There is a still, small voice inside each of us. Call it conscience, but it is more than that. It can give us the courage to be bold or stand up for ourselves when frightened of taking a risky or dramatic step forward into the void.
Tonight’s Once Upon a Time episode, “That Still, Small Voice” tells the story of a young boy caught in a life of thievery and deceit, bound both by his parents and the desire to change his story—to be the person he is meant to be. Jiminy’s (Raphael Sbarge) parents are thieves—pickpockets and snake oil salesmen defrauding innocents with their elf elixir, guaranteed to prevent plague. Jiminy (who, in Storybrooke, is Henry’s therapist Archie Hopper) wants no part of this life, and turns to Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) to deal with them. The clever magician, whose home seems to be a book-lined castle where he spins wool into gold, knows exactly what Jiminy craves, and he has just the potion. But Jiminy’s parents are wise to the ruse (or Rumpelstiltskin spills the beans himself), and switch potions, accidentally killing a young couple, while leaving Jiminy’s parents alive and well.
Wracked with guilt, Jiminy is offered another chance to free himself of his corrupt parents; becoming of course Jiminy Cricket, with the promise to guide the young couple’s orphaned son Gepetto through life.
Back in Storybrooke, Archie also comes into his own, learning to be his own man and unafraid of Her Royal Highness Regina (Lana Parrilla, also the Evil Queen), the mayor. Ordered by Regina to break Henry’s delusion that everyone in Storybrooke is actually a fairy tale character, Archie warns the young boy that he will be locked up as crazy if he persists. Henry runs away into a just-collapsed mine looking for proof that he isn’t crazy. Something important must be in there, he theorizes; something is changing. But when the mine collapses around him, Henry and Archie (also trapped) come to an understanding that helps the therapist come to terms with who he is supposed to be.
Puppets are an important through line during “That Still, Small Voice.” The episode opens with a puppet show in the Enchanted Forest public market, where we find the young Jiminy picking pockets. The young couple, Geppetto’s parents, accidentally killed by Rumpelstiltskin’s potion are rendered into wooden puppets, a counterpoint to the Pinocchio story from whence Geppetto (and Jiminy came). And ultimately the puppet pair finds itself sitting on a shelf in Mr. Gold’s shop in Storybrooke, an artifact from the time before the curse.
But a puppet needn’t be made of wood. There are plenty of flesh and blood marionettes, manipulated—animated—by those who tell them what to do and how to act. It is only when one is willing to break out of that trap, cut the cord and lose the strings that a person can come into their own—be the person they are meant to be. Jiminy is manipulated by his parents into a life of crime; Geppetto’s parents are manipulated into buying a potion out of fear they will succumb to plague. Rumpelstiltskin and the Blue Fairy both are puppet masters, offering change at a price.
Of course, in one way or another, all of the inhabitants of Storybrooke are trapped in someone else’s story; it is the series premise, after all. Henry (Jared Gilmore) and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) are the key to freeing them all from the Evil Queen’s curse.
Perhaps Archie is the first to discover a bit about himself, enough to know he is not the mayor’s tool, nor her puppet. He is his own man, and finally finding his voice, he wields it to get her off his back.
Sheriff Grahm (Jamie Dornan) also makes a small dent in the mayor’s grip by appointing Emma (Jennifer Morrison) deputy. Maybe these are the first necessary steps in undoing the Evil Queen’s curse.
John Doe (Josh Dallas, also Prince Charming), too, is beginning to come into his own, and break free of the mayor. Although he still can’t remember anything from his past, he realizes that his wife doesn’t seem right. It’s all “off,” and the only thing that seems real is his budding friendship with Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin, also his real intended, Snow White).
Is the curse as fragile as the underpinnings of an old mine? And once loosened, collapse is inevitable? But who knows for how long it will stand? Clearly, it will be a long time before it all collapses out from under the Evil Queen (or the mayor). But what is that shard of glass the mayor seems so quick to hide and toss back into the mine? What’s underneath the town of Storybrooke? Is that where the Enchanted Forest resides?
I really enjoyed this week’s episode. Jane Espenson’s quick-paced script lends a slightly surreal tone to Jiminy’s story, with its rapid-fire dialogue zapping quickly between the characters. It grants the story within the story a larger-than-life feel, perfect for its fairy tale context—Grand Guignol puppet theater.
Speaking of Ms. Espenson, I will be posting an interview with her later this week. We’ll hear her thoughts on “That Still, Small Voice,” writing for Once Upon a Time and much more. Once Upon a Time returns next Sunday at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.