By Sherry Lipp
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
I’m just going to start right off and say I have extreme mixed feelings about this week’s episode of Once Upon a Time, titled “The Doctor.” I have long since wondered what role the mysterious Dr. Whale (David Anders) played in the overall storyline. Now that I know, I’m disappointed. I feel this episode has broken all its own rules by introducing a storyline and character that doesn’t belong in this show at all. It further increases the confusion of an already unfocused season.
We never before have seen any back story for Dr. Whale. He never appeared in any of the flashbacks, and has always seemed like kind of an outsider. That was for good reason. Dr. Whale is not a part of the world of fairytales at all. It’s not revealed until the end of the episode (and if you haven’t seen the episode, please stop reading if you don’t want to know who he is) but Dr. Whale is actually Dr. Victor Frankenstein. It seems Once Upon a Time is alluding that all works of fiction have their own realm, and apparently all are fair game for the show.
There are many problems inherent in this. The most glaring is that the world of Frankenstein does not really fit with the world of enchantment. Mary Shelley’s cautionary tale has pretty much nothing to do with the world of magic. Unlike novels such as Frankenstein, fairy tales are stories that permeate across many cultures and have often been handed down from generation to generation. They’re generally not the unique creation of a single author. The stories have of course been adapted and boiled down to the versions we are familiar with today – the Disney versions. Granted, not every single character and story in the show is from a fairy tale like this, most notably Alice in Wonderland.
To be honest, I felt a little squirmy when they first introduced Wonderland into the equation. I didn’t feel quite like that belonged, but it fit well enough tonally that I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. Also they have stuck with just The Mad Hatter/Jefferson (Sebastian Stan), who got to Wonderland from the fairytale world in the first place (at least in the world of this show, he did). In the case of Dr. Whale, he came to the fairytale world from his Frankenstein realm (for lack of any better term for it), purposefully to get a heart so he can bring his dead brother back to life. So here is my problem. The character of Dr. Frankenstein is fully established by Mary Shelley in her novel. It feels like they are stealing it (not literally, because the story is apparently in the public domain) to do with it what they want. I find it disrespectful to the original novel.
The Mad Hatter is at least a side character. Like everyone else in Once Upon a Time, they are extrapolating on characters beyond the lives we know from the stories. Sending Dr. Frankenstein to the Enchanted Forest changes everything established about him in the novel. Then there is the little joke with his name. It’s an inside joke that doesn’t quite work. The 1931 film Frankenstein was directed by the very real James Whale. So why would Dr. Whale have the name of a real person who directed a loose adaptation of Shelley’s classic novel? I guess maybe he was aware the curse as well. I don’t know. Were they really planning this the whole time, or did Whale originally refer to something else?
The sad thing is, I liked where the resurrection storyline led. I just wish they had come up with a different way to do it. It all tied back in with Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) transformation into the Evil Queen. The best parts of the episode were when Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) was trying to teach Regina the ways of black magic. The part where she was unable to kill the unicorn actually made me sad for her (I was glad she couldn’t kill the unicorn). I could write another entire essay on how if she had gone back and killed the unicorn (instead of a person) when she embraced her power, it would have made me not like her at all.
In the meantime, Emma (Jennifer Morrison), Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin), Aurora (Sarah Bolger), and Mulan (Jamie Chung) were running around with Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue). It wasn’t all that interesting until Hook struck a bargain with them and revealed that he wants revenge against Rumplestiltskin.
I know this was a rather harsh assessment of the Dr.Whale/Frankenstein situation, but I had a very strong reaction to it. Nonetheless, now that it’s there it’s not going to go away, and it did leave me with some questions. How was Dr. Whale trapped in the curse? Does this imply all stories ever written are subject to the curse, or did he travel back to Fairytale Land just in time to be trapped in it?
I seriously hope this show develops a story I can get behind. Why have they been teasing things they never seem to get back to? Personally I think they should focus more on Rumplestiltskin’s quest to find his son, and Regina’s conflict about whether she can truly develop a relationship with Henry (Jared Gilmore) or not. Only time will tell if the unraveling of Once Upon a Time will continue.