Remember Lost? Sure you do, it only ended a couple of years ago. Remember how the original storyline, although complex and exciting, essentially began as a show where the impending storyline was laid out. Survivors of a plane crash are stuck on a mysterious island; such survivors must learn to work as a team and survive the island together and reach safety. Then of course it became all about love triangles, the polar bears, the black mist, the Others and whatever else happened. The first episode of Once Upon a Time promised a basic premise as well, although keeping it fun. Emma comes to town, brought there by her son to break a spell put on all of the people of Storybrooke by the Evil Queen.
Then of course it spiraled out of control. Does it surprise you that both of these shows had some of the same individuals penning the storylines? The problem in this episode is that it highlighted the discrepancy between the two. Once Upon a Time has all of the failings that Lost did but without the same caliber of talent. It’s a cute show; it’s fun and easy to watch and by no means “bad television.” However, it seems to be throwing away the clear potential it has to be great with convoluted storylines and plots running in every which way.
Tonight starts out with Prince Charming as he goes to Regina/The Evil Queen to interrogate her about the Mad Hatter’s magic hat that took Snow and Emma back into the fairy tale world. He tells her that the only reason she’s still alive is because Henry wishes it so. They verbally spar for a while, both arguing as the better parent, and while I would argue neither, it’s obvious that the Prince is set out to be the good guy.
We flashback to Regina two days before she’s set to be Queen, and it’s a testament to Lana Parrilla’s dedication to the character that the past and present versions seem like polar opposites. In the flashback she is still mildly hopeful, she has not yet succumbed to the taint of magic and the power it can bring.
Grumpy and his crew go to the town lines, trying to build the courage to pass through. Sneezy, took the first step and reacted to the magic. The twist of this episode is that if you cross the border to Storybrooke, you lose your memories of your true self all over again. The show runners need to be wary, for they’re piling on the subplots. Although the possibilities of this twist are interesting and full of potential, it’s a lot to balance with every other current storyline.
Regina is trying to regain her magic when Jiminy Cricket/Archie comes to try and talk to her about the pain she’s going through. I’ve always thought of Archie as being one of the more interesting characters on the show, ever since the episode dedicated to him last season, so I’m hoping this allows him more scenes. Raphael Sbarge is a more than capable actor, especially on this show, and I would love to see him interact with more characters, rather than just being the voice of reason every once and a while.
We flashback to when Snow was a young girl. Regina and her showcase some great chemistry. Regina daydreams about killing Snow for what she did and is scared, realizing that she’s turning more and more into her mother, allowing anger to swallow her up. She speaks to her father about her troubles and he tells her to be easy on her mother, that she hadn’t been the same since she got the book of magic from a mysterious man. In Storybrooke, Regina runs to Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin to get the book back from him, since, seemingly, he holds each and every thing magical item in his little shop. Angry, she accuses him of not wanting them all to go back home. He gives her the book, not to help, as we all can assume by now.
Last week, I said that it seems as if the writers are trying their best to not allow Regina the same sympathy as every other character on the show that’s done something wrong. However, with this week’s installment I may have to take back my previous statements. While she is undoubtedly seeking for power in Storybrooke, her past shows us a vulnerable Regina, where she did everything she could for happiness, and always failed. She tried being good and honest and true and lost everything she loved. She was left with the idea that only with power could she obtain the life she desired and instead, it left her as a shell of her past self, a caricature of everything she had tried to distance herself from. The showrunners made a good choice in exploring her background because now she’s more than a villainous cartoon, but a character who had stakes and lost and is now trying, in all the wrong ways of course, to make up for the love that she missed.
Regina in her past summons Rumpelstiltskin. She learns that he taught her mother all about magic. He tells her he knew her long ago, claiming to know that this day would come. They’re back together, he says, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. Rumpelstiltskin speaks of their connection—he held he when she was a baby. He wonders how much they could accomplish if they worked together. She tries to rule out magic, saying that she doesn’t wish to turn out like her mother. He shows her a way to rid herself of her mother’s clutches. She won’t be killing her, just sending her to another world. The two have always had an interesting dynamic, Lana Parrilla and Robert Carlyle having always been, arguably, on the higher tier of acting on this show. Both damaged, both interpreted differently by audiences, both labeled as the “bad guy.” They bring depth to their characters and make a viewer, such as myself, root for them, no matter the evils they’ve committed.
Prince Charming is practicing his speech for the townspeople, but keeps messing up despite Henry’s encouragement. Charming tells Henry that Snow was always the speaker as he fought it out with enemies. Charming rushes out to speak to Mr. Gold. He’s there to buy something that can help find a missing person. He won’t allow any information to slip out about his plan, not wanting Mr. Gold to have anything to hold over his head. Before giving the potion to Charming, Mr. Gold tells him that all he wants is peace, and Charming tells him that they’re all stuck in Storybrooke, since passing the town lines means memory loss. This promptly causes a hissy fit on Gold’s side.
At the town meeting, they wait for Charming to come but instead, the Evil Queen walks in, trying to scare them into respect. She begins to terrorize them until Henry steps forward, offering himself up to her so that she stops hurting them. She takes him and leaves, leaving a panicked town in her wake.
When they reach her house Henry immediately tries to escape but is caught in the act. Regina is perplexed by his attitude. Sure, she lied to him in the past and has done him wrong, but now she can be honest with him. He can learn magic from her and he can have friends over and live a life full of happiness. He retorts that no one will want to be friends with him out of their fear of her. Or maybe because he’s one of the most annoying child characters on television right now. She says she can make them love him, but he says he doesn’t wish to turn out like her. Here lies the root of many of Regina’s missteps. She can buy almost anything with the power she’s been given, but true love cannot be bought and must be earned.
This leads us to the flashback where, upon being threatened with a lifelong relationship with her mother, Regina pushes her into a mirror which turns out to be a portal into another land. Later as she tries to escape, Rumpelstiltskin catches up with her and she confides that ridding herself of her mother’s overwhelming need to control, felt great. She says the magic and the power, felt amazing.
Back in Storybrooke, Charming has run into the Mad Hatter and is trying to get answers out of him of how he can travel back into the world where Emma and Snow reside. However, the Hatter evades his questions and runs off. Charming is stopped by Red who tells him that Henry was taken by Regina and the townspeople are threatening to run away out of fear. Charming goes to Regina’s, prepared to fight for his grandson; until she tells him it’s no use. She’s giving Henry back. She gives a heartfelt speech about how she, from now on, wants to deserve his love and after going so long without it, it will take some getting used to. Great development for the character, hopefully it lasts.
The next order of business is stopping the townspeople. Charming and Red rush towards the border and he climbs upon his truck to speak to the frightened crowd and gives an impassioned speech. He speaks of how if they cross over they will be losing their true selves. Sure, he doesn’t like the man he was when he was David, he was weak and he deserted the woman he loved, but it’s a part of him now. David is a warning of whom he could be. The David part of him is what inspires him to be a better man. This addresses one of the more interesting aspects of the show: the fairy tale characters alter egos and their short comings. In Storybrooke, Red is insecure, while in reality she’s brave and cunning, Archie has dubious morals and will lie to contort people’s outlooks, rather than being a conscience for misguided souls. Charming presses the idea that without these parts of themselves that are flawed, they cannot truly work together to achieve greatness. It’s a very good scene in a lackluster episode and Josh Dallas delivers, allowing viewers to believe that he is in fact capable of heroics and leadership.
The episode ends with the discovery that Snow and Emma are now imprisoned by Mulan and her company of survivors. When put into a cell, the big revelation of the week comes. (One that I’m embarrassed for not catching.) Regina’s mother, Cora, is alive and well and with them now.
Currently, we have four different streams of storytelling taking place. We have the flashbacks that characters have for exposition purposes, we have the current stream that takes place in Storybrooke, we have the fairy tale world that Emma, Snow and co. are in, and now we have the world where all of our characters could possibly lose their memories once more. Not to mention the outside world that resides a little past Storybrooke. These are a lot of timelines for show runners to manage, on top of the ever-growing list of characters who all seem to have some traumatic upbringing or moment in time that turned their personality, that the showrunners like to spend time on. This would be fine, if the focus was only on a few core characters but the show has yet to focus and zero in on who is important and who will be given the greatest amount of depth.
This show has potential, and a lot of it, due to the pre-existing stories of these characters. Stories are fascinating when they take worlds we knew and turn them on their heads. The problem is that this show needs to determine what direction they’re going in, rather than trying to cram as many possible storylines into their show as they can. The busier it gets the more confusing it will be. And in this case, the more boring. I like this show, but I’m going to need a clearer chain of events before getting settled in in their current world, because I don’t know when they’ll change next.