Following a month of among the show’s best episodes ever, “Selfless, Brave and True” is a rare misstep and off day for Once’s standards.
The problem is this feels like 2 episodes in one. It’s a Tamara episode and an August crammed together as a hybrid. Tamara dominates the takeaways of this episode out of freshness alone. Who is this new big bad or something like it, what’s her fairy tale identity and backstory, motivation, her grandmother’s relevance, what powers does her taser have, what’s her relationship with Owen like, etc. With Tamara Once moved cleanly and swiftly in a new direction post-Cora, which I respect. Though this speed, makes her feel hollow for Once’s standards. With the show’s history, no doubt she’ll be developed into a layered and morally ambiguous villain at which point I expect to warm up to her. This is just the beginning.
What bugged me about the episode is August’s for all intents and purposes death episode, had to fit in with Tamara. Due to his role as a plot device to push her villainy forward, I felt his write-off lacked the emotional punch may of his Season 1 scenes did. In particular I wish he and Emma’s relationship and history had been given more recognition. He didn’t even own his flashback, as Tamara gets point of view scenes during it. I understand Eion Bailey stretching his legs forced the writers’ hands to minimize and write him out, but it’s still underwhelming for August to go out like this after how well they built his character for the long term in Season 1. That he played second fiddle to Tamara on the way out is even more disappointing.
The other Storybrooke characters didn’t get a ton of play this episode, but I enjoyed Snow’s slapping Gepetto moment, showing the anger she can no longer fully control. Regina and Owen’s scene also stands out. Owen felt creepily attracted to her. I like Owen’s place on the show now more that he’s a “heel” and up to stuff.
Going forward, who is Tamara? I’d be shocked if she wasn’t one of the Neverland trio of females - Tinkerbell, Wendy and Tiger Lily. With the show expected to flashback to Neverland to end this season, this gives them too easy an opportunity to set up her backstory in the finale. Tiger Lily makes the most sense racially, but I’m betting on a morally ambiguous Tinkerbell with her magical interest and her taser as figuratively or literally a modified wand. If from Neverland, I expect her and Hook are familiar with each other and she let him go in New York, which they set up with Tamara phoning Neal to tell him he had escaped.
My crazy theory: Tamara’s “grandmother” is in fact her daughter, who she gave birth to on Earth nearly a century ago - then as her daughter grew old and wrinkly, Tamara never aged due to her Neverland roots. Sounds like enough parental suffering for Once Upon a Time?
“Selfless, Brave and True” proves Once can’t throw a perfect game over 22 episodes a year, just as all network shows can’t - But it sets up the chess pieces nicely for a great end to the season. Stick the landing!