Snark Tank; Recap

Once Upon a Time Recap: Ride or Die

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Snark Tank is where we recap TV episodes. This Once Upon a Time recap is for the season four 4b premiere, Darkness at the Edge of Town.


Hey, here’s something that is (not) new and (not) different: boy showrunners naming an episode after a Springsteen song! Once Upon a What is back with a new episode called Darkness on the Edge of Town. Dudes of a certain age really dig Springsteen, but we live for the day when a showrunner will be like, the title of this episode is BAD ROMANCE, or- we’re excited to reveal that this episode is called DRUNK IN LOVE! Crossing our fingers here…

But I digress. This episode is about resetting the Onceverse now that the Frozen characters have been mercifully shipped back to Arendelle, where they can spend the next twenty years collecting royalties for their many product endorsements.

Nothing says delicious like eating a reference to something that almost killed Anna.

Nothing says delicious like eating a reference to something that almost killed Anna.

The episode opens with a flashback to some random point on the Onceverse’s crazy timeline. Behold, it is Rumple summoning female villains to do his dirty work (surprise!) He’s brought Maleficent, Ursula and Cruella De Ville to a Forbidden Fortress, where they are supposed to deploy their unique evil skill sets to help him capture a Dark Curse. What’s in it for them, you ask? Well….you are all villains who can have their happy endings! Rumple promises. [pullquote align=left]

As usual, when making a deal with Rumpelstiltskin, the characters immediately turn into complete idiots and agree to do whatever he wants without asking for any details. If Rumple has a superpower, this is it: convincing people to make monumentally bad deals.

So Cruella agrees to kill some evil bugs with magic halitosis. For those of you wondering whether Cruella would have a superpower that went beyond being one of the ASPCA’s Most Wanted, you have your answer: Cruella can control animals with her super stinky green breath!

And then Maleficent is tasked with sucking up a firestorm with her staff. She succeeds!

Ursula’s job is to traverse a small chasm with her tentacles. And she does!

For their trouble, the three unleash Chernabog, who was guarding the Dark Curse. Rumple gets the heck out of dodge, while the Evil Trio flail around before escaping through the cave’s convenient backdoor. Ursula also saves Maleficent’s life.

Yay Chernabog! My other half has been clamoring for the Fantasia villain since season 1. Walt Disney considered Chernabog by far the most evil villain in the Disney Universe. OUAT’s budget was big enough to do a credible job of making Chernabog a Big Scary Monster, so kudos to the CGI department.

This is the setup for season 4B then: Our heroes will battle a dark flying monster, Witchy Women working with Rumple, a Dark Curse and their own personal issues to achieve their happy endings. My guess is that in the process, we’ll get origin stories for Ursula and Cruella, Maleficent will rise from the dead, Belle will reunite with Rumple even though he is the world’s biggest asshole, Robin will serenade Regina with the song Endless Love, and Hook and Emma will finally be revealed as True Loves via a True Love’s Kiss that wakes Hook from some kind of heroic coma. Meanwhile, Marion will be dispatched via plot device (again), we’ll learn some stuff about Will Scarlet, we’ll learn that Disney is the Author and Rumple is the Sorcerer or vice versa, David and Snow will always find each other, and Henry will be taller than Regina.

But those are just my predictions. Actual results may vary.


The flashbacks in this episode are designed to give us a bunch of questions that we can ponder all season, such as:

    • When exactly did this take place? Before or after Rumple trained Regina and Zelena?
    • What prompted Rumple to begin thinking about happy endings for villains in the fairybacks? Weren’t we led to believe that this was something Regina just came up with in season 4A?
    • Can anyone have an original thought without Rumple thinking it first?
    • What is the Forbidden Fortress? Is it in the Enchanted Forest?
    • Is this the same Dark Curse we’ve been hearing about since season 1? Was it invented by Rumple or someone else? Is it the same Curse which passed to Maleficent and then back to Regina like some Magical Hot Potato?
    • Is Cruella from Victorian England? Does she know how to time travel? Does she draw her eyebrows on with a black sharpie
    • Did Ursula shop for her green octopus costume at the Halloween Store?
      Does Maleficent know Pam from True Blood? Was she ever in love with Tara?

I’m exhausted just thinking about how little I care about any of this.

Back in present-day New York, we find out Rumple is now couch-surfing at Ursula’s cramped fish-laden apartment. He’s wrapped in what is presumably Ursula’s brown bathrobe, eating ramen noodles, using Ursula’s dial-up connection to send sneaky emails via AOL, and waiting for Ursula to return from her day job at the aquarium. I love all of this so much. It is vintage Rumple. This is who he is, an unrepentant jerk with a lady in every port. Rumple doesn’t really fit as the Romantic Tortured Hero who will live happily ever after married to Belle.

My impression of present-day Ursula is pretty good. I like her, even though I did have a brief fantasy that she was played by Tina Turner.

Even without magic, Rumple managed to successfully send an email to Cruella. Cruella is living large on Long Island, where she’s apparently married to some kind of Bernie Madoff character, who is getting hauled off to jail just in time for Rumple and Ursula to arrive to bear witness. Cruella is losing most of her worldly possessions, but she is not giving up her badass Coup de Ville, which she reveals with a campy flourish. The three decide to team-up to do something about their pathetic lives. But first they need to hit up the drive-through at Mr. Cluck’s. Ursula and Cruella order double burgers and fries, but Rumple refuses. Only a road trip to Storybrooke will get him out of his Depression Robe.

Gif by Cliffhungidealist. I love all of this.

Gif by Cliffhungidealist. I love all of this.

Meanwhile in Storybrooke, we’re treated to the kind of montage the show does so well. Regina is having breakfast with Henry and walking him to the bus; Snow is back being a teacher and talking to birds; Emma is smiling at Hook because he’s still wearing modern leather clothing; Belle is doing something in the library which has nothing to with Rumple; and Regina is back to being Madam Mayor. That’s right bitches, Regina is unpacking her boxes and setting that ugly bird painting from Snow White on fire! How satisfying was that for Evil Regals? Very satisfying!

Belle and Hook begin their day in the library, where they are searching for the secret to freeing the fairies from the Sorcerer’s Hat. Hook is deeply ashamed that he did Rumple’s bidding by Dysoning up the fairies and he wants to make it right. Belle can sympathize with being under Rumple’s spell.

This is a great Belle episode because it shows how she can be integrated into the main cast rather than being shunted off to the corner to be summoned once every five episodes to cry over Rumple. Belle should be a great heroine for this show. She’s independent and smart, she gives people second chances but she doesn’t let them forget their shortcomings, she’s a sympathetic friend. But none of these characteristics are showcased when she’s stuck in the Bad Romance with Gold. I liked Skin Deep as much as all of you, but I hope Belle and Rumple never get back together.



Finally we return to the Mayor’s Office, where Regina is reading over the book again. Look I’m a Regina fan, but woeful mooning over The Book/Robin Hood has quickly become season 4’s version of season 2, where every episode featured Regina’s Tears. Emma shows up with a Kale sandwich and a couple of root beers, still determined to make good on her promise of finding Regina’s happy ending. They banter cutely about their respective dietary choices, Regina shows an unusual interest in root beer and they discuss what happened with Robin Hood (he hasn’t even called!) The lunch date is interrupted by Belle and Hook, who have found a solution to the fairies-in-the-hat situation, courtesy of a spell that was translated by a professor Belle has been corresponding with via email.

Really, show? We totally knew the professor was Rumple. Like who else could Belle have found to have translated an ancient language that is presumably unknown to the muggle world? The muggle world doesn’t even know Storybrooke exists. Also how did Rumple manage to contact Belle? He has no magic, yet he figured out Belle was posting on message boards?

As with most of Onceverse, it’s best not to think too hard about these plot things. The answer is given to us later in the episode, when Rumple reveals that he manipulated it all. He attached Chernabog to the fairies-in-the-hat, he knew Belle would find the spell, he knew she would seek out a linguist. In short, Rumple knows everything and everyone! (But he couldn’t figure out how to open a portal for several millenia. Go figure.)

They all convene in the woods where Regina releases the nuns by chanting the spell. Emma is quick to tell Blue that Regina is the one who freed them (rather than Belle, Hook or the group collectively). This is another tell regarding Emma’s total adoration of the Evil Queen.

So when the nuns went free, Chernabog also got released into the air. He makes his presence known while the town is convening at Granny’s for a celebration. First Regina asks Blue about the Author, and Blue tells her the Author and Sorcerer are not the same person. She offers nothing more. I would love it if the show would throw a meaty story at Blue, resolving once and for all whether she is Slim Shady, the Ultimate Evil, the Ultimate Good, or something else entirely. But I think we’re more likely to get a storyline involving Robin Hood writing poetry than we are anything involving the Blue Fairy.

Hook urges Emma and Regina to make like superheroes and vanquish that Chernabog dude. The amble out to the street and use the same magic that hung the moon back in season 3’s Neverland arc.

Rumple arrives at the Storybrooke line with Ursula and Cruella and they develop a plan to smuggle themselves into town. They use Rumple’s phone to call Regina, claiming they got rid of Rumple and now want to join Regina on her quest for redemption. Regina falters a bit here, thinking they are full of it, yet wanting to give everyone the second chance she was given at turning her life around. This is a thread that developed during the penultimate episode of season 3, when she spared Zelena on the grounds that she deserved a chance to change. That development was squashed when Zelena was killed by Rumple (a plot point still never revealed to the rest of Storybrooke) and the show chose to explore the sister dynamic with the Frozen character and shifting Regina’s focus to Robin.

So long story short, they tell Regina that Chernabog will go after the one with the darkest heart for evil, Regina concludes that’s her, so she and Emma head out to the town line. Regina willingly gets into the yellow bug again rather than driving Emma in her Mercedes. When they approach the line, Emma wants to talk about how neither of them should sacrifice themselves. Regina agrees and then magics out of the car to stand before the town line, daring Chernabog to fly at her. He overshoots and flies right on out of town. Regina and Emma look at each other like “check us out.”

More stuff happens, Cruella and Ursula get into town courtesy of a macguffin scroll and Rumple joins them later. But can we talk about that car scene again? When it comes to each other, both of them are totally ride-or-die. It has been that way since Emma saved Regina countless times in seasons 1 and 2; since Regina put in for Emma in Neverland; since the two saved the world again in season 3; and now to open season 4 they are at it again. This is the core of Once Upon a What – it has little to do with plot, which gets more nuts and nonsensical every half season. It has everything to do with the emotions of the core characters. That’s why we watched this episode.


If you’ve just joined us, you can listen to over 100 episodes worth of us talking about Once Upon a Time on the podcast Other Side of the Mirror, over on our website or in iTunes.

In closing… what did you think about the episode? Are you excited for this new arc? Do you miss Anna and Elsa, or are you ready to let it go?

Alex is a lawyer and opinionated.


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