Entertainment Magazine

Review #3482: Once Upon a Time 1.20: “The Stranger”

Posted on the 04 May 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Edmund B.

With three episodes left in the season, the time has come for “Once Upon A Time” to start resolving some of its mysteries. After “The Stranger”, I only hope they step up their game in the final two. I get the sense the producers expected the events depicted here to be revelatory. Instead, I found them predictable and underwhelming. What makes this a shame is that, just as Robert Carlyle suffered through some sub-par episodes, this one wasted a fine performance from Tony Amendola as Geppetto.

Review #3482: Once Upon a Time 1.20: “The Stranger”

The episode opens at the end of the traditional Geppetto and Pinocchio tale, with their escape from the whale. As usual, there are some revisions. There is no Jonah-like swallowing, and most significantly, living puppet Pinocchio winds up dead on the shore. Pinocchio is not just made flesh, but actually resurrected, by the Blue Fairy, who is becoming an increasingly central character. Given subsequent events, it smacks of a deliberate attempt to tug on the heartstrings, a shortcut to paper over the lack of character development.

If you’re going to build an episode around a father’s fight to save his son, with tragic consequences, you have to establish their relationship. Short of a significant, lingering shot in the pilot, we haven’t seen Pinocchio until now. One scene mending a clock is not enough to make us care about their fate. Instead, the audience has more emotional investment in the characters he’s opposing. We’ve seen what happens, so the possibility that Emma could have come through with her mother has far more resonance. Tony Amendola wrings everything he can out of the script, but Geppetto still comes off as selfish and petty. The predicament forced on Pinocchio is so absurd that his abandonment of Emma just feels sad, but inevitable.

The adult Pinocchio isn’t faring much better. His attempts to convince Emma have never been very compelling. They certainly don’t seem strong enough to justify Mr. Gold’s support, begging the question of whether Mr. Gold’s ultimate scheme depends on him failing. After all, returning to a land of magic, and the lifestyle his son abhors, isn’t something he necessarily yearns for.

As for August’s leg, I fervently hope it springs from his head not Emma’s lack of faith. A hallucination borne of his guilt at failing his mission and his father’s wishes is much more palatable than Emma magically seeing the light. There has been a tension all season between grittier reinterpretations and the traditional Disney takes. I hope this episode doesn’t mean the show is opting for the safe approach.

This is the second series where Eion Bailey comes up short as a mysterious foil for the female lead. On “Covert Affairs”, his character was shuffled off in favor of Auggie’s outstanding chemistry. Here, we are faced with subtraction by addition, as he inadequately replaces Graham, the Huntsman. Better chemistry between Emma and August could have greatly improved their storyline. Emma’s background has hinted at a preference for bad boys. August’s bike-riding entrance and initial come-ons tilted him in that direction. If he’d continued in that vein: playing the devil-may-care suitor tempting her with a getaway a break from her troubles, all in a stealth campaign to get her back to their beginnings, this revelation could have had much more impact.

Speaking of awkward chemistry, I found myself hoping Regina would seduce David, if only to emphasize how the curse has completely destroyed his character. Especially after enduring the one-two smackdowns from Mary Margaret and Henry, such a flailing, poorly executed attempt to reaffirm some power and control actually made some sense. Regina’s carefully crafted world is fraying at the edges, and desperate measures are needed. I just hope this episode represents that Ali classic,the rope-a-dope, and the show comes out swinging for the knock-out in the last two rounds.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Directing: 22
Style: 1/4

Total: 6/10

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