Once Upon A Time: “That Still Small Voice”
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Once Upon A Time: “That Still Small Voice”

There’s a giant hole in the middle of Once Upon A Time this week, a huge, sinking crater that holds the keys to the show’s secrets but also threatens to collapse the series. You’ve probably already figured out that I’m talking about Henry, because he’s really awful, yet somehow hugely important to the plot of this show. “That Still Small Voice” puts all of Jared S. Gilmore’s flaws on displays, and while there’s a still, small voice in me that says it’s not right to shit on a kid’s performance on a TV series, I can’t deny that there’s an intense urge to fast-forward all his scenes.

Gilmore struggles to make a connection with his character, so it always looks like he’s reading lines. Gilmore is acting Henry, and although it’s not easy to get child actors to find an honest emotional place, Gilmore’s Mad Men costar Kiernan Shipka is one of the best examples of a child performer that has shown remarkable depth at her craft. While Shipka’s material is grounded in reality, it’s also much more complex than Gilmore’s, and the writers are able to demand more from her because she flies over every hurdle they throw her way. I’m worried that Gilmore’s limitations as an actor are going to stagnate his character development; we’ll never actually get into Henry’s mind at all.

Twice this episode Archie asks Henry why he thinks it’s important that his fairy tale delusion is real, and both times Henry’s answer is a colossal letdown. The first time, he purses his mouth to the side to show that he’s thinking about it (the way kids always do) and says, “It – it just is.” For everyone complaining about Henry’s convenient knowledge of Storybrooke’s true nature, that answer is just more kindling for the fire. Maybe his second will be better. Stuck in an old elevator shaft, he answers, “’Cause this can’t be all there is.” It’s vague and doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, but the answer brings Archie and Henry’s narratives together with a pretty bow so it will just have to do. 

Like a good fairy tale, Once Upon A Time makes it very clear what the moral is at the end of its 42 minute story. This week, the moral is that parents are evil and need to be escaped from, whether it is by turning into a cricket or creating an elaborate fantasy world. The episode starts with young Jiminy not-yet-a-cricket picking pockets while his parents put on a puppet show, and despite what his conscience tells him, he remains a slave to his parents until he’s an adult with a receding hairline. Honestly, Jiminy needs to grow some balls and leave his parents behind. Maybe the story would have worked better with a younger actor, because a Jiminy in his late thirties that is still indentured to his criminal parents isn’t tragic, it’s pathetic.

I rewatched Sondheim’s Into the Woods this past week (it’s on Netflix instant, there’s really no excuse to have not seen it if you’re watching OUAT), and this week’s episode definitely has a “Children Will Listen” vibe to it. During the final number of the show, the ensemble sings:

Careful the spell you cast,
Not just on children.
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you.

Here’s audio of the song, because it’s great:

Jiminy’s parents tell him that there’s no way for him to change his life situation and he accepts it, whereas Henry is aware that what his parents tell him is a lie and fights it. Archie is a mix of Sondheim’s Baker and Jack, trying to escape the criminal legacy of his parents while yearning to explore the greater world, but he doesn’t have the courage to venture into the woods on his own. Henry is basically the physical manifestation of the above verse: caught in the middle of a spell, turned against his mother. I’m sure none it is intentional, but it’s fun to point out.   

Jane Espenson writes this episode, and her name is one of the reasons I have faith that this series can find its footing and establish a voice for itself. She’s been a major presence on two of TV’s best ensemble series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica, and she can do crazy and fantastic while keeping the story grounded in a human, relatable place. Most importantly, she can balance a big cast, and this episode juggles the expansive character roster of this series better than its predecessors.

Some of the appearances are shoehorned (why is Ruby at the mineshaft again?), but Espenson brings Rumpelstiltskin into Archie’s backstory in a way that increases his threat on the series by showing how connected he is to the other stories. Robert Carlyle is at a scenery buffet when he plays Rumpelstiltskin, but he’s grown on me since his original appearance, thanks in large part to the chilling intensity of his Mr. Gold. The Evil Queen may be the primary villain of the series, but Rumpelstiltskin is building into the antagonist with a stronger tie to the rest of the cast. To put it in Buffy terms: Regina is the Master, but Mr. Gold is Angelus. 

When Emma puts on her Sheriff’s Deputy Badge and “officially joins the community,” a mineshaft collapses, causing an earthquake that shakes the entire town. I’m not sure if any of the science involving the earthquake and crater science is at all correct, but this show has magic as a built-in out for stuff like that. Earthquake acting is always so much fun to watch, with the shaky cam and actors pretending to be on rocky ground that is completely still, and everyone does a good job this episode, even if Jennifer Morrison is wearing boots with a three-inch heel.

Parilla has a few strong moments when she shows genuine concern for Henry’s safety after he goes into the mineshaft, but she still remains a largely two-dimensional character. 

In what I predict will be a weekly feature for TV Club’s OUAT recaps, it’s time for Regina’s Big Groaner Line of the week! There’s tight competition this episode, and her speech to the concerned citizens of Storybrooke around the mineshaft almost takes the title, but Regina’s threat to Archie is the winner-loser: “I can cut you down to size until you’re a tiny shrunken little creature. And this (grabs umbrella) will be the only roof over your damn head.” Nominations for other Regina BGLs can be posted in the comments, as there tends to be a few in every episode.

There are some solid-to-awesome elements in tonight’s episode. Mary and David’s interaction? Solid! The little boy in Jiminy’s flashback being Gepetto? Cool!! A glass coffin under the town? AWESOME!!! Bringing back Mary and David’s budding romance shows Espenson’s experience at balancing multiple storylines, and it’s a more personal conflict than Henry being trapped in the mine. David doesn’t remember nor want his wife, but Mary Margaret isn’t going to start an affair with a married amnesiac. Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin have strong chemistry, and I find myself rooting for them as a couple. It’s understandable why Mary Margaret would resign from her position at the hospital, and it’s wise that we’re never given any reason to dislike Anastasia. That will likely change during next week’s Prince Charming spotlight episode, and I think at this point it’s fair to say that (potential spoilers) David will be the first person to remember his pre-Storybrooke life.

As great as the glass coffin cliffhanger is, the buildup is that kind of Once Upon A Time stupid that I’m sure we’ll all grow to love. Regina inconspicuously (not!) checks to make sure no one is looking, then stares perplexedly at the piece of glass for way too long before dropping it down the elevator shaft. I added a “Mwahaha!” in my head, because it would have been perfect.

Stray observations:

  • The puppet show at the start of this episode is not even remotely funny. Certainly no “Smile Time.”
  • Harry Groener guest stars this week as Jiminy’s con man father, after previously working with writer Jane Espenson while playing the Mayor in Buffy season three. He also played the title role in The Madness of King George III at Chicago Shakespeare Theater this spring, a performance that won him a Jeff Award for Lead Actor (the Chicago equivalent of a Tony). He’s a great actor that balances drama and comedy remarkably well.
  • Archie’s dog is Pongo from 101 Dalmations!
  • “I’m getting you to do what I want right now.”
  • “We steal from them, and they steal from someone else.” “It’s called an economy.”
  • Inexplicit Lost reference: hole in the ground filled with secrets, con man father.
  • Explicit Lost reference: Apollo candy bars.
Filed Under: TV, Once Upon A Time

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