Title The Doctor
Two-Sentence Summary The mysterious Dr. Whale is revealed to be Dr. Victor Frankenstein, a man young Regina goes to with the hopes of bringing her beloved Daniel back from the dead, and in Storybrooke, Victor manages to resurrect Daniel with the hopes of finding favor with Regina but instead creates a monster that she has to let go of once and for all. In present-day Fairytale Land, Snow and Emma discover Captain Hook, Cora’s plan, and a beanstalk that could help them return home.
Favorite Line “Please, let me talk to my fiancé.” (Regina)
My Thoughts I enjoyed this episode, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite of the season. Until Snow and Emma return to Storybrooke (which I hope happens by midseason), their scenes in present-day Fairytale Land distract from the heart of each episode unless the flashbacks and/or Storybrooke scenes directly deal with or reference them (which is why I loved “Lady of the Lake” so much and why I’m really optimistic about next week’s Emma-centric “Tallahassee”). This week’s episode felt rushed in important places, which has been one of my problems with a few episodes in this young season already. I appreciate what the creators are doing in balancing these three storylines and introducing so many interesting possibilities for new characters, but I just don’t want the emotional punches that made last season so wonderful to get lost amid the growing plot.
The scenes in present-day Fairytale Land were definitely necessary to the overall plot of the show, but they had no connection to what else was going on in the episode. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t like them. I loved Snow reaching out to help Aurora with a look of thinly-veiled frustration. I loved the return of Emma’s lie-detecting “superpower” because it shows she’s gaining confidence in such a foreign world. And I loved Snow and Emma’s unspoken understanding about Hook and how to deal with him. These two have the potential to be the most powerful mother-daughter team on TV, and I’m excited to see them get even more in-sync as the season goes on.
As for the other half of the “Charming Family,” I loved Henry and his grandfather’s scenes once again in this episode. I was happy to see the continuity between Henry saying in “Lady of the Lake” that he should be back in Fairytale Land learning to sword fight and ride horses and Charming actually teaching him to do those things. He may not be the smartest grandfather (who leaves a kid alone in the stables?), but he’s learning and trying. Josh Dallas has been incredible all season in his scenes with Jared Gilmore. He has a real gift for interacting with such a young actor in a way that feels natural (this episode’s moment of him putting his arm around Henry was a favorite little detail of mine).
Even more than his interactions with Henry in this episode, I loved Charming’s interactions with everyone else because they showed something so important to remember: He’s not perfect, but he’s a noble man trying desperately to hold himself and a town together without the woman he sees as his better half. Did I like Charming punching Whale? No. I thought it was hypocritical and unnecessary. But it showed his lack of rational thought when it comes to Snow. He’s lost without her—just like Regina is lost without Daniel—and I saw his punch as a way to take some control back when he’s feeling like he has no control over anything when it comes to his wife and daughter. If I were Charming, I’d want to punch someone too. It wasn’t right, but no character on this show does the right thing 100% of the time. And that’s why I love Once Upon a Time.
Charming’s interactions with Regina were also captivatingly intense in this episode. Dallas and Lana Parrilla did a great job of showing the antagonistic tension between these two characters. She’s tried to kill him, his wife (numerous times), and their daughter; it’s understandable that he’s going to be tense and judgmental when it comes to her. But what I loved was that he ultimately still tried to save her. The fact that Charming wanted to keep Regina from Daniel wasn’t because he wanted to keep her from her true love; he wanted to keep her from getting killed because it’s “the honorable thing to do” (if you get the episode reference I will love you forever).
That frantic scene in the stables was my favorite scene in this episode. There was great desperation in both Dallas and Parrilla’s reactions to Daniel being behind the door. But—unsurprisingly—Parrilla stole the show in that scene with the layering of her emotions. There’s desperation to keep Daniel alive, but there’s also hope, love, and something more innocent than we’ve seen from her since Daniel was alive when she asks to see her fiancé. It was no surprise to me that this plea is what softened Charming; he knows what it’s like to desperately want to be reunited with your true love, even if they’ve become dark and twisted (like Snow in “Heart of Darkness”).
After Charming left (which I’m hoping he was hiding out nearby because I’d hate to think he left her alone with Daniel), Parilla really got to show off why she’s such a brilliant actress. The moment where Daniel tells her to love again was so beautiful because it humanized the moment despite its supernatural touches; this is a scene about destructive grief and the horrible pain and guilt associated with moving on. It was one of the most painful moments on a show that has had more than a few memorably painful scenes, and the credit for that should all go to Parrilla and her willingness to show grief and despair with total honesty. This cast excels at making you feel both their joys and their losses, and Parrilla is one of the best. She’s a revelation on this show, playing the many nuances of this character with grace and incredible depth.
And what about this episode’s titular character? I had a feeling that Dr. Whale was going to be Dr. Frankenstein ever since the post-season-premiere promo showed a clip of a man in a tent standing over what looked like an operating table as lightning struck. I found myself not caring about him like I thought I would, despite David Anders’s performance (and the return of his Sark accent!). This was where the episode suffered from being rushed. I wanted to see more of his pain about his brother or more of his life in general—both in the flashbacks and in Storybrooke. However, I wonder if we didn’t get more because there’s so much more to his story. I can’t decide if he really is the Wizard of Oz or if that was just a red herring (I’m still leaning towards the former).
Unlike a lot of people, I don’t mind the inclusion of Frankenstein as a character on this show. We’ve known from the pilot that not all of these characters are from fairytales. Midas, Lancelot, Mulan, and Hook are all not specifically “fairytale characters.” Any classic, fictional character could work in this world; Henry’s book is a book of stories, not just fairytales, and we don’t know for sure that every character on the show is in Henry’s book. Jefferson said there are many worlds to travel between, some with magic and some without. The show has left things open-ended to the point that, if a character fits into the plot in a natural way, I don’t see a problem. Besides, Frankenstein is enough of a supernatural story for it to be a good fit, and the “science versus magic” debate is an interesting direction for this show to take. Also, the addition of Frankenstein allowed for that perfect black-and-white visit to Victor’s land at the end of the episode; I loved the cinematography there (and his relatively subdued “It’s alive”).
The inclusion of Frankenstein especially worked for me because he fit in well with the storylines of established characters. Anders interacted wonderfully with Robert Carlyle’s Rumplestiltskin and Sebastian Stan’s Jefferson. Those three men were incredibly charismatic together, playing off each other well. Stan was especially electric in this episode; his facial expressions and cavalier demeanor were such a change from the haunted man we see later on. The way all three of these characters manipulated Regina was a twist I did not see coming at all, and it made me wonder if I will ever be able to see Rumplestiltskin through sympathetic eyes again. He used an innocent woman’s grief to turn her into the epitome of evil just to serve his purpose, to get her to eventually cast the curse that sends them to Storybrooke. Though that doesn’t excuse Regina’s evil actions, it gives her and Rumplestiltskin a new layer of depth that will forever change the way I see both of them.
This was one of those episodes that I like more as I think about it. While it didn’t have the same emotional resonance as the best episodes of this show, it still had a tour-de-force performance from a great actress and raised some interesting questions about the nature of evil, the possibility for redemption, and the power of magic versus science.