Once Upon a Time is normally so overstuffed that recapping any given episode can be a real challenge. But tonight's installment can be summed up with a few short sentences: August is Pinoccho -- commenters, give yourselves a pat on the collective back! -- as well as the boy who "found" baby Emma after she traveled out of Fairy Land. Emma still refuses to believe in the curse. And Regina wants to seduce David, for some reason. That's... basically it, excluding a truly frustrating concluding twist. When will Snow White's line learn that running away is almost guaranteed to make a problem worse?
It's a shame that there wasn't more to "The Stranger," especially considering we've only got two episodes left in Once's first season. I'd hoped that by this point, Emma would finally be able to get over her stubborn skepticism. Watching her refuse to believe even after she sees and experiences ridiculous things week after week has gotten as old as seeing Mary Margaret and David have that same "We want to be together but we can't be together" conversation over and over.
I appreciate the fact that we've delved deeply into various characters' backgrounds, and I understand why Emma's enlightenment keeps getting delayed. (The series would end awfully quickly if she accepted everything Henry told her from the get-go.) But that doesn't mean I'm not annoyed by the way Once's Storybrooke storylines keep treading water. If the real world stuff is going to be even half as interesting as the Fairy Land stuff, we've simply got to get a little more forward momentum. And not the kind that comes from Emma making the dumb decision to, say, kidnap Henry.
Before Emma tries to spirit her son away, she watches August install a "medieval chic" lock on her apartment door. This, hopefully, will keep Regina and her skeleton keys from stashing any more daggers in Mary Margaret's room. Now that she's crossed "secure castle" off her to-do list, Emma moves onto the next item: meeting up with Henry at Granny's. There, the tyke tells his birth mom that somebody's added a story about Pinocchio to his story book. But who, and why, and was he riding a motorcycle while he did it??
Cut to the story of Pinocchio as it unfolds in Fairy Land. Like Tom Hanks before him, Gepetto is riding a raft in a storm, accompanied only by an inanimate object; unlike Tom Hanks, Gepetto's companion can actually talk back. He and Pinocchio are being pursued by Monstro, who may or may not have a Storybrooke counterpart in predatory Dr. Whale. Side note: This is definitely the most technically impressive sequence on Once thus far, and I'm loving both how epic the storm is and how realistic Pinocchio himself looks.
The puppet offers to Jack Dawson himself by giving the raft's only life vest to Gepetto. Though his selflessness immediately results in something like death, that's remedied when the Blue Fairy appears and turns him into a real boy at last. Man, the Blue Fairy is like the good version of Rumpelstilskin; she has her hands in everything, and her appearance makes viewers cringe. I hope Once's costume crew banishes those jellyfish dresses to another dimension in Season 2.
NEXT: August's true true identity: Long John Silver