TV Review: ‘Quiet Minds’ Prove Formidable in Shocking ‘Once Upon a Time’

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

“Quiet Minds” was a Baelfire (Michael Raymond-James) and Belle (Emilie de Ravin) centered episode tonight on “Once Upon a Time”, bringing answers to some questions. How was Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) brought back? Where is Neal in Storybrooke? Why is Rumple a bit mad?

The episode begins with Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and the others laying out a plan of action to find Rumple to see if he can reveal the identity of the Wicked Witch (Rebecca Mader). They inform Belle of the developments, knowing that an escaped Rumple would probably seek her out for safety.

Meanwhile, Regina (Lana Parrilla) heads back to the Witch’s house in search of clues, an investigation in which Robin Hood (Sean McGuire) insists on laying a hand. The chemistry between the two characters is great and immediate, making one wonder just how close they became during the missing year. Regina becomes alarmed when she sees the tatoo on Robin’s wrist, realizing that he is her second chance at love, as foretold by Tinkerbell (Rose McIver, who has yet to emerge in this second half of season three).

Back in the missing year (Fairy Tale Land), Belle and Neal seek answers at the library in the Dark Castle. They receive help from Lumiere, the candlestick (yes, a hats off to “Beauty and the Beast”) who instructs them to find the key for the Vault of the Dark One. Unfortunately, Lumiere is caught in a lie by Belle and reveals that he was put in his waxen state by the Wicked Witch. Belle does not wish for Rumple to become a slave to the Wicked Witch, but a reckless Neal insists his father will find a loophole somewhere. Neal inserts the key, willing to pay the price to return to Emma and Henry.

In Storybrooke, Emma and Charming (Josh Dallas) find Rumple in the woods, where he is screaming about too many voices. Zelena sends a flying monkey after Rumple because for some reason, she is unable to summon him with the dagger. Rumple runs away from everyone.

Belle and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) are gathering some books when they are interrupted by Baelfire’s entrance. Neal eventually finds Emma to help her look for his dad. He collapses in agony, which coincides with Belle’s revelation to Emma over the phone: the price for resurrecting the Dark One is your life!

It’s an interesting twist, made even more exhilarating as the scene cuts back and forth to Rumple’s revival. Admittedly the CGI is sometimes weak on OUAT, but the effects were quite good here with Rumple emerging from the black gel-like substance. This reunion is not happy, as Neal lays dying. Additionally, the Wicked Witch has arrived, trying to take the dagger from Rumple.

Rumple cannot hold both the dagger and his son, so he relinquishes his grip on the dagger in order to merge bodies with Neal. (Thankfully, show writers did not make Neal out to be another flying monkey!) The price he pays is his madness. The Wicked Witch wastes no time in using her control over Rumple, ordering him to kill Belle; her first order of business is thwarted by Lumiere and Belle is able to escape.

In Storybrooke, Neal begs Emma to use magic to separate him from his father so they will be able to stop the Wicked Witch. His decision to employ magic in this case is altruistic, in a direct contrast to his selfishness in FTL. Reluctantly, she obeys and they exchange tearful goodbyes. Rumple reveals that the Witch is Zelena, sending Emma and Charming back to Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin).

Neal’s sacrifice seems to spur Emma out of her phase of keeping Henry (Jared Gilmore) in a bubble: their happy life in New York. She tells Henry that his father is dead and that he was a good man. It remains to be seen whether she will try to get Henry’s memories back. As Rumple’s grandson and Emma’s son, Henry’s potential with magic could be substantial. He could be of great help in the battle against the Wicked Witch, who appears to be giving Regina a hard time in next week’s showdown.

The dagger of the Dark One did not work in the beginning of the episode because Neal’s resurfacing protected Rumple. Unfortunately, the control is back, with Zelena putting Rumple back in his cell. There is hope for Rumple: he chose his adult son over the dagger without hesitation. He has no desire to help Zelena and Belle is still out there to fight for him. From previous seasons, a reunion between Belle and Rumple will probably have to wait a while, but true love has a chance to prevail.

“Once Upon a Time” airs Sunday evenings on ABC at 8|9c.

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Film Review: Muppets Fall Short in ‘Most Wanted’

“The Muppets” was a rousing success in 2011, bringing old and new fans to the franchise. At first glance, a sequel seems like a good idea. However, Jason Segel (“How I Met Your Mother”) did not return for “Muppets Most Wanted” and that creative spark is missing.

Fresh off of their successful opening, Kermit and friends wonder what they should do next, brainstorming ideas. Kermit picks Dominic Badguy’s (Ricky Gervais) proposal: a world tour. Meanwhile, Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog”, breaks out of the gulag in Siberia. It’s a classic case of mistaken identity when Constantine puts a mole on Kermit, sending the good frog to Siberia under the guard of Nadya (Tina Fey).

The World Tour is a front for Constantine and Dominic’s plans to steal the Crown Jewels, a trail that is closely (if not always correctly) pursued by Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napolean (Ty Burrell of “Modern Family”) and CIA Agent Sam Eagle. The banter between the two law enforcement agents comprises some of the best gags in the film, especially the badge contest and the small car.

Even though the film will generate laughs, it falls short of the creativity and humor of the previous installments. “Most Wanted” seems loosely put together, with a number of celebrity cameos thrown in. Kermit is having a bad day at the beginning, a feeling that pokes through the darker tone of the plot. Miss Piggy is in a weird and terrifying Celine Dion phase. Finally, a number of Muppets are underused, which stems from a failure of the production team to balance the time between Muppets and humans.

With all of these factors taken together, it’s easy to see why a teen flick “Divergent” took the top spot at the box office this past weekend: a sizable $56 million compared to a paltry $16.5 million for “Muppets Most Wanted”. Certainly there’s a high demand for sequels, but make sure it’s a good one before sending it to theaters. I recommend you wait for “Most Wanted” to be released on DVD or the ABC Family channel. Better yet, go watch the classic Muppets in action.

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TV Review: ‘Witch Hunt’ and Big Twists in ‘Once Upon a Time’

Caution: This post contains spoilers.

“Once Upon a Time” is already moving quickly with startling twists in the second episode marking its mid-season return. The Wicked Witch (Rebecca Mader) wastes no time in confronting Regina (Lana Parrilla). As I said last week, things unraveled at a slower pace with Peter Pan.

Emma (Jennifer Morrison) introduces Henry (Jared Gilmore) to Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), maintaining the cover story that she is working on a case. Snow says she was Emma’s cellmate, which brings up questions about Neal. Incidentally, the question “Where is Neal?” recurs in this episode. Snow and Charming did not send the memory potion and note, as it was originally believed by Hook (Colin O’Donoghue).

Regina arrives at the diner, shocked to see Henry and saddened by his inability to remember her. It was amusing to see Regina and Emma cooperating (“An earthquake?”) to try to smoke out the Wicked Witch, who we find to be in the new Storybrooke as Zelena. The new allies put on a stakeout of Regina’s office after spreading a rumor about trying to make a memory potion. Generally a woman of action, Regina thinks that Emma’s job is boring. Unfortunately, someone breaks the protection spell on Regina’s office, which should be impossible due to blood magic.

In the Fairy Tale Land (FTL) flashback, Regina takes an underground tunnel into her castle to lower the shield and let Charming’s army in. She is followed by Robin Hood (Sean McGuire), who is grateful that she protected his son. (You probably love the flying monkey stuffed toy that Roland [Raphael Alejandro] received.) Regina also whips up a sleeping curse, attempting to escape her grief over Henry. As with her office, someone was able to break the blood magic seal on her underground door.

It all builds up to the big reveal that Regina has an older half-sister, the Wicked Witch! (Or “Greenie”, as Regina calls her.) Zelena was sent away to Oz by Cora and learned magic from Rumplestiltskin. She is peeved that Regina was chosen to cast the curse. Now Regina is excited about having an enemy to destroy. Unfortunately, it seems that she underestimated the Wicked Witch because everyone ended up back at Storybrooke.

One twist is great, but the excitement continues in Storybrooke with the final scene: Zelena descends underground with a tray of food for a caged up … Rumple! Rumple (Robert Carlyle) has a short beard and seems to have gone mad, repeating in his higher voice, “You feed the madness and it feeds on you.” The Dark One has returned!

With these new developments, there are a number of questions for future episodes to answer:

Who is Zelena’s father? An obvious choice would be Rumplestiltskin, but Cora said any child of hers would never be his. That appeared to be a permanent and less than amicable separation. Recall that Rumple helped Regina trap Cora in Wonderland. Cora might have sought other dark friends after Rumple.

Zelena’s main interest seems to be Regina, with Rumple as a pawn. In any case, Zelena seems quite happy to take everyone else out along the way. Apparently, if one tries to cross the town line, he/she is attacked by a flying monkey and turned into one (as we saw with Robin’s Merry Men). And why is Zelena interested in Snow White’s baby?

Who cast the new curse? Zelena is an obvious choice. However, if she is using Rumple’s dagger to control him, she could have forced him to execute it. It would not bode well for Baelfire/Neal, whose whereabouts are still unknown. That scenario would explain why Rumple has gone mad. He tells Zelena, “You never should have brought me back.” Does that mean he’ll be bent on taking her out once he’s free? If he did cast the curse, did he send the memory potion to Hook to bring the Savior back?

This episode certainly stands above the others this season. Let’s hope the momentum continues in the coming weeks.The elements coming in from Oz are creative and unexpected with a modern spin. The dialogue was sharp and fun, leaving too many quotable moments to spotlight in my post. Feel free to share your favorite lines and parts below.

“Once Upon a Time” airs Sunday evenings on ABC at 8|7c.

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TV Review: ‘Once Upon a Time’ Brings Flying Monkeys and a New Villain

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

The wait was finally over with the return of “Once Upon a Time” last night. Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), and the others arrive back in Fairy Tale Land as Phillip (Julian Morris) and Aurora (Sarah Bolger) are about to have lunch.

Aurora insists to Phillip that “she” must be told as they watch the former Storybrooke residents depart for Regina’s castle. Along the way, Regina (Lana Parrilla) tries to bury her own heart in the Enchanted Forest to rid herself of her despair over leaving Henry. She puts her heart back into her chest after a pep talk from Snow. However, they are attacked by a flying monkey, a big clue about who “she” is. They are saved by Robin Hood (Sean Maguire), whom Tinker Bell revealed (to viewers) in a previous episode as Regina’s true love after Daniel.

Skip to a year later in our world, where Emma Swann (Jennifer Morrison) is happy with her son, Henry (Jared Gilmore). She also has a boyfriend named Walsh (Christopher Gorham), who pops the question on her. Emma is reluctant to accept, despite Henry’s reassurances. Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) also disrupts her tranquil life, insisting that she come back to Storybrooke to save her family. Of course, she thinks he is a crazy stalker until she goes to Neal’s apartment develops the film from Henry’s camera. She drinks a memory potion and agrees to go back to Storybrooke, which came back through a new curse.

While the pacing was slightly uneven, “New York City Serenade” really delivered on a number of key points. It bodes well for upcoming episodes in this second half of season three. It’s a stark contrast to the first half of the season, while still strong in twists and excitement, took some time to develop as a story arc. Let’s take a look at a few tantalizing tidbits from last night:

Flying monkeys make terrible boyfriends. It was sheer genius for executive producers Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis to throw in this twist on flying monkeys. Firstly, it was much easier not to feel sorry for Walsh when he became upset with Emma for rejecting his proposal and for drinking the memory potion. Shape shifting itself is not new; Cora used it in season two. However, it is new for flying monkeys, who only flew around and grabbed people (and little dogs) in the old stories and films. What other weapons does the Wicked Witch have at her disposal?

Henry doesn’t believe in magic. It was amusing to see Henry as a “normal” kid: playing video games, sleeping over at a friend’s place, and asking Emma for his permission slip for a field trip. Unfortunately, there was only one dose of the memory potion, which flips the mother-son relationship from the first season. In the upcoming episode(s), Emma faces the challenge of convincing Henry that magic is real … while trying to save Storybrooke again.

Rumple may return. Belle (Emilie de Ravin) tells Baelfire (Michael Raymond-James) that they never saw Rumple’s dagger which means there may be a way to bring him back. In an earlier post, I speculated that Rumple would be brought back because he is one of the most intriguing characters in the show. One never knows what to expect when he is the central focus of a plot line because of the brilliant writers as well as Robert Carlyle’s performance in the role. When Rumple comes back, it will be interesting to see how he interacts with the Wicked Witch of the West (Rebecca Mader). Will he side with Regina, the Wicked Witch, or stay neutral?

In the preview for upcoming episodes, there is a hooded figure who could be another new villain. Could it be Rumple? If it’s not Rumple, what sorts of melees will we see among the villains?

“She may be the evil queen but I’m wicked and wicked always wins.” Apparently, “wicked” and “evil” are not synonyms. The Wicked Witch seems to think that “wicked” trumps “evil”. Why did she need some of Regina’s blood? In any case, Regina is ready for a fight.

“Once Upon a Time” airs Sunday evenings at 8|9c on ABC.

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TV Review: ‘Doc Martin’ Entertains with Dinner and Dr. Ruth

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

In this evening’s episode, Dr. Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes) and Louisa (Caroline Katz) clash over a nanny dilemma; Martin keeps scaring new nannies away. The latest babysitter, Mel, has a curious itch, which turns out to be a fungal infection. Because Louisa is back at school, Martin is left with the baby as he continues to run the surgery. As a result, Doc has to discuss symptoms in a whisper with a patient. In the end, Martin and Louisa resort to the assistance of Mike the electrician (Felix Scott), who may have obsessive compulsive disorder. By the way, does Mike Pruddy remind anyone of PC Mark Mylow?

Meanwhile, Aunt Ruth (Eileen Atkins) goes on “Good Morning, Portwenn” to discuss her new book. However, any hope for intelligent conversation dissipates when Ruth realizes that no one has read the book. Caroline Bosman, the host of GMP, prefers to focus on the sensational aspects of psychology and psychiatry. “Does it really work?” she asks to Ruth’s chagrin. To top it off, PC Penhale (John Marquez) dials in as “Cliff” to ask for advice on why he can’t make friends.

Louisa wants Martin to come to the school recital, though no one expects the curmudgeonly doctor to attend. She also insists that he be more sociable with people. He then invites Dennis Dodds (Richard Cordery), an absolute boor and a promiment committee chair, over for dinner. The dinner is awkward because Martin disapproves of the alcohol consumption by Dennis and his companion, Karen (Katie Lyons). However, it is Louisa who turns the night into an utter fiasco when she vents her real thoughts about Dennis in James Henry’s room, unaware of the baby monitor.

The medical mystery revolves around Dennis, who is renown for his high alcohol intake. His balance and speech are also strange. He falls off the roof of his new house while Louisa is trying to smooth things out from the dinner. The diagnosis of the week is Parkinson’s Disease.

“Doc Martin” would not be complete without the schemes of Bert Large (Ian McNeice), who rents out Al’s room to rake in more money. Eventually, Al (Joe Absolom) decides to inquire with Morwenna (Jessica Ransom) about an available spot at her house to escape his father’s snoring. Will future episodes try to feature Morwenna and Al as merely friends or will they become a couple?

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was a remarkable improvement this week, taking time to allow the scenes and chemistry between characters to develop. There is a clear difference in Louisa’s desire to be sociable versus Martin’s penchant for silence at events. “What’s the point of talking if you have nothing to talk about?” he asks her. At the end, a potentially romantic moment between the two is ruined by Martin when he diagnoses Louisa’s dandruff: a harkening back to the bad breath diagnosis of season one. It bodes well for the series if the same humor, creativity, and realistic flair carry over to future installments.

“Doc Martin” airs on PBS. Check your local station for specific times.

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TV Review: Different ‘T.R.A.C.K.S.’ and a Stan Lee Cameo on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

Agent Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) team took on Cybertek and Ian Quinn (David Conrad) in an undercover mission this week. They divided up into pairs: 1) Coulson and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), 2) Ward (Brett Dalton) and May (Ming-Na Wen), and 3) Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Skye (Chloe Bennet). As one may expect, they are double-crossed by an informant with Italian Intelligence and must resort to a new game plan.

Coulson and Simmons are a winning team with their father and daughter act. As revealed in an earlier episode, Simmons’ improvising skills are abysmal, so she prepares an elaborate story in advance. She attracts attention and sympathy from other passengers as she laments the death of her mother and her “father’s” shameful behavior. Stan Lee makes his highly anticipated and delightful cameo. In another area of the train, Skye and Fitz try each other’s accents with varying success.

The light mood dissipates as Cybertek security agents attack S.H.I.E.L.D., changing the format of the episode to fill viewers in on each character’s (or pair’s) perspective. When did “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” turn into “Vantage Point”? Thankfully, the pace picks up again before the recaps become too tedious. Coulson, Ward, and May are knocked off of the train, while Fitz and Skye leave a stunned Simmons behind to pursue Quinn and Cybertek.

A determined Skye enters the basement of an Italian villa, where she encounters Quinn. Fitz is occupied with the guard outside as he disables the vehicles. Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) also makes his return, receiving a new cybernetic leg to become Deathlok, an addition hinted by Marvel last month. Unfortunately, Quinn shoots Skye before Coulson and the others arrive. Is this the end of Skye? Last week’s episode showed that Coulson believes in taking care of his team. (Viewers may recall the “Mommy and Daddy” quips from Skye much earlier in the series.) Based on the preview for the next episode, Coulson seems determined to find a cure for Skye, who probably will recover from her injuries.

Overall, there was a balanced mix of action, humor, and suspense during last night’s mission. This combination of elements was sorely needed for a program that continues to see declines in viewership numbers. The long breaks between episodes may pose a challenge as well. Viewers must wait until March 3rd to find out Skye’s fate.

“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs Tuesdays on ABC at 8|7c.

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TV Review: Isobel Versus Lady Violet on ‘Downton Abbey’

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

Last night’s episode of “Downton Abbey” was a marked improvement from the previous week, even though it did not offer surprises. In many ways, it was a return to the quips, wit, and dinner pageantry that has always made the serial popular. Understandably, the characters (and fans) have been mourning Matthew’s (Dan Stevens) passing, but the plot direly needed to move forward.

Major events:

The Crawleys throw a “surprise” dinner party for Robert’s (Hugh Bonneville) birthday, giving Rose (Lily James) an opportunity to sneak in a jazz band. Of course, the band is led by none other than Jack Ross (Gary Carr), the debonair singer who rescued her from embarrassment back in London. After the festivities, Mary (Michelle Dockery) discovers that Rose and Jack are more than just acquaintances. Thus, the question of interracial dating comes into play.

Meanwhile, Edith (Laura Carmichael) receives a letter from the doctor, confirming that she is pregnant with Michael Gregson’s (Charles Edwards) child. It seems she never gets a break, as she is despondent over Michael’s silence. Is Michael involved in shady business in Germany? In any case, it’s likely that the romance between Edith and Michael is over.

The highlight of the night was the clash between Isobel (Penelope Wilton) and Lady Violet (Maggie Smith). An ornate letter opener has gone missing from the desk of the Dowager Countess. Young Pegg (Joncie Elmore), the new gardener’s assistant, is the prime suspect. When another trinket goes missing, Lady Violet fires him, beginning a series of memorable discussions with Isobel over materialism and justice. For a detailed play-by-play, you may peruse an excellent review by Artsbeat columnist Dave Itzkoff. Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) makes a brief appearance to decide the final outcome: “I’d say that was game, set and match to Lady Grantham.” (Itzkoff may have gone too far in connecting the tennis language with his Superbowl style commentary. Nonetheless, his column is quite insightful and entertaining.)

The best quip of the night comes from the Dowager Countess as she says to Isobel, “I wonder you don’t just set fire to the Abbey and dance ‘round it, painted with woad and howling.” The chemistry between Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton is priceless.

Other developments:

A candidate at the Ritz dropped out, allowing Alfred (Matt Milne) to move to London after all. Despite her sadness over Alfred’s departure, Daisy (Sophie McShera) wishes him good luck at the last minute. Alfred’s position as footman is eventually filled by Moseley, after an amusing battle between Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and Mr. Carson (Jim Carter). There has yet to be a play-by-play on that series of confrontations.

Ivy (Cara Theobold) is furious with Jimmy (Ed Speleers) for making advances after an evening at the movies. She recognizes that Alfred was a gentleman compared to Jimmy, which upsets Daisy.

Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks) and Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden) arrive at Downton, preparing to research estates in the area. Is the Abbey also in a precarious state?

Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) try to move past her ordeal by having a romantic dinner out. Unfortunately, Anna knows that Bates sees murder. Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) rescues them from a haughty restaurant host, which guarantees them “a table for life”.

Next week, Mary takes on Charles Blake. Isobel discovers that the Dowager Countess is ill, which may bring that rematch after all.

“Downton Abbey” airs Sunday evenings on PBS Masterpiece.

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