Once Upon a Time: A Storyteller’s Thoughts on Madness and Magic
Somewhere along the line, most of us lose our belief in magic. Our first thought when a brief light shines on a wall is not that it’s Tinkerbell. A wardrobe is merely a place to hang clothing. The rabbit hole in the yard leads nowhere. Wishes upon stars don’t come true, and there’s no such thing as a fairy godmother. And, yes, that book of stories, once a thing of wonders and truth, is just a book.
But what if none of that is true? What is the presence of magic depends on you looking for it, believing in it? Most things in life are bent on attention, founded in how much effort and presence of mind we, as people, put in. If you read a book, without doing a close reading, you will miss half the plot and most of the nuances. It’s like cooking with your eyes closed. Who knows how it will turn out?
Like most people, Emma Swann doesn’t believe in magic. She has lived a hard life and is very grounded in her experiences. She is very much someone who functions on two things: instincts and facts. In Hat Trick, everything Emma knows is subtly challenged.
Mary Margaret, her friend who is in jail for murder, has escaped. In a complete panic, she takes off into the night to go find her, nearly running down a stranger in the process. As an apology she drives him home, where he makes her tea. Anyone who has seen one after-school special KNOWS something isn’t right with that tea. It’s drugged.
When Emma wakes up, she learns three things: he has Mary Margaret tied up, his name is Jefferson, and he’s the Mad Hatter. Curiously, Jefferson knows EXACTLY who he is, unlike the majority of the characters in Storybrooke. He has been tormented by watching his daughter grow up in another family, unaware of his existence. (“Like everyone else here, what I love has been ripped from me.” That is the precise nature of the curse, isn’t it?) For him, a family man and single dad, that is the worst punishment. He could not leave his house, until Emma showed up. His off-kilter personality is explained as, “holding conflicting realities in your head will make you mad.” (For some reason, this made me think of David, even though he’s absent from this episode. From the hypnosis, we know that his memories of Fairytale Land are there, beneath the surface. How much of his dilemma is rooted in the disparity of the worlds within him? I suspect that his blackouts are going to reveal more than just a lingering bit of head trauma. But we’ll see.)
In Fairytale Land, we learn that Jefferson helped the Evil Queen use the Hat to retrieve something from the Queen of Hearts. The hat trick, so to speak, is that only two may pass through it. What the Evil Queen left out of her bargain was that they were retrieving her father, Henry (who, it appears, is the only thing the Queen seems to care about at all). Left behind, Jefferson takes the fall for the Evil Queen, and we learn from the super creepy Queen of Hearts that the Evil Queen’s name is…Regina. That is the same as her counterpart in Storybrooke. If, as I mentioned last week, names matter – and naming matters, especially in regard to identity – then this is significant. What else has Regina taken with her?
For Jefferson’s part his punishment is to craft another functioning hat, which he cannot do without magic. In Storybrooke, he tells Emma who she is and what he needs her to do (make him a working hat so that he can get back to his daughter). You see, Emma who doesn’t believe in magic, has brought magic with her. Throughout their interactions, Jefferson (who SEEMS mad as a hatter) keeps spouting bits of wisdom. My two favorites are, “What’s crazier than seeing but not believing?” and “Everyone wants a magical solution to their problems, but no one believes in magic.”
That is quite true. Mary Margaret laments her pain (regarding David), wishing that there was a magic potion to make it stop. I’m fairly certain Leroy would’ve loved a bit of magic on his quest to help Astrid. Instead, he settled for a pick axe and clever timing (actions matter, after all).
Eventually, Emma makes the hat, lulls Jefferson into thinking that she believes him, frees Mary Margaret, and they both end up fighting Jefferson. Tellingly, when push comes to shove (literally), Mary Margaret became Snow for the briefest instant, hauling off and kicking the Hatter out the window. Perhaps it was a mother’s instinct, protecting Emma. Or, perhaps, Mary Margaret is slooooowly regaining her sense of self. This, I think, is reaffirmed when she decides to go back to jail – even though Emma, surprisingly, gives her the option to leave town. Snow had a tendency to do the right thing, no matter the danger. It seems Mary Margaret is the same.
Shortly after this, we learn that Mr. Gold is working with Regina. HE planted the key in her cell that led to her escape. Of course, the mayor was quite angry that the plan didn’t work and that Mary Margaret came back. Nonplussed, Mr. Gold shrugs with all the ease and grace of someone with a plan. Of course, the audience probably gasped at this revealed partnership. But I don’t think this is a genuine alliance. Remember the exchange these two had when he was in jail, in Skin Deep? The one where she asked for his TRUE name? Like Rumplestiltskin, my guess is Mr. Gold is bound to his name, which curiously he must be aware of. I don’t think he’s truly in league with Regina, so much as indentured to her. Or, at least, that is what he wants her to think. I’m willing to bet a pound of pixie dust that Rumplestiltskin isn’t his real name. Given that EVERYONE in Fairytale Land knows him by that name (given the nature of his magic, he’s ruled by the name and the dagger), it’s safe to say that his true identity is a secret. So, he’s playing an angle in regard to Regina. I cannot wait to see how that reveal plays out.
Returning to the Hatter’s tale – there is a clever twist. The hat Emma made? It worked. Jefferson vanished, leaving the hat behind. Just as Emma’s magic allows her to tell when people are lying (remember the first episode, where it revealed that Regina doesn’t really love Henry?), her magic changes things. It started the clock moving. It’s setting people free, like the Huntsman. What if Emma’s gut, her instinct, isn’t really intuition? What if it’s born of magic? This is highlighted near the very end of the episode, when she sees Jefferson’s daughter – the one he told her about, the same one depicted in Henry’s book. To me, this was an ah-ha moment, where Emma began to entertain the small possibility that there’s more going on than she was willing to acknowledge. Would she call it magic? No, probably not. But I don’t know that she’d have a better term.
One of the most important things that we, as people, can do is pay attention. Be present. Listen and watch intently. Don’t have one foot in this world and another in dreams. Magic may be all around, flitting about under the guise of seemingly ordinary things. Roald Dahl once wrote, ““And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
And it’s true. You can’t find what you don’t look for or what you’re not willing to see. This is why you can’t find love if your heart’s closed. This is why you can’t see an opportunity, if all you acknowledge are problems. This is why we grow up and forget magic: we stop looking for it.
But there is a spell in a sunset. There are wishes in stars. There is magic in the small things, like a slow-rolling morning fog. A first kiss. A date that ends when the sun comes up, after walking around the city for hours. There’s magic in yes, instead of no. In taking chances. In honoring the heart. In putting a wish out in the world, no matter how silly or foolish. Magic isn’t all fairies and potions. The very best magic is often kept within the things we take too often for granted. It is our ability to pay attention and appreciate things that reveals the spell underneath the smile, the perfect beauty in a kiss, and the dancing happiness to be found a dream come true.
Fairytales might not be real. But the sentiment behind them? That is a very different story.