Remember how on Lost the characters would have coincidental encounters in the flashbacks that were genuinely surprising, organic, and casual? Once Upon A Time tries to mimic that type of storytelling as it combines fairy tales in the past, but now that the flashbacks have shifted to the real world, the coincidences are a lot harder to swallow. This week, we learn that there’s a secret connection between August (who is back) and Tamara, Neal’s fiancée, who has even more tricks up her sleeve as she weasels her way into Storybrooke. While Tamara makes her move in Maine, we learn her history with August in Phuket, 2011, where she worked to steal magic from a supernatural healer. Everyone is connected, but writers Robert Hull and Kalinda Vazquez don’t craft a strong enough story to make the viewer believe that these connections are anything but overly convenient plot developments.
With only four episodes before the season finale and no major villain after the death of Cora, “Selfless, Brave And True” moves a lot of plot pieces quickly and haphazardly in order to build some new dramatic stakes. Phuket was a horrible location in Lost, and it doesn’t do much for the story in Once Upon A Time, setting the stage for August’s first conflict with the duplicitous Tamara. When his wood affliction starts to flare up in Thailand, August turns to a man known only as “The Dragon,” who traffics in cure for illnesses that are mystical in nature. Tamara is following August, and tells him that she’s also seeking out The Dragon’s services to cure her cancer, although she just wants to get her hands on whatever the old man is selling. Unfortunately, Tamara is such an obvious choice for the new bad guy, and her relationship with Neal isn’t fleshed out enough to give her villainy any real impact.
The latter half of this season has started to shift the focus to real-world threats coming to Storybrooke, and Tamara is only half of an operation that includes Owen, a.k.a. Greg Mendell. That’s right, Tamara is the mystery woman who he called earlier this season, the shadowy figure who appears on his cell phone as “HER.” While Owen has been gathering evidence of magic in town, Tamara has been working her charms on Neal. She started their relationship by getting him to meet-cute her by spilling her coffee on the streets of New York City, and then she plays the confused lover when he tells her that he’s actually a fairy-tale character. There are a lot of great storytelling possibilities in having a man try to tell the woman that he’s marrying that he’s Rumpelstiltskins’s son, but having Tamara as a secret villain diminishes the more interesting conflict here, which is finding out that someone you love is a fairy tale character.
Snow White is continuing to deal with her role in Cora’s murder by wrapping herself in blankets, but finding August helps her come to terms with what she’s done by working through someone else’s problems. When Snow finds August, he’s afraid to go to Storybrooke because he’s worried about forgiveness, redemption. Snow tells him that he needs to stop being paralyzed by his past decisions and move forward, which is exactly what she needs to do. Isn’t it wild how things work out that way? After a brief encounter with Regina at Granny’s, Snow’s nerves are on edge, and she slaps Gepetto when he tells her about sneaking Pinocchio through the magical wardrobe. Snow is becoming more temperamental with each passing day, and despite what her husband says to convince her that she’s fundamentally good, it’s going to be harder to keep her dark side down as the Storybrooke situation becomes more intense.
Regina realizes that Greg is actually Owen in a scene that will make you wonder why the writers built up last week’s reveal so much if Regina was just going to address it in casual conversation. She’s surely lying about Owen’s father leaving town, but beyond that, Regina doesn’t seem to have any problem cracking jokes about the town’s magical properties, like the fact that she hasn’t aged in 28 years. Clearly no one’s all that worried about the truth about magic getting out because they’ve been sloppy as hell these last few episodes, and it looks like the consequences of their actions are about to be felt. Owen and Tamara have some sort of plot in motion to steal the magic from Storybrooke, and it will be interesting to see how the writers are able to make this plot unfold in the space of four episodes. Should we expect more real world flashbacks as the show delves into Tamara and Owen’s pasts?
August’s janky CGI wood effect is this episode’s biggest problem, not only robbing us of Eion Bailey’s face, but sucking the emotion out of his performance and making the big emotional climax a laughable event. He looks like one of those Taiwanese cartoons. Tamara shows up at August’s trailer and tells him that she still has The Dragon’s potion, but it’s in her New York hotel room and he’ll have to leave Storybrooke and never return if he wants it. He refuses, telling her that he’ll be healed by being brave, honest, and unselfish, and that’s ultimately the case, although not as he expected. When he refuses to do as she says, Tamara whips out the taser she used on The Dragon and delivers a shock to August’s system that would kill him if it weren’t for the Blue Fairy’s help. (Let’s assume that’s some sort of enchanted taser to explain why it would kill someone that’s made out of wood.)
Henry realizes that the Blue Fairy should be able to help August if he performed a brave, honest, and selfless deed, and she’s able to transform the dying adult August into a child Pinocchio before he passes away. So yay, another child actor on this show. Pinocchio has no recollection of who attacked him, but at this rate, everyone in Storybrooke will know that Owen and Tamara are plotting against them by the end of the next episode. Things move very fast on this show, and no secret stays buried for very long in Storybrooke.
- I want to see the pre-VFX cut of this episode that has Eion Bailey’s face covered in green makeup during his Storybrooke scenes.
- So The Dragon is supposed to be Mushu from Mulan, right?
- Snow shoots arrows while listening to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation.” Very subtle.
- “If I were you, I’d try the fish special. It’s right up your alley: blackened sole.” Oh Regina, that’s a horrible burn.
- “Monthly juice cleanses. Does wonders for the skin.”