who tries to fight for love and optimism, DESERVES to be with someone who makes her feel special and worthy... I can't remotely feel empathy for Rumple. I honestly can't.

Rumple hasn't changed, as evidenced by the fact that instead of fighting for himself, he fights for the ability to have whatever he wants by controlling and manipulating his circumstances. Instead of fighting for love, Rumple lies (to the person who's supposed to be his "one true love") and steals the only thing in her life that makes her feel like she is strong. He rips that away from her and he does so without second thought and without remorse. Because Rumple loves that dagger and that power more than he loves anything else. And because of that, I cannot even remotely empathize with him.

So there are the questions of "Enter the Dragon," laid bare really: who are you if your heart has been darkened before? Are you doomed to repeat a life of darkness? Are you doomed to always be a dragon?

Or... can you be something more, something better, and something heroic instead?

Additional magical moments:
  • Magical MVP this week goes to Lana Parilla. I loved how she portrayed Regina in the flashbacks -- as a young woman whose naivete and yet desperation for revenge made her compelling and refreshing. I also love that there's such a stark contrast to the Regina Mills in the present because that woman is sarcastic and a bit bitter, but ultimately focused so much on being good and staying good and protecting other people. Lana does a fabulous job every week, but especially this one in conveying just how torn Regina is to have to do what she does undercover.
  • Maleficent's whole ensemble this episode in the present-day was very much reminiscent of film noir and I'm not complaining because she ROCKED it.
  • "You gotta be kidding me."
  • There's a train somewhere in Storybrooke? Really? Where does it go? Why haven't people used it before?
  • "Now I see you brought the entire Charming softball team AND their pirate mascot?"
  • I really appreciated how devoted Emma was to Regina in this episode. I love how they've grown not just as friends but as individuals since the pilot. Emma really and truly cares about Regina's happiness -- she wants her to find her own happy ending. And Emma's first instinct, much like Regina's, is to protect the people she cares about. And in this episode, Emma tries to do that by being Regina's back-up. It doesn't go super well (at all), but the key thing here is that Emma was willing to put herself on the line for Regina, something that a lot of other characters would not easily do, or do period.
  • But Emma, YOUR "SUPERPOWER" IS NOT AN ACTUAL SUPERPOWER WHEN IT IS DEFECTIVE 99.8% OF THE TIME. Sheesh, Swan. You don't actually have the ability to tell when people are lying to you. You're really bad at it, actually.
  • AUGUST RETURNS. That was unexpected and awesome.
Well, friends, what did you think of "Enter the Dragon"? How poorly do you think Regina's plan will go and will the Queens and Rumple discover that she's lying to them? And what, exactly, does everyone think August knows about The Author? Hit up the comments with your thoughts and feelings. Until then. :)


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