Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 1, Episode 17 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," entitled "Hat Trick."
This week's "Once Upon a Time" took a trip down the rabbit hole into madness, and what a delicious ride it was. There's a certain poetic irony to the idea that the one man who knows the whole truth about Storybrooke is the one man who has been branded insane because of it; it calls to mind a very apt Tim Burton quote: "One person's craziness is another person's reality."
Sebastian Stan played our sympathetic Mad Hatter, known as Jefferson in both worlds, and I choose to believe that this name was picked wholly because of the association between Jefferson Airplane and their trippy song "White Rabbit," based on the Alice in Wonderland tales. In Fairytale Land, he was a devoted father who had some kind of past experience with Regina, but had since ended his association with her and retired to the woods to live with his precocious daughter, Grace. Feeling inadequate that he couldn't provide her with the white rabbit toy she wanted (a clever guilt-trip executed by our Evil Queen while disguised as an old crone) he agreed to do one last task for Regina -- using his magic hat to transport the queen into another land. Of course, Regina used him and double-crossed him, as she always does, leaving him stranded in Wonderland to be captured by the Queen of Hearts, forced to make thousands of hats in an attempt to recapture the magic that would allow him to get back to his world and his loving daughter.
In Storybrooke, Jefferson was still a devoted father, but as with everyone in our world, he told Emma, "What I love has been ripped away from me." For him, that meant that Grace was no longer his daughter, living with another family (perhaps the neighbors he sent her to stay with while he visited Wonderland?) and Grace is now called Paige, with no idea who her true father was. Jefferson was still obsessed with the idea that he could make another magic hat to take him back to Fairytale Land and reunite with his daughter. But after numerous attempts, he decided to kidnap Emma to see if she could harness the magic instead. Apparently, Jefferson has at least been paying attention to the changes that have been happening in Storybrooke since Emma arrived, noticing that she was the only one able to leave the town and that her appearance had made the clock in the town square start ticking for the first time in 28 years.
The episode perfectly executed Jefferson's attempts to convince Emma of the existence of the curse, and for a "mad" man, he made an awful lot of sense. So much so, that by the end of the episode, even Emma was starting to question the reality of Storybrooke. Perhaps the most poignant moment to illustrate that came when Emma tried to convince Mary Margaret to go back to Storybrooke with her and face her arraignment, begging her friend (and mother) to trust her the way she had come to trust Mary Margaret: "Nobody's ever been there for me except for you," she insisted. "I cannot lose my family." Even if she doesn't quite believe that Mary Margaret could be her mother (which is a fair doubt to have), she has still come to see her roommate as family, finally allowing her to lower her walls and let someone in for the first time.
Perhaps the episode's most intriguing development, though, was the revelation that Mr. Gold had planted the key in Mary Margaret's cell and allowed her to escape, because he's seemingly in league with Regina, who wanted to make sure Mary Margaret ran off and missed the arraignment. But is Mr. Gold pulling a reverse-Sidney and playing loyal to Regina, when in actuality, he's working against her with Emma? Only time will tell, but it's nice to know that we're still unable to predict Rumple's motivations in either world. It's also interesting to note that in Fairytale Land, Regina used Jefferson to retrieve her father, the man she later killed in order to supplement her dark power. I wonder why the Queen of Hearts took him in the first place, and whether her familiar method of storage predates Regina's own ominous wall of hearts. We also got to see "Once's" original twist on the Queen of Hearts -- instead of making her a shrieking, demanding diva, they had her veiled and quiet, only speaking through a voice amplifier to let her guard announce her desires for her.
I loved all of the references to the familiar "Alice" iconography, from Jefferson's trippy artwork to Grace's tea parties. There was also an amusing Easter Egg for fans of The Who -- lead singer Roger Daltrey guest-starred as the voice of the caterpillar who asked Regina and Jefferson "Who are you?" as a nod to both the original story and the band's famous song. It was also a clever touch to show the scar around Jefferson's throat that offered proof of his beheading. He may have crashed out of a window and disappeared, but I hope we'll get to see him again soon, since Stan captured all of Jefferson's misery, love and lunacy effortlessly.
Did you enjoy the show's twist on the Mad Hatter? Do you think Emma is finally starting to believe in the curse? Are Regina and Mr. Gold really working together -- and if they are, what's the price? Share your theories below!
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.