Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 1, Episode 10 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," entitled "7:15 a.m."
We've all heard the Shakespearean adage that "the course of true love never did run smooth," but who could've predicted such a twisted road for Snow White and Prince Charming?
It seems as though amnesia is a running theme in Snow and James' relationship, and tonight's heartbreaking installment of "Once Upon a Time" threw yet another unexpected obstacle in their path. Just when it seemed as though the lovelorn couple might have a chance to be together despite James' arranged marriage to Abigail, Snow was forced to sacrifice her feelings for James' safety, capitulating to King George's threats and telling the replacement prince that she had never cared for him at all to keep the king from killing him. Woe!
She was a good actress, but apparently not convincing enough to change James' feelings, since it didn't take him long to call off his wedding to Midas' daughter and set off in pursuit of his happily ever after. Alas, he wasn't quite quick enough to reach Snow before she gave into her pain and tried to ease her broken heart with Rumplestiltskin's potion, erasing all memory of James so that she could live in blissful ignorance without him. Double woe!
But we know from the pilot episode that true love's kiss helped bring Snow back to life with her memories of James intact. So I'm guessing that either the effects of Rumple's potion can be undone by a smacker from her soulmate, or that she and James manage to find each other again before The Evil Queen poisons her with the apple she had Hansel and Gretel steal last week.
Either way, every moment we spend with Snow and James -- or Mary Margaret and David -- raises the show to a whole new level; the longing between them is so palpable, and played so perfectly by Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas, that my heart aches for them every time they're on screen. What this pair can convey with a single, lingering look could put other actors to shame.
I applaud the writers' continuing efforts to present an opposing image of Fairytale Land in Storybrooke. Just as Snow, who was in a "coma," needed to be awoken with James' kiss in their past lives, David was the one who was saved by Mary's kiss in our world. And now, as Snow and James move further apart in the fairytale world that was, Mary Margaret and David grow closer. It's a smart narrative choice -- given how invested we are as an audience in both versions of the couple -- it allows viewers to find some satisfaction with one iteration of the duo, preventing us from getting frustrated by the distance between the other version.
While I do wish the writers had come up with a less contrived plot device than having Mary Margaret feel compelled to risk death to help a dove return to its flock, just to get her alone with David during the storm, the MacGuffin was forgivable since the outcome was so satisfying. Even if Mary Margaret and David are now technically having an affair, I'm hoping the next couple of episodes will resolve things between David and Kathryn so that he finally stops trying to have his cake and eat it too.
As for another mirror theme between Fairytale Land and Storybrooke, I find it fascinating -- and bold -- that the writers have chosen to make David so indecisive and, as a result, also somewhat selfish. We're still rooting for him and Mary Margaret, but as she has been pointing out for weeks, he has continually built her hopes up only to dash them and return to Kathryn out of some misplaced sense of "duty." He's been insisting that he's doing the honorable thing in trying to make his marriage work, but living a lie hasn't been fair to either of the women he professes to care about. Plus, if he and Mary Margaret continue to carry on their relationship in secret, there's nothing noble about that course of action. Conversely, in Fairytale Land, James was wholeheartedly prepared to leave Abigail and forsake his duties to his kingdom as soon as he knows that his feelings for Snow are reciprocated. It just emphasizes the differences between the idealized, black-and-white morality of fairytales when compared to the shades of grey we encounter in the real world. While we'd expect Prince Charming to sacrifice everything for true love in a heartbeat, in our world (as the characters in Storybrooke keep reminding us) there's no such thing as happily ever after: Every action has very real consequences that even a magic kiss can't resolve.
It's no surprise, then, that the show's creators, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, conceived the story for this week's episode, though the teleplay was written by Daniel T. Thomsen. I'd be interested to learn whether the showrunners suggested those parallels or if the writer added them in, though I suspect it's the former. Thanks to my proclivity towards Snow and James' story, I think that "7:15 a.m." was my favorite episode of "Once" to date. The tragic romance of it all was more than enough to crack my cynical critic's heart.
The episode also introduced us to the infamous seven dwarfs (none of whom are actually that short) -- and poor, ill-fated Stealthy, who apparently missed out on a chance at literary immortality by failing to be all that stealthy. As Ginnifer Goodwin told me in our recent interview, "Once" had a typically unique twist on the start of that iconic friendship, with a fearless Snow finding herself cellmates with Grumpy -- and it turned out to be far more satisfying than the twee Disney iteration and its passive princess.
Meanwhile, in Storybrooke, Emma and Regina came to an uneasy truce in order to investigate the frustratingly enigmatic stranger who arrived in town last episode. While I was waiting for Emma to pull a Brad Pitt in "Se7en" when she was trying to find out what was in the guy's box, I'll admit, I'm no closer to figuring out who he really is. Goodwin told me, "I had a million theories about who the stranger was, and they were all wrong! What the creators' intention is with that character is so much better than anything I could have come up with." So I'm guessing that any Big Bad Wolf predictions we've been floating are way off base. The CW's "Supernatural" also introduced a mysterious writer, and he turned out to be the psychic author of the main characters' life stories -- and also possibly God (if you don't know, it's better not to ask). But "Once" doesn't seem like the type of show to go so overtly meta so soon, so I don't think the stranger will turn out to somehow be some omniscient narrator who created Fairytale Land and all the stories in Henry's book ... or perhaps that kind of unexpected twist is exactly what Kitsis and Horowitz are aiming for.
Overall, "7:15 a.m." expertly combined all the elements that make "Once Upon a Time" one of the most addictive and heartfelt new shows of the season, blending emotion, mystery and narrative thrust while giving us a deeper understanding of our favorite characters. I hope the next batch of episodes can keep up the momentum established this week.
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.