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Once Upon a Time: S4E4 'The Apprentice'

The ApprenticeWell, we learned a lot of stuff this week, including the answers to questions I’ve been asking in these very recaps! How old is Hook? Indeed, he’s ‘like 300.’ What does Hook do all day? Throws darts at Granny’s. Where is he living? On a bench by the waterfront, I guess. There are some cute moments, but anything good about the episode is overwhelmed by the deeply irritating plot the show is setting up to keep Hook and Emma apart, which is disrupting two years’ worth of character development.

Look, this episode really annoyed me, so let’s just get through it.

We open with what turns out to be a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo from Brad Dourif as a previous Dark One, Zoso. He fights with an old man who looks suspiciously like this, and who easily defeats Brad Dourif. The old man, who claims to be the ‘sorcerer’s apprentice’ says no one will ever get into the mysterious box that (thanks to ep 1) we know holds the sorcerer’s sorting hat. One ironicut later, we watch Rumplestiltskin open the box and smile grimly at the hat.

Opening credits: a terrible CG broom marches across the title screen. Oh, god.

Storybrooke: Emma asks Hook out on a date. Hook blackmails R.Stil into giving him his hand back so that, if things get physical, he can 'hold her.' Blech. Rumplestiltskin warns Hook that his old hand is an evil hand.  Hook laughs in his face and takes the hand anyway.

Emma poofy dressHook goes to pick Emma up, and discovers that she thinks she’s going on a date in 1955. (He, I'm relieved to report, has also decided to switch up his duds.) In the episode's one nice, telling moment (ironically, since it's the one time in the entire episode where the writers remember the 'show, dont' tell' maxim), she fails to notice his new hand. They go to an Italian restaurant that is tiresomely, literally out of Lady & the Tramp. I’m frankly surprised the show didn’t make them eat dinner atop a barrel out back. Colin O’Donoghue hams his way through this scene in a fashion that I’d ordinarily ding him for, but hey, when an entire episode is set up to destroy the last year’s worth of your character’s development – well, vaya con Dios, mate.

Will Scarlet is drinking at the bar of the restaurant and spills wine all over Emma. Hook immediately goes into aggressive macho-mode with his new hand and then begins to worry that it is, actually, an evil hand. After he drops her off he finds Will trying to break into the library, and beats him up. Then he goes back to R.Stilt to ask for his hook back. R makes him sign a contract saying he’ll do anything Rumplestiltskin asks, and they agree to meet the next morning. Hook drinks his feelings away and then follows Rumplestiltskin and the bad CG marching broom to a house outside of town. There R.Stilt uses the sorting hat to eat the old man apprentice, who also now lives in Storybrooke. Rumplestiltskin then gives Hook his hook back and tells him the phone call is coming from inside the house.  I mean, the hand wasn’t evil; the evil is in Hook. Hook tries to blackmail Rumplestiltskin into giving him his hand again, and R hilariously busts out a VHS security tape and claims that it shows Hook killing the apprentice.  It’s a blackmail layer-cake! In the end, Hook has to keep doing whatever Rumplestiltskin tells him.

Sorcerers-apprenticeIn the Storybrooke B and C (and D and E) plots: Emma keeps finding puddles of water and thinks they’re evidence of the missing Diary Queen, but only actually sees her for like 2 seconds. Snow, Charming and Elsa go through the town’s census reports (I’ll get back to those) and discover that the Dairy Queen isn’t in any of them. Snow also bothers Emma about her date, and Charming glowers at Hook, and it’s ever so tiresome. Belle, in her three seconds of screentime, finds Will Scarlet drunk and incapacitated in the library, clutching a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. My heart drops when I recall that they brought a character over from Once Upon a Time in Wonderland after it got cancelled, and that character is likely this guy, (IMDB confirms it) and he’s probably going to be around for a while. Ugh. What this overstuffed show needs is another seedy guy with a mysterious fairytale past. Bring back Regina!

Regina and Henry spend the episode knocking around in her crypt to try to find a spell to unfreeze Marian. While doing so they talk about Regina’s feelings for Robin Hood, because the show has no idea what to do with Regina right now, and also it is written by people who’ve never met a 14-year-old boy and so don’t know that the absolute last thing in the entire world that 14-year-old boys do is talk about their mother’s boyfriends with their mother. Henry vows to get Regina her happy ending and takes a job working at Gold’s shop.

Enchanted Forest: Rumplestiltskin will only tell Anna about her parents if she does something for him first. Anna, naturally, agrees immediately. He gives Anna a task: poison a nice old man. Then he’ll tell her what she wants to know about why her parents went to see him. Anyway, Anna doesn’t poison the guy, and Rumplestiltskin gleefully reveals that the apprentice had been poisoned already and Anna was meant to give him the antidote. The poisoned apprentice turns into… a mouse.  Anna finally realises that Rumplestiltskin is not really a man of his twisty word and threatens Rumplestiltskin with a sword... but can’t kill him and so instead bursts into tears. Which was somehow all part of his insanely complicated plan anyway; turns out that Rumplestiltskin needs those tears to reveal the secret chamber wherein lies the sorcerer’s hat-box. (From which the hat itself springs.)  

Uh, the hat steals magical power, by the way.  I guess that’s what is going on when the hat eats the apprentice in Storybrook. We learn the hat will make Rumplestiltskin master of his own power, and no longer in thrall to the dagger, which is why he wants it. Oh my god, that’s the dumbest sentence I’ve ever written. Anyway, Anna steals the box and goes back to Arendelle and makes out with Kristoff.

LukeHere’s my major issue with this episode: it’s yet another example of yet another tv show doing whatever it can to keep its main romantic coupling apart. I’m sure there’s a name for this phenomenon on TV Tropes, but I’m lazy so I’m going to give it my own name: the Luke Perplex.

See, Gilmore Girls (spoiler alert) got its main romantic pairing together in season 4… and then, fearing that it had nowhere to go with them, smashed its male half, Luke, into increasingly stupid, out-of-character situations. These culminated with one of the most poorly thought-out plots in recent television history: giving this nice, solid guy a secret illegitimate daughter. Upon learning that, a decade earlier, an ex-girlfriend had gotten pregnant by him and never told him, Luke keeps the daughter a secret from Lorelai, his fiancé (and the show’s main character) resulting in a two-season breakup. They had to essentially write the kid off the show to get Luke and Lorelai back together. Coincidentally, this unbelievably stupid plot development corresponded directly to a slip in both the show’s quality and ratings. I actually stopped watching after the daughter character was introduced, so disgusted was I by it. (end Gilmore Girls spoilers)

The Luke Perplex, then, is this: what do you do with a romantic pairing once they’ve paired? How do you keep the drama and the chemistry going when you’ve paved the way for a couple’s happy ending? In the old days, you had the characters start lying to each other. Boom: drama achieved. Then the secret could be revealed and the characters could spend a few episodes being sad before getting back together... only to do it all over again later. Never mind the fact that this isn't how human beings deal with problems. Modern shows are better about writing complex, fulfilling, loving relationships between partners than they used to be (Leslie and Ben on Parks & Recreation being my personal favourite example), but OUaT doesn’t seem to be going that direction.

Once Upon a Time is now teetering on the edge of a Luke Perplex. Emma and Hook have finally gotten together, and my guess is that the writers are panicking about what kind of drama they can wring from the pairing going forward. Having Hook lie to Emma theoretically means we’ll keep tuning in because we want to see what will happen when his duplicity is inevitably uncovered. Except the story they’re setting up is going against his character development for the last two seasons. That the show keeps winking at the audience that it knows it's butting up against its own good work doesn't change the fact that it is. Using lies to solve the Luke Perplex is easy, lazy... and boring. And occasionally can tank the entire character.

The Neverland plot last season did such a nice job moving Hook’s character forward and integrating him into the main cast, primarily by getting him to trust them, and them to trust him – by having him go to them for help with his problems. I breathed a sigh of genuine relief when, after Pan tried to blackmail Hook into betraying the others, he just… went and told them. And that’s what he’s done ever since: gone to Emma and even occasionally Charming with his problems.

Sorcerer's hatBut god forbid the show let well enough alone with Hook. So instead of having him just tell Emma what he'd done, he… digs himself a nice deep hole, devolves as a character, and winds up having to be Rumplestiltskin’s heavy for the foreseeable future. If that was the result the writers were going for… surely they could have come up with something that didn’t hijack Hook’s character development?

Maybe I’m wrong and maybe it’ll all be sorted out in the next episode. Fingers crossed. On to other annoyances:

David’s behaviour – his threatening Hook and then glowering about their date, again - isn’t just stupid, it’s disgusting and insulting. Emma is a grown woman, and having him posture and glower every time she makes an adult decision with her adult brain in her adult body about her adult life is astonishingly problematic because he’s leveraging his relationship with her to undermine her agency. Which is frankly despicable. I realize the writers don’t seem to know what to do what him right now, and making him act like an overprotective booby probably seems cute when they break the stories.

It’s not.

Sledgehammer Theme: LOVE IS A WEAPON, YOU GUYS. Sometimes it’s a magical dagger and sometimes it’s blackmail and sometimes it's even counter-blackmail.

Quote of the Episode: ‘Blackmail brings out the romantic in you.’


  • Emma draws her gun but doesn’t fire it (x1)
  • Operation Mongoose (x1)

Poofy Dresses: The only dress of note was Emma’s pale pink v-neck tea-length date-dress. Which was very pretty, and which Tumblr has decided is a shout-out to that most irritating of musicals, Grease.

I have so many questions:

  • What is this town’s administrative infrastructure, anyway? They have a sheriff (or two, apparently), a mayor and… a census taker. Who takes censuses very efficiently, after every curse. I think Gus the Mouse was, like, a garbage man? Also they have a convent - remember that?
  • Does Rumplestiltskin still hate Henry? I honestly don't recall.