O.k., so let me preface this by saying that I didn’t love this one. I like that it gave Cruella a compelling backstory and deviated from the show’s usually lighter tone, but I also have quite a few criticisms of it, which I’ll get into down below.
1. Like I said, Cruella’s backstory was entertaining as all get out, and made this episode one of the darkest, if not the darkest one in the show’s run, something I really liked about it. Cruella really is one of the more twisted villains in the Disney cannon (whose idea was it to put a woman who makes coats out of dogs in a children’s movie, anyway?), so I really liked that the show leaned into the gruesomeness of that, showing a more than G-rated version of how a woman who did that would behave. Arguably my favorite moment of the entire episode was when Cruella put on her coat for the first time, largely because of how delightfully unhinged Victoria Smurfit made the character there. It also made me that much sadder that Cruella met her demise at the end of the episode, since this was the one where Smurfit finally got to let loose and show Ms. De Vil in all of her crazy glory. But at least Pongo’s happy, right?
2. Another thing I liked about Cruella’s story was the role that the Author played in it, not only because the two of them made a fun pair, but also because it gave the Author a humanity we haven’t seen so far. Up until now, he’s been painted as a villain of sorts (or at least a guy who isn’t exactly a friend to our characters), so it was nice to see a different side of him here: a man blinded by love and guilt-ridden by the tragedy that that blindness led to. I also liked that it spelled out his powers a bit more clearly, as I wasn’t sure until this episode how quickly his words impacted the characters.
3. In its present-day Storybrooke portions, this episode kind of illustrated how ill-used Henry has been of late, as he was basically relegated to a plot device here: a reason for Emma to kill Cruella and feel that first bit of darkness in her heart. I did love how cavalier Regina was about his kidnapping though. I don’t know if it was supposed to come off that way, but I thought it was kind of hilarious that she wasn’t too worked up about it, totally understandable considering how often this kid finds himself in danger.
4. So about Emma killing Cruella…I’m not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. My biggest issue is that I don’t think it’s a big enough catalyst to turn Emma dark, as she has shown in the past that she will do whatever it takes to protect her son, which is exactly what she did here. I’m curious what her reaction will be when she learns that Cruella couldn’t have killed him if she wanted to; if that will send her over the edge or merely be one part of it.
5. Going along with that, I was surprised by the Author’s reveal that the Savior will go dark. It’s totally possible that the heroes will be able to stop it before it happens (using the Author, I’d assume), but I kind of hope that they don’t. I would really love to see Emma succumb to the darkness in her before fighting her way back herself, realizing that even though her parents aren’t the heroes she thought they were, it’s still worth it for her to be one herself.
6. Speaking of that beef with her parents, I totally don’t blame Emma for still being mad about it. I liked the way that Hook and Regina supported her during that scene in the woods, but I also don’t think Emma should feel like she has to make up with them right away. After all they’ve put her through, she’s earned the right to be angry at them for as long as she needs to be.
7. Regina blackmailing Rumple was excellent. Honestly, it’s been kind of fun this half-season to see Rumple with less power than usual, and Regina’s move against him only added to that. It’ll be interesting to see how Rumple reacts to being blackmailed by Zelena and Regina at the same time, especially when the sisters’ demands conflict. It basically comes down to whose heart he values more, Belle’s or his own, which will be a fascinating choice to see him make. I also liked that we saw a shadow of the old Regina here (starting to crush Belle’s heart in her hands was a great visual), even though she stayed true to the hero that she is now. Asking Belle before taking her heart was a really nice touch, and even though she threatened to (and Rumple believes that she will), we all know that there’s no way Regina will actually crush Belle’s heart.
8. In other heart news, I was a little bummed to learn that Rumple’s blackened one won’t actually cause his death, but will merely make it so that he can’t love again. It’s not that I was eager for the possibility of his death, just that it lowers the stakes quite a bit, which makes that storyline a little less interesting.
9-10. And lastly (making it 9 and 10 because it’s a bit of rant), I’m getting increasingly frustrated by how directionless this half-season has become. I know no two arcs are alike, but coming after the streamlined Frozen one, where every single episode had an impact on the arc as a whole, has made this one’s randomness (for lack of a better word) that much harder to watch. It was touted as the “Queens of Darkness” arc, only for two of the three queens to be gone four episodes before the finale. I loved Ursula and Cruella (and actually would have loved an arc with either of them as the main villain), but aside from the impact that Cruella’s death will have on Emma, were they really necessary to 4B’s overall story? I know it’s not really fair to judge an arc without seeing its conclusion, and it’s totally possible that their stories will be an integral part of that, but I can’t help but think about all the balls the writers have in the air right now, and how those two episodes could have been used to bring a couple of them down…