It’s season finale time on Once Upon A Time. The second half of the adventure focuses on Greg (Ethan Embry) and Tamara’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) plan to blow Storybrooke off the map. So why do we spend so much freaking time exploring Hook’s (Colin O’Donoghue) reformed bad boy pirate?
Let’s bitch it out…Like much of the second season, ‘And Straight On ‘Til Morning’ has a great deal of potential. Potential which is, unfortunately for us, completely squandered. After twenty-one uneven, poorly plotted, often tedious episodes, S2 of Once Upon A Time stumbles across the finish line to finish a particularly forgettable season. Ladies and gentlemen, let us hope that this is the final hour of the show’s sophomore slump.
Where last we saw our group, Greg and Tamara had bested everyone and made off with both the magic portal-opening beans, as well as the crystal of destruction that can completely destroy Storybrooke and everyone magical inside. This week begins promisingly as Storybrooke begins to break apart (though the CGI foliage is pathetically done and it barely registers as more than a few minor earthquakes that require actors to stumble).
Almost immediately we’re into danger territory, which should involve death and heartarche and sacrifice. Unfortunately, as Oliver Sava explains over at AV TV, there’s a distinct lack of danger. Fun fact: creating a palpable sense of terror and destruction requires occasionally showing more than a few people running down the street. Thankfully there is a touch of sacrifice as Regina (Lana Parrilla) decides to embrace martyrdom and hold off the destruction while the others cut and run. In many ways this makes sense: she one of the most powerful characters on the show, and it reinforces the (on and off again) sympathetic make-over the show has been working on her since the start of S2.
Let’s be honest, though. The show was never going to kill the Evil Queen. No, this show telegraphs its major deaths for months, or they kill off unimportant characters. Parrilla – and the Queen – are core cast, so she was never going anywhere and we all knew it. How do we know? Because this show plays it safe, and the writers pretend that it’s family friendly, which means cutesy, fairytale romances and mustache-twirling villains and familiar storylines. It’s all part and parcel for the predictable narrative that the show loves to tell.
The obvious, “safe” direction of the show has contributed largely to a lacklustre second season. In last year’s finale Once showed remarkable ambition by embracing magic and changing the entire landscape of the show. This year the writers appear to have panicked at the last minute. Instead of getting another game-changer, they’ve opted instead for a groan-worthy last minute “happily ever after” cop-out. It’s hardly surprising that a) Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Regina can reverse the supposedly inevitable destruction of town and b) this occurs because everyone group hugs and decides that family is the most important thing.
To be honest, this would have been a satisfactory, albeit slightly boring, resolution, but it would have been accidental. We could have even ended with a tease of a larger looming threat by the group behind Greg and Tamara’s attack.
Instead Henry (Jared Gilmore) is kidnapped (because, of course, he is). So what was a boring, relatively “safe” finale, suddenly becomes a completely off-the-rails “oh come on” viewing experience as the writers more or less replicate the final moments of S1. With Henry’s disappearance into the wormhole, we know exactly what to expect from S3 and that, for better or worse, is more of exactly the same. Yes, folks, S3 will involve our core cast hitting the road on a rescue mission in a strange new land as we cut back and forth between redundant “character”-developing flashbacks. Because this format worked so well this past season, why not do it all over again next season?
Herein lies one of my biggest critiques of the show: it’s staunch refusal to do something new. If ever a show needed to stop relying on a) other worlds and b) Lost-style flashbacks, this is it. It’s been two seasons of exactly the same thing, and the laws of diminishing returns has not been favourable to either of these elements! Not only do the flashbacks fail to reveal anything new (hey, did you know that Hook is a villain with a heart of gold? Shocker); they detract from the show’s pacing. Mix this issue with the writers propensity to simply toss someone into another world every few episodes to shake things up and it’s clear that the show is simply hitting the reset button season after season
Think about it – the set-up for S3 is eerily similar to S2, only now we have to go back and forth between Storybrooke, Fairy Tale Land and new location, NeverLand. Or rather, those who stick with the show do. Because I cannot fathom doing this again for another 22 poorly constructed episodes. Good riddance, Once Upon A Time.
- So let me get this straight: Charming (Josh Dallas) and Hook can’t take out Greg and Tamara? How in any world is this possible? It’s simply not believable that the two wouldn’t have been caught and strung up by their fingers considering the magical powers of the people in this town! Oh wait, this is the second week in a row that this has happened!
- Also, how do Greg and Tamara (presumably) manage to catch a wormhole to NeverLand as opposed to, say, Fairy Tale Land or Wonderland? For humans, they sure do seem adept at negotiating the magical principles of beans
- The least relatable storyline of the night involves Rumple (Robert Carlyle) declaring he won’t help save the town…because why? After finding out that Neal (Michael Raymond-James) got sucked down the wormhole, he retreats to his pawn shop and waffles on feeding “Lacey” (Emilie DeRavin) a conveniently created memory-fixing elixir for the majority of the finale. Umm…what? It reminds me of how Heroes found increasingly convoluted ways to keep Hiro busy because he could have easily stopped any and all threats. Rumple’s entire storyline just feels like a delay tactic
- Side Note: watching Rumple and Belle kiss makes me gag a little. Carlyle and DeRavin have no chemistry together
- How hilarious is the scene when Rumple tries to impale Henry on a jagged rock by slooooowly fraying the ropes of his swing? And then Rumple tells Emma and the gang he’s spending time with his grandson, even though he’s clearly 30 feet away and hasn’t interacted with him? Oh man, I nearly died
- I’m imagining Morrison and Parrilla receiving instructions on how to shoot their “defusing the crystal” scene: “shake a little. Now look like you’re concentrating. No, not constipated, Jennifer. That’s right…now imagine pathetic CGI lightning bolts shooting into the crystal. Good!”
- Finally, is anyone excited to see Mulan (Jamie Chung), Aurora (Sarah Bolger) and Prince Philip? Anyone? Bueller? Oh sorry, because ABC thinks you want to spend another whole season with them. Aren’t you so excited you could kill someone?!
- Charming (describing his actions if Hook betrays them): “I’ll go with him and if he tries anything I’ll shoot him in the face.” Shoot him in the face? How descriptive!
For the final time, let’s discuss Once Upon A Time: did the finale win you over? Did you find anything surprising? Do you still like the flashback model, or do you agree that it’s holding the series back? Are you excited to visit NeverLand and see a villainous portrayal of Peter Pan or are you dreading the introduction of yet another world? Hit the comments below and should you decide to keep watching, I hope that the show somehow redeems itself
Once Upon A Time has completed its second season and returns in the fall on ABC