Over a long 22 or 23 episode season, even the best network shows misfire. The last episode “Selfless, Brave & True” before the break didn’t feel right. However “Lacey” is a strong return to form to what Once does best.
Rumplestiltskin has worked to repair his act, at times this season a cuddly father, grandpa or love interest. But Rumple needs a personal incentive to act good, such as for Baelfire or Belle. Belle sees kindness as worthwhile for itself, but Rumple’s compass is more conflicted and turned by his own desires. He begins the episode after his dream sequence knowing anger and darkness bubbles in him and ends it, succumbing to it. He may end up blaming his Sheriff beatdown on wanting to wake Belle, but by starting it before knowing she’s there or the effect it’d have on her, it was all Rumple. Like Snow slapping Geppetto, external circumstances are the red herring. The real cause is pains of the past buried deep in him. In both Storybrooke and the flashback, “Lacey” is a reminder Rumple is a dark, dangerous creature, not a cuddly one. The beast will never fully go away.
It’s smart writing how such a major plot point in Regina finding the beans, is triggered by a single slip of the tongue and tone by Emma. Small moments matter in Once. Regina will need to choose between her individual desire for vengeance and the sliver of empathy. Like Rumple, her personal desire for love from Henry likely affects her decisions. Emma facing the choice of returning to Fairy Tale Land is important. Although it’s true Earth hasn’t been kind to her, it’s still home.
“Lacey” largely works from the execution. Rumple and Belle have sparkling chemistry and the David and Rumple scenes are fun to see. Robin delivers in his introduction, plus special credit to Granny and Grumpy for stealing scenes. It’s a sharply written, charismatic and tightly paced episode, in part thanks to a mostly singular focus on Rumple and Belle. This clean focus makes it an antidote to the messy “Selfless, Brave & True”.
“Lacey” is another stellar Once episode in this season’s collection of them.