Disney cultivates unrealistic expectations for romance and true love. Just check Facebook, which contains multiple groups where people can bitch about how they weren’t swept off their feet like in a fairy tale: Disney Lied to Me about Romance, Disney Gave Me False Views About Romance, and Because of books and Disney I have unrealistic expectations for romance! (Damn you, books!) The members of these groups and people like them are probably the reason Once Upon A Time has been picked up for a full season: an audience of grown-up Disney fanatics that haven’t gotten their happy endings, but want to watch their favorite childhood characters find them.
The Disney tradition of impractical relationship hopes continues in this week’s “Snow Falls,” a Snow White-centric episode that beats you over the head with its “true love will always find you” message. As Henry enlists Mary Margaret’s help in waking up the comatose John Doe by reading to him, the story of Snow White and Prince Charming’s first meeting and kinda-courtship is told in flashbacks. Ginnifer Goodwin plays both a jaded naysayer of true love and a romantic optimist depending on the time period, but the twist is that Snow White is the character that renounces romance, while Mary still believes. It’s the OUAT equivalent of getting thrown a story curveball. One that will completely straighten out by episode’s end, but still fly past home plate.
People complaining about how nothing actually happened last week will be relieved to learn that the plot does get some forward movement this week, but writer Liz Tigelaar stumbles with the execution. The lack of any sort of subtlety, nonsensical story developments, and Henry continue to be major problems, but honestly this episode lost me once the troll toll bridge became an integral part of the narrative. Yes, the troll toll bridge. Sure, I could talk about how stupid that is and how rough the troll costuming and make-up looks, but I’ll just let Danny Divito take over from here:
Henry really should be extra careful around those troll tolls, if you know what I mean. But back to actual plot developments, these are the important things that happen this week: John Doe wakes up, his wife magically appears, and Emma moves in with Mary. There’s not much new information in the flashbacks. How Snow White ruined the Evil Queen’s life isn’t divulged (is that seriously going to be a long-term mystery?) and there are no dwarves, but we do learn Prince Charming’s real name. It’s James. Yay.
The best thing about this episode is that it puts two new figures on the board, Dr. Whale and Catherine Nolan, but the excitement comes more from the actors playing them than the actual characters. David Anders has been a reliable supporting player whether it’s in the tense espionage world of Alias or the soapy horror of Vampire Diaries, and Anastasia Griffith showed some serious acting chops on Damages. Anders is appropriately skeezy as Dr. Whale, ogling the wait staff on his first date with Mary Margaret, and his allegiance to Regina creates a better sense of just how strong the Mayor’s influence is in Storybrooke. Griffith isn’t in much of the episode, but her bookending appearances show off the actress’ versatility, playing Charming’s prissy princess fiancée in the flashback and his emotional wife in the present day. It’s easy to believe that she legitimately cares for estranged husband, even if the circumstances of her arrival are completely ridiculous.
Goodwin and Matt Dallas have some solid chemistry in the flashbacks despite the corny dialogue (that “Charming” joke gets old really fast), and it will be nice to see them interacting in a more real environment. Goodwin is such a naturally adorable performer that it’s hard to take her seriously as a swashbuckling Snow White, but she nails the few dramatic moments she gets. When she puts on Charming’s wedding ring after retrieving it from the trolls (ugh), her put-on hostility is stripped away and you can see how she longs for a partner in her lonely life. She was forced to grow up when her stepmother tried to have her killed, but she’s still a girl at heart.
Why are the flashbacks on OUAT so much more insufferable than the ones on Lost? Probably because Lost used flashbacks to tell realistic, emotional stories that contrasted the supernatural elements of the island action. Lost also didn’t have a cast of characters that most people are aware of since childhood, so the writers were able to build unique stories for the cast. We already know what happens to the characters on Once Upon A Time, and flashbacks like this week’s just throw small variations on a familiar story in hopes of creating something captivating. In the case of “Snow Falls,” that variation is Prince Charming’s arranged marriage and Snow White’s cynicism, but there’s no mystery or suspense. Not only do we already know they end up together because of the fairy tale, but the very first episode of this show already spoiled their flashback story. Something is going to happen to his marriage and he’ll choose Snow White. Surprise! Enjoy an entire episode about it in a couple months.
The present day fares better than the flashbacks, but only when Regina or Henry aren’t involved in any way. Jennifer Morrison is the best reason to watch this show; she’s funny, appropriately incredulous but supportive of Henry, and can be downright threatening when she wants to. Despite the central romance, Emma’s relationship with Mary Margaret is where the heart of this episode is. As the two women bond over their desire to help Henry, they help each other. When John Doe leaves his hospital and ventures into the forest, Emma, Mary, and Sheriff Graham track him down, and the women are given the chance to swap stories without Henry getting in the way. They talk about how Emma got into looking for people because she never knew her parents, and it’s a strong, bittersweet moment. Congratulations, Once Upon A Time, you’ve discovered how to use dramatic irony. Then Henry shows up to ruin everything, but we should be grateful for the brief flash of real emotion.
Tigelaar’s writing is a step down from the first two episodes, with Regina becoming even more of a caricature and Henry reaching new levels of obnoxious. When John Doe disappears, Regina is standing over his bed looking shady as hell. She’s so stereotypically evil that it’s frustrating the other characters wouldn’t believe Henry when he says she’s the Evil Queen. So what if Henry’s a little kid with a seemingly overactive imagination, his mom has glass bowls full of apples all over her house and makes blatant threats to anyone that will listen. Might as well believe the poor kid. Regina’s love for her son is her only redeeming quality, but whatever glimmer last episode showed us is gone this week, and she’s back to being a straight-up bitch.
Unfortunately, Henry will probably not get killed off, but hopefully a witch will put a curse on him that turns him mute, because he is consistently given horrible dialogue. Most of the time Henry is just repeating the same information until the characters finally decide to listen to him and do something to shut him up. He tells Mary Margaret she is meant to be with John Doe so many times that it’s easy to check out every time he opens his mouth and just assume he’s repeating the same line every time. When Mary Margaret resuscitates John Doe with CPR (a clever twist on the magic kiss), Henry chimes in with his valuable opinion: “She did it. She did it. She woke him up.” Yeah, no shit. It just happened. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the writers don’t know what to do with Henry. He’s a plot device with inexplicable knowledge about the rest of the cast’s history, but no real story of his own, and the character’s lack of depth is a large part of Gilmore’s cloying performance.
At the end of the episode, Regina tells Emma, “Not having someone, that’s the worst curse imaginable.” Commenters were discussing last week that Regina’s curse doesn’t really make much sense in execution, as she hasn’t been portrayed as all that happy in her new world while the other characters are only marginally miserable. Maybe her curse was simply intended to keep everyone apart, because true happiness comes from a life of meaningful relationships. Maybe Emma’s mission is to bring everyone together, serving as the lady-Desmond that will guide the lost souls of Storybrooke to their fantasy parallel universe.
- As a fellow Loyola University Chicago alum, I would hear stories about when Jennifer Morrison was a student, including her performance as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as a freshman. That’s some serious talent.
- Does this show has a solid budget, so what’s up with Ginnifer Goodwin’s unfortunate rat’s nest wig in the flashbacks? Yeah, she’s supposed to look grungy and forest-weathered, but that thing is hideous.
- Little known troll fact: they don’t like horses. They do love boys’ holes, though.
- Emma tells Henry, “Not having a happy ending is painful enough, but giving someone false is much worse.” Isn’t that exactly what she’s doing by indulging his fantasy?
- Henry tells Regina that he’s playing Whack-A-Mole when he goes to meet Emma and Mary, and a joke is made about how Regina believes his stupid story. To reiterate a criticism from the pilot: pointing out how stupid a story development is doesn’t make it any less stupid.
- Thank god Emma points out how absurd it is that David “John Doe” Nolan’s wife lives in Storybrooke and conveniently appears right when he returns back to the hospital. But again, it doesn’t make it any less absurd.
- “She’s gonna kill me. Then you. Then me again.”
- “If true love was easy, we’d all have it.”