Once Upon a Time: A Heartwarming Nightmare

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Once Upon a Time: S01E20: "The Stranger"

Is now a bad time to mention I'm scared silly by puppets?

There's a workshop in Los Angeles called "Puppetolio" which is never open and features a dim front window. In that window, hanging like sides of beef with accusing eyes, is a cast of several wooden marionette poets. It's close to a place where I used to work, so I would have to go running by it every day. And I say running because I would consciously quicken my steps to get the hell away from the Puppetolio workshop, because marionette puppets TERRIFY ME. Which is why last night's Once Upon a Time scene between Geppetto and Pinocchio on the raft was the most upsetting thing I've ever seen in my life.

If you hadn't been following the show and you stumbled onto ABC last night, the moment must have been a mind-melter, and I pity any of the uninitiated who decided to finally "see what this fairy tale show is all about." Wait, actually I don't pity them, because "The Stranger" was devastatingly amazing!!! But tell me this isn't the single most tragic image to ever appear on a fictional TV show:

Someone in the art department has a very dark sense of humor, and I'd like to take that person out for drinks.

Another irony for first time-viewers would be how little this episode made sense, but for the rest of us, things were falling into place and blank spots were being filled in:

1. August sewed the missing pages of his own story into the Story Book.

2. August is becoming a puppet (DID I NOT SAY LAST WEEK THAT IF YOU PULLED DOWN HIS PANTS YOU WOULD SEE SPINDLY PUPPET LEGS?! Well, they looked more like baseball bats.)

3. And Regina is sort of losing it. Mary Margaret's "I forgive you because you are just so pathetic" to Regina wasn't just wise, it showed an assertiveness we associate with Snow. And then Henry showed up and just broke Regina down. You shouldn't have that kind of anger come at you from your child until he is at least 16. If I were Regina I would have pulled his sandwich out of his Tron lunchbox and eaten it angrily right in front of him, locking eyes the whole time.

But instead she decided to seduce Prince Charming, which didn't work, although we were all holding our breath because who will put anything past David Nolan at this point? He still has enough decency not to have sex with the lady who framed his supposed love, Mary Margaret, but I don't think it was due to any sense of decency. I blame the lasagna. Getting freaky with a full stomach of hot, homemade lasagna is about as appealing as a warm glass of buttermilk after track practice.

In the same way that Regina runs the world (girls!) in Storybrooke, it seems like the Blue Fairy was handling Fairy World the way MasterBlaster ran Bartertown, makin' deals with Geppetto, prepping the fairies, appearing in the sky whenever someone called upon a higher power, and making Pinocchio a real boy (with a weird caveat. Can you imagine if your doctor handed you a medication you needed and then was like, "I will refill this life-saving prescription as long as you are honest and kind and brave"? Here in our non-magical world, we don't dick about with people's autonomy thanks to our awesome non-magic laws).

I love the Blue Fairy actress but now knowing what a huge part she would play in the very guts and bones of the show, why did they throw her costume together from a sexy Leg Avenue Halloween costume and a bunch of crepe streamers? Not to mention the weird platform shoes—she only ever flies, shouldn't fairies be barefoot or at least a little less clear-heels-y?

Anyway, I appreciate that her covert secret deal, which allowed Pinocchio to climb into the tree and zap into the real world, was hinted at from the very beginning (remember the lingering shot of Pinocchio in the pilot?) and while I'm still not sure why Emma believing August will make everything return to normal, I applaud the careful construction they are revealing. And shout-out to Geppetto, a.k.a. Tony Amendola, because he spent the entire episode arguing with CGI characters, which means his real-life scene partner was probably a green ping-pong ball held aloft by a key grip. Yet I was totally lost in his performance. Powerful stuff, man.

How wonderful was it to see August lay everything out for Emma in the woods? I mean, it was daft of him to take her to a tree and expect her to remember anything from the day she was born, but the idea that he had been the boy who found her and they had this weird brother-sister kind of connection was quite touching. And the long-delayed glimpse of his leg didn't help a whit anyway!

Can we discuss this?! Why didn't Emma see his dainty little baseball-bat calf? TV.com's OUaT commenters basically called like every moment of this episode (seriously, you guys are a bunch of TV detectives! Check out the last couple comment threads...you guys pieced this episode together weeks ago!!), so maybe you could explain what is going on with Emma. Is she in deep denial, as August believes? Did Regina bewitch her in some way? Is it something left over from a past interaction with Henry's dad (a.k.a. Baelfire probably)?

Also, how far up on August does the wood extend? I am not going to make any crass "he got wood" jokes, (except I just totally did, chortle) but that question was distracting me every time August batted his baby blues. Wood to his waist? Wood to his knees? How does this work? There is no magic, right, so his magic is dissolving or...?

When I stopped mentally undressing a wooden puppet man with my eyes, the conceit of August's brotherly past with Emma melted my cold angry heart, mostly because the baby "playing" Emma was the most darling creature I've ever seen. Weirdly expressive, wasn't she?! That baby has STAR QUALITY. And LIPS?! I see big things for this baby. The best child actor on this show so far.

OUaT was pulling my heartstrings like my emotions were a giant leather-clad wooden marionette with August caring about Emma but running away and mooning over his dad, and then the episode ended with a g.d. kidnapping, which I am not in favor of, and honestly Emma how could you be so dense!? You're a bounty hunter, you of all people should understand the relentless arm of the law and why kidnapping your son will only make it harder for you to get him by legal means. Thank goodness for next week's episode promos, which show us that Henry will steer the car into a group of trees or something else preposterous. We got two more episodes, Emma!

It hit me at the end, when August creepy-crawled into Geppetto's garage workshop, that this curse is the hardest on him in many ways. To have someone you love dearly not recognize you, to know every shared memory is obliterated, what is crueler? And it terrifyingly enough happens in real life all the time. Many of us have seen older relatives recoil from the people who love them most with confusion and blank stares, or gently greet a partner they've lived with for years with a veneer of politeness and distance. To have someone you've fought most of your life to understand you and approve of you, who defines your standards, suddenly look at you like a stranger? The worst and most powerful curse on this show is, behind all the shiny costumes and magical puppets, eerily close-to-home for anyone who's lost a loved one to Alzheimer's, and it rattles me. We talked about magic last week existing in our world and I think as curses go we can easily rival OUaT's fairy world with some of our own, though we label and diagnose it as disease.

I am being such a downer!! SORRY, sorry, sorry. This episode made me feel a lot, and I was very pleased that the show is so aggressively covering ground. Price Peterson made an observation to me that if this show is anything like Lost, the finale will be a mind-blowing game-changer, and they are definitely setting something huge up. So let's try to figure it out in the comments, because I gets IMPATIENT!!!


– Why didn't Emma see August's wooden appendage?

– What are your predictions for the finale?

– Am I the only one afraid of marionette puppets?!

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