Thursday, October 11, 2012

Once Upon a Time 1.20: "The Stranger"

After teasing August's relationship with Mr. Gold in the previous episode, this installment of Once Upon a Time reveals his true Fairy Tale Land identity -- I think I was perhaps the last fan in the world in denial about the signs pointing towards Pinocchio. *wink* What I love about this episode, though, is how it encapsulates the show at its finest -- where it makes us really care about these characters, reminding us of their hopes, pains, losses, and fears, speaking to the universality and timelessness of the source material -- these fairy tales resonate through the centuries because at their essence they speak to the human experience. I love how this show took a character and a story I'd never particularly liked and throughout the hour bring me to the point of tears as the script traces August's journey and speaks to the love of a parent for their child, and vice-versa.

The episode opens with August (Eion Bailey) installing a new deadbolt in Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Mary Margaret's (Ginnifer Goodwin) apartment, one that should keep their home safe from Regina's (Lana Parrilla) all-access skeleton keys. While he's finishing the job, Emma receives an emergency call from Henry (Jared Gilmore) to meet him at Granny's Diner -- he has a major "Operation Cobra" update. With the clock ticking on August's health, he attempts to take Mr. Gold's "advice" and convince Emma that the curse is real, as she is his best shot at breaking the curse and loosing the magic he needs to survive. But Emma has no time for handsome, enigmatic writers -- since her declaration of war against Regina for custody of Henry, she's consumed with the need to get her son away from the mayor and her machinations to destroy anyone who threatens her power. Foiled in his desire for one-on-one time with Emma, August calls Mr. Gold for an appointment to discuss the issue of Emma's recalcitrance. As soon as he hangs up the phone he doubles over in pain, grabbing one leg -- and when he rolls up his pants leg, there's no doubt as to his Fairy Tale identity -- the limb is solid wood, and we have our Pinocchio (far from a little wooden boy now, hmm?? *wink*).

Meanwhile Emma arrives at the diner and is a bit non-plussed when she realizes Henry just wants to discuss his book of fairy tales -- he's discovered that someone has added a story to it, a story that's been left strangely unfinished. The story is Pinocchio's tale, and now August's actions from way back in episode thirteen are finally brought full circle -- when he was seen rebinding Henry's book, he was including his own story, the ending yet to be written. The story flashes to Fairy Tale Land, where Geppetto (Tony Amendola) and the young wooden Pinocchio (Jakob Davies) are clinging desperately to their raft on storm-ravaged seas, while Monstro the Whale is attempting to swallow them (WHALES CREEP ME OUT!!). Since they only have one life vest, Geppetto attempts to give it to his wooden son, but the boy sacrifices himself by claiming he'll float and jumps overboard. When Geppetto later awakens on the beach, the vest over his arm, he realizes Pinocchio saved him -- and his pride and relief are quickly dashed when he discovers the lifeless wooden body farther down the beach. Cue the entrance of the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy), who REALLY needs a better name, who transforms the puppet into an ADORABLE LITTLE KID, admonishing him that as long as he remains "brave, true, and unselfish" he won't revert to wooden lifelessness.

Back in Storybrooke, August arrives at Mr. Gold's (Robert Carlyle) shop for their meeting, and his shocked to discover Marco, a.k.a. Geppetto, at the counter accepting a commission to fix a clock. Leave it to the wily Gold to arrange the chance meeting between father and son...such a passive-aggressive way of signalling to August that he always has the upper hand. After Marco's departure, August regroups and asks Gold to "steer" Emma his direction, since he knows she plans to ask Gold for legal advice against Regina. Gold agrees, and when Emma comes to see him later that day she's shocked to hear him actually turn DOWN the chance to beat Regina at something -- so she storms off to find August.

Since Mary Margaret's release from prison, Regina's carefully-crafted facade of control and power have started to crack. Case in point: her first encounter with her would-be victim when she goes school to drop off Henry's forgotten lunchbox. The whole wrongfully-accused thing has put some of Snow's steel in Mary Margaret's spine, and she refuses to cow before Regina, actually going so far as to tell her that she forgives and pities her -- you have to think the pity comment stung, to say the least! Henry follows suit by openly defying Regina's desire to see him transferred from Mary Margaret's classroom -- correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the first time Henry really lets loose on his adoptive mother, and you can see that it stings. Thus far I've had little sympathy for Regina, but this scene suggests that she really wants to love Henry -- but being who she is, she doesn't know how, and of course there's the question of if she's even capable of true, selfless, sacrificial love.

Regina's day just goes from bad to worse when her car dies -- conveniently in front of David's workplace and full of groceries in danger of spoiling. David (Josh Dallas), ever the gallant, offers her a ride home, and when they arrive she finds a note stating Henry won't be home for dinner -- so of course would David like to stay? This exchange is interesting, because clearly Regina staged the whole encounter in a desperate bid to supplant Mary Margaret in David's affections (the camera reveals Henry's "note" to be blank). She plays the lonely single mom card TO THE HILT, reliving the moment she found the him comatose on the side of the road -- THEY SEEM TO BE BONDING!! But just when she goes for a kiss David pulls back and plays the "we should just be friends line." There's a small part of Regina that I think really hoped to make a connection with David, but with her once iron grip weakening over the citizens of Storybrooke, she's finally reaping what she's sown -- the curse blocks her ability to love, to make actual, meaningful connections with people because she traded love for power.

Back in Fairy Tale Land, the Blue Fairy brings news of Regina's impending curse to Geppetto and Pinocchio (I have got to say, rewatching this episode I was struck afresh by the hilarity that people had so much time to "prepare" for Regina to cast her spell...). She wants Geppetto to carve a protective vessel from the last magic tree that will keep Snow's as-yet-unborn child, the Savior, safe -- the only hope for those who stand against Regina's machinations. Blue tells Geppetto, Pinocchio, and Jiminy (Raphael Sbarge) that the enchanted tree possesses enough magic to keep two people safe -- she's of course thinking of Charming and the pregnant Snow (I haven't rewatched the pilot -- doesn't she state the tree can only hold one in the premiere? whatevs...). But Geppetto is playing hardball, and refuses to craft the vessel unless his son is one of the two individuals transported to safety.

But this plan goes all to heck when Snow goes into labor early, right as the smoke monster curse is covering the land. And here is where Geppetto makes a call that changes everything for Emma and his son -- defying the Blue Fairy's orders that Snow and her baby enter the wardrobe, he withholds his knowledge of the tree's magical limitations and hides his son inside, leaving Charming and Snow with the assumption that the tree will only hold their baby. While I TOTALLY GET Geppetto's passion to save his son, the fact remains that he is trusting a SMALL CHILD who STARTED LIFE AS A FRIGGIN' BLOCK OF WOOD with the care of an infant. Even if Pinocchio hadn't started life as a TREE, that responsibility would be a heavy burden for one so young to carry -- especially one rather famous for fibbing. (Jumping ahead to season two for a second -- I have to wonder if there is going to be any repercussions against Geppetto when/if it is revealed that he is responsible for sending Emma to Maine, alone and defenseless?)

Cut to Emma and August, where they pull up outside a little diner -- a seemingly innocuous scene that enrages Emma. It turns out she was found by the side of the road at this very location, and she thinks August is messing with her when he reveals that he was the child in the news report who found her. Now this is something Emma can perhaps believe, even though it leaves her rattled -- but August goes all in, explaining how they were both sent to main through a tree (the scene showing their arrival, and August's Pinocchio clothes, really left me wondering what people made of him when he was found!), and how he was tasked with protecting her because the whole town is depending on her to break the curse. Of course Emma thinks the whole tree transport thing is rubbish, but August's story finally gets her to admit the thing she is most afraid of -- having people depend on her. BROKE MY HEART.

A final flashback to the young Pinocchio and Emma reveals how they were separated as children -- Pinocchio makes the choice to leave the orphanage with several other children, leaving Emma to fend for herself. Bailey really plays the adult August's guilt over failing his commission to "protect the Savior" extraordinarily well -- if Pinocchio is a character whose Achilles' heel was never taking responsibility for his actions, this storyline has the adult version paying for that shortcoming tenfold. Once August shares their collective history, he then pulls up his pant leg to show Emma the proof he's sure she can't deny -- his wooden leg. But he's completely disheartened when Emma just thinks he's even nuttier since her denial is so strongly rooted in her fears of connection and abandonment issues that she can't see his physical proof.

The final scenes, where August returns to Storybrooke, resigned to his imminent death, are heart-breaking. He goes to visit his father, and without admitting to their connection for fear of being rejected, he volunteers to help around the shop because he just wants to "fix things." The short talk between father and son brought tears to my eyes, especially when Marco assuages August's guilt over failing to protect Emma and raise her with the knowledge of her destiny, by stating something along the lines of that no matter what his son had or hadn't done, he would still love him -- and then Eion Bailey RIPPED MY HEART OUT with his SOULFUL EYES. I may or may not have screamed at the television JUST HUG YOUR DADDY ALREADY, DANGIT!!

But while August reaching the end of his proverbial rope has prompted him to reach out to his father, Emma swings in the other direction and takes more drastic action. Calling an emergency meeting with Henry in the middle of the night, she meets him outside in her car and asks if he wants to be with her -- and when he says yes, she hits the gas pedal and heads for the city limits. Oh Emma, kidnapping is not the way to go!

Thoughts on this episode? I think it was one of the most emotionally powerful, well-crafted hours of the first season.


Rissi said...

Ah, yes! The evil Regina - not sure that deadbolts will keep her at bay. ;-D

Anyway, this was a great episode - already you are making me want to re-watch them again! That ending was a "very badly done, Emma" moment - fortunately, her kid had more sense!

Unknown said...

@Rissi - Oh I know, you could just tell by the end of this episode that Emma was completely at the end of her rope!

Unknown said...

Ok, so I just need to say first off thank you for writing such humorous, spot-on, in-depth recaps of this amazing show; they are just plain entertaining to read.

I did have one question though; are you planning on recapping anything from Seasons 3 or 4, because I would love to know your thoughts on certain episodes (i.e.: any involving Captain Swan or Outlaw Queen moments, or their take on the Frozen characters).

If not, thank you again for providing us with a brief snap-shot of this show's stellar first season :)

The Rush Blog said...

Thus far I've had little sympathy for Regina, but this scene suggests that she really wants to love Henry -- but being who she is, she doesn't know how, and of course there's the question of if she's even capable of true, selfless, sacrificial love.

Regina has always loved Henry. And she was a good mother to him . . . until he learned about the curse, became hostile toward her and ran off to find Emma. With Emma's arrival in Storybrooke, Regina became too fearful of losing Henry and started becoming possessive.