‘Once Upon A Time’ S4 Ep 19 recap: The nature of De Vil’s game

Do you have any sympathy for Cruella? (Photo credit: Disney/ABC Press via Twitter)

From the moment Adam Horowitz revealed the perfect, squee inducing title for this episode, we knew Sunday’s (April 19) “Sympathy for the De Vil” would be one of this season’s highlights. The hour lived up to our expectations and then some. Fascinating flashbacks reveal how the Author played a crucial role in Cruella’s origin story. In an interesting twist, we come to realize that this villain was actually born a monster. If anything, the Author’s interference prevented Cruella from rivaling all of the other villains’ cruelties combined. However, Cruella’s curse comes back to haunt her. In the present day, Heroes and Villains go to great lengths for their happy endings. Rumple has set a fatal plan into motion and we hold our breaths, hoping that Emma doesn’t play right into the Dark One’s hands.

England, 1920s (or so it seems): “Cruella De Vil can no longer take away the life of another.”

Cruella is just an innocent little girl when her mother uses her highly trained Dalmatians to bully her daughter into submission. Mommy dearest locks the girl away in the attic. A little over a decade later, a journalist named Isaac (aka the Author) knocks on Mama De Vil’s door. He has come to inquire about her renowned dog training skills and the mysterious deaths of her three husbands. She is appalled by his accusation and shoos him out of her home. Suddenly, Cruella coos from her window.

The Author helps her escape and takes her for a roaring night out. The fun-filled evening includes gin martinis, lively music, and dancing. Wide-eyed Cruella revels in the magic of this night. She shares her story with Isaac and tells him the truth about her mother. Mrs. De Vil murdered her three husbands and locked Cruella away so that she would never reveal her secret. Then just to spite the girl, she uprooted and disposed of Cruella’s favorite flowers. Awww poor Cruella.

Isaac takes her story to heart and wants to help. He reveals himself as the Author and tells Cruella that he can fill her life with magic. He explains how he travels through various realms and searches for stories. The Author can give Cruella the happiness she deserves. He shows her the enchanted ink and quill, then he proves the truth by gifting her with a diamond necklace and matching earrings. Once Cruella sees that magic is real, she wants in. The Author gives Cruella the power to control all animals so that her mother can never turn the dogs on her ever again. He wants to run away with Cruella to another realm, but she wants to exact revenge on her mother first. She promises to meet him at the hotel later that night. Cruella gives him a kiss and skips off.

Shortly thereafter, Isaac answers a knock at his door and is surprised to see Mrs. De Vil. He scowls at her and says he knows the truth. She woefully sets the record straight: Cruella is the real monster here. Cruella poisoned all three men with her “favorite” flower. Mama De Vil was worried when Cruella witnessed her father’s death, so she rushed after the girl. Instead of shedding tears, Cruella was sporting a smile. After the other two husbands died, Mrs. De Vil realized that her child was in fact a sociopath. That’s why she locked Cruella away. Geesh! So much for “poor Cruella.”

Mama De Vil returns home, hoping to stop her child before she causes any more pain. Cruella greets her mother, magically takes control of the Dalmatians and has them maul Mrs. De Vil to death. As if that isn’t traumatizing enough, the Author arrives to find Cruella fashioning a coat out of those Dalmatians’ fur. The chilling sight leaves us horrified and speechless. Again, “Once Upon A Time” really knows how to go dark, very, very dark. Suffice it to say that after this, we have NO sympathy for the De Vil. Wow.

Isaac returned to retrieve the enchanted quill that Cruella stole during that distracting kiss. When the Author takes out the magic ink to right his wrongs, the power-hungry and maniacal animal whisperer wrestles with him. In the midst of their tussle, the ink spills all over Cruella, causing the drastic change in her appearance. Cruella rises with her classically salt and pepper hair and crazy make-up. The Author manages to write one life-changing line before Cruella has a chance to shoot him. He takes away the thing Cruella loves most and makes it impossible for her to kill. No matter how hard she tries, Cruella can’t pull the trigger, so the Author is able to escape.

Well played, “OUAT”! This was a very clever twist. Victoria Smurfit delivered an excellent performance. Cruella was a true villain ages before magic entered her life. If anything, the Author’s magic prevents Cruella from fulfilling her frightening capacity as a cold-hearted killer. Seriously, she’s the kind of sociopath the “Criminal Minds” BAU gang tracks down. Really, Cruella De Vil would give Hannibal Lector a run for his money. Hopefully the Author learned from this close call and thinks twice before bestowing anyone else with magic powers.

Storybrooke, present day: “You see, I’m a really terrible person.”

Maleficent confronts Cruella about her daughter Lily. Surprisingly, Cruella admits that she just left the baby behind in the woods. She’s not mother material and couldn’t care less about the dreadful child. Oh that is stone cold! Mal dragon’s out to attack her, which is a stupid move since Cruella can control animals. Luckily, she has more pressing matters to tend to, so she puts the dragon to sleep and goes on with her vindictive plan.

Cruella’s cruelty catches up with her. Now that the Author has been found, she can get her happy ending. Ironically, of all the characters, Isaac single-handedly took away her happy ending in person. Now the only thing that will give her happiness is to see the Author dead, but she can’t kill him herself. So she tries to have someone else to the dirty work for her. Cruella kidnaps Henry and tells Swan Queen that if they don’t kill the Author, she will kill their son.

Emma and Regina have no clue that Cruella is incapable of killing. However, Rumple has known all along. From the start, Cruella has been a means to a greater end. He knows that when it comes to Henry, Emma will stop at nothing to protect him. This is his chance to force her into doing a dark deed. Uh oh!

The Heroes have a pow-wow on how to handle Cruella’s threat. Emma still doesn’t trust her parents after the way they lied to her. She tells them to go warn the Author. She’d prefer taking Regina and Hook along on her search for Henry. Ouch, that’s got to sting.

While Captain Swan Queen make their way through the woods, Hook and Regina try reasoning with Emma. They urge her to forgive the Charmings. After all, they’ve spent their entire lives trying to make up for that one dark act. If she can forgive Hook and Regina, surely she can give her parents a pass. Nope! According to Emma’s reasoning, the Charmings preached an ethical life of heroism and they just turned out to be hypocrites. Whereas Hook and Regina are self-claimed villains who’ve made an effort to be heroes. Plus, if Mary Margaret and David had the chance to do it all again, they would still choose to save Emma’s soul.

Geesh, imagine how angry she’d be if she spent her entire life with them. They’ve only been together as a family for four years and Emma is holding a grudge. She should try thinking of the big picture. Imagine how she would’ve have turned out if she entered the real world with a heart full of darkness. Emma’s career change from thief to bounty hunter is tied to her destiny as the Savior. Her life would be very different if it wasn’t for the Charmings’ desperate, selfish, and ultimately, necessary act of putting their child’s well being before all else. Moving on…

They hear Henry calling out for help and split up to follow his voice. They are pulled into different directions. Regina and Hook find magic shells, but Emma stumbles upon the real deal. Cruella has Henry at gun-point and she is backing up towards the edge of a cliff. Emma is not messing around, her magic hands are ready and she’s not afraid to use them. Elsewhere, the Charmings locate the Author and confront him in Gold’s cabin.

The Author reveals Rumple’s rouse and tells them that Cruella is incapable of killing Henry. The Charmings must stop Emma before she takes the first step in darkening her heart. While they are rushing to the woods, Emma is in the midst of making a life-changing decision.

As Cruella’s grip on Henry tightens, the Savior feels she is left with no choice. Emma shoots the heartless De Vil with a magic burst of energy, which sends her spiraling off the edge of the cliff. The Charmings arrive on the horrifying scene. The fire in Emma’s eyes indicate that she has no remorse for her actions and her fierce expression make us fear that this act of darkness is only the beginning.

Once again, Rumple ingeniously manipulated people to do exactly as he wished. Emma is on the road to darkness. If Mary Margaret’s heart was stained with a bit of black after killing Cora, we can only imagine the mark this murder (which can be perceived as a mother’s desperate act of self-defense) has made on Emma’s heart. If it is any consolation, we can find some comfort in knowing that Rumple is not completely untouchable.

Earlier in the episode, Regina told Team Heroes about Zelena’s long con. She needs to go to New York and save Robin Hood before it is too late. But to do so, she must first gain some leverage on Rumple. Regina approaches Belle and the beauty is more than willing to help her out. In an exceptionally acted and intensely powerful scene, we witness Rumple swallow his pride and metaphorically fall to his knees before Belle.

Belle summons Rumple to the wishing well where they were married and confronts her ex-husband. Why is he doing all of this? Hasn’t he caused enough pain? Belle simply wants answers and without hesitation, the Dark One comes clean.

Rumple pulls out his heart and shows Belle how it is almost completely consumed by darkness. One tiny sparkle of red remains. If Rumple’s heart becomes totally black, then he will lose all capacity to love. If there is one thing Rumple clings to in his life, it is his love for Belle. He does not want to lose that even if she hates him right now. He wants to win back her love and hold onto the True Love he feels for her. His methods are twisted, but the sentiment is sweet.

As Rumple weeps, Belle embraces him and offers a glimmer of hope. They kiss and just when he thinks he has won her back, she breaks his heart. Belle says that Will is a much better kisser, so she’d rather be with her new beau. Ouch! Belle wasn’t that harsh even when she commanded him to leave Storybrooke. Rumple (and viewers) can’t help but wonder: “What gives?”

Regina emerges from the shadows with Belle’s pulsating heart in her hand. She’s been pulling the puppet strings and gives Rumple an ultimatum. Rumple must keep up appearances with Zelena and allow Regina to covertly rescue Robin in NYC. If he doesn’t comply with Regina’s wishes, then she will crush his beloved Belle’s heart. Rumple challenges Regina, thinking she doesn’t have it within her, but a light squeeze shows him otherwise. Rumple is shaken by Regina’s brazen threat and agrees to let her go.

By episode’s end, Rumple has lost one battle and won another. Emma has committed her first dark act, which has probably left a little stain on her heart. She is at the precipice of a very slippery slope. How far into darkness will the Savior descend? Only time will tell. However, Rumple realizes that he is not the only one willing to go to desperate lengths to attain his happy ending. Regina has put him between a rock and hard place with Zelena. If the Wicked Witch learns that Rumple is lying to her, he’ll likely lose his life. Maybe Rumple would rather die than live in a world where he could no longer love Belle.


“Sympathy for the De Vil” was another exceptional episode loaded with phenomenal performances. Smurfit has been sensational on the show and Cruella’s biting humor will be greatly missed. She had us all fooled for half of the episode and then she chillingly turned on a dime. For a moment we thought we might actually have sympathy for Ms. De Vil, but then she revealed her true colors. When it comes to Cruella De Vil, the situation is black and white (pun totally intended). This homicidal sociopath showed no mercy, so why should we feel bad for her? Granted, that doesn’t mean she deserved to die.

Kudos to Regina. Her role as an official Hero is being firmly secured. She could have conjured a villainous plan of her own, but she took a page out of the Heroes’ book and asked for help. The former Evil Queen has loyal friends who want to help her get that happy ending with Robin. Lana Parrilla continues to dazzle in every episode. Her scene in the woods was especially brilliant. It is so fun to see the way Regina works with the other Heroes. She even sided with Hook when they tried convincing Emma to forgive her parents. Speaking of which…

Emma knows how to hold a grudge. Given the sensitive state of her soul and Rumple’s clear mission to corrupt her, Emma should be playing extra nice right now. Instead, she hates on her parents and kills Cruella. That scowling look on her face afterwards offers no comfort. Emma is walking a fine line. She may have faith in her resolve, but her actions are causing others to worry (including the audience). Great work from Jennifer Morrison. Emma’s character is growing more complex with each episode.

It is worth repeating, Robert Carlyle and Emilie de Ravin are magical together. The waterworks in that powerful scene gave us all goosebumps. It is amazing to see the kind of power Belle has over Rumple. It is also important to note how big of a deal it was for Belle to trust Regina with her heart. The Heroes have truly put their faith in Regina. Plus, it also shows how badly Belle is still hurting for her to allow Regina to manipulate Rumple in such a heartbreaking way. For a brief moment the Dark One had a taste of the love he threw away and then Regina swiftly shattered that illusion. Regardless of his treacherous behavior, our hearts still break for Rumple.

This episode also gave us a better glimpse into the Author’s past. Was this the first subject he fell for? How much has his personal interaction with characters influenced his writing? Did anyone ever manipulate him into giving them something before? Was he always so open with people he met? He shared his big secret with Cruella rather quickly and easily. Have there been others that he’s gifted in such a way? The Author is an interesting character with a very rich history. Hopefully, we’ll get to learn a lot more about him. Patrick Fischler has been a great addition to the cast.

What did you think of this episode, Oncers? Do you have any sympathy for Cruella? Were you shocked to discover that she was a sociopath from the start? Are you enjoying learning more about the Author? Did Rumple’s confession soften your heart towards him? Do you think Regina’s mission to rescue Robin will be successful? Are you worried that Emma will be tempted again by darkness? Should she forgive her parents already? Do you like how Regina and Hook teamed up to defend Mary Margaret and David? Share your thoughts below!

“Once Upon A Time” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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