“I found someone in myself that was more than I expected.” Ruby’s (Meghan Ory) discovery about herself is right on target in “Red Handed,” Once Upon a Time’s exploration this week into the fairy tale of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Pulling in elements from werewolf mythology, the episode offers a unique take on the famous tale adapted by the Brothers Grimm from other European tellings even older.
Intrigued by August’s (Eion Bailey) tales of going to Nepal and lemurs with glowing eyes, Ruby decides she wants no more of waiting tables at Granny’s Diner. Wanting to find herself, she intends to leave Storybrooke (never a good idea) and head for destinations unknown. But she’s rescued from that likely bad fate by Emma (Jennifer Morrison), who hires her to help out around the police station.
And it is here that Ruby discovers her very own superpower—and the confidence to connect with her own destiny. It is a very strange power she uncovers within herself—a remnant of her Fairy Tale Land alter ego Red Riding Hood. She has an extraordinary gift for tracking by scent.
Empowered with an uber-sense of smell, Ruby first tracks down the strange-acting David (Josh Dallas), who seems to be having a recurrence of the blackouts he’d suffered at the beginning of the season. But Ruby’s hyper-senses also lead her to a small box buried along a riverbed, its contents both gruesome and damning—at least to Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin). This is all too much for Red, who decides it’s better to be safe and snug at Granny’s than to be pursuing mysteries in the forest with Emma. Her destiny is with Granny.
But David is anything but safe and sound, and his blackouts are certainly worrying both from a medical standpoint—and because they point to his possible involvement with Kathyrn’s disappearance. Might he have done her harm while he was “away?” His blackouts leave him in a trance-like state, able to walk and talk; it’s a possibility that Sheriff Emma can’t really ignore.
But it’s not David to whom the finger finally points; it’s Mary Margaret! The contents—and fingerprints upon—Ruby’s small box seem to accuse Mary Margaret of murder. For in that ornately decorated box lies a human heart (undoubtedly Kathryn’s) and Emma identifies Mary Margaret’s fingerprints suspiciously decorating its cover. To be continued! But have we seen this M.O. before? Hearts in boxes? Hmm.
Just as Ruby discovers her destiny in Storybrooke, alter ego Red learns her much more unsettling fate back in Fairy Tale Land. The story begins simply enough—the familiar tale of Little Red Riding Hood. Red is a sweet young thing who cares very much for her Granny. But this granny is a bit more overprotective than we might expect, insisting that Red wear her red hooded cloak at all times—and not venture out at night, especially when the moon is full.
For there is a wolf in their midst, and it is a huge, powerful beast—a killer, ruthlessly attacking at will, afraid of neither weapons nor man (nor woman). The color red will keep the wolf at bay, and keep Red safe and secure. But just in case, Granny stands watch in her rocker, crossbow at the ready. Her arrows are special—silver tipped, able to fell the feral creature in its tracks.
Why a silver tip? This is no ordinary wolf. It’s a werewolf! Although the term is never used in the episode, we soon learn that this wolf morphs back into human form by day. And according to legend, a silver dagger (or bullet—or in this case arrow) is the only thing that can stop a werewolf in its tracks.
Granny lives in fear terror of the wolf. You can’t defeat it, she explains. “You don’t kill it; you just hide.” Living in fear seems a way of life for the residents of Fairy Tale Land, curse or no. There are ogres that seem to make constant war against the residents of the Enchanted Forest; there are dark and powerful lords hiding in the sheeps’ clothing of beggardom. There are malevolent queens and vengeful knights; werewolves and witches. Yikes! Hiding—and running—from such evil is one way to deal with it. Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle, sadly missing from this episode), we know, had run from evil, only to run right into it—changing him forever. Granny hides from it, but can anyone really avoid it when it might be lurking right in your back yard—or in the next room?
Not one to be a passive bystander, Red decides to take the wolf by its fangs, as it were, and put an end to the terror it’s caused the entire village. “Sometimes your fate finds you,” she asserts, and perhaps this is her fate—to tame the beast. Of course after seeing the wolf’s footprints turn to human impressions in the snow—and then spies her beau Peter (I love it! Peter—and the wolf! Yet another literary wolf reference!) She concludes that he must be the werewolf. She doesn’t want to harm him—she only wants to tame him.
But, too late, Red understands that her genuine fate has indeed found her. She is the werewolf—like her parents before her, and Granny before that! Peter is dead, murdered at the hand of the werewolf. Red has killed the thing she loves most. Had she only known.
This week’s episode gives us another Fairy Tale Land tragedy. Once again, true love not only doesn’t overcome all, it is destructive to the thing you love most. Truly, even without the Evil Queen’s terrible curse, the folk of Fairy Tale Land do not live fairy tale lives.
I loved this unusual, surprising take on Red Riding Hood’s story, blending lycanthropic myth with Grimm fairy tale, also letting us in on how Snow White and Red Riding Hood became friends as Snow aids Red in her effort to find the Big Bad Wolf. So this makes me wonder, then, about Dr. Whale. I’d imagined that he was the Big Bad Wolf; he certainly acts like one ‘round Storybrooke, doesn’t he? But if Red is the wolf, who is he? I think he can still be the wolf of the Grimm tale; as they say, “It takes one to know one.” And who better than Little Red Riding Hood, badass werewolf to take down the biggest baddest wolf in Fairy Tale Land?
Next up: Mary Margaret is arrested for Kathryn’s (presumed) murder. Of course we know that just because her heart turns up in one of the Evil Queen’s little boxes, Kathryn might not be dead at all. Who knows? That heart might have been placed in the box long, long before Ruby discovers it (like back when she was Princess Abigail). Remember the Huntsman/Sheriff Graham?
Once Upon a Time airs Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.