OpinionTelevision & Film

ONCE UPON A TIME: the Fall (& Rise) of a Prince



Season 1, episode 6: “The Shepherd”

[all images: ABC]

Well, well, well… Prince Charming isn’t exactly the man we all thought. But really, is anyone surprised? At some point, there was bound to be a — wait… I have to do this first:


You’ve been warned. No, really.

So, this is the John Doe episode. Last week was Jiminy Cricket’s spotlight, but we got to see a little bit of the tease for this week. We’re picking up after Mary Margaret resigned from the hospital because she can’t take being around David and not acting on her feelings. Better to remove herself from the equation. Which is why she’s not at the Welcome Home party thrown by Catherine. (And this party has a number of other people who live in Storybrooke. Have we just seen a number of fairy tale characters we’ve yet to meet? Or are they throw-away neighbors?)

Catherine, meantime, is in the kitchen with her new friend, Her Honor the Mayor Regina, talking about losing those you love and how Catherine is grateful to get David back. In this conversation we get a little more from Regina about her “lost love” mentioned by Maleficent a few episodes ago, and it’s pretty likely that Regina’s old flame is dead and gone, the way she talks. But Catherine has a second chance now that David’s home. Except he’s not home. He’s left the party…

… and gone to Mary Margaret’s house. Where she’s hanging a bird house. At night. This is one of those rare moments in this show where I have to scratch my head and say “What?” Hanging a bird house at night? Who does this?

Anyhoo… he has feelings for her. She has feelings for him. But he’s married to someone else. But he says someone else not him was married to that other woman and this new guy who woke up from the coma has fallen truly, madly deeply in love with the woman who read him fairy tales, but she says he’s just acting on feelings because she saved his life and it’s a whole Florence Nightingale Syndrome in reverse.

Got it?

[Let’s interject here: this is the one scene with Henry in this episode, and he says something that could prove very important later. His theory is that David’s amnesia prevented him from getting “curse memories” implanted in his head like everyone else when they crossed over into Storybrooke. This is one of those throwaway scenes that seems innocuous at the moment, but could lead us down a very Most Important Rabbit Hole later.]

The line about saving his life takes us back to Fairy Tale Land, where Prince Charming is fighting a whale of a berserker. Big, mean and ugly. And yon prince is losing, when he plays possum and gets the upper hand, slaying the ugly man with a tense, “Next time, make sure I’m really dead.” Applause and cheers! For this hath been but a test of Prince Charming’s mettle to see if he can go up against the dragon that’s been plaguing the realm of King Midas (yes, that one). Charming has won the day, except he doesn’t follow his own advice. While he’s lecturing his men about premature celebration, he gets impaled by the spear of ugly man. This is Irony.

[Another side note: normally, the whole “virtual set” CG environment doesn’t call attention to itself much, but the effects in this mountaintop scene are just grabbing my eyes and saying “Hey! Look at me! I’m CG!” Maybe it was rushed in post?]

Forsooth! The Prince is dead! (No. Really. He’s dead.) Laid out on the table, well and truly dead. The knights are beside themselves. Actually, they’re beside the round table, but there’s nothing that says it’s the Round Table… I digress. The knights are stressed. King George has a pest, and his name is Rumelstiltskin.

Yep. Ol’ Rump is smack in the middle of all of this. Apparently, he gave the boy Prince Charming to King George because Mrs. George couldn’t conceive. But lo! there’s another boy. Because there were twins!

Meanwhile, in Storybrooke, Mary Margaret is cleaning. Cleaning with a fierce vengeance. Those dishes will never do that to her again, nossir! Emma tells her to have a drink instead. Poor Mary Margaret (every time it makes me think “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”…) is just miserable. Because she doesn’t want to admit how she feels about David. Emma tells her she can’t do anything. If something feels wrong, it probably is.

David and Catherine are going through more photos – I think she owns stock in Kodak or something – and when Catherine starts to get a little ahem amorous… David finally gives up he ghost and says “This isn’t right” and leaves. Because, well, he’s a different guy who’s not in love with the woman the other guy fell for … got that?

Over in Fairy Tale Land, we get our first look at the twin who stayed home: looks just like Prince James, only with a mop-top haircut straight out of the 196os. And he’s chasing a goat. Mother comes home from the market and, in typical fairy tale fashion, has talked with the grain farmer. He has a daughter, and a marriage could mean a better fate for the farm. Except, see, the non-princeling wants to marry for love, not for convenience… erg. Into this little tête à tête drops Rumpelstiltskin, who spills the beans (no, not the magic ones…) about the whole twin thing. Mother gave the brother over to save the farm. (What is it with Rumpelstiltskin and the first-born kids, anyway?)

So the new deal involves MopTop taking the place of the dead CropTop who was supposed to slay the dragon and get King Midas’ gold to save King George’s kingdom. And Rumpelstiltskin has the line of the week: “Oh, everyone has a choice, dearie. Just make sure it’s the right one.”

Mary Margaret gets a new choice set before her in the diner, as Dr. Whale makes a lopsided apology for his behavior on their date, and offers to make it up to her. And then Regina comes by and gives Mary Margaret a choice, too. Well, really, an ultimatum. A warning? “You don’t belong together,” she says. And then drops the bombshell that David has left Catherine. Oopsy. Now what’s Snow White going to do?…

Back in Fairy Tale Land, the new pauper-turned-prince gets told by the knights to just stay put, and the knights proceed into the cave, where they are all promptly killed. This is one of those Very Bad Things they warn you about in Dragonslaying Schoole. Our hero gets his chance to be a real hero, and manages to slay yon dragon through cunning and quick use of his goat-shepherding skills.

[Dragon looked mostly good, until it was trapped. Then it looked like someone tried to do pseudo-Harryhausen in the computer. You just can’t do that, folks. It looked exactly like what it was: a cheat. If you do anything with a stop-motion look, do the stop-motion for real.]

Speaking of trapped, David has escaped his marriage, and wants Mary Margaret to meet him at the troll… erm, toll bridge at eight. (He’s now got a room at Granny’s.) She kicks him out of her classroom, and then runs to Emma to find out what to do. Emma, having just been given the night shift, tells MM to go. David’s made his choice. True love awaits! Right?

Well… it may have to wait a while longer, as Prince Charming gets a new offer from Midas. Y’see, not only was he looking for someone to take care of his pest problem, but he’s also looking for a hero to marry his daughter Abigail. And look! It’s uppity princess from the carriage from the Snow White episode. She’s still uppity here (“I guess he’ll do.”), and King George tells NuPrince that he’s going to take the deal or else.

Now it’s time for David to meet his true love at the toll bridge. Only, see, this guy has never been in Storybrooke. So he has no idea where anything sits. Regina to the rescue! With totally bogus directions, of course, because she’s not happy that Prince Charming and Snow White have a snowball’s chance to get back together. That would be a bad thing for her. So he gets lost and ends up at Gold’s shop, where we see all sorts of fun props that hint at other stories, in addition to the glass unicorn mobile and Gepetto’s puppet-parents on the counter.

And it’s here we get a big shift that may lead to something really big, if the writers handle it right. David turns to leave, sees the windmill that used to sit in front of his house, and tells Mr. Gold it’s familiar. The next moment is so full of subtext. Because there are clearly more than one or two ideas going on right in this moment.

Kudos to Robert Carlysle for being the Priceless Facial Expression of the week. You can see in this one shot:

There is more than one possibility for everything that happens in this scene. When David says, “I remember,” we are clearly left with the question of just how much. How far back does the sight of that windmill take him? And we circle back to the question of how much Gold remembers. Because he’s clearly got some wheels turning in this scene.

What this means, in the short term, is that we get two “good bye” scenes – the first in Fairy Tale Land, as nuPrince Charming visits his mother for the very last time. She gives him her ring, saying “True love follows this ring.” It’s the ring we’ve seen before in “Snow Falls” and on the hand of Mary Margaret when she gets all nervous and flustered.

Which she’s doing at the bridge when David shows up to tell her he remembers “everything” (which is a little broad, considering the broad context of the story…). He’s going back to Catherine. So he at least “remembers” his life post-curse, which makes sense now that he’s out of the coma. It was only a matter of time before the curse caught up with him.

Ginnifer Goodwin deserves a Facial Expression Acting honorable mention here. She delivers so much of her character just in the way she moves and the facial tics she lets Mary Margaret have. You can see the emotions swirling around as she tries to make sense of what’s happening around her. At all levels.

So then we’re in coda moments:

Emma’s on patrol when she catches Sheriff coming out the window at Regina’s place. Ew. Very awkward moment when she puts two and two together and gets “I wish I didn’t know this.” This looks to be the setup for the next episode, which will focus a bit on Sheriff’s FTL counterpart.

David goes back to his wife. And nuPrince goes with Abigail in the carriage while Midas and George wheel and deal. They’re in the carriage up to the point where we first met Abigail a few weeks ago, with the bandit Snow White in the tree…

And Mary Margaret is in the diner (which must be the only place to eat in town…) as Dr. Whale comes in.  And she lets him buy her a drink. Well, two drinks. That’s  going to come back to bite her, I’m sure.

[Official Show Site at ABC]   [Previous recap: “That Small Still Voice”]

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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