Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 4 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," titled "The Crocodile."
Good ideas and the exceptional casting of Colin O'Donoghue as Captain Hook were all that saved this episode of "Once Upon A Time," which seemed sadly weighed down with clunky dialogue and the kind of wooden acting that makes Pinocchio look like a real boy by comparison.
The family-friendly nature of the series often lends itself well to broad characterization and occasionally cheesy dialogue, but this week, those characteristics were more jarring than charming. "The Crocodile" was written by David H. Goodman (who penned last season's best episode, "Hat Trick," as well as entries such as "The Price of Gold" and "What Happened To Frederick?") and newcomer Robert Hull, an alum of "Gossip Girl" (hmm), "Alcatraz" and "24" -- and I'm hoping the wobbly parts of the episode are just an example of the new writer getting his sea legs under him.
Some of the dialogue seemed particularly heavy-handed, especially in scenes involving Belle and her father Moe/Maurice, and there were a few too many instances of the characters telling us (dramatically) how they were feeling, instead of the script showing us with any nuance. Similarly, Rumplestiltskin's wife, Milah, proved a little too cartoonish to take seriously, although I was very jealous of the costume she donned for her badass pirate makeover. It was hard to really believe that she loved Hook for any reason other than that the script required it of her, and since she was a fairly unsympathetic character after abandoning her son, it was hard to feel anything when Rumple killed her.
The show certainly lucked out with the casting of O'Donoghue, though, and despite his villainous tendencies, I can see fans reacting to Hook with the same kind of fervor they previously reserved for Jamie Dornan's Huntsman. ("OUAT" and Irishmen are a match made in TV heaven, clearly.)
Unlike some of the episode's other guest stars, O'Donoghue wasn't hammy, even in a role that could've easily gotten away with Jack Sparrow campiness. Despite my lack of compassion for Milah, O'Donoghue sold Hook's grief and rage believably, and considering some of the despicable things Rumple's done thus far, it's hard not to be on Hook's side in his quest for revenge. (That he's easy on the eyes certainly doesn't hurt, either.)
Similar to last season's "Desperate Souls," this episode filled in more of Rumple's backstory, including the aforementioned loss of his wife, Milah, who was a pretty crummy wife and mother, given that she willingly ran off with a band of pirates because she was ashamed to be married to the village coward. It also built on the character development established in "Skin Deep," putting Rumple on a road to redemption similar to what "We Are Both" did for Regina. I'm glad we got a little more justification for his decision to bring magic to Storybrooke -- we know he's come to rely on magic as a crutch, but it's good to be reminded that reuniting with Baelfire is still something he's working towards.
Positioning Cora as a more powerful foe also allows the writers to explore new facets of both of Season 1's main villains, and although I hope Rumple and Regina aren't redeemed too easily, it's better for the show to share their motivations, since every villain sees themselves as the hero of their own story.
Though I disliked some aspects of the episode, I did enjoy the decision to make Rumple the "crocodile" who took Hook's hand -- one of the show's major strengths is finding new ways to twist familiar tales, and the change made a lot more sense than Hook's hand being chomped by a literal croc.
I was also glad to see Meghan Ory's Ruby given more to do this week, and her attempts to take Belle under her wing were sweet to watch; the heightened sense of smell was a nice touch and will doubtless come in handy again somewhere down the line. Belle's interest in the library and Rumple giving her the key were nice echoes back to "Beauty and the Beast" -- next they'll be eating porridge and throwing snowballs at each other.
It does feel like Charming (and by extension, the show) doesn't quite know what to do with Henry, since the kid is mostly just in the way or tagging along behind his grandfather at this point. Last week's sword training was adorable, but a lot of times, the kid feels somewhat extraneous, so I wonder if and when he'll be drawn further into the mythology. It's admittedly tough to really give a child much to do in the majority of TV shows (unless they're just there to be sweet and quippy in a comedy), so a part of me isn't even sure I want more Henry, or if his presence will simply slow the story down. It's an interesting tightrope to walk, so I'm intrigued to see how the writers will handle it in upcoming episodes.
Some other stray questions and observations:
- Presumably Smee and the rest of the crew were with Hook when the curse struck, so why was Hook specifically left behind? Or was Hook in the same untouched corner of The Enchanted Forest as Mulan and Phillip were, and separate from his crew?
- On a related note, do we think The Enchanted Forest is near Neverland, since that's seemingly where Cora and Hook were at the episode's end? And if that's the case, how did Rumple get there without a magic bean, since he was causing plenty of havoc in The Enchanted Forest in the previous flashbacks we've seen, but we don't know whether his and Belle's lands are actually adjacent to that kingdom? I'm still really itching for the producers to provide us with a map of all the lands to put us out of our misery.
- Since Rumple and Regina had their memories after the curse struck, why is Rumple so certain that he'll lose his memories now if he leaves Storybrooke? And who created this supposed second curse?
- Sounds like Disney fans will soon be able to replicate Belle's mine train experience at the Magic Kingdom. Was anyone else reminded of the runaway mine train game that Roger designed in the live-action "101 Dalmatians" movie during that sequence, or is my Disney geekiness truly showing?
- Do we still suspect that Michael Raymond-James' character in New York is Bae, or are you leaning more towards the White Rabbit?
"Once Upon A Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.