We were warned that death would strike during the midseason finale, but I was curious to see how someone might get away with murder in Storybrooke while presumably being able to avoid punishment.
This week's episode gave us a suitably fantastical answer to that quandary, utilizing the magic of fairytale land without needing to implicate anyone in the crime.
Though some of us saw his death coming, it was still heartbreaking to lose Sheriff Graham, who has been one of Storybrooke's most enigmatic and compelling characters thus far. Irish-born Jamie Dornan did an excellent job of portraying Graham's hopelessness and confusion, and it was impossible to see the troubled huntsman as heartless when he clearly cared so deeply about the fate of the forest's animals -- from his family of wolves to the deer he shed tears over. The final scene of the episode was utterly tragic, as Emma finally began opening her heart to Graham only to lose him, just as she's lost so many others. (The abandonment issues in this show could fill a fairytale castle.) Kudos to Jennifer Morrison for selling that scene so convincingly.
Graham's backstory also shed a little more light on Snow White's tumultuous relationship with the Evil Queen. Although the episode stuck close to the Snow White legend we're familiar with, telling the tale from the huntsman's perspective gave it a fresh spin. TEQ did an admirable job of faking emotion with Snow after her father's death (she almost had me fooled for a minute there) and we got a teeny little bit more information about Snow's betrayal -- just that the Queen "shared a secret with her, and she couldn't keep it." Perhaps it was an affair with someone besides Snow's father? Or did this secret predate that marriage, and marrying him was just part of TEQ's scheme to get revenge? (She and Emily Thorne should join forces and plot together.)
I loved the design of her palace, which was almost completely made of glass and sharp like shattered shards, replete with ominous blacks and reds to mirror the Queen's menacing color palette, just as Snow, with her white dress and white rose, offered a "good" visual counterpoint to her stepmother's evil. I wonder if any of that was scripted, or whether it was director Dave Barrett's input. Later on, though, someone apparently decided to shape two pieces of Lana Parrilla's hair to look like an upside-down heart, which was a slightly more bizarre decision -- it looked too weird for me to take it seriously, even if it was a symbolically meaningful choice.
Series creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis wrote this week's installment, and it showed in the confident way the episode advanced the show's mythology, definitively proving that Regina is well aware of the curse and her malevolent origins. Though some of the dialogue was a little heavy-handed (especially the repetitive heartless/heartbroken/"I don't feel anything" anvils) I enjoyed Graham's growing sense of self-awareness, first going to Mary Margaret to try and piece together his memories, and then turning to Henry to help clarify things further.
It's inevitable that Graham's reaction to his "past life" will only enable Henry further, but the real question remains: when will Emma start to believe Henry's theories too? I'm also wondering why Mary and David's kisses didn't spark memories of their true selves, while Graham and Emma's did -- is it simply because Emma is the catalyst for all the changes in Storybrooke, and so all the realizations have to directly relate to her actions in some way? A part of me thinks that Mary will be the next to start remembering, since waking David up already planted the seeds in her mind, and Graham's visit likely gave them water this week (not to mention that she's now living with her daughter).
Another burning question: what was Mr. Gold doing "gardening" in the woods at some godless hour of the morning? Since he had a shovel, he was either burying something or trying to dig something up -- could it relate to Snow White's hidden coffin, or is it a different remnant of fairytale land?
Whatever sympathy the show was building for Regina mostly disintegrated with Graham's heart this week (and yikes, what a way to go), but it was hilarious to see her and Emma going all catfight on each other. Emma was entirely justified in pointing out that it's not really her presence in town that is ruining Regina's relationships -- the mayor is driving everyone she loves away simply by trying to keep them caged.
Clearly, her abandonment issues are just as deep-seated as Emma's, even if she tries to manage them in a different way; she clings too tightly to try and keep people close, while Emma pushes them away so that they can't hurt her by leaving somewhere down the line. For now, the pair are the perfect counterbalance for each other, but it seems that Regina is growing more desperate with every episode -- I'm sure it's only a matter of time until she tips her hand and gives Emma a solid reason to take her down.
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8PM ET on ABC.
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