Once Upon a Time: Murder Most Foul Review
By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)
The Once Upon a Time writers are all wonderful and talented and while they all get the chance to shine, with each season, there always seems to be those that consistently write what end up being my favorite episodes. This season, three of the best were penned by Jane Espenson, with my favorite, “The Other Shoe,” co-written with Jerome Schwartz. This week’s equally wonderful episode comes from this pair. “Murder Most Foul” succeeded because it allowed the characters to service the plot and was filled with sweetness, humor, sadness, great drama, powerful and emotional moments, and an unexpected and heart-wrenching twist. Moreover, with clever allusions, what was established in last week’s episode continued and flourished with what we’ve seen all season, but especially now as it seems as if the characters are coming full circle and are on their final roads towards love, redemption, or peace – and for some, possibly all three – with lessons being learned, and things from the past or present or personal demons or insecurities being overcome with more sense of finality. And while things like this can always continue, storytelling wise, they are on their way towards their happy endings.
“Murder Most Foul” is a reference to a line from Hamlet and there are obvious similarities, for like the play, the ghost of David’s father appears to him, wanting to expose the truth of his murder, similarly to the ghost of Hamlet’s father appearing to him about his “murder most foul” by Hamlet’s uncle Claudius. While Once Upon a Time definitely has its fair share of drama and tragedy in a Shakespearean fashion – and the ending of the episode was certainly a punch to the gut – there is still a sense of hope more akin to the episode’s other allusion. While Once Upon a Time‘s Pinocchio references pick up on the dark and twisted aspects (the way Pleasure Island was incorporated was so creative and clever), there was also the repeated reference to using your conscience. And in the Pinocchio film, it was said to let your “conscience be your guide,” something many of the characters dealt with, which was a clear sign that unlike Shakespeare’s tragic play, things can end more happily. Of course the interesting paradox and juxtaposition of the hopeful and tragic is seen in both the flashbacks and the present day, often in very unexpected ways.
The flashback to David’s father Robert shows a man much different than David thought – a man filled with great shame and regret over his choices and who wanted to fix himself and his family, but in that Shakespearean way, the hope he had was not enough and he was killed. What was also interesting to see was the scene between Robert and Rumple, who demanded payment for his help, but then not only asked for something small (a hair), but then blew it away as soon as he left. It was a refreshing and significant moment of humanity for the Dark One, but one that was built out of the desire of fathers and sons to be reunited and it was moving indeed. Robert Carlyle always exceeds with his ability to showcase Rumple’s depth and moments of sincerity and this was one of the best because it was done in such a short and simple way.
That contrast of hope and sadness abounded in the moments for Robin and Regina and I must say that in this episode, to quote Hamlet, when it comes to this Robin, all of a sudden, “something is rotten in the state of Denmark (Storybrooke).” That is probably a bit harsh but compared to the last episode, the warmth Robin exuded has decreased quite a bit and been replaced with very dark and sinister behavior as he hunts down the Sheriff of Nottingham, intent on killing him, and then breaks into Regina’s vault and steals the box she said was very dangerous and powerful. When Regina kisses him, her hope that she expressed to Snow, despite the concerns, and the hope she had for a fresh start for them, was replaced with a sober truth that, hope as she may, this is not her Robin. Which begs the question – where is the story headed? What it seems to be is that it’s about Regina’s final steps on the road toward redemption and peace – like so many characters, it’s about the lessons she still needs to learn. For she may have changed – admitting she sounded like a hypocrite with a big step forward – but one thing that still must be learned is that she no longer can take shortcuts. She is split from her other half and with no talk of reconciling, that is still on the docket. For her and Robin, perhaps this is just her way of remembering and realizing that even though she got a second chance to walk into the pub and meet him, perhaps this is leading her back to what her Robin told her back in season three – that “things work out when they’re supposed to.” Whether that means the real Robin can return to her or it’s a way toward finding peace with his passing remains to be seen because it’s still unclear what this other version of her soul mate really wants. What was most interesting was the mention of all of the hearts Regina still has it in her vault. She says they are the “hearts of my enemies,” but are they really? As far as we remember, she took, and often crushed, the hearts of many innocent victims. So if she has changed, why do they remain there? That’s because the road to redemption is not complete and the mention of these hearts feels like a deliberate sign that hopefully they will be returned to their owners. Perhaps by returning their hearts, Regina’s can finally be healed. Trying to make up to those she hurt that do not directly affect her life and happiness would be profound step in her road to redemption.
Speaking of hearts, the real heart of the episode was undoubtedly the moments for David and Killian, individually, together as friends, and as future family with regards to Emma, with some of their finest performances ever, as well as some of the most truly heartfelt, emotional, and incredibly powerful scenes we’ve ever seen for their characters. And what was touching and was that for as many contrasts as we can see, there are also striking similarities in both the past and the present. Both men were abandoned by their fathers, but only Killian’s truly did so. Both sought vengeance, with Killian toward his father and David towards who slain his. Both experienced very dark and low moments, feelings of inadequacy, fear of losing what they hold dear, but also moments of joy and hope. This vast range of emotions made this one of the most beautiful episodes ever, but unsurprisingly so as ones that focus on a team up between David and Killian are always brilliant. Both “Good Form “and “White Out” are two of Once Upon a Time‘s finest, but “Murder Most Foul “surely was the most emotionally moving and poignant of these three as it allowed the characters and everything they’re experiencing and feeling to be the focus and brought forth some deeply profound moments.
For Killian, he is ready and excited to take that next romantic step with Emma. He’s bought a ring and plans to propose to her, but wants David’s blessing before he does so. The old-fashioned gesture is a sign of respect for Emma’s father, but he fears that David still sees him as someone not good enough, as still merely a “pirate.” So he seeks Archie’s counsel. I never expected a scene of this sort but I absolutely adored the warmth and authenticity of it. Characters don’t often get the chance to express their feelings so when they do, it’s always refreshing to witness. Raphael Sbarge and Colin O’Donoghue played the scene so well together and I must say how wonderful it is to see Once Upon a Time depicting people seeking therapy and talking out their issues in a safe and nonjudgmental way. Killian and Emma usually talk to each other, but cannot always, so it’s been wonderful to see this healthy expression of working through personal problems and how difficult it can be to talk about them. In this scene, you can see Killian’s trepidation about how David perceives him and O’Donoghue depicts those fears, and his reluctance to completely bare his soul but still willingness to do, so wonderfully. Sbarge also showcases what Archie has done so well this season – offer empathy, recognition of what is really troubling people, and divvying out profound truths and solid advice. He’s encouraged both in this couple and reminded them how precious and short life can be. His smile and astonishment at the fact that Captain Hook has bought a ring was so sweet, and the fact that he’s counseled them both makes me think that he will be the one to officiate their wedding, because despite the twist at episode’s end, we know she will say yes.
When it comes to David, in this episode, he too is suffering with not feeling good enough, but for a very different but no less profound reason, and seeing his journey throughout the episode individually and with Killian was so moving. His determination to find his father’s killer brought Killian’s insecurity to light as David wants a “pirate” for his mission and seeing Killian’s sadness that David may truly feel as he fears, as well as David’s recklessness during his mission was really poignant and gripping and such a different and moving dichotomy between the two. Josh Dallas and Colin O’Donoghue are both such gifted actors but “Murder Most Foul” was surely some of their best work. Dallas was particularly great in the scene where Killian helps him from succumbing to revenge, his fierce vulnerability and the way he broke down breaking my heart, and O’Donoghue in the next scene when he asked for David’s blessing, his sincerity warming my heart. And both moments were so significant and special.
It’s amazing how far David and Killian have come in their relationship and these final two moments between them showcased just how much, not only as friends but also as individual characters. David has prided himself in being strong to a fault, living up to this heroic epitome of “Prince Charming” where he can always find and protect his family, and his determination to find out the truth about his father was intrinsically tied to that. He believed his father abandoned him and so was determined to live his life in the opposite way. But when he finds out his father didn’t abandon him at all and that he tried to do the right thing in the end and it still wasn’t enough, it shatters his faith and amps up his resolve to seek vengeance on King George, who he believed is the culprit in the crime. This is what makes having Killian there so significant as he understands completely what it’s like to succumb to revenge and that it will only leave you feeling empty. But importantly, he leaves the choice up to David. And hearing David admit that he fears being Prince Charming isn’t good enough and that he fears he’ll keep losing everyone that matters to him was such a heart wrenching and emotionally honest moment as he broke down in front of Killian, a man who has truly changed for the better and was able to be the strong one when his friend was faltering. From the moving vulnerability of their performances, to the way the scene was framed with Killian supporting David, being the one to hold up the distraught and crying Prince, was one of the most powerful moments of the entire series. From Killian appealing to David’s true heart and conscience, to David clutching onto Killian’s arm and breaking down in tears, to Killian kneeling down to hold him up, I was deeply moved. It was a poignant demonstration of the importance of allowing yourself your faults, overcoming your fears and mistakes, and most significantly, accepting support when you need it the most. We don’t have to be a constant pillar of stoic strength. We can find truth and strengths in our vulnerabilities and in others, and in this moment between Killian and David, we see a beautiful demonstration of that truth.
If the dramatic scene between Killian and David was one of the most powerful moments, one of the sweetest was when Killian asks for David’s blessing to ask Emma for her hand in marriage. Quiet and thoughtful, the scene begins with David genuinely acknowledging how much Killian has changed and how grateful he is to him for stopping him from making a dark and grave mistake. And when Killian gathers his courage to ask the other person besides Emma he respects above all else that meaningful question, what was lovely was the way in which he did so: by saying there’s a way for David not to lose his family but rather to let it grow, meaning not only Killian becoming a member of the family but also the possibility of the family he and Emma could have together. O’Donoghue beautifully displayed Killian’s nervousness, uncertainty, but also sincerity as he clears his throat, looks David in the eye, and then turns his head when the answer is not immediate. And the way David slowly smiled and Killian realized his hope was not in vain was so lovely. Rightfully acknowledging it’s Emma’s decision, the two men smiled and walked down the docks in camaraderie and friendship. They are friends, like brothers and future father and son in-law. Their story has flourished in such a natural and authentic way and it’s been a true joy to witness.
The other beautiful moments of the episode were undeniably about the emotional honesty, hopes, and fears of Killian and Emma. Killian reluctantly agreed to help David on his mission but didn’t like keeping something from Emma. When she must be distracted, what was nice was that it gave him a chance to be open and honest in another way – to share his feelings with her about how fearing she was fated to die affected him deeply, something he previously been denied expressing onscreen. It was a breath of fresh air, and poignant because Emma smiles and kisses him, appreciative of him sharing his feelings. As the camera spins around them in romantic fashion, and Emma is left breathless and forgetting for a moment why she was there, and the camera move mimics her feelings. It’s a simple scene with deep meaning. The same can be said for the moment when Killian returns home, smiling, the ring in hand, no doubt ready to propose, with his heart full of hope. That is, until he sees the illustration of David’s father and realizes he was the one, not King George’s guards, who had really slain him. He then remembers that fateful night when he was his darkest self, and a ruthless pirate, and it’s a gut-wrenching moment for Killian and the audience, especially when Emma walks out to him, beaming, saying she missed him and is ready for a cozy night with him complete with popcorn and Milk Duds. I’d be remiss to not mention how beautiful Jennifer Morrison was in this episode. She was practically glowing, and why would she not be? She’s blissfully happy and in love, her future hers again, as she spends time on canoe trips with Henry and quiet nights with Killian. The white picket fence life they dreamed about in Camelot is theirs. For Killian, however, his hope for the future has been severely hindered by this startling revelation. And while I have no doubt forgiveness will be given, it will surely be a difficult road because true love and redemption is always paved with hardships and obstacles. But that is what makes David’s speech at the beginning of the episode remain so meaningful. With hope, nothing can tear apart their family. It may be an arduous one, but this reminder of Killian’s dark past will put him on that final path, and it only makes the man he is now shine even brighter. With faith and love, all sins can be forgiven, and anything can be overcome. The truth will set you free toward a path of self-acceptance, redemption, absolution, peace, and happiness.
Favorite Moments: All of the moments between David and Killian made this episode an exceptional one, but most especially their final two when David breaks down and Killian supports him, and when a blessing is requested for a proposal to Emma. Both vastly differ in tone, but are equally profound in meaning and brilliant in the performances between Dallas and O’Donoghue. Also lovely and poignant was seeing Emma glowing with happiness, kissing Killian after he shared deep, honest feelings with her, and Killian seeking our Archie’s counsel about his fears and hopes. Lastly, although not mentioned above, David and Killian casting a spell was a welcome sense of levity, the funniest parts being when the pungent smell repulsed them and when both turned around when it wasn’t necessary. These two are golden together.
David: I owe you an apology. You were the noble one. Not me…You’ve done the hardest thing anyone can do. You’ve changed. And today you saved me from making a horrible mistake. And I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to pay you back.
Killian: As luck would have it, I might have an idea. There’s one way for you not to lose your family, and that’s to allow it to grow. David, may I have your blessing to ask for Emma’s hand in marriage?
David: Of course. Of course you have my blessing.
Killian: That is a relief.
David: I mean, it’s up to Emma of course, but yes, you have my blessing. I didn’t realize you were so old-fashioned.
Killian: Well I am over 200 years old, mate.
David: With a little bit of hope, nothing can tear this family apart.
Killian: I thought you were gonna die. And that does something to a man. It changes the way he thinks about things. About us.
Pinocchio: Do I look like I was carved yesterday?