So, Graham’s dead, leaving Emma heartbroken and Regina more in control of Storybrooke than ever before. As for me, well…let’s just say I’m not too pleased about that development. I’ll elaborate after the jump.
I’m going to keep this brief, by which I mean “as brief as I know how to keep these things.” I’m also going to keep this vulgar. So very, very vulgar.
What. The. Fuck.
Seriously, apart from shock value, give me one good reason to kill off the Sheriff. He wasn’t a character I particularly cared about, and I don’t think Jamie Dornan was amazing in the role. Nonetheless, his death not only irritates me, but also indicates to me that the people behind Once Upon a Time have no fucking clue how to execute long-form storytelling.
When Once Upon a Time debuted, it did so with the promise – and I use the word “promise” loosely – that lifting the curse would be one of our heroes’ objectives. The show hasn’t yet made good on that promise. Emma, Mary Margaret, and Archie still don’t believe Henry’s fairy tales, and as a result, no real progress has been made in lifting the curse, and the show’s narrative has had almost zero forward momentum. “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” showed that finally, someone was coming around to believing: Graham. He was an unlikely candidate for the first believer, but at this stage, I was willing to take whatever plot advancement I could get.
So of course, Once Upon a Time, being the kind of show that it is, killed off the one character who was pushing the story to make some progress, putting our heroes firmly back at square one. Now, one could reasonably argue that the show will use Graham’s death as a catalyst for Emma and the others to start taking Henry seriously and get to work breaking the curse. But let’s not forget what this show’s modus operandi is: nobody believes Henry, no matter often he turns out to be correct; every strange or supernatural occurrence in Storybrooke is merely written off as coincidence. I imagine we’ll be seeing this scene when the show returns in January:
Henry: Don’t you see? The Evil Queen killed Sheriff Graham by squeezing his heart!
Emma: Henry, Graham died of a heart attack.
Mary Margaret: Do you honestly believe that your mother would kill someone?
Me: START BELIEVING THE PIPSQUEAK YOU DUMB MOTHERFUCKERS. [rips out own hair in frustration]
Once Upon a Time is clearly not interested in plot advancement, just increasingly ludicrous scenes where Regina tells Emma to “stay away from <x>”, where <x> can be anything from Henry to Graham to that fire hydrant in the town square where the dogs like to pee. So what was the point of killing off Graham?
If my guess is correct, “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” was supposed to raise the stakes by killing off someone Emma was close to. But up until this episode, Emma and Graham have had as many romantic sparks between them as a pair of dead jellyfish. All of a sudden, they have feelings for each other? What a load of bullshit. Despite Jennifer Morrison’s great performance – and she was seriously fantastic last night – the show couldn’t make the idea of a romantic link between Graham and Emma seem plausible. Either the writers were deliberately trying to be emotionally manipulative by forging a false connection between Emma and Graham, or as I surmised above, they have no fucking clue how to execute long-form storytelling. Neither scenario bodes well for this show’s future.
That’s a shame, because Once Upon a Time keeps demonstrating that it knows how to work on a standalone basis. Once again, Henry’s role was scaled back to a bare minimum, which minimized my levels of annoyance considerably, and the Mary Margaret/Emma scene was a highlight. (More scenes with just the two of them, please!) Also, despite a lot of clunky, on-the-nose dialogue, especially in the tavern scene, the fairy-tale flashback this week was really neat, giving us some good insight into Graham’s character and establishing a link between the Huntsman and Snow White.
That being said, Once Upon a Time is serialized television, so it not only has to work on an episodic basis, but also as a long-form narrative. “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” demonstrated that right now, the show is failing at that latter objective. The show’s “soap in the present, character sketch in the past” format is becoming increasingly boring and repetitive. I don’t care about Regina’s crazy confrontations-of-the-week, nor do I give a flying fuck about Mary Margaret dating Dr. Whale. (Also, what the fuck kind of name is Dr. Whale?) Moreover, the fairy-tale character sketches seem more and more like lazy ways to avoid doing solid character work in the Storybrooke scenes and to spend as much time as possible away from the present day so that the plot can’t advance. If I had the means, money, and motivation, I’d send a placard to every TV writer in the country with the words: “STORY MATTERS.” It doesn’t matter how compelling the characters are or how detailed the character sketches are if what those characters are doing is boring. When what they do is boring, then the story is boring, which means that the people behind the show are producing boring television.
It takes a special kind of incompetence to make an episode where the protagonist and the villain come to fisticuffs feel so damn inconsequential, but bravo, Once Upon a Time writers. Somehow, you’ve succeeded in doing so. When the best part of an episode is finding out that Graham wears socks to bed, you know that somewhere, things have gone horribly, horribly wrong.
This is probably the last review for Once Upon a Time that I’m going to write. I probably won’t have time to continue reviewing the show come January. In all likelihood, though, I’ll continue watching, if only because I’m holding on to a teensy bit of hope that Graham’s death will actually have an impact in the long run. But given this show’s track record so far, I doubt it.