The Once Upon A Time writers seem to like sticking to one central character per episode and fleshing out their backstory, and the star of “Selfless, Brave and True” is none other than August (Eion Bailey) – or, as he’s known in the Enchanted Forest, Pinocchio. Sacrificial death, resurrection and redemption seem like a good fit for this Palm Sunday episode, though there’s a fair bit of lying going on as well.
For the second time in a row, there are no flashbacks to the Enchanted Forest, but rather into a character’s past here on Earth. In this case, it’s 2011 and August Booth is living the good life in Hong Kong when his past finally catches up with him in the form of a leg that’s changed to wood overnight. But when his current girl of the week can’t see that anything’s wrong, he decides it’s time to seek medical attention.
There’s a random scene with August stabbing his leg to prove it’s wooden, followed by a lot of running down your typical Chinatown backlot until a helpful soul coincidentally knows just the man with the cure for what ails August, codenamed The Dragon (Tzi Ma). In the waiting room, August crosses paths with the mysterious Tamara (Sonequa Martin-Green), a girl who claims to be dying of cancer. She also happens to be Neal’s (Michael Raymond-James) present-day fiancee.
The amount of double-crossing exchanged between August and Tamara in the past is enough to make your head spin, but as that story wraps up, it’s crystal clear that Tamara has an agenda of her own. That agenda is gaining magic, and she’s more than happy to take out The Dragon back in the past – and August in the present – in order to achieve her goal. Fortunately for her, August’s memories are wiped when he’s resurrected as the young Pinocchio (Jakob Davies).
Meanwhile, those in the present are more concerned for making up for their past sins and moving forward. Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) seeks clarity by shooting arrows in the woods with the theme song from Freaks and Geeks blaring in her earbuds while Neal nervously anticipates introducing Tamara to Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Henry (Jared S. Gilmore). August, now fully encased in his wooden body, wants nothing more than to hide from his past and forget the rest of the world. As for Regina (Lana Parrilla), she’s taken a good, long look at her past and remembered that newcomer Greg Mendell (Ethan Embry) looks an awful lot like the little boy, Owen, all grown up.
On the plus side, the episode yields a few good chase scenes, and by the end, there are apologies and hugs all around. On the minus side, it could be a long time until Eion Bailey returns as grown-up August and The Dragon character dies just as soon as he’s starting to be interesting. The Snow saga is yet again beset with cliches and saccharine-sweet dialogue, though daughter Emma gets the prize for the night with the diabetes-inducing “I will not let him die in vain” line. She also promises never to lie to Henry again, which any good parent knows is a statistical improbability.
Perhaps most disappointing, however, is Neal, who started off as a normal, stable enough character but is quickly slipping. As a kid, he managed to slip away from his father’s grasp and build a life for himself on a planet free from magic. In “Tallahassee,” he’s a con-man, but also a good foil for Emma in her early years and the two play well off of one another. One can’t even blame him for being a little overeager to please his son, as he is a new dad.
However, he is now being played like a cheap violin by Tamara and it turns out he’s been played all along, so hopefully he wakes up to the fact that all she’s after is the magic and some side action from Greg. Fans will have plenty of time to mull what’s in store next as new episodes won’t resume until April 21st.
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays @8pm on ABC.