Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 1, Episode 16 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," entitled "Heart of Darkness."
For all the "Once Upon a Time" viewers who complain that the show's story is not progressing fast enough (myself sometimes included), the March 18 episode should've been a welcome change of pace. Revelations flew thick and fast as Regina's hold on Storybrooke continued to weaken, with Emma and Henry discovering the skeleton keys that allow the erstwhile Evil Queen to access any building in town -- including, apparently, Mary Margaret's apartment.
David also began recovering memories from his fairytale life while under Archie's hypnosis. But sadly, his confusion over those memories drove an even bigger wedge between him and Mary Margaret. As loyal and noble as Charming is in Fairytale Land, it's interesting to note just how fickle the curse has made him in Storybrooke, since his suspicion about Mary Margaret's involvement in Kathryn's murder is far from the first hurtful decision he's made in the past few episodes. Just as the curse has apparently brought out Mary Margaret's meekness, it sometimes makes our romantic prince seem decidedly heartless.
The episode also saw the enigmatic August admitting his belief in the book's stories to Henry, which gave the boy the courage to take his suspicions about Regina to Emma -- undoubtedly the first step in helping Mary Margaret clear her name.
More importantly, "Heart of Darkness" provided some excellent growth for Emma, who evolved from being a person who needed solid proof to believe in something (or someone) to being a person who could find faith in her friends. It's likely that Mary Margaret is the first true friend Emma has ever had, so it's clear that Storybrooke is changing our heroine for the better, just as much as Emma is changing the town. A pity, then, that Mary Margaret chose to betray that trust by breaking out of the jail cell, which certainly isn't an act that emphasizes her innocence. (What should emphasize her innocence, though, is the fact that the box containing the heart was Mary Margaret's jewelry box -- as if any murderer would be dumb enough to use a recognizable personal item to stow a piece of evidence in. C'mon, Regina.)
Back in "The Fairytale Land That Was," as ABC likes to call it, we also saw some welcome movement between Snow and Charming, post-potion. In erasing her love for Charming, Snow inadvertently seemed to erase all of her goodness, turning her into a person who was even grumpier than Grumpy, trying to swat the birds who used to whistle along with her while she worked, and bringing in bales of hay to make Sneezy even sneezier. Thanks to a hilarious intervention headed up by Jiminy Cricket, she then set upon a fairly justified quest to kill the Evil Queen as payback for ruining her life, but Charming wasn't far behind her.
True Love's Kiss didn't break the potion's spell the first time around, but by bravely taking an arrow just to stop her from becoming a murderer -- and thus reminding Snow of who she was and how worthy she was of love -- the second smooch brought all of her memories rushing back ... Just in time for King George's men to appear and drag Charming away, d'oh! While the couple clearly still has a long way to go before they become the blissful newlyweds we first saw in the pilot, I do love the way they continue to save each other; it truly seems like an equal partnership, which is my favorite kind of TV romance, and one that's far more pure and admirable than what Mary Margaret and David currently have in Storybrooke.
Elsewhere, Mr. Gold was making himself unnervingly useful in aiding Mary Margaret and Emma, offering to help the teacher clear her name because, as he ominously declared, "I'm invested in your future." And in Fairytale Land, Rumplestiltskin offered to assist Snow in killing The Evil Queen, requiring nothing in return because he was similarly invested in her future there, too. He did, however, exact a price from Charming in exchange for knowledge about Snow's whereabouts. He took his cloak (which he creepily sniffed, because Robert Carlyle is a genius) so that he could find one of Charming's hairs and join it with one of Snow's, thereby managing to bottle Love, "the most powerful magic of all." It was a delicious and intriguing twist, which must somehow relate to Emma's birth and her power to break Regina's curse, just like the imp's desire to know Emma's name in the pilot.
Now that Emma finally has faith that Regina is behind framing Mary Margaret, and the help of Mr. Gold, it's only a matter of time before we see the "power shift" that Jennifer Morrison teased in our recent interview -- I just hope the show can keep up the momentum it has established in the last two episodes, since this was one of its strongest hours to date. What did you think of it?
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.