Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 13 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," titled "Tiny."
This week's "Once Upon a Time" tackled the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk in a typically unique fashion -- not only painting Jack as the villain of the piece, but also making the character a woman.
This time, instead of Jack's curiosity, it was the giant who proved the catalyst for the story -- Anton's fascination with humans prompted him to ignore his family's wishes and venture down the beanstalk to see if he could become part of their world. (Yes, I did just make a "Little Mermaid" reference, and I think Anton and Ariel will have plenty in common when she inevitably finds her way to Storybrooke, don't you?)
Since I prefer my fairytale characters with an edge (e.g. Hook and Jefferson), it was somewhat disappointing that the infamous beanstalk climber was dispatched so soon, but since "Once" makes liberal use of flashbacks, I suppose Jack's demise doesn't preclude us from seeing her again. (Her adventures in Wonderland would be fascinating, I think.) Cassidy Freeman did an excellent job with a relatively small role, proving both seductive and undeniably capable, as most female characters are in the world of "Once."
It was also a pleasure to revisit the decidedly un-Charming Prince James, who is every bit as arrogant as his twin is noble. Josh Dallas seemed to relish the chance to play a darker role, and that enthusiasm was infectious -- it was a pleasure to watch him being the bad boy, especially since we didn't have to sacrifice Charming's goodness in order to experience it.
I'm glad the "mystery" of Charming's real name was dealt with in such a casual manner, since it really was the least of the show's many lingering questions. As I've suspected (along with many others) since Season 1's "The Shepherd," Charming's real name truly is David, but when faced with his own Goliath this week, our hero chose reason instead of violence and gained a welcome ally -- one who could hold the key to returning to Fairytale Land. (This is why you should always use your words, children.)
In our recent interview, Josh Dallas confirmed that Charming's desire to return to Fairytale Land would continue to cause friction with Snow, since she made it abundantly clear that she has no desire to leave Emma again. It's still fascinating to watch our fairytale characters struggling to adapt to a modern world without swords or real adventures, and it would be nice to think that the inhabitants of Storybrooke can rescue their realm instead of being forced to change themselves to fit into the narrow confines of ours. But it also seems unlikely that Emma would want to sacrifice the conveniences of our world to go and swashbuckle in the Enchanted Forest.
That uneasy dichotomy between the worlds is both "Once Upon a Time's" greatest strength and its weakness -- it's thrilling to see fairytale characters in our reality, but it's still not quite right, and that often bleeds through into the plotting; I tend to find the Fairytale Land adventures far more compelling than the Storybrooke storylines, when our heroes aren't limited by the mundanity of our universe. In "Tiny," it was revealed that outside Storybrooke, Rumplestiltskin's powers don't work, further illustrating how oppressive our land is to these characters (although in Rumple and Regina's case, a little oppression is probably a good thing). If Rumple succeeds in breaking the curse on Storybrooke's town limits, will magic flow out into our world and help bring some of Fairytale Land's whimsy to us? It seems far more likely that chaos would replace order and power-hungry megalomaniacs like Regina and Rumple would be in control -- something that would become unsustainable fairly rapidly. Returning the characters to Fairytale Land seems like the only progression to this storyline, but I'm admittedly very intrigued to see if that's what the writers have in mind or whether there are bigger and bolder plans afoot.
From a character standpoint, there were plenty of satisfying moments in "Tiny," from Hook's shameless flirtation with Snow (and Charming's reaction to it) to Rumple's uneasiness about traveling out of Storybrooke. It was good to see the usually unflappable Mr. Gold looking well and truly flapped as the reality of his quest set in, and Emma proved surprisingly sympathetic, even if Henry was every bit as annoying as a hyperactive kid on his first vacation would be. The moment between David and Rumple at the beginning of the episode was particularly affecting, with David requesting Rumple keep Emma and Henry safe, and Rumple responding honestly to that fatherly plea. Seeing Tiny become an honorary dwarf (with the prerequisite whistling of "heigh-ho") was a similarly effective scene, and it'll be nice to see Jorge Garcia popping back up again now that he's firmly situated in Storybrooke.
It's also heartbreaking that Regina seems to have truly gone back over to the dark side with Cora, gleefully enabling Anton to kill Charming even after he and Snow apologized for the Archie incident. The things we do for love ...
Next week, it seems as though Rumple might finally be reunited with his son, and it looks like he'll be a familiar face -- are you confident you know who Bae is now? Weigh in below!
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.