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Once Upon a Time Recap: "Desperate Souls"

Written by Tricia Long on Tuesday, January 10 2012 and posted in Reviews

Responsible parenting is the root of all evil.

Aaaand we're back folks! Man, that Christmas hiatus was far too long. I need some fairy tales up in here.  [Editor's Note: That's code for Once Upon a Time recap.  Or Once Upon a Time spoilers.  I forget which.]

"Desperate Souls" opens on a dark note and a reminder that the Queen is not someone to mess with. No seriously, you guys, she's evil. Have you seen her lipstick? And that eyeshadow? She has to be like really evil. Osama bin Laden-level evil.

As the story gets going we see Rumplestiltskin spinning, and he looks totally normal. No weird eyes or bad teeth, he just looks like an average guy. My interest is piqued, because other than Archie Rumplestiltskin is probably my favorite character. His son comes in (What, he didn't eat him? Now I know the dude was human.) to say that the duke's men are here to take his one of the girls from the village and draft her in the insane war that their duke is fighting. A few rape overtones later, the people of the village try to stop the duke's men. The "Dark One" appears and magics them so they can't stop the process – please note that this is the same shadowy figure who appeared in this week's opening credits. Ten bucks says R-Stilts has become evil by the end of the episode.

R-Stilt's son is worried because his thirteenth birthday is only a few days away and that's when the duke's men will come for him. I think someone was having a 'Nam flashback when this was written, but I would be terrified if I knew I was going to be drafted in a war that I didn't start or care about... so I'm buying it.

In Storybrooke, Mr. Gold is waterproofing some cloth when Emma comes to see him. Apparently he called her there to offer his condolences about Graham, and remind her that she is probably sheriff now instead of deputy since two weeks have passed since Graham's untimely death. Mr. Gold has some of Graham's things, including his coat, and he offers them to Emma instead of Regina. She feels awkward about it (Obviously, she only kissed the guy once and now she's getting his stuff?), but he insists that she take the walkie talkies. He suggests that she and Henry play with them because "children grow up so fast". You are not going to make me cry, R-Stilts. Stop it.

Emma finds Henry at his playground castle. She tries to give him with the walkie talkies for Operation Cobra, but Henry is super depressed/not interested. We learn he's been avoiding Emma and wants to cool off Cobra (the operation, not the 40's) because he suspects the curse killed Graham, even though I'm pretty sure he knew about the heart thing. He's worried about Emma and doesn't want her to die/be killed by Regina – you can tell her really thinks of Emma as his mother and again Once Upon a Time makes me tear up a little bit. It's little moments like these that make you really care about characters.

Disappointed, Emma returns to the police station and is about to put on the sheriff's badge when Regina conveniently strolls in and interrupts. Emma argues that there is no one else to appoint or who would even want the job, but the mayor has someone to appoint – Sidney Glass, who wears three hats: he's the town's newspaper editor, the magic mirror, and Gus from Breaking Bad. Okay four, he's also a convenient plot device. When they argue, Emma states that things have been better around Storybrooke without Regina controlling the Sherriff's office – I've seen no evidence of this, unless you count the Cinderella storyline – but Regina spins it around Graham's death as being worse. Seriously, this woman is too much. She fires Emma and stalks out with the badge.

At Mary Margaret's, Emma's had a few and is blasting some music while stabbing the toaster with a knife. Because that's what I do when I get fired. Mary Margaret walks in, confused (I'd actually be a little terrified), but being a sweet and perceptive person she does not panic. Mary Margaret is skeptical about Emma's reasons for wanting the sheriff job because she hasn't been so passionate about it before, but they speculate that Emma probably just really wants to beat Regina at something.

Hope you enjoyed your minute of Mary Margaret, because she quickly leaves when Gold shows up to talk to Emma. I know that some people only think she's relevant when David is around, but she is a strong female character (see: Robin Hood badassery). I would like more of that, please. Anyway, Gold offers to be Emma's benefactor in the fight against Regina. He's studied the town charter and knows all the ins and outs of what Regina's actually powers are.

Why would he offer to be her benefactor? Well, let's flashback to the fairy world to find out, where R-Stilts and his son Balfire are draft dodging to the fairy tale equivalent of Canada. Apparently nothing is too urgent when you need to make R-Stilts sympathetic, because they stop to give money to an old beggar. The duke's men overtake father and son on the road; we learn that R-Stilts ran away from the war, and they want his son now to spite him. Classic cruel overlord stuff. The leader makes R-Stilts kiss his boot as the price for not taking his son right there and then, but they only have two days to think of something before Balfire comes of age. In a strange turn of events, the old man who R-Stilts has given money comes to help them and offers to be R-Stilts's benefactor. I don't know how this makes any sense at all to R-Stilts, but I doubt peasants take critical thinking classes. Heads up, the old beggar is played by Brad Dourif, who you might recognize as the creepy guy from everything but especially as Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings.

Back in Storybrooke, Regina is holding a ceremony to officially make Glass sheriff when Emma crashes the festivities. She cites the town charter, which states that that the mayor may appoint a candidate for sheriff but an election must be held. These two are seconds away from a catfight, and all the boyfriends forced to watch this show have their fingers crossed.

At his house in the fairy tale land, R-Stilts is feeding the old beggar. They mull over R-Stilts's particular predicament: the beggar tells him that everyone has a choice in life, but R-Stilts thinks he can only choose "which corner to hide in." There are some wonderful parallels between R-Stilts's love for his son and Emma's relationship with Henry, but more especially between the powerless situation each character finds themselves in. "Desperate Souls" is a highly political episode in terms of gaining power and taking it, so I'm guessing the writers were watching the Iowa caucuses or something.

Anyway, the beggar tells R-Stilts why the duke has power over the Dark One – he has him in thrall because he owns the dagger with the Dark One's true name written on it. If the beggar isn't the Dark One I will go buy a hat and eat it. The beggar suggests that R-Stilts take the dagger and control the Dark One himself, but when R-Stilts balks he suggests he simply take the power of the Dark One for himself. Chilling stuff, but also has that ever turned out well for anybody? Ever?

Back in Storybrooke, Regina pops by Gold's shop for a light chat and some threatening remarks. They square off a bit, Gold plays it very cool because Regina is clearly worried about this whole sheriff thing. That's her m.o. – make herself as big and bad as possible so no one will go up against her because they don't believe they can win. But Gold has experience with that kind of villain (see: the duke, his whole life), and now he believes he's acting for the common good by helping Emma fight for her child. Or does he? Gold is a slippery character, he might just not be happy living in Storybrooke. Or he might be spiteful enough to hit back at Regina any way he can, just for kicks.

At the café, Emma visits with Henry, who is reading the newspaper article where Glass has revealed the details of Henry's birth behind bars. Instead of hashing out that conversation, or asking the big unaddressed question (Who is Henry's father?), we learn that Henry is still worried that Emma will never win because good never plays dirty (he needs to watch Batman sometime). Emma tries to reassure him by saying that Gold is her ally now, but Henry thinks that's worse because she already owes him a favor and he's far cleverer than the Queen.

After that nice uplifting chat, Emma confronts Regina at the town hall about the exposé. She claims that it hurt Henry and he is depressed – is he still going to see Archie? Because we could have that question answered real quick, though I'm inclined to agree with Emma. Regina is so blinded by her ambition, and honestly just enough of a bitch, that she doesn't care who she hurts at this point. She refuses to acknowledge Emma's worries about Henry and says that Emma and Glass can get into the legality of the exposé at the debate. Emma says she wants to fight fire with fire- then holy shit, there's a fire! Regina's leg gets hurt and Emma has serious doubts about moving her. I don't blame you at all, girlfriend.

Just when you think that Emma is going to leave Regina to her fate, Emma gets a fire extinguisher and puts out the fire before helping Regina to safety. Outside, Regina carries on about her ankle and Emma gets to say my favorite lines of the episode: "No, next time I'll probably save you too. And the time after that. And the time after that, because that's what good people do." It's a line that is most memorable for the accompanying exasperated tone. Emma is hailed as a hero and her group of supporters is already planning to incorporate the heroics into her campaign. Emma notices a knot of fabric lying near the door, which she recognizes as the fabric Mr. Gold was "waterproofing" on earlier. She confronts Mr. Gold without even going home to change, and basically tells him she doesn't want his support any longer.

In the fairy tale world, R-Stilts and his son are planning to get into the Duke's castle to acquire the Dark One's knife. They're turning wool into firestarting material, because R-Stilts is smart enough to know that while castle walls are made of stone their floors are not. Once the castle is on fire, he sneaks in and takes the dagger with the Dark One's name on it. He sends his son home and summons the Dark One, who taunts him with his worst fears. After stabbing the Dark One, who is revealed to be the beggar from earlier (totally called it), R-Stilts inherits his powers... but also his burden? A resounding YES, these things never turn out well. Except for that one Futurama episode with Robot Devil's hands.

R-Stilts returns to the farm, where the Duke's men have shown up to take his son. He kills them all after making the leader kiss his boot (oh, sweet manure-tasting revenge) and his son is clearly terrified of him. I like the contrast in this episode between R-Stilts and Emma – she is not willing to compromise her morality to get her son, because she believes that good can win, while R-Stilts is a coward who will snatch desperately at any out he can find.

While Glass compares ties backstage at the debate, Emma is peering out at Henry through the stage curtains. Mary Margaret, after an awkward conversation with David to remind you that that is still a plot line, gets Emma's real motivation for being sheriff out of her: she wants Henry to have a hero to believe in. To that end, Emma tells the assembled crowd that Gold started the fire and she was sorry for lying to them. Everyone is shocked and indignant, but nobody makes any motion to stop Gold from walking out of the debate. Is anyone concerned with due process here? Or justice, or the rule of law? Because if that's the only quality required to be sheriff, Emma is definitely the best candidate. Regina grins glassily off into the distance, and I think she needs to go to therapy. At least for that lipstick – does it have to be such a violent shade of fuchsia? I'm sorry, I know I obsess over it but her lipsticks are so loud I can barely hear the dialogue.

Little Red Riding Whore is serving up some hard liquor for Emma at the diner when Henry stops by to give her one of the walkie talkies. His faith in her, and in himself, has been restored by her resolution to not stoop to Gold's level or accept his help. Regina also shows up to give Emma the sheriff's badge because her honesty won the election, and to say what a "superlative" enemy Gold makes. Lana Parilla is pushing the edges of believability at this point – I don't think anyone, even a ridiculously powerful Queen who was dumb enough to write loopholes in the town charter of the town she made up, could be that pointlessly maniacal without raising a few eyebrows. Everyone shows up to par-tay at the diner and no one seems at all concerned about sending Henry home. Say it with me, folks: responsible parenting.

The next day, Emma makes herself at home in the sheriff's office when she notices that Graham's coat is hanging up on the wall. Gold drops by and reveals that he planned the whole thing – from the fire heroics to her rebellion against him - because if the town is afraid of anyone more than Regina, it's him. I'm confused, here, because he says he knows how to recognize a desperate soul (echoing the beggar earlier in the episode) but Emma could have probably won on her own merits, right? Anyway, the gist of it is that he put Emma in a position of power so that he can get a better favor from her when the day comes.

Just when I thought they were going to make Rumplestiltskin sympathetic, he is revealed to be a more cunning, villain than previously suspected. He was a cowardly man who turned out to be a smart bad guy. But what happened to his son? I think this is going to become more important as the season goes on. In the mean time, Emma is gaining ground on Regina in terms of power. Now that she's Sheriff, how is she going to stop the curse? Tune in next week for Hansel and Gretel!

Written or Contributed by: Tricia Long

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