Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Once Upon A Time: “Heart Of Darkness”

Illustration for article titled Once Upon A Time: “Heart Of Darkness”

In a bold move, Once Upon A Time shifts its focus to the Congo River as Emma, Henry, and company navigate their feelings about British imperialism and the duality of the human spirit in “Heart Of Darkness.” Or not. Joseph Conrad’s novella has nothing to do with this week’s episode of OUAT, but Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg’s story explores the theme of duality through Snow White. Called in for questioning for her role in Kathryn’s disappearance, Mary Margaret is confined to a Storybrooke cell while Snow White goes bad in the fairyback. It’s one of the serious episodes of Once Upon A Time, but the forward movement in the overarching story makes up for its lack of a sense of humor.

“Heart Of Darkness” begins with Red Riding Hood and Prince James being ambushed by knights as they search for Snow White, a nice action sequence that shows the possibilities as the writers expand the world. As James escapes, Red transforms into a wolf under the full moon and takes care of their attackers, and it’s a strong start to an episode that moves quickly. After finding Mary Margaret’s jewelry box with a human heart inside, Emma brings her in for questioning. Regina shows up to Mary Margaret’s interrogation to make sure it remains impartial, which is a good idea because Emma has a history of letting her feelings cloud her investigations.

In the fairyback, Snow White is adjusting well after taking Rumpelstilskin’s potion that erased Prince James from her memory. She has a bright red bow in her hair, and sings a duet with a bluebird, and then tries to kill it with her broom. It turns out Snow White has turned into a massive bitch since forgetting her true love. Even Happy is mad at her, and with the help of Jiminy Cricket, the seven dwarves stage an intervention for their housekeeper. The writer’s tap into the “magic as drug” metaphor that made Buffy season six such a chore, and when Jiminy tries to convince Snow to be nice to her friends, she decides to kill Regina instead. Drugs make you do crazy things, kids.

Dark Snow White is pretty fun to watch, especially when she’s breaking people’s legs with her pick-axe. Bad-ass Snow White seems to be the more preferable version of the character in pop culture right now (Snow White And The Huntsman looks a lot better than Mirror, Mirror), and Once Upon A Time is channeling Katniss Everdeen with its interpretation of the princess. When Grumpy sees the bloodthirsty person Snow has become, he takes her back to Rumpelstiltskin so she can get her memory back and hopefully return to normal. As Snow White goes over the edge, Mary Margaret is trying to convince everyone that she hasn’t. Regina tries to force suspicion toward Mary, but that strategy ultimately works against her, as Emma has started to realize when she’s being manipulated.

After taking a backseat the last couple episodes, Regina and Henry are back at the forefront, with the former slipping into her standard supervillain routine as the latter gets more information about his magic book. Regina is back to being a caricature this week, being so obviously evil that it’s hard to see how anyone like David could ever trust her. August continues to show an interest in Henry, urging him to read his book for answers regarding Operation: Cobra. Hopefully this is more than just a “reading is magic” lesson, because that book has yet to have any real significance in this show.

As Mr. Gold expresses an interest in representing Mary Margaret in court, Rumpelstiltskin offers his own help to Snow White. Rather than help her fill the hole in her heart left by his potion, he gives her a magical arrow to complete her murderous objective. Love is the most powerful magic of all, and Rumpelstiltskin’s actions work to strengthen the love of Snow White and Prince James by making them endure hardship and persevere. At the end of the episode, Rumpelstiltskin places Snow White and Prince James’ hairs in a vial, and the two strands intertwine and create a golden glow when bottled together. Just as Regina wants to keep them apart for her magical benefit, Rumpelstiltskin wants the couple together to feed his own power.


Dr. Hopper is still a character on this show, and David goes to Storybrooke’s resident therapist to see if he can fill in the blanks in his memory of the night of Kathryn’s disappearance. In the episode’s most exciting moment, David remembers the fairyback during his session, recalling the moment he tries to stop Snow White from killing Regina. He’s finally beginning to remember his other life, a plot point hinted at about 12 episodes ago, and hopefully, it doesn’t take another 12 before the next major development occurs.

James learns that true love’s kiss breaks Rumpelstiltskin’s spell, and he gets Snow White’s location by trading his cloak to the trickster imp. He finds her and kisses her, but nothing happens. She can’t remember her love until she remembers herself, and it’s only through action that she’ll be swayed. When James jumps in front of the arrow intended for Regina, his act of valor awakens those warm fuzzies within Snow, just in time for her to have her heart broken again when James is taken away by the castle forces.


David has given up on Mary Margaret, and she’s left to choose between a mysterious key that appears under her cell bed or trusting Emma to prove that Regina is behind a frame-up. As Snow White recruits the seven dwarves to help her save Prince James, Mary Margaret uses the key, running off to solve her problems alone.

Stray observations:

  • The VFX budget continues to increase on this show, with Jiminy Cricket looking very good for a CGI cricket on network TV.
  • Next week introduces the Mad Hatter into the mix, which could either be really fun or really bad. The story looks pretty over-the-top, so hopefully, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
  • There’s a knife under the floorboards of Mary Margaret’s apartment, which is like a big neon sign saying “frame-up.”
  • Regina’s just sitting around her office peeling an apple with a pocket knife, the way people do.
  • The Regina BGL is back: “Evil doesn’t always look evil. Sometimes it’s staring right at us and we don’t even realize it.”