Once Upon a Time: A Bitter Draught Review


By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

In any work of fiction, comparison is inevitable and this week’s Once Upon a Time brings forth just that. Henry even mentions how sequels are often more complex than the originals. What we’ve seen so far in season six is not as emotionally resonant and compelling as how the Dark Swan arc began, nor will this episode. “A Bitter Draught,” be deemed one of my favorite episodes, but we can focus on its merits, which did outweigh some underwhelming qualities. What the episode did well was let the plot, the guest star, as well as the flashbacks serve the characters in the present, providing some really strong and important moments, and laying some intriguing and promising groundwork for what’s to come. Before we delve into the episode, there are a few interesting things to note. I really like that Zelena remains to be a wild card as far as where her loyalties lie. Right now she seems to be playing both sides, and it’s unclear which she will end up on. And that it’s a good thing – her unpredictability makes her more interesting and appealing. On the opposite end of the spectrum, was I the only one who was inordinately creeped out by overtly sexual and seductive moments between the Evil Queen and Rumple? This felt completely out of the blue and considering they’ve always shared a more mentor/student and even paternal relationship, this was very uncomfortable to watch. Was there even a point to it? Lastly, I wonder why Rumple was in possession of the coin that belonged to David’s father and why Regina would know about his father’s death. Color me intrigued.

I must admit that I am not extremely familiar with The Count of Monte Cristo story beyond one viewing of the film many years ago, which I honestly remember little of. But I will say that I enjoyed Once Upon a Time‘s version of him and thought he provided a good connection to Regina/The Evil Queen’s character. Both want revenge against those “responsible” for them losing their loved ones and are willing to do whatever it takes to gain it – or so we think. And therein lies the dramatic difference between the two characters which also provided the necessary parallel to present-day Regina. The Evil Queen of the past had no sense of remorse for the dark deeds she did; took pleasure in causing pain; and most importantly, had misplaced her anger onto Snow and hurt many innocent people in her quest for revenge. The Count, Edmond Dantes, similarly to the Evil Queen, desperately want his revenge and so agrees to poison Snow and Charming in exchange for the names of everyone who has wronged him; but the difference is that he’s not able to go through with it. He not only sees Snow and Charming as the kind people they are, but also doesn’t want to hurt the innocent handmaiden Charlotte who would’ve been poisoned as well. Of course Rumpelstiltskin, who was inherently connected to the Evil Queen’s plot, poisons Charlotte anyway to get Edmond out of the way, playing on his goodness and conscience. He gives him the key to the Land of Untold Stories to save her. But unfortunately they are brought to Storybrooke and both Edmond and Charlotte’s stories play out in their inevitable tragic ways. Charlotte’s poison takes her life and Regina has to kill Edmond in order to save Snow and Charming as the Evil Queen was controlling him with his heart. The Count’s conscience and desire to fight against the evil controlling him was an excellent way of bringing out Regina’s present day story. She has come a very long way in trying to redeem herself but obviously still struggles with dark impulses – it’s why she split herself in the first place. But real redemption takes time. There are no shortcuts. That’s perhaps why the story has led here. Maybe she can only learn this when she is literally staring it in the face. And it’s also why it’s often frustrating when other characters kept saying what was happening was not her fault and that when Regina said she should have kept the Evil Queen inside, they disagreed. But the thing is, it is her fault. Their current problem stems from her bad choices. But it’s not about playing the blame game. That accomplishes nothing. What it is about is taking responsibility and accepting that what’s done is done and working to make up for it. Regina showed great signs of self-awareness and growth in the moment where she encounters Edmond and I absolutely loved hearing her say that he didn’t need revenge to get over losing a loved one, and that she ended up saving Snow and Charming’s life when she spent years doing nothing but trying to kill them and cause them pain. That is wonderful development in the path towards redemption. But of course, that journey is not complete yet and if the Evil Queen had her way, it never will be. But that’s what the Evil Queen is – Regina’s worst part of herself with seemingly no conscience and doing her best to get in Regina and everybody else’s heads, making them doubt themselves and eventually tear themselves apart. The plan definitely is interesting and sounds a bit like the Snow Queen’s “Spell of Shattered Sight,” but with a twist. Instead of employing physical warfare like once before, this is much more psychological. But we must remember that we shouldn’t trust a word the Evil Queen says. What we can trust is that darkness cannot simply be erased – we all have dark and light in us. It’s what we choose to act on that matters. For as far as Regina has come, she still must learn that the Evil Queen is part of her, but she doesn’t have to let that side of her rule her choices.

Killian Jones is another character who has been on the road of redemption and his continuation on this journey provided one of the best and loveliest parts of the episode. In offering to let Belle stay on the Jolly Roger, even though it would once again subject him to Rumple’s possible wrath, he sincerely and deeply apologized for all the wrongs he committed against her. It has been wonderful to see them become unlikely friends, demonstrating how forgiveness is always possible, and Belle accepting Killian’s good actions as his way of atoning for his sins. But Killian felt this was still not enough and wanted to express his shame and regret in hurting her, which Belle kindly accepts. What was poignant about this moment was that despite Killian’s many acts of heroism, and despite receiving the forgiveness of others, he still doesn’t forgive himself. He wants to be proud of the man he is and be worthy of the love and acceptance of Emma and her family but feels he’s not quite there yet. He’s worked to be a better man, sacrificed his home and his life, and never once complained about his struggles. And yet his shame still weighs heavily on his heart. Importantly, he wants to be a better man not just for the people he loves, but for himself. And I long for the day when Killian finally sees he is worthy of that forgiveness and love.

Emma Swan is also a character who has dealt with issues of self worth and doubt, living a life feeling unloved and unwanted, and building high walls around herself when those times she let herself be vulnerable led to heartbreak. But since her arrival in Storybrooke, those walls have slowly come down and Emma has learned that it takes a great amount of strength to be vulnerable and that doing so is worth lowering those walls. When she and Killian discuss that she is about to begin her therapy sessions with Archie, it was sweet to see him being supportive that she is doing so, her admitting that her vulnerability is indeed difficult. And it is indeed difficult for her to open up at first to Archie. But eventually she does tell him about the vision and tremors she’s experiencing, and then later on who she fears may be under the hood in the battle she’s fighting. She’s afraid it could be either Regina or the Evil Queen, but I still think it may be herself, as it’s never going to be what the characters believe so early on. The most important and poignant revelation came when Archie asked why Emma had not told her family the truth yet. It’s because they would simply tell her to stop until they could save the day, and she wonders if she’s not helping people, then who is she? It’s rather heartbreaking to think that Emma is struggling with her own identity, not just her mortality. But living her life with many different personas, it’s unsurprising she is struggling with this. She went from being an orphan, to a guarded bail bonds woman with armor around her heart, to a Savior of happy endings. This last persona she has embraced, right along with embracing the love of her son, her family, and Killian, always willing to help others find happiness and often putting them above herself. She is a special woman. But the thing about Emma is, she is not special because she’s the Savior. She’s the Savior because she is special. And perhaps that is part of her fears – that without her Savior persona, she will go back to being the unlovable, lost little girl who didn’t matter to anyone. But what she must learn is that not only can she help people no matter what, that accepting help can be a form of strength, and that she can she can still save herself, but also that she is an extraordinary person, worthy of love and happiness not because she is the Savior, but because she is Emma Swan.

What it means to be a Savior and Emma struggles and fears were only superficially explored so far but I look forward to what is to come as some beautiful groundwork has been established with great potential. It was this along with some small and sweet moments and other stories that were hinted at that provided the other wonderful moments of the episode. Although it would be wise not to listen to the Evil Queen, I love that a story for David about his family and his past was alluded to. It not only sounds intriguing, but any story the gives his character more screen time is great in my book. David is more than a prince charming that awakened a princess. He’s a fine character in his own right and worthy of a story of his own. It was also a great joy watching David, Killian, and Henry discuss stories and in turn movie sequels, much to the amusing bewilderment of Killian. Hearing Henry suggest a movie night for the two of them was endearing and sweetly natural, showing how much Killian actually has become a member of their family. It’s these little moments that I live for on Once Upon a Time and if this was an indicator of what’s to come, along with the wonderful theme of accepting every part of yourself, finding happiness and helping others, then despite some qualms I have, season six is shaping up nicely.

Favorite Moments: Seeing Killian apologize to Belle with such sincerity, while admitting he still feels he has a long road to go before is proud of the man he is was poignant and an extraordinary example of why I love his character as I do. It was also emotional hearing Emma begin to open up about her fears and heartwarming and funny to see Henry suggest a movie night for him and Killian, who was completely confused. In some of Regina’s most self aware moments, hearing her admit out loud that revenge is not needed to get over the loss of a loved one and then save those she spent so much time trying to hurt was another great step in her path to redemption. Lastly, sometimes it’s the little things that are so great. The numerous lines such as referring to the Count of Monte Cristo as Errol Flynn, Granny referencing the famous sandwich with his namesake, and one of the Land of Untold Stories’ refugees asking what a jukebox was, were an absolute delight. It was also amazing to see Snow and Charming back in action, demonstrating how well they complement each other in their fight against Edmond, and it warmed my heart that despite their current struggles and a secret between them, Killian and Emma still display such sweet tenderness from soft smiles to gentle touches of support. These two couples are the epitome of people who are perfectly matched.

Favorite Lines:
Killian: I have a long road to travel before I can be someone I can be proud of. Despite the forgiveness of others, I must forgive myself and I’m not there yet.

Regina: You don’t need revenge to get over what happened to the person you love. If I can learn that, anyone can.

Snow: Emma, we’re not leaving town. We’re not running from our wine steward!

Emma: If I don’t help people, then who am I?

    One Comment

  1. MariahOctober 26th, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    Great episode but the sexual reference between the evil queen and rumple is no appropriate for a family film.

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