Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 1, Episode 13 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," entitled "What Happened To Frederick?"
True love seems further out of reach than ever following this week's "Once Upon a Time," at least for for Snow White, Prince Charming and their Storybrooke alter egos. While it's said that "the truth shall set you free," that didn't seem to be the case for David and Mary Margaret in episode 13, mostly because David proved to be too cowardly to tell his wife the whole truth about his affair. In trying to protect Kathryn's feelings, he simply told her that something was missing in their relationship that was preventing him from connecting with her, inevitably leading to Regina betraying David and Mary Margaret's secret when Kathryn appeared, heartbroken, at Regina's door.
Kathryn's subsequent -- and yes, fairly justified -- confrontation with Mary Margaret at the school then got the whole town talking about what a tramp Mary Margaret was for the affair (funny how the guy who actually cheated rarely gets vilified in these situations, ain't it?) and our mild-mannered teacher took back some of the strength she once had as Snow White, ending things between them even if it broke her heart. "David, this isn't love," she insisted. "What we have is something else entirely; what we have is destructive, and it has to stop ... we shouldn't be together."
As I've mentioned before when writing about the show's central romance, I've always enjoyed the dichotomy between the purity and altruism of Snow and Charming's love in the fairytale world and the flawed, secretive and, yes, destructive relationship between David and Mary Margaret in Storybrooke. Because no-one believes in fairytales or happily ever after in our cynical reality -- and especially because Storybrooke is a town of Regina's evil invention, designed to keep Snow and Charming apart -- it makes sense that our once idealistic characters are no longer so honest or so dedicated to doing the right thing now that they're in the "real world."
After all, people in fairytales don't have affairs -- especially not the good guys. Wicked stepmothers may try to murder their stepchildren and witches may curse indiscriminately, but the heroes are designed to have a chaste, romantic relationship that the audience can be inspired by, gosh darn it, and that uncomplicated morality is exactly why parents read such stories to their kids. But things aren't black and white in our world, and as much as we want to see the couple together, affairs usually end in disaster -- or with at least one person getting hurt -- and a TV show without stakes or consequences wouldn't be terribly riveting.
In Fairytale Land, Charming and Abigail would both rather call off their wedding than be with a person they don't love, even at the expense of their safety, which further emphasizes the darkness of Storybrooke (and, by extension, our world) compared to where the characters are supposed to be. I'm glad the show chose to show the real-life consequences to something as damaging as cheating on your spouse, especially since this is a family show that many kids watch with their parents. If Mary Margaret and David are to have any hope of making their relationship work in Storybrooke, it needs to be founded on honesty instead of lies, which was exactly what Mary Margaret tried to do when she encouraged David to tell Kathryn the whole truth -- but as she pointed out, in trying to ensure that no-one got hurt, David inadvertently hurt everyone.
But even more tragically, upon reflection, Kathryn actually realized that David and Mary Margaret were supposed to be together, seeing her relationship with David for the facade it was. "My marriage to David, it was like an illusion -- I don't know how it happened, but it was never real," she told Regina (who was exactly the wrong person to tell), announcing her intention to leave Storybrooke after admitting that she'd written a letter giving David and Mary Margaret her blessing to be together. Still determined to keep Snow and Charming apart in every world, Regina used one of her skeleton keys to break into David's house and steal the letter before he could read it, thus ensuring that he and Mary Margaret would stay guilty and separated.
The contrasting story in Fairytale Land filled in the backstory for the ending of "7.15 a.m." when Charming came bursting out of the woods to where Snow used to live, only to find Red Riding Hood, who told him that she never came back after leaving to break up his wedding. In the intervening time, Charming had apparently been helping Abigail get her own happily ever after, venturing into an enchanted lake to retrieve some magical water that would revive Abigail's former fiancé, Frederick, who was turned to gold while trying to protect King Midas. The Lady of the Lake -- a siren -- tried to lure him to his death by pretending to be Snow, but after a few (admittedly enthusiastic) kisses, Charming defeated her and brought back enough water to revive Frederick. Considering his origins as a simple farm boy, Charming did seem to be embracing his role as "Prince James" wholeheartedly; he certainly had his brother's arrogance down when declaring that "none have my fearless bravery" -- though I hope that's more to do with overplaying his part rather than truly believing his own invincibility, as was the case when he first met Snow.
It was also interesting to note that Abigail's noble knight, Frederick, also had a Storybrooke alter-ego -- the football coach that Kathryn bumped into when she went to confront Mary Margaret at the school. Although the guy looked like he was about 15, he apparently has a bigger part to play, since he was also the one who found her empty car on the side of the road at the edge of town. I wonder whether Regina came to retrieve Kathryn herself (or with a spell), or whether she used one of her lackeys, like Sidney, to make her disappear?
And at last, we can stop referring to a certain mysterious stranger as The Mysterious Stranger, after he finally revealed his name -- August W. Booth -- to Emma. His idea of taking her for a drink was to drag her to wishing well (continuing the episode's water theme), which, just like the siren's lake, was said to have magical properties that could return something that was lost. Instead of bringing a lost love back to life, August used it as an excuse to repair Henry's book (including the missing pages) and stick it under Emma's car for her to give back to him. We might know August's name, but the mystery of how he knows the stories of our fairytale characters' stories still remains -- if he was simply someone captured by Regina's curse, he wouldn't remember the stories and he wouldn't be able to leave Storybrooke, so it seems likely that he's an author from our world who somehow stumbled into theirs and then came back. I wonder if the show will give him an origin as one of the Brothers Grimm, given NBC's rival show, or whether they'll go the Hans Christian Andersen route.
Despite the story progression, something about the episode didn't click with me the way that previous Mary Margaret/David episodes have, though I can't put my finger on why. Perhaps because there was no momentum on the Snow/Charming portion of the story, or because Mary Margaret and David are once again apart. I think the episode set up some intriguing new possibilities that may bear fruit further down the line, but it still felt a little lackluster to me. I continue to enjoy the wider Disney references that keep creeping in ("Space Paranoids" anyone?) and the allusions to the curse (Emma telling Mary Margaret, "I'm not your mother," and MM saying "No, according to Henry, I'm yours") but after the strength of the last episode, I think I was expecting more from this week. What did you think of the episode?
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on ABC. The next episode will air March 4, since the Oscars preempt it next Sunday.