Tonight’s Once Upon A Time is all about an individual’s power to choose, specifically a person’s ability to choo-choo-choose the person he wants to spend the rest of his life with. Prince Charming/David Nolan gets the fairyback treatment in “The Shepherd,” an episode that reveals the true lineage of Prince Charming while resolving the Kathryn/David/Mary Margaret triangle from three episodes ago.
Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg co-write the episode, and while I’m unfamiliar with Goldberg, Chambliss has impressed me on The Vampire Diaries (where he serves as story editor) and the most recent Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine comic series (where he’s really impressed me, even overshadowing creator Joss Whedon). Like Jane Espenson, Chambliss can balance an ensemble cast, but more importantly, he knows how to get the plot rolling on a serialized series, and this week has some good forward movement for the series’ plot, even if the story isn’t very captivating.
In the fairyback, it is revealed that the original Prince Charming was given to his infertile, royal parents by Rumpelstiltskin, and when he dies in battle, the imp reveals that the prince had a twin brother. Looks like we’re already at the twin brother storyline on this show, although most shows would at least wait a few seasons before throwing that card down. Keeping up with Chambliss’ Vampire Diaries pedigree, Josh Dallas is given a horrible wig when portraying Charming’s shepherd twin, but it quickly disappears when he assumes his brother’s role as dragon slayer for Kings George (Alan Dale) and Midas (Alex Zahara). He slays the dragon and is given Midas’ daughter Abigail’s hand in marriage, which he is forced to take or Alan Dale will do a bunch of evil Charles Widmore-y things to him like kill his family and burn his farm.
One of the most remarkable elements of The Vampire Diaries is how the writers barrel through plot; threads are never left dangling for too long, and secrets don’t stay hidden for more than a few episodes. That same forward movement is evident in this episode. In the present day, Emma hilariously discovers Sheriff Graham’s secret tryst with Regina, and David rejects Mary Margaret after seeing the windmill that was on the front lawn of his fake home with Kathryn that jogs his fake memory. In the past, he has no choice but to accept Abigail, while in the present, he has to choose between two women. They really know how to milk a theme on this show, as evidenced by how many times people mention choices and choosing this episode.
Josh Dallas landed on my radar after playing Fandral of the Warriors Three in Thor this past summer, one of the thunder god’s childhood friends that stands by him after being exiled from Asgard. Volstagg is fat and valiant, Hogun is grim and Asian, and Fandral is the dashing swashbuckler, which makes Dallas a great choice for the character. He certainly has a princely handsomeness to him with his intense blue eyes, and the man knows how to work a grey v-neck and flannel shirt, but he’s also a solid actor, which is this episode’s saving grace. He has great chemistry with Ginnifer Goodwin, which makes this week’s conclusion all the more disappointing.
The David/Mary Margaret story is the story I find myself connecting the most with, largely because it’s the primary source of drama that doesn’t involve an obnoxious little kid. At the end of the episode, Mary has a great moment with Dr. Whale where she expresses her regrets about the David situation, telling him:
“You ever walk into a situation where you know exactly what’s going to happen, and you go into it anyway? And when what you’re afraid of happens, you kick yourself because you should have known better, but that’s just who you are, so you keep punishing yourself.”
Have you ever restarted a relationship with an ex, even though you knew it wouldn’t end well? Have you committed to someone, knowing their bad habits and that ultimately you will be the one that suffers? Poor Mary Margaret, she’s that girl who is always so close to finding true love, but always gets stuck with the skeezy doctor or the married guy with amnesia. Nothing seems to ever work out for her, and she’s beginning to expect that now, falling into the mentality that Snow White had during her fairyback. As fun as the fairy tale stories can be (and thus far that isn’t much), this show thrives when it taps into relationship drama that it’s audience can latch onto, and right now that story is David and Mary Margaret’s.
But what of Emma/Sheriff/Regina? That’s relationship drama, too, or dramedy, after this week’s “Emma catches Sheriff Graham jumping out of Regina’s window” scene. After learning of the Sheriff’s extracurricular activities, Emma’s first response is, “You do this with Henry in the house?” Two consenting adults having sex while a child is in the house?! For shame! Emma is most likely hiding her feelings for Graham under concern for Henry, but the line is still silly. That said, Emma’s discovery is a big step forward for the plot, as any relationship growth is appreciated at this point, no matter how half-assed it may be. Also, after the preview for next week’s episode, it looks like the Sheriff is the Huntsman and regains his original memories, which is what the show desperately needs: an adult ally for Emma that is aware of his connection to the fairy tale world.
It’s not easy to have good special effects on a TV budget, but the visuals this episode are horrible, and I don’t mean during the dragon sequence, but during the everybody is walking around and talking sequences. The green screen work is jarringly sloppy, and even worse, it's largely unnecessary. Why is Prince Charming fighting on a foggy cliff at the start of the episode? Hollywood isn’t far from the ocean, were there no real cliffs that they could film on? Was there no castle set lying around the ABC lot that they could use for the Midas/George/Charming scenes? Apparently, that dragon ate up the entire visual effects budget, because the actors look like paper dolls against the green screen backgrounds.
- Bill Willingham, writer of Fables, conducted a great self-interview at Comic Book Resources about the comparisons between Fables and OUAT. Basically, stop grouping them together and enjoy them as separate entities. I will do that sometimes.
- This week’s Regina BGL: “You don’t belong together. He’s not yours, he’s taken. Find. Somebody. Else.” She does such a good job of subtly manipulating people.
- Inexplicit Lost references: Alan Dale as an evil father, the mention of “shepherd” in any way.
- There’s Aladdin’s lamp in Mr. Gold’s shop again. Hopefully that plays into future episodes.
- “Forgive me if I refuse to shake on it, King Midas.” That Charming, such a kidder.
- “As poor as we are, love is one thing I can afford.”
- “I really do work at an animal shelter.”