[Warning: This post contains spoilers]
What happens when one begins to blacken her heart? How does one live with the wrong choice? These are the questions with which we are left at the end of Sunday night’s episode of Once Upon a Time. Mary Margaret made a choice, one that she instantly regretted, but failed to act to change in time. Now she must live with her choice. Followers of ABC’s Once Upon a Time learned early that magic has consequences. We learned that in the first season, and in case we forgot a little, we have been reminded throughout the second season. Despite all the reminders, the inhabitants of Storybrooke and the Fairytale land are not getting the message. Or if they learned it once, they are tempted and pushed to rationalize their choices and actions, and the choose badly. And right there is why I keep watching.
The first season ended on a high note but left viewers with questions. Well, it left me with questions. Now we are five episodes away from the end of season two and I walked away from last night’s episode wondering what darkness and tragedy will befall Mary Margaret’s family next? Will Regina be right and will the consequences of Mary Margaret’s choice destroy everything she hoped to save?
When the first season ended, I was not sure as to where the writers would go next, but I had hopes that at the very least, they would go somewhere, anywhere that would move the plot along. The potential pitfalls have always been the possibility of repetition and falling into stereotypical fairytale scenarios. In the first season, the writers played with good and evil, with heroes and villains, and muddied the waters of happily-ever-after. I wonder if the writers have a larger creative arc in mind with this second season where we have to get to the end of the story to understand why season two was periodically tedious and slow and why they kept introducing even more new characters for one and two episodes at a time with no clear purpose other than to have a new story? (Yes, I thought the season started slow. Why all that time with Mulan and Princess Aurora only to drop that storyline?)
Up until the last few episodes, I thought Once Upon a Time had gotten lost in the woods. When the season began, residents of Storybrooke knew who they were and what Regina had done to them. They quickly sought vengeance (I may have even seen a pitchfork in the offing) when the conflict led to Emma and Mary Margaret falling through a portal to Fairytale world. I am not sure the point of this plot development was anything other than to introduce new characters (i.e. Princess Aurora, Mulan, and the Giant named Tiny), give Emma insights into her parents along with a new respect for electric power and why firing a gun when fighting trolls is a bad idea, and to bring Cora, Regina’s evil mother, and Captain Hook to Storybrooke.
Enduring love, heartbreak, and quest for power have been constants this season, but these themes have been the setting for episodes which provide context and help us to understand how characters turned to evil. We know more now why Regina continues to choose vengeance and power. We know why Regina wanted a child of her own and why she is desperate to hold on to Henry. (We finally know why the stranger in the accident has remained in Storybrooke and what he is trying to find there. We learn at the end of hour that he and his father camped in the woods on the day that Storybrooke was created. Regina endeavored to keep the young boy – Owen – in town because she had a real emotional connection with him. In doing so, she imprisoned the boy’s father.) This complicates Emma’s first-season-decision to stay in Storbyrooke believing that Regina doesn’t really love Henry, but we have learned over the course of the second season that she does love him in her own way. We also learn why that love is corrupted – her own mother never felt and expressed love for her. (That’s what you get for ripping out your own heart to have power. The evil mother theme is getting a little tedious.)
More importantly, we also understand why others like Mary Margaret have made the right choices. (Until Sunday night, that is!) Well, at the very least how good people are tempted to take the easy way out and rationalize the use of magic for altruistic reasons, only to be seduced by the power of it all. The last several episodes (especially last night’s episode) have underscored the importance of love in the choice between good and evil. We know now that the absence of it or the distortion of it corrupts. Remember how David is good because he grew up with his mother, as opposed to his selfish twin Edward who was parented by the greedy and power hungry Midas? Snow chose not to save her mother if it meant killing someone else. As Emma learns more about magic, and even uses magic, will she have the moral fortitude to resist evil? Has the absence of David and Mary Margaret made her broken enough that she will be seduced by Rumpelstiltskin, just like Cora, Regina, and now Snow?
Henry as the child at the center of his family’s blood feud seems to be the only one who sees clearly the danger that is magic. The adults in this tale are subject to their own human frailty, their failings, and most especially their fear of being hurt and alone. To live in Storybrooke is to live with the consequences of wrong choices. To maintain a pure heart in Storybrooke is becoming a dangerous and potentially deadly course.
Only five episodes left – so many questions left. How will the story end?
By Mary Beth Connolly