By John Keegan and Edmund Boys
Once upon a time, in the far-away mists of TV history, before Lord Hobo and Princess Showtime liberated content from the shackles of the Seasons and the FCC, weekends were a very different place. People actually stayed home on Saturday nights, rapt before CBS’ lineup of killer comedies. And, on Sunday night, families finished off the weekend with the wholesome entertainments of “The Wonderful World of Disney.” The current “Once Upon A Time” initially presented a more sophisticated update. However, recent evidence suggests they are now seeking Walt’s mantle. It’s too bad, then, that they’re closer to evoking the legacy of Sid and Marty Krofft.
This episode felt off from the start. I have always found the series depiction of fairies, godmother and otherwise, jarring. The garish costumes and breathless delivery are at odds with the more naturalistic renderings of the fairy-tale world. This time, Amy Acker guests as the clumsy, but endearing (at least I think that was the intent) apprentice fairy, Nova. The clumsiness is key, as she spills some of her pixie dust delivery. The dust, magically, of course, infuses just one egg in the Alien-esque hatchery that produces dwarves. That's right, fully-formed (and, thankfully, fully-clothed) dwarves that spring forth already eager to whistle and work. No wonder I started having involuntary “H.R. Pufnstuf” flashbacks.
The effects of the pixie dust give the dwarf (and the episode) a name: Dreamy. It also allows the writers to jump straight into their tale of mis-matched, forbidden love without the need for any character development, or build-up to the relationship. The dust gave Dreamy a vision of Nova in ovum, so he is pre-besotted when they meet in the mines. The naïve courtship of innocents can be quite touching and entertaining, as the Bard, and many others, have demonstrated. Here, the lack of chemistry and clunky setup leaves it feeling forced and unconvincing. They meet, they want to run off together, they’re told they can’t, so they don’t, and Dreamy becomes Grumpy. Romeo and Juliet, this ain’t. It barely rises to the level of the Mummers doing “Pyramus and Thisbe.”
After the unfortunate experiment of contrasting stories with David and the Prince, they do return to congruence this time. Nova becomes Sister Astrid, Dreamy/Grumpy becomes Leroy, and they have a similarly implausible courtship in Storybrooke. The nuns have left Mary Margaret in charge of their annual candle sale, apparently remembering the Bible’s teachings on forgiveness. The rest of the town has not, as they continue to snub Mary Margaret, regardless of any charitable work they trash in the process. At this point, I’m almost hoping we discover Madame Mayor has a mind-control device to explain away the town's en masse knee-jerk reaction to the adultery.
The “love” story did have the saving grace of keeping the focus off the lackadaisical investigation of Kathryn's disappearance. After what was shown in the trailer, this almost felt like a bait-and-switch. However, the groundwork was being laid, so I'm sure we will soon have to endure the further pillorying of Mary Margaret. Also, Emma now claims to have truth-sensing abilities. But she still trusts Sidney, so they're obviously not fully developed yet.
The only spark (yes, pun intended) of imagination was Leroy's solution to the candle sales. The candles themselves must have residual magic, since their deployment melted the intransigence to Mary Margaret (at least, until she's accused of offing Kathryn.) However, I'm still in the dark about why we should care any more. There was some joking trepidation on the interwebs about Amy Acker's appearance, given her reputation as a show-killer. The ratings bely that fear, and indicate there is still a market for unthreatening family fare on Sunday nights. For those of us who expected more from this creative team, it remains to be seen if we'll continue to be part of those numbers.John Keegan is the Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Edmund Boys is Critical Myth's reviewer for Once Upon a Time.