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TV Review: Once Upon a Time – “Hat Trick”

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“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?

Mary Margaret’s choices are even more profoundly life-altering. A key to her cell gives her the chance to escape. But escape to where—and from what? Escape will only bring her misery, and clearing her name will give her a better result. But like all the flawed characters of Storybrooke, she takes the opportunity and flees, only to be captured and kidnapped by Jefferson!

Rescued by Emma, Mary Margaret has another choice to make: stay and stand trial or go. The choice is hers, and Emma puts her job and reputation on the line to give it to her. This time, Mary Margaret acts with more rationality and dignity and goes back to jail, where Mr. Gold awaits her for the arraignment.

So. The Queen of Hearts has Regina’s father, but why? And why, suddenly, does Regina need Henry so desperately. We know it can’t be because she loves Daddy so much. I’m guessing that she needs King Henry to cut out his heart and use it in Rumple’s curse! That would place this episode just before The Evil Queen casts her spell over Fairy Tale Land.

And what’s up with Mr. Gold and what’s his game with Regina? We know that Gold is no ally of the queen’s—or Regina’s so what’s going on with the master chess player that he is? It is obviously some sort of setup, and I suspect Gold had known full well that Mary Margaret would be found and come back to attend the arraignment.

I loved this episode; it is an interesting take on the Mad Hatter, giving him backstory. It’s a melacholy, tragic tale of family and loss; in fact, it’s another Once story in which a parent losing a child (Rumple lost his son, Snow White and the Prince lost their daughter, and of course, Emma lost Henry).

The idea of parallel or alternate universes existing side by side is intriguing. Traveling between them, I’ll wager, is something we might see more of as the months go on.

Speaking of traveling from one world to another, did any of you Stargate fans notice the very stargate-ish mirror through which Jefferson and The Evil Queen transported to Wonderland? Of course, Robert Carlye’s fans will know that he starred in Stargate Universe, which aired on Syfy from 2009-2011. I suppose, it would have been stranger yet had Mr. Gold or Rumple gone through!

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her debut novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse comes out October 11 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)."
  • lisa

    Off the subject a bit. I just realized last night. Rumples power can only be taken away if stabbed through the heart. So if Belle kisses him, it shouldn’t take his powers away. He told his son he could do good with the powers. Maybe if he had let Belle finish kissing him, he would have been able to have Belle, and keep the promise he made to his son.

  • Lisa–interesting point. And maybe in his own way, he’s using his powers for some ultimate good. After all, he’s the one who showed Snow and Charming what to do!

  • Debby

    I’m inclined to think Regina wasn’t getting Daddy back to cut his heart out. It’s probably silly, but the EQ looked much younger then she did at curse casting time. Her hair/makeup wasn’t as severe and she still seemed to be emotionally affected by what she was doing.

  • Sharon

    I love this show because it’s keeping me guessing, and I’m often wrong. That’s great! I’m sure though that Mr. Gold has a plan to twist Regina. And yes this Stargate fan noticed a puddle, not only that, a former Stargate star (other than Carlyle) was in Wonderland. Paul McGillion was the Queen of Heart’s right hand man. Cool!

  • An alternate world just might be where Jefferson went after he got away from Emma and Mary Margaret. But why did he leave Grace/Paige behind again? The Alice mentions were nice, but I wish the Cheshire Cat would have made an appearance.

  • Pixie Michele

    Did Jefferson disappear to FTL? Did Emma make it work? If so, she has the hat now. And magic. Will she make the leap next? Love it! Unfortunately (maybe) Jefferson can no longer see Grace from FTL. Will that hinder or help his madness? Great characters!

    I had only one issue. Emma could have stabbed him with freshly-sharpened scissors. Instead she whacked him with his telescope. Well, I guess that’s hitting him with what’s partly causing his madness. Half the fun is finding a way to justify everything. Another reason this show can cause its own madness like Lost.

  • Mette

    I like the names of the father and daughter. Jefferson and Grace. Like the band Jefferson Airplane’s singer Grace Slick! (They have a famous song called white rabbit ;))

  • Action Kate

    ooh, Mette, I had missed the Jefferson/Grace/White Rabbit connection; well done! I did recognize Paul McGillion, to my delight.

    I realized about halfway through Emma’s teary “Maybe I just need to believe” speech that she was faking it. I assumed she grabbed the telescope to wallop him for two reasons: it was closer than the scissors, and she was hoping to avoid murdering the guy even in self-defense. Granted that he was threatening both her and MM, in Emma’s mind, he’s completely insane, and therefore not entirely responsible for his actions.

    Is Morrison deliberately growing her hair to Rapunzel length, or is that a wig/extensions? It looks lovely, but she could practically braid herself a shirt with it.

  • Action Kate

    Okay, sorry for the double post, but I had to add this: Snow White and Prince Charming are dating… in real life.

  • Lastshow

    I’ve returned to watching this after missing several episodes and it seems the plot has barely progressed. It was the same with Lost and I feel frustrated with both shows. This show I watched is my last. There are too many other great shows out there that get on with a plot (Dexter). Its a shame because as an ideas its great!