Eike Schroter / ABC

Once Upon A Time Grumbles Over Grendel

If you thought Rumplestiltskin's backstory was a well that had run dry...you were right! But that won't stop Once Upon A Time from going back there anyway. Now with the poem that tortured you in high school!

It seems like a good idea for Once Upon A Time to scale back and do some episodes with only a few core characters. Unfortunately, Rumple/Gold is the main one this week, rehashing an origin story we've already seen many times. Did you know Rumple became the Dark One for noble reasons but the power corrupted him and then he lost his son and turned completely? Well, see it again! And we're told it, too! I'm glad that at least some people remembered that Gideon existed, after Emma and company were celebrating his defeat last week. Less glad that his return involved both long dialogues between him and Gold about his sad childhood with the Black Fairy and Her Handsome Hero (he's got the handsome part down, the hero not so much) and draining Blue, one of my favorite underutilized characters/actors on the show, of her magic. Remember when this show was fun?

Well, New Robin is fun, but it probably won't last. He has no interest in being reformed, and just wants to get the hell out of Storybrooke. He enlists Zelena's help, and while even the writers seem to find her schtick tiresome given how little she's been around this season, at least that has the potential for some camp.

And speaking of camp: an old favorite is back, but like the episode did, I'll save that for the end.

For all my complaining, this is in fact the most Once Upon A Time-ish episode in a while. Maybe that's why it feels so repetitive? Let's take a look at the scores.

Once Upon A Time-ish Element Present?
F-ed Up Fairy Tales My 10th Grade English teacher will be furious with me for putting Beowulf here, but close enough? In OUAT-world, the oldest surviving character in English literature fought alongside Rumplestiltskin in the Great Ogre War, using the enchanted sword we've been tracking all season, and he's none too pleased that Rumple won the whole thing using dark magic. So he invents a monster (you guessed it, Grendel) in order to frame Rumple and prove him to be the Dark One he truly is. It doesn't work out quite the way anyone expects.
Good vs. Evil, But Which Is Which? We're reminded, both through the Beowulf flashback and through Gold telling Gideon, that Rumple/Gold became the Dark One to save his son, and ultimately the whole kingdom in the war. But even though he had good intentions, he could never be a hero because he used dark magic. Gideon wants to steal light magic, but Gold argues that he's doing so in a way that involves giving in to darkness and will cost him his soul. Basically, murder is bad no matter why you're doing it. Gold will help Gideon, which is bad, but he's doing it so that Gideon himself "doesn't have to darken his heart," which is good? Since his ultimate goal is to kill the Black Fairy, which is also good?

And then there's Killian, who admits to Archie that he could easily take his secret to his grave, but finds he wants to tell Emma the truth, and thinks that means he's "broken."

Family Feud The aforementioned Gideon and Gold. Plus Rumple and Baelfire argue over the appropriate use of dark magic in the flashbackowulf; Regina and Zelena have a tiff over Robin; and, y'know, Killian killed David's dad.
Shut up, Henry I can't even enjoy the fact that this episode is Henry-free because this kid playing Baelfire is actually even worse.
True Love's Blah Blah Blah Killian comes home, wasted, prepared to tell Emma about David's father. But she's found the ring, so she cuts him off (surprisingly not in a terrible TV way where someone says they have something to tell someone and the other person interrupts and they never get back to it -- he's drunk and rambling about courage, so it makes sense for her to leap) and accepts the proposal he hasn't made, and then he makes it, and it would be sweet if he were a little less drunk, maybe?

Also, Regina agrees to help Robin leave Storybrooke because she feels she owes it to Original Recipe Robin or something.

All Magic Comes With A Price It's been a while, but Beowulf literally says, "Dark magic comes with a price" this episode! "We'll pay dearly for this. All of us." Well, one of you.
You Can't Escape Your Fate Unless Maybe You Can Who's To Say? Rumple was destined to become the Dark One, but we knew that already. And already and already and already.
This Show Has A Deep, Rich History We knew this already and must have even seen it depicted before, since it's the whole backstory of how Baelfire/Neal got to our world, but I don't remember it ever seeming so silly: the flashbacks mostly take place right after the Ogre War, during which Rumple just resumed his normal life? Even though he was the Dark One? So, like, he's just walking around town, going to the pub, spinning whatever it is one spins that isn't straw into gold, and oh don't mind me I'm all scaly and weird and could kill you with a thought but I won't?
...As Long As It's Convenient The entire Beowulf story looks like a ret-con until they literally ret-con it. Baelfire is furious that Beowulf would do this to his dad, and he gets the dagger away from him and commands Rumple to kill Beowulf. He understands then what power feels like, and why Rumple didn't want to give it up. This contradicts everything we know about Bae and his relationship with Rumple. But even Dark Rumple (still in the early stages, after all) doesn't want his son to be a killer, so he gives him a potion to make him forget the whole thing, and tells him he killed Beowulf of his own volition. Bae is furious, so in a way this sets up what we know is to come. Still, it's a reach.

And anyway, a point for the episode-opening caption that reads "The First Ogres War." Grammatically incorrect, and also not what anyone says in this or any other episode.

Also, there's a whole thing about Robin and Zelena trying to remove the protection spell around the town, which even Regina can't do now. They've left town multiple times. Didn't they leave town this season? How the hell does this spell work? Who keeps re-casting it? Is Happy still a tree? (Don't come at me in the comments, I know they actually addressed that.)

Phrasing! "Beneath those scales you're still my Papa."
O, Canada! Might be time to retire this one. The woods sure are pretty, though.
Wig Cop On Patrol BELLE HAS A NEW WIG! BELLE HAS A NEW WIG!!!

ABC

It's still unquestionably wiggy, but like Good Wife Season 1, not like Small Child After A Long Day At Disneyland.

Drag Queen Realness I was ready to just give it to Rumple because I'm so starved for a fun costume up in here...

Eike Schroter / ABC

...but then Robin got some magic goo on his hand and the Evil Queen snake escaped her cage and bit him and...

ABC

Miss Thing is back!

Green Screen Fakeness We've definitely seen Grendel's cave before, but it's a set.
It's A Small World After All Zelena coos to the baby, "This little Munchkin went to see the Wizard, and this little Munchkin stayed at home...."
12 / 15
Final Score
80%
Once Upon A Time
40%
Hrothgar Of The Hill People
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