For a show that bases an episode off on a pun, you’d think that Once Upon a Time would no better than to expect any sobering moral from Sympathy for the De Vil. If it ever did, I’m not sure it suffers for it. We got to see the Author and Cruella Freaking De Vil dance on the set of what I swear was Agent Carter’s just weeks ago and finally see where Cruella’s crazy hair dye came from. Goofy, scary, and utterly Once Upon a Time, Sympathy for the De Vil can safely say mission accomplished as far as getting a break from the Enchanted Forest is concerned.
In many ways, Cruella’s the only villainess on the show who dresses as dark as she actually is. She’s killed multiple people, she’s crazy, and for crying out loud, she skinned dogs alive. “I’m a terrible person” she admits and she’s probably the only villainess that owns it. We’ve seen or heard about Regina performing similarly awful actions, but Cruella’s a different sort of villain and variation keeps things interesting.
Victoria Smurfit’s dynamic and fun in the over the top role. Cruella’s mannerisms aren’t unlike Zelena’s, and there’s a certain appeal that comes with larger than life characters like these. They can get away with being exaggerated and theatrical, and Smurfit handles Cruella’s big personality with seeming ease. She excelled when delivering some of Cruella’s more choice and biting dialogue, but she infused the moments with the Author with a a touch of innocence too.
One of the benefits of writing for a network show (meaning, a 22-episode season) is that you’re often writing while you’re in production and often only a couple episodes ahead of filming. If a character’s working (or not) you respond to fan feedback accordingly. For several seasons now, Once Upon a Time‘s felt like it’s always in the middle of a redraft – dropping ideas and scribbling in some more as often as The Author. Now we know who else borrowed his pen.
After his “popping out of nowhere” cliffhanger, we don’t know much about The Author yet, but I wouldn’t say that he seems like a gullible kind of guy. He shared what’s likely his biggest secret with Cruella after only a sort time together. I get it, man. She’s pretty and he wanted to party than write about Disney fan-fic, but I can’t believe that he just jumped on a relationship this soon. He literally read her psychological profile, after all.
The connection between the Author and Cruella was just one element of Cruella’s history that was clumsy. If Cruella’s just born psycho, than her mother’s obviously got a few screws loose somewhere up there, because it’s always parents and children that creates Disney’s monsters. Mrs. De Vil was so much an evil stepmother that it detracted from the bait and switch. Her breathy animal mind control is still about as random as her power-lust and The Author’s pen is about as weirdly specific. What was really stopping her from jotting down “Cruella always wins” than “Cruella blows green mist to make dogs eat people”? Much more, it apparently takes some really fine handwriting to make those magic edits.
Though the jaunt into Cruella’s past proved informative and played into the present day events in Storybrooke, it took too much time away from the Emma drama. Emma is sort of addressing her feelings of betrayal, but separating her reactions and comments so much makes them lose oomph. The moment when Regina tried to counsel her was priceless, but overall, it seems like Emma is still in knee-jerk anger mode and she should have moved to the next stage by now. Since she took extreme measures to save Henry’s life, maybe she’ll gain perspective about what a parent will do to keep his or her child safe and sound and take those thoughts back to her parents next week.
Chunks of the episode felt like filler, but there was one other highlight. Robert Carlyle managed to make me believe Rumplestiltskin has good in his heart. Again. His motivation for hunting down the author was noble, and at this point in his story, that wasn’t something I expected. Maybe I should start cutting Belle some slack when it comes to being fooled by Rumple.
Though this Once Upon a Time may have done the exact opposite of its title’s intent, it certainly made for something of an entertaining romp. This is someone who doesn’t have a softer side, and it’s a nice change. She’s unapologetic and cruel. Though there were clunky aspects in the episode, they expanded the mythology of the world and the Author’s role as well as adding another layer to Rumplestiltskin’s motivations.