By John Keegan and Edmund Boys
If “Once Upon A Time” was America’s greatest satirist (and tweaker of Arthurian legend), it might tell me the rumors of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Since its writers will never equal even the misquoted Twain, it decided to send the delectable Meghan Ory to whisper similar sentiments in my ear. Certainly her sections are a return to form. And I swear my judgment was not impaired by all the blood that rushing from my brain.
In some ways, Ruby is a standard trope: a woman dismissed based on appearance and stereotype who discovers hidden talents and abilities. But grafting that trope onto a re-imagined Red Riding Hood helps the series return to what it does best. Ruby/Red has been hanging around the outskirts of others' tales, now her backstory helps explain her isolation and sense of other-ness.
Turning the Big Bad Wolf into a werewolf could be seen as trendy, cashing in on "Twilight" and the "Beings Human". However, it works here to preserve the (relative) naturalism of the fairy-tale world. Sure, it has magic, it has people transformed into animals (Jiminy, now the Wolf), but actual talking animals would seem a touch too far.
It was refreshing to have a tale set among the lower classes, rather than yet another castle. Prince John's and Rumplestiltskin's stories gave us a taste of the rural life, but both wound up enmeshed with the royals. Now, we see life in town and how difficult it can be to pursue a normal life with the main characters creating all this sturm und drang around you. (Like mauling your boyfriend because you read the tea leaves wrong.)
The puzzle itself was like one of those toddler jigsaws: a few big pieces that come together pretty easily. Granny obviously knew far more than she let on and did protest too much, plus her defensive measures worked as well for keeping something in as out. What was less expected was the red cloak being the charmed talisman that forestalls Red’s transformation. That is the sort of inversion we came to expect from the show early on. Aside from establishing why Red spends her time wandering around the Enchanted Forest, the return of dark consequences was a welcome change from the faux perils of the love triangle.
After the recent disconnects between the worlds, it was good to see abilities crossing over again. I know some argue the curse/coma has had a special effect on Prince John and Snow, but the writers have in no way, shape, or form earned that distinction. While Ruby's immediate success, aided by her subsumed inner wolf, made her a natural as a deputy, I was OK with her return to the diner. The fairy-tale sections made clear that, whatever residual resentment Red bore at the restrictions, Granny was protecting her, however misguidedly. Despite the standard trope, empowerment doesn't have to be a single life with a powerful job. It can be accepting and sustaining a family business.
Now, I suppose I must cover the interminably churning love triangle. David as a repeat amnesiac is marginally more tolerable than David the wimp. Mary Margaret continues to be so dense, she really does deserve a slap (although it was fun seeing the genesis of her Storybrooke name in Red's chicken coop.) The discovery of the latest heart in a box promises some nice twists to come, once its true owner is revealed. Given the fingerprint, I think Snow pulled a Huntsman on the Queen as her revenge pre-curse.
But first, we have to limp though the accusation, the trial, etc. It's starting to feel like “Lost”'s sophomore slump is hitting this show now. I hope they can push through it quickly, and get on to the main event. Regina and Mr. Gold have a town to fight over, and that's a conflict that'll be worth seeing.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Edmund Boys is Critical Myth's reviewer for Once Upon a Time.