In keeping with its pattern of reimagining fairy tales and including new subtexts of morality, Sunday’s “Once Upon a Time” episode, entitled “Heart of Darkness,” addressed some themes relevant to the Easter season – at least for those of us who watch the show with a Judeo-Christian worldview in mind. (Read my previous “Once Upon a Time” article here.)
A little backstory first. The Evil Queen tried to have her stepdaughter, Snow White, killed earlier in the season. As a result, Snow went into hiding in the forest where she met and fell in love with Prince James (aka Prince Charming). Though they wanted to be together, Charming’s adoptive father, King George, had set up an arranged marriage for him in order to join two kingdoms. When King George realized Snow White might disrupt his plans, he told her he would kill Charming if she pursued him. Snow loved Charming too much to allow this to happen, so she told him she’s not interested in building a life with him, thereby breaking his heart along with her own. In fact, Snow was so emotionally devastated that she drank a magic potion, given to her by Rumplestiltskin, which caused her to forget Prince Charming ever existed.
That’s where “Heart of Darkness” – written by Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg – picks up. SPOILERS AHEAD! Not only has the magic potion caused Snow to forget her love for Charming, it’s completely erased the presence of love from her heart. In a scene with a comic undercurrent, the seven dwarves, with whom Snow is living, invite Jiminy Cricket – ever the voice of ethics and conscience – to help them with an intervention. Grumpy tells Snow that she’s changed, that she’s become “angry, irritable and downright mean.” (And when a guy named Grumpy tells you that, it must be serious.)
Realizing that the cause of her plight is the Evil Queen, Snow decides to murder her in an act of revenge. Jiminy warns Snow, “Revenge is not the answer. It’ll change you into something darker than you can imagine.” The cricket’s warning does no good, though. Snow forges ahead with her plan, but is followed by Grumpy who wants her to return to Rumplestiltskin so he can change her back to the person she was before.
When they arrive at Rumplestiltskin’s castle, he explains to Grumpy, “Of course [the potion] changed her. It took away her love and left a big hole in her heart. There is no cure for what she’s got. No potion can bring back true love. Love is the most powerful magic of all.” Snow then gets a magical bow and arrow from Rumplestiltskin that will allow her to kill the Evil Queen while she’s traveling on the road.
Charming, in the meantime, has defied his father in order to find Snow. Trying to track her down, he visits Rumplestiltskin who tells him what happened with the potion and Snow’s plans. The Prince discovers that “true love’s kiss” will return Snow to the person she was, but time is running out for it to be effective. Rumplestiltskin says, “If she kills the Queen, she becomes as evil as the woman whose life she takes…Evil isn’t born; it’s made.”
After finding Snow, Charming kisses her to no effect. She knocks him out and ties him up so she can proceed with her plans. Jiminy Cricket then arrives to help Charming and free him. Expressing frustration that his kiss didn’t bring Snow back to her old self, Jiminy says, “How can she remember who you are when she’s lost sight of who she is?”
That revelation leads Charming to a new plan. Just as Snow shoots the arrow to kill the Queen, Charming jumps in front of it, getting pierced above the heart. Incredulous, Snow asks him why he would do such a thing for somebody who doesn’t remember him or love him. Charming answers, “The only thing I care about is that you don’t forget who you really are. I would rather die than let you fill your heart with darkness.”
Moved to tears, Snow responds, “No one’s ever been willing to die for me.” She kisses Charming and, this time, “true love’s kiss” has its intended effect. Snow remembers who she is and, as a result, she remembers Charming and their love as well.
Symbolically, Snow White starts this episode in a place similar to where Adam and Eve were after eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Created in God’s image and reflecting the goodness of His nature, their disobedience knocked the nature God intended them to have out of whack. The goodness remained, but their choice resulted in a little bit of darkness entering every human heart. Relating it back to Rumplestiltskin’s words, their evil wasn’t born; it was created by their choice. As evidenced throughout the Old Testament and into the present day, that choice caused us to ‘lose sight of who we are.’
Though Snow isn’t trying to become more powerful, she did look to powers outside of nature to erase the painful memory of her lost love, not realizing the other parts of herself that she’d lose in the process. Her nature got knocked out of whack.
In Christian history, that’s where Jesus – the “light of the world” – comes into play. He reminds us that we’re all children of a good and loving God who made us in His image – and that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
We human beings, however, can be stubborn, thick-headed and somewhat blind when confronted with this kind of spiritual truth. Accepting that message requires humility, and that’s a quality we’re all lacking from time to time. So Jesus did the only thing that would get that truth across. He allowed Himself to be crucified and die so that we might be saved. He did that, not just for people who loved and believed in Him, but for all those who didn’t “remember” God or love Him.
Jesus could just as easily have spoken the words Prince Charming said: “The only thing I care about is that you don’t forget who you really are. I would rather die than let you fill your heart with darkness.” To use a “Once Upon a Time” analogy, Jesus’ death and resurrection were “true love’s kiss” for the whole human race.
The purpose of Lent and Easter is to remind us of this part of our spiritual history so that all of us, like Snow White, can remember who we really are, and live and love accordingly.
Watch the episode “Heart of Darkness:”