Once Upon A Time, Ep. 1.15, “Red Handed”: Ruby in the rough

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Once Upon A Time, Season 1, Episode 15: “Red Handed”
Written by Ron Underwood
Directed by Jane Espenson
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on ABC

“Red Handed” is a substantial improvement from last week’s unessential “Dreamy,” for several reasons. One, the background of Red/Ruby ties in better to the bigger picture of the season. Two, the episode takes more unique twists and turns than a run-of-the-mill love story, and three, Beverley Elliot’s performance as Granny.

In Storybrooke, Ruby quits her job at Granny’s Café after a public dispute with her grandmother. She starts helping Emma in the Sheriff’s office, assisting in the search for the still-missing Kathryn. In the Enchanted Forest, Red Riding Hood and Granny take caution while a wolf is on the loose in the nearby area. The local village forms a hunting party to put it down, but it still suffers the beast’s attacks.

This has been one of the better episodes of the season based on each story’s structure alone. The “Big Bad Wolf” has yet to make any appearance in either world, and the writers use this character’s absence to build a tension-filled mystery in the Enchanted Forest. The episode gets surprisingly dark, displaying gruesome effects for the wolf attacks, working to the show’s advantage. The inconsistent tone of the series has been one of its main flaws. For example, the darkness of Rumpelstiltskin clashes with the forced whimsy of Dreamy/Grumpy. The multiple, multifaceted characters are definitely a good idea, but the balance is usually off. So, when the show strays to the more adult side of the fantasy and stays there, it works better.

The Storybrooke plotline makes great use of Ruby’s character to drive the main investigation forward. Again, it dips into some unexpectedly dark territory and does a better job of resolving the episode than the weak closer for last week’s ending. It’s not predictable at all, and that’s mainly why it’s so gratifying. This episode in general was hard to pin down and cleverly deceives the audience in several ways before finally rolling the credits.

Beverley Elliot, who plays Granny, has been seen sparingly through this season. This is the first episode where she’s offered more than a disapproving look or a snide remark, and it comes as a surprise at how great of an actress she turns out to be. Elliot’s reserved confidence paints Granny as a tough and emotionally weathered character. Fortunately, she avoids all comedic territory and instead opts to play her character straight, even when she aims a crossbow directly at the camera in anticipation of a wolf attack. It’s at first ridiculous seeing Granny take up arms, but her face maintains a sullen quality, influencing the mood of this and every scene that follows it involving her.

In addition to her appearance, her calculated line delivery hooks you into full attention, especially during her address to the village. Her mini back-story evokes the pathos of a scarred war veteran and actually would have made an excellent episode on its own. In any case, Elliot is indeed the most underused gem of the show. Now that she’s had a chance to showcase her talents, she needs to play a more integral part in the ensemble.

Meghan Ory also does a great job as Red/Ruby. In previous episodes, Red Riding Hood carries herself with more grace, seemingly possessing a mature wisdom, but the Red we get in this episode is far from what we saw in “7:15 A.M.” or “What Happened To Frederick.” Now Ory’s characters path promises to be one of the more intriguing ones considering there is a span of story still unexplored.

Next week will return to amnesia-stricken Snow White when we left her with the dwarves more than a month ago. The episode should be able to successfully weave this world with Storybrooke’s (as it did this week) now that the focus is on Mary Margaret’s connection to Kathryn’s disappearance. Things are finally picking up after being in the expository doldrums for the last month. What are you anticipating in the coming weeks? As always, you can leave your comments, criticisms or creative questions in the comment section below.

Ryan Clagg

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