Entertainment Magazine

Review #3420: Once Upon a Time 1.18: “The Stable Boy”

Posted on the 05 April 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Edmund B.

One of my all-time favorite films is “The Stunt Man”, Richard Rush’s defiantly independent paean to film-making and the blurry line between fantasy and reality (hmmm, sound familiar?). So, the announcement that Barbara Hershey, that film’s female lead, would play Regina’s mother, Cora, was one I greeted with great relish and anticipation. What I didn’t anticipate was an episode where the show’s creators, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, step in and take a major corrective yank on the show’s tiller. After the mid-season doldrums, there’s promise of much smoother, swifter sailing ahead.

Review #3420: Once Upon a Time 1.18: “The Stable Boy”

The first correction was right up front, flashing back to the beginnings of the collusion between the Mayor and Mr. Gold. To be honest, I’d lost track of Mr. Gold’s miraculous escape from battery charges back in “Skin Deep”. To discover it was the trigger for the entire framing of Mary Margaret brought some clarity back to the narrative. Although it still doesn’t excuse letting the show get mired in the love triangle, with precious few hints that the plot was hatched by its most compelling characters!

Meanwhile, the fairy-tale flashback shows us the younger, happier Regina, who actually believed in the power of True Love, just like Prince James. Her long-lost love has been hinted at throughout the season, and, as also long expected, Snow White plays a crucial role in Regina’s heartbreak. Initially, I found the story a little predictable. Regina loves the titular stable boy, Daniel. Her domineering mother, coming from humbler beginnings, intends a loftier match. Regina and Snow meet cute, via an equestrian rescue. Snow’s father, the King, proposes to Regina, Mother accepts for her. Snow discovers the couple, blabs to Mother, Mother rips Daniel’s heart out.

Upon reflection, there is some subtler character development going on here. Snow is just a naïve, misguided child, yet takes all the blame in Regina’s eyes. Cora is spectacularly abusive, and, like many abused children, Regina cannot lay the blame where it properly lies. It gets displaced onto Snow. This neatly justifies Regina’s obsession with Snow, while Barbara Hershey’s deliciously wicked performance provides the template on which Regina rebuilds her life.

All of the actors on the fairy-tale side, save one, are excellent. Lana Parilla easily melts away the years as her younger self. Sometimes, when an actor faces this challenge, parts of the older self peek through, ruining the illusion. Here, they never do until the end, as Regina herself starts to shift. The revelation is Bailee Madison as the young Snow. The physical resemblance is uncanny, as if Ginnifer Goodwin had been run through a Wayback Machine. But her channeling of Goodwin’s performance and affect is equally impressive. As the focus shifts between worlds, they remain, in every way, the same person.

Noah Bean, as Daniel, does a fine job of capturing our sympathy in the brief time he has available. (Although he is in danger of being type-cast as the sacrificial boyfriend, after this and “Damages.”) Sadly, Richard Schiff remains hideously miscast as Snow’s father. I had hoped his first appearance would be an aberration. But he was just as stilted and uncomfortable as before. Playing a character so transparently open and untroubled is just not his forte.

Back in Storybrooke, I swear I heard the collective ‘Hallelujah’ when Emma finally admitted she has no truth-sense. I’d love to know if Kitsis and Horowitz intended this as a McGuffin, or if they realized it wasn’t working partway in. It was so glaring, I’m tempted to think this is an planned shift into self-awareness, and eventual acceptance of Storybrooke’s “reality.”

Emma also finally does some police work, if only under the prodding of August. The close proximity of the shovel chip to the box’s hiding place certainly indicates she hadn’t done much previously. Eion Bailey is starting to grow on me as August (and perhaps he’ll have more success getting the girl than he did over at “Covert Affairs.”) Again, none of this excuses the prior waywardness, but, combined with unmasking Sidney, it finally rescues Emma as a character.

The final welcome correction was the Mayor casting off all pretense and revealing herself to Mary Margaret. It meshes perfectly with the revelations of the flashback, reinforcing the irrational roots of her obsession. Wondering how this more open Regina handles Kathryn’s return makes the wait for the next episode that much harder. But, with characters now reset to purpose, and annoying inconsistencies swept from view, the show returns to great promise for its final run.

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

Total: 9/10

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