The Author shines a light on things and brings down the curtain. Even our toddler has had it with Snow White and Prince Charming. And Rumpbelle is resurrected.
Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.”
“To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough” (1785) – Robert Burns
This classic poem draws parallels between a farmer’s situation and that of a mouse whose home is destroyed as he plows. It’s a leveling of the field, as it were, ennobling the mouse and humbling the farmer. While the tone of the poem is companionable and its message universal, it’s useful to Once Upon a Time because it reverses the existing order, the theme of 4B.
I’m truly sorry man’s dominion, Has broken nature’s social union, An’ justifies that ill opinion, Which makes thee startle 10 At me, thy poor, earth-born companion, An’ fellow-mortal!
Specific to this episode, “Best Laid Plans,” references lines 39 and 40, often translated into modern English as, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” We’re meant to note that for all Snowing’s efforts to ensure Emma’s future, they still ended up at the same verbal exchange Snow witnessed in her vision. It’s extra special because the Apprentice, our mouse, was involved.
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane, In proving foresight may be vain; The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley, 40 An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!
The title is also, again, an hilarious pun. Maleficent’s best laid egg…
Bonus: Jacob Grimm, the elder of the Brothers Grimm who recorded scores of household tales including many of those reinterpreted in Once Upon a Time, was born in 1785.
Was he an Author?
August: There have been many Authors throughout time. It’s a job, not a person. And the one trapped in here was just the last tasked with the great responsibility.
Emma: Which is?
August: To record–to witness the greatest stories of all time and record them for posterity. the job has gone back eons,1 from the man who watched shadows dance across cave walls and developed an entire philosophy,2 to a playwright who told tales in poetry,3 to a man named Walt.4 Many have had this sacred job–great women and men who took on the responsibility with the gravity that it deserved… until this last one.
August Booth is played by actor Eion Baily. There’s a chance, however slight, that the word choice here was subtly hinting that he’s the current author or at least a journeyman in training. after all, he was able to add his own story to Henry’s Once Upon a Time book. And he knows more about the Author(s) than anyone outside the Apprentice or the tricksie Peddler himself.
In The Republic, Plato has Socrates describe a gathering of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to designate names to these shadows. The shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.
William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. His works have been translated into every major living language. His inclusion in the mythology opens up a huge roster of potential background characters.
Often suggested as the Author who’d appear this season, Walt Disney founded the company that owns ABC and has produced several popular interpretations of classic fairy tales. But you knew that.
It’s not entirely unreasonable to suggest that the Author trapped in the book is James Lapine, writer of the postmodern revisionist Into the Woods, the film version of which Disney released last year. It makes Charming’s, “As long as we have each other, we can be the best versions of ourselves,” slyly metatextual.
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Snow White plays Lady Macbeth pretty much straight here. Unable to shake her vision, she pushes herself and her husband to ever more egregious acts of evil until, eventually, she cannot take the consequences anymore.
Lilith, variously a female demon or wicked fairy. In Jewish folklore she became Adam’s first, equal, wife who refused to submit and rejected Eden. So Maleficent’s exiled daughter has a powerful, resonant, ominous name.
Finally, some of the juxtapositions in the Comic-Con trailer make sense. What had been useful as a broad metaphor now has specific referents. The first portion in particular.
Snow: I’ve loved you since the first moment I saw you.
Charming: And I’ll love you until my last
Out of our evil seek to bring forth good,(163)
Our labour must be to pervert that end,(164)
Emma: It’s time for all of us to believe; to believe in each other
And out of good still to find means of evil;(165)
Zelena: I tried to be good once but it wasn’t in the cards.
Snowing sought to secure Emma’s good destiny through an act of evil. Zelena managed to twist several benevolent acts toward her own ends. And, of course, as long as you’ve seen the preview, she’s coming back.
The Poetic Edda
For whatever reason, the building to the left of Gold’s Pawn Shop, if you’re facing it, is fronted with “gudrun.” It could have been there all along, but I only remember seeing it twice this season. In one of the stories in the Edda, Guðrún feeds her husband their sons and burns down his hall.
Once Upon a Time
The non-Frozen portions of 4A really come back in force this episode. We revisit “The Apprentice,” “Breaking Glass,” and “Smash the Mirror” all weigh pretty heavily here. But since we open on Snowing tracking a unicorn for clairvoyant visions, I want to focus on that.
Emma Swan has always been associated with the unicorn and it’s nice to see it brought back into the mythology and reality of the show. The unicorn is a traditional Christian salvific symbol, so it’s entirely appropriate that it be involved with every aspect of her story.
This is where we first see the unicorn mobile. It reappears in Gold’s shop in 1×06 “The Shepherd.”
In addition to the potential Into the Woods connection above, the acknowledgement that the mobile was a gift from Cinderella opens her, via the recent live action Disney release, as a potential focus next season.
1×02 “The Thing You Love Most”
When Regina confronts Maleficent in order to retrieve The Dark Curse, Mal has a diminutive pet unicorn by her side. Ultimately, it’s her concern for this pet that decides the fight against her. It’s interesting that the other unicorn in the story is at least tangentially linked to Swan’s counterpart, Lily.
1×12 “Skin Deep”
This episode reuses the title card from “Skin Deep.” In that episode the unicorns appear on tapestries in Rumpelstiltskin’s Dark Castle.
The first “Sight” from the series The Lady and the Unicorn. The second only appears after Belle attempts to break Rumple’s curse with true love’s kiss. He tears the cover from the mirror and rants at Regina while “The Unicorn in Captivity and No Longer Dead” from the series The Hunt of the Unicorn overwhelms the background. It’s a subtle scenery clue that the savior is integral to his convoluted plans.
At this point, Rumpelstiltskin, Ingrid, the Sorcerer, the Apprentice, Snowing, and the Author all have designs on Emma Swan. With all that pressure, how much control does she have over her own destiny?
Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments
- Killian is clearly deeply concerned about the plan to turn Emma into a villain. Emma emphatically reassures him she will not go dark, though Killian speaks from experience when he tells her darkness can creep up on a person. The two share a long comfort hug where clearly they are oblivious to everyone else around them because one foot away Charming and Snow are discussing the thing which cannot be told to Emma and use Emma’s name. That’s a helluva hug.
- Killian asks how “the wooden man-child” was as a dual conversation starter. Certainly he knows she’s thinking about August’s well-being, but he’s also attempting to dig a little into her feelings for August. Emma sees immediately what he’s up to and tells him, “Now is not the time to be jealous.” “Why would I be jealous?” Killian responds, adding that he knows she’s partial to men in leather jackets. Emma explains that August is just a friend, but since she’s had a rough time making friends, she holds him dear. Then they notice the sleeping curse coming at them and land in the cutest sleeping pose possible, with Emma laying on Killian’s chest.
- When her parents finally come clean, Killian attempts to comfort Emma by asking if she’s alright and moving to hold her hand, but she pulls it away quickly before he can touch her. She leaves shortly after.
- Killian finds her later by the pier. She tells him she just needs some time. He knows to skip the discussion of how she’s doing and goes straight to what will relieve some of her anxiety: “August is awake. Your parents are with him.” “Is he?” “He’s going to be fine. Your friend is going to be fine.” Then she hugs him, bringing back the intimacy and comfort she had rejected earlier and allowing him to carry her emotional burden. It’s quite sweet and says much about how much vulnerability she has allowed herself to have with him.
- Finally, a truly substantive moment for the Rumpbelle shippers out there. Rumple takes his opportunity to be close to Belle during Maleficent’s sleeping spell. He lovingly moves her from the floor to a divan, holds her hand, and speaks softly. “My love,” he begins. He goes on to confess that all magic comes with a cost and he’s wracked up so much magical debt, he’ll never be free of it. He has to change the rules altogether, and quickly. He promises to come back for her if he can and kisses her hand before leaving.
- Emma explains the dearness with which she carries August by reminding Killian of her lost friendship with Lily. Later we find out Lily is Maleficent’s child and thus also Emma’s heart of darkness mate. They are now officially two halves to a whole! The two are meant to be together.
- Regina intervenes on Emma’s behalf when Cruella makes a comment about wanting to wring her neck while she sleeps.
- Although the role these two play in the episode is largely antagonistic, that doesn’t mean that their intentions weren’t motivated by love. The concern they share for their child’s well-being brings them together. In all actions, they are united, though their visions of the child diverge.
- After they go through with the nefarious plan to imbue another child (Maleficent’s baby) with their child’s darkness, they are haunted by what they’ve done. Snow notes they are no longer heroes, but Charming is more concerned with their relationship: “But we’re still here, so how do we fix us?” Snow again shows her concern is with them being good again. She asks, “Do you really think redemption is possible?” Charming says they must “spread hope and faith everyday” and be the best version of themselves. The two commit to being better heroes to raise their child and keep her on the right track.
- August falls ill from so many recent magical transformations. Emma is deeply concerned. She is so concerned, in fact, Killian becomes jealous.
- When August wakes and Emma returns, he asks her what’s going on. She dodges the question, but he sees right through it, reminding her that he knows lying. When she makes a connection about the powers the Author would still have, he comments that she’s come a long way from the woman who wouldn’t believe. There is clear affection and intimacy in his understanding of who Emma is