Tuesday, May 7, 2013

ONCE UPON A TIME: “Second Star to the Right” S2E21 (review)

By Laura Akers
One of the things I love about television narratives (especially geeky ones) is the way that they often become cross-referential: NCIS’s Gibbs describing what Ducky looked like when he was younger (“Illya Kuryakin”) Mulder and Scully showing up on The Simpsons, Richard Castle dressing up as Malcolm Reynolds (excuse me, “space cowboy”) for Halloween.

What is less enjoyable is when one show steals from another. And I’m a little worried that this is what we’re about to see on Once Upon a Time.

More on that in a minute.

This week’s episode absolutely felt like the penultimate one of the season.

Last week’s slow and somewhat scattered emotional build-up served as a good foundation for this week’s action. So many strands are coming together—Tamara and Greg’s machinations, Rumple’s regression into evil, Regina’s plans for Storybrooke, and Snow’s quest for redemption.

But that didn’t keep the writers from adding an entirely new wrinkle: the Peter Pan story.

Yes, we’ve come to know and love Hook, we know the true identity of the Crocodile, and it appears that Smee has already come and permanently gone from our narrative. But this week is the first glimpse of Peter himself.


While we know about Baelfire’s life before crossing over into our world and much of the trajectory of his adult life, what happened between has been a mystery. It turns out that he didn’t land in the same time as the rest of the inhabitants of Storybrooke.

Instead, abandoned by his father, he finds himself on the streets of Victorian London, and eventually, semi-adopted by the Darling family.

Wendy Darling seems prepared to treat him as she does Peter Pan in the Barrie stories, but the arrival of a disturbing shadow at the window suggests that it may not be as straightforward as all that.

Baelfire is in no hurry to stitch himself to the shadow. In fact, having just lost his father to the evils of magic, he warns Wendy to stay clear of it, telling her that magic is dangerous.

Wendy agrees, especially after the shadow reveals the horrors of Neverland (where children are kept against their wills), but the shadow wants another Lost Boy.

Rather than allow it to take John or Michael, Baelfire offers himself. The shadow nearly kills him on its way to the second star to the right, and eventually, Baelfire, knowing that if he sets foot on the island he will never be able to leave, forces the shadow to drop him into the waters that surround the mythical place. It is there that Capt. Hook, enemy to young boys everywhere, finds him.

Yes, magic can be quite dangerous.

Which is the lesson that another little boy, Greg, has learned.

His return to Storybrooke is more than a simple desire to find his missing father. He appears to work with a group on a mission to stamp out magic wherever it crops up in our world. Being able to torture Regina into revealing the fate of his father may be his motivation, but the shadowy group that has sent both him and Tamara don’t care about good or evil—they don’t see the difference when it comes to things magical. The entire town is in danger not only from Regina’s internal menace but Greg and Tamara’s external one.

Yes, things are certainly coming to a head. Next week should be, if the build-up and OUaT’s track record are anything to go by, quite a blow out.

But still, I’m hoping that one of the things revealed next week is not that OUaT, a very creative show, has borrowed from another of my favorites: Doctor Who.

In the tenth Doctor’s first season, Rose and he travel to Victorian Britain—literally. “Tooth and Claw” find them in the company of Queen Victoria herself, on her way to her property in Scotland. They stop at the estate of Sir Robert MacLeish for the evening, where they are set upon by murderous monks and a werewolf.

The Doctor eventually realizes that the werewolf is alien in origin and that MacLeish’s father and Prince Albert himself constructed the library of the home specifically to deal with this menace. The werewolf is dispatched and Victoria is saved, but she shows her gratitude by first knighting and then exiling the Doctor and his companion, explaining that he is too dangerous to reside in her kingdom.

At the end, we learn that the name of the estate is Torchwood, and that Victoria started the Torchwood organization specifically to deal with aliens—usually with extreme prejudice. The Torchwood Institute continued its work up to the present-day, indiscriminately wiping out aliens and damn near destroying humanity and a good chunk of the universe by trying to control the comings and goings of shadowy creatures between one universe and another parallel one.

Substitute magic for aliens and I’m left wondering if we’ve seen a good deal of this story before. Is it possible that Baelfire’s warning to the Darling children about the danger of magic led to the formation of a group similar to Torchwood? One which Greg and Tamara now work for?

As much as I’m looking forward to next week, such a possibility also fills me dread it.

The parallels are definitely there, and it cannot be ignored that at least one of OUaT’s writers worked on the last season of the resulting Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood itself (though she does not have a writer’s credit on this week’s OUaT episode).

If so, it would be a great disappointment on a show where the plotting has been so very good. But then, the show is also quite good at misleading its own audience.

Is it possible that creators Horowitz and Kitsis are intentionally playing the same game on a more advanced level? It’s one thing to play on our expectations of well-known fairy tales. It would be quite another to do so in reference to a geeky and essentially cult show like Doctor Who.

So are they stealing or just setting a smaller subset of their audience (Whovians) up? It seems like a long way to go for what would essentially be a very inside joke. But the payoff could be excellent.

Next week’s episode will tell the tale.

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