Dire Straits was wrong. You really can’t get money for nothing. And in episode four of Once Upon a Time, we learned the cost of the glamorous life can be steep, indeed.
This episode introduced us to a thoroughly stereotypical Cinderella; one snatched straight from the Disney animated feature. From the upswept do and gown to the fireworks erupting over her magical kingdom, it was as conventional a Cinderella as it could be. And I’m not sure I’m crazy about such a traditional Cinderella, although her African-American fairy godmother was a nice touch. I think I much prefer the intrepid, can-do attitude of Snow White.
On the bright side though, the standard tale of Cinderella took a decided U-turn when Rumplestiltskin (and a huge shout-out to Robert Carlyle, with his rotten teeth and glorious brogue, for giving us such a deliciously evil elf) made the good godmother and her knowledge of the magic wand vanish, and instead, convinced Ella that to properly harness the magic, she must also agree to give him something precious in return. And in Mistakes 101, the dreadfully naive Cinderella signed the evil imp’s contract without reading the fine print. Tsk. Tsk. Cut to Cinderella, happy as a clam, at her wedding to the young prince, proving Rumpelstiltskin kept his side of the bargain.
Now in the original Brothers Grimm version of the story, Mr. Rumple spun straw into gold for the imprisoned miller’s daughter, in exchange for her first-born. So could that be foreshadowing for what lied in store with this episode? Could be……
Back in Storybrooke, Emma, in a Laundromat, met up with pregnant, despondent teenager Ashley, who sobbed that nobody thinks she can handle being a young mother. A defiant Emma counsels Ashley that “there are no fairy godmothers in this world” and if she wants to make change for herself and her life, she needs to do it herself. This was probably my least favorite scene in an otherwise-strong episode. The dialogue was so obvious, I could hear it clunking. I understand this show is on at 8:00 pm and as such, is geared to family and the ever-important “value message”, but the hit-em-over-the-head method was jarring. The pep talk did lead Ashley to break into Mr. Gold’s pawnshop (love a pawnbroker with the name of Gold) and steal the contract she signed with him, giving her baby to him. Unfortunately for her, Gold interrupted her mission. So she sprayed him with mace and declared she’s “changing her life.” Attention Obvious, Table for One.
Meanwhile, Emma was settling in at Mary Margaret’s, when Mr. Gold arrived with a proposition for her to find Ashley, who is now on her way out of Storybrooke. Emma, now feeling somewhat responsible for Ashley, agreed. And Henry, who has become her ever-present sidekick, stowed along for the ride. Speaking of Henry, he became much more likable to me with this episode, acting more like a young boy should, instead of the overly-adult version we saw in the first few episodes.
As we returned to Fairy Tale, a now-pregnant Ella was packing to run away from her magical life. And as it turned out, we discover that yes; she did promise Rumplestiltskin her first-born in exchange for this enchanted life. But her prince comes up with a plan–they will outsmart Rumplestiltskin with a new deal. With a magic quill that freezes magic in hand, Ella confronted Rumple with her new deal–she told him she is carrying twins and because the kingdom has suffered recent economic downturns, she must give up both children. Suspicious, but unable to turn his back on a deal, the greedy elf took the magic quill and signed. And promptly froze.
Before viewers could believe the worst was over, Ella suffered a cramp. Her obliging husband, Prince Thomas, left to fetch her water from the well. Again, I’m not really digging this rather helpless heroine. She causes more trouble then she seems to be worth. And as if to prove my point, while fetching her water, Thomas disappeared. Just vanished. And Rumplestiltskin, in this creepy nursery song voice, told Ella, “All magic comes with a price.” He then informed Ella that until she gives him the baby, she will never see her beloved Thomas again. This is actually great news for viewers. With each passing episode we see how the writers are adding threads they will get to tug on in future episodes. One of my biggest worries for this show was the sustainability of a fairy tale long-term. But that concern is lessening with each passing installment.
Back to our current episode, we still have a pregnant Ashley, on the run in Storybrooke. But a pursuing Emma and Henry find her and her broken-down car before she could actually leave town, which is fortunate because as Henry told Emma, bad things happen to people who leave. Again, a great plot point that can be explored down the road.
Safely in hospital, Ashley delivered a healthy girl and decided she cannot give her baby up. And in a rather nauseatingly neat and tidy ending, her wayward boyfriend showed up and made amends and vowed to change his immature ways. The boyfriend bringing the tiny slippers was a neat little way to weave the fairytale aspects of the story.
Emma, perhaps spurred on by her own years-age decision to relinquish Henry, stood up to Mr. Gold and dared him to make his baby contract with the teenaged mother stand up to the law. Gold, temporarily bested, agreed to give up the baby, IF Emma herself consented to yet another of his deals. She must owe him a favor. This one actually made me cringe as I have a bad feeling Emma will dearly regret making a deal with this particular devil.
All in all, this episode was another strong one, with enough creative plot twists to hold interest and keep us looking forward to the next chapter. Unfortunately we must wait two weeks for the next new episode. However, I was a bit annoyed with the heavy-handedness of the “message” that people can change if they really, really, really want to. It wasn’t exactly subtle. I understand this is a show on during the ‘family hour’, but kids today are pretty sophisticated. I bet they’d get the gist, even with some subtlety.
But the best scene of the episode was definitely for the adults, and was saved for last. We see that Regina is, ahem, keeping company with the hunky Sherriff Graham. Which, sorry to sound like a broken record, opens up so many wonderful plot twists, especially now that he has deputized Emma. Is he a good guy or one of the mayor’s present-day henchmen? Two weeks can’t go by fast enough to begin to learn the answers.