Despite shifting social opinions on love, commitment, monogamy and sexual liberation, one commandment has stood the test of time and atheism: thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.
In recent weeks, I’ve expressed my allegiance to the Mary Margaret/David pairing. Shall we call them Mavid? Yes, let’s. Well, Mavid has honed in on the thread of my fabric that is a hopeless romantic and they’ve yanked at it with all their might. However, the consequences of their love have a mighty wide ripple effect in both Storybrooke and in Fairy Tale Land (FTL) as Snow White and Charming.
In Storybrooke, their romance gets the stigmatized label of an affair. David is married to Kathryn, whom he doesn’t love, but more importantly he doesn’t care for enough to tell her that. This is where my ties to Mavid become tenuous. Forbidden love carries with it an air of thrill and the danger can really ramp up the sexual tension, but it loses its luster when eventually the unsuspecting “others” find out, and that infatuation is quickly converted into a burdensome shame. Having been wrapped up in a doomed relationship myself, I felt for Mary Margaret. It’s tough to let go when you feel like loosening your grip on someone means losing hold of who you are. But in her case, she’s not just lying to herself she’s lying to his wife. You’re aiding and abetting a broken promise. This dishonesty seems totally contradictory to the kind-hearted, thoughtful Mary we have come to know over thirteen episodes, but it could all be forgiven if when the heat of the moment reaches its boiling point, Mary can make the right decision instead of the easy one.
Tonight’s episode was about this self-destructive inner turmoil we call love, and the havoc it wreaks upon the emotions of every one involved. FTL serves not as the painfully obvious parallel this week, but as an alternative (and we aren’t browbeaten about ‘the point’ through ‘wink wink’ dialogue). What if both Kathryn and David decided to stop dancing around each others’ feelings, and followed their hearts? Often times, I have said FTL appears to be grimmer than reality, and redemption is sought in Storybrooke, but tonight the karmic tale plays out in small town Maine, while more typically, beasts are conquered in the alternate universe.
Kathryn drops a bit of a bomb on David when she reveals that she had applied to law school while he was still taking his really long nap. That’s what a coma is, right? She has received her acceptance letter and was accepted to an unnamed school in Boston. Well which is it? New England Law? Harvard? I’m way too close to the situation being a resident, I apologize. His reaction is dismay since this means no more sneaking around with cutie-patootie. When he goes to “clear his head” with Mary, I’m vindicated when my girl tells him to face facts. She insists he tell Kathryn the truth or he has made his choice, there is no “them” anymore.
David’s alter ego James (awful alternative to Charming) is running from marriage too. As explained in “7:15 A.M,” he and King Midas’ daughter Abigail (Kathryn’s FTL identity) are betrothed per an agreement to unify the two kingdoms. Charming says screw political alliances and holds steadfast to his principle that he can’t marry someone he doesn’t love. Abigail’s henchmen intercept him and they bury the hatchet. See, in this universe Kathryn’s alter ego has a true love as well that isn’t him: a fellow named Frederick, who was paralyzed in gold after throwing himself on the cursed Midas when their caravan was ambushed. It discomforted me at first, the implication being made through the juxtaposition of stories that David and Kathryn’s marriage was always loveless, but Kathryn admits as much to Regina later. It troubled me still, because I found this to be inconsistent. When we first met David, fresh after his super long nap time, his personality was split. Half of him still loved Kathryn and the other was engrossed with Mary Margaret. At the time I assumed it was an internal conflict between his present self and the memories of his FTL past, but now the whole idea that he ever truly loved Kathryn pre-coma has been abandoned. Kathryn disavows that idea when she says, “He never looked at me like he looks at her.” I’m not sure which I would prefer, but I wish OUAT had simply stuck with one so that I didn’t end my sense of loyalty wasn’t so scatterbrained.
When David confronts Kathryn he acts much less honorably than his royal self. In a doubly deceptive ploy, he tells Kathryn that he can’t go to Boston because he can’t make a connection with her (stinky load of horses**t, huh?). Not only does he neglect to mention he loves someone else, but he promised Mary Margaret he’d tell the truth. What a scumbag. I loved it. I’m all for making these fairy tale conceits of good and evil less stark by employing duplicitous characters. As much as the romance between Mary and David sent my heart aflutter, it was the most I’d ever enjoyed David oddly, when I stopped liking him. Not only does he incite a rage within Kathryn when she finds out from Regina instead, but he brings shame upon the woman he professes to love. His wife not only slaps her in front of her students, but the reverberations of it spreads hateful murmurs all over town and TRAMP is tagged on her station wagon. The humiliation gives rise to courage, and Mary Margaret asserts that the relationship has become too destructive, a refreshing concept considering how in FTL men and women risk their lives for an elevated ideal of true love. Even if the relationship is predestined, this wrench in the plan felt like the most convincing way to veer off course (foreshadowing, lol).
A legend of the mystical properties of water elicits the more direct collision of worlds this week. A magical lake called Something-Lame with the power to bring back something you’ve lost serves as the answer to reviving Princess Abigail’s true love, Frederick. The guardian of the lake is predictably a siren, the obvious metaphor for temptation. The seductress takes the form of Snow White, and at first he is entrapped by her kiss. But when she says she loves him he senses the inauthenticity and wriggles away from her seaweed grasp and stabs her. Abigail then pours the lake water over statue Frederick and he’s restored to lively Frederick again. I could care less about Freddy though. He served as an adequate motivation/plot device for Charming to confront his hopelessness towards reuniting with Snow, but he came off as kind of a wuss, despite slaying the beast. He entered into a knowingly risky situation figuring that he had nothing else to live for, so he would fight for someone else’s true love since he can’t secure his own? Kind of a suicidal mess, no? Ultimately, he realized that true love is not something you give up on, but initially his misplaced sense of sacrifice came off as less than valiantly. Otherwise, the fairyback felt inconsequential, taking us back to where we left off with “7:15 A.M,” extending the scene only slightly to show him and Red Riding Hood galloping away from his “father’s” hot, arrow-firing pursuit. It actually confused me about the timeline of these fairybacks and made me wonder how long Snow has been with the dwarves to this point.
The water-induced recovery in Storybrooke was that of The Book. Yes, Henry’s book that contains all the tales of its inhabitants’ former lives. We as an audience are privy to the truth, which is that Mysterious Biker/Writer Dude, who finally gives up his name (August W. Booth, ew), had it at the end of “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree.” It was unclear, to me anyway, whether he was simply repairing the book or if he added new pages, but nonetheless he strategically places the book in a gutter underneath Emma’s car after making her drink some well water that, according to legend, comes from a magical lake. Does this mean that FTL lies underneath the town as was alluded to in “That Still Small Voice? (the 5th episode way back in November)” The writers sure seem to be suggesting it. I also thought when August started with his didactic monologue about ancient cultures worshipping water it was terribly misplaced, but Kitsis/Horowitz were part of many such preachings on “LOST” so that type of speech was bound to seep in at some time. But where “LOST” was tonally very spiritual, “Once Upon A Time” should stick to its lighter, mythic tone.
Kathryn’s mature realization that she never loved David as deeply as Mary Margaret, and only pretended to, set in motion some shady events. First, Regina steals a letter Kathryn left for David giving her blessing of Mavid (think it will catch on? I’s okay I know it’s lame) and subsequently burns it. Then, when Kathryn leaves town to study law in Boston and find her real true love, her car is found by a passerby swerved into the woods, but with no body inside! The cut to Regina’s sinister stare implies she had something to do with it, but how? Too much slight of hand is taking place in those last moments for me to enjoy the ride (pun intended). The strings are visible and the manipulation, like the show itself in its lower points, is far from subtle. For me, the sweet and somber note of Emma lying beside Mary Margaret in bed as Mary cries over her rough decision to end it with David, was the preferable ending. Not only do I buy into the acting styles of Morrison and Goodwin more than Lana Parilla as Regina/Evil Queen, but their struggles gel more with the core of the episode’s thematic ambition. Ending on Regina’s Machiavellian mischief was just a calculated network cliffhanger, and I should have expected that by now.
As I’ve admitted ad nauseum, I’m a sucker for a good ole fashioned faith-in-true-love hour, so this episode reeled me in easily, but by messing with the formula gave me reason to stick around. The VFX were FAR better than in episodes past; between the siren sequence and the horseback chases I was moderately impressed. All the same, this fairyback didn’t captivate me like those with Rumpelstiltskin ruining people’s lives have (I’m a bitter, bitter man) and the butchering of the mood at the end soured me from being more forgiving. For further developing already likable characters into flawed and relatable characters, and providing a noteworthy tale of tough choices—when is love worth the fight and when is it just killing you—I can’t ignore the progress my relationship with this series is making. I won’t pretend it was the real thing, so a not-quite-true love deserves a B.