Emma doesn’t seem so stubborn to me now. I’m having just as much trouble believing this whole curse thing and I’ve known from the beginning it’s “real.”
At this point, I thought all the rules had been established. There’s no magic in this world, Emma’s the only one who can break the curse and no one but Emma can leave Storybrooke. Well, it turns out we weren’t given all the facts. Apparently, Emma, the one person who could break this spell, the one person who has a chance of “bringing back the happy endings” as Henry so nauseatingly put it, cannot be killed by Regina. Why? Well, because that would break the curse. Wait, run that by me again? The Queen was so distraught about Snow White’s “happy ending” that she enacted a curse that would have a GIGANTIC loophole? Or, the curse is virtually indestructible as long as people don’t act predictably. Let me explain.
Here’s how this looks, from afar. The queen can hardly do anything to stop Emma, or she can do anything except kill Emma. My whole Faith vs. Reason argument has some teeth now. The only thing stopping Emma from saving everyone, and inversely the glue that keep Regina’s curse airtight is faith. As Regina’s dream forewarned (shot in the cheesiest, most cliche manner imaginable, and so goddamn obvious), the danger isn’t that Emma has the magic to reverse the curse, it’s the idea that she could rile everyone up to turn on her. As Mr. Gold surmises, “They will be looking for blood.” If Emma suddenly believes Regina is the Evil Queen and that Henry’s beloved book is true, then she is that magnetic figure who could conjure up a good ol’ fashioned mob. But of course Regina can’t eliminate this rabble-rouser that could make the whole town call for her death. Why? Because Rumpelstiltskin said so. Um, okay. Then why would she agree to that?
On the flip side, even if Emma turns a corner and starts to trust her son and believe that fairy tales are possible, all our vile EQ has to do is not kill Emma and evade death herself. And here’s where my whole “religious allegory” theory gets interesting. The only way Emma can ensure her friends live to see their happy endings is to sacrifice herself. If she can provoke Regina to kill her, that is. She would be the savior in the most Biblical sense, because she absolved the sins of these non-believers so that they could be happy again. Or, it becomes the most boring game of chicken EVER. “You’re not gonna kill me! I bet you won’t!” But then there’s the matter of, will Emma killing Regina effectively end the curse, anyway? And one question for Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin. If you want the curse to be broken now, because your son isn’t in Storybrooke like you’d hoped, or whatever your motivation is this week, why don’t you just…reverse it? I mean for god’s sake, it’s your freaking curse! Wouldn’t you know how it works?
Our problem here is MAGIC. Magic as a solution to a problem is lazy and a great way to obliterate the tension in drama. Most great conflict is derived from choice. The easy way or the hard way. Good or evil. Life and death. But when the safety valve of magic is present, there’s always a way out. And I suspect that next week, with the astronomical success this show has had, Emma won’t be saving the day and reversing the curse. Then what would the show be? Fairy Tale Adventure Hour. No thanks. What I’m guessing happens is that some version of the reset button is pressed. Like the Joker and Batman (but not nearly as compelling or twisted) they will “do this dance forever.”
And does anyone else find it odd that Emma’s supposed to save everyone, but none of us know what that means? Yes, it would mean ending the curse, but is it simply a matter of “waking everyone up” like Desmond did on “LOST?” Once Emma gets wise, what does she do with that knowledge? That’s why my sacrificial lamb theory seems to be the only plausible solution. If it’s true, that’s a hell of a twist on happily ever after, but it would feel like a hell of a waste. Some felt that way about “LOST,” and for some that’s justifiable, but this has been way too frustrating of a ride to endure for some spiritual, metaphorical payoff. I wouldn’t mind if OUAT was like an acid trip, some out of body experience that won’t become clear until I’ve come back down to earth. But this show feels like less of a hallucinogenic high and more like someone giving me poor directions. Yeah, yeah. It’s the journey not the destination. Well on this journey the kids keep needing to stop to pee and screaming, “Are we there yet?!”
And that’s my masterful little segue into the actual car trip that starts the episode. After Regina’s “in case you didn’t know Regina was anxious about death” dream that spoon-fed us Regina’s current mental state, we pick up inside Emma’s car where she plans to take Henry far away from his wretched mother. Heart’s in the right place, but oh my could that backfire. Henry, for once, is the voice of reason. Well, his “reasons” involve saving everybody, but he knows his bio-mom is solving her problems by running and he jerks the wheel, veering them off the road. They aren’t hurt, but Emma gets the message and turns around.
Mary Margaret is rightfully pissed off that Emma would have left without saying goodbye to her “family.” She specifically calls Emma out for reverting, which I’m glad someone mentioned since I was fascinated by last week’s regression. Emma realizes she has to figure out what’s best for Henry so she does coffee with Dr. Hopper. He doesn’t definitively say that Henry’s better off with Emma versus Regina—I’m guessing his reluctance isn’t entirely genuine since he used this exact scenario as leverage for his job against Regina earlier in the season—but he’s certain this war of theirs can only be harmful to the kid’s psyche (especially since he already thinks I’m Jiminy Cricket and you’re….Jesus I guess).
After being rejected by Gold (ain’t no magic powerful enough to get me to help you win babe), Regina seeks her own magical ace in the hole to tip the scales. She enlists The Mad Hatter. I’ll give points to the writers for a creative way to summon him—a calling card attached to his daughter’s bicycle. Of course he watches her even though she doesn’t know who he is. Her request is that he use his hat, which she has been kept from him (for obvious reasons like extortion), to travel back to Fairy Tale Land to retrieve something for her. What does he get in return? His memory wiped. He’ll have no recollection of the daughter he lost. Again, I’m a sucker for psychology so this request of his intrigued me. When we get a glimpse into how much of a rouse their “happiness” was in the FTL, I’m mystified. When we’re back to broad battles of good vs. evil, curses with conditions, and fairy warfare (more on that next) they lose me.
Our fairyback this week consists of a failed rescue mission and the quintessential Snow White tale of the apple. Last we saw, Prince James had been captured by his adoptive father, King George. For his treason—refusing to marry King Midas’ daughter—he’ll be guillotined. But as the blade drops it turns to water. The EQ herself storms in and buys Charming off the king’s hands. She is using him as bait to lure Snow White. So there’s strike one against the rescue. I knew the whole time she’d fail! If she wanted Snow to come and get him, why would she make it so easy? Come on, people. Think with your brain. Strike two against the rescue mission, terrible castle CGI. Though I love seeing cute girls kick butt, whether it’s Ginnifer Goodwin or Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers (SO GOOD btw), I’m sold. But the castle backdrop was a laughingstock. And strike three? Fairies. Dear Lord, the fairies. When the whole dwarves yielding pickaxes and Snow White going MMA on the royal guards is negated by pretty fairies in a flying V dropping glitter bombs, it just robs a fight sequence of its cool factor INSTANTLY.
Once Snow arrives at the cell and discovers that Granny’s Admiral Ackbar impression was right (for those who don’t get the reference watch Star Wars for crying out loud, but the line is “It’s a trap!”), the Evil Queen interrupts their cross-magic mirror reunion with the most unnecessary line the show may have ever used, “I had to stop you. I have no interest in cleaning tongue marks off my mirror.” Ew, Regina. Why’d you have to go and get all nasty. Their love is pure. Why you gotta dirty it up like that? So EQ makes things awkward and then defines what a parlay is (who hasn’t seen at least ONE pirate movie) and they agree to meet where “it all began,” which is ominous before the commercial break speak for “where you saw me and my stable boy kissing.”
At their meeting, Regina guilts Snow about how she was the worst child ever because she couldn’t keep a goddamn secret. She shows her Daniel’s grave, blames her for her mother ripping out his heart (again, I think her beef is with mom) and tells her she can pay penance if she eats her poison apple. Skeptical, (because, well, it sounds like it might kill her), Snow asks why should she? Regina replies, because I’ll kill your boyfriend if you don’t. Damn, she’s sneaky! So Snow willingly eats the apple and turns into “a tomb to house all her regrets.” So, wannabe Shakespeare talk for “she’s in a coma.” This sets us up for the pilot where Charming kisses her awake (DISCLAIMER: This does not work on most coma patients).
Conveniently, when Mad Hatter opens the portal to retrieve the famed apple—which was so painfully telegraphed when he said, “Maybe I can reach through and grab something. But it has to be small enough to fit in my hand.” HAHAHA—it’s just been chewed on by Snow and has rolled downhill into the magical sinkhole they made. It was a nice touch that the magical catalyst they needed was the ring her stable boy proposed to her with, I must say. Then Regina bakes it into an apple turnover that she gives to Emma after they agree on a rough custody agreement. This leads into what I thought was the best scene because despite Henry’s atrocious overacting, it was the most grounded in reality. Emma tells Henry that she is leaving Storybrooke, but that she’ll visit and the kid is devastated. No matter the reason, separating a kid from love is just cruel and it got to me. Then Henry eyes the turnover and makes a desperate move for his mama. He bites into it to prove the curse is real and he drops to the floor. If Emma still has trouble buying into the book now, I think she’s swimming DEEP in denial river.
This final twist was sure to make many a viewer gasp, and I agree with it as an apt way to appeal to Emma’s issues with believing, whether in herself or in something she can’t figure out—after all she’s an expert in lie detection. Still, the mechanics that got us here are shoddy. The boundaries under which magic manifests in this world are a permeable membrane that allows in any deus ex machine it pleases. When a fleet of fairy bombers can take out a couple dozen knights, it’s no longer magical. Doubt and disbelief are what make those moments where we see the beyond all the more enchanting.When wicked curses start resembling contracts, it’s clear they’ve lost sight of why we love fairy tales. It’s about beating the odds, not rigging the game.
P.S. “Once Upon A Time,” I know it’s a season finale preview, but the “Requiem for a Dream” theme music was a little much. You already take this whole fairy tale, cross-dimesion epic too seriously, no need for more theatrics.