I love fairy tales for the same reason I love soap operas. They share a lot of the same ingredients that make them both so delicious: love, honor, swashbuckling heroes, gorgeous heroines, evil and intrigue. But nothing is more reminiscent of an old-fashioned fairy tale than an epic soap romance. Take my absolute favorite couple in soap history, As the World Turns’ Carly and Jack, for example.
The phrase ‘star-crossed lovers’ could have been expressly coined for this duo and an important symbol of their legendary connection was a compass given by Jack, to Carly, so she could always find her way back to him, her True North. Imagine my delight (and a bit of bittersweet nostalgia) when learning not only was the title of this week’s Once Upon a Time “True North,” but that a compass would also play a major role in reuniting a family torn apart by the Evil Queen/Mayor Regina.
We first meet twins Ava and Nicholas, when Ava introduces herself to Henry in a local Storybrooke store. But poor Henry is merely being used, as brother Nicholas stows the supplies he and his sister shoplifted into Henry’s school bag, while Ava distracts Henry. After the cops are called, it comes to light that the children are only stealing because they are homeless, moneyless, and parentless, so Sherriff Emma sets out to find them the father they never knew. Only she needs to hurry, because the heartless Mayor Regina plans to ship them off to Boston where they will be forever separated from each other. That woman is a piece of work, with zero scruples or compassion. But she’s also wickedly fun to watch, much more so than the dully righteous Emma. I love actress Jennifer Morrison, and I get that the show needs a moral center, but pretty please, can Emma loosen up, even just a little?
In her determination to help locate the twin’s unknown father, earnest Emma asks them if they have any keepsakes or mementos. Ava produces an old, broken compass, which leads Emma to pawnbroker Mr. Gold. Gold isn’t in Emma’s good books these days, as he tried to illegally rig the Sherriff’s election in her favor, but she tells him if he can help her, she will work on tolerating him. He checks his records (which are, quite mysteriously, just blank pieces of paper) and tells her he did indeed sell the compass to someone in town. But why the blank pieces of paper? Are the records just ruses so Gold appears human and not the magical imp he really is? If so, that would definitely indicate Gold is indeed aware of his other life as Rumpelstiltskin and in turn, would point toward Regina knowing of her alter ego as well. Moreover, why is Gold always helping Emma? Is he only doing it to thwart Regina? Or is there more to it? Trying to figure the motives for what Gold/Rumple does has become a key element to this show’s success.
Back in Storybrooke, Emma locates Michael the Mechanic (portrayed by X-files alum Nicholas Lea). After showing him the compass, which he admits losing years ago, the grease monkey realizes the children must be his, the result of a casual fling. Regretfully, he tells Emma he can’t give the kids a good home. (And cue Emma’s weekly speech about Doing. The. Right. Thing. That is REALLY getting old.) But Michael just apologizes, gives Emma back the compass, and walks away.
Seemingly out of options, Emma loads the kids in a police cruiser that appears to have come from a 70’s episode of Starsky and Hutch and prepares to take them to Boston, after all. But Emma has one last trick up her sleeve and pretends the car has engine trouble. Who you gonna call? Why, the local mechanic/tow truck driver, Michael. And as he shows up, the cracked compass in Ava’s hands suddenly starts working again. The rest is left to the viewer’s imagination, as he walks toward the car and the two children he’s never even met, but we can assume it’s a happily-ever-after ending for this family.
But we must remember the same family also exists in FairyTale. And their fate is not so sweet. In this land, Michael the mechanic is a woodcutter who sends his two children, Hansel and Gretel, off into the woods for kindling. To help them find their way back to him, he gives Gretel a compass. But when they arrive back, he has disappeared and in his place, the Evil Queen arrives, rocking a pretty awesome damask cloak and leather pants. It may be medieval FairyTale, but the Queen is a fierce fashionista.
The twins, naturally fearing the bad-in-black Queen and her henchmen, run away. But the Queen captures them with the help of some magical tree branches that ensnare the children. Calling them “foolish but brave”, she tells them if they complete a task for her, they can find their father. It seems the Queen is powerless to enter the house of the Blind Witch, as it is protected by magic. And what a house it is! A true Technicolor gingerbread cottage. And inside that rather psychedelic cottage is a satchel the Queen desperately needs to “defeat a very powerful enemy.” But if the children can enter and steal the satchel for her, the Queen will find their father. As an afterthought, she cautions the twins, “Don’t eat ANYTHING.”
You don’t need to even be remotely familiar with the tale of Hansel and Gretel to know those are some ominous words of foreshadowing and just as Gretel manages to nab the satchel, Hansel succumbs to temptation and takes a huge bite of a blue cupcake, awakening the until-now sleeping Blind Witch and her wrath. “I smell dinner,” she says, just as all the doors and windows shut. It gets vaguely disturbing from here, as the witch cages the children and tends a fire to, well, roast them. As she asks Hansel how she should prepare him (gravy or butter?), the twins attack her and throw her into her own oven. From here, the Evil Queen takes over and she casts a fire spell which burns the Blind Witch alive. Like I said, vaguely disturbing.
Once back at the castle, the Queen opens up the stolen satchel to reveal it holds a shiny red apple. If I remember my fairy tales correctly, I’m guessing the powerful enemy is Miss Snow White herself. And observant viewers will have also noticed an entire basket of shiny red apples back on Mayor Regina’s desk in Storybrooke. But back in FairyTale, when Hansel and Gretel ask the queen to now find their father, she instead asks if they wouldn’t like to live with her, and enjoy her riches, as she is most impressed with their bravery. It seems she had sent other children into the witch’s cottage, but Hansel and Gretel were the only ones to make it back out. And that would explain the skulls and bones in the witch’s hearth. That Queen is such a bitch.
But visions of riches and her very own bedroom can’t sway Gretel and she refuses the Queen’s offer, telling her they will find their father themselves and be together again. Rebuffed, the Queen weaves some of her dark magic, sending Hansel and Gretel deep into a labyrinth of a forest. Finding their woodcutter father now will be very much like finding a needle in a very large haystack, broken compass or no.
As horrible as she is (remember she sends innocent children to their certain deaths and enjoys ripping the hearts out of men), the Evil Queen is becoming my very favorite character. Rather, the character I love to hate the most. Actress Lana Parilla is magnetic on screen with the looks and voice perfectly suited to her character. Even her moments of humanity are evil-tinged and she makes a wonderful counterpoint to all of Emma’s annoying goodness.
As such, I found this week’s FairyTale story far superior to the one set in Storybrooke. And that’s becoming a trend for me. But things in Storybrooke may soon liven up, as a mysterious motorcycle hunk has just arrived in Emma’s orbit. And like I said, nothing beats romance in fairy tales.