Last season on Once Upon a Time, the spell had been broken, Rumpelstiltskin and Belle had released magic back into Storybrooke, and Emma was still wearing that awful red leather jacket. Last season, the showrunners managed to stretch the storyline of Emma discovering the truth over twenty-two episodes, letting the focus deviate from Snow and Prince Charming to any character that may have been in a fairy tale at some point. The season was muddled with highs and lows, the highs being when they discarded the necessity to justify the camp and simply embraced it, the lows being the murder mysteries and the moments when the writers turned their show into a melodrama rather than lighthearted fairytale.
As this season begins there are a number of questions, rather than answers—what can you expect from some of the writers of LOST. What will be the main threat for our protagonists to fight, Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin, or Regina/The Evil Queen. Will we see more of Ruby, Archie and the Mad Hatter? Or will we be stuck with more Henry, played even more precociously than most child characters are. What will be the main focus?
Well, the beginning seems unsure, the first scene being of an entirely new character to the world we’ve known. Prince Phillip and a traveler has traveled to awaken Sleeping Beauty with what else, true love’s kiss. A creature swoops down on them during their escape and the mysterious member comes to a pendant, as Phillip declares that whatever just attacked them is obviously not good.
We’re back in real time and Snow and Charming stand in the middle of the road as the fog begins to clear. All of the townsfolk are gathering in a joyful remembrance. Where do they move on from here? Well firstly, they find their daughter and there Emma is. Emma is understandably awkward in the reunion, for she has none of the memories that her parents have.
The big question, however, is why are they all still in this world?
Mr. Gold and Belle are having a much needed discussion. She tells him that Regina has kept her locked up ever since they’ve been in this world. He is furious but she makes him tell her he won’t succumb to his evil, his hunger for revenge, and then they can be together. Easy, right? Well it’s Rumpelstiltskin, and he always has a trick up his sleeve, and never walks the line we believe him to.
Charming and Snow want to have the talk with Emma, but she’s hesitant. Her whole life she’s wondered who her parents could possibly be, and never, even in her wildest dreams, would she have guessed that they were fairytale characters. She needs some time to adjust, to even partially come to terms with the hand she’s been dealt.
The townsfolk begin to flood the streets as an angry mob to go and kill Regina. Emma and Henry with Archie’s aid decided that this isn’t an honorable decision. Archie, being Jiminy Cricket, is the obvious conscience for this scene, bringing sense to the small group that surrounds Emma. Regina may be evil, and she may have done them all horribly wrong, but even she doesn’t deserve a death by the hands of a mob. And if that’s what it comes to, are they better than her?
The mob turns up on Regina’s door, Doctor Whale at the head. (Are we ever going to find out who he really is? The whale from Pinocchio perhaps.) Regina tries to attack the crowd to find that her magic doesn’t work. Emma stops Whale and Snow decides that they need to lock her up. Behind bars Regina tells them that there is no land to go back to, they’re stuck in the town they’re in. Is she lying? Who knows, the writers could decide it does exist ten episodes in and justify it with magic. Rumpelstiltskin visits her and presses the pendant, the same one Mulan has, into Regina’s skin, and tells her to await her destiny.
In the fairytale world the mysterious traveler is revealed to be Mulan. An exciting prospect considering there can never be too little women warriors on primetime television. Mulan warns them both to stay away from the mark on the pendants.
Rumpelstiltskin goes out into the woods and as the Dark One, summons the wraith from the tale with Phillip, Sleeping Beauty and Mulan. In jail, the mark on Regina’s skin begins to burn. I can’t be the only one that has always held sympathy for Regina, right? Sure, she’s not labeled in the “good” territory, but there’s always been an understated vulnerability to her. Maybe it’s the way Lana Parrilla plays her, or maybe it’s the fact that while every other character can justify their actions with true love, why can’t she. She had a horrible manipulative mother who took the only thing that made her happy away from her, she chose evil over good because she had tried being good all her life and was never happy, maybe she believes that evil is the only way happiness is gained.
Snow and Charming want to talk. Snow wants the connection between her and her daughter. Emma agrees to it, begrudgingly. Emma says that for twenty-eight years, all she knew was that her parents gave her away. And no matter what heroic reasons they did it, it doesn’t change the fact that for all of her life, she had to be alone and that’s not a wound that she can shake.
We’re back again with Mulan and co. and they decide to stop for a while. Mulan and Sleeping Beauty are butting heads which seems unnecessary, why is it that two girls need to have tension? Phillip runs to get provisions.
The Charming family confronts Mr. Gold to ask him why he did what he did. He asks her instead, did Henry survive? Is the curse broken? How long have you been searching for your parents? He believes he deserves a thank you. He refuses, however, to tell them why he summoned magic. However, as the world outside turns dark, they realize that he’s summoned a beast that will take care of Regina for them. However, they being a virtuous trio, decide to go and figure it out. Once they do, Belle comes out and accuses Gold/Rumpelstiltskin of lying, of toying with words like he does with people. As he admits to it, while at the same time begging her to stay, it showcases the compelling factor in the character. We wish for him to be on the good side, for the evil in him to truly be vanquished. But as a bad, evil character, he’s so interesting. He’s had wrongs done to him and he, like Regina, has lost the people they love most. He spent most of his early life under the rule of others and believes that happiness equals power. Robert Carlyle, the best asset to the show, manages to keep his character interesting to watch no matter the situation or version of the character he’s playing.
In the fairytale world Mulan realizes that Phillip was marked and he walked off to save Sleeping Beauty. Mulan rushes off to save him. As Mulan is on his trail Sleeping Beauty sneaks up on her. Mulan admonishes saying that she is his best chance at survival, which Beauty takes as love. Of course. There can never be a storyline where two women aren’t fighting each other over a man, can there? They find him and try to convince him to not give up his life but he refuses and tells them to protect each other. The wraith swoops in and sucks the soul out of Phillip.
In Storybrooke, the beast is coming for Regina. It knocks the door down and begins to attack but Snow White, Emma and Charming are here for her rescue. They fight it away before it sucks the soul out of humans. It’s not dead, it’s simply regenerating, and it won’t stop until it’s got it’s prey. So they decide to send it where it can’t reach anyone else. Regina takes them to her house and grabs the hat of the Mad Hatter that will take it away into oblivion.
She tries to get the hat to work as the wraith tries to attack, but it’s not working, magic is different here. Emma touches Regina though, and then it works. Does Emma have magic now? Or is it just because she is the one who broke the spell? The portal opens and Emma gets sucked in and Snow jumps in after her, not wanting to lose her daughter again. Charming tries to go in as well, but what we learned last season comes in handy, because only two souls can enter the hat at a time. Charming and Regina are left behind, unable to reach the two that have just disappeared. Where are they going? Neverland, Wonderland? Oblivion like Regina suggested?
Mulan and Sleeping Beauty stand above Phillip’s broken body, wishing him farewell, saying their last goodbyes. Now, the two women are closer, of course, a joined camaraderie over the man that both loved and lost.
Charming yells at Regina, asking them whether or not his daughter and wife are dead. Regina attacks Charming just as Henry comes in and accuses her of being truly evil after all. Charming takes Henry away from the house to leave Regina on her own to deal with her severe personality change alone.
Belle comes back to talk to Rumpelstiltskin and tries to sway him. He tells her to go, saying that he is still a monster, and that, she says, is exactly why she needs to stay. In every tale, there is always an answer to evil, more often than not love, because fairytale clichés are easy and cutsey and fit with the theme. The writers could easily make the direction of the show go in favor of Rumpelstiltskin’s redemption, since it seems like Regina’s the only character unwilling to allow leeway and is the only one seemingly irredeemable.
Mulan explains that the part of the land they were in was untouched by the Evil Queen’s spell, why? They don’t know. And I’d wager the writers are still coming up with that one themselves. More importantly however, is the fact that this is where Snow and Emma have been transported. What does this mean for the season? Are we going to have to wait twenty one more episodes for the mother-daughter duo to be reunited with Charming and Henry? We’ll see.
This episode served its purpose. It wrapped up storylines from the season one finale and it set the main focus of season two into action. However, it was bumpy along the way. Why did Regina go from helpful and understanding, to evil again? Was it due to the magic being returned to her and her power being reinstated? Or because the writers needed it that way with or without explanation. Why was Mulan’s part of the world untouched? For some understandable reason? Or because they needed a way for Emma and Snow to end up there? Will Phillip stay dead and allow a fairytale Princess to be without her Prince? Or will the showrunners go the typical route and awaken him by true love’s kiss?
This season could go one of two ways. It’s could delve deeper into the absurd and unanswered questions, or it could solidify a great storyline with interesting characters that already have developed fan bases. The CGI is already greatly improved and the on-location set of Storybrooke—that this Mainer can say is definitely not shot in Maine—is beautiful and adds a magical, atmospheric feel. This show is best when it has a clear direction rather when they create filler episodes. It’s best when it’s exciting and unpredictable and nearly unwatchable when it’s boring and saccharine. It’s a fine line the writers are walking and viewers either love the show or can’t stand it.
It was a good start to the season. Now we just have to see where it goes from here.