Once Upon A Time, Ep. 1.06: “The Shepherd” offers dragons, heartbreak and some fine acting

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Once Upon A Time, Season 1, Episode 6: “The Shepherd”
Directed by Victor Nelli Jr.
Written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Airs 8pm ET on ABC

Following the best episode of the series yet, “The Shepherd” is the prequel to the first encounter between Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) and Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin). This time around, we focus on Charming, and his fairy tale background, while diving further into the love triangle between David, Mary Margaret, and Kathryn in Storybrooke.

So, Prince Charming isn’t really a Prince. It turns out the real Prince was slain, stabbed in the back in a very anti-climactic scene. Thankfully, he has a twin brother, who’s the real prince, or at least the new prince, but more importantly the Prince Charming we’ve all read about as children. Originally a shepherd, James grew up working on his family’s farm with his mother (guessing Little Bo Peep), completely unaware of the existence of his twin. The writers of the series sure do love their parental issues. The Prince’s father trades in his son to the King for a better life, and now his mother sends her only other boy to take his now-dead brother’s place as a dragon slayer. Oh what a calamity.

Rumpelstiltskin has dug his claws in almost every character. One thing that is made very clear from the flashbacks is just how responsible he is for everyone’s misery. Forget the Evil Queen, Rumpelstiltskin is clearly the biggest danger in the two worlds. It becomes increasingly clear that Gold has far more knowledge of what’s really going on, leaving us wonder why he seems to be the only one who clearly remembers the past.

When Charming dies, it’s only a momentary shock, but given that these events take place before those from the pilot, it’s no surprise that it wouldn’t be the last we see of him. Rumpelstiltskin reveals he can’t resurrect the now-dead Prince, but the “twin baby reveal” was a bit much – a plot thread rehashed from far too many bad soaps we’ve seen time and time again. Luckily the twin brother copout allowed the writers to tell an interesting back story.

Charming’s twin is egotistical, vain, and arrogant, ignoring his own advice, about making sure your enemies are dead before turning your back on them. Luckily James is the complete opposite. Never picking up a sword, James is brought in on a plan to take credit for slaying a dragon. The King’s soldiers are called in to do the dirty work and rid the kingdom of the beast that has been terrorizing their land. Of course they all fail and in a not so surprising moment, James steps in, and using courage, wit and strength, slays the Dragon, like only a hero can. For a TV budget, the dragon didn’t look too bad – wisely kept off screen at the start and later appearing only in brief sweeping shots. Overall, it is a well done sequence, and any scene featuring a dragon is always welcome. Of course, things aren’t always what they seem and as it turns out, the King’s true intention is to find a suitable husband for his daughter Abigail and unite two kingdoms, leaving James no choice but to accept an arranged marriage.

This week’s Once Upon a Time focused on people being forced into a life they didn’t really want while heavily emphasizing choice and consequence, an important theme to the series’s overall narrative. Our lives are a culmination of decisions made and opportunities lost but are we defined by the choices we make? Free will isn’t popular in the fairytale world, but when characters are offered choices, they usually make poor decisions, leaving them with unwanted consequences and often collateral damage. Interestingly as well, all of the choices made by nearly all of the characters in the Fairy Tale Land all came with warning. Every change, every choice carried with it a risk and yet everyone has thus far ignored these signs.

On a show where everyone has suppressed memories of their true selves, Charming certainly is placed in the most complex situation. Josh Dallas continues to impress and this episode gives Charming depth providing him a chance to display conflicting emotions in a way that makes us care for the character. “The Shepherd” introduces Charming’s father, who despite a family reunion, remains absent in the real world. The casting of Alan Dale as Charming’s father was a wise decision. No stranger to TV dads thanks to his years on Lost, Dale is the perfect choice for the selfish and power hungry King George, who could care less about his son’s happiness. While this episode isn’t the strongest in story, it does showcase some of the best acting to date, especially in Goodwin and Dallas, who remain very convincing as star crossed lovers.

Choices send us off on differing paths, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. For the most part, the choices from the show’s writers have all been for the best. In this week’s episode, roads are also especially important: be it James’ scenic route to a chance encounter with Snow White, or his search for the toll bridge, or even yes, the road to true love. With the initial back stories of almost all the main characters now explored, it will be interesting to see what direction the show-runners will journey to in next week’s mid-season finale.

Other Observations:

How did Mary Margaret come to own Charming’s “true love” ring?

There’s the Aladdin’s lamp, sitting in Mr. Gold’s shop again.

1 Comment
  1. Mario in Philly says

    Another observation: another “Lost” connection, did you notice when Emma gave MM a drink she reached for a bottle of (the fictional) MacCutcheon whiskey? It was Widmore’s (Alan Dale) drink of choice.
    Wondering if Rumplestiltskin/Gold does know something because he perhaps has something on the Queen/Regina. Maybe he is more of a catalyst than we know.

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