Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 1, Episode 20 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," entitled "The Stranger."
After last week's bait-and-switch with Mr. Gold (and the numerous clues leading up to this episode), it was fairly obvious that August's true identity was Pinocchio -- but knowing the truth didn't really lessen the poignancy of Geppetto's story. The pain of losing a loved one -- especially a child -- is a recurring theme on "Once Upon a Time" (Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC), and you'd have to be as heartless as Regina not to have been moved by Geppetto's fierce love for his formerly wooden son and the loneliness that his Storybrooke alter-ego, Marco, clearly felt after living without a child for so many years.
Still, it was surprising to see a character we've previously known to be humble and unassuming, as earlier versions of Geppetto have been portrayed, acting in such a selfish way. While it's completely understandable that any good parent would go to great lengths to ensure their child's safety, his decision to send Pinocchio to our world instead of allowing Snow White to go with her daughter was inexcusable. How different would Emma's life have been, if Snow had been able to go with her and keep her out of the foster system? How different would the inhabitants of Storybrooke's lives be now, if their savior had grown up knowing exactly who she was and what she had to do to break the curse?
While Geppetto had no way of knowing what his selfishness would cost at the time, he inadvertently made so many lives so much worse, especially after Pinocchio shirked his responsibilities and left Emma alone and unprotected in the Raskinds' foster home even though he promised that he would watch over her. If there's one thing that recent episodes of "Once" have illustrated, it's that loving parents should never be separated from their children; if Rumplestiltskin had gone with Baelfire, the curse would never have been created in the first place, and if Snow had gone with Emma and Pinocchio had stayed with Geppetto, the curse would probably already have been broken. It's a lesson that Emma has to learn all over again now in her desperate attempt to regain custody of Henry from a proven "sociopath." Hindsight is 20/20, I guess.
These morality plays are what make "Once" so compelling, proving that even heroes are flawed and make bad decisions -- a good lesson for the show's younger viewers. As Marco pointed out to August later in the episode, it's enough that he realized his earlier mistake and tried to fix it, just as Emma is now attempting to fix her relationship with Henry. We can't always see a bad decision until it's too late to turn back, but "Once" seems determined to prove that every mistake can be rectified if you're strong enough to admit that you made one. Regina, on the other hand, just keeps taking one wrong turn after another, so consumed by anger and hatred that she's incapable of admitting when she's made a mistake or accepting Snow/Mary Margaret's heartfelt apologies when she should just move on with her life.
Because of this, she made a misguided attempt to seduce David -- trying to break Mary Margaret's heart another way after the old "framing you for a fake murder" trick didn't work. Since Mary Margaret is already feeling fairly betrayed by David, I do wonder how she would've reacted if Regina had succeeded; could she be any angrier with him than she already is? Regardless, I'm glad that the writers didn't take David there; the guy has already made numerous terrible decisions on the show, but I do believe that he's actively trying to make amends with Mary Margaret, and I think it would've felt like character assassination to make him sink that low.
Even though we saw August's Pinocchio revelation coming, I did appreciate the way the show fleshed out his backstory and piled on the guilt for his abandoning Emma as a baby. I'm intrigued to see how his "disease" progresses from here. It's obvious that he's somehow turning back into a puppet while the curse is still active (although I wish we had more context for why this is happening when the wardrobe was supposed to protect him from the effects of the curse). But if Emma can't see him returning to wooden form, what happens when he "dies"? I'm assuming only the people who know about the curse would be able to see him in puppet form, while people like Emma would simply see him as a dead man, similar to how Regina killed Graham when he'd obviously been living without his heart, thanks to the curse's magic.
With only two episodes left, things are certainly escalating -- I just hope we'll somehow get a satisfying payoff even if the curse isn't broken at the end of this season. When I spoke to Raphael Sbarge (who plays Jiminy Cricket/Archie Hopper), he promised a finale that will "blow people's minds." I'm looking forward to seeing what that will mean for the second season.
Did you like August/Pinocchio's backstory and his tentative reunion with his father? What are your predictions for the season finale? Weigh in below!
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.