Emma is the only thing standing in the way of happily ever after. All she has to do is believe in love, in magic, and in herself, and all that was lost will be returned. So August should be able to provide that faith, right? I mean, he’s clearly a charmer with a rad bike and a way with words. Why wouldn’t she become inspired to take on the Evil Queen, save her son, and by breaking the curse, reassemble a once thriving land? Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. And while some fans are surely screaming at their screens in frustration, this hitch in the plan is the best twist Kitsis/Horowitz have provided so far.
I know I’ve sounded like a broken record, or the boy who cried “LOST,” but the resemblance is uncanny after last night’s episode. Faith vs. Reason was the central conflict that guided the contentious relationship between LOST’s main two protagonists, Jack and Locke. That same dichotomy has been tapped into here. Except the battle between philosophies is an internal struggle for Emma. What if like LOST, this show isn’t about the answers. Maybe it’s less about the happily ever after and more about the question, what is happiness? Emma denies her destiny as August pleads for her to see what’s right in front of her. He’s proven to her that her whole life has led to this moment where she can save everyone from misery. And admirably, the writers stick to their character’s guns and say, “Well that’s too much of a burden, I don’t want that.”
So the question then becomes, how will they be saved if not by the savior? God damn, it’s got the same religious overtones LOST did too! LOST SPOILER ALERT! Lost ends with all of the Flight 815ers exiting a church into a blinding light that represents the after life. Could the trajectory of OUAT lead to the resurrection of the chosen one? I don’t think the parallels are arbitrary, either. The connection goes deeper than just shared writers. There’s LOST references and allusions in nearly every episode, and this was no exception. When August mentions the day the clocks start moving again, the day he started having shooting pains in his leg, what time was it? 8:15 A.M. Flight 815, people? And when August (a.k.a Pinocchio, which I’ll get back to) falls out of the tree into a new world without magic, a plane flies overhead. Coincidence? Even if the writers are screwing with us or just paying homage, the legacy of that show looms large here as the emphasis seems to be steering towards questions and not answers.
But it wasn’t only my empty wishes for a LOST reincarnation that made this easily one of the top three episodes of the series, but a fairyback that reminded me why this technique can be so effective. When the writers use the familiarity with the tales to their advantage it often allows them some creative space to beef up these characters. August and Geppetto owned this episode with their emotionally resonant reunion as well as the ways in which their selfishness altered the future irrevocably.
We’re transported to the tail-end of Pinocchio’s legend where he and Geppetto are evading the monstrous whale. Pinocchio pleads with Geppetto to use their life saver to save himself. He’ll be fine since he’s wooden and can float. The scene incorporates the best CGI I’ve seen on this show, and I can only speculate that the viewership has something to do with that. The quality was cinematic and it’s timed with the recent declaration of the Nielsen ratings—OUAT is the most watched new drama.Washed up on shore, Geppetto sees an unconscious Pinocchio and cries for his revival. The Blue Fairy descends upon them and grants his wish by turning Pinocchio into a real boy. The only condition of his boyhood is to always be brave, truthful and unselfish. These terms create a underlying tension in the real world since this must be involved in August’s sickness.
In the real world, Emma’s on a mission for Henry. She decides she’ll hire Gold as her attorney and assures Mary Margaret that she’s ready for motherly responsibilities. August, after installing a medieval lock on their door to keep out Regina, implores Emma to see the bigger picture, to have faith that he can help her get her kid back. Her response: “My kid needs me, I don’t have time for faith,” is a preview of her breakdown at episode’s end. Realizing his influence on her is weak, August meets with Gold, asking him to deny her counsel so that she’ll run to him. When Gold laughs at the idea he can be trusted, we’re reminded of Pinocchio’s propensity to bend the truth. For me, this was an instance where OUAT proved it can do subtle with its parallel worlds.
Fast forward to the end of the FTL, when the Blue Fairy requests Geppetto build a wardrobe out of the last enchanted tree to house a pregnant Snow White and her husband, Charming. The child, as the prophecy goes, will restore the magical realm. But Geppetto afraid for his boy’s safety, bargains to have Pinocchio take the second spot in the tree. Jiminy tries to talk him out of this foolishness, the child should not be without its parents. Geppetto nastily refers to the cricket’s horrid beginnings by saying he will help him like he helped his parents—a callback to “That Still Small Voice” where we learn that Jiminy’s parents killed Geppetto’s parents for their belongings. The Blue Fairy grants his wish anyway, and allows Pinocchio to take Charming’s place.
August whisks Emma away on his hog out of Storybrooke to tell his story. Is the reason they aren’t hurt because they were protected by the enchanted tree? Anyway, he brings her to a diner that causes Emma anxiety. The reason why is that’s where she was found as a baby. August then drops the bomb that the seven year-old boy who discovered her was him! Unconvinced, he uses details that weren’t reported by the papers like the blanket she had with her name monogrammed on it. Then he tells her how they arrived in this world through their tree portal and that her fate’s to save them all. Thinking he’s got some screws loose, Emma starts to walk away when August falls to the ground in searing pain. He explains that his sickness is actually him returning to his old wooden form. It’s punishment for not being there when Emma first settled in Storybrooke. August had lost his way and was tempted by Phuket—the real world equivalent of Pleasure Island (and the place where Jack ran away to in “Lost.” Seriously, I can keep going). Now he’s paying the steep price for not being the guardian she needed.
Pinocchio ends up being appointed Emma’s guardian because Snow does not go with her newborn in the tree. Due to a premature birth, Pinocchio and Geppetto are told he must give up his spot so that mother and child will be together. Geppetto obviously, disobeys. He instead makes Pinocchio promise to be the child’s protector. Jiminy warns of the temptations he’ll face (Thai prostitutes, it’s gotta be) in this new world without magic, but as long as he’s brave, truthful, and unselfish he’ll be fine. But as we know, August eventually abandons his charge when his overbearing and unloving foster parents give him reason to ditch. It’s a cheap excuse, but no matter the cause it wasn’t smart to entrust a seven year-old with a baby’s care, so it was inevitable.
Emma’s reluctance persists when August shows Emma his wooden leg and her ignorance is so powerful that it distorts what she sees, a real human leg. She doesn’t want to save everyone, she doesn’t want that responsibility, and Jennifer Morrison sells me on her psychology here that she’s looked out for herself for so long that she isn’t ready to be a savior. The only person she is willing to rescue is her boy right now. Therefore after her confrontation with August, she makes the rash decision to walkie-talkie Henry and ask if he wants to escape Regina. The boy says “More than anything” and she peels off, ready to run from all the madness of this town and to deny her destiny. On some level, I wonder if she does believe, but is too afraid to fail.
This complexity has eluded Emma in the past because we thought she had no backbone. Turns out she has the capacity to be the hero they’ve been waiting for (but didn’t know it) and she’s just too insecure and dependent on reason for her survival. This direction for Emma and the series is excellent. I’m not sure how long it can sustain itself, however knowing the once inevitable return to glory may be thwarted not by evil but by good standing by is a refreshing take on what I was beginning to suspect was a stale, but fun series. Now it has the legs to become something thrilling, yet layered with sophistication to contemplate. Can happiness be found in Storybrooke if the savior never comes to take them to FTL/Heaven?
I even appreciated the sidebar this week as Regina is killed with kindness. When she comes to school to sour Mary Margaret’s return, her wickedness is rejected by Mary Margaret’s forgiveness. Ginnifer Goodwin delivers these chilly lines like only she could, sweetly yet viciously: “Your life must be so incredibly sad that you only experience joy from ruining others’ happiness.” Damn Mary Margaert, that’s way too cold. You can tell that the words follow Regina, hitting hard enough that she seeks the affection of Mary Margaret’s former lover, David.
Her engine won’t start so David offers her a lift and she insists he stay for dinner. After David devours his lasagna he delivers his second groaner line in two weeks, “You really know how to work some magic.” That much cheese is just unhealthy. Regina then recounts the day she found David. I noticed the parallels between how both August and Regina failed to make strong connections with “how I found you” stories. I’m not sure they relate, but maybe it has to with the fact that both Emma and David need to find themselves, their true idenities, and on some level they reject others thinking they know them? Well, Regina misreads David’s graciousness as a green light and he denies her advance when she leans in for a kiss. My impression is it wasn’t just a way to get back at Mary Margaret and that she is devastatingly lonely. When she throws the wine glass at the mirror it’s a tip off. It must remind her that the one person who adored her (her “mirror” Sidney Glass) is behind bars, and nobody else out there loves her. She needs David, even if it’s just his pity, but she may have squandered that by asking for too much.
“The Stranger” ends on a hopeful note when my thesis that the series may take the route of “finding happiness without happily ever after” gets an affirmation. August stumbles upon his dad’s clock shop and lends him some pointers. Geppetto says August’s father must be proud and August wonders if that’s true with all the mistakes he’s made along the way. Geppetto delivers the icing on the cake, “You realize your mistake and try to fix it. If I had a son that would be enough for me.” Brimming with pride and overwhelmed by his father’s indirect forgiveness, August volunteers to be Marco’s (Geppetto’s alter ego) assistant. He accepts and its such a moving moment. August has for all intents and purposes failed his father, but the man accepts him without knowing him, unconditionally. That’s not fake or manufactured, that’s real, and a byproduct of a wonderful fairyback that didn’t need to justify itself with forced parallels. It belonged by being what this show is at its core, a romanticizing of human relationships and the magic comes from them.
It was imperfect, but it accomplished everything you would hope an episode of OUAT would. It was innocent, fun, mesmerizing, inspiring, while still making us fearful that good may not win this time. Henry has faith, Emma has reason not to, and in the final two episodes OUAT asks us, what about you?