Once Upon A Time has gone from exceedingly mediocre to downright serviceable in the second half of the season, but it remains a problematic series, struggling to balance its two different worlds. Last episode heightened the emotional stakes in Storybrooke to contrast with the swashbuckling fairyback, but “Dreamy” goes back to the more obvious storytelling of the season’s early episodes, hammering its theme like a high-budget children’s show. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and if this show wanted to be live-action Disney mash-up that would be fine, but unfortunately, it has this whole missing person/potential murder subplot that brings it into more mature territory.
I’ve been hoping for the fairybacks to embrace the sillier elements of the fairy tales for a while, but I wasn’t expecting a story about a clumsy fairy falling in love with a dwarf hatched from an egg. The entire opening sequence of this episode is a trip, starting with the fairy Nova (the adorable Amy Acker) crashing into a cloud with her bag of fairy dust, then transitioning to Dreamy’s hatching within the mines where he will work for the rest of his life. The show develops some bizarre mythology this episode, but if it’s indicative of the type of weirdness we can expect in the future, then more of it!
Dwarves are hatched from eggs fully grown; they don’t fall in love, get married, or have children. They’re born to work, and they like it; they even whistle while they do it (“Heigh-Ho,” of course). They mine the diamonds that are crushed into the dust that gives light to the world. Their names are decided by the magic axe they are handed after being hatched and cleaned. It’s completely ridiculous, but works just fine within the framework of this fantastic world.
The dwarf we know as Grumpy was originally named Dreamy, and this episode reveals the events that led to his change in attitude. After being sprinkled with some of Nova’s fairy dust while in his egg, Dreamy is born with images of a beautiful young woman in his mind, and he dreams of one day finding her. As a big Amy Acker fan, I can understand where he’s coming from. OUAT redeems itself for the Emma Caulfied debacle by giving the Angel and Dollhouse alum the spotlight this episode, showcasing Acker's ability to create lovable, slightly aloof characters. Whether dressed in a flamboyant pink fairy dress or conservative nun apparel, she exudes a sense of fun and compassion, and I hope she shows up again in the future.
It’s Miner’s Day in Storybrooke, one of those ridiculous holidays that only TV cities have (I’m looking at you, Mystic Falls and Stars Hollow), and the nuns are having their annual candle sale. Leroy the janitor becomes hopelessly enamored with Astrid, a clumsy nun that accidentally spends all of the sisters’ money on 12 dozen canisters of helium, and unless she sells all the candles, the nuns will be evicted by their landlord, Mr. Gold. Leroy promises Astrid that he can sell her candles in hopes that she’ll fall for him, break her vow of celibacy, and travel the world with him on his rinky-dink boat. These are big dreams, but as Astrid tells him, “You can do anything as long as you can dream it.”
The dynamic is flipped in the fairyback when Dreamy meets Nova in the mine. After rescuing her supply of fairy dust, Dreamy is the fairy’s hero, and Nova begins to fantasize about a life where they could explore the world together; a man from below and a woman from above, finding each other in the middle. When she begins to doubt if her wish could come true, Dreamy tells her, “I believe you can do anything you want, as long as you can dream it.” Anyone care to guess what the theme of this episode is?
Nova tells Dreamy about a hill where fireflies illuminate the night sky, inviting him to spend an evening with her. He’s only one year old, so he doesn’t catch the hint, and leaves her to get back to work, but there’s a mysterious new pain in his belly. While contemplating this ache at the tavern, Dreamy gets advice from a surprising figure: Belle. After her tragic affair with Rumpelstiltskin, Belle is now the voice of heartbreak, and she urges Dreamy to go to Firefly Hill and find his love. I wasn’t expecting Belle to show up again so soon, but it’s a pleasant surprise, continuing to offer new wrinkles in these characters’ familiar stories.
Writers Horowitz and Kitsis use dramatic irony very well this episode, capitalizing on the audience’s knowledge that Dreamy is going to become Grumpy to create tension. The flashback structure worked so well on Lost because the audience didn’t know any of the characters. The cast of OUAT is made up of public domain characters that have been around for hundreds of years in many different variations, and if there aren’t significant changes and surprises, then it’s the same stories retreaded. The writers use that previous knowledge to their advantage in “Dreamy,” but also incorporate enough new material to differentiate their versions of Grumpy and Belle.
Back in Storybrooke, Leroy teams with Mary Margaret to sell candles, first at the Miner’s Day bazaar, then door-to-door. Mary Margaret is still recuperating from the demolition of her reputation last episode, and while she does see some compassion by the end of the episode, no one wants to buy candles from the town tramp and town drunk. Leroy lies to Astrid and tells her he sold the inventory, then tries to sell his boat to Mr. Gold to make up the difference, another plan that comes up short.
After Astrid finds out about his deception, Leroy is left with no choice but to break the law if he’s going to win her heart, and he takes a pick-axe to the electrical box illuminating the Miner’s Day festivities. It’s a good thing no one looks up to where all the sparks were flying from, because Leroy and Mary Margaret just decide to stand on the roof and watch everyone’s confusion for a while. The day is saved because everyone has to buy candles, proving that dreams do come true as long as you don’t mind destroying public property.
Things don't work out as well in the fairyback. When Dreamy tries to leave home to be with Nova, the Head Dwarf and Blue Fairy convince him that their kind are supposed to stay separate, and he puts an end to his relationship with the best he’s ever gonna get. Acker and Lee Arenberg have strong chemistry throughout the episode, making their split all the more affecting. When Dreamy returns to the mines, he breaks his axe in a fit, and he earns his new-but-familiar name with the new tool: Grumpy.
The rest of the episode deals with Emma investigating Kathryn’s car breakdown at the Storybrooke border, a missing persons case that quickly turns into a potential murder when Regina gets involved. Regina doesn’t appear much this week (Henry is almost completely absent), and she causes more trouble with forged phone records than with overblown monologues. The writers are beginning to address the problems of the first half of the season, and in the process are making better use of the cast. Lana Parilla is much more effective in a silent-but-deadly role, manipulating events from afar, then entering the fray to misdirect the other players. Regina knows that the phone records make David a suspect, allowing her to toy with Emma’s sense of duty and force her into bringing David in to the station.
Next week continues the investigation into Kathryn’s disappearance, which looks to be a multi-episode story, while giving Ruby her first fairyback as Red Riding Hood. According to the episode synopsis, Ruby is supposed to be a teenager, but that can’t be right. It looks to be a bit of a Red Riding Hood rip-off, but I do like her fairyback costume, so color me excited for “Red Handed.”
- Thanks to this episode, “dwarves hatch from eggs” is now in my search history.
- I love Happy’s goofy grin when he gets his axe.
- The VFX budget has definitely gone up, and while the CGI isn’t perfect, it’s getting much more detailed and less obtrusive.
- Nice “Sold Out!” sign, Mary Margaret. The shading really makes it pop.
- Sidney refers to Mary Margaret as “pixie cut,” and that should continue.
- Lost reference: The nuns sold 42 candles last year.
- “She is a nun, Leroy! Could you possibly pick anyone less available?”
- “I could hit someone. You know how much damage I could do? I’m solidly built.”
- “You have a responsibility: to mine the diamonds we make into fairy dust!”