Once Upon a Time: True North

“True North”, the story of Hansel and Gretel, explored blood ties and the bonds of family.

In Storybrooke, Henry inadvertently made friends with a couple of mini-sized miscreants at the general store and got caught in a shoplifting scandal. Regina assures the store manager that her son had no part in it and drags him home. Newly appointed mayor, Emma, is left to deal with the culprits – a twin brother and sister. They swear they were only stealing because their family has fallen on hard times. But Emma catches them in a lie and discovers they are actually homeless. Their mother recently passed away and they’ve been living on the streets of Storybrooke ever since. They have no idea who their father is.

Emma, a former foster child herself, immediately feels a connection to the two children. She knows they have no chance of staying together if Child Protective Services get involved. Maybe if she can locate the twins’ long lost father, he would take them instead? But Regina screws up her plans by sticking her perfectly powdered nose into the case and taking a ‘special interest’ in the children. She calls social services herself and demands that Emma drive the children to Boston to hand them over to a representative. It’s for their own good … those, poor, poor little children. Ummm … do people usually smirk that much when they feel sympathy for someone?

So now Emma has less than a few hours to find the twins’ father or be forced to ship them out of town. The only clue she has is a pocket watch that the twins carry with them. Their mother told them it belonged to their father. Emma goes straight to Mr. Gold’s shop and after some light groveling he looks through his meticulous records and reads the name Michael Tillman off a card. He purchased the watch there nearly a decade ago. After Emma leaves, there is a shot of the card and it’s revealed to be completely blank. I am still itching to know exactly how much Rumpel knows about the fairytale past. I think it’s clear that if he doesn’t know EVERYthing, he certainly knows a lot. How did he manage to hold onto his memories when the curse wiped everyone else’s? He must have foreseen it because he made the Evil Queen swear to do him any favours in the new reality. What is his angle in all of this?

Emma tracks Michael down at the local mechanic shop and confronts him with the truth. He denies that he has twins, but recognizes his watch immediately. Emma begs him to step up and take them in – but he’s not ready to do it. He apologizes, but says he’s not father material. Does anyone else think it’s a little convenient that people in this tiny town are able to exist without coming into contact with everyone else? Katherine’s husband was in a coma for years and she had no idea he was slumbering a few blocks away? Michael has twins who grew up in town and he’s never crossed paths with them or their mother since their birth? I’m not usually a stickler for small details, but this one bugs me for some reason. They’re portraying Storybrooke as place where ‘everyone knows everything about everyone’ … except when it’s inconvenient for plot devices. Come on!

Back in The Enchanted Forest, the young twins Hansel and Gretel, were very close to their father. They would spend hours with him in the woods, helping with the chores. But one day, after they filled their wheelbarrow with kindling, they returned to their meeting spot to find their father missing. Instead, they cross paths with the Evil Queen’s entourage. Her royal highness herself descends from her carriage and sizes them up. She offers to help them find their father … on one condition. She needs them to sneak into a witch’s house and retrieve a tiny black satchel for her.

She leads them to a clearing in the woods and sends them on their mission with a warning – no matter how much they’re tempted, they can’t eat anything! Hansel and Gretel tiptoe into the gingerbread house where the witch is sleeping in front of the fire. The little black bag is right in their grasp and Gretel sneaks quietly over to snatch it. She’s clearly the bossy twin, which probably works out quite well because poor Hansel seems a little dim. So much so that even after Gretel repeatedly reminds him it’s not snack time, he can’t resist taking a bite out of a giant cupcake when her back is turned. The instant the bright blue frosting passes his lips, the Witch abruptly wakes from her slumber. She’s blind … but she can smell dinner! All the doors and windows slam closed and Hansel and Gretel find themselves trapped. The witch is played by a nearly unrecognizable Emma Caulfield. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t even notice until my boyfriend pointed it out. I love seeing all my Buffy alums in quirky roles!

The witch locks them in a cage and starts salivating over all the delicious topping options for roast little children. Hansel is freaking out, but Gretel immediately starts formulating a plan (I told you she was the useful one). She puffs out her cheeks and impersonates her brother when the Witch picks him as her first meal. Then she reaches into the witches pocket and tosses the key to Hansel who unlocks the cage door. And of course they manage to shove the witch into her own oven and bring that fairytale to its natural conclusion.

Hansel and Gretel arrive at the Evil Queen’s palace and present her with the tiny black satchel. She reaches in and pulls out a beautiful ripe, red apple. I like how all the fairy tales are interweaving and connecting to each other. Impressed by the resourcefulness of the twins, she decides to change their reward. Why would they want to find a father who abandoned them when they could come live with her in an opulent castle instead? They turn her down flat. They just want their daddy. She does some whoosh whoosh thing and zaps them into the middle of the forest with no way to find their bearings. Then she drags their father in from the dungeons. He didn’t so much ‘abandon’ his children as he was dragged away from them. She demands to know why his children would turn down her very generous offer, because she’s heartless and knows nothing about family. Family belongs together and will always find their way back to each other.

Back in Storybrooke, with no options left, Emma packs the twins up and sets off for Boston. Henry begs her not to go because bad things happen when people try to leave town. The only disaster that strikes is Emma pulling the old ‘car breaking down’ trick. She calls a familiar mechanic … and Michael Tillman shows up to lend a wrench and stare longingly at his children. He has a change of heart and takes them home with him.

All of this family drama has people in Storybrooke pondering their own history. Henry asks Emma to tell him about his dad and she spins a yarn about a brave fireman who died while saving a family from a fire. She admits to Mary Margaret that Henry’s dad was ‘no hero’ and he doesn’t need to know the truth. Emma is feeling a little sorrowful about her own parents – who she has never been able to track down. Mary Margaret tries to cheer her up. Maybe they had a good reason for disappearing? Emma tells her Henry’s theory, about the magical wardrobe and her destiny as a savior. She even slips in the part about Snow White being her real mom. The two women have a good laugh about being mother and daughter. But Mary Margaret later stumbles upon Emma’s baby blanket – the very one Snow wrapped her up in to send her off with love – and has a weirdly emotional reaction. I’m really fascinated by Emma and Mary Margaret’s friendship. How weird is it to become friends with your mother when she’s the same age as you. It’s like Back to the Future, except you’re totally oblivious!

This episode was Rumpelstiltskin light, which was a nice change. I’m interested in Mr. Gold, but I’m getting a little sick of Rumpel being the architect of every single piece of magic in fairy tale land! Also, it was really nice to see new players on the scene. I hope we’ll get some follow-up on Hansel and Gretel AND Cinderella in future episodes.

In the final scene of the show, a stranger rides right down main street on his motor bike and stops to ask Emma and Henry for directions to a hotel. But there ARE no strangers in Storybrooke … right? Well there are now.

Photo Courtesy of ABC

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