A life-changing secret, a dragon, a golden touch and deals with a devil create an enjoyable journey filled with unexpected twists and turns as we learn more about the characters of Once Upon a Time in episode 1.06, “The Shepherd”. This outstanding episode loosely weaves elements of David and Goliath into the unraveling fairy tale of Prince Charming and Snow White. David and his counterpart, Prince Charming, face challenging choices — do what is right for yourself or what everyone expects of you. David must choose between a new life with Mary Margaret or returning to his old life that he can’t remember with Kathryn. Will Prince Charming choose to keep a secret that could destroy the kingdom? Beyond this point, there be spoilers.
At a surprise “Welcome Home” celebration for David, Emma and Henry sit on the stairs, hiding from the crowd. Henry confides to Emma that he thinks David’s amnesia is preventing the curse from replacing his fairytale story with fake memories. He insists David is Prince Charming. If they can get him together with Mary Margaret, it will jog his memories of the enchanted world. David joins them. They’re the only people he recognizes.
In an “Oh My Gosh” moment for viewers, Regina confesses to Kathryn that she once lost a love, too. It’s an obvious reference to her father (“The Thing You Love Most”, 1.02). Does she remember the fairy tale or are strong emotional events part of the false memories? Kathryn goes to find David, but no one knows where he is. David shows up at Mary Margaret’s house. She acknowledges there is a definite connection between them, but she claims his feelings are because she saved his life.
We switch to the fairy tale world. Prince Charming battles a fierce warrior. The prince goes down hard and doesn’t move. The warrior approaches, guard down. Prince Charming attacks his opponent and drives his sword through the brute’s chest. Applause sounds — his father and another king. The visiting king is searching for the most valiant warrior in the land because his kingdom is being plagued by a dragon. His kingdom needs the dragon vanquished, and the kingdom of Prince Charming’s father needs gold. That’s one thing the other king has in spades — he’s King Midas. He turns the blade of Prince Charming’s sword to gold. When the two kings leave, the prince’s men want to celebrate. As he gives them a speech, the brute rises behind him and stabs his spear through the Prince.
Prince Charming is dead, and King Midas expects a champion to slay the dragon. The king has summoned help and swears his men to secrecy about the Prince’s death. The help arrives in the form of Rumplestiltskin.
Rumplestiltskin has become one of my favorite characters. Without his presence, the fairy tale world would be a much duller place. Robert Carlyle does a brilliant job combining Rumplestiltskin’s canny deviousness and child-like attitude into something believable and not comic, except when it’s intentional. From his performance, you can tell Carlyle has fun playing the deceitful, unscrupulous leprechaun and his alter ego, Mr. Gold.
The king and queen, unable to conceive, made a deal with Rumplestiltskin for a child — the Prince who just died. The king offers him another deal. Bring the Prince back from the dead and he can name anything he desires as his price. He’s always desired the wand of the Fairy Godmother, and the king is one of the few who knows her whereabouts. After the king agrees, Rumplestiltskin tells him magic can do much but it cannot bring back the dead. He reveals the Prince had a twin brother. Cut to a pastoral farm where a young shepherd watches over his flock. He turns — an identical match for the Prince.
Mary Margaret seeks Emma’s advice about David. Emma encourages her to stay strong in her resolve not to get involved with David. Meantime, David looks through pictures for clues to his past, but can’t recall any of the events. His instincts scream that something isn’t right with his situation.
The young man and his mother are worried about losing the farm. His mother thinks he should marry for a girl’s dowry. He refuses to marry for riches; he wants true love. He assures his mother they will find a way to keep the farm. Rumplestiltskin arrives for a visit, forcing his mother to tell him about his twin brother and the previous deal with him — one of the babies in exchange for the farm. Rumplestiltskin claims all the shepherd has to do is play the part of the prince. He entices the young man with promises the king will provide for his mother and save the farm. He sees no choice except to agree, but Rumplestiltskin tells him there’s always a choice. The real task is to make the right choice.
The leader of his men reminds the new Prince Charming that he has the title of hero, but not the job. The group approaches the dragon’s lair. Fire streams from the cave entrance and they hear screams. The new Prince goes to the rescue. He grabs the leader and drags him away as the dragon emerges and takes flight. The dragon attacks. The Prince goes for the fallen sword. He leads the dragon through a narrow passage, the dragon gets stuck, and he lops off its head with the golden sword.
David visits Mary Margaret at the school and tells her she’s his choice. If he’s also her choice, he wants her to meet him that night at the Toll Bridge. The sheriff brings donuts to Emma to bribe her to work the night shift. He claims he volunteers at an animal shelter, and it’s his night to feed the animals. For a bear claw, she agrees.
Prince Charming and the king present King Midas with the dragon’s head. As a reward, King Midas offers the Prince his greatest treasure — his daughter’s hand in marriage. Abigail is beautiful, but cold and distant. Prince James starts to refuse, but the king stops him. If he refuses King Midas, a great insult, he will be responsible for the destruction of their kingdom. If he doesn’t marry Abigail, the king vows to kill him and his mother and burn their farm.
Following misleading directions from Regina, David ends up in Mr. Gold’s pawn shop instead of finding the bridge. Inside, the shop is filled with unusual and fantastic items. David is attracted to a mobile of glass unicorns. Mr. Gold offers to show it to him. (The mobile once hung over the not-yet-used cradle of Prince Charming and Snow White’s baby daughter.) He asks Mr. Gold for correct directions to the bridge. As David starts to leave, he spots a windmill and can’t draw his eyes away. Mr. Gold says it’s just an old thing that’s been gathering dust for forever. Fascinated, he spins the blade. And remembers.
The farmboy/prince returns one last time to say good-bye to his mother. That’s the price they must pay — they will never see each other again. His mother gives him her ring, and tells him that true love will follow it.
David arrives at the bridge and Mary Margaret is there, waiting. He’s remembered, only what he’s remembered are the false memories. He thinks the right thing to do is to stay with Kathryn. Mary Margaret walks away.
Emma, on patrol, sees a suspicious person climb out a window in the mayor’s house. She pursues and catches the Sheriff! She figures out why he is there sneaking out of the house and is disgusted. She throws him the keys and informs him she is done working night shifts. David tells Kathryn he’s remembered their life together. Turns out, things between them weren’t headed for a happily-ever-after ending. But he’s willing to try again; he feels it’s the right thing to do.
With this episode, they had me at “dragon”. I love tales of dragons. Beyond my personal reasons for liking the show (such as Robert Carlyle), I find myself falling in love with the style and crafting — the gorgeous cinematography, effects, the characters and the parallel storytelling. It’s less like watching television and more like a mini-movie every week. I’m keen on the technique of telling the story of the fairy tale world in a backwards timeline — starting with the curse and its effects, then revealing the previous history of how it all happened. The creative team weaves a theme into each episode, like loss or choice. Normally, stated themes bother me, but it is working for Once Upon A Time. This show keeps me guessing, and not being able to solve a puzzle intrigues me.