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TV Review: Once Upon a Time – “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree”

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Emotional entanglements cloud our vision and lead us down dangerous paths. This message emerges three times in episode 11 of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree.” If there’s an overriding theme in Once Upon a Time it is that everything comes at a price: magic, love, freedom—even the granting of a wish by a centuries-old genie. 

That price is magnified when emotions are involved, and it appears that each of the characters in Storybrooke and their counterparts in the Enchanted Forest are often driven by emotions—with one exception, the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) and her alter ego Mayor Regina Mills, who seems to be the only one  (yes, that includes Mr. Gold) with no emotional underpinnings, no sense of right or wrong—only what suits her.

In turn, Sidney (Giancarlo Esposito), his genie alter ego, and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) are driven by emotional entanglement, and ruled by the god of “be careful what you wish for.” Even Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) should be wary of her current entanglement with married friend David. If the mayor finds out what’s goin’ on, Mary Margaret will undoubtably have a high price to pay.  Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle—can anyone do quiet menace any better?) too “wishes” for an alliance with Emma, as he tells her near the episode’s end. And I do think they’re headed for an uneasy alliance, these two. But will Mr. Gold, too have a price to pay if he gets hsi wish?

“Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” is Sidney’s story. In Storybrooke Sidney is a discredited newspaper reporter and failed sheriff candidate, but we soon discover that back in the land of fairy tales, he was once a genie trapped in a lamp, free only to grant the wishes of others. Found by a kindly king (Snow’s father and the Evil Queen’s husband) who lacks for nothing, and has no wishes that the genie can grant him, the genie is at last given a wish of his own—his freedom.  But how has he come to reside in the Evil Queen’s mirror—forever in Regina’s pocket?

Knowing that Sidney is actually the Evil Queen’s magic mirror suggests from the beginning of “Fruit of the Poisoned Tree” that something’s rotten in Storybrooke. Tracking down Emma, Sidney informs her that he wishes revenge upon the mayor for wrecking his career and reputation. He wants to take her down, becoming a surprising new ally for Emma, telling her that the mayor has stolen $50,000 from Storybrooke’s taxpayers for some nefarious plan.

Although she’s curious, at first Emma is reluctant to use illegal means to get the goods on Mayor Mills. Preferring to stay above-board, she ultimately sees no other way to expose the mayor after realizing that the mayor is really gunning for her.

So, playing super sleuths, Sidney and Emma learn that Regina plans to purchase a tract of land from Mr. Gold, presumably for her own use—“presumably” being the operative word. The good gotten, Emma allows her emotional stake drive her down a wrong path, and she’s neither as wary nor as careful as she otherwise might be. It turns out to have been a grand manipulation by the mayor. (I seriously would not want to play her in a game of chess.)

Speaking of chess, back in the Enchanted Forest, the queen’s little strategic game manipulates the genie into murdering her husband, the king. Like Emma, he is fogged in by his emotions (his love for the queen), and in the end finds himself trapped inside her mirror. Using his own wish, he asks to never be out the queen’s sight again. Be careful what you wish for!

All the poor genie wants is to find love, and when he thinks it comes in the guise of the queen, especially as she leads him to believe his feelings are reciprocated. But the queen has neither scruples or any genuine feelings of her own (or does she?), and in the end has the genie (and her husband) right where she wants them: one dead, and the other trapped in eternity to play into the queen’s narcissistic ego both in the Enchanted Forest and in Storybrooke.

Both the genie and Sidney are driven by misplaced love, compromising their morality for love, yet paying a steep price for it. In Storybrooke, Sidney’s actions will become costly as he plays double agent for Mayor Regina. Emma now trusts him, knowing that she must trust someone, but she’s walking into a trap.

Personally (oh, and I just know you all will disagree with me), I think Emma would be far better off allying herself (even uneasily) with Mr. Gold. For all his sinister aura and menacing presence, I think Gold’s hate of Regina is equal to that of Emma’s. They would make a powerful team, don’t you think?

I really liked this episode, and I think it was probably among the four or five strongest episodes yet. I liked the seamless interweaving of themes, and although I just knew that Sidney was a spy for the mayor, I couldn’t have guessed that it was he who cut Emma’s brake lines.

And who caught the promo for the next episode (which won’t air until February 12)? Another Jane Espenson outing, “Skin Deep” will give us Once Upon a Time’s take on Beauty and the Beast’s “tale as old as time.” Not to give too much away, but the episode casts Rumple as The Beast! Verrrry interesting.

Once Upon a Time writer/producer Jane Espenson will join us here at Blogcritics for a LiveChat event immediately following the East Coast airing of the show on February 12. So please make sure to spread the word: Google+ it, put it on your Facebook pages and Twitter feeds! I will update the address in about a week (and I will tweet it out as well). So, stay tuned!




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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • rosie1843

    Yes, Emma can be this stupid. In some ways, she is her father’s daughter.

  • rosie1843

    I suspect that a lot of people disliked this episode because Regina made fools of both the Genie (Sidney Glass) and especially Emma.

  • rosie1843

    [“That price is magnified when emotions are involved, and it appears that each of the characters in Storybrooke and their counterparts in the Enchanted Forest are often driven by emotions—with one exception, the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) and her alter ego Mayor Regina Mills, who seems to be the only one (yes, that includes Mr. Gold) with no emotional underpinnings, no sense of right or wrong—only what suits her.”]

    You were wrong. A great deal of Regina’s actions were driven by her emotions.

  • Katie Is

    Action Katie – YES YES YES! I agree completely. This was the worst episode and I’m experiencing doubtful pangs for this show that I experienced 3 seasons into LOST. On top of the horrible writing, what was with the graphics? Don’t they have some money? I’m loving how you brought up the MM and David affair. Stupid. Wouldn’t character traverse the boundaries of the curse if their love can? I get that the divorce rate is 50%, but I thought David was awesome previously for choosing to do the right thing. All he knows is that he committed to a woman and now theres another woman he has strong feelings for. And whats up with MM saying, “You chose Katherine over me.” He chose to do the right thing. Thats why its a curse. The right thing in the cursed world is what will make them unhappy. I feel like the writers really botched this one. They just threw every likable characters character under the bus. I dont need the good guys to get a win every now and then. We know that eventually the curse will be broken, but this one seemed catered towards the population that needs simplicity. That needs a secret wine tasting and nookie??? I did enjoy the stuff with the king, although he seemed…I don’t know…unlikable. His reaction to finding out his wife loved someone else was strange to me. And the entire episode was very predictable. I have been noticing random mistakes on this show, like Mr. Gold putting a book down on a table then the camera changing and the book is still in his hand, but now I’m just feeling lead on. I was hoping this would stay good. After seeing the preview for the next episode, I’m nervous.

    Anyway, thanks for letting me vent.

  • Action Kate

    Actually, I had to walk out of the room for chunks of this episode. Emma is simply NOT THIS STUPID. I get that she was angry about the destruction of Henry’s castle, but she did NOT have the evidence she needed to attack the Mayor correctly, righteously, or, let’s be honest, intelligently.

    She didn’t have the records showing where the money went. The blueprints were fairly obviously not a house, but a playground. (There is NO WAY you can confuse a house with playground equipment. Under any circumstances. You might as well confuse blueprints for a house and a car!) Never mind something which wouldn’t hold up in court — Emma didn’t even have anything which actually pointed to the crime she was accusing the Mayor of committing! She had money missing (but no way to track it) and blueprints for a playground (which had yet to be built, and so there was no proof whether it was intended for Henry or everybody). Stupid, stupid, stupid. Not even Mary Margaret’s “I love David so much it doesn’t matter that I’m collaborating in his adultery” stupid, but just plain “a halfway decent producer should have caught this in the first draft of the script” stupid.

    For a show which otherwise has a lot of layered plotting (the twists of the Queen playing the Genie were lovely) and solid character development, this seemed ridiculously amateurish. TVTropes calls this The Idiot Ball: when an otherwise smart character has to develop the IQ of a radish for the plot to move forward.

    Considering how fascinating the Fairyland storyline was, Emma’s reckless stupidity really rankled in comparison. Of course the hero can make mistakes, and be driven by emotion rather than logic. That’s exactly what Mary Margaret is doing, and while I can sympathize with MM and David (as we’re meant to), I can also criticize the characters for not being honest and saying that David at least has to file for divorce before they can be together. But that’s actual human behavior, not a smart character suddenly becoming a bloody idiot just for plot purposes. I can watch that unfold, and see the trainwreck coming, without wanting to put my remote through the TV. That’s tragedy. Emma standing there with documents which don’t in any way support what she’s alleging is just stupid.

    I really did love the Fairyland plot. I actually bought that the Queen had feelings for the Genie; I thought they were giving her some depth and asking us to sympathize with her. (Let’s also note that once the Genie realizes what the Queen has done, and she’s telling him to be grateful for the escape she’s offering him, there are still tears welled in her eyes. I won’t swear that she didn’t have some feelings for him.) And the Queen’s father Henry telling the Genie, “I would die for her” — well, in the end he does, doesn’t he?

  • sara


    I loved “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” soooo much!