Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 1, Episode 19 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," entitled "The Return."
I'll admit it up front: I was expecting to love tonight's "Once Upon a Time" a little more than I actually did. I can't really put my finger on why, except to say that it felt a little like it was missing its heart somehow. (How apt.)
Jane Espenson's previous Rumplestiltskin-centric episodes, "Desperate Souls" and "Skin Deep" were both poignant, heartfelt hours, ably brought to life by Robert Carlyle's impressive range. Carlyle was still in fine form in "The Return," but perhaps because of the revelation that August wasn't truly Rumple's son, the end result lacked the emotional impact of those episodes. Still, it was impossible to find fault with the Scot's performance, especially in the scene where he believed, if only for a few moments, that he'd been reunited with his long-lost son. It's heartbreaking to think that Mr. Gold was willing to forsake all of his wicked ways at the prospect of being with his child again, and how much damage August may have inadvertently done in making Rumple realize that he's as far away from Bae as ever.
The episode certainly did a convincing job of justifying why Rumple became so much darker and driven in his quest to recapture lost love (arguably the overarching theme of the whole series). It also sheds light on why he was later so afraid to let himself love Belle, fearing that he would lose her too and subsequently having that fear realized, despite his attempts to keep her safe at a distance. The episode also adds further context to all of Rumple's previous actions, especially his vendetta against the fairies and their Storybrooke counterparts, the nuns.
So Baelfire is still missing and August's identity is still a mystery, although I'm more convinced than ever that the clues are pointing us towards Pinocchio. These range from the overt (His previous interactions with Ruby and Emma, relating to whether or not he's a liar -- and this episode offered us definitive proof that he is. Plus, his "shin splints" and pain near the Troll Bridge) to the more subtle framing devices employed in this episode (the choice to film his conversation with Henry against a backdrop of lumber; the wood tones in the decor of his bedroom, and the carved donkey he was using as a paperweight -- as Disney fans might remember, Pinocchio starts to transform into a donkey on Pleasure Island as a result of his "jackass" behavior). Add that to August's quest to reunite with his long-lost father, his close rapport with the Blue Fairy, and whatever illness is plaguing him in this land that can only be cured by magic (puppetitis?). It seems like a far more logical conclusion than having August as one of the Brothers Grimm, especially if Pinocchio was originally carved from the same enchanted wood as Emma's wardrobe to help him cross between worlds.
But why does Rumple want August to break the spell when he was the one who concocted it to get his son back in the first placce? It's nice to see that Mr. Gold is still playing both sides, and perhaps his only motivation is reuniting with Bae, which keeps him aligned with Emma for the time being. I suppose that will be explored in weeks to come, although I'm still impatient enough that I wish it was all playing out a little faster.
Nothing else really progressed in Storybrooke, save that Sidney is misguidedly taking the fall for Regina's scheme to frame Mary Margaret. At least Emma has finally wised up to the mayor's behavior, outright calling her a "sociopath" and promising Regina that she plans to get Henry back, directly mirroring Rumple's determination to reunite with Bae back in Fairytale Land.
I continue to be impressed that the producers chose to make Kathryn (and her fairytale counterpart, Abigail) a good person, when plenty of shows tend to vilify "the other woman" just to justify why the starcrossed central couple should be together. We know that Abigail's true love is Frederick, so I'm glad that she's no longer an obstacle in David and Mary Margaret's relationship -- especially since it seems that David's doing a good job of being one all on his lonesome. The writers are doing a good job of playing up his less Charming qualities in Storybrooke, and his "I'm only human" line was a nice reminder that, at least in Storybrooke, that's actually the case -- Prince Charming certainly seemed inhumanly perfect in Fairytale Land (if a little arrogant), so it's nice that Josh Dallas gets to play some of his weaker, more fallible moments.
And, though David's forgotten his royal attributes, it's great to see Mary Margaret starting to take on more of her old qualities: First, that Snow-esque kick that sent Jefferson out of the window in "Hat Trick"; and this week, her determination not to forgive David so easily. The steel in her tone was definitely more reminiscent of her fairytale alter-ego, so I'm pleased to see her growing and becoming more assertive as Emma continues to weaken the curse. Now we just need Regina to finally get her comeuppance ...
Do you think that August is Pinocchio or someone else? Do you think David and Mary Margaret will actually get together this season? Weigh in below!
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.