“Once Upon a Time” – Queen of Hearts midseason finale review 3

Regina (Lana Parrilla) gets a moment alone with Henry (Jared Gilmore)

★★½☆☆

Let’s talk finales.

What makes a good one? Often times it’s the penultimate episode that really throws all of the punches and manages to inflict the most emotional impression. Think of shows such as Breaking Bad and Shameless which have both raised the stakes in the penultimate episode, heightened the tension, and then allowed the finale to be the one that puts the pieces back into place or at the very least resolve them. Depending on what type of show it is, whether it’s comedy, drama or that weird in-between, the stakes will greatly differ. On a show such as Once Upon a Time where the characters have been forcefully separated for the first nine episodes of the second season and their entire journey has been to reach each other. Up until last week’s episode the plot was at a stalemate, barely moving, inching forward at a slow pace. Yet last week’s pace picked up, dusted off some poorly used characters and sparked my interest again, albeit tentatively.

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This week I went in with some optimism hoping that show creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz had finally regained their sense of storyline and what direction they were taking it. Maybe they’d use all of their characters to their best potential, not allow the cornball effect of the show to sacrifice the actual quality.

Ultimately, after spending half of the hour with my head barely sticking out of my sweatshirt out of second hand embarrassment, I discarded that optimism and came to the conclusion that this winter hiatus is the best possible thing that could happen to the show. Let’s hope beloved characters will draw audiences back in after break and their dedication will override the absolute mess that this midseason finale was.

Herein lies the major, big, big, big, problem with the episode “The Queen of Hearts.” The showrunners seemed to be working off of a checklist. Explain Cora and Regina’s past connections with Hook? Check. Get Emma and Snow to the lake that would take them home, check. Fix Aurora’s heart, wake up David with “true love,” annoy your audience with even more Henry scenes, knock out Red—one of your only interesting characters—have all of your happy go-lucky characters walking down the street in one of the most contrived shots in the show’s history—all clapped backs and springs in their steps. Check, check, check, check. They wrapped up all of the storylines, sure, but they did so with zero enthusiasm for their characters. I understand that half of your overpopulated cast can grate on the nerves, Kitsis and Horowitz, but rather than succumbing to that truth, why not instead try to convince your, admittedly larger than I’d expect, fanbase that they are all worth rooting for, all worth the time and effort put into watching this show. The entire reason people latched on last year, including myself, was because the forbidden love story between Mary Margaret and David was compelling and Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin have amazing chemistry, and because Rumpelstiltskin and The Evil Queen were interesting, multi-layered villains. Also because the show had yet to be overridden with so many characters that it was difficult to equally distribute storylines.

The show had a charm. It wasn’t trying to be the next best drama on primetime television such as Breaking Bad, Homeland, or Mad Men. It was created for the sole purpose of escapism. While other shows are anxiety-inducing this was the relief. It was an hour of magic, sentimentality and love stories. Now, however, with its missteps equaling if not surpassing its triumphs it’s hard to describe the show as a simple “feel good” since it incites such annoyance.

To begin, Emma’s storyline this week was frankly ridiculous. I feel for Jennifer Morrison who showed in the first five minutes of 2009’s Star Trek that she’s better than what’s being written here. Morrison is much better when given the chance to actually emote and have fun with her role. The show decided that this episode Emma was going to be the monotone savior who exudes zero charisma. It’s amazing how tiny changes could so greatly improve her performance.

Now to the actual plot. Emma and the rest of the awesome band of ladies get locked in Rumpelstiltskin’s cell by Cora and Hook and are left to dwell on Aurora’s missing heart and the message from Rumple about squid ink being the key to their safety. They find a piece of paper that has Emma’s name written repeatedly on it and after some soul searching and deliberating Snow realizes that her name is their key, like she is their savior. The note was written in squid ink and they use that to unlock their cell and Mulan, Emma and Snow all race off to catch Cora and Hook before they’re able to make passage back to Storybrooke.

They make it there in time and what ensues is one of the most lackluster fight scenes I’ve ever seen whether it be on television or film. It was slowly choreographed, badly shot by director Ralph Hemecker in a way that made the fight look sloppy and almost as if it were the actors on their first day of practicing for it, rather than actors that have fully cleaned up the routine. Listen, I’m not adverse to camp. Doctor Who is one of my favorite shows after all. At least with that show you know they’re putting their all into the graphics and action sequences. With this they looked like they were barely trying at all.

Cora at one point overpowers Snow and Emma after Mulan has raced back to Aurora to deliver her heart and Hook has been knocked out by a feeble punch by Emma. She’s about to pull Snow’s heart from her when Emma pushes her out of the way and ends up with Cora’s hand in her chest instead. It then proceeds to get stuck because, guess this, since she was born by true love she has some magic in her.

Look we all get it, love is more powerful than evil. We’ve all read the Harry Potter series which did it better. I don’t know about you but my eyes were almost stuck in the back of my head after rolling them at this new plot development.

Snow and Emma triumph in the end and jump into the lake and back into Storybrooke.

Where the storyline is little better, by maybe a hair.

Rumple has managed to manipulate Regina into believing that it would be in her best interest, as well as everyone’s, to block the well in case that it’s Cora climbing out the other side of it, not Emma and Snow. He plays to her weakness in her adoration for Henry and she agrees, hesitantly.

This, this is why I don’t understand the fans need to paint Rumple as this tortured victim. He’s had a hard past but his refusal to grow, to let go of her dark magic, is what makes him different than Regina who’s been actively trying to better herself and yet receives ten times the flak from audiences.

I’d cite sexism as the cause but this is neither the time nor place, although I wish it were.

So they venture on down to the well with some fancy fairy magic and light it ablaze with lighting sort of spells hoping to stop the impending doom that is Cora. However, Grumpy had alerted Red—who is probably sheriff now that David is comatose—and she and Henry race down to stop them.

Once there, Henry irritatingly preaches to Regina about how good always conquers evil, how she said she would change and how he knows that Emma and Snow will succeed.

She softens with him and she goes and stops the spell. Just as she does a hand appears over the edge and Emma is reunited with Henry.

They give a brief thank you to Regina and then race off because Snow has a Charming to awaken.

They kiss; true love wins again, although if they don’t start showing us their love rather than telling us, I may have to quit any investment I ever had in the couple. The merry gang of fairytale characters all congratulate each other on a job well done and walk to Granny’s in a sort of 80’s teen movie with every component except for the fist pump and charm, leaving Regina is their cornball wake.

She, in the scene, is the redeeming factor of the entire episode. She’s done something good, she’s done something for someone else’s benefit rather than her own, and yet she’s still left behind, empty and lonely. Lana Parrilla is great in this scene, managing to portray her disappointment in her face with subtlety and it would have been moving had the other forty minutes of the episode hadn’t been such a mess.

The episode ends with, of course, a cliffhanger. Check. Hook and Cora have beaten the odds and are still on the way to Storybrooke, by way of ship, don’t ask me how. After the hiatus they’ll continue to be the two baddies, but other than that I can’t help but wonder what on earth they’ll do for storylines.

Here’s hoping whatever they choose is better than what they’ve done with the last nine hours of their show.

Now let’s all breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to other, undoubtedly better finales and hope that when the show returns it does so reinvigorated and with a sense of story. Otherwise, it will be a long season ahead of us.