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:

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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 ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. 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.


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