ONCE UPON A TIME
Season 4, Episode 18 (Sympathy for the De Vil)
Finally, a villain that is irredeemable!
In their take on Cruella De Vil, the writers of Once Upon a Time have portrayed a character who embraces and truly enjoys evil deeds and the darkness within. She enjoys killing for pleasure’s sake. Initially portrayed as a damsel in distress, Cruella’s true colours are revealed to be a monster entirely of her own making. Her mother attempts to contain her out of love, but tragically, Cruella is incapable of reform.
Sadly, her situation is still a common conundrum outside of the realms of fairy tales and storytelling. Is a person who is unable to understand the rationale for moral behaviour and who uses manipulative tactics to destroy other human beings still worthy of tolerance and love? Or even of life? Is such a person redeemable? Would it be easier to let them die? We might sleep better at night by dehumanizing such a person as a monster, but they are still a person. Like Cruella, they have family. They have hopes and dreams. Even if they ultimately destroy them.
Compared to Cruella, the other villains on this show have proven that they have souls, codes, moral compasses, and tragic excuses. They have ones that they love. They can feel vengeance and remorse. They have been disgusted by their own behaviours and have justified their actions based on perceived (and actual) wrongs and injustices. Even at her craziest, Regina slaughtered a village only because she was frustrated that Snow White had thwarted her again. The victims were legitimate casualties of war – collateral damage, really.
Thus, it is difficult to consider Emma turning villainous because she killed Cruella in order to protect Henry. Yes, she crossed a line in taking someone’s life. That type of action – no matter the reason – leaves a mark psychologically on a person. No doubt, Emma feels terrible. But she was acting heroically in making a stand, taking a risk, and accepting responsibility for the consequences. She had no knowledge of the fact that Cruella could not kill Henry. Cruella was certainly no innocent victim. Emma was acting not only as a desperate mother, but also as a responsible law-enforcement officer should. She had to do what was right for Henry and Storybrooke, and killing Cruella was the safest course of action. As for the titular villainess, she is now freed from her psychopathy and no longer burdened by her inability to love. In this vein, Emma’s actions could even be perversely construed as merciful.
There are only four episodes left of the season, With two of the three Queens of Darkness out of the way, it appears that the final act will focus on Emma going after Lily and Maleficient, as well as Regina going after Zelena. I would be quite thrilled if the rest of the characters faded into the background! The Charmings are proving to be ever more insufferable and Rumplestiltskin is increasingly pathetic. While they still have potential, exploring their characters much further at the present would be highly distracting.
Cruella’s portrayal seems to go against the theme that evil is made, not born. However, it is also clear that her character could have followed a better moral path. She made the choice to embrace her darkness and kill indiscriminately. An amoral person can still, with proper instruction and motivation, choose to live a moral life. Cruella most certainly did not. Interestingly enough, the Author could not write a way for her to make the right choice. Clearly, there are strong limits on his powers.
Season 7, Episode 20 (Sleeper)
We finally get some answers as to what happened to Castle while he was missing for two months!
And as far as they go, the answers are quite interesting. Against his will, Castle was commandeered for an important CIA mission to prevent a terrorist attack on the United States. He ended up in Vietnam in the jungle, of which his repressed memories resurface as a bizarre recurring nightmare that sets off the plot of the episode.
For the first time, there are no dead bodies in the opening scenes. In fact, the first corpse does not appear until midway through the first half of the episode. It is an unusual investigation, one in which Beckett, Ryan, and Esposito spend the initial scenes investigating on the side for seemingly no reason other than to satisfy a flight of whimsy.
Luckily, the case does not prove to be whimsical. However, although it answers the obvious question of “where was Castle?”, the episode itself could actually have been a standalone episode. It was not very memorable, nor was the mystery very alluring. This mystery would have been better as a two-part epic partway through a season, rather than the long-awaited payoff from last year’s surprising cliffhanger. It felt like it was tying off a loose thread in a neat little knot, but the thread still does not fit in well with the whole tapestry.
In contrast, the myth arc about Beckett’s mother’s murder, the recurring drama about the 3XK killer, and other repeated storylines felt organic to the series. Beckett’s mother’s murder was enough to pique our interest for several seasons and took several years to finish. In real life, there are many murders and missing person cases that take years to solve. Five years (plus ten prior to the beginning of the series) was quite logical for Johanna Beckett’s murder to be solved. Furthermore, recurring characters provide familiar faces and motivations – after all, repeat offenders are quite common in the criminal world. Castle being missing provided little in the way of a myth arc – he was found in the season premiere and was dissuaded from investigating his disappearance in the second episode – and this latest episode only served to tie up loose ends, rather than add to the mystery. It was as though the writers decided that this was a poorly executed storyline and wanted to wrap it up so that they could move on or forget about it.
At least, Sleeper was entertaining and enjoyable to watch. Mystery solved!