Once Upon A Time, Ep. 1.11, “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” – I dream of Giancarlo

Once Upon A Time, Season 1, Episode 11: “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree”
Written by Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss
Directed by Bryan Spicer
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on ABC

Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad fame takes a creative leap from hardened drug lord to Genie of Agrabah (the fictional land in Disney’s Aladdin). Unlike Robin Williams’ hyperactive comic approach, Esposito chooses to play Genie as a forlorn prisoner to his lamp who wants nothing more than true love. When Snow White’s father, King Leopold finds the lamp, he uses one of his three wishes to free Genie from his lamp. As the episode unfolds, Genie becomes a trusted counselor in King Leopold’s court. Though grateful, he soon becomes captivated with the king’s wife, who we know as the Evil Queen. His desires soon get him into trouble and explain how he eventually becomes the Queen’s magic mirror.

In Storybrooke, Esposito’s character Sidney Glass, Regina’s trusted aid, is now out to expose Regina’s evil side after she causes him to lose his job as a journalist. He convinces Emma to help him find dirt on Regina. They both then employ unethical tactics to gather scandalous information that will ruin Regina’s public persona.

Esposito was a vital character in Breaking Bad, so seeing him pop up in this show was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, this episode doesn’t quite follow through on the immediate gratification of his star power. Perhaps it is the dark, fictional karma associated with his appearance from Breaking Bad, but his role in Once feels like a misstep. For the most part, the show’s players do a great job of embodying their characters. Robert Carlyle and Lana Parrilla are perfect in their respective roles as Mr. Gold and Regina. Esposito, however, feels too cartoony for the show’s real world and too detached from the “fantasy” of the fantasy world.

The beginning of the episode illustrates this best when Sidney first approaches Emma in the diner. He’s supposedly drunk, but it’s unconvincing and feels like someone playing a parody of what a drunk acts like. When the story shifts to the fantasy world and we meet Sidney’s counterpart as Genie, his performance is lifeless. Instead of the magical Genie of Agrabah, it feels more like an actor regretting his career move. The same goes for the actor who plays King Leopold. Neither man fully commits to the role. Their lack of respect for the fantasy is almost insulting because any person who’s watched this far is definitely a fan.

Knowing Esposito’s talents from his past roles makes this episode a bit of a head scratcher. He is more than capable of carrying a scene. Watch Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing or the Gus Fring arcs on Breaking Bad for Esposito at his best, because here, he’s out of place. His performance does improve throughout the episode, but what really saves him is the intrigue of the story itself.

Esposito already guest starred a few times as the Evil Queen’s magic mirror, though, these parts have been very minor. So, seeing his part of the story is unexpected, but it turns out to be very interesting.

The writers manage to pull off a creative twist for this familiar character, providing a fun back-story where none previously existed. The show is often most fun when taking liberty with these secondary characters, like the Magic Mirror, Jiminy Cricket and the Huntsman. Every one knows of them, but not about them. Having their story fully told is often more satisfying than seeing the well known characters like Snow White and Prince Charming. The secondary characters are unmarked territory with great storytelling potential, and fortunately, the writers figured that out early.

On a separate note, the conflict between Emma and Regina in the real world is growing tiresome. Every time Emma tries to expose or control Regina, there is always some twist, some bit of misdirection on Regina’s part, that blows up in Emma’s face. The show has proved several times that Regina has the upper hand, and the writers are dumbing down Emma by repeatedly subjecting her to Regina’s manipulation. Watching Emma fall into the same trap every week is starting to get annoying.

The real world event that holds most promise is the new author in town. He’s taken an interest in Henry and his book. He’s obviously wise to something, but it’s still not clear what. It’s also hard to tell whether his intentions are pure or not. Either way, his episode should be a good one when writers get around to it.

What did you think of this episode? Leave your comments below.

Ryan Clagg

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