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Once Upon a Time: The Stranger

Written by Tricia Long on Tuesday, May 01 2012 and posted in Reviews

Like father, like son.

After a seriously awesome episode last week, "The Stranger" proved just how inconsistent Once Upon a Time can be. From the copious double entendres to the curveball plot twists, this episode was all over the place. Let's get to it, shall we?

We open as August W. Booth helps Emma and Mary Margaret install a new lock to keep Regina from using a skeleton key to enter their apartment. He's good at carving because he's freaking Pinocchio, something all theorists from last week finally figured out. We learn that Mary Margaret is going back to work finally now that the scandalous trial has died down. Emma has some news of her own: she declares that she is ready to really be Henry's mom. Mary Margaret approves but August W. Booth looks more skeptical. Emma gets a call over the walkie talkies with magical range to meet Henry at Granny's for Operation Cobra business. August W. Booth walks there with Emma and seems to be raining on her custody parade by asking her to look at the big picture. The first of many innuendos this episode is uttered, something about how coming with him will solve everything (I snickered because I'm me). Emma refuses to go with him because Henry is more important to her.

At Granny's, Henry reveals that someone has changed the Book and added the story of Pinocchio. Everyone is supposed to know how that one ends, Pinocchio turns into a real boy and everyone lives happily ever after. But is that the real ending? Flash to the fairy tale world, where Geppetto and Pinocchio are running from the whale and Pinocchio is still a creepy-ass puppet. There's only one life preserver on the boat thanks to poor planning, and in a moment of valor Pinocchio forces his father to take it. It's okay, though, because Pinocchio knows that he will float because he's made of wood.

They wash up on the shore in the morning and it seems that all the life has gone out of Pinocchio. How does a puppet die? Did he get waterlogged? I don't understand this scene. The Blue Fairy arrives and turns Pinocchio into a real boy, reminding him to be brave, truthful and unselfish otherwise he'll go back to being a puppet again. Another thing I don't understand, besides what is essentially God bullying a little boy: were the roses on the Blue Fairy's bra really necessary? I already can't escape looking at her cleavage. Maybe they're making up for her habit-wearing life in Storybrooke. Also, Pinocchio is a ginger! He isn't a real boy after all – there's no way he has a soul.

We see Pinocchio wearing a red hat, which is important because in our time August W. Booth is playing with the same hat as he contemplates how to make Emma believe in the curse. His solution is convoluted to say the least: he calls Gold and arranges a meeting. As August W. Booth leaves his apartment to meet with Gold he has another of his spasms, because his left calf is turning into wood! Because he's been a bad boy! Entendre numero two-o and three-o.

At the school, Mary Margaret sort of confronts Regina about all the bullshit that was Kathryn's murder investigation (including Sidney's "confession" at the end of last week's episode). She gets all high and mighty, forgiving Regina for what she did and pitying her sad and lonely life. Mary Margaret's behavior is kind of annoying, but then again this is a logical step for her character to take. You can tell that Regina is seething on the inside after Mary Margaret leaves, because she tries to retaliate by taking Henry out of Mary Margaret's class. Henry is dead set against this and declares to Regina that Snow White and Prince Charming will be together, the Curse will be lifted and love will win. He's only minutes away from getting a mohawk in this pre-teen rebellion. Needless to say, Regina is less than happy.

At the shop, August W. Booth is startled by running into his father (named Marco in this world, but that's really unimportant), who is purchasing a clock from Gold. August W. Booth is speechless and can't even bring himself to speak to Geppetto. Gold comments on August W. Booth's behavior, wondering aloud why a man who is "at death's door" can't even bring himself to say hello to his long-lost father. Especially one as fatherly as Geppetto – tell me you don't want to have a clock making grandfather with an accent and a beard and I will tell you that you are lying! They move past the mind games to the problem at hand: Emma's stubborn refusal to believe in the curse. They conclude that she's so intent on getting custody of Henry that she won't focus on her larger role as a "savior". As a side note, there are a lot of families who need reuniting on this show. Also, Gold's dig about believing Pinocchio (not the most trustworthy of storybook characters) seemed downright esoteric until a second viewing.

In the fairy tale world, Pinocchio and Geppetto are working on a clock similar to the one Storybrooke-Geppetto purchased in Gold's shop. When the clock door opens, we find that Jiminy Cricket (ARCHIE YAY!) has been trapped inside like an old-timey woman tied to train tracks. Everyone admonishes Pinocchio's behavior, but all he has to do is make puppy dog eyes and all is forgotten. There's a lesson in here about lax parenting: if you don't keep yo pimp hand strong, your children will become lying sociopaths who abandon their duties and ride motorcycles. Hitting that nail on the head with Mjolnir, aren't we Disney?

The Blue Fairy arrives to ask for Geppetto's help to prepare the kingdom for the impending Curse. She asks him to build a wardrobe out of an enchanted tree (Does Disney own the rights to The Chronicles of Narnia? Yes, IMDB says they do.), similar to the one that made Pinocchio, that will help protect Emma against the Curse. The Blue Fairy reveals that Emma will be their Savior, and she must be protected. Geppetto is hesitant, more concerned with losing his son than anything else, which makes sense when you remember that Jiminy Cricket's human parents turned them into puppets. Whoa. Wait a second. Is everyone following this? His parents are puppets, so he made a puppet to be his son. That bespeaks a deep psychological disturbance, my friends. No wonder Archie became a shrink.

Emma goes to Gold to get his advice on how to get custody of Henry; per his discussion with August W. Booth he stonewalls her. His law degree was well-earned: he finds many excuses to not help her and even plants the idea of going to August W. Booth in her mind. That is some Tyrion-level shit right there. Remember when he sniffed out Maester Pycelle by planting the story of marrying Myrcella off to Dorne? That was awesome. Anyway, Emma goes to August W. Booth and asks for his help. Specifically she asks him to "show her" the "big picture". Grand double entendre numero four-o. I only know this because Dr. Improbable was texting me her own boner jokes throughout the whole episode.

Elsewhere in Storybrooke, Regina's MERCEDES BENZ breaks down (that's what you get for buying foreign) and David swoops in to save the day/drive her home/be hit on in the creepiest way. Is it weird that they have oddly good chemistry in a so-gross-you-almost-want-it-to-happen way? I'm sure there's some shipper out there who's happy. Regina's damsel in distress mode is obviously part of her plot to get back at Mary Margaret. My main piece of evidence is the sheet of psychic, I mean blank, paper that has Henry's "note" that he won't be home until later. David, being the sweet and stupid guy that he is, offers to stay and keep her company. Regina smiles like a piranha. It is terrifying.

In the forest, the Blue Fairy explains to Geppetto the plan to save Snow White and her family by placing them in the enchanted wardrobe and transporting them to the new world with their memories intact. Does that mean Emma would still have been a baby if all had gone according to plan? Time doesn't move in Storybrooke. Geppetto begs for Pinocchio to be allowed to go with them, but the tree doesn't have enough magic to transport three people: only two. He is worried that Pinocchio will be turned back to wood in the new world, the world without magic, so he tries to bargain with the Fairy. Jiminy takes offense to this, because he is a conscience after all, but Geppetto has the trump card of "you helped murder my parents" so Jiminy quiets down. That was a low blow, bro. Also, is Geppetto the only wood carver in the world? I understand the need for him in a continuity kind of way, but there have to be other, less crotchety carvers out there.

At a council meeting the Blue Fairy explains the plan to the assembled fairy tale cast. All your favorite people are there, including Granny who I think is knitting Emma's baby blanket. The Blue Fairy holds up her bargain with Geppetto by telling Snow and James that only one of them can go through – which explains why neither tries to go through with newborn Emma when the Curse hits. There are a lot of sidelong glances at Geppetto and Pinocchio, who is playing on the floor with a carved whale. In all honesty, Geppetto has effectively ruined everything. We know that Emma ends up an orphan, alone, and doesn't recognize August W. Booth when he comes to town. But if she had been allowed to stay with her parents, who knows how quickly everything could have been resolved. Pinocchio may be a bad little fake boy, but his father wasn't exactly a paragon of virtue.

Emma and August W. Booth leave town on his motorcycle – they are, after all, the only two people who can really leave Storybrooke. He promises that he's going to tell her his story and she rolls her eyes. If I were to guess Emma's thoughts, I think they'd go something like "I wish this guy would stop trying to get into my pants. They're so tight I can barely get into them. Also did I even eat in the last three days? I don't think so."

At Regina's house, David is eagerly gobbling lasagna like an idiot. She could have put a love potion in that food! Regina has the creepiest pick up lines, possibly because she's a sociopath. She tells him some bullshit story about how she found him because she turned back to the office to get her phone, really drawing it out and making it seem like she did something heroic. I have to say that Lana Parilla did a better job with this monologue than I though she would, but I think it might have helped that her lipstick was more muted this week. David says a corny line like "It's almost like the universe wanted you to find me" and she goes in for the kiss. David is such a dickhead 75% of the time. Regina is pissed that she didn't get any so she breaks the mirror in her hallway after David leaves. Girlfriend, it's called a "massager". You should really get one.

In the fairy tale world, Snow is giving birth to Emma sooner than planned. The Blue Fairy commands Geppetto to let Snow White go through with her child and then leaves because she has better things to do than make sure that the shifty guy with a secondary agenda follows her orders. Geppetto's moral relativism allows him to justify his disobedience. He rationalizes that Pinocchio can do just as good a job of making Emma believe in her destiny as her mother. Yes, let's give this enormous responsibility to an untrustworthy seven year old. Pinocchio climbs into the hollow tree and disappears when the door closes (answering my question of "Did James not notice the seven-year-old ginger in the tree?").

August W. Booth takes Emma to the diner where she was "found" and she is not happy about it. He tells her that he was the one who found her in the woods, not by the side of the road as the article about her rescue states. They both came into the world through a gaping hole in a tree... please take that as you will. He knows details that he could not possibly know unless he was there, including the baby blanket with her name embroidered on it. In the moment that Pinocchio lifts Emma and can't calm her crying we know that he is in way over his head. Emma refuses to believe what August W. Booth claims about the curse, even when he reveals that he knows the exact moment she decided to stay in Storybrooke. She's in denial so deep that she can't even see August W. Booth's leg turning to wood. August W. Booth shouts at Emma until she reveals why she refuses to believe: it's too much responsibility for a foster kid former skank like her.

The story flashes back to the foster home where August W. Booth and Emma were taken after they were found. Does that mean he chose that ridiculous name for himself? August W. Booth tries to fix Emma's crib with some stolen tools, but the cruel janitor yells at him. An older boy is kinder and shows August W. Booth the money he stole so that along with several of the other boys he can run away. He asks August W. Booth to go with them, and initially August W. Booth seems worried about Emma, but in the end he can't hack the responsibility of taking care of her. He leaves her in the foster home and heads off for a life that will one day lead him to an "isle of pleasures" on the other side of the world. For those of you who have forgotten the tale of Pinocchio, go watch it again. It's terrifying, more terrifying than Regina's predatory grin.

Back in Storybrooke, apparently after making Emma walk home from wherever they were in the woods, August W. Booth stops by the woodshop to see his father. They bond over clocks and woodcarving, and in the end August W. Booth becomes Geppetto's apprentice. Ultimately this episode should be about forgiveness, at least that's what Geppetto's speech is about, but then again I consider him to be a less than virtuous character. The world is full of imperfect people trying to create their own happiness, but in the world of Once Upon a Time a character's mistakes and choices can affect the world on a tragic scale.

Emma hails Henry on the radio to talk about them, not Operation Cobra. Emma tries to run away from her responsibility, this time with Henry in tow. Their escape will probably be an exercise in futility – after all, Henry can't leave Storybrooke like Emma – but failure to leave Storybrooke should be another step in Emma's evolution into a responsible human being. I know everyone secretly wants to be a kid forever, that's what fairy tales are about: but in the real world, even heroes have to grow up.

Sorry things got a little, um, highbrow there. Please accept this episode full of dick jokes as an apology. Also this.

Next week: Emma better get that sword. I swear to God, they cannot put a sword in the promos and then not have one! That's false advertising! I'm calling the FCC!

Written or Contributed by: Tricia Long

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