Saturday, January 5, 2013

Once Upon A Time In Maine: OUAT Pilot

Alright, folks, you voted and a roughly two-thirds majority wanted us to rip Once Upon A Time to shreds. I don't actually know why, because nobody gave us any reasons, but as the poll dictates, so we write! There will be only three of these, so for those who have no interest this shouldn't take too much time away from our other two (soon to be three) shows. For those of you who do have interest: fair warning, this is worse (in our opinions) in retrospect than we remembered, and we're fairly cranky about that. We picked up OUAT right when it came out, and liked the basic premise quite a lot despite the overacting, the cheesy dialogue, and the cardboard sets. With teethmarks in them. And then, well, first season progressed. And it had to get better, right? Someone was going to call Mary Margaret and David on their incredibly shitty behavior sometime, weren't they? Maybe they didn't mean all those messages about the nature of family and true love.

Well. It got bad enough that we gave up without even finishing the season, and from the spoilers we've heard about as far as season 2, have zero interest in attempting to find the diamonds in the rough. Or the Gold, as the case may be. Our tastes are predictable and our tolerance for fucking up a perfectly good trope or three low, so without further ado, let's begin! Please keep your toes tucked under you and out of the reach of the anvils at all times; there will be many of them.

On rewatch, I don't remember these title cards being this overweening. Honestly, it seems like the kind of thing that you leave in for the test pilot and take out in editing, because your audience is not that stupid, guys, I swear. (It's the title card equivalent of bracket notes!) This will be important later, because apparently we are supposed to be this stupid ALL THE TIME. And like being treated that way. Show, you tried, you really did, but we needed maybe TWO of those title cards. Anyway, we cut to Charming riding a horse on the beach! VERY BADLY. His posture is off and looks more like he's trying to slow the horse down from a full run than urge the horse on. His feet are flapping everywhere, he has no body control whatsoever. I can't get a good look at his hands on the reins, but just going off what I can see I feel sorry for that poor horse's mouth. But the show would like us only to consider that this is a Prince going somewhere Very Fast on a White Horse. There is urgency! And a very long causeway! And swelling music that reminds us that we're in Fairy Tale Land. I have no idea what the fuck is up with the mini-climate of snow around Snow White in her glass coffin other than, I guess, it's Very Symbolic and everything. I also wish we got more background about the dwarves here, because they become so important later and they're clearly important throughout the pilot, but do we have ANY idea of how their story varies from the Disney/original fairy tale? No. No we do not. We just know they're here.

Snow, of course, is 'dead' in her coffin, as is traditional, and we know by this that we're beginning right around the happily ever after. Or rather, at the nadir followed by the happily ever after, and then straight back into a new form of hell. I do really love the concept of how happy endings never really are (because nothing ever ends, thank you Last Unicorn) but it's a) a very overworked conceit, albeit not in TV and b) I wish to hell they'd gotten better dialogue out of it. Because, as of right now, overacting is a GO. Less from the dwarves and more from Charming, who, Josh Dallas isn't bad to look at? But I swear the man has not yet proven to us that he can act his way out of a wet paper bag, which makes Ginnifer Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison that much sadder in that they have a fair number of scenes with him (Goodwin in particular) and the chemistry is just nonexistent. (Granted, part of this is that I don't feel like they gave him anything to work with, but still and nonetheless.) At any rate, we all know what's coming here! A last goodbye kiss which serves to save Snow, a tearful and joyous reunion, and... some really bad landscape CGI to indicate the force of True Love throughout the land. Which is unfortunate on two counts: one, the dwarf CGI is pretty good. Two, that whole land-altering magic thing we keep seeing? It'd be nice to have a little bit of conscious follow-through on the Fisher King/Queen trope, instead of just BANG BANG BANG YOU ALL KNOW THIS TROPE RIGHT? Now let us never speak of it again. (For good examples of follow-through on this see Babylon 5 and Pirates of the Caribbean.) And in a lot of respects we don't, we have the negatives of the ruler tied to the land shown but never the positives, to the point where I'm not sure what the positives are even supposed to be.

Moving on, back to the reunion! It's a little overbearing but that's mostly because this is Fairy Tale Land, and I have to think that Goodwin would have played up the snarky tones on her delivery about the glass coffin giving her pause if she'd known then what we all know now about Snow's background. As it is, the snark does sort of come through, which I will mostly credit to the writers. I will also question what the fuck kind of a weirdass jump cut that was, between reunion and royal wedding. Both in terms of the sudden nature of it and in terms of PICK A DIALECT AND STICK WITH IT AUGH. I know this is only the pilot, but they keep jolting us back and forth between archaic and modern language and it's very disconcerting. We get a quick pan over a whole bunch of people who will Be Important Later, though an unfortunate lack of indication of who they are and why they're important enough to Snow and Charming to be invited to their wedding. Or important enough to the kingdom(s) to be invited to A Political Event. Meanwhile, Evil and Sex go together! Because that's not overused. And since we know nothing about the Evil Queen's character here, we're struck by it as a writing choice rather than as a choice on the character's part after deciding that her body is a tool and a weapon as any other. You can do femme fatale well, but this introduction? Not one of them. Minus ten points from Slytherin post-production for making her look like she's literally gliding across the floor for absolutely no reason. (Also the costumes are absurd. Snow's all in feathers and yes, of course this is how Emma gets the last name of Swan. Regina has some truly abominable corseting issues and looks like she's been shopping for hair accessories at Hot Topic. Not the look you want for your Evil Queen of Evil, guys.) Anyway, Regina delivers some threats, Snow delivers some counter-threats which is the first unambiguous sign of agency we've gotten out of her, and Charming decides that he's going to step in and play peacemaker. Sure, Charming, you go right ahead and do that, you dolt. That always works out so well. Does that scenery taste good, Lana Parilla? I have to say for what she's given to work with as far as motivations in this season she does a fantastic job switching up the various faces Regina wears on the turn of a dime.

So, Regina will give them their wedding day and then start working for their ultimate destruction! She badly needs to read the Evil Overlord list. And the writers are leaning a little too heavily on the bad faery/witch uninvited to the wedding/christening/other happy occasion trope. We do, at least, get some glimpses of the vulnerability and hurt that Regina felt when she was a girl on "I will destroy your happiness if it is the last thing I do," but it's awfully subtle and easy to miss with all the posturing and stalking around like a dominatrix they had her do. Charming proceeds to attempt to badass and only succeeds in losing a perfectly good sword, I question why she made the sword disappear rather than letting it fly through her and potentially hit an innocent bystander. I mean, as ways to fuck with your enemies goes, that's a good one. She should take lessons from Loki. (I lie. Nobody should take lessons from Loki.) And the once-happy couple cling together in concern and Snow is apparently something of a wilting daisy again. See, this is part of why we kept watching as long as we did, because we hoped that more backstory would make the character progressions make sense. Alas, it didn't so much make sense as become hopelessly convoluted. There's something to be said for needing actual murderboards to keep track of all your players, yes, but then you have to use them and not just throw out random details when it doesn't suit your purposes.

And fade in on the book! Panning out to Henry, who is clearly in Our World, not least because the lighting's changed. Even with Regina's appearance, FTL was warmly lit and drenched in color; ours is washed out and dark by comparison. This could have done more subtly, but for a pilot it's not bad as a tactic. Hey, we're in Boston! On Kingston St! I'm sure this has no symbolism what-so-fucking-ever, they would NEVER do a thing like that. We get a random woman leaning over to talk to Henry and our first clue that he's not exactly normal when he calmly informs her that it's not just a book. Though I have to say, on the face of it, that is totally the kind of shit I'd have pulled as a kid if a strange adult decided interrupting my reading time was a good idea. (It might be the kind of shit I'd pull now, only I'd swear a whole lot more.) However, because we know he must be important, we also know that he's not just playing the smart kid who wants the dumb adult to go away and leave him alone card. (Though he totally is.) I'm pretty impressed, really, both by the child actor they got for Henry and by the poise with which the character acts. At a guess, he planned every step of this journey out, since he's never been (to our knowledge he couldn't have been) outside Storybrooke.

I giggle at the cabbie who's kind of adorable and hey look, our first impression of Emma! Who is, of course, wearing a bright pink dress so that she stands out from the crowd. This works both in Watsonian and Doylist realms, where she's probably wearing the color agreed upon as a signal between her and the mark, and also it serves to set her apart from everyone else. Pink, rather than red, because red is a more blatantly sexual color and Emma is, while not averse to using her sexuality as a weapon, not on Regina's level with it either. We'll see these color choices reflected repeatedly throughout the costumes, where Emma is the middle ground between Regina and Mary Margaret. We can see her posture change from fairly self-assured (as much as one can manage to look self-assured in heels that high) to deliberately awkward first date mannerisms as she comes up to the table; it's a nice bit of acting on Morrison's part. It's interesting that she chooses a truth to open with; in fact I don't think she lies throughout this conversation and I would be interested to see the OKCupid (or whatever) records to see if she lied in any way other than by omission over all their interactions. If they had kept this kind of ability up, Emma would have been a very interesting character indeed; as it is we lost a lot of that suavity early on. I can fanwank some of that due to her being wrong-footed by Henry and then by her growing realization that Henry's neither lying nor crazy (seriously, what do they teach them in schools these days), but at some point during this season it would've been nice to see her reach a balance of blunt fuck-you attitude with this ability to manipulate others. ANYway. We go through the not!date and this really might be the best scene in the entire pilot. The switch Emma makes from giggly ingenue to cold bail bondsperson? BRILLIANT. God, why couldn't they have given her more moments of competence like this.

Table-flipping commences, quite literally, which is just... heh. Emma is a lot of things, but a profiler ain't one, or she would've seen that coming a bit more. Her "really?" is more resigned and exasperated, though, so I'm guessing she's more annoyed with herself for not getting out of the way of the wine. And we get a good look at all of her outfit here, and I just have to sigh. Because the dress, okay, it could be made of a sufficiently stretchy fabric to let her move quickly, but there are different heels she could have worn, different outfits in general she could have worn, and not blown her cover while still being able to chase the idiot. I do like that she uses all the other weapons at her disposal to keep him from leaving and her strength isn't necessarily predicated on physicality, but if something had gone just a little bit wrong that would've turned into a foot chase. Which is no fun in heels or barefoot. Of course, she's the protag, so that doesn't happen and we get a nice jab from the bail-jumper about what Emma knows about family. About this point is when I started wondering if she and Henry have the same birthday, just because that would be par for the course in anviliciousness for this show and twist the knife on that even further. I don't think we ever got confirmation one way or the other, though. His head goes into the steering column in retaliation, and the cleanup on that is left to our imagination. Instead, we focus on Emma walking into her apartment presumably some hours later, still in heels and wine-stained dress and carrying takeout. Ow. As she clearly also feels about those shoes.

Her apartment looks like not so much. Admittedly, she might have just moved in, which also speaks to her detachment from human connections and her inability to settle somewhere and collect Stuff as humans seem to do. When we first get a good look at her apartment it contains, apart from the kitchen island, chairs, and lamp which may have come with the unit: a lot of file boxes. At least six in view, to be precise, and one most likely mail tub with what looks like a poster tube sticking out of it. When we turn the camera angle around after seeing her get out the Cupcake of Loneliness (because she's celebrating alone she only needs one cupcake, as opposed to the entire cake of loneliness and Hollywood-fat-ugly gluttony, don't we just love Hollywood standards) and a candle in the shape of a blue star. Because When You Wish Upon A Star you get a Blue Fairy, don't you know. I'm pretty sure everyone and their animal sidekick has caught this by now, but we repeat it here because it really is that heavy-handed about the references. And she still has furniture that looks more like a real estate agent or apartment style director picked it out to go with the apartment than like she might have actually picked it out because it pleased her. Literally the only personal touches in this apartment are the file boxes and the cupcake she bought. I'd even be willing to bet the dish towel hanging off the oven handle is stock apartment fare. Emma, you have the most depressing apartment ever. Captain I-don't-use-my-kitchen Renard has a less depressing apartment than you do.

To be fair, she sounds depressed. She also moves like that dress is uncomfortably tight and she'd rather be dressed in sweats and soaking her feet after those heels, I'm not sure if it's the feet or the dress that's giving her this stiffness of body. She makes a face that's largely a caricature of making a wish and blows out the candle and, as if on cue (because it was), there's a ring of her doorbell! I'd bitch about the contrivance of it all except this is one of those contrivances we accept, largely, in television and film. Just as we accept that someone's going to turn on the news at just the right moment to hear the broadcast about the alien invasion or the political coup rather than the sports, weather, or feel-good local story of the day, so too do we accept that Henry rings her doorbell just after she's made a wish. She opens the door, we get another good look at the writing on the door, which is entertainingly covered in writing. Seriously, it looks like something we might have done to our college dorm room doors if we were allowed. Now, it's hard to make out the writing on the door both because of the angle and because of the stylized font, but if I had to make a guess I'd say those are fairy tale classification numbers to go along with words and phrases like "captivate" and "entrance cast a spell beguile" and "enrapture transport." The numbers roughly align to the Aarne Thompson classification system, at least, and as far as anvils go that one is actually fairly subtle, so kudos to whoever thought of that, if we're right. This is the kind of shit we started this blog for. (The words, much less subtle.) Moving on from the door, though, to the kid on the other side of it. Hi Henry! We get an amusing start when we close up on her face at adult-height, take a beat, and then pan down as she looks down to see Henry there, good comedic timing on that. We also get a good view of the door opposite when we swing around to Henry, which does not have writing on it, but rather a black scribble on a white surface as though someone were scratching something out. So it's just Emma, then. Okay! Henry seems aware that he might get a poor reception, but he can't resist grinning when he says "I'm your son." Oh honey.

After the break we follow Henry into the apartment as Emma's protesting, albeit not too hard, probably for fear of hurting the kid's feelings at least initially. She might not have the social skills for this kind of situation, but that doesn't mean she has NO social skills and she really doesn't want to hurt Henry. We also get another personal item, hey! It's a... Rubik's cube. An unsolved one, and while solving a Rubik's cube is generally one of those signs of This Is A Smart Person, like someone who stares thoughtfully at a chessboard, this cube just sits there. Presumably it's meant to be proof that Emma does do something other than track down bail-jumpers and file bond paperwork, but I'm not buying it and neither should you. One cube puzzle does not a life make.

Henry keeps insisting it's true, and asks her if she gave up a kid for adoption ten years ago? Hi Mom! Emma (props to Jennifer Morrison for a suitably understated but clearly emotional performance) can't argue anymore at this point, and has to take a minute to have a silent freak-out in the bathroom. Again, presumably to protect the kid from what she guesses would be an upsetting experience for him. Which is rather sweet, really. Henry's voice comes blithely through the door so she can't shut it out as she clearly would like to do and pretend it was all just a bad dream. While we're in the bathroom with Emma I'd just like to note, honey, blood red manicure with that pink dress? Not your best idea. I'm just saying. It might be another deliberate tack to make her look awkward, either in the Watsonian or the Doylist sense. But unlike other shows, I'm actually disinclined to believe that here; Once isn't good at subtle and it isn't good at consistent subtle. Anyway, when she comes out again Henry is drinking the juice he found while she was in there. It's cute that you think you've got fridge privileges, kid, but Emma's got her armor back on now. He tells her, possibly hoping to capitalize on her surprise, that they should probably get going. Emma gives him the look I reserve for things which skitter across my floor at odd hours of the night which might be the cat or might be something with more legs than permitted in the house. In this case, Henry might be a lonely kid in need of help and answers or he might be a restraining order/arrest warrant waiting to happen. Henry wants her to come home with him! Which tips the needle towards restraining order waiting to happen, so Emma quite sensibly says she's going to go call the cops now. Entertainingly, Henry seems to have planned for this contingency. At the very least he seems to have thought about what to do if she tries to call the cops, which isn't an unreasonable thing to do when confronted with a ten year old who wants you to go out of state with him. This is actually way more advance planning than most child heroes get, so go Henry! We'll enjoy the display of intelligence on our screen while it lasts.

Continuing along the surprisingly smart vein, Emma admits out loud for the benefit of the audience that the cops would probably believe him because she's his birth mother. And Henry grins and nods at his own cleverness, and then follows one of the most contentious bits of exposition I've seen on that show in our tenure as fans of the show: Emma's superpower. Now, point the first: she's saying this to call the kid's bluff. Clearly, and openly. Point the second: She's the only one (as far as we've seen anyway) who refers to it as a "superpower," which she phrases as though calling it that is a device rather than a technical and specific term. Point the third: saying "I know when you're lying" is a time-honored tactic of parents to kids, and possibly something she might well have picked up in a foster home or three. So, it's possible that this is all just calling Henry's bluff. At least I really hope that is the case because if she really does have a lie-dar as opposed to a natural talent honed by years of practice dealing with criminals and habitual liars? Where the fairy tale fuck does that power go after the pilot? There are any number of situations that follow where such a sense would have been useful. Most of the ones that come to mind offhand involve Sydney. In conclusion, either their writing is about to get deeply, deeply inconsistent or it's a competent bit of character building that she knows how to handle both kids and liars. At the moment, we'll say we don't have enough data to determine which. Either way, bluff called, Henry begs her not to call the cops and to come home with him. Emma clearly is only agreeing because she doesn't trust that he wouldn't skip again given half a chance, which probably is from years as a bail bondswoman. So, off to Storybrooke (yes, seriously, Emma) for her and Henry. Also, in this last shot we have one personal item, hanging out on the back of a chair. A suspiciously white afghan with suspicious pink-and-red detailing on it. Yeah, I'm calling that as the baby blanket Emma was in when she was shoved in the wardrobe-tree-thing.

And cut back to Fairy Tale Land! The cuts back and forth between Storybrooke and Fairy Tale Land are pretty decent, no amusing-the-first-couple-of-times idiosyncratic wipes, just smooth transitions. There is still no reasonable explanation I can see for that feather dress other than, again, to emphasize the 'swan' part of Emma Swan. And while we're on the subject of Emma's name, there's a Jane Austen joke I want to make here about helping people find their happy endings but can't quite find the words. Pretend I made it. Anyway, there's Snow and one of her trademark bluebirds that looks nothing like a bluebird. Or rather, it looks like someone took the body of one kind of bluebird and the plumage of another and smashed them together. Or maybe it's a blue canary? Which makes no sense because Fairy Tale Land has neither outlets nor light switches. ANYWAY. Snow. And her bird. Which is blue. And her white feather swan dress. And her sweet but doofy husband with his lines out of a 80s family sitcom and his outfit out of my Renne Faire box. Look, if they're going to set this up for me I'm going to take it. I appreciate that they're trying to set a mood of "This is a land of myth and magic" here, but the dialect is once again jarringly modern and the clothes are just as odd and incongruent with each other, some period (or acceptably pseudo-period) and some took a glance through a history book on their way to Fifth Avenue. Snow's worrying about the Queen's curse. Charming (whose name we have yet to learn) isn't worried about the curse, he's more worried about Snow's worrying. I'm worried about Snow's hair, which has the sort of windblown look like she had it all neat and pinned up in a ceremonial hairstyle with flowers in and then took a drive down an expressway with the top down. (Also, Snow honey, if you have a rough pregnancy having crap for sleep is perfectly normal and doesn't have to involve an Evil Queen, I'm just saying. Not that anyone's thinking of such mundane causes here.) There's some debate over whether or not they have cause to worry, which amounts to nothing either constructive or informative except a line reference to the original Snow White story we all know and love. Then we do get something more informative, which is that there's a mysterious "him" who most likely possesses Information Man Was Not Meant to Know, also known as "answers." Snow thinks this mysterious "him" can guarantee their child's safety. I snort and laugh and think about how nothing in fairy tales is guaranteed without a price and maybe not even then. And while the phrasing is semi-inadvertent, that's a theme that was echoing long before anyone set pen to paper for this script. Centuries before. So I will close out this scene with noting two things: one, this was an excellent place to cram in some more world-building dialogue that they didn't take and two, that the cut line of "for our child" and then onto Emma's face was, in fact, a very good transition. We will ignore the toys in the royal nursery for the moment, on account of they're not relevant until we get to Gold's pawnshop, which we don't in this ep. But know that we're aware of the significance and relevance!

Ahh, the car. We see Emma's packed for a road trip, sensible clothes, jacket, and uncomfortable silence, check, check, and check. Henry would like to stop for snacks! No, Henry. There's some snark back and forth and yes, Emma, you could have put Henry on a bus and he'd just come right back. You know that, that's why you didn't. She does, too, but I put it out there for everyone else; it's actually not unreasonable, given the circumstances, for her to be the responsible adult and drive Henry back up to Maine.  She wants to know what the book's about, but Henry isn't giving answers anymore. I like that they put the "I don't know if you're ready" line in Henry's mouth. Kids rarely get that kind of power/control unless it's an all-adults-are-useless story. Which, everyone in this show is useless, but hey. Henry tells her and us that all the fairy tales are true, neatly rendering obsolete those title cards we saw earlier, and she flat out doesn't believe him and says so. He dares her to use her "superpower" on him, and she does give him a couple of glances, but as with most forms of lie detection including the cold-reading one (which, again, might be all she's doing) it's pretty well impossible to spot a lie if the subject believes it. Which Henry does. And Emma points out that just because he believes it doesn't make it true, just so we know. It's interesting that Henry gets the line "[belief] is exactly what makes it true." Clap if you believe in fairies, anyone? Or Dumbo's feather, or any of half a dozen other stories. In this case, though, no. Belief is not what makes the fairy tales true, the fact that they're true is what makes it true, but again, Emma doesn't know this. It ends with Emma flat out saying that Henry's got problems. And Henry flat out saying to a disbelieving Emma that she's gonna fix 'em. The amount of weaponized truthfulness in this car amuses me greatly. Also her discomfort over Henry's belief, which comes across as a mix of wondering if there's something more than a crazy kid and wondering why the hell she's stuck with this crazy kid in her car. And, possibly, some concern over his home life, just at a guess, since she's been in the foster system and they need to set up some reason(s) for her to stay in Storybrooke later on.

Back, then, to Fairy Tale Land! One of the more common cuts they use in s1 is from Henry's book to FTL and sometimes the other way around, which works well as a framing device, giving us some predictability in when we're heading back there. If book, then transition likelier. In this case, we go from the picture of the torch to an actual torch, flaming in the dungeons. We hear the guard explaining to Snow and Charming how to stay safe from Rumpelstiltskin, and then we have our moment of fangirl glee, because for us, Robert Carlyle's acting was one of the high points of this show. I have to assume that a lot of the backstory with Rumpelstiltskin and everyone else was developed later on, because this series of warnings, with most of s1 under our belts, is clearly for the audience's benefit and would indicate that Snow and Charming haven't had prior dealings with the magic man. Which we know is untrue, though it's also quite likely that it's not common knowledge. I still question the intelligence of their guard giving them these warnings well within earshot of the cell. I mean, what? Really? But HI ROBERT CARLYLE. If we recall correctly, hanging from the bars like that was his idea, and it serves to underline the madness, both real and feigned to put others off guard, that's a hallmark of Rumpelstiltskin (although somewhat less so of Gold). It's a very nice bit of body language, and while it's somewhat over the top (like a lot of the other acting in this), it works. So. He drops down from the ceiling into a crouch, and we can see from this that he's in no way intimidated by being short. (Carlyle is quite short, too.) And he sort of titters their names out, though of course these aren't their true names, as far as we know. (We know for sure about Charming; we're not so sure about Snow.) Snow, Charming, your 'disguises' would go a lot better if you weren't letting bits of standard royal garb peek out. Especially Charming. This is pretty much the point at which, on very first viewing, we looked at each other and went "yeah, Rumpelstiltskin is exactly where he WANTS to be right now." Because it was awfully obvious, but then we're cynical like that. He has about as little patience for Charming's doofusness as we do, which is part of what endeared him to us in the first place. Yes, do skip the unnecessary exposition. Which serves a dual purpose of establishing Rumpelstiltskin as impatient and quick to anger (and probably the most subtle person on this show and I'll stop comparing him to Gandalf now, I swear) and not inflicting more expo-speak on us. For small favors we will be grateful.

Charming doesn't want to take deals from Rumpelstiltitters (yes, we came up with a lot of snarky names for him after getting tired of typing the full thing all the time, now we're giving them to you in turn, enjoy), who of course has both knowledge and a deal. One might almost say he's been waiting for this opportunity. Or something. Snow, however, has other plans. Which apparently involve getting him to cough up information first so she doesn't have to, and may I just point out the protagonist-centered morality going on here? We're put in the position of believing that Rumpelstiltskin has done something sufficiently heinous to warrant being jailed, presumably for life (in a cell that looks like he could turn sideways and slip through the bars), and despite his bad attitude he is the one dealing in good faith with them. Also, I'm pretty sure that his request for the name of the child is his own personal key to remembering who he is once the curse is cast. A mental link to the one person who bridges both worlds? (As far as we know at the outset, anyway, August and whoever Bae turned out to be aside; those seem to have been accidental rather than deliberate and as with most magic workings, intent matters.) Hey, look, the queen really is going to take away the happy endings, just like she SAID SHE WOULD. Guys, when you've got magic as a known force, you might want to spend the at-minimum nine months researching whether or not the evil queen can pull off her threat. I'm just saying. I can't believe the amount of stupidity we're expected to swallow on the part of the protags here and yet still root for them. (I mean, yes, we value intelligence, there's a reason we analyze the shows we do. But we enjoy that intelligence most when it's mirrored in the characters and tempered with compassion.) There's a lot of back and forth between serious-face and aren't-I-crazy-face from Rumpelstiltskin throughout this scene, which only serves to emphasize that most of the supposedly-crazy is a facade. So, alright, the prison is time and nobody can help except the child, that's pretty standard savior trope. Charming is stereotypically male-offended about Rumpelstiltskin touching his wife/being near their child, and we take a moment to roll our eyes about caveman manners. Snow is plenty smart enough to be aware she's within touching distance. And while she may not be doing it consciously, Rumpel probably hasn't been touched in a helluva long time.

On to more of the curse! 28 is an interesting choice for how old Emma has to be in order to return to her parents/Storybrooke/etc. At first we thought, okay, 3 to the 3rd, maybe they don't want to be seen as copying Haven - but no. She's exiled for a full 3 times 3 years, and this is the first time she's allowed back, is once that span of years ends. Which makes perfect numerological sense. Charming has had enough of this maniacal giggling shit, not that I entirely blame him, and goes all domineering and takes himself and his wife off away from the madman without upholding their end of the deal. This, predictably, enrages a person we already know runs on deal-making, both because we know the original story and because that's his given as his defining characteristic almost immediately. Charming then proceeds to lie about the gender of their child because he is not genre-savvy at-fucking-all, while Snow's reaction is muted due to the cloak and lighting, but we can safely say she feels guilt at this. And perhaps she didn't fully intend to leave Rumpelstiltskin hanging like that, but she's got a lot on her mind right now; I'm willing to give her some benefit of the doubt and place most of the blame for this stunt on Charming's shoulders. (Honey, why the hell did you marry him again?) Especially because, once Rumpel's rage cools to wheedling, she does turn and give him the name. One predictably creepy roll of the name around Rumpel's mouth (but effective nonetheless), and we pan back over to the car, just as you'd expect with that segue.

The ominous music as they pass the sign for Storybrooke informs us that this is a Momentous And Portentous Occasion, neatly and a bit heavily foreshadowing the fact that now Emma can't leave. Poor Emma. I have my issues with her characterization and with having to root for her as a protag, but she gets royally screwed by the narrative, pun fully intended. After the break, we get them driving into town and Henry is now being a shit purely for the sake of being a shit, as far as I can tell, about 24th Not Telling You Street. Yeah, I'd have stopped the car at that point too. This gives us a nice long look at the clock which will of course be important later, which doesn't move at all and has been frozen Henry's whole life. (I would love to know, by the way, their logic on how Henry can't save Storybrooke, it has to be Emma, since he's got this whole thing figured out already and although he's more of our world than FTL, he could probably learn to tip that balance no problem.) Also, really, if time's been frozen his whole life and nobody ages (which of course they don't) and so on and so forth? Getting Emma to believe him ought to be a really simple matter of digging up old photos with some sort of artifact time-marker on them, or something similar. Henry's smart, we've established this, and this is the kind of research Emma should know how to do from her job, so I don't know why it seems like NOBODY ever thinks of this once Emma gets a little more convinced that something weird is going on. Which she's not at all right now, and I can't blame her. This sounds like a kid who's so immersed in a fantasy life that he feels the need to drag adults into it in inappropriate and dangerous ways, and it's only because of the narrative that we're allowed to believe Henry at all. (Honestly, I kind of wish I could shove Redshirts at K&H and go DON'T BOW TO THE NARRATIVE THAT'S CHEATING.) And then we get the most underused character in the entire show! Archie! We love you Archie. Not coincidentally, all the residents of Storybrooke are lacking in a goddamn conscience (or any kind of common sense) with the probable exceptions of Henry and Emma.

Now, I have no idea why they gave Archie the dalmatian Pongo, it serves no purpose other than being another Disney/storybook call-out and to show that Archie has some vague semblance of a life and tastes, in pets if nothing else. But it's cute and also does no harm to anything, so it may pass. What may not pass is the fact that Archie is now confronted with a stranger in Storybrooke, something which as we see later from August's arrival is unusual enough to be remarked upon by just about everyone. And yet Archie just takes it all in with a dubious look and an "oh, I see." This might be meant to convey how stable and steady Archie is? But the timing of it all would have been better served by a stability marker further down the line and some highlight of how strange it is to have a stranger in town here. It'd require a little more finesse to do so without alerting Emma to the fact that there really is something strange about this town, which for the sake of good pacing we don't want to do yet, but finesse isn't something Once Upon A Time is familiar with. At all. The other option that requires less finesse would have been to have fewer people comment on the stranger being in town, but continuity isn't something Once Upon A Time is that familiar with either. Anyway. Henry chirps cheerfully to Archie that this is his Mom, which Archie seems to take note of, probably because it's a very familiar term to apply to someone who as far as he knows is a total stranger to Henry, especially without even the qualifier of "birth-"mom. And then Henry's credibility takes a couple of hits as Emma learns that not only is he the child of the mayor of the town, he's in therapy for as-yet-unrevealed issues. Probably, she would guess and so would I in her situation, relating to the notion that everybody in the town is a fairy tale person. That's the kind of thing most adults would send their kid to a shrink for, if only to find out what event in the kid's life necessitates such a drastic coping mechanism.

Henry tries to squirm out of being called out on his running away, to which Archie replies that he knows Henry's lying too, fair enough. But then we get a truly awkward line about giving into one's dark side, which, while I appreciate the intent? That's just clunky dialogue, and once again, finesse is not something this show does well. Or at all. Emma interrupts, thankfully, to get Henry home, and Archie leaves with Pongo and a last gentle admonishment at Henry. Emma gives Henry the "so. You have a shrink." speech, which is in character if irksome in the implication that people with shrinks are automatically unreliable. Henry protests he's not crazy, which we the audience know he isn't, nor unreliable (at least for those reasons), so there's that mitigating it at least. And we get another round of everyone is secretly a fairy tale character who doesn't know who he or she is. Highlights include "Who's he supposed to be?" "Jiminy Cricket!" and "I'm not Pinocchio!" "Of course not. Because that would be ridiculous." The switch between clunky dialogue and witty, well-written dialogue is giving me whiplash. We fade out on Emma's license plate, which is 836 M4X for those of you for whom that means something, it might be a Lost reference, I understand? And over to Fairy Tale Land in an abrupt but not horrible cut.

Josh Dallas is doing his best to be authoritative and commanding, even pounding the table, but, honey, it's not working. And we have the actual cricket Jiminy, here, who repeats the dark side line just in case we needed something to connect Archie with Jiminy. The line is as out of place here as it was a minute and a half ago, and it comes across as an orphaned punchline after the wit has left the room. Charming cuts off that line of thinking right quick with the very true question of how many wars a clean conscience has won. The only other thing that would make this exchange more tolerable would be if they went anywhere with anyone's struggle against their darker natures except, arguably, Rumplestiltskin. Spoiler: They don't. Good characters commit bad acts, but neither they nor we nor any other character in the show are given any sign that we are meant to doubt their goodness. Bad characters sometimes commit good acts, and only Rumplestiltskin gets the benefit of it counting towards a redemption. For all that this show could have had all sorts of fun, massive gray areas, they really love their black and white. That said, since this Evil Curse thing falls under the heading of "never start a fight but always finish one" I'm going to have to agree with Prince Daffy on the subject of fighting the Queen being justified. I will, however, question why Granny and Red are on the war council. We have no idea what their history is, we're not given any visual cues that these are people who might have experience fighting a war or planning one, the only thing we know is that clearly this is Red Riding Hood (from her hood don'tcha know!) and her grandmother, and grandmother knits. That's it. We have a war council of dwarves, who may or may not be good at war but at least some of them get lines and seem to talk sense. Jiminy Cricket, who we have no background on other than the story he comes from so we have to assume he's not planned out so much as a skirmish either. Snow White, who we did see pulling a sword with some degree of poise and skill earlier so she might well know how to use one, some knights, and... that's it. Really, guys, this is your war council? Not even some other fairy tale princes who might have reason to know how to plan a battle? Especially since we get other fairy tale princes later! No stirring up the traditional roles a bit, maybe giving Red Riding Hood a red war helm instead, or giving her some actual lines or something to do? Writers, I am disappoint. No wonder these guys lost.

Charming has sent some men into the forest. Scouts are good! The animals are abuzz with the Queen's plan. Okay... this is a good line drop that as far as I can tell went nowhere very quickly. The animals talk? Do they talk to anyone or just special people like the Huntsman and Snow? Do they only talk to people with Pixie MoonDrip names or do they talk to everyone? Is this another Narnia reference? And if the animals talk intelligently to humans, isn't there a way to get them to help in the fighting? Presumably the Evil Queen's evil spreads to every living creature, fairy tale evil usually does. Maybe that's why Jiminy's there in the first place, representative of talking animals! Yes? No? No. All right, then. Another line drop that goes absolutely nowhere. I'm getting tired of picking up after you guys. Snow seems to be having another bout of fatalistic depression, which, having had her worst fears reinforced by Rumpleknowsitall, makes a fair amount of sense. She also looks like she's been getting about half as much sleep as she needs, which, pregnancy will do that to you, I hear. Charming sweetly but doofily insists that good must triumph because reasons. No, seriously, that's about the logic here, good must triumph because he has to believe that because reasons. There's not even a morale issue being brought up. Oh, and true love. Good must triumph because belief, reasons, and true love. He does bring up the good point, after all this earnestness, that if she believes Rumplestiltshithead about the curse then she should believe him about their child, who is destined to save them. It's true, it's kind of a package deal if you're assuming from magic, curses, and destiny.

Snow doesn't get a chance to respond because BANG! Fairies love a dramatic entrance, and the Blue Fairy is no different. She comes in leading four knights pulling a tree, and I have to wonder what kind of clout she has in this land that she can just order four knights away from their duties of guarding, training, or what have you, to pull a tree into a war council. I have to assume that she was invited, told Charming that she was working on something, and subsequently asked to bring it to the council when it was done. I also have to assume that the costume designer was smoking some serious dope because jellyfairies? Really? I have no idea what in the name of Sarah's ballgown is going on with that fairy costume. It looks like someone smashed together a prom dress and the yipyips from Sesame Street. Her diction and dialogue are also stilted and weird, but I'm going to be charitable and put that down to them underlining that fairies are Not Of This Earth. Very charitable, here. The tree is apparently a magic tree that can ward off curses, fair enough, we're in fairy tale land now, these things happen. Gepetto can build it, can't he? Sure he c-- wait a second, why is a toymaker and his not-even-teenaged son on a war council? What the hell kind of war council is this? Seriously, would it have killed you to have dropped a line about "do you have someone who could build such a thing" and then half the war council bursts into Gepetto's workshop and "we need you to build a thing!" No? Just me then? Okay. The boy's playing with a whale, too. Cute. We then learn that the tree can protect only one which, again, fair enough. Magic does have limits and restrictions, this is just something we take for granted as being a part of these stories. But, again, would it have killed them to put this dialogue before, drop Gepetto for an immediately subsequent scene, and put a war council we can actually believe in the room instead of one that's just nameless knights and name-dropped story characters who have no business running a war? Apparently so. They can't seem to decide if they want their Fairy Tale Land to be believable to modern adult sensibilities or sanitized for very small children and it is extremely grating to be thrown back and forth between randomass story characters on a war council and things like, oh, Red actually being a wolf and eating her boyfriend. Some of that can be chalked up to development of story and characters over the course of the season, but there are ways to do that which allow for consistency of same. And they took the lazy way out by expecting us to just forget about the world they half-assed way back here. No, guys, not with us.

We leave Snow and Charming to realize their imminent separation (which of course it won't be, because the narrative says so) and go back to a very large house, bordering on a mansion. All in white with black shutters because Once still doesn't do subtle. Speaking of not subtle, Henry's declaring that he has no parents, just a mother who doesn't love him. Ouch, kid. And whether or not Emma believes that, it hits all of her buttons, both the ones from her childhood and the ones about having given up her own kid for adoption because she was all of 18 (if that) and couldn't take care of him. Given that Henry's been cast as having wisdom beyond his years, I'd guess that this is one part hurt and upset kid lashing out at the places where it'll hurt Emma the worst and two parts hurt and upset kid who doesn't want to go back to a place that is, well. As cold and sterile as the inside of that house. Emma sighs and bends down the way you do with kids when you want them to believe you're being honest with them, that literal talking to them on their/the level thing, and right on cue with her "I'm sure she loves you very much" we get Regina flying out the door to hug her son. Some good foreshadowing with Graham's presence in the house at such a late hour, which could be taken as the sheriff being around on account of missing child but probably was also for utterly skeezy reasons. And I'm going to pause here to rant some about the absolutely abominable messages Once sends about family. Chosen family, family that chooses you is always evil. Blood family is always good, even if you've never known these people in your life. They did, I think, slightly subvert this trope with Gepetto, except that as far as we know, August|Pinocchio kind of turned out to be an asshat, so I'm not sure how much that counts. All the major characters get hammered with the anvil of Blood Family Is The Only Real Family You Will Ever Have And You Will Never Make Anything Better For Yourself. And guys? That is a poisonous, vicious set of lies. It's one of the main reasons I finally threw up my hands and stopped watching, because if you haven't already noticed, we have something of a found/chosen families preference in our stories. And yeah, of course there's biases at work here, but fuck's sake you could at least try to be a little broader in your perspective. No? Just me? Right then. It would also, moving away from biases and into bad storytelling, be really nice if we got any consistency on Regina's character. Because it's entirely reasonable for her to be defensive and wary on meeting Henry's birth mother after a closed adoption, but then she flips to threats and that's clearly over the line. And then she stays at the evillest person that ever evilled for all of s1 and they don't bother to do any redemption arc for her until s2, from what we've heard. I would have fewer problems with this, and the probability that there are some very subtle indications of redemption for Regina in Our World's timeline, if they didn't have such difficulty with a balance of cardboard-scenery-munching over the top and tiny tiny details that get lost because of that same exaggerated writing/acting/directorial style. It would be far more believable and far less jarring if they'd dialed the pulpy goodness back and let the small details shine.

Moving along! Emma and Regina have their first scene together, and aside from some clunky dialogue it's actually quite good. (Apple cider. Hah. Hah. Hah. You're adorable, guys. Okay, no, that was actually a semi-clever use of the original fairytale, but it's the kind where I facepalm anyway because of the original fairytale.) Regina has the concerned mom/polite politician act down cold, and though she's a bit over-defensive we could forgive her for that. You know, if she weren't yes actually evil under there. We get some character-building more than world-building, and some guns on the mantel about how Emma got pregnant and where the father is and so on. And more guns with Graham being a sort of father figure to Henry, at a guess because he feels weird about sleeping with the poor kid's mother. Graham, you poor, poor bastard, you got the short end of every plotstick they could find. (By the way, did the question of Henry's bio-dad ever get answered? Because we were rooting for it to be August or Baelfire for the longest goddamn time and gave up before the writers decided answers would be useful.) But, you know, as far as pilot characterization goes it's pretty good! Emma looks like nothing so much as the same rebellious and terrified teen who gave up a son for adoption, and Regina is absolutely prepared to make use of that to make Emma feel small and childish for even being here. She regains her footing pretty quick, though, probably on account of her job tossing her into a wide range of environments up to and including snooty rich politicians. And then we have a nice switch on Lana Parilla's part from mother and mayor to Evil Queen sitting up and paying attention to this book Emma's talking about. It's a great moment, and unfortunately I don't remember getting any follow through on whether Regina was lying or if she really didn't know. (And if she didn't, what the fuck were Archie and Henry talking about in sessions? I can't believe Regina didn't get summaries if not full transcriptions of those.) Not that we ever really get any clear explanation for why Henry a) has this book b) knows that it's not just a book c) knows how to break the curse even a little bit. Because that would involve setting down rules for your magic and sticking to them. Which is another thing Once is terrible at. But Emma's trying very hard not to overstep her bounds, so she'll leave, and Regina is only too happy to oblige. Which Emma notices, but can't seem to think of a good out, so away she goes with a last look up at Henry's bedroom window. Oh kid. And then I get into pacing issues, because frankly in a lot of respects this feels like where the pilot should have ended: Emma driving out of town and crashing into the Welcome to Storybrooke sign to avoid hitting the Plot Wolf. (Which is at least decent foreshadowing for Graham.) They could have given us more world-building in FTL, or in Our World, or any of half a dozen other things to flesh out the remaining 20 minutes; the point is that the pacing is weak here and it didn't have to be. They could have allowed the pilot to end with the implication that Emma is staying (because she has no other choice) rather than browbeating us with her choice this early on, but again, this show? Not so much with the subtle.

We get another of those close-ups of the book to signify switching realities (and man, they could have given us so many more answers about the book so much earlier and it would have been OKAY because it would've just led to more questions, but I digress) and fade in on Gepetto and Pinocchio working in the workshop. Which appears to have no reason other than to show us that the wardrobe is nearing completion, and a brief moment of family bonding, aww. It's cute, but I'm not sure why it took them that long and why they needed the big long swoopy pan over to Snow's tower. (She is, after all, a Very Important Person. Of course she has a tower.) She doesn't want to leave Charming and she's all weepy and again, this is NOT the Snow White we came to know and love as the irrepressible badass living out in the woods. I'm just saying. Consistency would be nice. Josh Dallas is incapable of delivering lines about eternal love with any degree of convincingness. That's both actor and scriptwriter fail combined, but still. And I have NO IDEA why this kiss carries on for as long and with as many camera angles as they insisted on, but sure, whatever. Suddenly, baby! Suddenly, curse! This is one of the things that I facepalm at but will accept because that's fairly standard narrative causality at work. It's more that on top of all the other things we're expected to accept Because The Narrative Says So that burns my soul. Also, am I the only person who finds Grumpy tragically underused until that travesty of an ep that we shall never mention again? Oh good. Also I'm confused as to just how this curse thing works, but I'll suspend a certain amount of disbelief on account of curses that are already fucking with time in one way may well fuck with it in other interesting ways as well. Namely, that Evil Dark Smoke of the curse rolling up the forest to the castle looks like it's moving awfully fast. Far faster than it should take for Snow to actually give birth and Charming to fight his way down to the wardrobe, but again: timey wimey nonsense. I just would like it if there had been any attempt to make it make sense.

One slightly odd transition back over to Our World and Emma's spent the night in a jail cell? Really? Instead of getting her to the hospital and having her checked out? Guys, your protocol is severely fucked up. Especially since it seems like Emma's not aware that she's been in jail all night, which by Our World's rules would indicate that she was knocked out and thus... no, really. What the fuck. That should be a concussion and I deeply desire an explanation of how much FTL rules are in force here rather than Our World, because everyone is trapped in Storybrooke but they keep claiming in-universe that this is our world when... it seems pretty clear that it's not. We also spent all of s1 waiting for them to reference some kind of magical don't-look-here that would keep people from bursting the reality bubble with common sense, but alas, no such thing ever happened. And the reality bubble was so easy to burst with common sense (which Emma and Henry were supposedly the main purveyors of) that I can't believe nobody thought of half a dozen tricks to try. (Photos where nobody ages. DNA tests to prove maternity/paternity between Emma and Mary Margaret or David. The fact that Emma's freaking baby blanket is in the goddamn book? Anything?) ANYway. Some nice but unnecessary establishment that our unnamed character is Gepetto and Grumpy's new name is Leroy and he's a Troublemaker (which of course means he has a heart of gold and also a tragic past, because that's How These Things Work), followed by Graham lying really quite convincingly about the wolf. Then again, he's been getting raped by Regina on a regular basis (and look, people can think of it as not-rape all they want but it's sexual relations via coercion and use of power and I don't know what OTHER name they'd like us to slap on it), lying is probably second nature to him by now. Both in terms of suppressing his feelings and in terms of proximity to the second-biggest lying liar who lies in Storybrooke. (First place prize goes, as usual, to our dear Mr. Gold.) I like the line about Regina's drinks being stronger than "we" thought, bringing himself into it as well as Emma which speaks to the nonconsensual nature of their relationship in a more subtle manner than we usually get out of the writers. The camera work on this also isn't steadicam, it's a little more herky-jerky, as though from the point of view of someone with a hangover. Not sure why they picked this scene to do it, but in the pilot it works well enough as a technique to establish a shaky point of view and a narrator who might be questioning her own reliability. Pity they didn't stick with it too much.

Actually while we're questioning things, I wonder why Graham doesn't take her story about a wolf more seriously when you have a serious chunk of forest all around you. Granted, a wolf might be stretching it, but a coyote would not be out of the realm of possibility and most people can't actually tell the difference when it's running across your headlights in the middle of the night. But I'm getting my reality all over their shiny new TV show, my bad. Enter Regina! With a somewhat whiny tone about how Henry's run away again. Admittedly, this could be Regina's supposedly natural distressed voice. And upon seeing Emma in the cell she pauses and goes in on her, which is actually reasonable. Henry was last found after running away in her company, she's Henry's birth mom or at least he thinks she is, which is more relevant (and again we have the wondering about the DNA test, hello?), and she's still here when she said she was leaving back to Boston. But also as Emma points out, she has a very good alibi, and Henry clearly isn't anywhere around the jail or sheriff's station. Graham, wisely, is staying the hell out of this but staying close in case it yields something he can sheriff over. Emma applies some tracking-down-people experience and that's an interesting expression when she says that every kid has friends. As though she's thinking about her own childhood which proves differently, but she still wants to believe that that's true. Oh honey. Also an element of guilt there because even if she didn't raise him, that's her son who's being described as friendless and kind of a loner. It's also a nice and subtle touch that Regina doesn't care as much for Henry as she claims to, because her tone when she says 'loner' isn't either concern or defensiveness of her kid, it's disgust. He's not social or popular, therefore something's wrong with him, and this annoys her. It also annoys her that Emma's better at finding Henry than she is, and the accusation doing a bad job of lurking under her "and you know this how?" is that Emma's hiding him away somewhere. No, though, Emma just has been tracking people down for some years, she knows how to do it or at least where to start. And it's a bargaining chip she can use to get out of there, which she does! I do like Morrison and Parilla's delivery both on this segment, it's about the right note of hostility vs conciliation and hopeful detachment.

Over to Emma looking on Henry's computer, as suggested! I'd normally have a rant here about privacy and everything else, not that anyone expects Henry has much privacy in Regina's home, but since he's run away twice now and his health and safety could be in imminent danger, we'll let this slide. Of course he cleared his inbox, which takes care of the obvious approaches, and Emma gets a clunky but pilot-acceptable (which is not the same as acceptable, pilots get leeway because it's the first episode, everyone's still working out the kinks) line about having a recovery utility that lets her dig deeper, okay, fine. Graham's line about pounding the pavement is not only clunky, it serves very little purpose. I'm guessing the intended purpose is to give them a bit of bonding preparatory to the kiss just before he dies, but it comes across more awkward than natural. Here's another of those contrivances that we just accept, that she can dig in and find an old website in among the emails. I have to wonder who 'Scott' and 'Damon' are in light of some of these small-detail easter eggs, but apparently these are either name references to people we don't know or throw-away names that aren't meant to be important. Actually looking at more of the email headers and subject lines most of that looks more like spam than emails from actual friends. I don't know if that's because they used spam or what.  The important one is, which I'm just guessing violates all kinds of adoption laws. Hey, look! There's a transaction record going over to Mary Margaret Blanchard (Blanchard? Really? I suppose that's slightly less blatant than Ruby and less obviously an alias then August W. Booth, but these names are not subtle you guys.) who Regina grits out is one of Henry's teachers. Apart from the awkward dialogue this is actually standard procedural drama, and not that bad.

And over to the teacher in question! Who has a soft white-and-grays outfit, aww, a bluecanarybird that looks deeply dyed, kids making birdhouses not in their souls, and a whole lot of incredibly anvilicious dialogue about how true love will always find each other etc. You guys, you're not even trying to make it sound natural at this point, come on. Please? At this point we cringed and attributed it to pilot shakiness, but what it really comes down to is that Once Upon A Time can't seem to decide whether it's high drama complete with over the top dialogue or a clever urban fantasy twist on classic fairy tales with modern snark. And the dialogue swings wildly back and forth as a result, meaning that both tones turn out equally jarring. Also apparently arts and crafts extends to after recess, which is a bit odd. Or at least I never had an arts and crafts class that extended after recess, but this is fairy tale land, so who knows. And finally, those uniforms don't reappear in Hat Trick, which is a somewhat more forgivable sin because pilot, but while we're being nitpicky I thought I'd mention it. Regina comes barging in as she is wont to do, and now she wants to know where Mary Margaret's hidden her son. As much as I hate to admit it this is a relatively consistent part of Regina's character, she goes barrelling straight ahead in whatever direction seems most suitable to her without stopping to consider alternatives, small details that don't correspond with what she believes, or that she might possibly be wrong. First Emma had Henry, she was Certain of that, now Emma's pointed her at Mary Margaret and she's just as Certain of that. And just as wrong. It's at least a constant part of her characterization, but it's simplistic and not exactly conducive to her getting the kind of power she has. Anyway, she wants to know where Henry is, and Mary Margaret rightfully assumed that he was at home with his mother, since he wasn't in class. Regina doesn't buy it and thinks Mary Margaret gave him her credit card, which, a) that's just stupid since that could be traced right back to her and b) Mary Margaret clearly has no idea what's going on. Entertainingly, Regina probably doesn't have a clear picture of what's going on here, either; she has no way of knowing that this Emma is the Princess Emma, though no doubt when the clock starts up again she figures it out. All she knows is that her adopted son made it out of Storybrooke somehow, and that someone new made it into Storybrooke, which has to be freaking her out. Thus, blaming the nearest person to her who she considers to have made her life a living hell, despite the fact that not only does Mary Margaret not know who she used to be, she again clearly has no idea what the hell happened.

Regina responds to crisis the only way she knows how; by getting snappish and mean. She puts Emma in her place by referring to her as the woman who gave Henry up for adoption, demands to know what the hell is this book in exasperated, derisive tones. Neither of the other women raises their voice to her even when Mary Margaret is defending herself. With an added touch of rebuke at the end on the 'lonely' comment, not bad for a woman who's spent the last twenty-eight years getting ground down under Regina's heel. She also doesn't explain herself further to Regina, which is its own kind of defiance. Regina makes the deeply ironic comment that what Henry needs is a dose of reality, which is ironic for her and for us since we're all in on it, and stalks off. Again, discarding Mary Margaret as a worthless loose end and looking for another target to fixate on until she finds her adopted son. Not the shiniest apple on the tree, is she. The book knocking over doesn't look deliberate but has to be on the part of the director at least; it might not be deliberate on the part of the character. It's a neat enough device to get Emma staying behind to help clean up the stack of books and to talk to Mary Margaret, asking why a book's supposed to help. We get the usual lecture here about how stories help us cope with our nonsensical everyday life, which is by and large as true as psychology can be, and then we get a massive case of foot in mouth disease, yay! Not only does this hit Emma in the gut with regard to giving up Henry for adoption, it also hits her with the sympathy pain because she's been wondering that her whole life, and now she's done it to someone else. And Mary Margaret's just gone and rammed that in a bit deeper. True to her empathic nature, Mary Margaret realizes this and immediately apologizes (rather than backpedaling, which is nice) and Emma pulls on her stoic face. Poor girls. Made even more painful at least to the audience because Emma's mother, of whom she would like to ask that question, is standing right there. Of course then we go into a different kind of painful entirely with an anvilicious Socratic mini-speech about how the most important thing anyone can have is hope and a belief in a happy ending, a-heh, a-heh-heh. Get it? The last two bits are at least useful to move the plot along, Henry has a castle! Of course he does. Then again we went around hiding in the sides of mountains and climbing into wardrobes as kids, so neither of us can really judge.

But we don't cut to Henry's castle, we cut over to Snow's Tower! Because what better segue? No, seriously, it's actually a good segue, the awkward part in this scene is the screaming birth delivery. As is traditional on television but just once, just once someone's going to have an utterly boring and drugged to the gills delivery with very little screaming or cursing or sobbing. For variety. Not today, though, we have the usual protestations of how she can't have this baby now, panting, sweating, awkward positions, the doc (who happens to be Doc) saying the baby's coming whether you like it or not, and just to underscore the urgency of it all we have thundering black horses with knights in black armor on them running through the woods! Yay! It's all boilerplate, and we will only nitpick to note that if you're going to set your fairy tale land in a pseudo-medieval world, women didn't usually give birth on beds. Bed is actually a horrible place to give birth, gravity on your side would be better. We could also nitpick about how you can't actually run your horses that fast for that long, but that's standard fantasy schtick; I've only once ever seen anyone changing horses from a tired to a fresh. And while we're nitpicking on that, going at that speed around corners over a dirt road in the woods with a carriage is a great way to overturn the carriage and at this point the nitpicking is more in fun and less because there's something actually wrong with the show, so we really will stop. White on black carriage! Gee, I wonder who that belongs to.

Charming is keeping up the sort of reassuring babble that you do when the person you're talking to isn't actually paying attention to you. I wouldn't be paying attention to him either, if I were in labor. Gepetto bursts in! The wardrobe is ready! Charming even refers to it as a wardrobe, which amuses my Narnia-loving heart. But it is, of course, too late. The wardrobe will only take one and that one just separated from her mommy in a very decisive way. And here comes the curse! Rolling in at the speed of plot, as per usual. If it were going that fast it should have overtaken the castle by now, and, really, it was ominous enough as it was? Never mind. Snow reminds us and Charming that the wardrobe can only take one, and Charming gives us another awkward line that belongs in the great melodrama version of Once rather than the pithy modern-ish snark version. And you know, this wouldn't even be that bad if they kept the great melodrama to Fairy Tale Land and the pithy modern dialect to the so-called real world, except that in FTL we still get lines like "Let's get back to the fighting thing." and "She poisoned an apple because she thought I was prettier than her" in tones straight out of Heathers. So, no. It's jarring, and, no. I will give Josh Dallas props for this, he doesn't oversell the horror and grief of being told by his wife that he needs to go put their just-born child into a magic box and send her who knows where. It sounds like it'd be hard to oversell something that monumental, but it wouldn't, but he doesn't, so kudos to him. Just in case we didn't recognize that Emma was the baby Snow addresses her by name, not as clumsy as it could be, and Charming takes the baby and runs. But not without taking his sword first. I actually am of two minds on this; on the one hand, they're in their castle surrounded by their guards and they can't have heard the Queen and her entourage pounding hooves up to the gates? On the other hand, it's possible that between the scenes someone told him that the Queen was seen riding towards the castle, and we know Grumpy sounded the alarm about the curse, so he could justifiably consider that a necessary precaution. We'll give him that, either way. One last lingering shot on Snow, shattered by what's happening and what she's forced to do, and again, good job on selling it from Ginnifer Goodwin.

And then we get a combination of amazing and horrible. Starting with the two black knights skewering a palace guard, so, hey, good job bringing the sword along, Charming. Followed by some truly well done fight choreography and sweeping camera work. It's not even choppily edited, which I've seen in better shows, let me tell you. So what's so horrible, I hear you ask? Well, for one thing, Charming skewers a knight on his sword at least six or eight inches deep, and when he pulls his sword out there is no fucking blood on the goddamn sword. I'm not asking for anime-esque fountains here, but some sign that he just ran someone through would be nice! There's blood on the knights' swords (or maybe just the one) after they stick the palace guard, so why the fuck isn't it on Charming's sword? It's not even a flash of metal and then the sword is out of frame, either, he's waving that thing in front of the camera pretty prodigiously. I'm betting it's because at least part of it is CGI. That's some deeply egregious CGI. We're not even going into the way it looks like he's about to lop part of his baby's face off as he claps his sword hand to his wound. Kicking the door to the nursery open, like you do when you don't have a hand free 'cause you're fighting one-handed with your baby in the other arm, and stumbling to the wardrobe to put the baby in it. Baby in the wardrobe, sword on the floor, he gets credit for not dropping his sword but putting it down, and then locking the wardrobe to activate the magic or just give it time to work, hard to say which. Oh no, more knights! Or maybe the same ones he didn't finish off before? But by now Charming's in no shape to fight them off, and they don't even bother finishing him off, either. Clearly no one here has read anything about making sure your enemy is dead before you go do other things. They knock him down, we get some good Injured/Impaired-Cam footage of the soldiers banging at the wardrobe only to find, gasp! Shock! It's empty. And Charming's slowly bleeding out as his vision fades and we go dark. Oh noes! He's gone and died!

Well, no he hasn't, we know, because otherwise that would be too subversive for Once. But we'll leave Schroedinger's Charming for now and go over to a coastal scene that pans down onto... a castle. Indeed. Henry's got a play castle, that's so cute. Emma brings him his book, and poor Henry looks so disappointed. Oh honey. It doesn't usually work that way in fairy tales, and this is supposedly the real world. Or at least, it's real enough that you have to work for your happy endings. Sort of. For a very, very fluid definition of 'work.' Henry makes reference to the final battle beginning, which gives us some idea of how literal to the book the dialogue in the show is. Or just gives us the idea that they can't write a script without half of it being self-referential, I'm honestly not sure which is going on here. This, of all the places in the script where it doubles back on itself, would be a good callback to Rumplestiltskin's cackling. The only problem is that it comes on top of all the other echoes and self-references, so it just seems tired and repetitive. A very good example of overusing your devices! Quit it, Once. Emma even says quit it with the book crap, which, as Henry points out, is defensive and hostile. It's also a good sign that you're overdoing it, Henry. Fortunately he does back down and again we have Henry being the smartest ten year old ever, putting a neat little lampshade on how Emma feels guilty for giving him up. He references Snow saying how they have to give Emma her best chance, and again with the exact-words callbacks, twice in less than a minute? Seriously? Your dialogue sucks, people, you cannot pad out an episode by copy-pasting half your lines because they look important and can be used later in different contexts. In different contexts we call that plagarizing.  And for all that Henry's being very adult right now and understanding of the choices his bio-mom made (or at least he says he is, and we have no reason to disbelieve him at the moment) that's no reason or excuse for Emma to become a hysterical teenager at him. She had the control earlier to go into a private room to have her fit of thousand-yard-staring and freaking out, but now exposition demands that she freak out at a ten year old. It's clumsy, and it just opens up the immediately following fight where Henry is an upset ten year old and Emma is an upset ... I don't even know. There's really no excuse for dumping all over a kid like that, and they should have just cut to her protesting that Regina's trying to give him the best life she knows how. We don't even get any new or useful exposition from the side-of-the-freeway dialogue, just a rehashing of the reason they put her in the wardrobe. Which is more than adequately served by, you know, the scenes where they discussed the wardrobe plan and then put her in it? Really, this pilot is unnecessarily repetitious in a lot of ways, time and dialogue that they could have used for more solid worldbuilding and more leaving out hints and clues as to what was to come. We didn't have to see the FTL logic and have Emma hit over the head by her kid for every plot point. But that would involve pre-planning and, you know, forethought.

This set of parallels isn't as bad, and Snow is believably staggering after just giving birth. Yeah, she's running on adrenaline and fear and endorphins right now, but that's also clearly the only thing keeping her moving to check on her husband and see if her daughter made it out. That said, if they're going to be believable about that, she should be a lot messier. Giving birth ain't pretty, and tends to involve a lot of various fluids. I guess this matches Charming's no blood on his sword earlier; what is this, protagonists don't get bloody? That's a stupid rule. I'm way more likely to identify with a protag who struggles and suffers and overcomes than a pure and untouchable and always right because they're the protag character. Which is what they're making Snow and Charming in particular out to be, with Regina the flip side of that, this first ep and first season overall. So, Snow sees Charming lying presumably dead and promptly determines the right answer is to try and kiss him back awake. Sorry, honey, you're going to have to wait a full 27 years for that. I will grant that given her past experiences and current trauma that is a perfectly reasonable reaction, however much it generates a sort of manic-comic feel. And then the ominous clack of the dominatrix Evil Queen's boots! (Really, guys, your costuming department for FTL needs fired.) Who proceeds to monologue and scenery chew and I do have to give Lana Parilla credit for throwing herself wholeheartedly into the scenery-munching. Because that seems to be what this role calls for! Right up until they go oh wait oops motivations we should put those in here somewhere spelled out, shouldn't we. The guards are set pieces here to give Snow her last bit of hope before the curse takes hold fully, though it's awfully ruined by the aphoristic "good will always win" comment she makes looking down at Charming. Oh honey. It will, but only because the writers have declared it so. Also we severely question Regina being happy. At all. Ever. Though it's in keeping with her character that she's deluding herself and that her only pleasure, such as it is, comes at others' pain, so there's that much to be said for this. I have no idea what's up with the bizarre 80's/90's bad fantasy CGI here, though. I'd blame it on the pilot except I seem to recall some equally egregious crap CGI later on. Maybe we can blame TV show budgets as compared to current movie budgets? Sure, we'll go with that. Not everything bad about this show is Kitsis' and Horowitz's faults.

With a pretty decent transition back to Regina's house, which is apparently her idea of a happy ending. I almost feel sorry for her. Almost. (Also, the address is 108, which may or may not mean anything; the only thing I can think of is 1+8=9 which is 3x3. Safe money would be on another Lost reference, which we remain uninterested in tracking down.) Emma returns Henry home, now made up to look a bit pallid and raccoon-eyed from the crying and the late night/bad sleep and so on, so there's that. Regina looks like she really is about to go in and shut the door in Emma's face without so much as a thank you before realizing that normal people do have manners, and also if she's heard the story of the wolf that kept Emma from leaving by now? She should be worried about having to deal with Henry's birth mother hanging around here against her will for who knows how long, even if she still has no idea who Emma is per se. And then poor Emma, who's trying to connect with someone she feels she has something in common with, and gets stomped on. It's a bit of an overshare, I will grant, but Emma's been through a lot in the past couple days. Regina has too, in certain respects, and she does have some valid points: she is the one who's been there for Henry for the last ten years, and it is not unreasonable of her to want to protect Henry from a new parental influence wandering into his life and then maybe back out again when she gets bored or decides it's too hard or any number of other possibilities. No, Regina's not working in good faith here, but they could very easily have played this as a reasonable reaction to a stranger trying to parent someone else's child, especially when that child appears to be psychologically disturbed and the courts tend to favor bio-parents. Instead, we go from valid points straight into looming, verbal abuse, and making threats. Which serves to showcase Regina's abandonment issues, of which she has MANY. Bound copies, even. Binders full of abandonment! This is one of those themes that they refuse to take out and play with properly, which is deeply annoying, since Regina and Emma and Henry at a minimum are tied together by their shared abandonment issues. But no, apparently it's more fun to hint around the edges of the issues rather than actually doing anything with them. Sigh. Emma asks, mouth drawn into a line of anger/frustration/hurt, if Regina loves their son. Twice, rather than three times, which would be more traditional. Regina's initial response is one of shock, and while it comes across as shock at the impertinence of the question I think it's as much or more shock at hearing the L-word in reference to herself. And her final response we're not supposed to believe; it's clear that Emma certainly doesn't.

The door slams in her face, and she stares up at it for an indeterminate length of time we're left to imagine. Upstairs, Henry is huddled in misery on his bed and Regina takes the book away from him. Kid, if you've been reading stories like these all your life you know they only ever get worse before they get better. A bit different when you finally made them come to life, though. We get an oddly long sequence of her stalking downstairs (silently! impressive, for heels; either Parilla has skills or post muted the noise too far down for me to hear) to her mirror mirror on the wall. Yes, thank you, we aren't morons, we don't need to be hit over the head. Oh, what's that you say? You're going to be self-referential some more and show us the title of the book is Once Upon A Time? WELL THAT'S NOT PRETENTIOUS AND EGOTISTICAL AT ALL. My god, people, the next time you want to be pretentious and self-referential go talk to Stephen King, at least he's capable of spinning a good yarn while doing it. There is absolutely zero plot significance to this extended shot except to demonstrate Regina's growing desperation (which I thought was quite sufficiently established by her threats to Emma, at least for the first ep), hint that she knows what's going on without giving any solid confirmation, and give us a visual callback to the original fairytale. Again. Which needed to be nearly 20 seconds why? She doesn't even have a talking mirror on the wall, and we have yet to meet Sidney, so this whole thing comes across as overdone and twee.

(We're not doing the Sidney ep(s). Because it would devolve into swearing about the truly epic amounts of racism and stereotyping they threw in there and then we'd turn in a blog post that was ten thousand words of 'fuck' and that's just boring for everyone. Rest assured, WE NOTICED IT.)

We then pass on over to Mary Margaret, who works as a volunteer at the hospital! Aww. Bringing flowers and comfort to whoever she can, that's the version of Snow White we more or less know from the Disney version. This is a decent clip that didn't have to go into the pilot but works fine here, showing us where Charming ended up - in a coma in the hospital, which makes all kinds of sense. And sets up a great reversal of the waking-kiss trope later on, which made me have all kinds of squee. Of course, their subsequent idiotic behavior as far as relationships, true love, and lying to people you have no reason to lie to is far less made of squee and far more made of MAKE IT STOP. But this also establishes that if Mary Margaret feels a pull, it seems to be to the hospital in general and not to David|Charming in specific, which is somewhat subtler foreshadowing than we've had. Somewhat. And cut from Charming to his grandson staring out the window at the stopped clock which will now... wait for it... wait for it...

Stay put until after Emma finds her way to Granny's house! I mean B&B. God I love this scene. I mean, parts of it are still scenery chewing but it has all our favorite characters in one place. Granny and Ruby are bickering over her nocturnal habits, which seem to be taking the form of baby goth. Aww, baby goths are so cute. God I feel old. Ahem. There's a nice line reference in here about how Granny's heart attack kept Ruby from moving away, which is one of the best pieces of world building we've had all ep. Subtle, builds on character and world at the same time, and if Ruby truly hated her grandmother and wanted to leave she would have. You know, if it weren't for that whole curse thing. Emma would like a room and you two to stop bickering! Which is a shame, because I would watch Granny and Ruby bicker all day. (Okay, probably not, but still.) And more good world building, with their surprised faces over someone wanting a room, because of course. Nobody new ever comes to town. I'm not quite sure what sense waiving the fee on the square versus forest rooms makes with rent coming due (wouldn't you want more money?) but sure, she's flustered, there's a new person in town and Mr. Gold is showing up anytime. Like right now! For a guy with a limp and a cane he's awfully sneaky when he wants to be; for a long time we wondered if it wasn't faked to garner sympathy and/or encourage people to underestimate him. Because that's exactly the kind of asshole stunt Gold would pull. She gives her name, and I have to assume that for all Gold's poker face is good this does not actually trigger the memory of Fairy Tale Land for him so much as the realization that here comes Snow and Charming's daughter to save the day! (ETA: According to a friend who's been watching longer than we have, it does indeed trigger the memories for him. Which does not, actually, detract from his character or his creepiness to have that kind of a poker face, although an eye-twitch or other subtle sign that Something Has Happened might have been in order.) It must have been deeply, horribly boring for him for all those years. He will now proceed to be creepy and toothy (seriously, Robert Carlyle has bitty fangs for canines and he brings them out whenever he wants a nervous smile) and paternalistic and all manner of other adjectives that stand in for This Guy Is Not To Be Trusted. Emma is duly unnerved, but brushes him off the way you do any other creepy guy who may or may not be hitting on you. Granny, by contrast, has a clue what Gold can do and is far more wary/frightened as she hands over a wad of cash. Also, Emma, that should be another clue that something is not all right in this town: I don't think we see anyone but Henry using anything but cash. Banks? Debit or credit cards? Even checks, hell. No, just cash. For a big transaction like that, and it does seem to raise some questions with her but Emma's an outsider and probably feels like she's gotten in enough trouble with powerful people for a few days. Apparently Gold owns the entire town! That's a nice little loophole he made for himself in the curse, and it must drive Regina absolutely batshit. I cannot muster any sympathy for her plight.

Emma swear she's only staying a week, Granny hands over the key which, yes, I think that's a stylized swan on there, and I facepalm. And now we cut back to the clock which is so not subtle, guys, not even a little bit, and Henry grins a whole bunch. Kid, I know a clockmaker living in the other Portland who would be happy to fix the stupid thing for you. Ahem.

Next time on this series: Skin Deep! Also known as if we're going to suffer through this show again we're going to pick one of our favorite eps with a story arc we have any sympathy for or interest in and do that. After that, The Stable Boy, because it's the first glimmer of Regina-redemption and also because we just cannot believe how these two keep coming up with interesting ideas and failing so hard at writing them.


  1. Loved it! Wanted to point out that the EPs confirmed that hearing Emma's name was in fact the trigger for him regaining his Fairy Tale World memories, proving that Rumple's poker face is flawless even in the face of a few centuries' worth of memories slamming into his brain at once brain.

  2. Indeed, apparently! Did they say whether or not that was decided at the time or retroactively?

  3. They didn't, no. While I'm not inclined to give them much credit in the forethought department these days, I'm thinking that they did have that planned from the beginning. Rumple's desperation to learn Emma's name makes more sense if it's something he needed to wake himself up in Storybrooke.