Mar 23 2012 10:00am

Once Upon a Time Special: “Heart of Darkness”

There was no new episode of Grimm last week, so you’re getting a Once Upon a Time special this week.

But there was some wonderful Grimm news! Grimm has been renewed for a Season 2! It’s doing so well with a key demographic (adults 18-49) on a night that has been historically difficult (Fridays) that NBC had no choice but to give it another season! Its pilot did well against Game 7 of the World Series last year, for crying out loud! So, yes. More Grimm. #Grimmsters the world over can relax.

One can only expect the same news to be confirmed soon for Once Upon a Time, as it’s been doing extremely well ratings-wise, and its fanbase is rabid! (shout-out to the #EvilRegals and the #Snowers) Also, fun news out of the Once Upon a Time panel at Wondercon this past weekend is that 1) we will learn who August is this season, and 2) The Huntsman will be returning for the season finale! Yay, Jamie Dornan!


Once Upon a Time, Ep 16: Heart of Darkness

Mounting evidence has forced Emma (Jennifer Morrison) to arrest Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) for Kathryn’s murder. As Emma loses traction in the investigation, Mary Margaret accepts Mr. Gold’s (Robert Carlyle) help as her council. Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) knows in his heart that Mary Margaret is innocent, and August (Eion Bailey) advises him to look for proof by using his book. At first, David (Josh Dallas) believes that proving himself a suspect — because of his recent blackouts — would get Mary Margaret off the hook, but Regina (Lana Parilla) convinces him that evil sometimes lurks in unexpected places, and his faith in Mary Margaret is shaken. Meanwhile, we see the story of Snow White after taking the potion that rid her of her memory of Prince James. She has become a cold, heartless person who is so irritable to be around that the Seven Dwarfs, led by Grumpy (Lee Arenberg) and Jiminy Cricket (the voice of Raphael Sbarge), stage an intervention. However, the message that Snow receives is not to become more considerate, but to take her anger out on the correct target. She decides to kill the Queen, and she seeks out Rumpelstiltskin’s help to do it. Meanwhile, Prince James hasn’t given up on his search for Snow, determined to be reunited with his true love.

Script: Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg have written a surprisingly dark and harrowing episode. Even more surprising are the shocks of humor they managed to inject into the script. Watching Snow White doing her signature singing and attracting a little blue bird was made hilarious when we see that she’s only doing so to swat it with a broom! The intervention scene was amazing and funny, and I wanted to punch Snow in the face myself for making Happy not happy! However, all that humor existed to take the edge off of the episode’s greater darkness.

Mary Margaret’s situation is heartbreaking, because not only do we know she’s being framed, but Emma does too, and none of us can do anything about it. What’s more heartbreaking is watching Mary Margaret learn that David, of all people, has started to doubt her.

It’s wonderful that Henry is getting more active and involved in helping Emma. There was a wonderful scene between him and August, which just increased my suspicion that August is, in some way, Henry. Just the line “You won’t find the answers you’re looking for in the bottom of that mug,” seems like the kind of knowing adult thing that you’d say either to your child, which Henry is not (unless Emma, by being in Storybrooke has forgotten who Henry’s father is), or to your younger self.

And then there’s Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin, who is apparently invested in Mary Margaret/Snow White’s future. But why? And what does he have the power to do now that he’s managed to bottle True Love by plucking the hair of Snow White and Prince Charming?

And FURTHERMORE, if their combined DNA is the formula for True Love, what does that make Emma? Is she True Love personified? Is that why she’s so important and powerful, and why it’s dangerous that she now owes Mr. Gold several favors?

“Heart of Darkness” was a brilliant episode that managed to be funny even as it explored Storybrooke’s underbelly and the darker side of the fairy tale world. It also generated suspense as we’re now left to wonder where the heck Mary Margaret has gone, and who gave her the key to the cell?

Performances: Ginnifer Goodwin was absolutely stunning both as Snow and as Mary Margaret in this episode. This cute little woman has backbone to spare, and was absolutely (and frighteningly) believable as someone who could kill. As Mary Margaret, her performance didn’t just break my heart, it shattered it. Watching her react to David’s loss of faith in her was amazing, both because she seemed so vulnerable, and because she was steeling herself, building a protective shield around herself with rage and sadness. Doing the exact opposite of what Snow White does in the fairy tale world. As Snow White tears down her walls, Mary Margaret builds them up, and Ginnifer Goodwin is the perfect actress to do both.

Yes, Robert Carlyle was also amazing. Yes, so was Josh Dallas. But this episode belonged to Ginnifer Goodwin, and I’m going to let her have the praise all to herself.

Production: The production design in this episode was wonderful not just because of large sets like the dwarfs home, or Rumpelstiltskin’s, but because of the small details. The keys, the heating vent, the bright red bow in Snow’s hair. And the bright blue bird that was obviously computer generated, but not in an obtrusive way. In fact, it was better that it be obviously fake in that instant, because it provided a heightened, familiar moment that could then be torn apart to humorous effect. Also, I’m sure training real birds is hard.

Representation: The dwarfs had a wonderful scene this week, and Grumpy continues to be a wonderful, well-rounded character. I appreciate that, while there are scenes where the dwarfs are supposed to be cute, or funny, the humor is never at their expense. The humor always comes from the story and from fairy tale conventions. Even when Snow insults Grumpy by calling him a “dwarf with a bad attitude,” the emphasis is on the attitude, not on his size.

Red Riding Hood owning her inner wolf to help Prince James. Yeah, that was just spectacular. She is fast becoming my favorite character. A flawed, murderous, petty Snow White also went a long way to turn fairy tale princess conventions on their head, making her a multi-faceted person rather than a symbol, or an ideal.

Lastly, I want to point out the relationship between August and Henry. This show has given us a lot of maternal protectiveness with regard to Henry. However, it’s also important to see men bonding with him in a positive way. It isn’t just maternal love, but also paternal love that can be important to a child. We saw it between Archie and Henry in “That Still Small Voice,” (and between Hansel and Gretel and their father, for that matter) and now we’re seeing it between August and Henry. So often, it feels like men need “permission” to be good with children, and we are immediately suspicious of men who are “too” close to them. Once Upon a Time dealt with that a little bit when August first came to town, and “took an interest” in Henry, though it was done through the prism of Regina protecting her interests. I’m not saying there was anything predatory suggested, but simply that men are not trusted with children the way women are (see the photoshop job above that I found when looking for a good picture of August and Henry), and I think that does both men and children a disservice. Men are just as capable of nurturing children as women are, and they should be encouraged to do so. I think that the budding mentor relationship between August and Henry goes a long way toward supporting that.

Audience Engagement: I was lucky enough to be able to screen this episode early during the Once Upon a Time panel at Wondercon. The audience was on the edge of their seats a lot of the time, and there were audible gasps in all the right places.

As for the panel itself, I only wish that it had either been longer, or that they went without the screening. We were all going to watch the episode later that night anyway, so it wasn’t necessary. Show creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis were great at answering audience questions, but after watching an entire episode, there was only time for about three questions. Still, we all got really pretty Once Upon a Time journals as a giveaway, so that was nice.

Here are some photos of Once Upon a Time cosplay at Wondercon:

Join me next week where I will discuss an all-new episode of Grimm, which airs Fridays at 9PM ET on NBC, and Once Upon a Time, which airs Sundays at 8PM ET on ABC.

Teresa Jusino doesn’t want to get on Snow White’s bad side. She can be heard on the popular Doctor Who podcast, 2 Minute Time Lord, participating in a roundtable on Series 6.1, and at the end of last year she was selected as one of the Top 11 Geek Girls of 2011 at the Geek To Me blog at Chicago Redeye. Her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like,, Newsarama, and Her fiction has appeared in the sci-fi literary magazine, Crossed Genres; she is the editor of Beginning of Line, the Caprica fan fiction site; and her essay “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse” is included in Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them, which is on sale now wherever books are sold! 2012 will see Teresa’s work in an upcoming non-fiction sci-fi anthology. Get Twitterpated with Teresa, “like” her on Facebook, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.

Anthony Pero
1. anthonypero
I really had trouble getting into this show in the first couple of weeks. But now... I'm totally hooked. Which sucks, because I don't trust these writers to deliver after LOST and Alias. But, these aren't the same showrunners and it's not entirely the same staff... so here's hoping!
Game Kitten
2. Game Kitten
anthonypero: I didn't watch Lost, but what did you think was wrong with Alias?
Melissa Shumake
3. cherie_2137
i too was very worried about what rumplestiltskin might be able to do with his bottled true love...

and this was one of the best episodes so far!

i think that perhaps henry might have left mary margaret the key, since we never actually saw regina with them, and he and emma had them last. and i just don't think emma would have given her an out, although it's hard to say...
Anthony Pero
4. anthonypero
@Game Kitten:

Alias is my favorite show of all time... and The last season was extremely disappointing. I thought they had an end game in mind with Rambaldi all along... and they obviously didn't. The show sort of drifted, and then... I was just extremely disappointed with the ending of the Rambaldi storyline. Lost was the same way. Amazing premise to start... but around season 3 it became evident that there was no master plan. The writers were throwing spaghetti against the wall, to see what would stick.
Game Kitten
5. AlBrown
This was a good episode. However, I am finding I like the fairy world flashbacks better than the modern day scenes, probably because I am not sure what the "rules" are in the modern world--does magic work or not? If the groundrules are not clear, then anything goes, and the audience does not know what to expect, which can be problematic.
I loved Red being an unleashed fury in the service of true love, and thought how Snow acted under the influence was a very good twist. And the way Charming got her to wake up was very compelling. That bottle of true love could be very interesting to the future of the story.
(I am so happy Grimm is being renewed. Yay!)
Teresa Jusino
6. TeresaJusino
AlBrown @5 - I don't see a difference between the fairy tale world and Storybrooke. These are the same people with the same capabilities, it's just that they've all forgotten how to use them. Regina could, at any time, make some magic happen, but she won't, because she doesn't want to be found out. As for Rumpelstiltskin? We still don't know what his motivations are, but he too seems really interested in keeping secrets. But we already see examples of magic in the fact that no one can actually leave Storybrooke, or in the fact that Regina actually had The Huntsman's heart and was able to kill him remotely by destroying it. I've always just assumed that the same magic that exists in the fairy tale world exists in the "real" world, too. They just don't know about it.

@anthonypero - I always find it interesting when people think that a TV show's worst sin is that there was "no master plan." Or, if there was one, that the writers didn't stick to it, or changed it, or what have you. To me, the writers don't have to stick to any sort of plan, so long as the end result is something that makes sense and is written well enough to have seemed inevitable. I feel like the ending of Lost was that. It honored the themes of the show, and gave the characters a satisfying (to me) end. I didn't need to know any more about Dharma, or about electromagnetism. The characters, after living lives where they didn't/couldn't deal with the people in their lives, after lives that were less than ideal, finally got to a place where they understood how to be their best selves, and ended up with the people most important to them. That's all I needed, and that's all the show was ever really about. No explanation of four-toed statues necessary. :)

The insistance on a "master plan" is also interesting considering what a modern device that even is. Before the late 90s/early 2000s, did we need a "plan" from our shows? Or did we have a new, exciting way of telling a story introduced to us, and then get spoiled?
Game Kitten
7. Lsana
Loved the episode, but two things bothered me about it:

1. How many of King George's men did Red kill? Pretty much every fan I've talked to considers her actions nothing more than a demonstration of her badassness. On the other hand, Snow tries to kill the Queen, a woman far worse than any of the people Red went after, and that's considered a moral event horizon crossing. Yes, I know the situations aren't exactly parallel, but it still bugs me.

2. What is the deal with the phone call? When we first learned about it, it seemed obvious that it never happened, Regina just inserted it into the phone records. And that would seem consistant with both what we saw, and the state of mind of the characters (Kathryn specifically said she couldn't handle talking to David, David didn't look like he wanted to talk to Kathryn particularly either). Yet if David's memory of the call was a fake one, it doesn't seem like the sort of fake memory Regina would plant. So what gives?
Cameron Tucker
8. Loialson

Thanks so much for pointing out that men are just as capable at nurturing as women. It really bugs me when people in my neighborhood judge all unmarried men to be pedophiles (as if the act of marriage makes a perv any less of a perv or a man who chooses to be good any different).

Men can love and care for kids too, and it disturbs me that society thinks I am a bad person, and am untrustworthy around children, not only for being male, but an unwed man. Equality goes all ways...
Anthony Pero
9. anthonypero

For me at least, it's like a novel... the writers of the show are basically Gardners. They are Outline-free writers. This can work really well in a novel. You plot by writing through it. The problem is, in a novel, you get a second draft, so once you get to your ending, you can go back and rework the beginning in order to effectively set up the ending. You can't do this in a serialized TV show. So you end up with unintentional Red herrings, false trails and misdirects. This is fine, as long as they are planned, and serve a purpose. Fans can assess them and say, ah, the writers pulled one over on me. This is not the case when they are simply abandoned story devices. I, at least, and the many, many fans of Lost who complained, felt that we just simply can't trust the writers.
Chris Meadows
10. Robotech_Master
@3 Cherie: I'll bet Regina totally left it there, wanting MM to flee as proof of her guilt.

@9 Anthony: I'm working my way through the show now and trying to avoid spoilers (not always successfully) so I don't know this for sure, but I'm wondering if Grumpy getting framed for theft might not be one of those accidental red herrings, since at the end of the episode actually featuring that fairy they'd decided not to see each other anymore.

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