So, for those of you who read my review of last week’s episode…remember all that goodwill that OUAT built up? They caught me fresh off some new year’s resolutions, a fun trip to Disney World, and legitimately entertained me with Rumpelstiltskin’s backstory, while also establishing a potential arc when Emma defied Mr. Gold and he proclaimed himself a worse enemy to have than Regina. Well, all that goodwill has been wasted, and in many ways I am officially mad at this show. The only bright spots for me were the usual: great rapport between Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin, who this show needs to highlight more or perish), and the subversion of happily-ever-after in the FTL (Fairy Tale Land). And the only other consistent silver lining, the Mary/David relationship was on hiatus.
Equally disappointing was the lost potential. Not only was the source material the eepy-cray “Hansel and Gretel” story, but comedic talent Emma Caulfield (know for her work on “Buffy”) was playing the Blind Witch. I was geared up for the best fairyback yet, and for the show to finally embrace the dark side of the Force. Alas, this was the biggest letdown since “Terriers” got cancelled (anybody catch that show on FX last year? Awesome detective show. Really great writing, intense drama. Would have been a great, classic series). As mentioned there was subversion of the expected, but it was as slight as that sliver of cake your grandma takes at every birthday.
Hansel and Gretel are not kicked out of their parent’s home. They lose their father in the woods after searching for kindling. When they wander onto the main road for their search they are almost hit by the Evil Queen’s carriage (dressed in some S&M meets horse riding garb that screams someone wants to fool around in the stables). She scolds the children for impeding her path and even tries to capture them, but they scrap their way out from her guards’ grasps and instead uses magic (which is unclear because we have no idea the limitations of her power so nothing surprises us) to tie them up in tree roots. She first commends them for their ingenuity, but then offers a deal. If they go retrieve something for her, she will help them find their father. Gretel in particular does not want to help the villainess, but she knows no other way to find her father now that the compass he bestowed upon her has been broken in the scrum. EQ then outlines the task at hand: steal something from the Blind Witch for her, bring it back to her, and she will use her infinite evil resources to find Dad.
Here’s where obvious, parallel real-world scenario comes into play. Henry is perusing the local comic book joint (comics shown include recent Hulk issues written by fellow LOST alum, Damon Lindeloff) when he runs into a boy and a girl (wow, those kids look like Hansel and Gret—oh, yeah) about his age. The girl befriends him and asks if he wishes to come to their house to play. Henry, who with his fairy tale obsession must be a loner, is thrilled. But when leaving the store, the clerk makes him empty his backpack. Turns out the stranger’s kindness was a con to help steal food and supplies. Eva and Nicholas fib to Sheriff Emma that they were stealing to help their parents who are financially burdened. Apparently, Emma, who has been duped often by Storybrooke’s seedier characters, professes her bullshit-detecting powers and follows through when she pulls off after dropping the kids at their “house” and then sneaks into the house to get the real story. Obviously, they’re orphans. Their mother is gone and they squat in their former home. Emma, who was an orphan herself, is sympathetic and decides to let them stay with Mary Margaret/Snow White Mom and her. Many might be put off by her extremely harsh opinions of the foster care system that follow. I grant you, I have a close friend who has a foster kid and is not grabbing for cash, but it is understandable how someone within could develop such a beef with that system. Because of this staunch opposition she refuses to abide by Mayor Regina’s proposition which is to put them in separate homes (the closest are in Boston).
EQ, back in FTL, warns the kids about the “special properties” of The Blind Witch’s house. “No matter how tempted you may be, you must not eat anything.” Of course, once inside they find the black satchel the Queen s desires, but as Gretel fingers it, Nicholas eats a blue-frosted cupcake and wakes the Blind Witch who immediately sniffs them out. When she locks them in a cupboard as she prepares dinner she offers up the strangely hysterical question, “Gravy or butter?” As in, would you rather be lathered in gravy or butter. Gretel then sacrifices herself and steals the key from the witch, tossing it to her brother who then breaks out. After a struggle that never seemed to have any real stakes despite the witch having weird powers to move things and throw projectiles, the kids push the witch into the oven. Then through the mirror the EQ herself hurls a fireball (apparently the mirror, like in Blue’s Clues, has the ability to transcend time and space) and burns her alive inside the oven. I suppose this would seem more ironic if it weren’t so telegraphed. Then EQ delivers her groaner of the week: “I would have gone with gravy.” The much funnier line is delivered after when she stalks Snow White via the mirror and quips, “She’s cavorting with dwarfs now, when did that happen?” I actually laughed out loud.
In her efforts to spite foster care everywhere, Sheriff Emma searches for Eva and Nicholas’ pops. Along the way, Helper Henry (who was surprisingly interesting this week, but this could have been that the other child characters this week were so stale) asks Emma about his dad. Emma, not having the heart to disappoint him makes up a story about how he was a fireman trying to save a family from a burning building. “He is the true hero, not me.” After vomiting in my mouth from all the manufactured cuteness, I wished so hard that she was BSing the kid, and it turns out she was. She reveals as much when she talks to gal pal/Mom (weird, huh?) about her own trials in the foster care system, and reveals that Henry theorizes Emma may be Mary daughter in FTL. Ginnifer Goodwin does a beautiful job subtly conveying in her eyes and gestures that she is curious and maybe even a little excited about the prospect. Of course, what the show needs to realize is that this feeling is done by showing, not telling. With models like Horowitz and Kitsis, who know the power of a striking look from LOST, David Goodman and Liz Tigelaar, should have employed this technique more, but alas we only get the real character development and emotional ploy when Mary Margaret is around. *Deeper sigh*
Also derived from the conversation was Emma’s strategy to find their dad. Apparently every orphan has some memento that was given to them by their birthparents. This seems highly unlikely, but I rolled with it. Fortunately, Eva has a compass (JUST LIKE GRETEL…oh, yeah) that she has carried with her since she was little. When Emma brings it to Mr. Gold, he is able to pinpoint the person who bought that exact compass from him. His price? Simply forgiveness for last week’s political shenanigans. Emma offers up tolerance, and he accepts. There is, a twist though. When they show the card he pulled that supposedly had the name on it, it appears blank. WHERE DOES HE GET HIS INFORMATION?! THIS WAS THE ONLY THING THAT EXCITED ME ALL EPISODE! The name she was given leads her to a mechanic in town. Oh, yeah. Henry knew he would be in town because part of the curse is no one can leave or come in. Thanks Exposition Helper Henry! When Emma reveals the existence of his two kids to the grease monkey he is predictably reluctant. Defeated, and unwilling to break the hearts of the children she says she never found him and prepares to drive them to Boston. However, she has a trick up her sleeve. As they are about to cross the Storybrooke border, Emma pretends the engine has stalled and calls for a tow. Guess who comes? No. No. No, not Rumpel—yes, the father! Finally. Anyway, he has a sudden change of heart when he looks at their downtrodden and pouty faces and decides he can raise them! What an unexpected surpr—oh who am I kidding.
As for our FTL alter egos, Hansel and Gretel, when they hand over the satchel, anticipates the Queen who pulls a fast one. After opening the satchel to reveal an apple (clearly the poison apple, or as she calls it, “a weapon,” she claims she has a “better idea” that they can stay with her! Nicholas seems intrigued by the riches by always the rebellious and boisterous type, Gretel resists her evil temptations just like at the Witch’s house. In her anger she casts them off in a poorly CGI-ed tornado and releases their father from her custody. NO WAY! No, but yeah I knew that too. I mean, she was right there when they couldn’t find him…*breathes deeply*…I’m calm now. Anyway, she casts him off too when he answers her question, “Why wouldn’t they stay with me” with “Family always finds each other.” Then in anti-climactic fashion she plops him in the expansive forest so that they can search for each other FOREVER. Or you know, until they find each other, whichever.
Then there’s the matter of the enigmatic biker dude that arrives at the very end. Clealrly, the episode itself held no intrigue or suspense on its own so they leave us with he cliffhanger of who is this dude who has come into town. BUT WAIT! How did he do that? Emma was the first stranger to come into town…ever. How did this man get there? Could this mean legitimate mystery has found its way into the show. Ehh, maybe.
My main gripe with this episode is the lack of recognition for what they could have done. They phoned this one in. I found my self singing “If only, if only” the whole hour. If only they had utilized Emma Caulfield better, and hadn’t given her corn-fest lines. If only Hansel and Gretel, an inherently dark fairy tale was actually scary. I never felt imminent danger. If only they had stopped trying to pull a fast one in the real-world plot with the lazy, predictable reversals. Oh she mad up a story about his father. Duh. The dad is gonna take them after all? Well, to create an hour-long conflict. And either of those things might not have felt so cheap if they felt less like plot points and more like actual emotions and struggles for these characters. But neither the mechanic nor Emma (Morrison’s ability to stretch the material can only go so far) made feel as though their reversals were earned or even really a consequence of anything. I was satisfied when Emma had another opportunity to tell Henry the truth, and didn’t, but besides the obvious the why (?) still escapes me and not in a ambiguous sense, but in an unaddressed sense.
Thankfully, next week, we will be back to basics. Previews suggest another Snow White/Charming and Mary/David episode and most of the show’s energy lies with Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas’ chemistry so hopefully that will help bridge the gap. For this week, though, the fairyback was anti-climactic. The real-world plot revealed nothing plot or character wise, and what little joy I had came mostly from one loud guffaw (the cavorting with dwarfs line) and when we got to see of that budding Gilmore Girls-lite relationship between Emma and Mary Margaret. Even when this show is technically frustrating there is fun to be had, but very little kept this episode from slipping into D (as in damn that sucked) territory. But for making it out in one piece, with a couple mysterious threads hanging loose (Gold’s blank card, Henry’s father’s REAL story, and who this foreign biker dude is) My extra credit will allow OUAT to cling a second chance at life, with the promise of a better tomorrow (next week’s return to Mary/David adorability).