ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME tells a story of redemption, as we learn that August (Eion Bailey) has what it takes to be “Selfless, Brave, and True.” He didn’t always, by the way. We see in flashback how he behaves in Asia, which leads to his return to wood form. But, in the end, he finds the hero inside of himself, and is rewarded for it.
While ONCE UPON A TIME has not tackled the Pinocchio story directly in its fairy tale world sequences, “Selfless, Brave, and True” is very much the same plot. We have a flawed man who seeks comfort and pleasure and the easy way out. He is willing to steal to help himself, even if others are hurt in the process. But when it really counts, when lives are on the line, he manages to sum up the courage to do the right thing.
Pinocchio learns this lesson once, when he was a boy. Now, as an adult, he must learn it all over again. When we first meet August in season one, he is already turning back into wood, thankfully a slow process. “Selfless, Brave, and True” shows us why, taking us to the fall of 2011 in the real world. And now, August must learn the same thing all over again.
This time, the stakes are much higher. Tamara (Sonequa Martin-Green) is on the hunt for magic. She is obviously willing to murder innocents to get it, as she does with The Dragon (Tzi Ma, 24, Rush Hour). She is now manipulating Neal (Michael Raymond-James) to gain access to Storybrooke, the place where magic exists. Since August is the only one that knows this, he decides to give up the chance at becoming a real person again with a potion she has in order to stay and warn the town. For his trouble, Tamara kills him.
It’s upsetting to see August die, even after the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy) restores him to the little boy he once was (Jakob Davies). Yes, the adult August has been corrupted, and becoming the boy Pinocchio again gives him a second chance. But he also loses who he is, the good with the bad, and his memories, which means he doesn’t get to tell anyone about Tamara. It’s a moving scene, seeing Marco (Tony Amendola) hold his boy in his arms. But it’s as much about loss as it is about rebirth.
We don’t know much about Tamara yet, other than that she is evil. But the existence of her character opens up a whole world of possibilities that haven’t been explored on the show before. Greg knows about magic because of his Storybrooke experience. Tamara somehow learns of it another way. And The Dragon either came from the fairy tale realm or also found out about it at some point. So magic has been connected to the real world long before Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) curse.
I do wonder if Greg will turn out to be a bad guy. He has legitimate beef against Regina, to be sure, even if she claims she let his father go a few days after young Owen left the town. This is probably a lie, but we don’t know for sure. However, thus far we haven’t seen anything to indicate that Greg knows of Tamara’s intentions. Did he make a deal with her, and is willing to be bad and help her steal magic in order to find his dad? Or is he so concentrated on his mission that he didn’t check the terms or the source of his help, and his values aren’t aligned with Tamara’s? After all, Greg has been in town for awhile, and surely has seen that not everyone there deserves punishment.
Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) punishes herself enough, and doesn’t need it from any outside sources. She finally does get out of bed in “Selfless, Brave, and True,” and encounters August in the forest. August believes he has done unforgiveable things, and Mary Margaret does her best to convince him that that is not so, and he should return to his father.
Seeing August is just what Mary Margaret needs. She is too close to the situation involving herself to be objective, but she has no problem letting August off the hook for his own sins. In the process, she realizes that she is in a similar situation, and can also seek redemption for what she has done. August helps Mary Margaret out of her funk, and she will now begin to put her life back together.
These parallel plots are well designed, especially because they are the culmination of a lot of story. Mary Margaret and August’s similar circumstances don’t come about all of the sudden in this single episode, but have long been built to, and now intertwine beautifully. The ONCE UPON A TIME writers are brilliant masterminds at making connections and having arcs fit together. This episode is a wonderful example of some of their best work in that arena.
I am still baffled by the chemistry among the Charming family. Henry (Jared Gilmore) seems to have adjusted to seeing Emma (Jennifer Morrison) as his mother and Mary Margaret and David (Josh Dallas) as his grandparents. But Emma is clearly uncomfortable around her own parents, and hasn’t figured out how to treat them yet, likely hindered by the fact that they appear to be roughly her own age. The way that Emma treats Mary Margaret in this episode, annoyed at her being in bed, in stark contrast to David’s nurturing approach, shows she hasn’t accepted them as family yet, at least not in the way they view family. I wonder if this will ever sort itself out, or if it will always feel awkward.
Lastly, it’s a little sad that August won’t have a chance with Emma. I feel like there is some real chemistry between the characters, and given their back story, coming over to the real world together, it’s sweet. But this does clear an obstacle towards getting Emma and Neal back together, which could happen next season, after he gets over the betrayal of Tamara.
ONCE UPON A TIME will be taking a few weeks off of fresh installments, but will air “enhanced” versions of recent episodes instead. It continues Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.