If there’s one thing that Once Upon A Time knows how to do, it’s a (mid) season finale. Therefore, it should surprise no one that the show pulls out most of the stops as it heads into the Winter half of its second season.
Let’s bitch it out…
‘Land Without Magic’ was one of the principle reasons that we decided to cover the show’s second season. Up until the first season finale there had been flashes of brilliance, but on the whole the series had had too many duds, with so much sappy dialogue and lethargic plotting that we were ready to let it go. And then came the first season finale: Emma (Jennifer Morrison) slew a dragon and the curse was broken. It was tantalizing enough to merit checking in for a second season.
Thus far the series has paid off on the promises made by that finale. The plotting has been tighter, the characters – especially the reintroduction of Barbara Hershey’s Cora and new “villain” Hook (Colin O’Donohue) – have reinvigorated the drama and the focus has shifted from “all Emma, all the time” to more of an ensemble piece. The show is far from perfect, but it has discovered its strengths and avoided major calamities like 1×14 ‘Dreamy’.
Which brings us to the fall finale, ‘Queen Of Hearts.’ Speculation has been rampant online since the title was announced that it refers to Cora. The fact that this turns out to be true in no way detracts from the episode, as we learn the historical origins of the Cora/Hook partnership. It’s becoming increasingly convoluted to keep track of who’s working which revenge scheme (are we sure this isn’t some other ABC show?), though it is interesting to note how many conflicts intersect with others. Case in point: Hook working first with Regina (Lana Parrilla) to kill her mother, only to then flip-flops when it becomes clear that Cora can get him closer to Rumple (Robert Carlyle).
In many ways, it does help to explain the presence of so many characters contained within these worlds (the show has always excelled at bridging the source stories. Eg: Gold is both Rumpelstiltskin and the Beast) and the self-reflexivity of Emma questioning how much agency she actually has is refreshing. Late in the show, immediately before Rumple’s squid ink scroll releases our quartet of princesses from prison, Emma realizes that all of her actions have been predicated by the trickster. It’s an interesting observation (“I’ve been a pawn” she bemoans to Ginnifer Goodwin’s Snow, prompting nods of agreement from everyone in the audience) and even though the show tries to end on a life-affirming note when Rumple reassures her that her Cora-repelling magic is entirely hers, it doesn’t quite gel.
As we’ve heard repeatedly, magic is strange beast that has all kinds of complications and side-effects, but let’s face it: Gold has negotiated Emma around like a puppet. And, in many ways, Snow is responsible for turning Regina into the queen beyotch that she is. And Regina is responsible for first introducing Belle and Rumple, and then tearing them apart, which contributed to the end of the curse and Gold’s puppetry of Emma. It’s like a vicious cycle, but using “magic” to explain everything overlooks the fact that Once is essentially a glorified soap-opera with way too many characters inching their storylines ahead a small piece at a time each week. Last season that wasn’t working because the stories were dull and the writing was poor. This season, with stronger characters, better plotting and a more engaging “conflict” (courtesy of Cora and Hook), the show has overcome those trappings. It’s not magic: it’s just a better constructed show.
All of which is to say that I’m looking forward to seeing what happens now that our various storylines are about to collide as Cora and Hook’s pirate ship descends on the sleepy town of Storybrooke.
- If the series has done anything correctly in its second season, it’s been to reduce the focus on both Emma and Henry (Jared Gilmore). If you’re not convinced that’s a good thing, consider the hilariously awkward acting from Morrison when she tries to battle Hook (somebody needs to go back to battle camp), or the whining/pleading of Henry as he tries to guilt-trip fake-mom Regina into believing Emma and Snow are returning through the vortex. Awe-inspiring in its awfulness
- Did anyone else get an Emperor Palpatine vibe when Regina sucks the evil green energy out of the well?
- Remember when we used to cheer for Rumple because he was misunderstood? It seems that the writers are so busy trying to “rescue” Regina (hence her recent transition into misunderstood remorseful former villain) that they’ve forgotten how to write for Gold. He’s far too eager to kill-off Snow and Emma, which seems short-sighted considering how special he knows Emma is…and how many magical portals there are to cross between lands
- So glad that Emilie de Ravin has become a series regular so that she can appear for approximately 5-10 seconds per episode. I mean, Belle is a complete bore, but still…if you’re got her you might as well use her
- Ditto Meghan Ory’s Red, who essentially exists in this episode to get knocked out by Rumple
- The lesbian vibes between Aurora (Sarah Bolger) and Mulan (Jamie Chung) have steadily been increasing these last few weeks, so there’s a dirty euphemism to be had when Mulan fists Aurora’s heart back into her chest. Thank goodness we have a new Disney-approved quest to resurrect Prince Phillip to occupy these two would-be lovers
- Finally, not to go all Tom & Lorenzo on you, but can we talk about Regina’s dress in the opening Fairy Tale flashback? Holy smokes! It’s hard to tell exactly what colour it is due to the green screen of death, but that thing is tight, nearly back-less and chock full of diamond-y embellishment. Easily one of the best costumes the show has ever done, though we could have done without the hilariously over-the-top hair. Not so good: the raven-inspired mourning outfit she sports when she believes Cora is dead. What the hell is up with that headband? Ugh!
- Cora (when Hook introduces himself by name): “What a clever nickname”
- Hook (describing the bean…and Emma): “Dried up, dead, useless.” Meow – how do you really feel?
- Emma (to Snow): “I haven’t done much since breaking the curse.” YOU DON’T SAY
- Emma (when Snow deciphers the scroll): “Whoa squid ink! Gold wrote the scroll in squid ink!” Um yeah, captain f*cking obvious. We got it
So that is it for the first half of the season. Were you surprised to learn why Hook and Cora are working together? Does it matter that Cora doesn’t intend to harm Regina? Did the image of a pirate ship descending on Storybrooke make you giggle? What about the Charming’s (Josh Dallas) “sleeping curse” pose, including legs casually crossed? Are you happy to have everyone reunited or will you miss the dueling narratives? Hit the comments below
Once Upon A Time has aired its last episode of 2012. It will return Sunday, Jan 6 with an episode that looks like it will reintroduce the boring Emma vs Regina guardianship debate (le sigh)