Readers, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I feel like we have a good thing going. I can share with you all the kinds of things one doesn’t divulge at dinner parties. I can open up to you with no fear of reprisal. Therefore, it is without hesitation that I confess to you…I’m a sucker for love stories. Yes, it’s true. I come off like a cynic, someone without a soft spot, someone who shuns things like cuddling and soul mates (because only those who believe in fate find pleasure in holding loved ones in their arms…icky). When you break down my grisly exterior, however, you will find a man who always cries at the end of The Notebook. A man who just last night screamed at his television while watching “Lost in Translation,” “What did Bill Murray whisper to Scarlett Johansson goddamit!” I am also the type of man who would dig tonight’s episode. One filled with the pain of unrequited affections, as well as the kind of forbidden romance you only find in fairy—son of a gun.
Needless to say, if they were looking for some good pub they came to the right…well, let’s pretend I have clout…critic. I was additionally surprised I enjoyed this episode so much because after last week’s turd in a punchbowl I was dreading this week. Perhaps if I watched previews I would have known we’d return to the only thing I’m invested in, Mary & David/Snow & Charming. Exacerbating my bias was the fact that Championship Sunday was as thrilling as its been in years. Both games decided by a field goal, one missed and one made. The second game was even in overtime. I found religion today and my Lord is the NFL. So how could this shaky family drama possibly hold my attention? First, by featuring the show’s best (never mind cutest) actors and by providing us with reasons to care about a relationship we already know is destined.
We resume with whom last week left us, scratching our heads, The Stranger. Or as I call him, Mysterious Biker Dude. Dude is fixing his chopper outside Regina and Henry’s residence when Oh Precocious One inquires as to what he is doing here? Dude smugly answers, “Fixing my bike,” and divulges no more information. Regina seems legitimately concerned that she doesn’t know who this guy is. Maybe he’s not connected with FTL (Fairy Tale Land) in any way? Also, there’s the whole stranger talking to my kid angle, so she may be onto something. From there, we enter the abode of the strong, sure-assured females (in all seriousness I suppose we should commend OUAT for portraying women with such agency in a show centered around stories that reenforce the most basic gender expectations) that save the show from vacuous oblivion, Mary Margaret and Emma. Mary Margaret wakes up in a tizzy because she is late. She claims she promised some of her students she’d help them with their science fair project (isn’t that cheating!) before school at 7:15. Emma scoffs that they can wait, and with one of the better lines, Mary replies, “Uh, we’re building a volcano.” Ha, because that’s a big deal, but not really. Get it? Okay, so I find Ginnifer Goodwin to be adorable. Sue me!
Turns out she isn’t meeting up with her students. Shocker, right? She sits down with a book at the coffee shop and pretends to read. Lo and behold, David walks through the door.She’s stalking him! How adorable! He says good morning, she asks how his job at the animal shelter is, he says the apes haven’t taken over yet. HA! Oh what a charming fellow. Well I’ll be they did it again! In FTL, he IS Charming. Oh dear. Anyway, she plays it off like it’s no thang and Emma walks in wondering where that volcano is. Mary fesses up that she comes at 7:15 A.M so that she can run into him. Aw…honey, he’s gonna file a restraining order! No, but Emma is much more supportive. She commiserates that love is indeed, the worst, and Mary sends us into the other realm with a you-can’t-miss-it cue: “I wish there was a magic cure.” Bet you can guess what the fairyback is about!
Thankfully, it isn’t quite that simplistic. We meet up with Snow as she is delivered her food run by Little Red Riding Hood. She also sneaks her intel about the upcoming royal wedding, in which “the love of her life whom she met but once” is the bridegroom. Snow agonizes like Mary about trying to forget that sexy-ass man. Red alludes that there might be a way, but chickens out. Snow then reminds her that she helped her when no one else would. This intrigued me because obviously the way to avoid becoming stale is to reinvent the familiar tales within an original mythology. The idea that there is an interconnectedness seems to be coming into focus so I don’t mind the vague references, for now. Not so surprisingly, good ole Rumpelstiltskin is the man with the drugs she needs to forget that one night stand with the rugged woodsman. When she finds Rumpy in a not at all shady dock covered in fog he provides her with a potion that will not only mend her broken heart, but she will forget who he is entirely. All he asks for is a strand of her hair. Either Rumpy has become a pedophile or maybe we should keep that in the back of our minds. Before she scurries off though, the impish dealmaker leaves her with parting words of wisdom, “Love is the most powerful magic there is. Love has killed more than any disease.”
Next, we pop in on the man of the hour, Prince James, who is peering out on his balcony broodingly. King George (Alan Dale, who played the wealthy and powerful Charles Widmore on “Lost”) presents him with a peace offering, a crown crafted by King Midas, his soon to be father-in-law. As fans of the show may remember, four episodes ago Prince James agreed to marry Kind Midas’ daughter Abigail as a show of good faith that they would enter an allegiance that benefits the prosperity of both kingdoms. James is sprung on Snow though, and resents his adoptive father for forcing him into forsaking her. He mocks the Midas crown rebuking that, “You could feed the kingdom for an entire winter with that crown.” Ugh, so he’s one of those annoying 99 percenters, huh? In all seriousness, I was mildly enthralled by the politics of it all, and how the King talked about the responsibility that comes with all that wealth. On another show, it might have carried more weight, but here it establishes the futility of Snow and Charming ever resuming their tryst. Ever persistent, James sends a dove with a letter for Snow. Like carrier pigeons, but more regal. The note reaches Snow just before she is about to down her potion. What she reads gives her renewed faith that they can be together, despite the odds. He asks her to come to his room that night so he knows she feels as strongly as he does.
While Mary is shopping for Apollo chocolate bars (a nod to the made-up brand featured in “Lost”) she bumps into Kathryn, David’s wife. As they sort through their stuff she stumbles upon a pregnancy test. She leaves and goes to clear her by walking though the woods (aw, the parallels) and hears a dove trapped in some wiring. It’s the same goddamn dove isn’t it. Yup, and even cheesier, when she brings the injured bird to the animal shelter (wait David works th—I know!) the doctor tells her that physically the bird will heal, but this particular dove is of a breed that develops highly monogamous relationships. If not reunited with her flock, she will be forever alone. Oh my god! The bird is just like MARY! Yeah, that hammer in your head isn’t a headache, it’s OUAT writers cramming in a metaphor.
Mary runs off, feeling akin to the bird’s struggle (I don’t know why their paths don’t intersect, like, at all) wanting to give the dove a chance at finding its loved ones. Mary slips and falls, barely hanging on to a cliff’s edge when DAVID ARRIVES! Convenient, yes. But he apparently followed her out of concern from the shelter. The cliff being a metaphor for her hanging onto feelings for David though? Kind of a stretch, don’t you think? Then like clockwork the rain comes down and they take shelter in an abandoned cabin. At this point, I grew worried this might be the beginning of a tremendously high-budget porno. Instead, Mary admits why she’s been so distant. It’s too painful to see him when they can’t be together. And yet she tortures herself by going to the coffee shop ay 7:15 every morning to see him. He laughs. “I go to the coffee shop at 7:15 every morning to see you.” My eyes rolled and I recited the line as he said it. Clearly telegraphed. And yet, it worked.
I can’t explain it, I just care about these darn kids, and I want them to be happy. The chemistry between the actors is palpable, Ginnifer is ridiculously cute as mentioned, and honestly they didn’t have to try so hard. As the kiss we all needed to relive our sexual tension was upon us, Mary thwarted it. She can’t break up Kathryn and David especially when they might be having a baby. David was unaware, but it changes things. They have to forget each other. Despite the new stakes, he resists. He explains the duality inside him in obvious terms that allude to the curse, but it nails the sentiment for me as it evokes the central question of the series thus far, “Who’s to say which one is real?” I won’t detail this theory again, but I still hope the show is moving toward this question about whether happily ever afters are not all they are cracked up to be, and that maybe it is only in the “real world” that we can find something genuinely worthwhile.
As Snow attempts to sneak into King George’s castle, Snow is locked up. Her cellmate? GRUMPY (Lee Arenberg, as seen in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies)! Grumpy tells Snow a hell of a tale about how he ended up there, blinded by love, and due to their instantaneous camaraderie, he breaks her out when his pal, Stealthy (the awesomest eight dwarf) springs him. As luck would have it, the eight dwarf doesn’t last long (gee, wonder what the point was cutting them to seven) and is killed by an arrow. Snow leverages Grumpy’s freedom for her own capture and King George presents her with an impossible choice. Either she tells the Prince that she does not love him, or Charming gets the ax. He reasons that if an assassin kills the Prince he will be viewed as a martyr and Midas will keep the alliance in his sacrifice. Because she doesn’t want to harm the one she loves, Snow lets him down easy. Not at all actually. “Fill your heart with love for someone else, someone who can love you the way I never have. The way I never will.” BOOM. He cries, she cries when she walks away, but she gains friends in the now seven dwarves. Grumpy also offers up some pretty sound advice for the grieving beauty, “I don’t want want my pain erased. It’s what makes me who I am. It makes me…Grumpy.” Yeah, it’s hokey. And when it’s supposed to be heartfelt you are focused on the pun, but it is an apt lesson about heartbreak.
While all the heartbreaking and mending is happening we do learn a bit about The Stranger too. Played by Eion Bailey, he’s a charismatic fellow, but he’s also a sarcastic bastard. Perfect for Emma, who has a witty repartee with him. He agrees to tell her what is in his case if she shows him hers. Nah, but he does want to buy her a drink sometime. So she agrees and he reveals a typewriter. He’s a pretentious douchebag writer who stills uses a typewriter. He finds inspiration in the whimsy of Storybrooke, I guess. But when Emma asks if he has been there before, he evades the question.
The episode that jerked my heart around then ends with two last rips at my sensitivity and further emasculates me by making me care. Kathryn and David attempt to reconcile in a touching scene where both put their cards on the table and agree to do marriage counseling with Dr. Hopper/Jiminy Cricket. He also makes the conscious choice to avoid the coffee shop at 7:15. Mary, reluctantly does the same, Emma holding her hand through it. When they both decided enough time has passed it is 7:45, and they both run into each other anyway. Again, OBVIOUS metaphor for fate, but it was exactly the sort of chance resolution we all wanted deep down. They realize it is useless, they can’t avoid each other. What follows is both exactly what I might have dreamed of and not what I wanted at all. David blurts out, “Kathryn isn’t pregnant,” and with that particular barrier gone they kiss like it’s Smooch City, spinning around like nobody is watching, except someone totally is! Regina! How could they be so careless! Clearly, both of them aren’t concerned about Kathryn at all. It sort of invalidated the whole struggle before that with such an easy payoff, that didn’t involve any real shifts in circumstance from where we started. Except Regina’s got blackmail to spare. What a witch.
But then they did this. Prince Charming atop his trusty steed speeds through the forest and happens upon Snow’s cottage. Red Riding Hood is there instead and he professes that it matters not what Snow said, he won’t give up. If it wasn’t meant to be, he would seem mad clingy. The wedding is off! Cut to the dwarves hovel, where Grumpy rushes in to Snow’s bedroom to give her the great news that the and that her love awaits. Snow appears groggy. She turns to him. “Who?” She tried to find solace at the bottom of the vial. Completely ignoring Grumpy’s whole spiel about using the pain to make you stronger, she gave in and downed the whole love vaccine. NOW WHAT?
This was my favorite episode so far. No doubt. Here’s why. In ten episodes, I’ve come to terms with a few things. One, for whatever reason, the effects on this show make “Lost” look like a feature film. This week, when they were walking through the caverns under the castle, and when the Prince rode his horse through the woods, the edges around the actors was ablaze with digital blur. Second, the dialogue is corny as hell. And not subtle. The juxtapostion of the worlds will be pointed out brutally, as if I forgot what show I was watching. And subtext will likely be zero to none. Actually, I hope it will be from hereon. The metaphors they tried in this episode were laughably inelegant. The bird, the storm, the cliff. I practically wrote those in fourth grade. But regardless of all these shortcomings I enjoyed the time spent. There were sudden reversals of fortune, there was an ending in the FTL that felt a tad Shakespearean in how it seemed tragically unavoidable, and above all it made me care about Mary/David & Snow/Charming to an embarrassing degree that I wouldn’t acknowledge outside this column. If OUAT can keep me invested in what becomes of these people, as their journey towards salvation or simple happiness becomes murky on the horizon, I will stay the course. This show will probably never be great, or win a prestigious award, but if it accomplishes this level of legitimate feeling regularly it will be fun, and a hit, among a wide range of audiences. If this were a show with higher expectations this would be marked down more severely for its inattention to detail, but for its most appealing episode to date and for making me break down as if Taylor Swift were my gospel, I begrudgingly admit this was a B+.