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Episode 1.20: The Stranger

In which we learn the answer to the mystery: who is August W. Booth?

He rolled into town on a motorcycle with only a typewriter and some beard stubble, and Nobody New Ever Comes to Storybrooke. Well, Emma, but she's met her share of suspicion as well.

1. The answer to August's identity begins with another, apparently unconnected mystery. There is a new story in Henry's Once Upon A Time book that wasn't there before, and it's about Pinocchio. It tells how puppet!Pinocchio sacrificed himself when he and his father were in a storm at sea and he saved Gepetto's life. Pinocchio "drowns", and the Blue Fairy saves him by making him human. She tells him he will remain human as long as he is "brave, true, and unselfish."

Unfortunately for Pinoc, he doesn't. In fact, he's been cowardly, unfaithful, (a total rat bastard tool) and very selfish, and as a result, he is turning back to wood.

But he and Gold are in cahoots now, working to convince Emma that she is the savior who must end the curse on Storybrooke. It's August's attempt to save his own ass Storybrooke by completing the task his father thrust on him as a child. Regina's curse threatened the Enchanted Forest shortly after Pinocchio became a real boy. His father Gepetto was asked by the Blue Fairy to create a magical wardrobe that could be used to whisk Emma to the Land Without Magic prior to the curse so she could avoid its effects and save everyone else from it as an adult. Gepetto agreed, but his price for building the wardrobe was that his son be one of the two people the wardrobe could save, rather than Emma's father. Gepetto feared the effect the curse will have on Pinocchio.

Unfortunately, Snow White goes into labor before the curse falls, meaning she cannot accompany her daughter without becoming the second person. Gepetto sends Pinocchio through anyway. This leaves baby Emma stranded in the Land Without Magic with only Pinocchio to guide her. He was seven years old and easily tempted by this new world's fascinations, and left Emma alone.

It is ironic, then, that Pinocchio's actions in the LWM result in him turning to wood anyway, despite all of Gepetto's attempts to prevent this.

2. One of the things I love about this show is how they re-envision classic characters. The show's take on "Pinocchio all grown up" is never what I would have pictured for the guy. But it works.

3. This episode contains some great examples of "bridge scenes" between other moments we see on the show: (1) the scene we've already seen where Blue tells Snow White and Prince Charming the wardrobe can only carry one person, and (2) the scene in season 2 Storybrooke where Snow learns the truth about the wardrobe from Gepetto.

We also get a "promissory note" of a scene we will see later, when Emma's arrival in Storybrooke coincides with the moment August began to turn into wood halfway across the world. This kind of non-linear story-telling is one reason I love this show.

4. There's been debate over the selfishness of Gepetto's actions regarding the wardrobe. He put his own child's interests not only over the child of another person (understandable), but over the interests of the entire Enchanted Forest. I was one of those people who found Snow White a bit too forgiving of Gepetto's actions. He put the entire burden of Emma's future on a seven-year old boy, and Pinocchio's failure to take care of Emma is just as much on his shoulders as Pinocchio's. I am not convinced that Snow doesn't harbor unexpressed anger towards Gepetto she's convinced herself is ungracious.

5. Interesting Mary Margaret/Regina moment in this ep. Regina remembers their past, Mary Margaret doesn't. So Mary Margaret offering her forgiveness and pity, as heartfelt as it is, probably only serves to enrage Regina (given all we know about her now), who feels that she is the wronged party. You can imagine her thinking, "If I have a hole in my heart, it's all YOUR fault."

Regina's lasagna-making skills have improved in 28 years. One would hope so. I've blanked out the rest of that kitchen scene, but I'm amused how we see a multi-layered echo of it in Welcome to Storybrooke.

6. Emma is not particularly open to August's persuasion, partly because she is now focused on getting custody of Henry, and partly because August's story of curses and fairy tales all sounds absurd to her. It's easier to believe August was the 7-year old boy that found her "abandoned" as a baby in a location not far from Storybrooke than it is to believe is that all of Henry's fairytale fantasies are true and she is the "Savior." But August believes it.

At this point, the writers do something annoying--they have Emma not see that Pinocchio's leg is wood. They pull that "you need to make the leap of faith before you can see the evidence that's right in front of your eyes." My pet peeves aside, this "blindness" to the facts allows Emma to remain skeptical until the final episode of the season.

His failure to convince her about the truth of fairytales does, however, convince her this town is Nuts. She decides it is time to get Henry out of Storybrooke altogether.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
buffyannotater
Feb. 9th, 2014 11:05 pm (UTC)
At this point, the writers do something annoying--they have Emma not see that Pinocchio's leg is wood. They pull that "you need to make the leap of faith before you can see the evidence that's right in front of your eyes."

When it first aired, I agree, this drove me crazy. Rewatching the episodes, however, particularly back-to-back, as I've done twice now, it really works for me, particularly with the hindsight that she'll know the truth in just over one more episode, and that the emotional regression that this moment inspires in her actually, ironically, directly leads to her discovering the truth. I think now, in retrospect, it's hugely important that it's Henry's faith in her that leads her to the truth, and not August trying to show her proof, and that in order to get Henry to that point, she has to be pushing against his assertions harder than ever before. But, yeah, week to week and without that knowledge, it was agony the first time around.

Edited at 2014-02-09 11:06 pm (UTC)
masqthephlsphr
Feb. 10th, 2014 04:20 pm (UTC)
I have less of a problem the placement of her "blindness" to his wooden leg in the narrative--I prefer her coming to believe the truth in the final episode after Henry eats the apple tart, too--than with the "skeptic doesn't see what's right in front of their eyes" trope in general.

They didn't have to do it that way to still stall Emma's belief until the final episode. Emma could have seen what was right in front of her--a wooden leg--and still remained as skeptical as ever. Obviously, August is an amputee who got a wooden replacement limb and is a total nutter for believing he's turning completely to wood.

Emma is a skeptic, but she's *not* blind, and I get so tired of TV writers depicting skeptics as blind to the facts when it is simply in their nature not to over-assume based on the facts.
buffyannotater
Feb. 10th, 2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
I generally agree, although in this specific case, I'm ok with it because (a) magic and (b) I'm not sure if just assuming his leg was fake would be enough to tip her over into wanting out of that town all together. Seeing a regular leg, though, when August tells her it's wood, makes her think he is genuinely deranged and is a stronger motivator for wanting to get the eff out of Dodge immediately.
masqthephlsphr
Feb. 10th, 2014 07:19 pm (UTC)
If he has a wooden leg because she assumes he's an amputee with a replacement, but he's insisting he's turning completely to wood, that's hella deranged.
selenak
Feb. 10th, 2014 06:48 am (UTC)
I:

Rewatching this episode, I realised I had been misremembering one point - I had forgotten that the original idea for the wardrobe (by the Blue Fairy) was for both Snow and Charming to go through it before Emma's birth, i.e. Emma would be raised by both parents), then scaled down to Snow (with unborn Emma) once Gepetto made his demand, then, after the birth, just baby Emma. (I was only remembering Snow-with-Emma part.) Considering that in her other appearances, the Blue Fairy tends to be inflexible (ask Tinkerbell, ask Grumpy) on her does and don'ts, it's remarkable she gives in to Gepetto so completely (and makes no attempt to tell anyone the truth). Tinhat conspiracy theory - maybe she wanted Emma to grow up without her parents, on the skeevy mentor idea of "the savior needs to toughen up"? That would be in line of Pinnocchio/August, after all the Blue Fairy's protegé later interfering and suggesting to to Neal that framing and leaving Emma is part of her destiny.

(Meanwhile, I have no problem with Jiminy keeping quiet, because Gepetto guilt tripped him rather ruthlessly.)

Re: the selfishness of Gepetto's actions - they remind me of Michael's in season 2 of Lost and are a rare flipside to a favourite tv narrative, where parents putting their children first are usually presented as heroes because the cost of their actions to others isn't shown in detail, or the others in question aren't sympathetic characters. (For example Jack Bristow in Alias.) Whereas in Michael's and Gepetto's cases we've been following the people who suffer for their putting their children first for a long time and sympathize with them, which makes the "father putting child above all, to hell with everyone else" trope suddenly look not nearly as attractive.

Considering how much I dislike the adult character, I find myself surprisingly having sympathy for seven years old Pinnoccio leaving Emma in the foster home and running away with the other kids. It's selfish and unfaithful, yes, but he's seven years old, and a child that young as the guardian of another child is asking too much. (Which is Gepetto's fault.) However, Pinnoccio/August grew up, did obviously manage to track Emma down, and the fact he THEN interfered in her life only in a harmful way instead of doing the honest thing of telling her the truth or, if that was not likely to be succesful, try to be her friend, that's entirely his fault and was awful.

Re: Snow's reaction to Gepetto when she finds out the truth in late s2: if I recall correctly her immediate reaction is to hit Gepetto and yell at him, so I would say she expressed her feelings very clearly. Her calming down and forgiving him afterwards I see as being due to the very specific situation Snow was in at that point, i.e. it was shortly after she had used Regina to kill Cora, she felt extremely guilty and afraid of going dark side, so told herself she didn't have the right to pass judgment on Gepetto.

selenak
Feb. 10th, 2014 06:48 am (UTC)
II
The Mary Margaret and Regina scene I found interesting not least because Mary Margaret, without having access to Snow's memories, nethertheless manages to defeat Regina very efficiently here with the whole "your obsession with hurting me is so pathetic; I forgive you" speech. Which is a complete emotional power reversal from their last encounter when Mary Margaret had no idea why Regina had it in for her and cried in despair nonetheless and Regina just ate it up. It's also striking that the expressions Mary Margaret uses - specifically the phrase about Regina attempting to fill the hole in her heart - are in fact what Rumpelstilskin tells her just before the curse takes effect and what comes up again when she adopts Henry, as we'll see in an s3 flashback episode. Regina did fill the hole in her heart by adopting Henry, but it wasn't enough for her, and her continued revenge driven actions have ensured Emma is now set on taking Henry away from her.

re: Emma not seeing Pinnoccio's leg as wood - that is definitely something that feels differently once you know there is only one more ep of disbelief to go instead of assuming the writers are pushing the reset button so Emma can remain a skeptic forever. Which is why I no longer have a problem with it. Her trying to leave Storybrooke with Henry at this point is pretty much classic Joseph Campbell (who, hate him or love him, did influence generations of scriptwriters), but it does work because it feels true to Emma's entire life, and it would be surprising if she didn't at least consider this option. It also, of course, wouldn't work; if Storybrooke really were a normal town with simply unbalanced people, Emma would be guilty of kidnapping and Regina could have called the cops, which among other things would have ensured Emma would never see Henry again.

masqthephlsphr
Feb. 10th, 2014 04:32 pm (UTC)
Re: II
I could totally see Emma and Henry on the lam from the law after leaving Storybrooke, and since Regina unlike the others can leave town, she would use all her influence to track them down. They'd live out of the little yellow bug in a manner not unlike Emma and Neal. That would both be something Emma would excel at and have major issues with at the same time.
masqthephlsphr
Feb. 10th, 2014 04:28 pm (UTC)
I think the Blue Fairy was not in any position to be inflexible here, and she knew it. Time was running short and she had to go with what she had--an intransigent Gepetto. By the time Snow went into labor, time was even shorter, and Gepetto's final decision to send Pinocchio through anyway was after that, and after BF had already told everyone only one could go through.

I am not going to turn Gepetto into a villain here, but I still think Snow might harbor resentment towards him--considering her one major issue in the past few years was that she couldn't raise her daughter--regardless of whether Gepetto deserves it or not (and I think he does, a little, but I don't know if I would have done differently than him under the circumstances).
astrogirl2
Feb. 11th, 2014 02:22 am (UTC)
OK, I finally got the chance to watch this one tonight!

Going into the ep, I was mainly remembering how crazy-making the mystery of August's identity was on first viewing. I don't think I would ever in a million years have guessed who he actually was. And yet, I think it was theoretically possible to guess, if only based on the one obvious question: "What character should logically be in Storybrooke, but appears to be missing?" And if you did have the correct answer to that in mind, the clues would have been there. I like that. I like mysteries that I can't figure out, but that make so much sense in retrospect I almost feel like I should have.

I had forgotten that little scene between Regina and Mary Margaret entirely. But, man, coming from a Snow who remembers nothing about Daniel or Regina's past, that "Your life must be filled with such incredible loneliness" is ouchy. And, you know... I'm pretty sure on first viewing I saw Regina's little attempted seduction of David as purely manipulative, as another attempt to hurt Snow, or a thwarted attempt to put David in a position where he might be useful to her plans later. This time... this time, it seems to me that a lot of it really is just plain loneliness. Which Regina does not remotely know how to deal with.

Like a lot of people, I do not in general think very highly of August or his actions, even the theoretically well-intentioned ones. But watching this again has made me feel at least at little more forgiving towards him. Not only is being charged with taking care of a world-saving baby far too much responsibility for a kid that little, but it strikes me that repeatedly impressing on him the necessity to be "brave, truthful and unselfish" and then leaving him with no parental guidance on how to do that is setting the poor kid up for a fall. Because, honestly, no child that young can really live up to that. Little kids are inherently fearful, self-centered and prone to making things up, even when they do mostly intend to be good. And if he was pretty much doomed to fail at everything that was expected of him from the beginning, maybe it's no wonder he gave up. Maybe it's not surprising he was messed up about the ridiculous responsibility he was charged with, and messed up in how he handled it (or failed to).

As for Gepetto, I'm not sure I feel I can judge him one way or another. Yeah, that was, in the big picture, a bad thing to do, but the guy thought he might very well be saving his son's life, and I could see it being very easy for him to convince himself that the whole savior thing would still work out, one way or another. (Which, it turns out, he was not actually wrong about.) And while Snow was perfectly entitled to be pissed off at him -- and would have been perfectly entitled to stay pissed off at him longer -- well, what he does is far from the worst thing a parent does from love for their child on this show.

And, Masq, I agree with you 100%. The trope that paints skeptics as people who can't see anything beyond their own prejudiced view of the world and will deny things that are right in front of their eyes annoys the crap out of me. Since, you know, that is the exact opposite of skepticism. I can wave my hands here and try to explain that that's not what's really going on, that it's something in the nature of magic in this world, or whatever, and that allows me to maybe accept that scene. But it still really annoys me.

Edited at 2014-02-11 02:24 am (UTC)
selenak
Feb. 11th, 2014 08:37 am (UTC)
what he does is far from the worst thing a parent does from love for their child on this show

Ha, yes. It's interesting, though, isn't, that the emotional reaction to finding out Rumple's motivation is "awwwww, Rumplestilskin" for most of the audience, whereas with Gepetto it's "how selfish!". Now I think the main reason is that Rumple is a regular played by Robert Carlyle whereas Gepetto is a very occasional guest star whose only previous background episode was actually Archie's/Jiminy's background episode, but it may also be the phenomenon that a villain displaying vulnerability gets excused for everything, whereas a hero (or good guy, which Gepetto is) showing selfish behavior is beyond the pale.

As you can see in my own comment, I was surprised to sympathize with the kid Pinnoccio, too, for the same reason. Incidentally, given the adopted family/biological family dealings fans used to side eye in season 1, it never occured to me before but Gepetto and Pinnoccio are a famous case of adopted father and adopted son whose love nonetheless is strong.

And yet, I think it was theoretically possible to guess, if only based on the one obvious question: "What character should logically be in Storybrooke, but appears to be missing?"

Good point. After all, having Jiminy Cricket and Gepetto in Storybrooke but not Pinnoccio would have been a really weird choice. But I didn't figure it out until this episode, either.
astrogirl2
Feb. 11th, 2014 01:34 pm (UTC)
it may also be the phenomenon that a villain displaying vulnerability gets excused for everything, whereas a hero (or good guy, which Gepetto is) showing selfish behavior is beyond the pale.

That probably is a big part of it. In a way it makes sense (even apart from the not-to-be-discounted "Oh, poor woobie!" effect), since how a character's actions are perceived is bound to have a lot to do with how well they fit our previous image of them and what labels we've mentally hung on them. But, man, that can be terribly unfair on the poor good guys!

As you can see in my own comment, I was surprised to sympathize with the kid Pinnoccio, too, for the same reason.

Yep! I'm not actually surprised that both you and I found kid Pinocchio sympathetic there, but I was surprised that seeing kid Pinocchio this time actually made me feel a bit more sympathetic towards the adult August. Because that's a lot harder to do.

it never occured to me before but Gepetto and Pinnoccio are a famous case of adopted father and adopted son whose love nonetheless is strong.

It had occurred to me in past instances of that discussion. And it's worth noting that there's never any question about whether that relationship is a "real" one. When the show is highlighting their relationship (rather movingly, really, with the implication that Gepetto would still love his son no matter what), there's no asterisked disclaimer about how they're not actually biological family implied in there anywhere. They are simply father and son.

After all, having Jiminy Cricket and Gepetto in Storybrooke but not Pinnoccio would have been a really weird choice.

It would have! And I noticed that early on and wondered about it, but didn't spend enough time thinking about it and never actually made the connection.
masqthephlsphr
Feb. 11th, 2014 04:21 pm (UTC)
And, Masq, I agree with you 100%. The trope that paints skeptics as people who can't see anything beyond their own prejudiced view of the world and will deny things that are right in front of their eyes annoys the crap out of me. Since, you know, that is the exact opposite of skepticism. I can wave my hands here and try to explain that that's not what's really going on, that it's something in the nature of magic in this world, or whatever, and that allows me to maybe accept that scene. But it still really annoys me.

I can't handwave it as "how magic works" in this story verse because even if that's true, the narrative doesn't show magic as the thing that convinces her. It shows her suddenly able to see it once she's "taken the leap of faith" first. And that annoys the hell out of me.
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