Once Upon A Time, Ep. 1.09, “True North”: Hansel, Gretel and a weirdly sexual witch

Once Upon A Time, Season 
1, Episode 9: “True North”
Written by David H. Goodman & Liz Tigelaar
Directed by Dean White
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on ABC

This week’s episode “True North,” introduces yet another set of characters whose story breaks a bit from the main conflict. Fortunately, their story eventually incorporates into main mystery of Storybrooke as a prison, which the show is still developing at a reasonable pace.

While in Mr. Clark’s (Sneezy’s) general store, Henry meets Ava and her twin brother Nicholas, who he soon learns are orphans struggling to survive without parents. As Emma takes it upon herself to find their father, Regina does her best to have the kids shipped to separate foster homes in Boston. In the fairy tale world, the children are revealed to be Hansel and Gretel.

When Hansel and Gretel lose their father in the forest, the Evil Queen intercepts them. She has the siblings perform a task for her and in return, will help the children find their father. The task: retrieve a satchel from the Blind Witch who lives in the magical gingerbread house. The Evil Queen also warns the two to refrain from eating anything inside the house.

Quinn Lord and Karley Scott Collins play Hansel and Gretel respectively. They hold their own, integrating well into the cast and serving a welcome distraction from the only other predominant child actor Jared S. Gilmore, who plays Henry. Gilmore isn’t a bad actor per se, but he still seems uncomfortable playing a character his own age. He’s appears overconfident, a pitfall of many child actors who find self-awareness too early. He has chops, no doubt, but he needs to tone it down, loosen up and bring some vulnerability to his character.

The special effects of this episode are, as usual, dodgy, but the set design usually makes up for it. The gingerbread house was especially appealing. When Hansel dips his finger into the frosting on the outside wall, it lends some credibility to the sweet house. That was a nice touch.

The next scene inside the gingerbread house was moronic. Though Gretel strongly reminds Hansel to not eat anything, Hansel can’t help but take a big bite out of a cupcake the second his sister turns her back. This, of course, wakes the Blind Witch and leads to the siblings trapped in a cage. Again, subtlety is not a strength of the show, and simple plot devices like this often move scenes forward. It’s usually best to just forgive the show immediately and concentrate on the story’s substance.

Emma Caulfield of Buffy The Vampire Slayer fame guest starred this week as the Blind Witch. Though the show often tweaks the traditional fairy tales, the liberty that writers and Caulfield took with the Blind Witch misses the mark quite a bit. First, the show’s Blind Witch is much younger and more elegant than the witch known in the traditional tale. It’s not a crucial difference, but it’s still distracting. Second, she isn’t scary, but oddly sexual. Caulfield emits a series of excited groans and bites her lip as she sizes up the children in her cage. Without context, any viewer would think she’s aroused. The result is a scene that unfolds in a manner uncomfortably creepy rather than dark and sinister. Perhaps it was Dean White’s direction, but in any case, the character just did not work.

The Hansel and Gretel story ultimately works to flesh out the universe of the fairy tale land by showing how the Evil Queen receives her poison apple. It’s creative how they tie in the two characters, but it seems irrelevant. These fairy tale flashbacks work better for character development rather than plot, which so far has not shown anything surprising. Once the fairy tales converge with the real world directly, that’s when things should get interesting. Sheriff Graham’s episode “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter,” showed a glimmer of this convergence when Regina takes out his heart from her family’s tomb. More moments like this will lend some significance to the fairy tales.

Back in the real world, Emma tries to leave Storybrooke with Ava and Nicholas, but finds her engine stalling as she reaches the city limits. As Henry informed her before, no one comes and no one leaves Storybrooke. Emma is the only stranger in town because she’s special. This bit of information comes into play at the end of the episode. While in town, Henry and Emma meet a stranger who rides in on his motorcycle. This break in Henry’s rules is very intriguing, even more so because the stranger refuses to give his name and hence, any indication of who he may be in the fairy tale world. This was an effective cliffhanger. Now that Emma’s bringing change to Storybrooke, she has also made it susceptible to the outside world (sound familiar, Losties?).

With more characters to meet in future episodes, Once Upon A Time is still building its tapestry. Look forward to more episodes like “True North,” that flesh out both worlds and hopefully deepen the mystery. In the meantime, who do you think this motorcyclist is? Leave your comments below.

Ryan Clagg

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