Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Paul Edwards
I almost look at the first four episodes of Once Upon a Time as a courtship. Now that I have finally committed to the relationship, That Small Still Voice airs and I get the undeniable impression that Once Upon a Time is no longer trying to impress me and is letting itself go. This episode was as by-the-numbers as an episode could get and I can’t help but wonder if TVTropes was consulted as a writing guide for crafting an episode.
Let’s start with what works. The scenes between Mary Margaret and David are excellent. The two have great chemistry and their dilemma is an intriguing one. We know that Henry’s belief is true, that these two people are Snow White and Prince Charming. But what does that mean for who they are in our world? I’m sure at some point it will probably be revealed that the “real world” relationship between David and Catherine is a lie orchestrated by Regina, but the moral dilemma is certainly one worth exploring.
Henry was also fairly well written in this episode. For a character that I was initially apprehensive toward, I’m beginning to warm to his passion. And I truly believe all the actors in this episode did the best they could with what they were given. The problem, for me, is that the script was mediocre and trite.
One thing that irks me about this story is that we are given no reason for why Jiminy held beliefs contrary to his parents. A child’s view of the world is largely dictated by his parents. In this case, Jiminy should have been a smaller version of them. We are given no reason for why he felt his parents were wrong. We saw nothing that made us believe that he had formulated a stronger morality than those who raised him. Sure, we can tell a story in which he commits a great evil which causes him to change his ways, but the episode insists he was a good man prior to the deaths of the Gepetto’s parents. Apparently he was just a weak man. I don’t believe his character. I don’t believe his journey.
Then there’s the cave-in. I’ve read a few reviews that make a big deal about the connection to Lost in the episode. By this, they are referring to the Apollo chocolate bars that Henry takes with him on the expedition into the mine. What they miss is that this episode mirrors The Moth the seventh episode of Lost. In this episode, Charlie, feeling disrespected confronts Jack in a cave. The ensuing argument causes the cave to collapse, trapping Jack. Charlie is able to crawl through an opening and helps Jack get free of the rock that has pinned him, and the two later find another way out by following a moth. The experience empowers Charlie and he decides to kick his drug habit. It is also interesting to me that Charlie was the moral core of his band Drive Shaft. His experiences with the band caused him to compromise his convictions. And similar to Archie in That Small Still Voice, Charlie was led astray by family. While these two episodes are not the same beat for beat, they are very similar in pace and formula.
I acknowledge it is hard to come up with anything genuinely new in television (or any fiction writing for that matter), but you succeed or fail based on what you do with your version of the story. Sadly, this episode was predictable. The beats for this type of story dictate that Henry would not quite find what he is looking for, which means the final shot of the episode would confirm his belief to the audience (in this case, Snow White’s glass coffin). The cave-in plot was so formulaic as to be dull. I can’t help but feel that this episode, which was meant to be an episode that empowered the conscience of the fairy tale folk, was filler. The overall plot (The Curse) slowed to a crawl. The sense of urgency present in the first four episodes seems to have diminished and it may be possible that we can all sit around and wait for the curse to break now that Emma Swan is in town. And is it going to turn out that every resident of Storybrooke has had a deal with Rumplestiltskin? There was no point to Jiminy’s involvement with the trickster. This story of shaken confidence could have easily been told without him. But I guess if you are going to pay for Robert Carlyle, you may as well film him. Similarly, the logic behind Jiminy’s desire to become a cricket doesn’t make much sense. Why a cricket, Jiminy? “Because I liked them when I was a child. They represented freedom. I’m probably lucky I didn’t like houseflies or dung beetles.” And why does Archie growing a backbone cause all the crickets in Storybrooke to start chirping once more? Magic? Because Jane Espenson says so?
Jane Espenson . . . . The first time I encountered her was in the Battlestar Galactica reboot, and I honestly didn’t feel one way or the other about her. I loved the show and I felt she must be a great writer because I loved the show. Having seen some of her work in Torchwood: Miracle Day and here, I’m starting to wonder why nerdom seems to think she can do no wrong. Is it because she worked on Buffy? I’ll give her credit, the Miracle Day episode Immortal Sins was very good and one of the best of the series, but the rest of her work on Torchwood ranged from plodding to adequate. Is it possible that she needs a strong show runner to push her to do her best work? Should we blame Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz for this lacklustre episode? Is it the fault of the director for not excising some pretty bad dialogue and ramming the emotional development down our throats (“HE’S MY SON TOO!”) I know enough about television to know that every episode is a collaboration. No one person can take full credit or blame for a failure, and often times the final product in no way resembles what each person saw in his or her head. But this was truly a bad episode. It was melodramatic, formulaic, and just plain dull. After riding a high for three straight episodes, That Still Small Voice was a disappointment. It was unimaginative, and I can’t think of a greater crime for a series about fairy tales.
This episode killed the momentum. It offered up trite characterization and poor dialogue. It honestly felt like filler. It felt as if this episode was the inevitable “well, we’ve got to do something to fill the 22 episode order from ABC, so we may as well do this one.” If we get more episodes as weak as this one, I will not continue to watch.