After last week's Grumpy-outing that didn't quite push the satisfactory bounds, we return to Storybrooke this week to shed light on another character that we really don't know too much about: Ruby and Red Riding Hood. Yes, our always hot-looking waitress with the sly smile has appeared quite often at the diner, but we never have seen what makes her truly tick. Now, we go behind the red streaks and under the hood as the character gets her spotlight. But, did it leave us gleeful, skipping with a basket in hand, or was it torn to pieces by a big bad failure?
When its come to writer Jane Espenson, I've had a mixed reaction. She wrote my personal favorite episode of the season so far "That Still Small Voice", but the others have definitely opened up a mix response from myself, as I felt them to be a bit dull. However, Espenson's script has wowed me once more with "Red-Handed". While there were a few problems, the episode eventually balances out by tackling a great relationship in one, while also dealing with finding Ruby's purpose, and actually making the missing person case interesting for a change, while the other storyline deals with humble beginnings, an element that I'm starting to grow very tired of, and a plot twist for the ages.
Of course this week, we focus on Ruby and her fairytale counterpart Little Red Riding Hood. Now, usually when we're dealt with fairytale characters, and discovering them, we can get two roles that are either very similar, and thus less work for the actors, or very hard to tackle. Meghan Ory gives one of my favorite performances of the entire season tonight as she switches between the two. He entire demeanor, facial expressions, voice pitch, and just really overall tone changed between her two roles. On one side, we have Ruby, the angsty rebel who definitely feels lost and out of place in the world, while on the other hand, we have Red, the love-lorn, always happy, and very obidient. The overarching element is that they both are big dreamers, and its that one sentiment that makes them both connected. And Ory does just an incredible job, hitting nearly every emotion you possibly can between both roles. She easily improved upon the already well-written script, and definitely made the most of her time in the sun tonight.
Where the writing really came into play was that a central question essentially drove each storyline. In the fairytale world, the big answer everyone was looking for is who exactly was the big bad wolf. In the real world, it was a mix of Red's future, delving deeper into the missing person case, and even in true Se7en style, "What's in the fucking box?!"
Last week, the hardest challenge was trying to give a rat's ass about the missing person storyline. With everything between Leroy and Grumpy, it was really lackluster compared to what was in play. Luckily, Espenson wraps up last week's affairs basically in the first two minutes, and then goes on to tell her own interesting side of the story. The case isn't just tossed out as some lackluster B-plot. It's nearly on par with the rest of the episode, and fuels the mystery in the best way the storyline has proved thus far since its inception. I was actually concerned about what was happening to David (though i thought Mary returning to the scene of the crime was an idiotic idea. Seriously? For a schoolteacher, she's not very bright), and I loved the tie in of Dr. Whale as well, and the revelation this mystery illness could be a symptom of his coma (calling it now, it's Prince Charming trying to fight for control).
What I also loved is that the line among both fairy tale world and the real world was relatively thin. While we were able to see Red was a great tracker, we were discovering why this was so in the fairy tale world. So, we got to see some of her fairy tale abilities cross over into the real world, and that's a line we rarely ever seen evporate. Usually, the only instance we've ever really seen this before is with those characters who have retained their memories. The curse is usually that thick line that sets both storylines aside, but what we learned about Granny and Red in the fairy tale world showing up in the real world just moments later was a really great use of that knowledge that I absolutely loved.
While I was a bit disappointed in Ruby's decision to leave the police station, as I felt that it would be great character improvement had she stayed, it's understandable why she left. I'd up and leave after I find an organ in a box too. But, while the fairy tale aspect focused more on how strict Granny could be, it didn't quite feel like there was a relationship depth exploration there. On the other hand, the real world thankfully balanced that out. With Ruby and Granny's spat, we got to see the more emotional side of the relationship as we got to revisit it a few times during the storyline. It does lead to an ending that certainly seems to have changed Ruby, and definitely gives them an anticipatory storyline for the future, no matter how far off it may be.
I did say I had a few problems though. For starters, I'm growing very tired of this romance for everyone storyline. It seems everyone in fairy tale world is bumping uglies with somebody, and having their hearts stolen every single time we get a flashback. Except, it's only to be ripped out mere moments before the episode's end. Let's think about this: Belle/Rumplestiltskin, Dreamy/Nova, and now Peter/Red. It's starting to feel like a cliche, and that every flashback storyline needs to have love in order to be successful. Sometimes, it simply feels like it's a lending to the fans at some point, giving them two characters to "ship", or using one character's storyline to be fueled by this love. I've just gotten to the point where I'm nearly sick of it. We see it enough with Snow/Charming especially, and we know that "true love breaks all curses", but does that really mean EVERYONE has to have a better half when we meet them?
Another big problem I had was the big twist in the Red Riding Hood reimagining. While it was very shocking, it gets rather complicated as we delve more into the real world side of things. If Granny and Ruby have these curses, and their wolf senses are still in tact, what's keeping them from turning them into wolves? Was one of them the white wolf both Emma and Graham have seen in the past? Furthermore, if Red's magical hooded cloak prevented her from changing into a wolf, what about Ruby? Could it be the red streaks in her hair? Or does she simply change and not know about it? We see that Granny's arm is "acting up" because of the full moon, which is a clear indication that something might be going down. There are a lot of questions there that may be answered, but it's the logic that's expressed in the fairy tale world and not effectively carried over into the real world that irritated me the most.
Overall, "Red-Handed" is thankfully the best new episode in months of Once Upon A Time. Jane Espenson's script is well-written, and Meghan Ory's performance is one of the best this year. Though it has a bit of a slow beginning to find its footing, and there are a few problems, the episode is still a strong one. We have the most interesting involvement of the Katherine mystery to date, and all of the stories feel very much balanced out, with none of them overshadowing the other. They all blend together masterfully, and each add their own elements to the tone of the hour, leaving you incredibly satisfied, and never feeling like one is quite lacking one element. While I won't say it was an overly outstanding episode, it was a great hour to say the very least.
8.5 Blood-Filled Wells out of 10
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