Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 2 Episode 13 – Tiny:
ABC is owned by Disney, and as a result, we’ve seen Once Upon A Time employ a lot of Disney-specific iconography. Yet the Disney influence hasn’t really gone beyond that – at least not until tonight. “Tiny” is more or less an hour-long cross-promotion to beef up the hype for Disney’s upcoming Jack the Giant Slayer. I don’t know if showrunners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis planned it this way or if they planned out the season and this was simply a happy coincidence, but it’s a cross-promotion that isn’t the least bit subtle. That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean the episode is bad. Quite the opposite, actually, as I enjoyed “Tiny” more than any secondary character-centric episode this season. This is because it tells a story that, while predictable, is well-structured. In addition, Jorge Garcia, an actor who, in many ways, is still trading on the good will of his role as Hurley on Lost, is such an affable presence that he gives the episode a heartbreaking quality it might not have otherwise had. In fact, I’d argue Garcia is a much better actor than he’s ever been given credit for, and he’s given the chance to show that here. “Tiny” is an episode that occasionally tries to do too much, yet much of what it does is done well.
Our flashbacks to the Fairy Tale Land center on Anton the Giant (Jorge Garcia), nicknamed “Tiny”, who is the runt in a family of giants. He’s ridiculed endlessly for his size and for his naivety, as his faith in the goodness of humans runs contrary to his family’s bias against them. The giants are responsible for growing the magic beans in their kingdom in the sky, accessible only by the magical beanstalk. The beans, which can create portals between worlds, and which we’ve also been told no longer exist, have been horded by the giants over the years. Anton’s older brother Arlo (Abraham Benrubi), the patriarch of the giants clan, doesn’t believe that the humans should be allowed to use the beans, given their violence and corruption. Yet Anton doesn’t believe that the actions of a few reckless humans should result in the condemnation of all humanity. Feeling he doesn’t fit in with his own kind, and growing more curious about the world of humans, Anton decides to check out the world below. Once there, he meets Prince James (Josh Dallas), the original prince whose death resulted in his twin brother, David, taking over and becoming the Prince Charming we’ve come to know. But James isn’t alone, as he has a female companion with him – a woman named Jacqueline (Cassidy Freeman)…but everyone just calls her “Jack”.
Even if we didn’t have the present day happenings in Storybrooke giving it up ahead of time, it’s hard to imagine we wouldn’t have a good idea of where this all was going: James and Jack will inevitably betray Anton, and in so doing destroy Anton’s innocent faith in humanity. We see in the present that Anton is intent on exacting revenge against Charming, and Charming smartly intuits that Anton must be mistaking him for his long-dead twin. It’s all very basic territory, yet the episode is immensely engaging in getting us to the inevitable points of its plot. Garcia does a commendable job portraying the equal parts fascination and cautious observation of Anton’s time in the human world, and it’s fun watching Josh Dallas play a villain. It’s also one of those rare cases where knowing what’s going to happen makes it all the more heartbreaking, particularly since we don’t know exactly what. So it’s with a wearying sense of resignation that we see Jack kiss Anton on the cheek and proclaim him the hero of their kingdom after he offers to bring them some treasure from his castle to help James pay off his kingdom’s debts.
Naturally, in honoring his word, Anton inadvertently leads James and Jack (and an entire army of attackers) directly to the magic beanstalk. James and Jack lead a raid on the kingdom of the giants with the purpose of claiming their magic beans. The raiders use poison-tipped swords to fell the giants, and the conflict results in the death of Anton’s entire family, including Arlo, whom Jack stabs with one of the poison swords (though Arlo is able to stab her, in turn, before the poison takes effect). With his dying breath, Arlo gives Anton a vial containing one last bean cutting, from which new beans can grow, if he ever finds the right land for the planting. Flashforward to the present, as Cora (Barbara Hershey) has shrunken Anton to human size and brought him to Storybrooke to grow magic beans on her behalf. Regina (Lana Parrilla), having reunited with Cora, approaches Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) to work out a deal to use Anton to kill Charming for them – a plan that involves using magic mushrooms to return Anton to giant size.
The Anton-as-giant CGI is better in Storybrooke than it is in Fairy Tale Land, although the patchy CGI work is of a piece with the series, and not really as big a faulty of the animators as it is the budget, or that of Kitsis and Horowitz, whose ambition often outpaces the technical capabilities of the series. However, the emotional core to the story makes up for the deficiencies in the visual effects, particularly the final bit between Anton and Charming (who reveals that his real name, much like that of his Fairy Tale self, is David – which results in a pretty amusing conversation with a confused Leroy, as our gang flees from the giant through the streets of Storybrooke). Anton’s magic mushroom wears off, and he nearly falls through the mineshaft, but Charming risks his life to repel down the mine to offer his hand to the giant – yet Anton refuses the help, poignantly speculating that perhaps dying hurts less than living. David replies that if Anton really wanted to die, he’d have let go already. Realizing that not all humans are savages, Anton accepts the help. His trust in humans restored, Anton offers David the last bean cutting, allowing the gang the chance to travel back to their home world. While the story wraps with Anton accepting a magic ax from Leroy (Lee Arenberg) dubbing him “Tiny”, with Anton and the dwarfs working the fields together as they whistle, the sequence is significant for introducing the fascinating possibility of open travel between Storybrooke and the Fairy Tale World. I’ll be interested to see where they take this potential storyline, as we could see a third season that, for example, could take place entirely in the Fairy Tale Land, or with our characters commuting between worlds, in a sense. There’s more potential in the idea than there are actual ideas (if that makes any sense, and I’m not entirely sure it does).
While the Anton portions of the episode are pretty great, the rest of the episode is weirdly unfocused. Belle (Emilie De Ravin) is freaked out by the magical exploits she’s seen, and Ruby (Meghan Ory) tries to explain it away as the delirium-inducing effects of the tranquilizers she’s been given. Greg Mendel (Ethan Embry), the mysterious stranger whose car struck Hook, is still suspicious of Storybrooke, and Ruby doesn’t exactly curb his curiosity by urging him to recover so he can leave their “quiet little town”. Greg comes to Belle and tells him he believes her story, since he saw the magic too. Thus, we now have two corroborating accounts that threaten to expose Storybrooke to the world. Yet this is only one minor arc in the Storybrooke portions of the episode, as the primary thrust features Emma (Jennifer Morrison) taking Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) along for her forced road trip with Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle)…
The travel portions of the episode are amusing simply for how Gold has trouble adapting to the modern world, with which Henry and Emma are already perfectly familiar. Yet things get interesting when Gold passes through airport security, which requires him to remove the scarf that allows him to retain his memories outside Storybrooke. It’s a wee bit problematic in the sense that the absence of the scarf is presented as a slow-acting drain on the memory, whereas before, any Storybrooke resident who crossed over into the real world without the talisman immediately lost his/her memory. However, it’s something I’m perfectly willing to overlook, as I’m not entirely certain it’s really a discrepancy. And it also allows for a pretty tense sequence, as Emma insists that she isn’t going to let Gold lose his memory, accompanying him through security and to the other side, where the scarf awaits in the bin. Gold is dazed and muddled, and for a moment, there’s a real sense that certain aspects of his memory might be gone. This is evidenced by his meltdown in the airport bathroom, bloodying his hand against the toilet cover dispenser, and then disturbing himself upon discovering he can’t wave away the wound with magic. His disturbed nature is in further evidence as the episode ends, the camera staying on Gold’s frozen, slightly fearful visage as the plane takes off. For the first time since he was a simple farmer back in Fairy Tale Land, Gold is entering a world over which he has no agency.
“Tiny” is a well-crafted hour even in spite of the fact that it has more plot than it can really handle in 60 minutes (well, 46 minutes with commercials). There are issues in the narrative that keep it from being my favorite episode of the season, but I consider it largely to be a success, owing to the various plotlines it sets up, and for how it further elaborates, through Anton and the giants, on the detailed world it’s established.