Home > Once Upon a Time > Once Upon a Time: A Storyteller’s Thoughts on Being the Monster

Once Upon a Time: A Storyteller’s Thoughts on Being the Monster

There are parts of ourselves that we all wish we could hide, that we all try to hide. The less shiny, less perfect secrets, the shades of our reflection that we are afraid of. The things that we, sometimes, simply cannot control. An instinct. An old habit. “Beowulf” was written to tell a story about the titular hero slaying a monster, Grendel. Years later, John Gardener wrote Grendel, a novel from the famed monster’s point of view. Why? Why tell the villains? Why humanize the creature that goes bump in the night? Because sometimes, everyone feels like a monster.

Take Ruby in last night’s episode of Once Upon a Time (Child of the Moon). Ruby’s story turns the tale of Little Red Riding Hood on its head. She is the wolf. She has no way to control her changes, except for a magical red cloak from her Granny. Of course, there was a time where she had no idea who she was. She killed people, including the love of her life, Peter.

With the landscape of magic shifting and changing in Storybrooke, Ruby (Red) has begun to regain some of her more wolfish qualities. A few weeks ago she admitted to having a heightened sense of smell and used it to locate the lost Belle. Once she realizes that she cannot find her cloak, and it’s the first full moon since the curse was broken/magic was restored, Ruby locks herself in the freezer at Granny’s.

Decker, aka the Evil King who was Charming’s fake father in Fairytale Land, is hellbent on evil and mayhem. He sets Ruby up for a murder she didn’t commit, killing Billy (who is actually GusGus from Cinderella). Ruby, realizing her worst fears have come true, has a truly poignant emotional meltdown, blaming herself for the harm she believes she’s inadvertently caused. Decker has whipped the townsfolk into an honest-to-fairies MOB – complete with pitchforks and torches – in an effort to make David/Charming’s life into a nightmare. (More on nightmares in a minute.)

However, in a Fairytale Land flashback, we find Snow and Red running away from the royal guard. Red’s cloak is torn, and she insists they split up for the night, for Snow’s sake. Red is discovered by a pack of wolves just like her, including the mother that she was led to believe in dead. Her mother has a bit of Crazy Eyes, but she teaches Red how to give in to the wolf, to be the wolf, so that she’s in control – and doesn’t have any more blackouts. This is the first time Red embraces her nature, not as a monster – but as a lesson to us all, which is not to fight who we are. It is when we fear ourselves and are untrue to who we are that bad things happen.

Of course, Red’s mother thinks that humans are horrible and they are the monsters by default. When Snow stumbles upon their den, looking for Red, she is welcomed at first – and then one of the palace guards kills a member of the pack. Crazy Eyes Mom goes full-on Lord of the Flies, decreeing that they must EAT Snow, including Red. Red, to protect her friend, fights her mother – who dies and calls her a traitor to her kind. Talk about needing therapy there, Mommy Dearest. Red, beautifully played by Meghan Ory, says that she wasn’t betraying her family – she was protecting it. This reminds us that family isn’t always blood, and blood isn’t always right.

Which brings us back to Storybrooke, where there’s an Angry Mob chasing after Ruby, who is so convinced that she’s a monster who deserves to die, that she goes out to meet them as the wolf. Her friends (David, Granny, and Belle) believe in her. They see the good in her, when she is at her worst and can only see herself as a monster. Belle, in a wonderful quip, calls herself an ‘expert on rehabilitation,’ which seems to imply her relationship with Gold has continued, though we have yet to see them interact for a while. Still: large cheer!

Ruby, thinking of all her past mistakes, so easily blames herself. It is so easy to internalize guilt, thinking of our worst decisions, our worst failings. David tells the crowd (who are one step away from shouting RUTABAGA! which is a common shout in mob scenes) the truth about Decker, who pretty much oozes vitriol and spite. He, taking a risk, walks toward Ruby with her rediscover cape, talking to her about seeing who she is, about knowing her for who she is. David reminds Ruby of herself, and Ruby thus gains control over her own nature. That moment is very touching, because what person doesn’t need that kind of reminder, sometimes? When we are down on ourselves, when we think we are the monster? Everyone is Grendel, sometimes. But if we are lucky, there is someone to hold up a true mirror, instead of a distorted funhouse one.

Of course, not all’s well that ends well. Decker’s endgame was to destroy the Hatter’s hat, which he does with glee – leading David to nearly shoot him. Ruby talks him down, but for a moment, I wished she hadn’t. Because Decker is an asshole. Where are his redeeming qualities? We know from his backstory that his wife was barren. That he suffered. Each character in Once is layered – even the Evil Queen has her roots and her reasons. I’m curious about Decker’s.

We cannot forget Henry in all this. He and Sleeping Beauty have been having the same nightmare, a side-effect of the Sleeping Curse. Regina, upon discovering that the nightmare has very real implications (the dream flames burn Henry), she calls Gold. He cannot stop the nightmares, but he gives Henry a necklace to wear that will allow him to control the dream, thus giving him a link to Fairytale Land through Sleeping Beauty. This is a pretty clever turn of events, and I’m curious to see how it’s used to unravel and shape the storylines. Also, when Regina asks about the price for Gold’s services, he snarks that she couldn’t afford it, BUT since it’s for Henry, it’s on him. I wonder, then, if he’s truly acting benevolent – or if he has some other kind of plan for Henry. Since we know that Henry can leave Storybrooke without a problem (that IS how he fetched Emma), I wonder if he might bring Baelfire to Gold, assuming he can discover where his son is.

This episode exemplifies an overarching theme of the show: no one is a hero or a monster; everyone is both. David, with a gun in his hand, may nearly kill someone. Ruby, thinking the worst of herself, may attempt penance through sacrificing her own life. And yet, everyone is saved or redeemed. In the end, a person must choose to save him/herself — to do the right thing. A friend can hold up a mirror. Someone who cares for you may stay by your side. But in the end, you have to choose to see the truth in your own reflection. In the end, you have to allow someone to be there for you.

Categories: Once Upon a Time
  1. November 12, 2012 at 11:56 am

    As much as I hate Decker right now, I hated Regina that much originally, and now, even though I still don’t trust her, I understand her more. This makes me wonder if we’ll see some glimpse of Decker that humanizes him. The neat part of this show (ok, the COOL part is the fantasy and dragons and stuff) is that it’s showing us real people who are both good and bad because they are PEOPLE, yet they are playing their lives out in this fairytale. And what a perfect way to link the two worlds together – via the boy who linked Storybrooke to the real world originally.

    • November 12, 2012 at 5:56 pm

      I agree with you. My only concern is that we already had glimpses of Regina’s goodness at this point. I feel like they’re dragging his ruthlessness out a little. But yes, they are PEOPLE, who are capable of both good and bad. It might be grounded in magic, but it’s so applicable to life. I love it. Thank you, Gayle, for reading and commenting!!!

  2. November 12, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Terrific (as usual). You’ve caused me to watch this show with a lot sharper eye!

    • November 12, 2012 at 5:56 pm

      thank you, Jim! That is a wonderful compliment. 🙂

  3. Lucy
    November 12, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    I love your TV writing. You really inspire interest in shows I otherwise wouldn’t give much of a thought to. Bravo

    • November 12, 2012 at 5:56 pm

      Thank you, Lucy! I have a lot of fun writing about tv. I’m really happy that it’s been useful to you. I like to share the things I like, with friends. ❤

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