After a season of mystery, Once Upon a Time gave Emma (and her yellow bug) their day in the sun. “Tallahassee” took us 11 years into the past to reveal Emma and Henry’s origin story.

The Players:

  • Director: Dave Barrett
  • Writer: Christine Boylan and Jane Espenson
  • Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Jared S. Gilmore, Robert Carlyle, Michael Raymond-James, Colin O’Donoghue, Jorge Garcia

Episode Title: “Tallahassee”

This episode, Storybrooke takes the week off. Instead, we flash between Fairytale Land and Emma’s back story. Over 10 years ago, Emma wasn’t a sheriff or bounty hunter using her abilities for good. She was traveling the country in a stolen yellow bug with a good-natured thief, who’s the love of her life and Henry’s father. Meanwhile, in Fairytale Land, past betrayals color her opinion of Hook when they climb the beanstalk to find a compass needed to get back home.

The Good:

  • Hottie Hook: Emma had an almost-woulda-coulda-shoulda romance with the Hot Huntsman before Regina crushed his heart. Now, things seem to be heating up with another “H:” Captain Hook. Is he a villain? Does he really have a heart of gold? Emma tends to fall for guys who are vaguely allied to the town villains. But something about Hook makes him seem like her perfect match. Of course, her decision to leave him chained to a giant’s floorboard may be a hiccup in the relationship.
  • Emma’s Back Story: It’s surprising that it took Once more than a season to explore Emma’s past, but it’s brilliant. Emma’s one of the show’s least developed characters, despite being the “lead” and this episode helped close that gap.
  • August Actually Does Something: When August (aka Pinocchio) was first introduced as Emma’s travel companion in the World Without Magic, it was a great twist. But August failed his duty because Pinocchio isn’t much without his conscience cricket to guide him. Or so we thought. The “Tallahassee” flashback proves that intervened to set Emma on the right path after all. He ruined her chances at love and happiness, but set her life on track to find Storybrooke and break the curse.

The So-So:

  • CGI: I know I’ve praise the improvement in Once‘s CGI this season, but the giant’s castle was a low point. There was never a moment when Emma and Hook were running around and I didn’t think, “green screen, green screen, green screen.”

The Bad:

  • Jorge Garcia: Once has pulled from the Lost talent pool before, but this one was a giant miss. Jorge Garcia’s giant wasn’t scary, imposing or even funny. He blundered around and seemed angry for no reason. Considering the emotional resonance the scene of camaraderie between him and Emma is supposed to carry, the giant needed to be more real and less cartoonish.
  • Young Emma: The ways in which actors are made to look like younger versions of themselves is fun, even when it’s ridiculous and ineffective. For Jennifer Morrison, being younger meant donning Hot Topic clothing, wearing nerd glasses and a high ponytail. She totally looked 18, right?
  • Henry: Why can’t Henry stop sucking? Even when his scenes are brief and intended to drive plot (I’m sure his nightmare about the red room will have greater meaning in future episodes), he’s just grating.

Overall:

The decision to give Emma a backstory instead of focusing on Storybrooke was a change of pace the show needed. Unfortunately, while the overall storytelling was spot on, other elements (costuming, guest stars and post-production values) were ultimately distracting.

Rating: 7/10

Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

What did you think of this week’s episode?