1. In "Birth" we learned that Emma planned to use Zelena to destroy Dark Magic. How do you feel about this plan?
Sam: That was a very dark turn. I think it shows how the Dark One's magic is really tainted by the revenge that Nimue was feeling when she killed Vortigan. Emma Swan would not kill in cold blood, even for revenge, but a Dark One would.
Joanne: Well, part of me was thinking that was a good solution. It would solve several problems. It would get Zelena out of Regina and Robin's life and they could raise Robin's daughter without Zelena's toxic influence. Zelena would also be the perfect vessel for the Darkness because she is dark already. Where the plan falls apart is killing Zelena. It is morally wrong. Even if nobody likes her and she is responsible for Neal and Marian's deaths, Emma should not act as judge, jury and executioner.
Laurie: I was pretty shocked by this. Emma’s plan to kill Zelena was so completely out of character. Yes, we know she was doing it “for Hook,” but really? I don’t need to be shocked like this to appreciate that she is now the Dark One and has some hard choices to make.
Ashley: I think that it was a plan fitting of a Dark One. The Dark Swan didn't blink twice at sacrificing Zelena's life for her own, whereas Emma would not have allowed herself to condemn another person, even if that person did what Zelena did. I think it says a lot that it made me uncomfortable at how casually Emma was talking about her plan. It really was kind of evil in that "Dark One has good intentions but terrible practices" kind of way.
2. Now that we finally know Emma's secret that Hook is also a Dark One, what do you make of this twist? Looking back, do you see any foreshadowing in Hook's behavior? What do you think will happen now?
Joanne: I did not see that coming. Hook didn't seem different to me at all. Why was he not hearing the Dark Ones' voices in his head? I really thought that Emma had ripped out his heart or something, not changed him to the dark side to save his life. She must have taken his memories of it with a dreamcatcher. I have no idea what is going to happen other than maybe they will have to go see Hades for a solution to their problem.
Sam: I didn't expect that twist at all. I think that because Hook had the Dark Magic transferred to him rather than by killing, maybe that is why he was not aware of his new power. Then, when Hook realized what Emma had done, his anger stirred up the Darkness.
Laurie: I think the scene in Hook’s ship was meant to be foreshadowing that he is now a second Dark One. His expressions in that scene (in addition to his words) seemed more harsh and dismissive than he had been previously. At the time I saw it as resolve, but now it takes on a different meaning. I don’t like this twist at all. There has been a problem with Hook’s character since he reformed because of his love for Emma. It left him with basically nowhere to go in terms of character development. So I see this new twist as a way to give him some darkness to explore. I think it takes away from Emma’s storyline, diluting it to some extent.
Ashley: In my opinion, Emma's actions are more about her insecurities, more specifically her rightly-earned fear of losing people over and over again, than Hook. She lost Neal twice, she lost Graham, she even lost Walsh who, while a flying monkey, was still someone she allowed herself to trust. Emma lost her parents, once as a baby and for a time recently due to her mistrust of them. As a child she lost any foster parent who even cared for her a little, as well as her friendship with Lily. Emma lost August when he became Pinocchio. And there's Henry, the son she is still getting to know because she gave him away. So now Emma is seeing Hook and finally letting herself believe in the fact that not everyone in her life is going to leave her. She's loosening her grip and relaxing and trusting that Hook won't disappear like everyone else. And then he is wounded and begins to die. He's leaving her, just like the rest. But Emma has the power to fix this and makes a terrible, emotional decision in order not to suffer loss again. It's heartbreaking that Emma did all this to try and keep her loved ones close. It's back-fired horribly.
3. What is your reaction to Merida's flashback and her journey to becoming Queen?
Joanne: Even though this was disjointed from the previous hour, I did enjoy her flashback when thinking of it as a separate episode. I liked seeing her parents and especially her close relationship to her father, King Fergus. It was great to see her gain confidence at the end when she realized that her father didn't use the power of the helmet to rally the clans. She knew that if he could do it, then she could too.
Laurie: We are getting a LOT of backstory this season. I thought this episode was a bit too much, probably because it seems like we just got so much of her story just a few weeks ago. I genuinely love Merida and this actress, but it seems like all the backstory (not just of Merida, but in general) is a way to avoid pushing the plot forward. I actually mind it less with Hook and other regular characters, because we know they will be around and this information might be useful in the future.
Ashley: The flashback was enjoyable and I found myself more engaged with Merida's story than the whole Frozen storyline. I'm glad that she is actually a queen and earned the hell out of her crown!
Sam: It was a really hard turn to go from the cliff-hanger at the end of "Birth" to a Merida flashback, but once I got past that I found I did enjoy it overall. I think the lesson learned about leading by example rather than by magic was a good one.
4. We had our first mention of the Underworld when Merida used the magic ale to communicate with her father. What are your thoughts on this?
Laurie: That was a very sweet scene. Those scenes with children getting the opportunity to “communicate” with parents always get to me. It also shows us that there are ways to communicate with the Underworld, so we should be prepared to do this when the show takes that turn. We are getting very far away from fairy tales this season, which is what I loved about the first season. Disney really seems to be driving the bus now. It’s disappointing, even as a Disney lover.
Ashley: They tried to slip that in there ever so subtly but it was like a bell ringing. I'm glad they are planting seeds now instead of springing the Underworld on the audience out of nowhere. Also, I really hope the Underworld is more serious and less Disney-ish.
Sam: First of all, the moment between Merida and Fergus was truly touching. Great job by both actors! I guess this means Merida has the secret ingredient needed to make a "Travel to the Underworld" potion. The only questions now are: who will end up in the Underworld, and who will be in the rescue party?
Joanne: Once is going to Hades! I'm excited for the possibility of the characters traveling to the Underworld and who will they meet along the way.
5. How do you feel about the Mulan, Merida and Red story?
Ashley: Can I just type the word "yes" with like 600 "s", haha. I was so happy to see Ruby and Mulan back. I enjoyed their explanation of where Ruby has been. It does make sense that the wild heart of a werewolf might feel trapped in a town like Storybrooke. I am so all about Mulan x Ruby by the way. Bring honor to us all, ladies!
Sam: I loved that Mulan was the one who trained Merida! It was great to see two women in a action scene. It only got better when Red joined up. That being said, I do have a problem with Tiny and Ruby growing a random magic bean and it being "a disappointment". Two seasons ago, people were killing each other for just one bean! Anyway, I liked how the three were able to take down Zelena and Arthur.
Joanne: It was great to see Red again, but I'm not buying that she got to use the last magic bean in known existence to go find herself. Why didn't they plant that puppy and grow some more beans? I liked the three of them working together, but I didn't have any strong reaction, positive or negative, to their storyline.
Laurie: Mulan’s character really bothered me at the beginning. Are they trying to say that this powerful warrior who was all about being true to herself allowed a romantic disappointment to completely derail that? I think they probably intended to show more of Mulan’s transformation to give Jamie Chung more to play with but then they ran out of time, because all of a sudden, she was her old self. That was strange to me. I loved seeing Mulan again and the biggest joy was seeing Ruby. I love Ruby’s character and she is such a tie to the first two seasons for me. I hope we see a lot more of her going forward.
6. One of this season's most surprising developments is the "Once" twist that has King Arthur portrayed as a villain. Can this character become any worse?
Sam: Wow. He is really the worst. Teaming up with Zelena is only fitting.
Laurie: I can’t stand this character. When Merida mentioned a knight killed her father, I said “It’s Arthur.” His spiel of “I’m doing it for my kingdom” is now completely bogus. He is a villain. For some reason, this bothers me a lot more than the other formerly good characters that OUAT has turned into villains. And no, I don’t think it can get much worse than killing innocent people, but I have a feeling it probably will.
Ashley: Only if he starts eating babies. I'm actually enjoying Arthur being the worst.
Joanne: Dr. Whale stole the show during Zelena's delivery scene. That whole scene was my favorite. I also enjoyed Zelena reading "Hansel and Gretel" to her baby, relishing the witch's part of the story.
Laurie: Powerful scene with Emma and Regina. (With Regina in red!)
Ashley: The entire scene in the hospital leading up to Zelena having the baby was solid gold. I also enjoyed seeing Ruby and Mulan meeting for the first time.
Sam: I have to agree that Zelena and Whale combined to make the most fun and memorable moments of the show.
Joanne: Regina: "What's with the dye job?" Whale: "So Emma can change her hair and no one cares, but I do and I get ridiculed?"
Ashley: Merida's vow to kick King Arthur's butt was a fav for me (I'm paraphrasing, I know)
Laurie: Regina to Emma: “You can’t lie to me.”
Sam: I did get a good chuckle out of the "Bobbing for eye-of-newt" line from Zelena.
Laurie: We need to see more of Henry. The uses for squid ink seem to be unending.
I was disappointed in these two episodes overall. I appreciate that it’s difficult time-wise to write and film twice the amount of material, but I think we will look back at this and say it was a lot of filler. I was so excited to have Mulan and Ruby back, but I don’t think we were able to get enough of their story because they were really there to help Merida. Once again, except for Hook and Emma, our core characters have suffered this season (in more ways than one) in trying to give plenty of time to the Arthur/Zelena/Merida/Merlin subplots. Zelena’s character has not changed since S3 so it’s just getting old to me. Yes, she’s wicked. We get it.
A lot of us were there in Steveston for the filming of the Hook scene on the roof. That was cool to see it in the context of the episode, and really emphasized again to me how long it takes to shoot a 30-second scene.
Joanne: Kudos to the actress who played the witch in the Bear King! She did an excellent in portraying the original Brave character. I'm always amazed at the casting, makeup, and costuming on the show.
Sam: There's been a lot of "Dark One" stuff thrown about this season. Sometimes it's hard to reconcile it with the previous "rules" for the Dark One that we learned in earlier seasons. While I expect the show to maintain a certain amount of continuity, I also don't want to hold back the writers when they want to get creative.
For me personally, it was distracting and interesting at the same time to finally see the finished product of the filming that we saw while visiting Canada last month.
Ashley: I can't believe we are almost at the end of this half of the season! With two episodes to go, I wonder what is going to happen to lead us in to the Underworld. And I can't wait for the 100th episode!