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TV Review: Once Upon a Time – “Heart of Darkness”

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“Having your heart broken can make you do unspeakable things.” So says the The Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) in this week’s Once Upon a Time episode “Heart of Darkness.” And the Evil Queen knows of what she speaks—her own damaged heart. Since the series began last October, we have seen the evil, the revenge, and the damage done in the name of lost love—starting with the queen’s vendetta against Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin). Her actions, as we know by now had been motivated by misdeeds perpetrated against her.

We’ve also seen the damage love’s loss has done to Rumple (Robert Carlyle). We don’t know the real circumstances under which he lost his wife—and we don’t know what happened to his son. (Yes, I know the black knight said it was for cowardice, but we don’t really know why Rumple ran from the battle—or its effect.) But the romantic tragedy that we do know about is Belle (Emilie de Ravin). It is clear from “Skin Deep” that Rumple wants to not feel, but he can’t help it—no amount of guarding, masks or thick, green skin will shield his heart from the pain of that loss (and his feeling that she died because of her association with him).

So it makes me wonder whether that potion he’d given to Snow to make her forget Charming (Josh Dallas) was a potion he, himself had taken to forget the love he has for Belle. And perhaps the appearance of Emma (Jennifer Morrison) in Storybrooke had marked the unraveling of potion’s effect on Rumple, himself (albeit very, very slowly).

The effect the potion has on Snow is interesting. Yes, she forgets Charming as she’d wanted to, but she also loses herself in the process, turning her into a loveless, vengeful woman—in essence a female version of Rumplestiltskin, but without the magic powers or gift of prophecy.

But now, Snow wants to assassinate the queen, and is more than willing to consult Rumple for the means to do it! And Rumple is equally will to oblige, wanting nothing in exchange for his help, which in itself is remarkable. “I’m invested in your future,” he explains to her.

In retrospect, I have to wonder if Rumple really believes that Snow will kill the queen. Rumple can see the future, and probably knows what will unfold—therefore he must know that the key lies in the love between Snow White and Prince Charming. He has undone their love; does he realize that he needs to put it back together? And this little scenario is part of his puppet mastery (recalling his complex series of manipulations to get

After sending Snow on her way to find the queen and do her in, he has an encounter with Charming as well—a very interesting encounter. He blames Charming for destroying the Snow’s love, solidifying in my mind the importance Rumple places on this fragile emotion. Love is elusive to him—the most powerful sorcerer in Fairy Tale Land, and arguably the most powerful being in all the realms. Yet—at least in his own self-image—has made himself the most unlovable of beasts, incapable of being loved. Yet, try as he might to rid himself of that emotion, he cannot—it is more powerful than he can ever be, fragile as it is.

He knows he must make things right between Charming and Snow—because within their particular love lies the secret to breaking some future evil—something he can sense, can see. So he sends Charming off to find her, knowing that he will do anything to save Snow from embarking on a path of evil. As Rumple warns, once she’s starts down that road, there’s no turning back. And he should know (as does the Evil Queen).

Rumple has potions for pretty much everything; the one he lacks is a potion for love. And in Rumple’s humble (and very knowing) opinion, “if you can bottle love, you can do anything!” It is the most powerful thing.

It’s hard to know when in the timeline this episode occurs, but it’s certain that Rumple’s reactions both to Snow’s desire for revenge and his conversation with Charming about love strongly suggest that he is thinking about his own tragic love story. Ah, but which one? The tale in which he loses his wife? Baelfire, his son? Or the beautiful Belle, which seems to have affected him most of all?

But love, it would seem, is the key to much—more powerful than magic, the key to breaking curses and, perhaps even taming evil queens. “Love,” says Rumple, “is the most powerful magic of all.”

But what is the purpose of Rumple’s obsession with finding a potion for love? To what purpose will he put it? It is clear to me that it’s not the last we’ll see of Rumple’s love potion, created of two hair strands, which gravitate towards each other, forming a DNA-like double helix within the flask. We know, of course that the love between Snow and Charming is crucial to the eventual breaking of the Queen’s curse, which at this point has not yet occurred.

Evil isn’t born; it’s made, notes Regina/The Evil Queen twice in “Heart of Darkness.” But, can love overcome evil? Can evil be unmade? We’ve had indications in the series narrative that yes, evil can be unmade—again, by love. The evil Belle notes in “Skin Deep” that has taken root inside the not-born-evil Rumplestiltskin can be undone. We saw love begin to transform him—even before the kiss.

In last night’s episode, we see that it was not only a kiss that was able to undo Rumple’s potion. It’s not about a kiss—it’s about love. True love’s kiss is meaningless without something to give it substance—render it more potent than the magic of a spell. And when Charming proves his love by offering his life to save her, Snow’s memories return. Love has won over hate and revenge and she returns to herself. The evil taken root in Snow is unmade.

But is it really possible that Snow’s alter ego Mary Margaret assassinated David’s wife Kathryn? All evidence points towards her, but we know who took her heart, don’t we? It’s even possible that Kathryn’s heart was extracted and boxed up long before it’s discovered in Mary Margaret’s jewel box. Remember the vault with all those little boxes, including the now-late Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan)? Hmm. I suspect that Kathryn has been The Evil Queen’s puppet all along and that her heart, like Graham’s had been taken long, long ago—a world away.

Who will defend Mary Margaret against the charges? In steps the enigmatic Mr. Gold, who offers his services free of charge. Noble gesture? As Gold explains it, using Rumple’s exact words, he is invested in her future—all part of breaking the evil perpetrated by the Evil Queen. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this will all unfold.

You would think that Mary Margaret’s most outspoken advocate would be David. And at first, all he wants is to understand what’s been happening during his frequent blackouts. Might he have killed his own wife?

A hypnosis session with town therapist Archie sends David into his deep past—perhaps too deep. He sees in them the possibility that Mary Margaret may indeed have killed Kathryn.

David’s memories also reveal a side of him that suggest the curse is far from being broken. His faith in Mary Margaret is thin, and he is too ready to believe that she may, indeed, have had something to do with his wife’s death. His lack of faith breaks Mary Margaret’s faith in their love. For the curse to be broken, I believe, their love has to be true and strong—and obviously Emma is the key to that (at sometime in the very distant future, I’d suspect). But also key to the future is August (Eion Bailey), the mysterious stranger who’s role is to help Emma begin to believe Henry’s (Jared Gilmore) story!

I really liked last night’s episode. I especially enjoyed seeing Snow White be the badass we all know she is (the polar opposite of Mary Margaret, whose strength is internal and cerebral). I have to admit really liking (yes, I know, I’m evil) Snow bashing the bluebird, subverting the parallel scene from the Disney animated movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

I also loved Jiminy Cricket’s role within the Fairy Tale Land story. It was a clever use of the Pinocchio character and a fun way to introduce Archie’s (Raphael Sbarge) alter ego into the Fairy Tale Land narrative, and then making him pivotal in David’s Storybrooke story. I loved Rumple’s fury at David (well, heck, I love Rumple—and Mr. Gold—whenever they’re in the thick of the story) and the idea that he believe the ultimate power is love—something he denies in himself. And adore the fact that he and Emma have now joined forces. “I have a feeling you’re more powerful than you know,” he tells Emma. And Gold should know!

Lingering questions: who left that key in Mary Margaret’s cell? And where did run off to? Breaking out of jail is not such a good idea, is it?

Next week’s episode looks to be a surreal candy box of delights with the Mad Hatter and what will surely be a wild tea party! Should we do a post-episode live chat? Let me know in the comments thread!

Once Upon a Time airs Sunday at 8:00 ET on ABC.

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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)."
  • Action Kate

    I continue to be surprised and delighted by how dark this show is willing to be. (I don’t mean going all Fiona on the bluebird… that was hilarious, not dark.) Watching David and MM’s relationship fall apart because he doesn’t have faith in her is really astonishing, because it’s unexpected. I love it.

  • sara2

    Jennifer Morrison deserves a Emmy! She is absolutely the best.

  • Thanks everyone for your lovely and kind comments! Please feel free to pass the word about this little corner of the OUAT fandom. I weigh in on the show at least once a week!

  • Pixie Michele

    Wow! Enlightening. Thank you so much! Reading as enjoyable as the episode. You use a wide lens, and lots to see this time. Especially with Rumple as you said, and his plans. Funny how his curse brought the FTL characters to the real world frozen and asleep to slowly awaken. I also love the push/pull between Snow & James and their alter egos. In the same episode, their characters are closer and never further apart. Both of these are a grand thing for the show’s longevity. Nice theme this week of “no easy fixes/kisses.” I wonder what the real world can teach FTL and vice versa. Loving the ride! Gets this CPA away from the desk for an hour during tax season. Must rewatch all episodes when the madness is over!

  • Pamela Anneliese

    You. Are. Fantastic! I adored this review and you actually hit on all of my thoughts on the characters and events this turn. And, don’t feel bad… I have to admit that I loved Evil Snow trying to bash the stuffing out of that bluebird, too. Hehehe! Ginny Goodwin truly deserves an Emmy for her performance this episode, as do ALL of the performers. Hers and Robert’s, though, just shined like a thousand suns over me. This season just keeps getting more and more intense with each episode. Adam and Eddie are doing exactly what they said: slowly having us climb to the top of the hill, like a rollercoaster, and when we get to the top (season finale), we are going to be whipping down at a breathtaking, 200 miles an hour!

  • Sharon

    I hadn’t thought of Rumple taking the forgetting potion himself. Interesting idea, and how will that play out in SB with Mr. Gold and Belle? But is it possible that Rumple might be immune to his own potions? Hum.
    Rumple now having the ultimate power potion leads me to think this whole scenario with the curse is some elaborate scheme Rumple may be orchestrating for his own sake. With his clairvoyant sense he may just have.