Once Upon A Time 4×18 “Sympathy for the De Vil” Recap

Spoilers Ahead

Sadly there’s no sympathy for the de Vil.

Somewhere in London Long Ago: (Perhaps during the summer of 1922?) Did anyone else go into full-blown fangirl mode at The Great Gatsby references throughout the episode? (disclaimer: we don’t actually mean literally) A place called Murray’s like Gatsby’s mansion. And the 1920s fashion followed by choosing security over love. A young Cruella’s life mirrors Rapunzel’s except she hasn’t been taken from loving parents – she’s the one who’s eliminated parental figures from the picture. After being locked away in the attic for years, on a “date night” with Isaac the author, she tells him the story of how her mother murdered her father, but the reality is, she’s the one who’s done so. Sympathizing with the tragic life she’s endured, Isaac gives her the ability to communicate with every single animal she desires and she later uses her newfound gift to turn her mother’s dogs on her thereby murdering her. When he later finds her sewing a coat out of the Dalmatians’ fur, he writes her an ending that takes away her ability to ever harm another.

Present-Day Storybrooke: Just as Regina’s getting ready to leave for New York in order to save Robin from her sister, she and Emma receive news that Henry’s been kidnapped by Cruella. And if the two mothers don’t kill the author, Henry dies. However, what the Charming family doesn’t know is that Cruella cannot actually harm anyone, but before they can tell Emma about what the author’s told them, she’s already killed Cruella for threatening Henry.

Tonight’s episode accurately reminded us of the fact that the series has one of the most brilliant ensemble casts and guest stars on television. The number of exceptional performances was stunning and the excellent plot twist was very well written indeed. The only flaw is that we’re now left with tons of new questions we may or may not get answers to — i.e.: how on earth did Cruella end up in the Enchanted Forest?

Important manners first — what parent names their child Cruella and then expects them to be an absolute angel? It’s interesting, to say the least because while name’s evidently don’t have massive power over a person’s traits, it seems as though no kind soul would ever want to call another human something so terrifying. At first, we had imagined that it would’ve been a name she’d acquired as a villain but if we are to believe that it was given to her at birth then that poor girl must’ve been mocked so often.

And now while neither of us has a degree in psychology, we’re going to bring you an analysis with a bit of research we’ve done. Special thank you to the lovely Kate for reminding us of Antisocial Personality Disorder for it’s where we began our analysis. “Antisocial personality disorder is a mental health condition in which a person has a long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others. This behavior is often criminal” (source). Research has shown that the causes of the disorder are unknown thereby allowing us to understand that it can be caused by either genetic or environmental factors.

When it comes to Cruella, we weren’t given a reason behind her behavior, but solely that it’s how she’s always been. The most interesting thing about Cruella’s backstory is that thus far, each of the villains we’ve seen has become the way they are through the loss of either romantic or platonic love in their lives. Once Upon A Time is the story of love — happily ever after comes from the contentment of loving and being loved. Whether it’s because young Cruella has never felt unwavering love from a parent or the pathological desires stemmed from completely different circumstances, she’s a villain who didn’t redeem herself. And the only other villain who was as extreme was Peter Pan. Upon meeting her death it felt as though even Cora felt a little remorse, but for the sake of being evil, Cruella may possibly take the crown as craziest of them all.

The point is if she doesn’t scare you no evil thing will.

Character analysis aside, it’s time to delve into Victoria Smurfit’s remarkable performances as the chilling villain. There are fleeting moments where Smurfit plays young Cruella with an innocent warmth and desperation, but for the most part, throughout the entire episode, the hollowness within her soul can be seen frighteningly through her eyes. Smurfit did an outstanding job of embodying Cruella’s thrill in evilness magnificently in the way she had fun with the role. Fans all over social media are discussing the fact that they wish she could stick around on the show because while she’s horrifying, she’s riveting. Just like we had never imagined we’d watch iconic villains order fast food in the drive-thru line, we never pictured watching a frustrated Cruella de Vil threatening animated birds while she played a game on her phone.

As she explains to the author, ever since she was a little girl she decided to embrace the fun of being evil, and Smurfit showcased that thrill exceptionally. Sometimes when it comes to playing a villain, it’s easy to do too much. And when performances do get to that point, as members of the audience it can get unbearable to watch. However, from the very moment, Cruella appears in the series to the very last, Victoria Smurfit has played her with the right amount of fascinating immorality. And without a doubt, the best thing about her character is the mere fact that she’s embodied Cruella’s theme song down to the very last verse. There is absolutely no goodness in the character — she’s evil to a level of no return and the world may have indeed been a better place without Cruella de Vil. If only the parents sent Henry out on the streets with a bodyguard. Storybrooke would’ve been a better place without Cruella, but Once Upon A Time was most definitely a great place with Victoria Smurfit’s gifts as an actress.

Additionally, what Smurfit’s done that’s so remarkable is instilled fear into everyone even though she’s been defenseless all along. And that’s what it means to be a frightening villain. The way people carry themselves says everything about them and if we saw someone walking down the street dressed like Cruella wearing wickedness in her eyes the way she does, we’d run in the opposite direction. Sometimes the skills and determination to hold a sturdy glare while maintaining a threatening persona through dialogue and appearance are far more dangerous than magic or the ability to fire a gun. Some people are cursed with the resting (excuse our language) bitch face, but the level of evilness Cruella exudes is a meticulously planned form of defense. We will miss the darling very much primarily because we’ll miss Victoria Smurfit’s excellent portrayal of her.

We haven’t been too fond of this author’s storyline or the author for that matter; however, it did a great job of changing our minds by layering the character wonderfully. It’s no surprise that a broken heart has to lead the author to a state of complete delusion with a desire to manipulate stories. Isaac was falling hard for Cruella and to learn that she’s no angel clearly shatters him in more ways than he ever thought possible. Therefore, the moment he chose to take away the one thing she’d loved most, he became someone else. And that very person began manipulating stories because what he’d see was no longer enough to mend the emptiness left by the betrayal he felt with Cruella.

If we get technical for a moment, Regina is Emma’s step-grandmother, and in tonight’s episode, there were some hilarious fleeting scenes where she really felt like one. Sometimes grandparents give you money when mom and dad aren’t looking, other times they criticize you and try to get you to agree with your parents. Also, it’s always entertaining when someone reminds Regina that she’s kept a grudge for 28+ years because of the mistake a ten-year-old made. What we are loving about this storyline is that Regina’s really doing a great job of attempting kindness in a way she’s never done before. It seems as though we’re finally at a point where she’s trying to understand Emma without shunning her away at all her attempts to be civil.

The situation with the Charming Family is complicated but this is how families are — imperfect. And it’s no different for them because, at the end of the day, they’re still human beings capable of making mistakes even though they’re the most heroic ones. Emma Swan has every single right to be upset with her parents. She’s been lied to her entire life and the fact that it comes from the two people she’s trusted most hurts her most. Charming and Snow are the same two people who’ve always told her that she needs to take the right path no matter how hard, therefore, knowing they’ve done something as terrible as taking away another child’s goodness and happiness is heartbreaking on a whole new level. Just as Charming and Snow have a right to want to atone for their mistakes, Emma has a right to be upset. And right now, what we feel the family needs most is space, but with the turn of events, there probably won’t be any. And what we’re also hoping for is for the Charmings to show Maleficent how sorry they are as well.

This also poses another important question we’re still a bit confused with. If the author could give gifts and actually write things that’ll become a reality, why did he manipulate the story of The Charming Family anyway? Had he written the act before they’d done it? Couldn’t he have just written it the way he wanted to? Or was he so deluded his only source of entertainment became watching others screw up?

However, before we get into the changes in Emma’s storyline, we need to take a moment to remind readers (and also show our appreciation) of how incredibly protective Daddy Charming is. The relationship between David and Emma has always been one of the most beautiful familial bonds in the series for the understanding they share is indescribably lovely. And it’s always exquisite to see that no matter how old a woman gets, to her father, she’ll be the little girl he needs to protect. Charming’s swift change in demeanor at the author’s mere mention of Emma gave Josh Dallas the opportunity to really showcase what a father’s unwavering adoration is like through the instinctual armor he put up for his little girl. At the end of the day we all know that while the Charmings are good for everyone’s sake when it comes to their daughter, they’ll stop at nothing to insure her safety. And while we can understand that, we can also understand where Emma’s frustration is coming from. Time heals all wounds and that’s merely what she needs. It’s entirely normal for a child to be angry with their parents and vice versa but in the end, we’re excited to see this family come out stronger than ever.

Emma Swan has an immense capacity to love. It’s who she is and always has been. She cares for everyone and we still believe it’s because she chooses to be. The reality is — any loving parent in her position would’ve killed someone who had his or her child at gunpoint. Because let’s be real for a moment, who on earth would ever choose anyone else over their child? Especially someone like Cruella. It was inevitable and it made complete sense for Emma to do so.

Back in season one, she threatened to kill Regina if Henry didn’t revive from the poison. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for her son and that’s a fact that doesn’t in any way make her evil. It won’t rest on her conscious well because no loving person ever wants to kill another, but at the time, if it meant saving Henry, it had to be done. And here’s our issue with the storyline (additionally we wish we had more time to really think about it), it’s a bit confusing at this point. How is it possible that murdering someone as a form of defending another can turn the heart completely evil? How can that one act have so much power? Here’s where we feel prophecies and outside forces come into play because from what we’ve seen with Snow, killing Cora made her even more remorseful. And Emma Swan’s heart is good. It’s pure. A savior isn’t tarnished by her choices but by the manipulation of stories. Prior to the author coming into play Emma’s life has been a result of the choices she’s made even though her life’s been full of darkness and loneliness. It would’ve been easier for her to turn to a life of villainy then rather than now because there’s so much more to remain good for. It’ll be interesting, especially after next week, to see where this storyline takes Emma. If she’s turning to darkness, then something tells us it’s for the sake of something even better for it’s impossible to completely tarnish an incredible heart like hers. She is the hero.

It’s no surprise that Jennifer Morrison is undoubtedly the most gifted when it comes to conveying vulnerability with childlike innocence. And in this week’s episode, we found ourselves most broken by the heartbreak that was easily heard in Emma’s voice as she states that she’d do anything because it’s her son. Morrison made certain that the audience felt a mother’s endless love for her child through the simultaneous presence of fear and confidence in her desperate moment to protect Henry from evil. From the very first episode, we’ve learned that Emma would do anything to insure he had his best chance at everything. And while on their quest to find him, it was clear that the only thing on her mind had been her son – as he should’ve been. Whatever this path to darkness means, the one thing we are most definitely here for is Jennifer Morrison’s performances.

We are also here to see everyone fight for the savior the way she’s constantly fighting for them. And if in someway her happiness is taken because the darkness is what she’s turned to then we’re certain we’re going to love watching those she cares for doing everything in their power to remind her of the goodness that’s always lived in her heart because of the honorable choices she’s made. Because if she does go dark for a while, it’ll be good for her to know that the people she loves didn’t give up on her. To know that you are loved even though you are flawed is the greatest piece of knowledge anyone can carry with them. And for a woman who’s been alone for most of her life, it’ll be refreshing to see that even when her good heart’s momentarily tarnished, she’s still deeply adored.

What’s interesting beyond comparison about real love is that when all else fails, it remains the strongest bond in existence. We watched Charming silently comfort Snow by holding onto her hand after Emma states, she doesn’t trust them, and we watched Killian talk to Emma in the most tender way he knows how to. And each of these scenes was present to remind us that despite what’s occurring, halves of a whole know how to comfort one another in ways no one else can. For Charming and Snow, in the heartrending moment where their daughter reveals she still can’t trust them, Charming’s choice to hold Snow’s hand was meant as a gentle reminder that they’ll get through this. It’s tough now, but his small gesture was his way of instilling hope back into her. He’s still by her side and together they can make things right for their daughter. They can atone for their sins in order to be the heroic parents she’s always seen them as.

When it comes to Killian and Emma, their profound understanding often plays a substantial role in their means of communication. In “And Straight On Til Morning” Emma knew just what to say that would spark the goodness within Killian. And today, Killian understands her so well that he’s always certain of how to communicate with her. He isn’t disappointed in her for choosing to take a while to forgive her parents, but in the best way, he knows how, he is reminding her of the fact that even heroes can make mistakes. And in doing so, he is illuminating just how well he understands her by speaking to her with the gentleness he knows she needs. Killian’s choice to respect her emotions by allowing her to endure whatever it is she wants without any form of judgment is what brings Emma to a place of incomparable security with him. If she needs to, she could lean on him because he’s made sure to validate that whatever she’s going through, he could empathize with her on the intimate and rare level of understanding they’ve solidified.

We’re not sure about the rest of our readers, but we’re kind of, sort of, really over people taking hearts on this show (literally). And while we are to believe Belle gave Regina consent to do so, it still isn’t fun to see her as a puppet. Also, the most shocking aspect of this entire episode is the fact that Rumple’s blackened heart can still feel. Even though Belle’s love isn’t enough for him to abandon magic, it’s clearly still strong since he can feel through all the darkness in him. However, the best part of their scene was undoubtedly Emilie de Ravin’s riveting performance. De Ravin did an astounding job of playing Belle with the amount of poise Regina’s presumably speaking with. And revealing the amount of disgust she feels towards him by belittling him wasn’t the sweet Belle we know, but it made for great television. Anytime actors have to challenge themselves like this, we’re here for it.

Next week, the ex-best friends with intertwined fates reunite and we don’t doubt for a second that it’s going to be one epic hour full of great moments. What are your thoughts on this week’s episode? 4B of Once Upon A Time has raised a lot of questions and if there’s anything you’d like us to discuss, let us know.

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