Once Upon A Time, Season 1, Episode 20: “The Stranger”
Written by Ian Goldberg & Andrew Chambliss
Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on ABC
With an average running time of 41 minutes per episode in a 22-episode season, there are bound to be some tangential and nonessential storylines in “Once Upon A Time.” Though each one may be entertaining, some may just feel like a waste of time (Grumpy’s back-story for example still feels like filler). In these latter episodes, these detours are thankfully scant, showing mostly what’s necessary to the big picture. Episodes like “The Stranger” remind any skeptical fans why they first tuned in to this show. Only two episodes remain until the season finale, and as pieces of the mystery start coming together and validating audience investment, that satisfying feeling of closure promises to settle the show into the proper decline of a strong season arc.
This week explores August’s importance to, well, everything. Though he appeared mid-season, his character intertwines more with Emma and Storybrooke than previously hinted. First, we learn, quite anticlimactically, that he was Pinocchio in the Enchanted Forest. As close-lipped as the writers were on his character, they quickly write off this mysterious detail early in the episode. This is a bit confusing, but ultimately doesn’t matter because the story itself turns out to be so unique and, most importantly, relevant.
Pinocchio was the second person to enter the real world after Rumplestiltskin’s still-missing son. This revelation builds itself into what was already established in earlier episodes with the magical wardrobe, the vessel that transported Emma. Geppetto entrusts Pinocchio the responsibility of guiding Emma to her destiny as savior (yes, savior!) to the Enchanted Forest. Real world circumstances prevent Pinocchio from fulfilling his duty, and now he’s at risk of turning back into wood.
When we first meet Pinocchio as a boy, he’s lost at sea with Geppetto and is still in wooden form. Most of the computer graphics in this show are hideous, but objectively forgivable due to budget constraints. Perhaps it’s the obscuring effects of the rainfall, but the CG wooden Pinocchio actually looks good. Unfortunately, this lasts for mere seconds before a whale attacks their small raft. When Geppetto washes ashore the following morning, he finds his lifeless creation face down in the sand. This image is incredibly dark, yet a bit ridiculous the way it’s framed. It looks exactly like what it is: a prop. There isn’t much to do about this until the Blue Fairy shows up to turn Pinocchio into a real boy. It’s a nice touch to see her finally show up in the fairy tale from which she originated.
Jakob Davies plays the wooden boy brought to life. What he lacks in cadence in line delivery, he makes up for in his lighthearted demeanor. Jared Gilmore, who plays Henry, always feels too smart for his own good and hence, feels more like an “actor” than a child. Davies employs a genuine innocence with Pinocchio that especially translates well with his interaction with baby Emma.
As mentioned earlier, the show’s taken many routes in terms of storylines. This week effectively combines several of these bits and pieces to provide a substantive feel to August’s back-story. By this point in the season, we’ve already met Geppetto, seen Jiminy’s past and become acquainted with the Blue Fairy. They have established themselves as characters and garnered enough importance in the Enchanted Forest and Storybrooke that it’s almost forgettable that they all revolve around August, who we barely know. Now that the show’s ready to let us see his story, it also assembles the rest of the pieces that surround him to build the significance we feel with him. August even pulls out the old newspaper clipping that we saw earlier this season, explaining how a 7 year-old boy found Emma. It was a slow build-up, but the culmination works beautifully in making August/Pinocchio feel as integral to the show as the main characters we knew all along.
The scene where Pinocchio first emerges into the real world feels very nostalgic for the right audience. Those familiar with Lost can recognize the plane that flies overhead (look at the tail’s logo). Pinocchio’s “awakening” is also incredibly similar to the show’s last season of “remembering past lives” and Jack Shepherd’s iconic framing in the Lost saga. It’s undoubtedly paying homage to the creators’ previous endeavor, much like the show has all season. But this time has a sweet feel to it as if the creators are urging us to remember the good times we’ve already spent with them whether we fully realize it or not.
Much in the fashion of a Lost episode, “The Stranger” alters audience perception by weaving itself into the established history of the arc. It bridges gaps in unexpected ways and answers some important questions. It’s simply a great episode and another testament to the writing in this complex show.
Are you as pleased with the episode? What did you like most? What did you hate? Leave your comments in the section below.