“Everyone wants a magical solution to their problems, but no one is willing to believe in magic.” – The Mad Hatter/Jefferson (Sebastian Stan)
“All magic comes with a price.” – Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle)
Magic, belief, the choices we make – and the attendant consequences, are the recurrent themes that underlie ABC’s hit series Once Upon a Time. This week’s episode “Hat Trick” played on those themes in high relief, and in a slightly surreal way.
Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) makes the choice to run – to break out of jail and leave Storybrooke, using a key that someone has left in her cell. The consequences of her breakout are several. First, no one can leave Storybrooke and make it out unharmed (or alive), so by running, she guarantees her own death. Second, she loses all hope of clearing her name.
Enter one strange stranger: Jefferson, who stops Mary Margaret from leaving town. Jefferson lives in a lavish house all alone; he is cursed with remembering Fairy Tale Land and the spell placed on the fairy tale characters by The Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla). The cost of his knowledge is remembering what was ripped from him and the madness it has caused.
Back in Fairy Tale Land, Jefferson has another choice to make. Requested by the Evil Queen to use his magic magician’s hat, Jefferson at first refuses. He knows what the queen is asking – to be transported to a surrealistic alternate world called Wonderland. His daughter Grace (Ali Skovbye) is already motherless, and he fears that once transported to Wonderland, he’ll not be able to return, leaving Grace an orphan and leaving himself with no one at all. Yet, Jefferson knows that if he does this one thing for the Queen, she’ll make sure Grace will want for nothing, and it is with this promise – and the promise that he’ll be allowed to return to her that Jefferson goes along with the Queen’s request.
But all magic has its price, and no one – no one should trust Queen Regina. Ever! And true to form, Regina double crosses Jefferson, leaving him stranded and holding the bag, as it were, in the Queen of Heart’s (Jennifer Koenig) court.
As for Grace, we see that, in Storybrooke, at least, she is well cared for. Her name now Paige, she lives in a nice family situation, but ripped from her father Jefferson – and without a clue about her life in Fairy Tale Land.
So now Jefferson watches and waits – for Emma (Jennifer Morrison). For Emma is the savior of this magic forsaken land of Storybrooke – a place with no magic. Only Emma, he believes, can bring magic back to Storybrooke.
But Emma doesn’t believe. The only thing she does believe is that Jefferson is a mad man – who’s delusion has him believing himself to be the Mad Hatter out of Alice’s Wonderland.
Jefferson needs Emma to believe in her magic and in Henry’s storybook. Only if Emma believes, it is possible for Jefferson (and all of Storybrooke’s storybook characters) to return to themselves and to the Fairly Tale Land. Only then can he be reunites with his daughter Grace and things be put back the way they’re supposed to be. To that end, he kidnaps Emma, holding her hostage until she can create the proper magic hat needed so desperately by the Hatter.
And to add to the Hatter’s desperation, he has already taken Mary Margaret, Storybrooke’s jail breaker and suspected murderess. But, claims the man, he has only taken her to prevent her from escaping town and losing her life. Is he mad or is he Memorex? Emma eventually begins to believe that maybe – just maybe, Jefferson isn’t as crazy as he seems. And neither is Henry’s storybook!
As much as Emma’s arrival in Storybrooke has begun to change the shape of reality for the unreal inhabitants of the village, her nascent belief in magic – and her choice to open her imagination to the possibility of magic will be even more pivotal to Storybrooke’s plight.
If Emma goes with her heart and begins to let herself believe, then the possibilities are endless for her. She gains a mother, renews her bond with Henry – and possibly saves an entire world. The potential costs are equally great, especially personally. She could end up with her heart broken again, feeling more isolated and alone than ever. She’s spent years erecting those high walls around her heart; if she lets them come down, she leaves herself vulnerable. Can she afford that?