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Early Observations about “Best Laid Plans”

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.

http://www.bartleby.com/6/76.html

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.

Eion Baily1

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.

Plato2

In The Republic, Plato has Socrates desPlato's Cavecribe 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 Shakespeare3

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.

Walt Disney4

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.

Isaiah 34:14

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.

Paradise Lost

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.

1×01 “Pilot”

This is where we first see the unicorn mobile.  It reappears in Gold’s shop in 1×06 “The Shepherd.”

Unicorn Mobile

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.

Unicorn Title Card1×12 “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

Captain Swan

  • 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.

Rumpbelle

  • 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.

Runaways (Emma/Lily)

  • 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.

Swan Queen

  • Regina intervenes on Emma’s behalf when Cruella makes a comment about wanting to wring her neck while she sleeps.

Snowing

  • 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.

Wooden Swan 

  • 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
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Early Observations about “Poor Unfortunate Soul”

The Little Mermaid gets a big role, but Ariel only gets a cameo. Fans get serviced. And it’s not the size of the ship, it’s the portal under the sea.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.”

The Little Mermaid

“Poor Unfortunate Souls”

The episode title is pulled from the soundtrack of The Little Mermaid and while it’s not as popular as “Under the Sea,” it’s denser and more integral to the story. It’s also, appropriately, Ursula’s solo.

The film itself gets a title drop when Ursula confron4x15 Ursula's Charmsts Poseidon.

Ursula: All you ever wanted was for me to be your little mermaid.

And their argument culminates in the same ultimatum from father to daughter as Ariel and Triton’s.

Triton: As long as you live under my ocean, you’ll obey my rules!
Poseidon: As long as you live in my ocean, you will live by my rules.

Ursula in present day Storybrooke is wearing a number of charms on chains around her neck, reminiscent of the shell her animated counterpart used to trap her voice. Here Poseidon creates it and recruits hook to steal Ursula’s voice.

4x14 Triton's Shell

…which is exactly like Ariel’s in The Little Mermaid, because this episode is awesome. At least the ascending vocalization she’s using to lure pirate ships.

She also sings “Fathoms Below,” the first song heard in the animated film.

Ariel herself shows up and saves hook from drowning, much like she did for Eric. And Snow White. It’s kind of what she does.

Ursula’s voice is captured, and returned, with similar graphics and in the same way Ariel’s was in the animated film. It’s also quite similar to how Maleficent’s spark returned to her last episode.

Ariel's Voice

In a similar vein, young Ursula’s costuming is similar to Ariel’s, though with different colors, sort of matching her Vanessa form, but more in keeping with how we’ve seen her on the show.

GlowerhavenAnd finally, Ursula wants to go to Glauerhaven, where her mother loved to sing. It’s not just some random word chosen to be similar to Misthaven, Arendelle’s name for the Enchanted Forest. Grimsby wanted Eric to settle down with their princess.

Frozen

The Jolly Roger was in its diminutive state because Blackbeard had ran afoul of the Nobles of Arendelle.

Hook: Elsa did this?

Ghostbusters

Ernie Hudson, who played Winston Zeddmore in the immortal classic, portrays Ursula’s father, self professed diety Poseidon. Which is terrible funny when you consider this line:

One Hundred and One Dalmatians

Right at the end, there was a well crafted Cruella PoV shot from inside the Panther De Ville that recalled the shaky shots from the animated classic. That they take the time to work those little details in is worth noting.

The movie got nods in a couple lines as well.

Regina (to Cruella): Please, I was torturing people back when you were still playing with puppies.

and

Gold: Cruella will be our guard dog.

Lord of the Flies

4x15 Conch

Hook uses a conch shell to call Ursula, demanding an opportunity to speak. This is actually pretty cool, since it’s a subtle callback to Neverland where there were oh so many Lord of the Flies references. And their history is Neverland adjacent, taking place during the period Hook was working for Peter Pan.

Bonus Pun: Smee: Pan will never notice if a few cakes are missing.

Lost:

Regina sends the Smoke Monster to possess Mary Margaret so she can communicate to Emma and the Charming gang.

Pinocchio

4x14 Pinocchio's Nose

Paradise Lost

Hook: Where is that infernal creature?

Infernal’s an uncommon word that appears fairly frequently in the poem. But the context is perhaps more interesting. Hook offers Ursula an alternative to Gold’s plan, risking himself for the others. While it doesn’t initially work, he persists in trying to rectify his errors and ultimately brings Ursula and Poseidon back together. Everyone involved is simply trying to make what was wrong right and good is brought forth from evil.

Once Upon a Time

4x15 Page 23

Regina’s dream sequence is a reminder about Page 23 and a longing for the happiness depicted therein. It was found in 4×08 “Smash the Mirror,” destroyed in 4×11 “Heroes and Villains,” and Emma discovered it in 4×12 “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”

Ariel and Regina

3×06 “Ariel”

Beyond her timely cameo, and the more or less satisfactory explanation about the sea goddess Ursula vis-à-vis Merrin Dungey’s character, there’s some real follow through with this callback. After the title card, “Ariel” moves right into Regina teaching Emma magic in Neverland with the exhausted and distraught Charmings looking on.

Charming: This is a bad idea.
Snow: She has it in her; she should learn to use it. We just have to trust her.

Trusting her is exactly what they’re not doing these days. And she’s in full control of her magic, having teamed up with Regina to stop Chernabog and destroying August’s bonds in this episode.

It’s also the episode where Hook revealed that kissing Emma gave him hope for happiness again. The happy ending he revealed Emma to be at the end of “Poor Unfortunate Soul.”

Incidentally, Ursula’s bracelet performs the opposite function of the one in “Ariel.”

4×04 “The Apprentice”

4x04 Love is a Weapon

Love is apparently a lot of things on Once Upon a Time. In “The Apprentice,” Rumpelstiltskin called it a weapon. He used it as one last episode, with Belle, just as she used it against him at the end of 4A.

It turns out you can weaponize anything, if that’s your intent. Sort of like how every problem looks like a nail if your only tool’s a hammer. In this case, Ursula’s voice, which is itself kind of a manifestation of her love for her mother, is weaponized by Poseidon.

2×18 Selfless, Brave, and True

August reveals that the Dragon was looking for the Author. He also gets turned back into wood with a potion that can reverse any spell the fairies cast.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

Finally! Hook mentioned that Will spent more time in Wonderland than anyone he knew. And Will hooked him up with a distillate of Wonderland’s finest mushrooms to restore the Jolly Roger to its original size,

Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments

Captain Swan

  • Much of the Captain Swan love in this episode revolved around what Hook was willing to do and own up to in order to assist Emma’s heroic attempts to thwart Gold’s plans. One of the things it meant was facing Ursula and the wrong he had done her in the past–betraying her trust, breaking his code, destroying her happiness, and turning her into a villain. There are two scenes that especially deal with the Hook of then, the villain, and the Hook of now, ostensibly a good guy.
  • The first is between Emma and her parents, where they very quickly discuss whether Hook has “turned” Ursula or vice versa. Emma defends the very notion of Hook being “dark” by empathizing with wanting to shove the dagger in Gold’s heart. Her parents are taken aback–Snow: “That’s not you, Emma.” Emma: “That’s not Hook either.”
  • The second scene is the real swooner and it comes near the end, after Hook has reunited Ursula and Daddy Poseidon as well as Ursula and her happy ending. Ursula’s villainy comes to an end, but Hook is concerned that Regina’s theory about happy endings might be true and that he might be marked with a V rather than an H. In this concern, Emma realizes that if he’s worried about loosing his happy ending, that means he’s found it, and in true doltish but romantic fashion, Emma asks The-Pirate-Who-Traded-His-Ship-For-Her what his happy ending is. “Don’t you know, Emma? It’s you.” She is obviously touched, with tears welling in her eyes, and they share a very sweet kiss.
  • Regarding whether Hook is on the precipice of losing his happy ending as a marked Villain. This is clearly some heavy foreshadowing, but I’ve been on to the writers since 4B started and they overdid the lovey-dovey happiness between these two. It spelled DOOM. And we got the particular spelling of that doom via Ursula who revealed that the endgame was to fill Emma’s heart with darkness. But on the other hand, Ariel’s cameo not only saved Hook’s life and name-dropped Elsa, it also gave the perspective that perhaps the villains weren’t getting their happy endings because they were going about it the wrong way. So, for instance, Ursula teaming up with Cruella, Malificent, and Gold to force the Author into rewriting their endings=wrong way. But Hook giving Poseidon the shell allowing Poseidon to return her singing voice and also allowing Ursula to forgive her father=right way. Hook seems to be learning the “code” of the Book in this episode. “By taking a page out of your book, Swan. I’m going to return her happy ending.”

Wooden Swan (Emma/August)

  • Reunited! Oh, and the concern by Emma and the knowing grins by August! Emma: “It’s good to have you back. Even if it’s not the way it was supposed to be. I’m glad I didn’t have to wait 20 years for you to be you again.”

Outlaw Queen

  • Well, of course it was a dream. Fan service like that just doesn’t come in normal, reality-based packages. With the exception, perhaps, of the recreation of the ballroom dance between Belle and Rumple. But it was brilliant, that joy at finding each other, the kiss that followed. Too bad that Evil Queen Regina interrupted the works with her fireball. It would seem that Regina feared losing Robin if she lost her newly found goodness, but that’s not how she interprets things later to Emma. Regina thinks Evil Queen was trying to protect Robin.

Swan Queen

  • Regina confides in Emma her dream about Robin. Emma thinks it represents the battle between good and evil within Regina and Regina’s fear about losing the good. But that’s not what’s important–the intimacy between these two opened a door for this sharing. A sharing that was Regina’s priority when arriving at the apartment.

Scarlet Beauty

  • Will and Belle got a cute little moment when Hook goes to re-size his ship. Belle questions whether Hook is really Hook and Ursula mentions how “lover boy here” would already be dead if Hook were really Gold.
  • You know, Will may be “the thief” but he seems straightforward with Belle, and that’s something she has lacked with Rumple.

Rumpbelle

  • See the above “lover boy” comment by Ursula, since it also applies here. Actually, most of the moments concerning Belle and Rumple were more anti-ship moments than supportive of their couple status. I didn’t initially want to include them.
  • When the Charmings Team inform Belle that Rumple is in town and ask where the dagger is, the truth comes out that she was completely duped by Rumple. As always? She bemoans whether she’ll ever be free of his deceptions.