Well, that’s it for Once Upon A Time. Not because I’m breaking up with the show (oh hells no), but simply because it’s reached the end of its fall run and will take a break until January 8 (according to Michael Ausiello’s scoresheet). One bonus of the show starting so late this fall is that it will have extra episodes to air in the Winter. Which is good because there will be plenty of fall-out to deal with from “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.’ Major spoilers ahead.
Let’s break it down…
So can we just agree that this was a great episode to end a consistently enjoyable first run of episodes? I’ve admitted in the past that some episodes have grabbed my attention more than others, and I think it’s in the show’s benefit to flesh out the various relationships and provide us with a bit more backstory on the nature of the curse. This episode did a commendable job on the first point and gave us some ideas on the second.
As is often helpful with these recaps, let’s just start at the end: another fall finale, another fatality. RIP hottie Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan), whom we only just got to know before Mayor Regina (Lana Parilla) crushed his heart and killed him. The crystallized heart crumbling into powder and slipping through her fingers like ashes was a pretty arresting (sorry) visual. And for Graham to die just as he and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) finally began to open up to each other and act on their romantic feelings (I totally called it!)…so sad. Looks like Graham’s death is the new carry-on to Emma’s already significant emotional baggage. As least she got to kiss him a few times before he dropped dead.
It’s unclear whether it was meant to be a surprise that Graham would die in this episode. ABC did the show a disservice by blasting the news of a character’s death in both the promos and the episode description, and from the very get-go it was clear that Graham was the Huntsman from the Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) fairytale. It’s pretty clear in the fairytale that the guy doesn’t just walk away from the wicked stepmother, so as soon as the emotional hunter is hired by the Evil Queen to take Snow into the woods and off her, a virtual countdown started counting down to his untimely doom. Of course, in true Once Upon A Time fashion, when the Queen discovered that he let Snow go and exacts her revenge by ripping out his heart, the Huntsman doesn’t simply die, but lives on as her supplicant (and sex-slave pet, apparently). It is another nice revisionist twist on a familiar tale: the reason Graham feels empty and emotionally dead is because he is literally missing his heart. Regina’s got that sucker hidden away under dear old dad’s tomb (loved Jared Gilmore’s Henry’s description that ripping out hearts is sort of the Queen’s “thing”). Wonder what the annual fee for a heart-stowing-safety-deposit box is. I’m willing to bet that stranger things have been discovered in them over the years.
One of the aspects of this episode that worked best for me were the transitions between Storybrooke and Fairy Tale. Perhaps simply because I’m a continuity nut, I’ve wondered these past seven weeks why particular events trigger our return to Fairy Tale. In the case of ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’, the answer was literal: they were more-or-less coinciding directly with Graham’s returning memories. Of course, like any long running fantasy-mystery (or slasher film), it is important that Graham’s experiences aren’t believed by anyone. And so, each time Graham’s spirit guide wolf appeared or he discussed his vivid dreams, it was easy to disregard them as a symptoms of illness or a lack of sleep.
The pace of the episode was also refreshingly fast. In lieu of the stagey-slow progress that Archie (Raphael Sbarge) made during his time in the mine back in ‘That Still Small Voice’, Graham’s reawakening was lightning speed: from kiss to dream, he’s on the hunt (sorry again!) within the first five minutes of the episode.
We start off at the diner where he verbally spars with Emma in the wake of her discovery of him with the Mayor last week. She spills the beans on his sexual relationship with the Mayor in front of everyone (tres professional there, Em). There’s a quick cut to them in the street afterwards, so it’s uncertain whether his nocturnal habits with Regina are actually news to anyone. Since time was pretty much infinite before Emma restarted the clock, wouldn’t everyone know everyone’s business because nothing ever happens?
Almost immediately things get juicy: Graham kisses Emma in the street, which induces Fairy Tale flashbacks of a wolf with one black eye and one red eye, a knife held high above a cowering Snow White, and a symbol of stag antlers. Graham refuses to apologize for his actions because he “needs to feel something.” I may have muttered something about how Emma has difficulty feeling anything due to her ridiculously tight (and inappropriate) skinny jeans, but let’s move on… The sexual encounter drives Graham to Regina’s house, where they again do the nasty while Henry is asleep (gross), but the Emma-kiss has awoken dormant memories and he rushes off to figure them out. Side Note: I realize this is a family show, but considering the amount of bodice and leather costumes in Fairy Tale land, would it have killed the showrunners to have Graham wear something other than grandpa boxers? Does that make me a perv? Yes? Alright, let’s move on…
As my friend dannyagogo pointed out to me earlier this week, our Fairy Tale flashbacks have taken place in reverse chronological order so the scenes from Graham’s dream of the Evil Queen comforting Snow White is the earliest time period we’ve seen yet in Fairy Tale (back even before Snow became a rebel or the Queen killed her own father). Looks like the Queen has been a murdering witch for quite some time as she offed her husband (and Snow’s dad) before trying to do the same to Snow. Why the Queen considers a Huntsman who cries for each of his kills the “perfect” candidate who is “adept at murder and bereft of conscience” is beyond me. Seems like she brought this whole mess onto herself for choosing an inappropriate murdering henchman.
Graham running around following his spirit guide and having difficult conversations with Mr. Gold, Henry, Emma and Mary Margaret about his dreams and past lives, however, is not making him any friends with the Mayor. Eventually he and Emma follow the wolf to a crypt bearing the symbol from his dream and search for his missing heart. Side Note: This crypt looked exactly like one from the pilot of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, which also had a secret passage in it. Coincidence?
Although they find nothing inside, when Graham and Emma exit, Regina is waiting for them. Graham insists his actions have nothing to do with Emma and clarifies that he’s tired of living an empty life with Regina. She insists that Emma is to blame for their troubles, prompting Emma to bluntly state that Regina should examine why everyone in her life runs away from her. And then it happens, the moment I dream about: a bitch fight! Usually these things go the way of Desperate Housewives or Dynasty, where the women pull at each other’s hair or end up in the pool. So you can only imagine how ecstatic I am when these women actually behave like legitimate human beings and throw a few punches. Regina smokes Emma so hard she knocks Graham over, and Emma scores her own solid with a nice blow across the jaw (cue Tatum from Scream: “Bam! Bitch went down”). In fact Emma likely would have pummeled Regina even more if Graham hadn’t pulled her off.
The physical altercation is enough to get Graham and Emma all hot and bothered, so they make with the smoochies back at the police station (since we all know that violence is a great aphrodisiac). This allows Regina to sneak down into her heart-safety-deposit box beneath her father’s coffin, grab Graham’s crystallized heart (which has been carried over from Fairy Tale like Snow White’s coffin in ‘That Still Small Voice’) and give it a big squeeze. And so Graham collapses and dies, leaving Emma cradling his body and the audience wondering what the fall out from the season’s first death will bring when the show returns in just under a month.
- There was a quick moment of realization during Graham’s conversation with Snow White as they discuss past lives and their inability to recall their first meeting. Is it possible that she’s starting to believe, or is she simply beginning to notice the inconsistencies in Storybrooke?
- How long until we get a backstory on Red Riding Hood (seen early in the episode waiting tables in the diner) and Mr. Whale (the town doctor who has a relationship with her)? Also, did I hear it correctly that Mary Margaret had a “one night stand” with the doctor? Guess she earned that bouquet and has reason to save it from Emma’s floral abuse.
- There are plenty of dangling threads that are introduced in this episode:
- The Evil Queen rationalizes her plans for REVENGE to the Hunstman because Snow White can’t keep a secret and the “betrayal cost [her] dearly.” What might this be referring to?
- Why did Snow White have blood on her face as she wrote her note? Did something happen to her between her escape from the Huntsman and when she began to write? Or should we assume that it was just from when she hit him?
- In Storybrooke, what was Mr. Gold burying in the woods when Graham stumbled upon him in the early morning?
- Where has that wolf – last seen in the pilot when Emma crashed her car – been hiding? Seems to me that that thing is less of a spirit guide and more of a bad luck omen considering whenever it shows up bad shit happens
We’ll have to see if we get further clarification on any of these pieces in the new year. Until then, don’t forget to visit the site as we continue our Justified marathon and to see if Once Upon A Time ends up on our end of year Bitch Awards, which celebrates the best (and worst) of film and television. Just because the show is in hiatus doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of fresh content in the weeks to come!