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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iOnce Upon A Time/i: “Red Handed”
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What is the overarching plot of Once Upon A Time? At first it seemed like the show would be about fairy tale characters trying to get back to their world, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. Regina and Mr. Gold are still the only characters aware of their previous life, and while the series is developing into an adequate drama that uses fairy tale metaphors for real world situations, the central conflict is all but forgotten. “Red-Handed” is a fine episode with a few surprising twists in the last act, but the show’s formula is starting to get a little stale. The sub-plots are moving along, but eventually, a bigger story is going to have to start.

After quitting Granny’s restaurant over attitude and wardrobe problems, Ruby is left wondering what she’s good at in life. Emma and Mary Margaret take her under their wing and offer her a place to stay while Ruby helps out at the police department as Emma’s assistant. Meanwhile, in the fairyback, Red’s village is being terrorized by a giant wolf, keeping her locked in Granny’s house when she wants to run off with her lover, Peter (groan).


I’m not going to lie, Jane Espenson got me with the twist this episode. I fully expected Peter to be the wolf because this show is often that obvious, but he’s just a red herring. It turns out the cloak that Granny forces her granddaughter to wear has magical properties that prevent her from transforming into a bloodthirsty monster, which explains why Red is so good at tracking anything she wants. Red thinks that Granny is using the wolf as a way to keep her from chasing her dreams, and when she befriends Snow White, she decides to follow her heart and run off with Peter.

It’s an effective metaphor for youthful ignorance and the importance of complete honesty within a family, as Red’s decision costs Peter his life. By keeping Red’s true nature a secret, Granny dooms her. By contrast, Storybrooke Granny has no idea what Ruby’s true nature is, and she never will. In the real world, Ruby has to discover who she is on her own, and Granny will be there for her when she’s confused or scared, but she won’t have the answers.


While Ruby is discovering, David is forgetting. After being released from Emma’s office with the advice to get a lawyer, David begins to aimlessly wander the woods in what Emma refers to as a “dreamwalk.” When Mary Margaret tells Emma and Ruby about his odd behavior, they head into the woods to look for him, and Ruby’s tracking senses kick in. Could it be that the characters begin to manifest characteristics of their fairy tale selves when they enter the woods? That would be a very interesting development. Ruby finds David’s passed out body, and when he wakes up, he tells them he has no recollection of how he ended up in the woods.

David’s memory is completely blank after leaving Emma’s office, casting further suspicion about his role in Kathryn’s disappearance. If he can’t remember going to the woods, maybe he doesn’t remember kidnapping Kathryn, or killing her. Last time David went on a “dreamwalk,” he went to the toll bridge, and Emma sends Ruby there to check for any clues. Once again her tracking sense leads her exactly where she needs to be, and she finds a jewelry box buried in the dirt containing a human heart. Suddenly, the world of adventure Ruby dreamed of is a lot less attractive than before, and she’s scared straight back to Granny’s.


You can tell Ruby’s had a profound life change because she’s dressing in flannel shirts and jeans instead of a crop-top and booty shorts. She also gets those crimped red stripes out of her hair for that extra-managerial look. (Also, they were hideous.) Ruby explains that her initial anger was really just confusion and doubt, and that now she’s willing to take on more responsibility if Granny will teach her how. She doesn’t want a job where a good day means making someone’s life miserable. She wants to work somewhere she’s happy, and Granny is more than willing to have her back. In fact, she tells Ruby that she plans to give her the restaurant when she retires. Everything is back to normal, and Ruby knows things now that she didn’t know before.

The cliffhanger sparks a slew of new questions regarding Kathryn’s disappearance when Emma reveals that the fingerprints found on the inside of the box lid belong to Mary Margaret. I have the feeling the answer to all those questions is going to be “magic.” The episode ends with a series of close-ups flashing between Emma, David, and Mary Margaret reacting to the news, and it gives the conclusion an overwrought soap opera feel. The music swells as the camera moves from Emma to David to Mary Margaret, then back to Emma, then David, then Mary Margaret. Everyone is shocked by the news, so shocked that their reactions have to be shown twice.


Next week has Mary Margaret in the pen while Snow White plots the Evil Queen’s murder in the fairyback, so it looks like the show is going to continue in serious mode before diving into a Mad Hatter episode in two weeks. I’m glad to see the writers expanding the scope of the series, but they need to make sure they don’t lose focus of the main story as new characters are introduced.

Stray observations:

  • Eion Bailey is in the main cast now, and while I’d rather have Jamie Dornan filling the smoldering bearded man role on this show, I will accept Bailey as a substitute.
  • It’s pretty bitchy for Emma to take back her “much deserved” comment toward Mary Margaret and say that she’s just trying to get Mary used to what the rest of town will be saying. If she’s going to be judgmental, she should at least own up to it.
  • It can’t be easy to deliver a long monologue about a werewolf attack, but Beverley Elliott does a solid job as Granny.
  • When Red transforms from wolf to human, she has all her clothes on. Fairy tale transformations are lame.
  • “You dress like a drag queen during fleet week.” “You dress like Norman Bates when he dresses like Norman Bates’ mother.”
  • “You covered this room, I suggest you branch out.” Regina can be used effectively if her bitchy is condensed to small doses.

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