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Once Upon A Time: “True North”

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I wonder how anyone involved with the foster care system feels after watching tonight’s episode of Once Upon A Time? Foster parents gathered around the TV with their children, tuning in to their favorite Sunday night drama to hear the main character rail against the very foundation of their family. Yeah, Emma’s fictionalized experience with the foster care system was rough, but was her hateful rant really that necessary? The writers have Mary Margaret throw in half-assed objections to Emma’s argument, but Emma just responds with more generalizations presented as fact, which is enough to sway her roommate to hop on the anti-foster care train.


Emma deems herself the savior of two bastard children when they use Henry to steal from a convenience store, and the sheriff does whatever she can to keep Nicholas and Eva away from Child Protective Services and reunite them with their lost father. The way that Emma projects her personal issues on the people of Storybrooke is truly remarkable, and she uses Eva and Nicholas’ situation to confront Henry’s lingering questions about his father. He was a firefighter that Emma met while working in a diner off the interstate (the interstate gets a lot of play this episode), and they “hung out a couple times” before Emma ended up going to prison for some reason. She found out she was pregnant right before getting locked up, and when she got out she learned that Henry’s father had died saving a family in a fire. I hope that means he is a dragon, and that he will come back.

Just kidding, if he’s a dragon I hope he never shows up because series’ visual effects budget would bottom out and the designers would be forced to start using backdrops from Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre. The visual effects are hilariously bad, and the CGI this week is akin to a ’90s computer game. The costuming doesn’t fare much better, specifically the hair, which is consistently bad in the fairyback sequences. Lana Parilla’s hair extensions aren’t even close to the natural color of her hair, and the Blind Witch has apparently been spending some solid time with her crimper, which can’t be very safe for someone that can’t see.


As mediocre as the series has been, it was on a bit of an upswing with the last few episodes, but “True North” is a big step backwards. Because you know what this show really needs? More kids. The problem isn’t that these kids can’t act (although that might be the problem), it’s that the writing for their characters is horrible. Last week I compared it to Saturday afternoon syndicated TV, but I was a few hours too late. This week’s episode is straight-up children’s television, and not in the way that it can be enjoyed by all ages. You need to be a child to suspend your disbelief long enough to watch “True North.”

Emma’s plan is to force two children on a father that doesn’t know they exist and probably won’t be able to support them on a mechanic’s wages, but her righteousness is enough to change his mind. I’d like them to pull an Into the Woods and show Eva, Nicholas, and their father post-“happily ever after,” because it’s probably depressing as shit. David H. Goodman and Liz Tigelaar’s script is even more painfully obvious than usual, with transitions like a cashier saying “who do you think you are?” before the episode shifts to the fairy tale world to answer that question immediately. Just in case you didn’t get their identities, Henry clears it all up in the middle of the episode with his book, which has a photoshopped image of Eva and Nicholas as Hansel and Gretel inside. The pictures in Henry’s book make me laugh hysterically every time, and they should be in every episode.

The most exciting thing about “True North” is a guest appearance by Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Emma Caulfield, who plays Hansel and Gretel’s Blind Witch the kind of scenery-chewing enthusiasm I want from everyone on the show. The “gravy or butter?” sequence is the kind of absurd I wouldn’t mind seeing more of, and makes me disappointed that Caulfield only appears for a whole five minutes of the episode. The bright interior of the candy cottage combined with Caulfield’s over-the-top dialogue and cleavage give me fond recollections of Pushing Daisies, and make me think of how great this show could be with Bryan Fuller at the helm. PhilInterrupted brought it up in comments last week, and I think this show would benefits from Fuller’s unique vision and sense of humor. Unfortunately it will probably never happen, but if this show teaches us anything, it’s that there are no limits to what the heart can wish for.

There was one solid scene this week, in which Emma reveals to Mary Margaret that Henry thinks she is her mother, and Mary Margaret is totally into that. She sniffs Emma’s baby blanket and everything. It actually is a nice scene, and the two actresses have developed a strong rapport over the course of the season. It seems like they enjoy spending time with each other, and there’s an effortlessness to their scenes that is absent in the rest of the show, which is trying oh-so-hard.


Nothing makes you appreciate Lost’s deliberate, unhurried exposition like OUAT clunky set-up. After Hansel and Gretel steal the Blind Witch’s poison apple for the Evil Queen (yeah…), EQ looks through her mirror and sees Snow White hanging out with seven dwarves. She wonders when that happened, which is basically the writer’s way of announcing that soon we’re going to be getting the story of how Snow White meets the seven dwarves. At the end of the episode a mysterious new motorcycle man comes to Storybrooke, and the last-minute arrival of Mr. Tight Pants is a cheap way to drum up interest for next week’s episode after a lousy hour. The writers don’t have a good enough cliffhanger for any of their regular characters this week, so here’s a new one. Be excited now.

Stray observations:

  • What is up with the comics rack in the Storybrooke convenience store? A bunch of Damon Lindeloff’s Ultimate Hulk vs. Wolverine #3, along with assorted issues of Dazzler, Power Pack, West Coast Avengers, Kazar, and others. I get that Marvel is owned by Disney now, but does Disney know that Marvel has published comics after 1989/not by a Lost producer?
  • It’s the return of the Regina BGL: “Miss Swan, must I remind you that genetics mean nothing? You’re not his mother, and it’s all taken care of.” Actually, genetics do mean something, like making Emma Henry’s mother.
  • “I would’ve gone gravy.”
  • “Those are them.” “Those are them.” The dialogue is electric!
  • Every time I try to watch Once Upon A Time with other people, they fall asleep/get sleepy afterward. One friend reasoned that it is because essentially Once Upon A Time is a bedtime story. I wonder if that might be part of the show’s appeal, that it can be a televised sleeping agent for kids that need to be in bed early on Sunday night. Are there any commenters that watch OUAT with their children? Do the kids like it?