Once Upon a Time: Hat Trick

In “Hat Trick”, a twisted, atypical episode of Once Upon a Time, we explore the depressing history of the Mad Hatter. I have to wonder if they would have bothered with this backstory if Johnny Depp hadn’t made the Mad Hatter ‘sexy’ in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I feel like no one really considered the Mad Hatter to be protagonist material before that.

When Emma discovers Mary Margaret has pulled a Houdini and escaped from her prison cell, she goes on a frantic search to find her before anyone realizes she’s missing. But instead she crosses paths with a loner dressed like the host of Mystery Science Theatre, who offers his help. She goes back to his house to peruse some maps of the woods, pretending to be on a hunt for her dog ‘Spot’. For a law enforcement officer, Emma is CRAP at sensing trouble. Has she never heard of stranger danger? The dude is wearing a cravat. When cravats are involved something creepy is guaranteed to happen. Do not go inside, do not drink tea … just back the hell away!

Creepy loner serves Emma a hot cup of tea laced with a little something special. She drinks it, gets all woozy and passes out on the couch. When she wakes up, she sneaks out into the hallway and tries to find an escape route, but instead discovers Mary Margaret tied to a chair and gagged in another room. Um, how many times has Emma bragged to us that she can sense a liar? Apparently not so well when a mentally disturbed weirdo is chatting her up. What kind of a freak is this?

The freak’s name is Jefferson and he was once the poor single father of a lovely little girl named Grace. Jefferson dreamed of giving his daughter the world, but all he could afford was a ragtag rabbit doll sewn together from scraps. None of that mattered to Grace who just loved her daddy and only needed his time, his love, and their regular tea parties.

But Jefferson had one very valuable possession that his daughter was unaware of – something that occasionally attracted unsavory admirers. He had a magic top hat than could open a portal and transport people to a bizarre world called – you guessed it – Wonderland! Queen Regina (Jefferson calls her by her Storybrooke name and I believe that’s the first time we’ve heard her first name used in Fairytale Land) paid him a visit and requested his assistance at retrieving something from Wonderland. She was willing to pay Jefferson handsomely to use the hat and accompany her on the journey. He was hesitant at first, but she spoke the seductive language of riches: just one last trip and he could give his beloved Grace the life she deserves.

Jefferson watched his little girl, so blissfully happy with a life full of rags, and steeled himself to do whatever it took to give her more. He left Grace with the neighbours and promised to be back in time for tea. He met up with the Queen, spun his magic hat to open the portal, and ushered her into Wonderland. It’s a crazy animated world, just as it’s always been depicted, stoned talking caterpillar and all. But there is one very specific rule that I’ve never heard before: only the exact number of people who enter the realm may exit. No more, no less.

Queen Regina had a very specific agenda and headed straight to the royal realm of the Queen of Hearts. Jefferson vehemently warned her against it, but had no choice but to follow her. After blasting a fiery path through a people-eating tree maze, they arrived in a strange room with a wall that looked a lot like the box-o-hearts wall we’ve seen in the Evil Queen’s palace and in a hidden lair in Storybrooke. Eww – I always thought the Queen of Hearts was merely a reference to her choice of playing card décor, but might there be a more substantial reason for her title? Ick. And if so, who started collecting organs first, the Queen of Hearts or Regina?

Regina knew exactly which box to steal. She grabbed it and made her escape with Jefferson. When they safely made it back to the entrance to Wonderland, she broke a tiny piece off a giant mushroom and delicately placed it the box she stole. Jefferson started raving frantically about the dangers of the ‘food’ in Wonderland. He he he. Suddenly Regina’s father shot up like a weed right before their eyes. He was tiny sized and trapped by the Queen of Hearts and Regina came to Wonderland to rescue him.

So that made 3 people who needed to escape from Wonderland … and only 2 who could get through the exit using the hat’s magic. Jefferson realized he’d been duped and that the Queen intended to strand him in this topsy-turvy hell. He pleaded with her for the sake of his daughter but she coldly replied, “If you truly cared for your daughter you never would have left her in the first place. You were right. You don’t abandon family.”

A deflated Jefferson was dragged before the Queen of Hearts, who demanded to know how he came to her land. He told her about his stolen magical hat and Regina’s deception. The producers of OUAT made some rather odd creative choices here, choosing not to reveal the Queen of Hearts’ face. Her strange voice slithered out from behind a thick red veil as she decided his fate. Am I reading too much into this or could there be a surprise reveal of her identity in the future? The Queen ordered Jefferson to construct a new hat and make it work despite his protests that he can’t manipulate such powerful magic. . (If Tim Gunn were a she-devil they would have a lot in common!) She pulled an ‘off with his head’ as incentive, which weirdly didn’t kill him. He was just as freaked out as I was at the realization that he was still alive. The Queen offered him his body back if he committed himself fully to the hat project.

So Jefferson cut and sewed, and cut and sewed … until he was sitting in a room, filled with hundreds of hats, laughing maniacally. Poor soul was mad as a hatter! And that’s how a devoted young father ended up as the comic relief of Wonderland, destined to throw tea parties with door mice.

Back in Storybrooke, Jefferson catches Emma trying to free Mary Margaret and holds them both at gunpoint. He orders her to tie Mary Margaret back up and tells Emma he has a special assignment for her. And then he starts dropping the kind of ‘strange’ that Emma’s only used from her imaginative son. Jefferson swears he was just saving Mary Margaret’s life when he abducted her. They both know that bad things happen to anyone who tries to leave Storybrooke. Duh – the CURSE?!? He accuses Emma of being willfully ignorant to the magic around her, dismissing storybooks as fiction. There are hundreds of co-existing realities – some with magic, some without – and life in Storybrooke is only one of them. Jefferson knows Emma is special and that she can bring magic into this world.

Jefferson’s been stuck living in his crazy house for 28 years and he has not been passing the time productively. He has a giant wall of identical hats on display, but one day the clock started ticking and things began to change in Storybrooke. He’s convinced that Emma is the missing piece of his failed hat making mission. He slams her down at a workstation and forces her to start making magic hats. She starts to clue in to his fairytale persona. “The hats, the tea, your psychotic behaviour, you think you’re the mad hatter.”

And he remembers everything. Like everyone else in Storybrooke, he’s been ripped from what he loves by an evil curse. (Again I still find it debatable that everyone else is really suffering, but we’ll go with that for the sake of consistency.) The difference is that he realizes what he’s lost and aches for it everyday. He points a telescope towards a window in town and has Emma look through it. Through its lens she sees a young girl eating dinner with her family. Jefferson’s daughter Grace is called Paige in this world and she has no recollection of him or the life they shared together. He NEEDS a magic hat so he can try to take her home to the world they belong in.

Emma realizes that logic won’t exactly work on the Mad Hatter so she pretends to start believing to lure him into a false sense of security. She even uses “If what you say is true, then that woman in the other room is my mother.” She promises to try to get the hat to work, but as soon as Jefferson turns his back, she knocks him over the head with a telescope and runs off to save Mary Margaret. Jefferson’s head must be extremely resilient because he manages to chase after her and they wrestle for the gun he’s holding. Mary Margaret (who Emma has just untied) finally grabs a croquet mallet and knocks him out a window. When they look down to where he’s fallen, they see Jefferson’s hat lying on the ground, but he has vanished.

One REALLY cool thing to note is that Jefferson has a scar all the way around his neck from when his head was chopped off!

Emma and Mary Margaret have a heart to heart and Mary Margaret decides to return to jail of her own free will, putting her faith in her friend. Emma calls her family and Mary Margaret is touched that she cares so much. She’s back in her cell just in time to be ushered off to her arraignment.

But Regina is completely nonplussed when she realizes Mary Margaret did NOT escape. We learn that she’s been plotting with Mr. Gold and had hoped that Mary Margaret would take the bait/key she left her. We don’t know what their end game is, but if they’re both angling to screw poor Mary Margaret … she is doomed!

The first thing that struck me when I was watching this great episode was WHY does Jefferson remember everything? Was that a special hell Regina designed for him? Or was it just the way the curse worked on its own? I don’t believe Regina had the time or the ability to design a specific fate for each person so I’m inclined to believe their destinies weren’t predetermined. What if Jefferson’s damaged mental state is what kept the curse from working completely on him? By the time it was enacted, he must have been a raving lunatic. If his brain works in different ways, the curse may also affect him differently. The only other potentially mentally ill character we’ve encountered is Belle, who Regina has locked up somewhere. In Fairytale land, Regina told Rumpel that Belle was driven mad when her father locked her in a tower and tortured her until she killed herself. We know her death was a lie, but perhaps the rest is true. Did Regina have Belle locked up because she remembered her past?

I’m sure we’ll see more of the Mad Hatter and I think his presence adds a fabulous dynamic to the show! Emma thought he was a ‘crazy sonofabitch’ but he tunneled his way into her mind more than she’s willing to admit to herself. While visiting Henry at school, she spotted Paige on the playground and inquired about her. She turned to a page in Henry’s storybook and settled on a picture of the Mad Hatter with his daughter.

Photo Courtesy of ABC

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