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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Once Upon A Time: “Hat Trick”

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A relationship drama, a revisionist fairy tale, a Lost substitute—Once Upon A Time tries to be so many different things that it’s remarkable when the writers find a way to tell a cohesive story. David H. Goodman has become the strongest member of this show’s writing staff, and he teams with newcomer Vladimir Cvetko for “Hat Trick,” a fun episode that introduces Jefferson, a.k.a. The Mad Hatter, a Storybrooke resident that has gone crazy from his memories of the fairy tale world.

I’ve been waiting for someone in Storybrooke to regain their memories of the fairy tale world and actually do something with that knowledge, and this episode finally delivers. After Mary Margaret escapes from her cell, Emma leaves to track her down before she reaches the city limits and mysteriously evaporates or whatever. Emma nearly hits a handsome stranger (Storybrooke has no short supply) on the road, and when she offers him a ride back to his mansion, he repays her by drugging her and tying her up. He also has Mary Margaret tied up, all as part of a plan to get Emma to help him remake his magic hat that will take him back to the fairy tale world.

In the fairyback, Jefferson is a poor man trying to support his daughter when Regina comes to his home asking for help in retrieving a lost item for her. Specifically, she needs him and his magical hat to take her through the looking glass and into Wonderland, where the Red Queen has captured Regina’s father and keeps him shrunk in a little box. Regina is up to her usual trickery, luring Jefferson away from his daughter in order to help her save her father, and she strands him in Wonderland as thanks. He loses his mind trying to recreate his magic hat for the Red Queen, but then one day awakens in Storybrooke, where suddenly, his entire world has been rewritten.

The most important thing about “Hat Trick” is that it shows how the fairy tale world can be used to directly influence the characters and effect their present day actions. Jefferson remembers where he comes from and his real daughter, so when he sees her in Storybrooke with a new family, he’s devastated. When Emma came to Storybrooke and the clock moved for the first time, Jefferson recognized it as a sign that magic had returned to the town. With Emma’s magic, he can finally recreate his hat and be with his daughter again. This sounds like crazy person talk to Emma, but her criticisms only create passion in Jefferson.

He begins to discuss the nature of stories and the difference between what is read in history books versus story books. There’s a separation between imagination and facts in the real world that doesn’t exist for Jefferson, and his hat is a gateway to a world where imagination and fact are one and the same. For a moment, it seems like Emma is giving in to the idea, but then she smacks him with his telescope. Mary Margaret knocks him out a window with a croquet mallet, but the two never find his body. It seems like Emma finally fixed the hat, although they’ll never know how to use it.

The visual effects on this show have improved dramatically in the past few weeks, and “Hat Trick” is one of the most CGI-heavy installments of the series with its Wonderland setting. It looks surprisingly sharp for network television, and while some of the environments can look a little Nintendo 64, the opium-smoking caterpillar looks fantastic. The wardrobe budget is going up, too, and Regina’s outfits are turning into a Goth drag queen’s dream. The visuals that are not improving are the horrible illustrations in Henry’s book, and a sequence of Emma looking through the photoshopped images shows just how rough the pictures are. Doesn’t Disney own Marvel now?  Couldn’t they just find an artist that could draw those illustrations and make it look like the actors?


This week’s story is the closest Once Upon A Time has come to a straight-up mythology episode, establishing the structure of the show’s realities and the ways the worlds intersect. Little tidbits like Mary Margaret beginning to show off Snow White’s fighting skills suggest that the worlds are beginning to bleed together, and “Hat Trick” shows that is the strongest direction for the series. Next week, we’ll finally learn the answer to one of the show’s big mysteries: Why does Regina hate Snow White so much? It better be good, because they’ve been teasing it for a long time now.

Stray observations:

  • I only have one word for Regina’s fairyback wardrobe this week: boobs.
  • Anyone else notice the green door with the Oz emblems in the magical hat hub?
  • Emma gets loose from Jefferson’s binding very quickly. It’s nice to see her show off some of those badass private eye moves.
  • How awesome is the new Snow White And The Huntsman trailer? And how bad does Mirror, Mirror look?
  • Regina pretends to be an old woman to make Jefferson feel bad about being poor
  • The Mad Hatter’s name should have been Patrick, so the writers could title the episode “Hat Trick Patrick.”
  • Who in the world uses the word “hamlet” in regular speech anymore?
  • “I hate Wonderland.”
  • “She’s not one for subtlety.” Regina loves the whole pot-kettle schtick.