What you see isn't always what you get.
I would like to apologize to all of you for the late post. Writing this article was a struggle, because there are some unresolved subtextual issues in "The Fruit of the Forbidden Tree" that demand to be dealt with in the most delicate way possible, and I want to word things just right. Okay, my perfectionism is assuaged. Let's do this.
"The Fruit of the Forbidden Tree" is all about Emma trying to take down Regina, so she allies herself with Storybrooke's own disgraced ex-editor, Sidney Glass. He propositions her (kind of), stinking of whiskey and regret. He tells her that Regina destroys everything anyone loves, which is probable because she is a sociopath. After Regina tears down Henry's secret castle on the coast (where he's buried the all-important book of fairy tales), Emma is determined to take her down.
Sidney tells Emma that he noticed $50,000 missing from the town budget and there is no paper trail. He convinces Emma to bug Regina's office and they overhear her planning to meet with someone in the woods. They tail her out there, but the brakes have been cut on Emma's cop car (which honestly will be a bigger hit to the budget than anything) so after almost crashing they follow on foot. And who do they discover in the woods with a suitcase full of money but Mr. Gold. He warns them a bit and once again offers his friendship to Emma. If I were in her position I would definitely ally with Gold, despite his pesky prices, because he is powerful as shit. Also, I would not wear that hat.
In addition to furthering the power playing between the two female leads, "The Fruit of the Forbidden Tree" is supposed to be Sidney's fairy tale origin story. You see, as the only black man in a Disney production he is obligated to be subservient/a slave in some way (The Princess and the Frog notwithstanding). So the writers have made him a genie who is freed by a white king (read: plantation owner) and immediately falls for said king's second, less-beloved wife: Regina. I was actually kind of touched when he said that his greatest wish was to fall in love, but he wastes that love on Regina? Sure she was rocking that fur hat, but there has to be a reason that a good man like the king, a man who used his wishes to do better another's life, wants nothing to do with her. Their "forbidden love" also fulfills the nightmares of the Reconstruction plantation owners who wrote this part of the script.
Despite the gratitude the genie feels toward the king, he approaches Regina and declares his love for her. It's a touching scene and I almost believed Regina loved him back... almost. He gives her a mirror so she can see herself how he sees her, and she writes about it in her diary. The king reads her diary (he's a dictator, not a Democrat) and asks the genie to find out who it was that stole his wife's heart – a convenient place for the man who apparently did.
The king takes action against Regina, imprisoning her for some form of treason. Regina's father, the man that she killed to invoke the curse (who's status makes me think she might not be of royal blood), approaches the genie with a box. The box has an ominous key with a skull at the end that does not bode well for the contents. (When Emma and Sidney search Regina's office they find a whole ring of similar keys.) Surprise, the box is filled with snakes! Regina "wants" to commit suicide to "free" herself, but we all knew what was going to happen: out of his love for her, the genie offers to use the snakes to kill the king. There's a poignant moment where the genie apologizes to the king for all that has happened, and the king uses his dying breath to wish that he had never wished at all.
Back in Storybrooke, Emma is stooping to Regina's level against her own judgment. Sidney keeps pushing her – to break in to the mayor's office, to bug said office, to lie to everyone – and in the process she is breaking her promise to Henry to stay on the straight and narrow. When they have enough evidence to take Regina down – plans for what looks like a fantastical house, land deals, signed receipts – they accuse her at a city council meeting; which is the perfect time for her to announce that she's built a playground (rather reminiscent of the castle in which the king's funeral was held a few episodes ago) on the land she bought from Gold. She felt that Henry's castle was too unsafe, so she just took city funds and did what she wanted. Because that's how democracy works, kids! I was seriously disappointed that Regina wiggled her way out of that, but she can't be overthrown just yet.
In the fairy tale land, the genie tells Regina that the king is dead. She is packing some things for him because she knows he will be accused of the murder (after all, he is guilty). Also, the snakes were from the genie's home country, so he is surely and definitely caught. Regina's nice mask that she has worn up until now is torn away as she rips apart the genie's heart and dreams, but the genie is so desperately in love with her (or perhaps desperate to be in love?) that he uses his last wish to make sure he is never parted from her. So his last act of freedom is to choose... slavery, imprisoned in her mirrors forever. Huh, did no one raise their hand in the writer's room and ask "Can we really put this on television? In 2012? With a black president?" I applaud the storyline, and Giancarlo Esposito gave a riveting performance, but the underlying cultural implications left a bad taste in my mouth.
But, this is Once Upon a Time, and the ironically predictable twist at the end was a good one. First, we know the book is lost... or is it? Mysterious/hunky writer-man has it! And he looks like he knows what he's about. Next, Regina tells Emma that she has to stay away from Henry after all the dangerous behavior she went through to forward Regina's downfall. It's sad to see Emma and Henry communicating only through walkie talkies, but you know they won't be apart forever. But the big twist is that Sidney was working for Regina all along, because he is in love with her. And she puts her hand on his thigh as millions of fans flutter across blushing faces in every home in America. Oh, I'm sorry, this isn't 1912 you say? Could have fooled me.
The dated (and I'll say it, slightly racist) storyline almost overshadowed Giancarlo Esposito's amazing performance. Almost. I loved his jaded genie, watching the hand descend and saying in a bored voice "here we go". Really, the whole scene before he is freed is a treat. I loved him as the drunk, but I loved him even more for following his pure emotions to an evil place. Sidney is a truly human character that I would like to see on the show more frequently.
Next week: Beauty and Rumplestiltskin! And hopefully more Sidney and Archie.
Sidney and Archie, 2012.
Written or Contributed by: Tricia Long
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