Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 6 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," titled "Tallahassee."
After the last episode's hit-and-miss introduction to Frankenstein, this week's "Once Upon a Time" felt like a breath of fresh, top-of-the-beanstalk air. We finally found out who Michael Raymond-James is playing (Henry's father!) and who sent him the postcard telling him that the curse was broken in the season premiere (August!).
Neither of those revelations felt particularly shocking, but it was satisfying to dispatch two of the year's biggest question marks and get some insight into Emma's checkered past so early in the season. "Tallahassee" also introduced us to Jorge Garcia's sympathetic Giant, marking a reunion for him and "Lost" executive producers Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. And this episode isn't the last we'll be seeing of Garcia -- in our recent interview, the "Lost" alum revealed that Horowitz and Kitsis had invited him back to film again in a month, so fingers crossed for some Giant backstory.
Jennifer Morrison has played Emma with a great weight on her shoulders thus far, so it was nice to see a more carefree, playful version of the character this week -- one who was in love and saw a chance for happiness and a stable home in her romance with the roguish Neal Cassady, no matter how fleeting it turned out to be.
August apparently wanted to make amends for abandoning Emma when they were children by lurking around and "protecting" her later in life, but I wonder how Emma would react to learning that he scared away her one chance for happiness just for the sake of breaking the curse.
Now we just need to learn what's in the box (reminded of Brad Pitt in "Se7en," anyone?) that so easily convinced Neal that magic was real -- I'm guessing August's typewriter wouldn't cut it. Then again, Neal didn't actually answer August when he asked if Neal believed in magic, simply asking, "I take it you do?" Do we still suspect that he's Baelfire and he was just trying to deflect suspicion, or did his theft of the watches strengthen the possibility that he's the White Rabbit, as some speculated after the premiere?
Regardless of who Neal is, it was touching to learn that he was truly in love with Emma, and still had dreams of being with her after the curse was broken. Here's hoping she's found a way back to Storybrooke by the time he gets there.
Then again, Emma also had undeniable chemistry with the charming Captain Hook during their beanstalk adventure -- even if she didn't quite trust him enough to keep him around, leaving him cuffed up in the Giant's castle while she made off with the compass. I say it was a wise move on her part, considering what's at stake, and since she didn't kill him or let the Giant eat him, maybe he won't be holding too much of a grudge when he catches up to our fab foursome?
One of the episode's other high points was one of its most subtle scenes; Snow telling Aurora that Charming used to light a candle for her to keep the nightmares away, and Charming doing the same for Henry in Storybrooke after his grandson's nightmare. It was an innocent enough anecdote, but still managed to be an effortless way of illustrating Snow and Charming's love for each other and the familial bond between grandfather and grandson, without the need for any heavy-handed exposition. It was also great to see Snow taking down Mulan for daring to endanger Emma, even if the warrior was just following Emma's orders.
Obviously, the biggest question to arise from this episode is: why are Henry and Aurora sharing nightmares? Henry pointedly described a "she" in recounting his dream, so it seems like both were the dark figure in each other's vision, but what does it mean -- aside from that they should stay away from red rooms with no exits? The plot thickens ...
It goes without saying that the greenscreen was the weakest part of this episode, and considering how popular the show is, I wish ABC would throw some more money at it to make the effects less obvious. It's a gargantuan task to create a weekly fantasy world on a TV budget, especially given such a quick post-production turnaround, but it was sadly distracting in an otherwise excellent episode.
We were treated to some great character insights, earned some satisfying enough answers and were given more questions to ponder, and the hour seemed to fly by without any dull scenes or extraneous plot points, which hasn't always been the case this season. There was even another cameo from "Lost's" Apollo candy bar! All in all, "Tallahassee" felt like the strongest episode of the season to date. What did you think of it?
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.