After a brief Thanksgiving-week stint off, Once Upon A Time returns for a rare flashback-free outing that mixes sweet and saccharine.
Let’s bitch it out…As most readers know, I have a love/hate relationship with Once Upon A Time. Sometimes the show amazes me with its balance of fairytale characters and narratives, and other times it disappoints by resting on its laurels. While I can’t say that ‘Into The Deep’ is a slam-dunk success, it’s by no means a disappointment, either. The net result is a firm “okay”…with conditions.
The principle condition: an immediate exit strategy for Mulan (Jamie Chung). I get that her character is meant to be solemn, traditional and pious, but holy heck is she ever a frustrating bore! Every time something about a pledge to Prince Phillip comes out of her mouth, I feel like I’m the one getting a face full of sleeping powder. Why do we need this character when we have Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) to battle legions of the undead? Even Aurora (Sarah Bolger) has become tolerable in her steely determination to join the ranks of the warrior princess. And if we really need to keep someone around who frustrates and annoys the hell out of us, isn’t that why we have Emma (Jennifer Morrison)?
As for the heroine in this story, Emma continues to disappoint. I don’t mind Morrison as an actress, but these scripts are giving her nothing to work with. Case in point: her attempt at selling despair about never seeing Henry (Jared Gilmore) again are hilariously over-dramatic. This is especially apparent when contrasted with Goodwin, who’s Snow owns this episode from top to bottom. Kicking undead ass? Check. Volunteering to re-open the passageway to the netherworld her mind has blocked since the sleeping curse? Badass. And the near kiss with long-suffering distant husband Charming (Josh Dallas)? Heart-wrenching. It’s clear that if we’re meant to cheer for someone, it should be this fairytale princess, who has employed her maternal care for Emma and her steely determination to great effect this season.
Also, when Emma tries to whine about how she’s responsible for everything like the big crybaby that she is, Snow reminds her that the entire show is because of her tattle-telling. Lesson learned: don’t try to guilt trip your mother, because they.will.own.you!
- Did anyone else feel like the cast looked a little…bloated? Goodwin (in the face) and Dallas (in the mid-section) in particular looked uncomfortably inflated. Was there an extra-delicious buffet lunch on set during the days they filmed this episode or something? Bad sushi? Harry Potter-esque spells?
- I so wanted the show to become Ewoks:The Battle For Endor (Wheat, 1985) when Cora (Barbara Hershey) sends her crow into the woods like the witch Charal. This show would gain serious brownie point by going campy like the
terriblefantastic Star Wars made-for-television movie. And why not: Disney does own the characters!
- Kudos to the show for back-handedly recognizing some of its own ridiculousness…twice! 1) Snow confirms to Charming that they seem doomed to spend their lives apart like some kind of romantic S&M mindf*ck and then 2) useless Mulan stands in for the audience and complains that the female foursome (comprised of her, Emma, Snow, and Aurora) are being sent packing on yet another quest when they decide to track down Rumple’s (Robert Carlyle) magic ink. This show excels in sending characters on side journeys, though the pay-off and audience satisfaction seems dependent on just how much you perceive these storylines to be filler
- Those reanimated zombie villagers? Pathetic. They might as well just given Cora a crew of flunky henchmen to command. There’s nothing remotely memorable about them, and why doesn’t Mulan recognize them considering she knew everyone in town?!
- The upside of no flashbacks? More screentime for the show’s impressively large cast! In addition to Henry’s fiery meetings with Aurora, Belle (Emilie de Ravin) and Granny (Beverley Elliot) get to chew the scenery at the dinner. Oh sure they’re not being given anything meaningful to do, but isn’t it nice when Once acknowledges that all of these other characters exist even when we aren’t spending time with them?
- Lana Parrilla gets a nice non-villainous opportunity to shine in her scene with adopted son Henry as they prepare David’s sleeping curse. Although I’m not fully on board with the show’s decision to redeem her by casting her mother as the villain (see below), I do like that Parrilla is being given a different side of Regina to play. Side Note: I’m unsure why magic in Storybrooke is equivalent to high school chemistry, but I’ll let the show set the rules, I guess
- Finally, if there was ever any doubt that Cora is the main villain of S2, she takes possession of Aurora’s heart (much in the way her daughter did with the Sheriff back in the day). The glowing plastic hearts and their matching Pier 1-esque boxes are still too kitschy for my tastes, but I like Cora and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) as an “evil” (for the family crowd) pair. Much like Storybrooke’s magic, I’m unsure why Cora can speak through Aurora’s heart (the heart is attached is attached to the person’s vocal cords?), but it’s a cool enough idea that I’ll accept it, despite making no sense whatsoever
- Aurora (to Cora): “I enjoy anything that masks the bitter after-taste of poison.” Meow – it’s about time Aurora finally got some claws!
- Emma (when Mulan wants to give up the compass to Cora in exchange for Aurora): “I climbed a beanstalk for this. You get your own!” Clearly no one taught the orphan how to play well with others
- Rumple (to Regina, as they prepare the curse for Charming): “Your Majesty, you did his wife, I’m sure you’d like the honours.”
- Regina (unconvincingly lying to Henry about Charming’s “sleeping” status): “I’m sure they’re just catching up”
So what did you think of the return of Once? Happy with the lack of flashback? Angry that Hook has played our fearsome foursome? Intrigued that Cora now controls Aurora? Bored by the prospect of yet another journey? Concerned that Goodwin and Dallas ate some bad fish that causing excessive bloating? Hit the comments below with your thoughts!
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8pm EST on ABC. The “Winter Finale” airs next week