Once Upon A Time continues its steady progression towards its first season finale as the matter of Kathryn’s disappearance takes center stage. Plus: one character begins to make headway in unraveling the curse (and no – it’s not Emma).
Let’s bitch it out…
After a few weeks of putting the case of the missing Storybrooke resident on the backburner, Once Upon A Time brings the investigation front and center with the arrest and questioning of Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin). As much as I’ve complained that this narrative – which would be all consuming in a small town – has been underdeveloped, I do feel that the show did a much better job of handling the case than it has in the past. That’s not to say it was perfect however. I still wish that the show was a) less obvious in telegraphing its machinations and b) a touch more realistic.
Let’s tackle B first. Everyone hold on, because I’m about to pay Emma (Jennifer Morrison) a compliment. For ohsomany episodes I’ve ragged on the former bounty hunter for her impressively awful powers of deduction, despite a self-described ability to see when people are lying. Well, the writers seem to have realized that Emma can’t be the Sheriff and still be so frickin’ blind because this week she actually makes some rational arguments. Although she does lock up her roommate/mother for a crime she doesn’t believe she committed, Emma refuses to compromise the integrity of the investigation. That means allowing the Mayor (Lana Parrilla) to be an impartial observer at Mary Margaret’s questioning, but preventing her from seizing control of the situation. That means doubting Henry (Jared Gilmore) when he accuses his mother of having the ability to steal the murder box until he demonstrates that Regina has access to her apartment. And that means recognizing that not only can she not beat Regina on her own, but that she needs to bury the hatchet with Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) – despite her reservations about his tactics – if she truly wants to help Mary Margaret.
So if that’s all great, then what’s the problem? Well, to say that the case against Mary Margaret is circumstantial is an understatement. I know – readers of these recaps tell me every week – that this is a fantasy and that I need to lighten up, but I don’t think that just because Once… is a family show dealing with fairytales that that means we compromise on demanding quality from it. The show met me halfway this week: last week I complained that arresting Mary Margaret because they found a random heart in a box with her finger prints means that they have a heart and a box – it doesn’t mean murder and it doesn’t prove Mary Margaret is a killer. ‘Heart of Darkness’ addresses this issue by revealing that the DNA results do prove the heart is Kathyrn’s and we learn that the box is Mary Margaret’s jewelry box.
The knife (wiped clean?) that Emma and Henry discover in the vent is a step too far into the obvious, however. Its presence is revealed by a rattle that anyone spending time in the apartment would have noticed. Ergo the knife has recently been planted using Regina’s keys in the time since Mary Margaret has been arrested (ie the time period neither Emma, nor Mary Margaret has been home). Also, the suggested motive: that Mary Margaret was overcome with emotion and harmed Kathyrn makes no sense considering a) David’s phone conversation in which she wished him well and b) the fact that she was leaving town. Who would kill their romantic rival after they’ve conceded defeat and run away? That’s Freudian-lite, Regina, but thanks for stopping by for your mandatory “make threats and accusations” scene of the week.
This kind of shoddy reasoning leads into problem A. I was super thankful that the show didn’t randomly have Emma confront Regina about the keys or the planted knife, but how convenient was the appearance of the key in the cell that miraculously frees Mary Margaret. Like a Hitchcock bomb, there was no way that the show introduces a key that opens the cell that isn’t used, so it’s no surprise that the episode ends with an empty cell and Mary Margaret on the run.
My issue is that it was so obvious that it felt telegraphed. In this way any kind of dramatic suspense is drained by tipping its hand too early. Why not, having already shown a close-up of the keys earlier on Regina’s keychain, simply end the episode with a similar looking key in the wide open cell door? This would have had the same intended effect: we gasp that Mary Margaret has run away (which will stupidly be interpreted as guilty – how dumb a school teacher is she?!), but more importantly it makes us wonder how the key got into the cell in the first place. Clearly that’s one question we’re supposed to ask, but the way it is filmed in ‘Heart of Darkness’ doesn’t make us do that so much as groan because we knew it was coming from the moment she found the key under the bed. Boo
- The FairyTale portions left me cold this week. Once again Snow and Charming (Josh Dallas) save each other, but end up apart and determined to do it all over again. Dramatically this is inert: the last time we saw Snow she took the potion to forget him. The very next Snow episode they kiss and she remembers. Nothing has happened of consequence in between.
- Side Note: Many of the episode titles have been well chosen, but I think it was an error to go with this one. ‘Heart Of Darkness’ carries with it some pretty heavy connotations thanks to the Joseph Conrad novel, and while Snow’s spiritual journey to kill the Queen has shades of losing yourself in a mission, this was a little too lightweight compared to the classic Conrad piece of fiction.
- No points for having Snow’s “heart of darkness” be reflected in her breaking Happy’s mug or swatting at birds with brooms. This feels like a poor man’s live-action Shrek.
- Everyone notice the over-the-top obviousness of Rumplestiltskin/Gold and Evil Queen/Regina repeating each other’s lines? “Evil isn’t born, it’s made”. Clearly this is a reminder that all of our characters are capable of going astray into darkness (hammered home with multiple characters reminding Snow or Charming how easy it is to let evil into your heart). More importantly, in my eyes, is that it equates both of our “evil” characters with each other; we begin to see that they think alike. How will this association factor into Emma’s decision to partner with Gold remains to be seen, but I can say that I’d still be more interested in a Gold vs Regina show rather than an Emma-centric show.
- The other instance of repetition is Rumple/Gold’s statement that he has an investment in Mary Margaret. In FairyTale, this is literally embodied in his collection of potions, to which – at episode’s end – he adds Love after collecting hair samples from both Snow and Charming. While a little hokey, the simple special effects of the hair interlocking was a nice visual, even if it was then rendered obvious (yet again) when he placed the potion into the single empty slot. Ohhhh it’s love…yeah, we got it.
- August (Eion Bailey) reveals that he’s a believer in Henry’s book (obviously since he [re]wrote it). More interestingly, he’s there to convince Emma. We knew that he was interested in her, but now we have confirmation that he’s specifically focused on her.
- Finally, David visits Archie (marking the very welcome return of Raphael Sbarge) for hypnotherapy in an attempt to discover whether his blackouts are associated with Kathyrn’s disappearance. What he sees – shades of poor departed Sheriff Graham – is a vision of his FairyTale life. Naturally – because the show is all about keeping its star-crossed lovers apart – he misinterprets the memory of his other life as a memory of his blackout in the woods (apparently he failed to notice Snow’s significantly longer hair). This leads into the night’s other groaner scene as he asks Mary Margaret if she was involved in Kathyrn’s disappearance and she rightly tells him to get out after reminding him about how she stood by him. These crazy kids are never going to get it together! Sigh…
And that is our show. Now if you’ve watched the teaser for next week – featuring Sebastian Stan as a kidnapper who thinks he’s the Mad Hatter – there is a suggestion that he’s responsible for removing Mary Margaret from jail. Let us hope that this is the case…
What did you think of the episode, Once-rs? Did you enjoy seeing Red wolf out after last week’s reveal? Are you getting tired of the back and forth rescues between Snow and Charming? How will the pairing of Emma and Gold work against Regina? Sound off below!
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8pm EST on ABC