After a few weeks off for the Academy Awards, Once Upon A Time returns with a bit of a dud – serving up a filler episode full of familiar themes and lacking substantial developments in the larger mythology of the show. Oh, and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) makes another lousy decision as Sheriff…naturally.
Let’s bitch it out…
It’s unfortunate that Amy Acker (Nova/Astrid) and Lee Arenberg (Dreamy/Leroy) are saddled with headlining such a dispensable episode as ‘Dreamy’ proves forgettable in most every way. The episode, which treads familiar ground exploring impossible love, focuses on Leroy (the town drunk) in Storybrooke and Dreamy, the dwarf, in FairyTale. As usual there are some slight revisionist alterations to the traditional tale – here the dwarfs are hatched from eggs because there are “no females, no falling in love, and no children.” In this revised form, the dwarves are responsible for mining rocks that, when ground up, produce magical fairy dust. It’s in this capacity that Dreamy and Nova, a fairy godmother in training, are connected. It is her clumsiness with the dust that causes him to hatch early, and then they meet cute because she misplaces another bag of dust that he rescues for her (which is strange because she might have saved it herself considering she has wings).
It’s so adorable it could only be created by the folks at Disney – the owners of ABC – who seem fiercely protective of maintaining a family hour focused on good hearted people, fate and overcoming obstacles in order to find true love. If I sound cynical, it’s because the presentation in this episode bordered on saccharine – I nearly fell into a diabetic coma it was so sweet and earnest. More problematic was the fact that every beat was predictable. I take no issue with shows recycling familiar storylines, but if you can’t contribute something new, then why bother?
Why bother was a constant question in this episode. Consider what it is that we learned about anyone besides the fact that Dreamy/Leroy loves Nova/Astrid? He’s the town drunk because he never recovered from his FairyTale decision to abandon their plans to sail away and she’s a nun because…it conveniently keeps them apart in Storybrooke? Does Nova or Astrid have any defining qualities besides being clumsy, naive and idealistic? Why are we supposed to cheer for their love besides the fact that the show tells us that they need to be together? These aren’t characters – they’re merely fodder for the production of a twenty-two episode season of television.
If I sound bitter, it’s because I’ve become tired of defending the show for its lazy characterizations, its “oh so cute” on-the-nose connections between Storybrooke and FairyTale worlds (Dreamy wants to sail away in FairyTale and in Storybrooke Leroy has the same boat!) and, if we’re being frank, the decision from the producers to saddle us with one of the stupidest protagonists I have ever seen on television.
I appreciate that this is “family television” that aims to entertain children and grandparents alike, but that shouldn’t excuse it for doing its job poorly. I challenge faithful viewers to remember this episode, as well as others such as ‘That Still Small Voice’ (sink hole) and ‘True North’ (Hansel and Gretel) come the end of the season. I feel confident in predicting that these episodes will have contributed little to nothing to the overall show at the end of the season beyond reinforcing the same familiar message or characterization. We don’t need 42 minutes to establish that Dreamy became Grumpy because he had to make a hard decision about love, or that Emma feels strongly about abandoned children because she was an abandoned child who then abandoned her own child. There more subtle and powerful ways of communicating these ideas (who didn’t see Dreamy’s axe turning into Grumpy once he let go of his dreams of running away with Nova? It’s so frakking obvious). I just have to wonder why this particular story had to be told at this particular time in this particular way. And honestly, I don’t think it needed to be. This was the kind of episode that could have been told at any time.
If you’re an avid defender of the show, before you get overtly bent out of shape, consider how this episode compares to the fall finale “The Heart is A Lonely Hunter’ (Sheriff Graham remembers his FairyTale past). Can you honestly tell me that this was an hour well spent considering some of the other hours we’ve seen? Or put it this way, what does it say when seeing the preview for next week’s episode concerning Ruby/Red Riding Hood (Meghan Ory) overwhelms any impression of this week’s episode?
- Obviously the main connection we are meant to see in Leroy’s story is how his outsider position relates to Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin). Remember that MM has become the town “trollop” in the wake of her “affair” with a married man (love how Josh Dallas’ David apparently suffers no social ostracization – great message about how women are to blame to extramarrital affairs). I can understand how some would feel that this is the reason that this story was told at this particular time, but that doesn’t gel with me. Leroy could have just as easily been replaced by Raphael Sbarge’s Archie or Jared Gilmore’s Henry as an ‘outsider’ in Storybrooke and the same connection with Mary Margaret could have been made. There is no urgency in telling this story, which is frustrating to a viewer because it suggests that this is just another hour of television.We know the show is capable of better and we should get it – not half-baked repeats of the same ideas we’ve already witnessed (and done better).
- The B storyline concerns Kathyrn’s (an unseen Anastia Griffith) disappearance, which Emma investigates with Sidney Glass (Giancarlo Esposito). In yet another feat of investigative brilliance, Emma accepts Sidney’s offer to procure Kathryn’s phone records, which are helpfully provided by Regina (Lana Parilla). The fact that the Sheriff fails to question where or how the disgraced journalist obtained the records speaks to her deficiencies. And why is his source the Mayor other then to reiterate that she’s eeevil, that she continues to control Sidney and that she’s playing Emma for a fool? And if we’re asking hard questions about tonight’s plot: why does Emma ask David to come to the station in front of everyone at the Miners Day festival and why does she make him sit in the backseat when she hasn’t arrested him? He could have just as easily come in his own car, which is what a rational police officer would have asked of him.
- As much as I’ve loved Lana Parilla’s work as the Queen/Mayor Mills, she’s frequently one step away from a mustache twirling villain. A recurring treat is her over-the-top threats to Emma, which would never hold any weight to anyone with half a brain. Tonight’s gem: that if Emma does not question David about the eight minute phone call he had with Kathryn around the time of her disappearance, Regina will find another Sheriff who will. Umm…the Sheriff is elected by the people in a public election, so clearly Regina’s threat holds absolutely no basis at all. In fact, the show has already explored this time in some detail in ‘Desperate Souls.’ Does the show think we’re too dumb to remember that?
- At this point, I’m about to make a citizen’s arrest for the way this show mishandles its core cast. They’ve done an outstanding job casting guest roles (Emilie De Ravin, Alan Dale, Richard Schiff, Emma Caulfield, and now Amy Acker), but it’s downright criminal how poorly the actors on the show’s payroll are treated. Tonight Lana Parilla has about two scenes; Robert Carlyle appears in one throwaway scene when Leroy attempts to sell his boat to save Astrid’s convent (Side Note: Who knew there was a convent in Storybrooke?), and Giancarlo Esposito returns to do little more than prod Emma into making stupid decisions. What a waste of talented actors!
As I mentioned earlier, next week’s episode examines the roots of Ruby/Red Riding Hood, which I’ve been eagerly waiting for. As for ‘Dreamy’, what do you think, readers? Am I off base or do you agree that this was a wasted episode? Was there anything particularly memorable about it if the overall show and its storytelling arc are considered or is this a one-off that we should just forget and move on from? Sound off in the comments!
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8pm ET on ABC