Once Upon A Time recap – 1×20: ‘The Stranger’

Courtesy of ABC

Well, now we know who August (Eion Bailey) is, although thanks to ABC’s promo department you likely figured that out sometime last week. As we close in on the season finale, are there any revelations left in the show?

Let’s bitch it out…In truth, August’s Fairy Tale past isn’t truly spoiled because we know who he is early on. As soon as we seen a flash of wood in place of a pale shin, the jig is up. Unfortunately beyond that, the only other truly interesting part of the story is how he manages to come to Storybrooke – or rather “our” world (since he still has his memories).

Several critics, among them TV Guide’s Matt Roush, have long espoused the belief that the Fairy Tale stories are where Once Upon A Time excels. And I wasn’t always inclined to agree (at times the background stories have compromised the forward momentum of the show, and the ongoing struggles with special FX can easily distract, such as the Pinocchio effects on the raft in the opening scene). With ‘The Stranger’ however, the background works well to provide both context about who August is and why he is the way he is, but also serves to tell us a bit more about the overall mythology of the show (something ‘The Return’ – with it’s “gotcha” non-twist – failed to do last week).

And so it’s interesting to learn that the cabinet Geppetto (Tony Amendola) makes from the enchanted tree (the final one – naturally) is built for two, and not one as we were initially led to believe. And that it is this cabinet that is used to transport not only baby Emma (Jennifer Morrison), but a seven year old Pinocchio (Jakob Davies) to the new world – against the express desires of the bossy Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy). It’s good stuff; albeit a touch schmaltzy and a little misconstrued (Geppetto sent his son away to a world without magic without knowing if he would remain a ‘real’ boy? And honestly expected a seven year old to guard a newborn baby?! Poor parenting skills there buddy). But it still works, because it’s adding something new to the show that actually means something in the long run.We now have a better idea of where both August and Emma come from.

Courtesy of ABC

This leaves us with all the stuff in Storybrooke, which is – once again – a test of the audiences’ patience. We’ve now spent twenty episodes waiting for Emma to wake the eff up and DO something – to finally act upon her threats and her desires to seize Henry (Jared Gilmore) as her own and take down Regina (Lana Parrilla). And while I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting her to just pull a sword from a stone and take up the mantle of hero without an inner struggle, her shrieky, tearful renunciation of any responsibility was beyond frustrating. Seriously, I know that many readers like Emma or feel that I’m overly harsh on her, or even that the show will end if she accepts her role as ‘saviour’, but we’ve now invested TWENTY hours with this woman and she’s still no closer to accepting her destiny and moving beyond her own selfishness. As August says, she can’t even begin to consider the possibility that this might be true. For audiences who bought into the idea in hour one (back in September), it has not been an easy journey to travel with this protagonist as our tour guide.

Looking forward, it appears that Once…is building up to the moment that she’ll accept (at least a part of) her destiny, likely in the finale. Next season will explore the liberation of the town’s citizens. Honestly, this journey has been so protracted that it’s becoming increasingly difficult not to level charges against the writers for drawing things out. These are story beats that I expected to occur five episodes ago. Instead it seems that the show is merely biding its time until the finale. Well that time is here, so let’s all hope that the show has something worthwhile up its sleeve.

Other Observations:

  • How awkward/ick factor is the moment when Regina makes her move on David (Josh Dallas)? Nothing says seduction like lasagna and the story of how you found him on the side of the road. But seriously, check out the body language in the picture (above). He may suggest that she’s “been there for him” in these last few rough weeks, but it’s hard to imagine he’d even enter the house of the person gunning for the downfall of the woman he loves.
  • What was with the abusive foster home that August and subsequently Emma came from? I love Hollywood’s continued depiction of foster homes filled with the worst kind of people (verbally abusive father who drive children to steal and run away). And furthermore, am I the only one who’s uncomfortable that the show subconsciously blames August for Emma’s personality/deficiencies because he left her? He was seven years old, but we’re made to judge him for taking the easy way out? There’s a lot that’s wrong with this scene.
  • One of the best things about our Fairy Tale bits: seeing the older footage reintroduced in a different context. Man, how much more interesting would the show be if it was about the war council of Snow, Charming, Red, Geppetto and the Blue Fairy taking on the Evil Queen in Fairy Tale land? Forget the Storybrooke stuff; give me warrior fairy tale characters!
  • Do we know how Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) knows that August is Geppetto’s son? The initial meeting between August and Marco (aka Geppetto) in Gold’s shop is clearly orchestrated by Gold, but when did he figure out exactly who August is?
  • Finally, since Danny-A-Gogo loves to ask: why does the Blue Fairy move her arms when she’s flying? It’s her wings keeping her afloat, not her arms!

And that’s our third last episode of the season. What did you think of August’s big reveal – or the fact that Emma is so blinded that she can’t even see his wooden leg? Are you as frustrated with her as I am? Do you think the last two episodes will go in a different direction, or will things end with her realizing the truth of her situation? Hit the comments below!

Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8pm EST on ABC.

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

3 thoughts on “Once Upon A Time recap – 1×20: ‘The Stranger’

  1. I wasn’t spoiled by the promos because I was hoping that the promos were being deliberately misleading, but I’m not disappointed that August is Pinocchio. I’ve been watching since the beginning and if it wasn’t for Mr. Gold I would have lost interest by now.

    There’s an odd air of detachment to all of the characters and their interactions particularly when in Storybrooke, aka real time. Emma’s exchanges with Regina are a prime example of this, but everyone seems subject to this problem. Even Mary Margaret and David cry and suffer quietly at times when full-on histrionics would be perfectly appropriate. Perhaps it’s part of the curse because Mr. Gold is the only one who seems to be exempt.

    That said, I welcomed Emma’s breakdown at the end of tonight’s episode. It’s about time someone sobbed and threw a fit although August/Pinocchio still took it in typical Storybrooke fashion. He just stood there.

  2. That was a long hour of tv. And the big finish – Emma kidnapping her son. Brilliant.

  3. After watching the Ringer finale, I wouldn’t be surprised if Emma finally got a clue at the end of the OUAT finale. At lease it’s been renewed, so I’m cool with that.