Entertainment Magazine

Review #3186: Once Upon a Time 1.7: “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”

Posted on the 14 December 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Edmund B.

If you strip away the gowns and bows, the swords and sorcery, fairy tales are about relationships. How do I find love? Why does she hate me? How can I hurt them? The conflicts and shifting alliances between parents and children, allies and enemies form the core of these classic tales. The creators of “Once Upon A Time”, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, have taken these truths to heart. With “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter”, they conclude its opening run with a stunner of an episode.

Review #3186: Once Upon a Time 1.7: “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”

In Storybrooke, the action revolves around the triangle created when Emma discovered the Sheriff’s affair with the Mayor. Not to be confused with the Rumble in the Jungle. That comes later. After some drunken moping (which, notably, doesn’t affect his dart accuracy), the Sheriff confronts Emma and tries to explain how it didn’t mean anything, how he doesn’t feel anything. It’s a classic case of the boy doth protest too much, and, sure enough, it’s punctuated with a sloppy smooch.

The kiss triggers a flood of memories. But, unlike David Nolan’s revelations, his are of his life as the Huntsman, and his reprieve of Snow White. More significantly, his oblivious shuffle through Storybrooke has left him unaware of Henry’s theories. In the first tell-tale shift, this cannot be explained away as mental illness latching onto a shared delusion. In the second, after he retreats to the familiar comforts of the Mayor’s bed, she is visibly perturbed, both by his ravings and her inability to quell them.

In the fairy-tale world, I was amused to see that, as in Bond films, the show perpetuates the trope that modernist marvels are always the villain’s lair. Here, we are reminded that the Evil Queen also embodies the archetype of the Evil Stepmother. She is the trophy wife who can’t wait to be rid of her troublesome rival, the beloved heiress. The motivation for her revenge is still only hints. All we see are the mechanics, as she plots murder by Huntsman.

This Huntsman inhabits the expected body of Sheriff Graham. We meet him doing his nominal duty, but with a surprising tear in his eye. This version may be heartless, but only towards humanity. His disdain for his fellow man is what catches the Queen’s eye. Lana Parilla is at her seductive best, making crystal clear which ‘anything’ she thinks he should take as his reward. But, in the end, his respect for the pure of heart, the attribute he never expected a human to possess, is what proves their undoing, and Snow’s salvation. The Huntsman may have been raised by wolves, but not the type that inhabit the Queen’s worldview.

The two stories increasingly intersect, as the wolf appears to Graham in Storybrooke. When Emma sees it too, it’s another sign that more than a troubled mind is at work here. The episode drives towards its devastating climax, flipping between the Queen’s gruesome living extraction of his heart and Graham’s quest to find its hiding place. The search leads to Mayor Mills’ mausoleum, where the Mayor catches up to them. The brief, but very satisfying, fisticuffs she and Emma get into are another sign of how close the Mayor is to the end of her rope. She is left, alone and rejected, in the graveyard.

At this point, the barrier between the worlds could have been maintained. Graham could have recovered his heart in a metaphoric way, via a more meaningful relationship with Emma. Instead, the Mayor pushes the lid off (some of) the mystery, as she reveals the Queen’s vault. It’s an audacious move, but one that still maintains the internal logic of the show. The Queen reaffirms her villainy, establishing how far she will go to protect the town’s secret as she crushes the heart of her former lover. And with the first to remember destroyed, the residents remain trapped in this dilemma wrapped in a conundrum.

After toying with the fiction or reality of these two worlds, it’s a fascinating choice to pull back the curtain this early. It’s quite a shift in perspective, and handling it with dexterity equal to these introductory episodes will be the key to the show’s continuing success. I can only assume Kitsis and Horowitz plan to reveal much more than a little old man (metaphorically, of course).

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 3/4

Final Rating: 9/10

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