August/Pinocchio's triumphant return to Storybrooke isn't exactly so triumphant
Once Upon A Time
Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Once Upon a Time teaches us many important lessons. Examples: Love conquers all. Everyone deserves redemption. In large enough doses, electrical currents can in fact kill a sentient puppet-man, at least until a kindly nun/fairy transforms him into a 7-year-old Keebler Elf.

But when those lessons are delivered alongside CGI that wouldn’t look out of place in, say, the 1995 CD-ROM game Bad Day on the Midway, they tend to lose just a bit of their punch. There was some good stuff in “Selfless, Brave, and True.” Unfortunately, “wooden” Pinocchio’s appearance was so distracting that it was tough to focus on what the episode did right.

Considering both August’s loooong absence from the show and the Pinocchio storm scene in season 1’s “The Stranger” — which I praised as “the most technically impressive sequence on Once thus far” — this development was doubly disappointing. I almost wish the show’s design team had chosen to represent Pinocchio with an actual wooden contraption. Sure, he’d have been more stiff — but at least he wouldn’t have looked like a refugee from The Sims.

At 8:15 A.M. ICT on the day Emma Swan first appears in Storybrooke, the pleasure-seeker formerly known as Pinocchio awakens in a Phuket bungalow with a shooting pain in his leg. Is his shin smarting because Bai Ling just bestowed some mysterious new ink upon it? No — it aches because it’s suddenly transformed into wood, though the Muggles around the ex-marionette only see a normal, human limb when he rolls up his pant leg for them. August travels away from the island, seeking a cure for his unusual affliction — and in Hong Kong, he learns of a healer who might just be able to treat it. The enchanter’s name? The Dragon. (I’m just gonna leave this here.)

Back in Storybrooke, each of the Charming ladies has a slightly uncomfortable chance encounter. Emma gets roped into sharing bagels and small talk with Henry, Bae, and Bae’s charming fiancee Tamara, who has come from New York City bearing her beau’s stuff. And when Snow White tries to take her mind off of her black, black heart by engaging in a little target practice in the woods, she stumbles upon a not-so-abandoned trailer that contains none other than Pinocchiaugust himself, glassy-eyed and ashamed and still clad in his leather jacket — even though he is now solid wood from top to bottom. Too… many… dirty…. jokes. Must… resist…

August — Pinocchio — whoever — begs Snow not to tell anyone where he is or what he’s become. Snow, naturally, does exactly the opposite. Within moments she finds Emma and Gepetto in Granny’s and leads them to the Blue Fairy, who hopefully will be able to transform August into a human again. Little does the trio know, they’re not the only people interested in Pinocchio’s well being. Another one of the restaurant’s customers has eavesdropped on their conversation: newcomer Tamara, who heads to the trailer by the T[r]oll Bridge to confront August herself. Levels of interconnectivity on this show are approaching Crash-like levels.

NEXT: Hong Kong Phooey

As it turns out, Tamara has a history with Pinocchio. When he went to see The Dragon in the fall of 2011, she was visiting the healer as well, apparently seeking a magic cure for a case of terminal cancer. August learns this only after reluctantly giving the Dragon one of his most prized possessions — a necklace made of one of his original strings — and subsequently learning that an anti-petrifying potion will cost him an additional $10,000.

Pinocchio doesn’t have enough paper (how ironic, for a dude made of trees!). But Tamara, whom he runs into at a bar shortly after leaving The Dragon’s lair, has cash to spare — and she’s careless about protecting it. After hearing her cancer story, August steals the money and uses it to buy The Dragon’s cure. Unfortunately, his bum leg makes a quick getaway all but impossible. Soon enough, Tamara catches up with him and takes the cure for herself. “Whatever it is you have, you deserve your fate,” she snarls before leaving the poor puppet all alone. Oh, what he wouldn’t give for some donkey juice right about now.

The two old foes meet again in Storybrooke. After engaging in a bit of gloating, Tamara tells Pa Timbertoe that she’s willing to give him the small bit of cure-juice that remains in The Dragon’s vial… if he’s willing to drive to New York to get it. Oh, and never to return to Storybrooke. Faster than you can say “I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay,” Pinocchio’s putting his wooden pedals to the metal. By the time Gepetto, Emma, and Snow arrive at the trailer, he’s long gone — on his way to a land where a walking hunk of logs would barely draw a passing glance from passersby. (We’ve seen weirder.)

So what’s the real deal with Tamara? Chances are we won’t know for a few more episodes — but as a flashback shows, after nabbing August’s cure, she paid one more visit to The Dragon. There, she reveals that she never had cancer — uh, if The Dragon could instantly discern Pinocchio’s true identity, why didn’t he immediately send this charlatan away when she entered his office? — and tells the magic man that she’s “analyzed this bottle [filled with magic potion] with the most sophisticated techniques available to man.” Okay, so Tamara’s a) a skilled liar, b) kind of scary, and c) someone with access to a super-fancy science lab in Hong Kong. That narrows it down.

As August is speeding away from Storybrooke, he notices something in Tamara’s car — a photograph of her and her grandmother. Back in Hong Kong, she had said that this was the talisman she gave The Dragon in exchange for his services. If it’s in her possession once more, then she must have gotten it back from The Dragon. (Well, that or she believes in saving negatives.) And since August, too, returned to the magician’s lair a few days after his first visit, only to find that The Dragon was dead, it’s beginning to look a lot like Tamara is the one responsible for his demise.

NEXT: Just what this show needs — another precocious little boy

Pinocchio swiftly heads to Storybrooke’s sheriff’s station, where he calls Emma and tries to warn her that Bae’s fiancee isn’t what she appears. Before he can convey the message, the line goes dead — Tamara’s work. She confirms it was she who slew The Dragon, then takes August down with the same weapon she used to murder the healer: a taser, of all things. (Did you, like me, mistakenly think that tasers weren’t deadly? Looks like Once taught us one more thing tonight!)

A woozy August stumbles outside, where Emma, Charming, Henry, and Gepetto are waiting for him. With his dying breath, he makes one last attempt to warn the gang about Tamara… but alas, Pinocchio’s efforts are futile. (He couldn’t have just said the word “Tamara” before croaking?) He’s not breathing! Wait, he’s a puppet — he doesn’t breathe. More importantly, he’s not moving, which means Emma may be down one more love interest. Better watch out, Bae — you’re next.

Snow is shattered; she’s been thinking of August’s redemption as proof that her own eventual redemption is possible. If he can’t get a second chance, that may mean she’s doomed to become Snow Dark. But wait — the last time Pinocchio got a chance at being human, it was after he sacrificed his life for Gepetto. If this death, too, came in the name of all that’s selfless, brave, and true, the Blue Fairy may be able to revive Pinocchio once more.

And revive the guy she does… though instead of morphing back into Eion Bailey, the man-sized hunk of wood transforms into 7-year-old Real Boy Pinocchio, goofy elf hat and all. The good news: Gepetto gets to trade an oversexed puppet man for his innocent young son. The bad news: Young-Again Pinoch can’t remember what he was trying to tell Emma before he “died.” Aw, club crackers!

Tamara, who casually joins the celebratory group, smiles outwardly and inwardly. She’s still the only person in Storybrooke who knows what really happened to one of Earth’s only other magic-doers… as well as the only one who knows that her relationship with Bae was no accident. (Okay, she’s one of two people who know these things — but we’ll get to that in a sec.) See, before August finally went to Storybrooke to convince Emma to break the curse, he stopped off to see Bae in New York City. While they chatted, Tamara was watching — and as soon as August left town, she purposefully ran into Bae, launching a love affair with the most ulterior of motives.

What those motives actually are remain a secret for now. Before the episode ends, though, we do learn one more thing about our new Big Bad: She’s also the “her” that Stranger Greg/Owen called when he careened into Storybrooke. And, oh yeah, the two of them are totally getting it on in one of Granny’s spare rooms. Nothing like tasing a puppet to get you in the mood, am I right?

NEXT: The Grey’s Anatomy crossover we should have seen tonight, and more breadcrumbs


– Argue all you want about whether wooden August actually should have conducted electricity, or why the taser didn’t burn him, or why it affected him at all; when magic is involved, I think the laws of science sort of go out the window.

– Hook has escaped the storage room in Bae’s building. (With or without Tamara’s help?) I hope he at least grabs some pizza before making his way back to Maine.

– Snow listens to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” while practicing archery in the woods. Quick, what do you associate most with this song: 10 Things I Hate About You, Freaks and Geeks, or Shrek? Disney hopes it’s not the latter.

– ABC missed a great opportunity for a Grey’s Anatomy crossover tonight. Imagine it: August travels to Seattle Grace Grey Sloan to get his leg fixed, flirts with April, ends up teaching everyone a Very Important Lesson about redemption. Ratings gold!

– Pinocchio bitterly calls himself a “wood pile of failure,” just like that fire you tried to build on your seventh grade camping trip.

– I wish August had told some lies tonight; we were cheated out of a goofy, animated growing nose.

– When Bae comes clean and tells Tamara that he’s from the land of fairy tales, she covers for her lack of shock by accusing him of still having feelings for Emma. I will wish upon a star for the writers not to draw out this love triangle business, especially since one leg of the triangle is a big fat fake.

– Regina advises Snow to sample Granny’s fish of the day: “Blackened sole.” Snow should have suggested that Regina try the diner’s Bitch Pie.

– Speaking of, Regina has deduced that Stranger Greg is actually Little Boy Owen. How? Eh, who cares how; the important thing is that lanyards once again got their rightful place in the spotlight tonight.

– Another important fact about Tamara: She’s “quite human,” though this obviously could be a lie.

– Tamara tells The Dragon that she’s killing him because she can’t risk anyone else finding him. Huh? Jillions of people have already found him — they’re coming to him every day for magical cures.

Update: Just saw this on another site and had to add it in — is The Dragon supposed to be Mushu from Mulan? (If so, why didn’t they just get Eddie Murphy? He’s available!)

– Though August’s first Once episode aired in mid-January 2012, he apparently traveled to Storybrooke in November 2011. So when did tonight’s episode take place, timeline nerds?

– We’ve got three long Once-less weeks ahead, though evidently the show’s last few episodes will include the introduction of Robin Hood (because this series just doesn’t have enough characters yet). Let’s try to fill that time with plenty of juicy discussion: Did Pinocchio’s return satisfy you? What do you think Tamara’s deal is? And what would you guess to be Hook’s pizza topping of choice? (Gotta be anchovies, right?)

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Once Upon a Time

Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.

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