Once Upon a Time dropped two episodes last night, “Birth” and “The Bear King.” One was perhaps the best this show has been all season. One was pointless.

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Spoilers...

“Birth” felt like it should have been a mid-season finale. It ended the biggest arc of the season and started a new one that I actually find somewhat interesting. And it had the best blend of humor and seriousness this show has ever had.

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In plot terms, all that really happened is that Emma’s goal is to eliminate dark magic, not light magic. The way she intends to do that is by putting all of it into Zelena so that she’s the one who pays the price when it all goes.

See, the reason Emma kept the darkness and wiped everyone’s memories is that Hook was dying due to a cut from Excalibur. In order to save him, she tethered his soul to Excalibur (yanking the tie out of Merlin in the process, which seems to have killed him? Maybe?) and turned him into another Dark One. With his memories gone, he wasn’t really as aware of it, I guess.

So now that Zelena managed to reveal that to him through the dreamcatcher, he’s pretty thoroughly pissed at Emma. Even though I’m pretty cool with the two of them being a Dark Couple.

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Plot-wise, it’s a reveal that is pretty in keeping with the usual Dark Ones not being able to let go and using their power to get things back. Only to fuck them up royally instead. Emma really should have listened to Gold on that one.

But the reason this episode worked is that it was actually fun to watch. Every single thing Regina did was amazing. In Camelot, she helps Emma figure out what she wants the darkness for. She really does empathize with her, while also being totally aware that there is a lot of danger.

Hook and Regina, despite the drama going on, are both the most logical and the most hilarious. Arthur pins Hook down and says, “You brought a Hook to a sword fight,” and Hook’s droll “I had a sword. I seem to have misplaced it” is a great response.

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Regina going to stop Emma, while her parents natter on as usual, is equally good. “No one hurts my sister but me,” feels about right.

But the star? The star moment for me was David Anders as Doctor Whale. He’s so smarmy and mentions being tossed into a wall when Mary Margaret went into labor last season. He prays it doesn’t happen this time, and of course Emma tosses him into a wall—for no reason I can see, other than hilarity—when she shows up. Plus, Regina says, “We’ve got to get another doctor in this town” is a great lampshade hang.

Another great lampshade hang? The talk about Dr. Whale’s new hair. Now, we all know it’s because David Anders is a zombie over on the CW’s iZombie. But the fact that the characters—while Zelena is in labor and Emma’s on her way—stop to discuss it is great. Good writing all around, which gets me to forgive the overwrought Emma and Hook relationship drama.

The second episode was “The Bear King” and was pointless. It was a giant drag on a story that finally had some forward momentum. The only good thing about it was having Mulan back, who has apparently lost her way after losing Aurora (that love has become actual text now, thank god).

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It’s all flashback and useless since it’s Zelena and Arthur going to get a magic helm from DunBroch and failing. Great use of time!

It also completely loses all dramatic credibility when characters talk seriously, with no awareness that it’s absurd, about being “turned into bears.”

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Also, Merida and her mother are the same fucking age. It’s impossible to get around that fact.

Did you have her when you were four?

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I do have to point out, one more time, that this show does more to undermine the whole Disney Princess thing than anything else ever written. Monarchies are the source of all evil here. The Charmings and Regina are why Storybrooke is all fucked up. Merida’s dad had an enchanted helm, and his not paying the witch who made it is why they are being threatened into becoming bears. Also, the witch didn’t even care about the helm, she just wanted Merida to step up. So all that trauma? Also about fucking monarchies. Everyone should just have a fucking revolution already.


Contact the author at katharine@io9.com.