After weeks of watching her waltz around Storybrooke with snarky insults for all who crossed her path, the latest episode of Once Upon A Time gave viewers an in depth look at what makes Cruella tick. “Sympathy for the De Vil” kicked off with little Cruella running from her mother’s Dalmatians before the woman locked her in the attic. It looked like the start of another tragic villain backstory, but what unfolded over the hour was something else altogether.
In present day Storybrooke, Cruella was out joyriding until Maleficent blocked the road and demanded to know why Cruella and Ursula let her believe Lily was dead. Cruella stated she was a terrible person and explained that they kept the dragon egg in order to use the magic to keep them young (smart!), but she left the baby to die in the woods. Maleficent was not amused and turned into a dragon in order to give Cruella a slow, painful death. But that was exactly what Cruella wanted. She used her magic to get the dragon to take a nap in the road and she went on her way.
Regina showed up at the Charming loft to fill them in on Zelena’s deeds and they feared Rumple would do something drastic if Regina tried to leave Storybrooke to save him. Regina had it covered. She headed for the shop and explained her woes to Belle, who asked what she could do to help. The scene switched to Rumple and the author (his name is Isaac) at the cabin. Rumple explained that his grand plan was to turn the savior dark and then he left the author alone with no protection because Belle was using the well to call his name.
She asked her (ex?) husband why he lied and what he’s doing in Storybrooke and how she wanted the truth on the spot where they got married. Rumple pulled out his heart, which had crumpled from the blackness and only had the tiniest red spot left. If it dried up completely, he’d lose his ability to love and that’s why he needed to ruin the savior’s life. Belle told him maybe she gave up too soon and they kissed and then she started taunting him about how Will’s a better kisser and he was pathetic to crawl back to her. Rumple didn’t understand why she was so mean and that’s when Regina popped up with Belle’s heart in her hands. She sent Belle away and ordered her to forget all of this and then told Rumple if he gave her any trouble, he wouldn’t be the only one losing a heart (I’m not sure if Belle agreed to this or if Regina just pulled out her heart, but either way, smart plan).
Cruella shows up at the cabin to confront Isaac and he convinces her to leave before Rumple finds out that they knew each other. She agrees and we return to the flashbacks where Isaac is a reporter who shows up at the door to interview her mother about her dog shows. But when he asks too many questions about her three dead husbands, she shows him the door and suggests he get his own life instead of writing about others. That’s when Cruella calls out to him from the window and offers to tell him a good story if he finds a way to get her out of there. He manages to get her out, but doesn’t share his secrets with Cruella just yet. She doesn’t mind. She just wants to go somewhere loud and have fun.
In Storybrooke, Cruella uses Pongo to lure Henry into a trap. As Regina prepares to leave for New York, Emma tries to get her to reconsider going alone. Regina insists she’ll be fine, but Emma gives her a weapon just in case. That’s when they both get a video message from Henry to tell them that Cruella has kidnapped him and will kill him if they don’t kill the author first. Everyone gathers at Casa Charming once more to plan a rescue mission and Emma announces she’s going with Hook and Regina while her parents follow the trail to the author because she doesn’t trust them to be by her side when she’s searching for her son (ouch).
Back in the 20’s style flashback, Cruella gets her first taste of gin and explains that her mother poisoned her father and then her next two husbands after that. Isaac tells her that he can help her because he has the power to change things thanks to his magic pen and magic ink. He explains that there are multiple realms that exist outside of time and when he asks her what year it is, she can’t answer him (that’s certainly one way to explain some of the questionable things like how characters exist in London and in the Enchanted Forest). He writes that Cruella can control the actions of any and all animals and then he gives her his car keys so she can go confront her mother before they run off together.
Isaac runs into Cruella’s mother and gloats that her daughter won’t be returning to the attic and that he took her advice and will now be living his life. He tells her that he knows she killed her husbands, but the mother corrects him and tells him it was Cruella who did it, starting with her own father. She poisoned them and didn’t even feel bad about it. She warns him to stay away from Cruella because she takes the things one cares about and destroys them. He doesn’t believe her until he checks his magic supplies and realizes Cruella swiped them.
Cruella returns home and turns her mother’s dogs against her. They kill her and Isaac arrives to find Cruella sewing herself a new coat (as a jazzy version of her theme song plays in the background – very cool), made out of the dogs. She explains that people are always worried about falling into darkness, but she sees it differently. Why not splash in and have fun? That’s when the author grabs his magic writing instruments and scribbles something else on a piece of paper, something that will stop Cruella. She attempts to kill him and then grabs for the ink. She knocks the ink all over herself, which is how she ends up with her current look.
As they search for Henry in present day, Hook and Regina try to get through to Emma about why she should forgive her parents, especially since she forgave both of them for their past misdeeds. But Emma says it’s different because they never lied about who they were or presented themselves as the ultimate good. She gets tired of listening to them and they all split off in different directions because they hear Henry shouting for help, but can’t agree on where his voice is coming from. Hook and Regina each find a seashell projecting the voice, which is Rumple’s doing so that Emma will be the one to find Henry. It turns out that Rumple did know the author and Cruella had a past and he used that as part of his plan to turn Emma dark.
Snow and Charming find Isaac at the cabin and he tells them that even he didn’t see this coming. Charming demands to know what he’s talking about and he says the story ends with the Savior turning dark. He shows them what he wrote all those years ago: Cruella can no longer take the life of another. So even though she’s pointing a gun to Henry’s head and threatening to drop him off a cliff, she can’t actually do it. But Emma doesn’t know that and Snow and Charming race to stop her. Unfortunately, they’re not fast enough. As Cruella taunts Emma that heroes don’t kill, Emma blasts her with magic and Cruella falls off the cliff and dies.
On the one hand, I really like that Cruella was evil because she liked it. As much as I enjoy complicated villains with some good in them, it’s nice to see a truly bad one every now and again. I love the bait and switch Cinderella-like opening when the mom seemed to be the bad one and it turned out Cruella deserved so much worse than just being locked in the attic for her murderous ways. I will miss her fabulousness and her sharp tongue, but I think it was a smart decision to tell her story and then send her off to meet her fate since we already have an abundance of other villains left to fight.
That being said, I’m going to have to side eye this being the thing that is supposed to send Emma spiraling toward darkness. Yes, Cruella was technically defenseless since Isaac made sure she could never take another life. But Emma didn’t know that. All she saw was a crazy woman holding a gun to her son’s head and threatening to push him off a cliff. Sure, she could have tried something nonlethal like making the gun disappear, but what if Cruella pushed Henry? She acted in a justified manner to save her son’s life. She didn’t kill Cruella because she dented her car. Even with that final shot of her face, I don’t think Emma’s anywhere near the dark side.
Next week, Emma and Lily are reunited and it seems like that whole ‘best friends forever’ thing is officially out the window.