Now that is what I`m talking about. After complaining that the show has twiddled its narrative thumbs for the better part of its first season, Once Upon A Time takes a quantum leap forward and lays all of its cards on the table.
Let’s bitch it out…I’d hoped that showrunners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, who spent the week pimping out the finale, weren’t kidding when they talked about how exciting and emotional it would be. At the very least, I expected that the hour would find disbelieving Emma (Jennifer Morrison) finally accepting the red pill and finding out how deep the rabbit hole goes. And in my wildest dreams, I imagined that Horowitz and Kitsis would throw caution to the wind and break the curse, freeing the show to break new ground instead of telling revisionist fairytales week in and week out.
Did I think that the latter would actually happen? Hells no…
But it does. So I will accept my large helping of humble pie and offer my apologies for questioning this show over the last twenty-two episodes. All in all, ‘A Land Without Magic’ is pretty darn excellent and in what may be a first for the show, the Storybrooke parts actually surpass the Fairy Tale bits. Let’s face it, when the alternative is watching Emma whine about being a saviour, who wouldn’t rather spend time with this cast of hotties, clad in butt-hugging leather and duking it out with swords and magical spells? But when Henry (Jared Gilmore) is flatlining and Emma is throwing Regina (Lana Parrilla) around in a broom-closet, I’m fine postponing Charming (Josh Dallas) and Snow White’s (Ginnifer Goodwin) happy ending.
It’s the season finale, so let’s focus on the good first:
- Regina and Emma partnering up: I’m already wishing that this is the direction that the show is going to go in S2, though I doubt it will. More on that in a moment…
- Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) betraying both Emma and Regina in order to reintroduce magic back into the world. I especially appreciated this, because I was convinced that pouring the true love potion down the well would bring back his son and prove sentimentally sappy. But no, it just reiterates that Gold is – at his core – just as power hungry as anyone else!
- Eion Bailey’s Pinocchio turning into a wooden man: The special effects weren’t top notch, but it’s an effective visual and a nice call-back to ‘The Stranger’ when Emma couldn’t see the effect of the curse on him. Presumably August will be back – as a human – since the curse is now broken?
- Although Parrilla isn’t given much to do, her breakdown over Henry’s state is quite well done. While I know that many have found her portrayal of the Evil Queen and Regina to be over the top, I like her best when she’s plotting and scheming. The maniacal grin on her face as the purple cloud of doom descends on Storybrooke is absolutely great.
All of this good shouldn’t suggest that the episode is perfect, however:
- There are a few instances in which Morrison’s performance veers dangerously into high school theatre territory. The most laugh out loud moment occurs when she finally has an “aha” moment and accepts that the turnover of doom that put Henry into his coma is the result of magic. Those eyes and that facial expression are Looney Tunes levels of overacting.
- I get that Emma is still new to the whole fairytale business, but disregarding the sword in favour of a handgun? Silly and once again demonstrates just how much she simply does not get it. If you’ve accepted your role as a fairytale saviour, then use a fairytale weapon! The learning curve should not be this difficult – especially with a dragon this easy to kill.
- Speaking of dragons, the special effects for Maleficent (Kristin Bauer) are decent, but it’s clear that they may have broken the bank at the expense of the other special effects work. There are a lot of shoddy green screen locations anytime someone sets foot in a castle.
- While I was excited to see Kristin Bauer and Jamie Dornan (Sheriff Graham!), their blink and you miss it cameos are unsatisfying. I appreciate the effort, but 30 seconds of screentime hardly merits the trouble. Sebastian Stan’s reprisal of Jefferson from last week is essentially as a plot point to liberate Belle (Emilie De Ravin), who fares better by revealing Regina’s role in her imprisonment and confessing her love for Rumpelstiltskin.
- Finally, the groan-worthy repetition of Charming and Snow’s lovey-dovey dialogue. I get that they’re wholesome, romantic characters, but these lines just kinda come off tone-deaf. Maybe it’s Goodwin and Dallas struggling with the delivery, but I was not feeling either of them in this episode.
- Everyone catch the name on the door next to Belle’s in the hospital? Sidney Glass. Guess Giancarlo Esposito will remain “locked up” until his new NBC show, Revolution, dies a Terra Nova death in the fall, thereby freeing him up to return as the man in the mirror.
- Outside of the core cast, virtually no one else has a role to play. Red (Megan Ory), Granny (Beverley Elliot) and Archie (Raphael Sbarge) only appear as the curse is broken, but there’s no sign of Marco (Tony Amendola) or the dwarves. I did enjoy Keegan Connor Tracy as Mother Superior suggesting Regina run after the curse is broken, though. I’ve said it several times over the season, Once… has proven itself great at securing guest stars, and merely okay at using them. Hopefully they can find more meaningful work for these talented actors in the second season.
Thoughts on S2:
Clearly the return of magic in the final moments of the season will have major implications next year. What does it all mean?
There are two foreseeable options: 1) Everyone remains in Storybrooke, but with their magical abilities returned or 2) Everyone is transported back to Fairy Tale land (including Emma – whose proclivity for leather jackets should fit right in). Of the two, I would rather see the latter option, since I’ve found the Fairy Tale sequences more enjoyable and more thrilling. Would setting the entire series in green screen castles and expensive props prove too costly? I think so, which is why I fear that the show will actually go with the first option. Sticking with Storybrooke allows them to keep the same sets, as well as also allow them employ the LOST style narrative strategy of toggling back and forth between Fairy Tale and contemporary Storybrooke.
What this means for our characters, however, is a completely different story. As the final moments proved, their fictitious personalities created by the curse are gone: Mary Margaret and David Nolan no longer exist; they are Snow White and Charming. A big question most people will be asking themselves is where will the conflict come from, then? If the quest to break the curse and return these people’s true selves was the focus of S1, what else is left for S2? One imagines that the struggle for supremacy between Rumpelstiltskin and the Evil Queen will grow, and Emma will have to negotiate a different relationship with her parents, who will now remember her as their daughter. How everyone adjusts back to their old selves in a new world will likely be of focal importance. But as it stands, it should be interesting to see what else the show has planned, since the book, the curse and the revisionist comparisons between the two worlds has effectively come to an end.
How will Horowitz and Kitsis pull it off? We’ll have to wait until fall to see.
Once Upon A Time has concluded its first season. It will return Fall 2012 on ABC