Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg have followed Liz Tigelaar’s lead in showing us a Prince that’s not the same old Charming. The Shepherd is part Prince and the Pauper with a little hint of The Princess Bride, and it works thanks to Josh Dallas’s ability to go invest Charming (James)/David(John Doe) with an appealing sense of honor and a vulnerable strength.
There was an inkling that Charming wasn’t going to be a blithely macho doofus in the pilot: Kicking the EQ’s minions asses while holding a baby is pretty heroic, but this isn’t a hero without a cause and Dallas made it a believable sacrifice.
In Storybrooke, after waking up from a coma, David is struggling to fit back into a life that he doesn’t remember and doesn’t want. Wife Kathryn (Anastasia Griffiths) may or may not be colluding with Mayor Regina Mills (Lana Parilla) to keep David and Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) apart, but Regina is certainly determined that the erstwhile Snow and Charming will not find a Happily Ever After.
The fairytale realm, like the Jungian collective subconscious, is where all of the archetypes and motives behind the complex relationships of Storybrooke’s residents are rooted and revealed.
Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) is a fixer. Any problem you have, he can solve: for a price. Usually one that is far, far too high, as in The Price of Gold. When the King (Alan Dale) needs a dragonslaying son to fulfill a deal with King Midas (Alex Zahara) and that son has been slain, Rumplestiltskin produces a twin. The Shepherd i.e., James, has no interest in being a prince, but will do anything to save his mother’s farm. Back in Storybrooke, David has chosen to leave Kathryn and pursue Mary Margaret. The conflict between duty and desire, honor and love, and the burden of choosing what we perceive as right over what we want, is deftly illustrated. Dallas lets the audience share James/David’s struggle even as we sympathize with the fact that in Storybrooke, his honor will cost Mary Margaret a short-lived hope of happiness.
Once Upon a Time has been getting stronger with each episode, and in The Shepherd we get the story behind the story behind Storybrooke’s resident Prince who isn’t so much Charming, as a decent man trying to do what’s right and fighting for true love.