This episode of Once Upon a Time was interesting. Not only did it serve as a reminder that this is very much a live-action Disney fairy story (because last time I checked, Alice in Wonderland was written by Lewis Carroll, who apparently is in the public domain), but more interestingly it turned everything we thought we knew about the nature of the Queen's curse on its head, showing us that there is more than one way to rob someone of their happy ending. So let's recap: Remember when Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) found that oh-so-convenient skeleton key in her jail cell and escaped? Well now she's running whilly-nilly through the woods, BECAUSE THAT'S ALWAYS A GOOD PLAN. Henry (Jared Gilmore) has discovered that his grandmother has gone AWOL before anyone else, and he thinks this is awesome and must be Emma's doing. Poor Emma (Jennifer Morrison), who is trying to play this whole thing by the book is horrified, since running just screams "I killed my lover's wife and now I'm on the lam!" Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) helpfully reminds Emma that she only has until 8:00 am the next morning to find his client, and at this point all I think about is CARLYLE IN A SUIT! WIN!
Emma takes off looking for Mary Margaret, and she's so stressed out she nearly hits a man walking on the side of the road. After apologizing profusely (because it would look really bad if the Sheriff started bumping people off), Emma offers to give the man a ride home, who introduces himself as Jefferson (Sebastian Stan). And this is super-exciting for me because I LOVE HIM, mainly thanks to his appearances in Kings and Captain America. Also, because I think he's hot, and frankly Storybrooke needs more good-looking men.
Cut to Fairy Tale Land, and we see Jefferson used to have EVEN MORE HAIR and an adorable daughter named Grace (Alissa Skovbye) and they are DEVOTED to each other. The Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) shows up and wants Jefferson to "do a job," but he's "not in that line of work anymore," and I'm thinking YOU'RE THE FREAKING MAD HATTER, why are you talking like you used to be a mob hitman or something? Jefferson clearly realizes the Queen is not to be trusted, but she knows his greatest weakness, promising that if he does this ONE THING he'll be able to provide for his daughter like she deserves, instead of relying on HONEST MUSHROOM SALES IN THE MARKET. He's so gonna cave... *sigh*
Back in Storybrooke, Emma discovers that Jefferson has ONE SWEET HOUSE! Since he's still limping and all she helps him inside, and then he offers to get her some tea and a map of the area to help in her search (for a lost dog, not a fugitive, ha!). So the tea thing is a nice touch, and the camera work in this scene is excellent -- because as Emma starts to realize she's been drugged, the scene takes on a trippy quality, the feel I've always associated with Alice in Wonderland. But lest we think Jefferson is a completely evil loon, cut back to FTL and the Queen, disguised as an old hag, humiliates Jefferson when he tries to buy a stuffed toy for Grace, but doesn't have enough money to meet her asking price. Side note: I thought it was interesting that we get a quick glimpse of the Mirror (Giancarlo Esposito), so apparently the Queen carries that with her EVERYWHERE (probably because it's her only BFF).
Meanwhile in Storybrooke, Emma wakes up TIED UP and shows a nice measure of resourcefulness by crushing a tea cup and using the broken shards to slice through her bonds. While she's trying to escape she discovers that Jefferson has been spying on the Sheriff's office, so now he's not only crazy he's a STALKER. One thought that hit me as Emma is trying to navigate her way out of Jefferson's home is that in this scene, she is very much like Alice navigating Wonderland, never sure what's behind any given door -- the crazed homeowner sharpening a pair of scissors or your missing fugitive Mary Margaret gagged and tied to a chair (jail is looking pretty good now, hmm?? though really she should be thanking Sebastian for saving her life, since he tied her up to keep her from leaving Storybrooke and vaporizing or something). Mary Margaret is FREAKING OUT, but at least she gets to tell Emma she only escaped because someone left her a flippin' key. Before they can escape Jefferson finds them, forcing Emma at gunpoint to tie Mary Margaret back up because he needs her to do a job, something only she can do -- I think it was at this point that I realized he knows, and knowing is his own special version of hell in the aftermath of the Queen's curse.
In FTL, Jefferson makes Grace a stuffed toy to make up for the marketplace debacle, and then sends her to stay with some nice neighbors -- the dope has decided he has to take advantage of the Queen's request for one final job. I LOVE how devoted Jefferson is to his child -- Stan was an excellent choice to play this wounded, angst-ridden character. Here's hoping the writers have more appearances planned for him in future episodes. Anyways, we finally get to see what Jefferson can do when he accepts the Queen's offer in return for a promise securing his daughter's future care. Apparently the Hatter's signature top hat is capable of magical travel properties! It's like a wormhole or a TARDIS! They jump into the spinning hat, which takes them to a corridor filled with portals -- one leads to Wonderland, so the implication is that the others lead to an infinite number of fairy tale-related worlds? VERY INTERESTING. Jefferson is clearly loathe to be there, and when the first creature they encounter is that stupid hookah smoking caterpillar and Jefferson says "I hate Wonderland," all I could think of is well I couldn't agree more. :P
As the Wonderland storyline continues, Jefferson and the Queen come upon a maze belonging to the Queen of Hearts -- this whole trip is about stealing a box, a box that looks remarkably similar to those heart boxes in the Queen's own vault. THE PLOT THICKENS! There's a nice chase scene as Heart's soldiers attempt to capture the intruders, and we get to see EQ do actual magic type things for the first time in a while. Just when escape back to FTL is looking assured, the Queen stops, opens the box, and resurrects her father (Tony Perez) from within with some magical mushroom!!! Poor Jefferson has been played (again, why didn't he see this coming?! silly man!!!) as only two can leave Wonderland since only two entered. HE IS DOOMED. This is awful, just awful, because he is so devoted to his kid -- but it gets WORSE because the Queen of Hearts pulls her famous "off with his head" routine, and then sticks it back on, and forces Jefferson to make hats until he goes CRAZY because she wants a portal-jumping magic hat too.
In Storybrooke, Jefferson reveals that he's spent the last 28 years fully aware of the curse, and only since Emma's arrival have things started to change in the town -- which to his mind means she's capable of magic. Of course this all sounds completely nuts to Emma, especially when he pulls the whole "I need you to make me a magic hat" demand. The subsequent scenes between Emma and Jefferson are surprisingly moving -- he's desperately trying to get her to see, to accept, to open her heart to the idea of two realities and the heartbreak he lives with in Storybrooke, where he's doomed to live near his daughter (now named Paige) but cannot be a part of her life because she has no memory of him. Emma is extraordinarily empathetic, even going so far as to mention that IF his story is true, then Mary Margaret is her mother, the family she craves and has been denied all of her life. For one second I thought Emma's actually been thinking about Henry's theories, but then she killed all that by clocking Jefferson on the head and making a run for it. In the fight that ensues Mary Margaret ends up kicking Jefferson and the hat Emma made out of a window -- and then he disappears. My thinking is Emma's "magic" actually worked, and the hat sent him back to FTL -- thoughts?
After all of this unexpected excitement, Emma offers to let Mary Margaret run -- but ultimately its her rare moment of complete vulnerability that convinces Mary Margaret to stay (cue MOTHER/DAUGHTER HUG!). The good news then, is that Mary Margaret is back in jail in time for her arraignment, much to Regina's chagrin. THIS leads to the reveal that she's been conspiring with Mr. Gold (say it ain't so, Rumple!) to get Mary Margaret out of Storybrooke. I have to think Gold has a different end game in mind than Regina thinks...the question is what exactly?! THE SUSPENSE IS KILLING ME HERE. The best scene, though? Now that Emma finally has room to breathe she goes and visits Henry, who confirms that the girl Jefferson claimed was his daughter is actually named Paige (I guess she assumed he was making that up?). This gets her to actually leaf through Henry's book where she finds Jefferson's Hatter story -- and she's SHOCKED. It's too soon to say she believes but at least she's finally intrigued, hmm? AT LAST. :)