‘Once Upon A Time’ S1 Ep 20 recap: Knocking on wood

S1 Ep 20
August’s identity is finally revealed! (Photo credit: ABC via SpoilerTV)

Sunday’s ‘Once Upon A Time’ gave us everything it promised in another beautifully crafted episode. We discovered August’s identity, learned Pinocchio’s tale, watched Emma continue to fight for her son, and witnessed Regina’s pathetic attempt at seducing David.

Fairytale Land: “Be brave, truthful, and unselfish…”

In “The Stranger,” Henry discovers that Pinocchio’s story has been added to his book, but it is missing an ending. As he opens the book to an illustration of Geppetto and his little wooden boy engulfed in the stormy sea, we are transported back to Fairytale Land, where we can watch this fable unfold.

While clinging for dear life onto their dinky raft, Geppetto urges Pinocchio to take their only life jacket and save himself, but the boy refuses; since he is made of wood, Pinocchio insists he will be fine and jumps overboard into the violent waves, as the whale hastily approaches Geppetto’s raft. Luckily, Geppetto survives and makes it to the shore; however, Pinocchio is not as fortunate. Geppetto finds his boy in full puppet form and begins to weep. Suddenly the Blue Fairy approaches, she commends Pinocchio for his selfless act and rewards him by turning him into a real life boy. The Blue Fairy tells Pinocchio, “Be brave, truthful, and unselfish- that will keep you a real boy.”

As time goes by, Pinocchio works with Geppetto; he learns how to be a skilled craftsman and abides by the Blue Fairy’s terms, aside from occasionally playing pranks on poor Jiminy Cricket. One day, the Blue Fairy appears on Snow White’s behalf and asks for help. The Evil Queen’s curse will soon strike Fairytale Land and they need Geppetto to carve a wardrobe out of the last remaining enchanted tree, so that Snow White and Prince Charming can be spared from the curse. Blue explains, the enchanted tree has enough magic to send two people to a new safe world, if Charming and Snow leave Fairytale Land while she is still pregnant with Emma, then they can raise the child as their savior and prepare her to break the curse in 28 years. However, Geppetto does not agree to those terms and strikes a separate deal of his own with the Blue Fairy.

Geppetto does not want his boy to turn back into a puppet when the curse activates; he makes Blue tell the counsel that there is only enough magic for one, so he can secretly send Pinocchio away in the wardrobe followed by a pregnant Snow White. Pinocchio begs his father not to do this, for it is not brave, truthful or unselfish, but Geppetto’s paternal instincts prevail in the end. When Snow White goes into labor early, Blue begs to send Snow and Emma to the other realm together, but Geppetto refuses and insists that Pinocchio can protect Emma in the other world. Blue and Geppetto tell Pinocchio that he must look out for Emma; Blue says, “In 28 years you must be sure to make the savior believe.” Pinocchio tears up and does not want to leave, but Geppetto explains that it is for the best and he will one day understand why he made this decision. As his eyes well-up, Geppetto says, “You will be a great man my son…on that day I will look at you with pride.” He places Pinocchio in the cabinet and the boy disappears.

Moments later, Pinocchio magically arrives in the Storybrooke forest through a tree and he is frightened by the loud sounds of planes flying overhead. Seconds later, baby Emma appears in the tree; Pinocchio gently swaddles her and searches for a safe place to go.

Storybrooke: “I just feel like fixing things.”

This week in Storybrooke, Emma demonstrates her determination in protecting Henry from Regina, while Regina continues her agenda to sabotage Mary Margaret and David’s relationship; however, the most important event in ‘The Stranger” is August’s desperate effort to convince Emma that the curse is real.

The episode begins with August installing a “medieval chic” extra secure lock on Mary Margaret’s door, explaining his craftsmanship by saying that he excelled in woodshop as a child. While August finishes up, Emma expresses her desire for sole custody of Henry and assures MM and August that she is now prepared for parenthood. Just then, Henry calls Emma for another “Operation Cobra” meeting; before they all part ways August tells Emma that he knows how she can save Henry from Regina, but there is something he has to show her first. Emma plans to ask Mr. Gold for help, so she shrugs August off and goes to see Henry.

Henry has discovered a new fairytale in his book and he wants to show Emma because he thinks it contains clues that will help them figure out how to break the curse. We finally learn that the pages August added to the storybook tell the tale of Pinocchio, but interestingly, his addition does not include an end to the story. While Henry ponders the meaning of Pinocchio’s past, August calls Mr. Gold and asks for a favor. When August hangs up the phone, we see what has been causing his leg so much pain; August Booth is Pinocchio and he has been slowly turning back into a wooden man. We are left to soak in that revelation while the scene shifts to Henry’s schoolyard.

As one of the sneak peek clips showed us earlier, Regina has an unexpected encounter with Mary Margaret, in which MM takes the high road while simultaneously crushing Regina’s spirit. Mary Margaret knows Regina framed her; she calls Regina out on her treacherous behavior and then surprisingly says, “I forgive you anyway.” MM then wonders why Regina is so determined to cause such unhappiness in everyone else’s life and warns Regina of the effects her manipulative cruelty will have, saying, “It’s only going to leave a giant hole in your heart.” MM’s words clearly ring true and Regina demands that Henry be removed from her class and transferred to another teacher. Regina then walks over to give Henry his lunch and he bravely confronts her; he insists that she is the Evil Queen, he rejects her as his mother, he despises the malicious person she is and he declares, “Good will win.” Meanwhile, August pays Mr. Gold a visit in hopes of making Henry’s declaration come true.

August enters Mr. Gold’s shop just as Marco (aka Geppetto) is leaving with the cuckoo-clock Geppetto and Pinocchio had built together in Fairytale Land. In another beautifully nuanced ‘Once’ moment, the look in August’s eyes conveys the heaviness that weighs on his heart when he sees his father leave the shop with no recognition or recollection of who he truly is. August refocuses and tells Mr. Gold that Emma will seek his counsel in taking legal action against Regina for custody of Henry, but August wants a chance to make Emma believe in the Fairytale Land before it is too late. Mr. Gold remains skeptical of August’s motives and ability to persuade Emma; he says, “Knowing your nature and who you are…trust is hard.” However, he agrees to help and promises to “nudge” Emma in August’s direction; fortunately, he keeps his word and refuses to help Emma when she pleads for his assistance. She goes to August and he takes her out of Storybrooke to tell his story.

Meanwhile, Regina embarrasses herself in an attempt to seduce David. The preview clips showed most of what transpires between the two, the only part they left out is whether or not David falls for Regina’s scheme. So, let’s keep this nauseating part of the story short: Regina plays the damsel in distress by pretending her car battery died, being a gentleman, David gives her ride home and helps unload her groceries. When he declines her offer to stay for dinner, she changes his mind by playing the guilt card and claiming Henry won’t be home for dinner because he has been avoiding her as much as possible. After dinner David begins to clear the dishes, she accompanies him to the kitchen and he asks about how she found him on the side of the road. She acts like it was fate that brought them together, if she hadn’t turned around to go back to the office for her cell phone, she would have never discovered him. He agrees that it must have been destiny, so she takes that as her cue to lean in for a kiss; thankfully, David pulls away and explains that the relationship they currently have is just fine. After he leaves, Regina angrily throws her wine glass at her round mirror on the wall, scattering shards of glass as her devious plan continues falling into pieces. With that bit said and done, it is now time to learn August’s whole story.

August takes Emma to Chantey’s Lobster House and shows her a newspaper clipping from when she was found there as a baby; August was the seven-year-old boy who found her and he brought her to this diner. He proves it by describing the blanket she was wrapped in, a detail that no one else could have known. August then takes her into the woods and describes how they both came here through a portal in the tree, but Emma cannot believe it. August keeps trying by pin-pointing the exact minute she decided to stay in Storybrooke at 8:15; when time started ticking in Storybrooke, August was suddenly reminded of how he failed to keep the promise he made to Geppetto because that was the moment he began turning back into wood. He confesses that he is Pinocchio and that he added his story to Henry’s book, but left out the end because his story is still happening right now with Emma and only she can determine how it will end. He lifts up his pant leg to show his stumpy calf, but Emma is too blinded by her denial to see August for who he truly is. Emma frustratingly refuses to accept her role as savior to a town of fairytale characters, she has barely accepted the responsibility to be a mother to Henry and that is all she can handle right now. As Emma storms off in tears and confusion, August recalls the brief time they spent together when she was a baby.

As a boy, August tried to protect and care for Emma while they lived in an abusive foster care environment. One day, he had a chance to escape with the other children and he wanted to take Emma with him because it was his responsibility to protect her and make her believe, but a group of kids could not be on the run with a baby, so he decided to save himself and left Emma behind. Now August is burdened with the guilt of letting his father down and he goes to see Marco for the first time since he has been in Storybrooke.

Marco struggles with repairing the cuckoo-clock and August gives him a tip that Geppetto had told him in the past. August shares his fear of having disappointed his father, but Marco comforts him by explaining that he still kept the promise by trying to fix his mistake and that would be enough for any father. August notices the little whale he had carved as a child and he asks to stay on as Marco’s assistant without pay; with a hint of hope August simply says, “I just feel like fixing things.”

As another heart-wrenching episode comes to a close, Emma calls Henry down to her car and asks if he is sure that he wants to be with her and get away from Regina, Henry says he wants to be with his real mom, so Emma starts her little bug and they drive out of Storybrooke.

August’s identity as Pinocchio has been the top prediction ever since preview images of Pinocchio were released for “The Stranger;” however, consulting producer and writer Jane Espenson was very convincing in interviews and kept us guessing until the episode began. Were you happy/disappointed/intrigued to learn that August was Pinocchio? What did you think of “The Stranger”? What do you think of Emma’s decision to leave with Henry and abandon her responsibility to the people of Storybrooke? Share your thoughts below!


  • Eion Bailey’s performance as August: His work in the past two episodes has been so convincing, moving, and powerfully real. He has managed to express a child-like vulnerability in August’s need for approval from his father and persistence in eagerly making things right before it is too late. His emotional scenes with Mr. Gold and Marco were heartbreaking to watch; he continues to prove what a difference excellent acting makes on a show featuring fantasy and magic. Hopefully, he will stay around for the rest of the series and we will have a chance to see how his relationship with Marco develops.
  • Transitions: This show has some of the best scene-to-scene transitions on TV; fun and creative connections used to transport us from Storybrooke to Fairytale Land (storybook illustration, Pinocchio’s hat, etc).
  • Bad romance: Luckily, David and Regina’s dinner did not turn into a soap opera. Let’s hope this seductive storyline does not get revisited.
  • Mary Margaret to Regina – “Bring it on!”: Ginnifer Goodwin has been amazing as Snow/MM and her scene with Regina was so satisfying. It is awesome to see Good blatantly call out Evil; she was polite, yet packed a powerful punch.
  • Mr. Gold’s endgame: We still can’t tell what side he is truly on. He obviously used Regina to cast the curse and come here to find Baelfire, now he is helping August with getting Emma to believe, but does he really want the curse to broken or does he have another agenda? Share your ideas…
  • Wooden Pinocchio: Puppet-boy Pinocchio looked so creepy. How much of that was CGI and costume?
  • Geppetto- sins of the father: Surprisingly, Geppetto is another father-figure who put his son in a difficult position. He sent Pinocchio away to keep him alive as a real boy/man, but now he is turning back to wood. It will be interesting to see how he feels about his decision when he sees what has happened.

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