Recap episode 1.20 The Stranger

Once Upon a Time The Stranger

Young August saying goodbye to baby Emma

I’m going to try to fill in the gaps in my collection of recaps, before the new season starts. This is the recap of The Stranger, the episode where we finally learn the identity of August W. Booth, aka the Mysterious Stranger.

During a storm at sea, Pinocchio — still made of wood — sacrifices his life to save his father, Geppetto. The Blue Fairy brings him back to life by turning him into a real boy. She tells Pinocchio that as long as he remains brave, truthful. and unselfish, he will always remain real.

Cut to Storybrooke, where Mysterious Stranger August W. Booth hops around in pain, lifts his pants leg — and reveals that his leg has turned to wood. Now we know that (1) August’s fairy tale identity is Pinocchio, and (2) He must be failing, in some way, to be brave, truthful, and/or unselfish.

In FTL, we learn more about the backstory of the magic wardrobe. A vessel built from FTL’s last enchanted tree has enough magic to transport two people out of FTL, the Blue Fairy tells Gepetto. She asks him to build a wardrobe for Snow White and the Prince to escape, so they can raise their child, the Savior. Gepetto says he will do it, but only if Pinocchio can take the second spot instead of the Prince.

When it becomes clear that Snow White will give birth early, before Gepetto can finish the wardrobe, the Blue Fairy tells Gepetto that Pinocchio can’t go because Snow White has to go with her baby to protect her — or “all will be lost.” It’s a land without magic, the Blue Fairy says, and the child will need someone to guide her, to make her believe in her destiny — and who better than her mother.

Pinocchio is standing right next to his father, and he hears everything.

Gepetto tells Pinocchio to get into the wardrobe. He brushes aside Jiminy Cricket’s objections and even the hesitation of Pinocchio himself, who tells his father, “But you told me not to lie.”

When Jiminy Cricket urges Gepetto to let Snow White go through, echoing what the Blue Fairy said about the child needing her mother to protect her and make her believe in her destiny, Gepetto says that Pinocchio can do that instead.

Gepetto tells Pinocchio that he must look out for the child in the new land. In 28 years, he must make sure that the Savior believes. That’s the only way they’ll ever see each other again. Pinocchio promises he will do what his father asked.

Emma and August ride August’s motorcycle out of Storybrooke, which they can do because they both came through the wardrobe before the curse, so they are not stuck inside the town limits like everyone else. They stop at the diner where Emma was brought as a baby — and August tells her that he was the one who brought her there.

She’s not buying it and starts to walk off. He tells her that when he found her, the name Emma was embroidered on her blanket. That gets her attention. He shows her the tree where they both entered this world. But she’s still skeptical. He shows her his wooden leg. But when the camera shows the leg from Emma’s point of view, we see that she doesn’t see the wood — she sees the leg as normal.

He tells her that everyone needs her. She gets upset, says she never asked to be responsible for everyone’s happiness, says she didn’t ask for that and doesn’t want it. He tells her she is their only hope. “Then you’re all screwed,” she says.

She goes over to Regina’s house — it’s still the middle of the night — and calls Henry on his walkie-talkie. She asks him if he wants to come away with her. Yes, he says and gets in the car. She tells him they are leaving Storybrooke.

In flashbacks, we see the 7-year-old Pinocchio/August trying to take care of baby Emma. They are in an orphanage or foster home run by a sadistic tyrant. The other kids plan an escape and ask August to come, but say they can’t bring the baby with them. He loves Emma and wants to honor his promise to his father to protect her. But he gives in to temptation. He kisses Emma goodbye and leaves with the group.

In Storybrooke, August approaches his father, but doesn’t reveal who he is. He offers to be Geppeto’s assistant. Father and son are reunited at last, though only one of them knows it.

Also in this episode

— In a side plot, Regina’s car breaks down, which was probably just a trick to get David to give her a ride home, where she guilt trips him into staying for dinner, then tries to kiss him. David politely refuses and leaves. Regina hurls her wine glass into the mirror, breaking it.

— We learn that what August was doing when he fiddled with Henry’s book was add a chapter about Pinocchio — so that Emma would know.


This is the second time we have seen how a young child’s mistake can reverberate through the years, changing the fate of everyone.

Earlier, in The Stable Boy, we saw young Snow White tell Cora about Regina’s secret, which set in motion a chain of events that culminated in Regina’s curse. In this episode, we saw August, at about the same age as Snow, choose to escape the orphange, a world-changing moment that ultimately prevented Emma from believing in her role as Savior, which meant she was unable to save the people of the town.

While the unintended power of their decisions was similar, the mindsets of young August and Snow were different. Snow confessed to Cora because she genuinely thought that would help Regina. August, on the other hand, knew he was letting Emma down.

Yet, August cannot be blamed either. He was only seven years old. The responsibility put on him was too much for a child. The Blue Fairy was right. It should have been Snow who escaped, to guide and protect baby Emma, not Pinocchio, who was only a child in need of protection himself.

What do you think?