The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, like That Still Small Voice and The Shepherd turns the audience’s eye to the men of Storybrooke. While Once Upon A Time is a show that plays out sometimes riveting, sometimes unbearably soapy dynamics with its female leads, the last three episodes have brought some balance into the narrative.
Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan) is struggling with his attraction to Emma and bound to Regina but he doesn’t know why. Plagued by memories of a life not his own, Sheriff Graham needs answers.
Henry has answers, from his book of fairytales. Sheriff Graham is the Hunstman, raised by wolves, whom the Evil Queen hired to bring her Snow White’s heart.
The fairytale backstory, as in previous episodes, feels infinitely more vital than the events unfolding in Storybrooke. Storybrooke is The Evil Queen/Regina’s playground, a Stepford-ish version of reality where she can reign with casual manipulation and an underlying fear the residents can’t quite place. Henry and Emma have upset the poisoned apple-cart, and as her machinations are thwarted again, Regina’s cruelty bleeds through the smooth facade she wears.
Jamie Dornan, finally getting to be more than background eye candy, delivers a performance that gets under the skin with its swings between the Huntsman’s primal sense of honor, and Sheriff Graham’s desperation as he senses a wrongness that he can’t ignore. It may be the most emotionally-charged performance in the series so far, which makes the episode’s denouement even more tragic.
For the Evil Queen did pluck out the Huntsman’s heart when he betrayed her, and swear that he would serve her faithfully. If he ever betrayed her again, she would stop the heart she’d torn out.
Parilla has been consistently compelling as the Evil Queen, and is no less so here. While Regina often devolves into a purely bitchy caricature, The Evil Queen keeps the audience asking,”Why?” Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough development in even a nominal attraction between Graham and Emma, to make the romantic aspect of the episode work. Dornan’s scenes with Ginnifer Goodwin have more chemistry than those with Morrison. Emma has yet to be developed beyond her relationship with Henry and conflict with Regina, which makes it hard to care about her. Attitude without depth and a red leather jacket are not enough.
Once Upon A Time has started to inject some personality in twisting the familiar stories ever so slightly and revealing the humanity and inhumanity of the residents of Storybrooke. It’s a pity that most of that personality isn’t being used in developing the female leads the way the last three episodes have developed the male leads.