Once Upon A Time, Season 1, Episode 16: “Heart Of Darkness”
Written by Andrew Chambliss & Ian Goldberg
Directed by Dean White
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on ABC
This week is, yet again, another Snow/Charming episode. The couple has stalled the season with their seemingly irrelevant love story, but this week they both find greater purpose in the grand scheme of Storybrooke’s fate. Even in the Enchanted Forest, the two carry an action-packed flashback and manage to make it interesting. What aids in setting this episode apart, however, is the culmination of fairy tale characters that we’ve spent time with this season.
In Storybrooke, Emma carries out due process of law in Mary Margaret’s arrest for Kathryn’s disappearance. Since all evidence points to Mary Margaret, Emma finds it increasingly difficult to help friend her even though she suspects Regina is behind it all. This leads to Mary Margaret hiring Mr. Gold to represent her in court. Throughout the episode we also get an interesting scene with August, the writer, and Henry. Nothing too revealing happens, but it establishes an important dialogue between the two characters regarding Henry’s storybook.
Meanwhile in the Enchanted Forest flashback, Snow’s changed for the worse. The potion she drank to forget Prince Charming took away not only her memories of him, but also a piece of her caring spirit. The dwarves plead her to realize her newfound wickedness and even bring Jiminy Cricket in to reason with her. Instead, she refuses to listen and decides to seek revenge against the queen by killing her. Rumpelstiltskin helps her by giving her a bow and arrow that “always finds its target.” Prince Charming finds out her plans from Rumpelstiltskin and sets off to prevent Snow from making a mistake that could cost her her innocence forever.
As noted earlier, the culmination of fairy tale characters helps make this episode work so well. Many characters get face time, if only for a few minutes, and make their presence felt. The episode neither wastes nor throws in extraneous characters, and everyone has a role that fits neatly into the story. The dwarves tend to Snow, Jiminy serves as the conscience, Rumpelstiltskin as the trickster, etc. It almost felt like a season finale where everyone inhabits a commonality toward some big event. Ironically, in each world, none of the fairy tale characters know what this “event” is. In the Enchanted Forest, it’s the Queen’s takeover, and in Storybrooke, it’s presumably the breaking of the curse.
Ginnifer Goodwin is very adept at playing the harsh Snow White. The character itself is too sweet and overdone, but Goodwin has a chance to do something interesting with the Snow who’s lost her conscience. The performance comes on too strong at first when we see her attempt to smash a blue bird in the dwarf hut. Then it settles into a more subtle portrayal of apathy and selfish cruelty. For example, when Grumpy confronts Snow and tells her that she’ll have to kill the Queen without his help, Snow scoffs out “that was always my plan,” and shoves him aside with a perfect manner of irritation. It’s painfully dismissive and very effective in bringing out a side of Snow we’ve rarely seen.
Unfortunately in Storybrooke, Mary Margaret doesn’t assume this same behavior in her unjust accusation of Kathryn’s disappearance. She maintains her innocence as each piece of evidence piles up. Though it’s smart for the character to uphold this calm exterior, her reaction to the potential frame job feels too restrained. The harsh Mary Margaret is what we need right now to make this storyline more interesting.
Kudos to the writers, though, for making Kathryn’s disappearance difficult to solve. Just like the twist in Red’s story, the outcome of this mystery is far from predictable. Regina is an easy suspect, but even she isn’t letting on too much. It wouldn’t be too surprising if she had nothing to do with the situation.
With this multi-character, plot-driven episode, the show feels like it’s building towards the finale. Viewers can reap the benefits of taking the time to know the important players because now the show has the option pull from its extensive repertoire to spice up any story. Next week will be another origin episode (this time The Mad Hatter). Hopefully the origin won’t affect the momentum established this week, because if every episode until the season finale is like “Heart Of Darkness,” it should be an exciting six weeks.