Sunday, October 12, 2014

Once Upon A Time 4x03 "Rocky Road" (Whom Shall I Fear?)

"Rocky Road"
Original Airdate: October 12, 2014

I don't quite know why relationships and lives are always compared to roads. You'll hear the phrase "it's just a bump in the road" or "it's been a rocky road" uttered in conversations. I suppose that a road or a path is one way to define a relationship or a life because it is indicative of a journey, of something that contains less than idealistic and often unwanted elements that are out of our control. Some roads are rockier than others, both literally and metaphorically. Roads contain detours and setbacks and unplanned elements. Roads -- and relationships and lives for that matter -- cannot be predicted or planned, every last element calculated. There are always surprises, for better or for worse. And we have the choice in these situations: we can either adapt and change our plans or we can cling to them stubbornly and miss out on the best things life has to offer us. There is danger in the latter of becoming bitter and complacent and ending up all alone.

The characters in this week's episode of Once Upon A Time get thrown a few curve balls: new magic, a dangerous curse, new people in town, new positions of authority, and they must learn to either adapt the way that they see the world and respond to both it and other people or risk losing everything. Fear is one of the most important themes and probably THE central theme in "Rocky Road," to be honest. It is fear that drives us to become who we are. It dictates our thoughts and actions, leads us to be either rational or irrational. It destroys our trust in ourselves and others. And really, no one in this series knows that fact better than Emma, Elsa, and - at this point - Snow.


Emma has had a rocky road the past few weeks. As Regina notes early on in the episode, it seems like the savior of Storybrooke is more in need of saving these days than qualified to save anyone else. So Emma does what she does best whenever she becomes frustrated with herself or others and she pushes them away. It's her default setting, really, and at the end of the episode she explains to Hook exactly why this is: why she behaves the way she does and spends the entire episode snapping at him to stay put in the sheriff's station.

You see, a lot of our behavior is rooted in fear, either consciously or subconsciously. And that fear is triggered by memories: memories of all of the times we have failed in the past. Fear is like a knee-jerk reflex; we encounter something that reminds us of pain and we kick back against it to protect ourselves and even - sometimes - to protect the people that we love. I often see a lot of hatred toward the self-proclaimed "Captain Swan" ship because of the way that Emma often treats Hook. And truly, I can see where these people are coming from. Emma is brash and standoffish and it's part of the reason I don't really relate to her. She's visibly guarded and very rarely allows herself the moment to smile or relax, but that's because she's NEEDED to be that way. Emma Swan's personality has been her own sword and shield for the entire duration of her life. She has used the guard she's place around her heart to lash out against others who try to get too close and to isolate herself behind its walls. Really, what's so impressive to me though (and why I cannot entirely understand or agree with those anti-shipper remarks) is the fact that Emma has now, in Hook, found someone who is never willing to give up the fight; who just keeps standing outside of the door, waiting.

Hook is far from a perfectly obedient lapdog of a boyfriend as we see in "Rocky Road." And Emma is far from the idea of a thankful, thoughtful, polished girlfriend. But that's okay because Hook and Emma's relationship has always been tinged with this grittiness to it and this honesty: this refusal of either person to back down from a confrontation or an event. These two are stubborn individuals and that manifests itself in the best way possible in their relationship. When Hook is trapped with Elsa in the forest and is about to be attacked by the Snow Queen, Emma shows up and channels all of the anger and protective instincts within her to blast the Queen away and save Hook. When Emma continues to push Hook away, he waits for her to talk: he knows that they NEED to communicate with each other no matter whether she feels like talking or not if they have any shot of making something real happen.

So when Emma tells Hook the real reason she keeps pushing back against his wishes to get close (including her anger the entire episode over his refusal to obey her orders), we see a bit of her wall crumble. She barks at him and snaps because she's afraid, not because she doesn't trust him. Everyone she has ever cared about (Neal, Graham, and even Walsh) has died. And she cannot bear for that to happen to Hook, too. She doesn't want his name to become just a name she adds to a list in the future. She doesn't want to stand over his casket and throw a rose on top of it. Because as painful as it was to say goodbye to those she lost, especially someone like Neal, it would be even more painful to say goodbye to someone she loves... someone who broke through her defenses and saw the real, vulnerable her. Because the truth is that even though Emma loved Neal, I think she always kept a piece of herself tucked away from him. I think that's why Emma's relationships have always failed. The moment she has allowed herself to be happy and to let another person in -- to see the REAL her -- she is the one to get hurt.

But with Hook, something is different. Emma is opening up; that wall is coming down, brick by brick. Hook sees the real Emma Swan and I think that terrifies her to her very core. What is so beautiful, though -- and why this relationship is so lovely -- is that Hook doesn't run away when he sees the scars from her past or the pain she's locked away. He doesn't balk at her mistakes. Instead of running from them, he runs to her. And he will keep running to her for as long as she has breath. Because, after all, he tells Emma in "Rocky Road" that he is good at surviving, after all. That's a journey, a pursuit, and a love worth surviving FOR.

Elsa/Kristoff/Snow Queen

Let's talk about the plot of the episode in this section briefly, shall we? Marian gets frozen (poor girl, but not really because she's rather bland), Regina and Henry decide to begin Plan Mongoose (the plan to find whoever wrote the storybook), Hook blackmails Rumple because he knows Belle has a fake dagger, the town decides to become an angry mob (again), Charming and Emma meet a man named Will Scarlet who is a thief, and... oh yes, we meet the elusive Snow Queen in present-day Storybrooke and flashbacks.

In the flashback, Kristoff and Elsa work together, against the former's better judgement. (I just noticed the Hook/Emma and Kristoff/Elsa parallel in each of them demanding that the men stay put and obey their orders. #pathologicalshipping) Elsa sees Kristoff, I think, as somewhat of a nuisance but the young man wins her over in the span of a few days because apparently Kristoff wins EVERY woman over in the span of a few days. As it happens, Kristoff and Elsa learn of a plan that Hans is enacting in order to take over the kingdom. He's discovered an urn that will trap Elsa and is planning to use it on her. So, Kristoff and Elsa take a bit of an adventure in order to retrieve this magical urn before Hans does. Unfortunately for them, Hans also arrives and then threatens Kristoff's life.

In a beautiful moment of sacrifice, Elsa decides to be trapped so that Kristoff can find and rescue Anna, but there is one small catch: the urn already trapped the Snow Queen and she enacts vengeance on Hans by freezing him. What is so interesting to me about the flashback is this: it establishes such an interesting and complex dynamic for Kristoff and Elsa. The moment she refers to him as her "friend," there are genuine tears in her eyes. It has been so long since someone has challenged Elsa the way that Kristoff does and pursues her (in, again, an eerily similar parallel to Hook/Emma) the way that he does. He refuses to give up a fight and though Elsa is powerful and the queen and, you know, MAGICAL... that doesn't scare Kristoff away. He sees her -- the real her -- and he still chooses to help fight for her. And ultimately, he is willing to lay down his life so that she will never have to be a prisoner to Hans or trapped by her powers again.

(Sorry, #pathologicalshipping is happening hardcore right now with those two.)

In the present day, Hook and Elsa meet the Snow Queen, though Elsa apparently has no meetings of their prior relationship. And really, I don't know if I would yet typify the Queen as a villain. There is certainly much about her that we do not know about her and the fact that she is willing to kill Hook and Marian to make a point is... well, a bit more than troublesome. But the mystery surrounding Anna and Elsa's relationship and the former's seeming absence from Storybrooke is brought to light by the Queen: Anna was the one to eventually put Elsa in that urn. Given all we know from Frozen and the little from Once Upon A Time, this seems totally implausible and Elsa seems to think so, too. Anna loves her. Anna trusts her. She would NEVER do that.

But (and forgive me because I watched the Arrow premiere so this is fresh in my mind) much like Oliver Queen noted, sometimes when you undergo tragedy and pain, you stop seeing people as people and you start to see them as targets. As threats. And I wonder... is that what happened to Anna, really? Did Anna become so fearful of Elsa's magic and her powers that she trapped her sister because of that fear? Remember what I said earlier in regards to Hook/Emma and the idea of fear: fear isn't rational. We justify it, certainly, but it's a poison that destroys us and our relationships with others.

The Snow Queen makes an astute observation, though, and I can't help but wonder if she IS telling the truth. She tells Elsa that people with magical powers are only embraced for so long. The moment that something happens even remotely out of the ordinary, mobs will form and pitchforks will be raised and fear will strike the hearts of those who -- days earlier -- adored her. (She's correct and the town's newly formed mob proves that.) So what DID happen to Anna and Elsa? Why does the Queen seem to know Emma but Emma have no memories of her? Why was there a sketchy meeting in the forest between the Queen and Rumple? I obviously don't know the answers to those questions but I do know this: the Queen's methods may be unorthodox and, you know, horrible, but the conclusion that she arrives at because of them is not wrong.

Fear wrecks people and it wrecks relationships faster than you can say "ice cream."

Snow/the entire town

Snow White has always been a leader in the sense that she's kind and good-hearted and people tend to gravitate toward characters and women like her. But Snow has never been very decisive and she's never been very authoritarian and now that she is suddenly the mayor of Storybrooke, she's beginning to realize why Regina WAS such a cold character: people do that to you -- people are the reason we become cynical and bitter, after all. "Rocky Road" finds Snow adjusting to this role and she's clearly got a lot on her plate. She's just given birth to a child. She's suddenly mayor. She's trying to repair relationships with nearly everyone in her family. And she's trying to do it with grace and poise.

Archie, ever observant and astute, confronts Snow about this whole "trying to do it all" routine she's been pulling and quite frankly, he stops her in her tracks when he pinpoints the reason for her actions. She's spreading herself thin, trying to make sure she captures every moment with her child because of the fact that she feels immense guilt, still, for missing all of those important moments with Emma. She's trying to fill a void in her heart and her soul by constantly being occupied but that void seems to never close and, worse, now Snow has other problems piled high, too. I think this is the first moment that I felt for Snow in a while -- I've always understood her to be a very ambitious and optimistic character, but seeing her in her role as mama mayor made my heart break a little for her and her overcompensation. Again: fear drives us and compels us to our thoughts and actions. Fear and guilt are driving Snow to try and be everything to everyone -- to be completely and totally present for every moment and that, unfortunately, is doing nothing but wear her down and break her spirit.

I sincerely hope that Snow can learn to forgive herself for her absence in Emma's childhood and embrace the moments she has with her new child while still managing to care for herself. A first step: prevent any future mobs by being more decisive and less wishy-washy with the townspeople, perhaps?

Fear is a powerful weapon and it will be such an important one that is wielded on Once Upon A Time in the future. I sincerely hope that our characters learn that a little fear is healthy, but that -- if left unchecked -- it can, and will, destroy us.

Additional magical moments:
  • MVP of this episode: Georgina Haig. I am absolutely loving her as Elsa and tonight's episode showed us such great depth and vulnerability to her character. Haig did a fantastic job and I cannot wait for more of Elsa in the future!
  • "Trust me: there's no problem that can't be solved with a bit of ice cream." #gpoy
  • Is Emma allowed to call her lie-detector skills a superpower when she's wrong like, nine out of ten times about people lying to her?
  • "Well you've succeeded... hideously." - Regina on Snow's interior decorating skills.
  • "What do you think it says?" "Uhhh... 'Dangerous Urn: Keep Away'?"
  • Hook has a cell phone and I don't know why this is the best thing ever, but it is.
  • "I didn't try to kill her. I left her to die." "Important distinction."
  • "Even true love's kiss can't solve every problem."
  • Look, all I'm saying is that it really looks like Colin knows how to kiss a woman.
Next week on Once Upon A Time: Anna and Rumple meet in a flashback and Hook and Emma go on a date! Because really, why not? Until then, folks. :)


Post a Comment