There certainly was a lot packed into this week’s episode of Once Upon a Time, “We Are Both.” Writer/producer Jane Espenson has once again knocked it out of the park with a great script that really sets season two into high gear.
With Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) through the portal gone and back in a devastated Fairytale Land, David/Charming (Josh Dallas) is desperate to recover them – desperate enough to strike a deal with Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle). But the heaviest news comes in the form of an experiment, and an answer to the question of what happens when a Storybrooke resident crosses the border into the non-magical world of Maine. Trying to experiment, Sneezy (Gabe Khouth) takes a tentative step across the line between Storybooke and the rest of Maine. As soon as he does, all memory of his existence as one of the dwarfs vanishes, and when he steps back across the line’s memory does not return.
It is a devastating blow to all of them, now trapped as ever in Storybooke. Of course, they can leave, but that would mean they would never remember whom they really are.
This hits no one harder than Mr. Gold whom we see packing maps into a case in his shop. He is clearly about to embark on a journey: the culmination of all his manipulations, the creation of the curse, as well as its breaking. All of it has been his grand plan to find Baelfire (Dylan Schmid), the son he lost so long ago. The news is a terrible blow; everything, all the planning, all the magic has been for nothing. Taking his frustrations out on the glass cases in his shop, the last we see of him in the episode is standing desolately inches from the boundary that separates him from where he might find his son; he is trapped.
It is not only the Storybrooke border that has become an impenetrable boundary. The boundary between this world and the realms of Fairytale Land, fortified by portals governing access, is insurmountable as well.
In fact, this episode is really much about boundaries, how they confine us, how they define us. Boundaries can keep peace; boundaries can also be toxic, corrosive, and eat away at us if they are imposed with force, keep us prisoner. But the lack of boundaries can lead to chaos.
The characters of Fairytale Land live in such chaos – two identities existing simultaneously. But as Prince Charming/David Nolan (Josh Dallas) finally tells the frightened residents of Storybrooke, they have to embrace both sides to their personas to thrive—the weaknesses and the strengths. For now, each of the characters is trapped within their own curse of dual and dueling identities as Jefferson (the Mad Hatter, played by Sebastian Stan) so eloquently states to Charming. It is a curse worse than the one in which they had been, because now they have knowledge of who they were – and what they’ve lost.
There is a boundary as well between good and evil with at its nexus the lure and power of magic. Even when the sort of power possible with magic is initially intended for good, it can be corrupted to something sinister. Nowhere is this more evident than in the parallel stories of Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Rumplestiltskin.
When Rumple acquired magic from the Dark One, he intended only to ascend from powerlessness to a position where he might do good – to stop a senseless war and the needless slaughter of children abducted to serve in the King’s army. But the power soon became toxic, corrupting him and placing a wedge between him and his son – and also between the powerful wizard he had become, and his true self.
Regina, too, was corrupted by magic (and evidently by Rumplestiltskin who likely saw in her a main part of his plan to recover his son). But her intention was simply to break free of her mother’s emotional imprisonment, not to become her mother – any more than it had been Rumple’s intention to become the Dark One, while only trying to break free of his fear and powerlessness.
Cora (Barbara Hershey) with her imprisoning love of Regina; Rumple with his love of Baelfire, and now Regina with her attempt to use magic to imprison Henry’s love all run in parallel. None of it is good; all of it is corrosive, destroying love, not feeding it.
At this early point in season two, Charming, Regina and Rumple all stand at the start of what will surely be very personal and emotional journeys. Charming must find a way to cross back into Fairytale Land with grandson Henry at his side. Regina is on a quest for redemption. She has lost Henry, and everything she does will be with the intention of regaining his confidence and (perhaps) his love.
Rumple has just seen everything he’s put in place crumble just beyond his grasp, and I have to wonder whether he’s contemplating crossing that boundary no matter what the cost in the hope of finding Baelfire and setting things right with him. But if he does, he loses all his power and his identity as Rumplestiltskin – and likely the means to find Bae. On the other hand, he may be considering – calculating – conjuring some sort of new manipulation. But I think not; I think he’s confounded by this turn of events, and it has no easy way out for him. And I also think that his entire focus will be on acquiring a way to destroy the barricade between Storybrooke and the rest of the world without having to sacrifice his magic. This plan to find Bae has been the entire core of his existence for a very long time, and he’s not likely to lose focus when he’s come this close.
As for Emma and Mary Margaret: how interesting that they find themselves with a new ally imprisoned in the Fairytale Land wilderness! The circle closes, as there they find Regina’s mother Cora. How will that alliance work do you think?
“We Are Both” really sets season two in motion in so many ways. The only missing person this week, however, is the lovely Belle (Emilie de Ravin). Is she getting settled in back at Rumple’s house recovering in comfort from her years in the asylum? I missed her and look forward to her return in the weeks to come.
So? What did you all think? Had you guessed Regina and Rumple’s past relationship? In so many ways, he made her the evil woman she is today (and the evil woman who imprisoned his Belle). I hope we’ll learn much more about their past – and about the falling out between these two powerful sorcerers.