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.”