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ONCE UPON A TIME There Was a Boy Who Lost His Father

Episode 1.19 “The Return”

[photos: Jack Rowand/ABC]

We begin this episode with a little spy bit. August, suffering still from his “shin splints” (ahem) makes a call to someone and says, “We have to accelerate the plan.” All James Bond-y style.

His fellow agent? Henry. Operation Cobra is moving forward, but Henry doesn’t quite get August’s new plan. See, Henry thinks Operation Cobra is all about getting Emma to believe she’s the daughter of Snow White so the curse can be lifted and we all get a Happily Ever After. But August has other priorities at the moment.

So Henry gets sent into the lion’s den: Mr. Gold’s shop, ostensibly to buy Mary Margaret a “glad you’re not a murderer” gift. Meanwhile, August goes in the back and snoops around Gold’s office. Gold, of course, being Rumpelstiltskin, is apparently very sharp-eared, and he catches August. WriterMan claims to be looking for maps. He’s a collector. Is this a clue to the man’s identity?

At the hospital, Emma tries to get information from Kathryn about where she’s been. All Kathryn can remember is the accident and then waking up in a basement. She’s no help. Could have been anyone who snatched her.

Back at Gold’s shop, Regina is fit to be tied. She’s hacked because Gold didn’t kill Kathryn. Gold gets her on a technicality, saying she never said “kill” – oh, well. That makes all the difference, right? It does to Gold, especially when it comes to deals. Regina accuses him of breaking their deal. Gold’s response is that he’s only broken one deal in his life.

This is the setup to the rest of the episode, wherein we finally get the tale of what happened to Rumpelstiltskin’s son Baelfire. Now we have our pieces in place, so let’s look at the different plot threads.

Sorry Means Never Having to Think Your Girlfriend’s a Killer

David continues to apologize and suck up to Mary Margaret, and she keeps turning him away, while at the same time making the observation that “something” always seems to get in the way of them getting together. In this case, I’d say it’s her own stubbornness in refusing to accept that in this world, David’s a wuss who can’t really go after what he wants until he’s pushed into it. He’s kind of like a political candidate that way. And I really want to think this is leading up to some really big heroic turn, but from the previews, probably not.

But it seems his relationship with Kathryn is going better. She totally gets why their marriage flamed out. How’s that for irony?

And Mary Margaret gets plenty of space to emote, but where is this going? At this point, it seems we’ve circled this block already… at least twice. It’s time to fish or cut bait.

The Plot Thickens

With Gold’s machinations, it’s obvious to Regina that she’s being set up to take the entire load of blame once it comes out what happened with Kathryn. So she maneuvers into a position of relative immunity by putting Sidney up as the fall guy. He comes in to confess to the whole thing after Emma confronts him with the bug. He admits to having Kathryn in a basement, and keeping her locked up, with the idea that he would at some point find her and be the hero of the hour and get his job back.

But see, Emma’s not buying it. She’s figured out that Sidney’s in love with Regina and will do anything for her. Probably clued in to the whole “She’s an amazing woman” refrain he keeps repeating…

And really, Sidney? You’re going to kidnap a woman, make it look like she’s dead, frame someone for the “murder” and then trot out a live body that’s … you know, not been murdered? Wha…?

Are You My Daddy?

The bulk of the episode is spent between explaining what happened to Rumpelstiltskin’s son and determining just who August might be.

Baelfire, we learn, has no friends and desperately wants to change his circumstances and get his old Poppa back. He wants his non-Dark One father back. When Rumpelstiltskin explains that the only real way to get rid of the power is for someone to kill him with The Knife, Bae decides to find another way to expel the evil magic from his father without killing him. So they make a deal.

Of course, we all know this will not end well. Because the remedy from the Blue Fairy is to leave the realm and go to a place where magic doesn’t exist. This takes us back to the recurring theme of this show: running away always ends badly.

Blue Fairy gives Bae the last magic bean in the land. Apparently, Jack’s already taken his trip up the beanstalk and back. So this one last magic bean can transport them someplace else, and Rumpelstiltskin is all fine and well and good with the prospect. Until it’s time to actually do the deed. When the seed opens up a screaming green vortex of Doom, Rumpelstiltskin panics and can’t go through with it. Bae ends up getting sucked in alone.

See? Badly.

All of this sets everyone up to assume that August is Baelfire, and that’s the conclusion Gold has in his head when he goes to Archie Hopper for advice. This scene includes the Runner-up for Lines of the Week:

  • Archie: “Are you here for the rent?”
  • Gold: “Why does everyone ask that?”

Gold has it figured out that August is his son all growed up, and August does nothing to relieve him of that notion. So when they finally meet by the cabin in the woods, it’s a tearful reunion that has Gold emoting and begging for forgiveness. It’s the expected stellar performance by Robert Carlyle that sells the notion that Rumpelstiltskin still has at least a shred of humanity left in him.

This explains why Rumpelstiltskin was willing to help Regina with the curse, because he knew it was the only way to get out of Fairy Tale Land and into the realm where he could look for his son.

Except August is not who we’ve been led to believe. According to Mother Superior (a dressed down Blue Fairy with no cleavage), August is in town looking for his father. They were separated long ago. Of course, this is the red herring. When August takes Rumpelstiltskin’s knife and tries to establish control over the Dark One, he reveals two things: 1) he’s not Baelfire, and 2) he suddenly is rashly thinking he can wield magic in a realm where magic doesn’t exist.

Up until now, August has been very controlled, very calm and put together. For him to act like this seems a bit out of character. Granted, in the beginning of the episode we establish that he’s on a deadline, and he admits as much to Gold, saying he’s going to die soon. But is that enough to justify his rash attempt to control Gold?

So, the question now is the question it’s always been: Who is August? The evidence is piling up that August is Pinocchio, but how did he make it over into the Storybrooke realm, and how has he been able to age?

Some Evidence that August is Pinocchio:

  1. shin splints/ankle pain – in the original story, Pinocchio sprains his leg while living as a donkey
  2. donkey carving – in both the original story and the Disney version, Pinocchio gets transformed into a donkey
  3. honesty – August claims that he doesn’t lie

If August is Pinocchio, then would he possibly have a connection of some sort with Dr. Whale?


This also sets up an interesting scenario for the finale. The whole time we’ve had our focus on Regina being the villain of the piece. Now it’s revealed that Rumpelstiltskin created the curse so he could cross over and find his boy. The man’s a master manipulator, so it’s easy to see how he got Regina to enact the curse for him.

So what if the end of Regina does not mean the end of the curse? I’m calling it now. Something in the way Rumpelstiltskin set it up will make it almost impossible to break the curse until he finds Baelfire. Rumpelstiltskin is the real villain behind the villain in this piece.

Line of the Week goes to Emma for the “typewriter wrapped in an enigma wrapped in stubble”.

[Official Show Site at ABC]     [Previous recap: “The Stable Boy”]

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

3 thoughts on “ONCE UPON A TIME There Was a Boy Who Lost His Father

  • Do you get the feeling the series is writing its self into a corner? It feels like this is building to a season finale but then what? How does the series go on for many more seasons?

    • Originally, I had the idea that there were three possibilities this could go after the curse was lifted: 1) Regina recruits the other witches for a knock-down drag-out slugfest all through season two; 2) Emma goes missing; or 3) the curse doesn’t get lifted at season finale time and we have another season to break it. Seems like this might be the way they’re going, especially if Regina really isn’t the one in charge of the curse. Just because she cast the spell doesn’t mean she can control it.

  • I think your idea 3) is the most likely at this time. It doesn’t look like the curse will be lifted anytime soon.


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