Once Upon A Time recap – 1×09: ‘True North’

Courtesy of ABC

Well that was…frustrating. After last week’s episode when almost everything worked, Once Upon A Time delivers a shockingly dull and obvious episode that’s saved only by its final reveal.

Let’s break it down…I need to address one thing right off the bat: if you’re going to hire a Buffy alum for a guest spot, at least use them in some capacity. Thus far this season we’ve seen Amber Benson utterly wasted in a two second cameo on Ringer and tonight we get Emma Caulfield, one of Buffy‘s most talented comedy actresses in a five minute role as the Blind Witch. Having Caulfield utter ridiculous lines such “I smell dinner” and “Butter or Gravy?” before being pushed into the oven is a huge waste of her talents and reinforces the central problem with ‘True North': every single aspect is completely telegraphed and obvious.

The familiarity factor with Once Upon A Time has wavered in the grey zone since it’s debut. As audiences we are familiar with the fairytales, so the best episodes have been those that have taken our expectations and turned them on their head (think of the Snow White-Prince Charming episodes). The episodes that have been less successful (Cinderella and now Hansel and Gretel) have played out more or less according to expectations, which makes for some mighty boring television. If you’re going to retell the old story of two children who come upon a candy house with a witch inside, at least have the decency to do something (anything!) new. Simply switching the origin of the quest from being kicked out of the house by their parents to performing a task to retrieve the poisoned apple for the Evil Queen (Lana Parilla) isn’t nearly enough.

Courtesy of ABC

The fact that the fairytale portion of tonight’s episode was predictable would be issue enough, except that our Storybrooke bits are also dry and obvious. As soon as Emma (an increasingly one-dimensional Jennifer Morrison) bonds with twelve year twins Ava (Karley Scott Collins) and Nicholas (Quinn Lord) because they are all orphaned children, all I could do was sigh. I understand that Once Upon a Time is a family show, and as a result family will always be a central theme, but did anyone need 41 minutes to figure out that Mike the Mechanic (Nicholas Lea) would overcome his parenting reservations in time to meet and accept his children before they are sent away to foster families in Boston? I could have accepted this stretched out narrative had it given us more insight into Emma, Henry (Jared Gilmore) or Regina’s relationship, but it delivers more of the same. Emma spends the hour talking about how awful growing up without her parents was and how she regrets giving up Henry that we’ve had reiterated for nine straight episodes, so the only new piece of information we get is a false story about Henry’s father that gives us no insight into who she was when she was younger. And again, the whole fabricated father story was so obvious! Was anyone (aside from Henry) fooled by the fireman/hero story?

By episode’s end, do we know anything more about any of these characters that we didn’t know at the start? Nope. Instead, almost as though they know they have a dud on their hands, writers David Goodman and Liz Tigelaar throw us a bone with the introduction of a mysterious stranger (Eion Bailey) who arrives by motorcycle with a large wooden box strapped to the back. Intriguing? Yes, since Henry and Emma both helpfully remind absent minded viewers that new people can’t arrive in town. But is it an ending that justifies the obvious and boring previous 41 minutes? Not even close.

Let’s not make these kinds of episodes a habit, Once Upon A Time.

Other Considerations:

  • One bright light in the darkness? A nicely played mother-daughter scene between Emma and Mary Margaret (an underused Ginnifer Goodwin). Once Ava and Nicholas are reunited with their father, Emma reveals Henry’s beliefs on the nature of her relationship with Mary Margaret. Goodwin in particular does good work playing jokey disbelief, as well as curious wonder, as she holds Emma’s baby blanket
  • Although Emma’s leather jacket count is only two this week (red and brown), we still get a nice taste for cow hide courtesy of the Evil Queen’s Fairy Tale outfit. Throw in the crazy hat, side hair, courtesan waist and tight black leather pants and this outfit is crazy over the top (think S&M meets equestrian riding gear). Less successful? Gretel’s braids, which look like Rapunzel spun them out of straw
  • Some people may feel that Lana Parilla’s Regina/Evil Queen is too one-note, but I will give the woman credit for spectacular line delivery. After the twins give her the poisoned apple, the Queen spots Snow White in the mirror with a pack of dwarfs and delivers the best line of the night: “Cavorting with Dwarfs? When did that happen?”
  • Most unintentionally humourous and ironic line of the night: Emma reminding us of her ability to tell when people are lying. Oh yeah, clearly that’s being used every single time you interact with Regina or Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle).

What did you think of tonight’s episode: am I off base, or did this one feel like a huge waste of time? Any theories on who the new guy in town is (do you think he wants to start a Fight Club?). Finally, do you think that Mary Margaret briefly wondered whether she is Emma’s mother?

About cinephilactic

cinephilactic is a university contract instructor in Film Studies. He is an avid TV watcher, particularly science-fiction, fantasy and drama series. His favourite shows currently airing on TV include The Good Wife, Breaking Bad, Justified, Hannibal, Game Of Thrones and a smattering of shows on The CW. He has a tendency to "hate-watch" particular shows and likes to think that his sarcastic voice comes through in his reviews, though sometimes he's just being bitchy

7 thoughts on “Once Upon A Time recap – 1×09: ‘True North’

  1. I agree. I thought this was probably the weakest episode yet (maybe tied, for that honor, with the Cinderella episode). It didn’t seem necessary to the overall story, and I didn’t feel involved in Hansel and Gretel’s story in either world. Worse, there was no Rumpelstiltskin! Did love the EQ’s costume, though.

    I do think Mary Margaret was wondering if she could be Emma’s mother, and when she brought Emma’s baby blanket up to her nose to smell it, I thought maybe she got a trace of a memory of her old life. Smells are powerful that way.

  2. Totally agree with you on all counts. The show is certainly beginning to tread water storyline wise and the promo for next week’s episode looks even more contrived and absurdly obvious and cliche ridden. And, it’s a Snow and Charming episode! So I take my previous treading water statement back and say it’s starting to drown. Not enough forward momentum and relevance and too much over the top, badly written, cliche filled drama that’s crossing far over the line into heinous soap opera territory only with fairytale characters.

    • I’m actually okay with soap opera if it’s done well (ie: Revenge, which is filled with cliches and ludicrous plotlines, but it OWNS them so it becomes acceptable). The issue is that Once… doesn’t seem to know exactly what it is (family show, genre television, dark fairytales, etc) and as a result it doesn’t do any of them as well as it could.

      I’m still on board for now, but some of these recent developments are prompting me to dial back my enthusiasm. Interestingly enough, I find myself enjoying the other fairytale show (Grimm) more and more…

  3. Well…. I think one point many are forgetting is that Emma un-did a little bit of “the curse” in this episode – Hansel and Gretel were re-united with their father. That makes two now – okay, Graham/Hunstman didn’t have much time to enjoy it, but still I think she’s beginning to unravel “the curse.”

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