When you love someone, sometimes you have to let them go. Rumple (Robert Carlyle) has learned that lesson with Belle (Emilie de Ravin), and this week Regina (Lana Parrilla) also learns this in an even more heartbreaking way in Once Upon a Time’s Halloween episode “The Doctor.”
“The Doctor” is one of the more complex episodes of the series, blending Mary Shelly’s classic horror story of Frankenstein with Once‘s modern-day Storybrooke, and the Fairytale Land that once was. And who is our Victor Frankenstein? None other than the enigmatic Dr. Whale (David Anders), who had thus far kept his identity secret from everyone else in Storybrooke. (Trivia question: Name the director of the original 1931 film Frankenstein. Answer: James Whale. Very clever reference to the original film — amplified by shooting this week’s final Frankenstein sequence in a starkly beautiful black and white.)
Not of Fairytale Land, but of a different realm (of course that would be 19th Century Europe) entirely, the Doctor travels between times and realms through the Mad Hatter’s (Sebastian Stan) hat seeking a heart to complete his experiment — to bring his brother back from the dead. (In the original Frankenstein, the creature kills Victor’s brother, leaving the scientist wracked by terrible guilt.)
While Victor needs a heart to bring his brother back to life, Rumple needs to toughen up his apprentice Regina, and a deal is struck. Rumple gets what he wants by indirectly destroying Regina’s only hope of bringing back to life her dead fiance Daniel — her true love — in a complicated scheme of actions and consequences.
When Victor’s resurrection ”fails,” Regina is left without hope, finally brittle enough to tear the heart out of Rumple’s new apprentice and crush it. Rumple finally has a partner, no longer distracted by foolish hope — someone as miserable as he is to wallow in the cruelty of the black arts as solace from the grief and loss while he tries to find a way to the “land without magic” in which he might locate his son Baelfire.
Until this point, Regina’s sole purpose in using magic had been to bring back Daniel, something Rumple believes had a waste of time. Magic cannot bring back the dead, he tells her. Nothing can. Insisting that Regina is wasting both his time and her own, he warns, ”So long as you live in the past, you’ll neer find your future.” Which is interesting, since he seems never to lose sight of his entire reason for being — to find Bae, even if that means crossing over into a world without magic and patiently waiting for 28 years.
By the way, it seems that Rumple is trying to find Dorothy of Oz fame — or at least her ruby slippers. I’d never thought of the slippers as a portal before, but I guess they are! Although Jefferson can’t deliver on the slippers, he does recover what I can only assume is the witch’s crystal ball. I wonder if he’ll use that to try to see into our world — or is he asking for trouble by messing with the Wicked Witch’s magic?
But this week’s episode is more than a ghoulish ghost story, or even the next clue into Rumple’s search for Bae. “The Doctor,” more than anything else provides crisis point for Regina in her story with Daniel — as well as in her efforts to refrain from using magic as Henry has requested.
Having used magic to keep Daniel in suspended animation, and ultimately to bring him back to life (with science, assisted by a magic heart), she uses it, albeit reluctantly, to put Daniel out of his misery. As happy as she is that Daniel has been brought back to life by Dr. Whale…er…Victor Frankenstein, she realizes that magic cannot bring her happiness. Magic is powerful, as Rumple has told her, but far from having the ability to produce happiness, magic “comes with a price.”
The episode also brings in an interesting argument about magic and science — which is more powerful? Rumple (and even in modern Storybrooke) insists that magic is more powerful than science, something about which scientist Victor strongly disagrees.
The Rumplestiltskin of Fairytale Land knows little of science, although he seems to know a great deal about a great many things. He’s quite an alchemist, our Rumple, but for him it’s all about the magic. And for 19th Century scientist Victor Frankenstein, product of the Enlightenment, magic is for the dark ages; the pursuit of science is the way to power — and to conquering the world.
But what is magic, ultimately? Magic is what we don’t yet understand of science; historically, magic has almost always been eventually explained by science. Frankenstein represents the nexus between them, borne of the Enlightenment, it is (like many fairytales) a cautionary tale. Does science, like magic, come with a price? I think the price of science (coming from a scientist, by the way) is sometimes the loss of wonder. And the challenge of science is to maintain the wonder and awe of the world even as it is explained rationally. (End of philosophical rant.)
In the end, his arm severed by his own scientific creation, Whale must admit to Mr. Gold that magic is more powerful. But one thing that magic cannot necessarily do is help to complete a quest. Although many of the Storybrooke residents have found what they are looking for, others still yearn: Rumple seeks his son; Whale seeks a return to his land; Regina seeks the love of her adopted son Henry.
For all his power and all his magic, Rumple has not, for centuries been able to use it to find Bae. It is the one thing that magic cannot help, yet it is the one thing Rumple desires more than anything else. It is the irony of his life. And for Regina, magic only brought Daniel anguish. That she used magic to end his pain and let him go is her own bit of irony.
I wonder if, now that Daniel is lost to her forever how that will change her. Will it make her more cruel or more introspective? Time will tell.
Speaking of severed limbs, this week finds Emma and Snow White in an encounter with the pirate Killian. Killian, like Emma and Snow want entry into our world — for very different reasons, of course. Will they help each other? It certainly seems like they’re about to collaborate on geting themselves a handful of magic beans as they stand at the foot of a very tall beanstalk.
I very much enjoyed this episode. I thought the scene in which Regina lets Daniel go was heartbreaking. Lana Parrilla did a wonderful job of allowing Regina to completely break down at her fateful decision to let Daniel die.
David Anders finally got to shine in dual roles, and any time we get Regina and Rumple, it always crackles with chemistry (or magic, as the case may be).
Once Upon a Time airs Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
Note: Tomorrow night Gareth Hughes, creator of the huge Once Upon a Fan site will be joining me on Let’s Talk TV LIVE on BlogTalkRadio. Next week, November 5, Jane Espenson will be visiting the show to talk about her next Once Upon a Time episode along with Team Husbands (Brad “Cheeks” Bell and Sean Hemeon).