Snark Tank; Recap

Once Upon a Time Recap: I Dub Thee Unforgiven

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Snark Tank is where we recap TV episodes. This Once Upon a Time recap is for the season 4b episode, Unforgiven

The second episode of 4(b) is called Unforgiven. You might remember the Clint Eastwood movie of the same name, which is ostensibly a deconstruction of the traditional Western revenge narrative. It signals that with the Maleficent storyline we will be delving into the limits of revenge. Or does the title refer to the Metallica song of the same name? With lyrics like “You labelled me, I’ll label you. So I dub thee unforgiven,” I’m going Metallica even if that was a happy accident.

This episode teases us for 59 minutes about a deep, dark secret Snow and Charming are keeping from Emma. It’s a secret so deep and so dark and so bad it has the power to change Emma’s perception of her parents and unlock her capacity for evil. So the stakes are set pretty high for this one, since we have plenty of time to wonder what Snow and Charming did to Maleficent that is so dastardly.

The B story involves the slow progress of Operation Mongoose, which is supposed to be about finding the author of Henry’s book. [pullquote]
This storyline has the promise of taking the show back to its roots, since the author of the book was one of the show’s first mysteries. Ultimately the A and B stories suffer from the show’s inability to just follow through and tell a damn story already.
[/pullquote] There is no direct answer about what Charming and Snow did to Maleficent. The B story continues to meander around aimlessly telling us things we already know, while managing to visit one of the show’s worst ever storylines: the “happy ending” which took August from a man to a boy.

A Long Time Ago in the Enchanted Forest….

The flashback scenes fill in the days after Snow and Charming returned from their honeymoon, proving yet again that before the series is through, we will see every single day the characters spent in the Enchanted Forest waiting for the Dark Curse to come.

The three Queens of Darkness arrive to let them know Regina is planning something super evil. The heroes might be able to stop it if they travel to the Tree of Wisdom, which will only answer the questions of the Good Guys. Snow and Charming take the bait. When they try to touch the tree they are repelled. Maleficent is like “you’re pregnant! And your baby might be evil and it might be good!” This is all news to Snow and Charming and it gives them a good old existential crisis. I think all parents are filled with fear and wonder when they realize that their kid could grow up to be good or bad. It’s an awesome and terrifying power and responsibility.

Later Maleficent appears in Snow and Charming’s bedroom. She’s like “I am also pregnant and if you help me we can save both of our children from Regina!”

Snow, full of typical Charming self-righteousness, says no. “I’m the fairest of all and you are a baddie who will wait thousands of years for a biopic starring Angelina Jolie that will explain that you are misunderstood, so we will just find another way to defeat Regina!” Then she goes back to sleep.


We have no idea how this picture exists, but we’re glad it does.


And that is the deep dark secret they are keeping from Emma. After all the build-up, this scene falls flat. There are dozens of unresolved questions about this, but because this is Once Upon a Time, the answers will be rationed like butter during World War II and some answers will never come at all. Timing is important to storytelling. Delaying details of certain stories robs so many of OUAT’s plots of narrative power.

Meanwhile In Storybrooke…

Charming falls for Cruella and Ursula’s ruse, as he follows them to Gold’s shop where he watches them extract an important object from Belle. He takes the information to Snow, where they quickly determine that the two evil ladies want to resurrect Maleficent! They plot to head down to the cave and get to Mal’s ashes first, preventing her resurrection. However this fails because the Queens of Darkness are already there and they knock out the Charmings. They didn’t need the magical object from Gold’s shop – no, they needed the blood of the people who supposedly wronged Maleficent.

And since Emma killed ashed dispatched Maleficent, they need the Charmings’ blood? Alrighty then. Because one would think Maleficent would have one hell of a grudge for Regina. Maleficent rises like a Phoenix but doesn’t kill the Charmings because she wants to make them suffer first, just like her buddy Regina. Also if everyone who had a grudge on the Charmings simply killed them, then there would be no show.

Maleficent’s rebirth or regeneration or whatever you want to call it is another example of failed storytelling. Adam Horowitz and Eddie Kitsis have been explaining to journalists and fans how Maleficent did not come back from the dead because she wasn’t really dead. And Adam tersely told a fan that this has all been explained on the show.


O Rly? If more than half your audience is confused about the mechanics of the story, then you’ve failed as a storyteller. He also won’t re-explain why she wasn’t dead so if we weren’t smart enough to get it then I guess we’re just out of luck.

Regina Remembers the Way It Never Was

There is a scene featuring Henry and Regina where Regina tells him, “sometimes I wish it was like it used to be before, when it was just you and me….and Robin and Roland.”


henry 4

Look, we get it by now: the creators intend that Robin Hood is meant for Regina Mills and for theirs to be a true love on the scale of Snow and Charming, Antony and Cleopatra, or at least Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. We get it – we may not see it and they do not write it, but their intentions are clear.

What I don’t understand is why Regina would dare put Roland and Robin on the same level as Henry, the child she raised from birth. If that’s what Regina believes, it shows that she’s just as delusional about love as she was when Daniel died. She knew Robin in the Enchanted Forest for a year, but by the show’s own admission they did not fall in love there, nor did she raise his child. The fact that they didn’t fall in love in the EF was the first sign that this love story was going to be hopelessly botched. Instead they had a fast romance in Storybrooke and they had a few dates where Roland was apparently present. With Henry. We guess. Almost all of this happened off screen.

Now those few dates to Ingrid’s Dairy Queen are being conflated with the good old days when the four of them were a family. If that was the case, you better freaking show it to me.

Then we have Henry’s reaction. Which is no reaction at all, proving he is now being written like no boy who ever lived. Contrast him with the vivid portrait of Henry the show gave us in season 1, the questioning boy, or in season 2 as the son who refused to give up on Regina and always saw the good in her.

henry 2

Or the Henry who was incensed at Emma for lying about Neal.

Henry 3

Or the finally angsty Henry who survived Neverland. Now he’s just like “you put Robin and Roland on the level with me? Oh ok.”


This show isn’t about reality but the emotions have got to be real for us to buy into the magical hocus pocus. Most kids his age have jealousies and confusion.. but not Henry. He just like, “you, me, Roland and Robin, the goooooood old days.” *sips tea*

Hook and Emma

Emma and Hook spend snuggle time discussing how he is probably keeping something from her about his past with Ursula. In a bit of heavy-handed writing, Emma says it’s ok if Hook’s instinct is to lie about it, since he will tell her when he is ready and moreover, her parents were in Up with People and that makes her feel like joining Up with People, too. In other words, her parents are so gosh darn great that she has hope Hook will be too.

Emma’s reaction to Hook seems basically fine to me. She knows he is keeping something from her, but he tells her flat out, “I’m afraid to tell you about the bad stuff I did because I’m afraid you won’t like me.” I may be in the minority, but I think it’s fine for her to say “tell me on your own time and at your own pace.” That’s a relationship choice from someone who also fears sharing her own vulnerability. Hook does however have issues telling the truth – it’s one of the few consistent character traits they’ve given him. Since Emma is allegedly concerned about truth vs lies (remember her dormant superpower?), the pairing seems like it is doomed to fail. Except it probably isn’t, because I don’t get the sense the show will break these characters up.

More Awesome Regina

Of course the Charmings overhear Emma’s speech and go running to Regina for help. Here we have an excellent scene where Regina decides to keep Snow’s secret from Emma, despite what happened to her by Snow’s loose lips all those years ago.

Operation Mongoose is going nowhere fast, so during the episode they all trucked over to visit Pinocchio to see if he has any of the knowledge and memories of what happened while he was the adult motorcycle riding mystery man who carried a typewriter in his backpack.


Someone might have considered poor August’s fate earlier if this show cared about its minor characters. Instead they are just now wondering how he’s faring and Geppetto is having none of it. Regina goes nuts and starts screaming at the scared child, who has no clue. Geppetto says maybe Regina has no right to a happy ending since this entire mess started with her.

This sets up a scene with Tony Amendolla and Lana Parrilla that really makes you wish these two had worked with each other before. They have lovely chemistry as she apologizes for yelling at the boy. He shows her all of August’s old papers and the old bike. If this show was awesome Regina would have ridden away on that bad boy, or perhaps gifted it to Sheriff Swan.

Other Notes from the Episode

August’s book contains pages he added. Geppetto shows her a photo of a door with a note that says “Author?” I look forward to the scene where someone is shown an iPad screen reading ARE U THE AUTHOR???

Visiting the wreckage of August’s storyline always makes me sad, which is the opposite of what I’m supposed to feel about someone’s happy ending. Why August had to lose all of the life experiences that made him who he was, just so 70-year old Marco could raise him from the age of six was never adequately explained to this viewer. Nor did the show ever explain why this remedy was okay for August but not for Neal, who rejected his father’s attempt to turn back time. Are we to believe that unlike Neal, August did in fact want to relive his entire life starting as a kindergartener?

Ursula, Cruella and now Maleficent are in town and yet nobody suspects Rumple? These three just find Storybrooke on their own then? The show makes everyone but Rumple seem like a Grade A Moron.

Belle and Will kiss! Woooo, get some Belle! Is an accurate description of how much we care about Rumple’s crybaby feelings by now.


Were you frustrated about the show’s handling of this deep dark secret that could destroy Emma? What couldn’t destroy Emma at this point? How excited are you now that Belle appears to exist on the show again? Who really believes we won’t meet Malificent’s child? Is it likely that she, for some reason, will find her way to Storybrooke, using the Map of Implausibility that most characters seem to navigate with?

Alex is a lawyer and opinionated.


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