Viewers tuned in to the sophomore season of Once Upon A Time with much anticipation over what would happen next to our favorite residents of Storybrooke, Maine. With the curse broken, everyone has remembered their true identities. But no one returned to the Enchanted World. Using the last of his magic, Mr. Gold, now revealed to all as the double-dealing Dark One Rumplestiltskin, casts a spell that brings magic to Storybrooke. Magic is now loose in a land without magic.
In these times of fickle viewing tastes, it’s become hard to survive a freshman year, and sophomore seasons have always been tricky to find the right mix of moving a story forward while pleasing the audience enough to keep them tuning in every week. Once Upon A Time is better situated than many shows, a fantasy fairy tale show backed by the power and rights of the Disney Company. The ability to mix the true fairy tale versions of the characters with the Disney-fied versions is an asset for the show. But the creative team still has to deliver with solid, believable stories and not let the umbrella plot stagnate or go over the top.
Once Upon A Time tells a complicated story with an array of characters. Prior to the season 2 premiere, a recap of the first season aired. It was an interesting, understandable explanation of the overall plot and the main characters. Even with all the different ways the characters are interconnected in both worlds, the path didn’t twist so that it was hard to follow, even though one of the staples of the show has become the unexpected plot twist.
Due to the late start on reviews, I’m going to summarize this first episode and then jump ahead to current instead of individually breaking down break down the elements I think are working or not working for the story. The season started solid, but as the season progresses, viewer numbers have experienced a noticeable drop.
Episode One, “Broken”, doesn’t even begin in Storybrooke. Right off, a new character is thrown at us. Clues scattered through his apartment reveal definite connections to the people of Storybrooke. By pigeon, a postcard from Storybrooke is delivered. The message is one word, “Broken”. It raised the question, “Who is this guy?” and “Why is he not in Storybrooke?”
Emma, Snow, and Charming are overwhelmed by the knowledge of instant family. Overjoyed to have their daughter back, Snow and Charming are trying to make up for the lost years with over-parenting. The only problem is Emma is grown, and for all 28 years she’s been on her own. She’s not ready to embrace the “Let’s all be family” philosophy. The townspeople are in a fury, and it’s directed at the Evil Queen, Regina. Charming, Snow, and Emma are forced to protect Regina from the mob. Now they’ve remembered who they are, I like the newfound dynamic of Charming and Snow as the protectors of the people against forces like the Evil Queen and the Dark One. Regina claims the Enchanted Land was destroyed by the curse, and there’s no where for the people to go back to.
Even with the curse broken, there are still stories to tell from the Enchanted Land. We meet a trio of new characters straight from the Disney vaults — Prince Phillip, Princess Aurora, and Mulan. The prince awakens the sleeping beauty inside her thorny castle. Only his sidekick is Mulan, and the princess is being kept not by an evil witch, but a Dementor. Oops, sorry, wrong franchise. They’re calling it a Wraith, but by any other standard, it’s a complete rip-off of the Harry Potter Dementors. The minute the creature appeared on-screen, my older daughter and I both pointed and shouted, “Dementor!” This fairy land story was not one of my favorites. I did not connect with either Aurora (wimpy, wimpy, wimpy) or Mulan (hefty, hefty, hefty). Ya’ll know that jingle, too.
Rumple/Gold brought magic back, but it works differently in the Storybrooke world. Regina is having trouble even getting her magic to work. Rumple’s first use of his new power is to get revenge on Regina for locking up his true love, Belle. He summons the Wraith from the Enchanted Land and marks Regina as its prey. He did promise Belle that he wouldn’t kill Regina.
Emilie de Ravin’s portrayal of Belle has made her one of my favorite characters. She brings out the sweet, kind princess-y side of Belle without being syrupy and imbues her with independence and resolve at the same time. Belle can even see good still exists in Rumplestiltskin and loves him for the man he could be, the man she wants to help him be. Everyone should know by now that I adore Robert Carlyle. I’m glad that a wide portion of the American viewing audience can now see what a talented man he is. He has made the dual Rumple/Gold role his own. As Rumplestiltskin, he’s the powerful, evil wizard, the cajoling, persuasive dealmaker, and everyone’s crazy aunt. The word “dearie” now has a whole new connotation. Every time he says it, he manages to give it a different emphasis. It could be the Once Upon a Time drinking game — every time Rumple or Gold says “Dearie”. For teetotalers, you can still participate — tea, soda, coffee, or water works too.
The hat returns. Jefferson’s hat hasn’t been destroyed; Regina has it. The plan is to use the hat to banish the Wraith to a different world. Eventually, the plan works, but the Wraith catches Emma and pulls her into the portal with it. Snow is determined not to lose her daughter again, especially since she just found her, and jumps into the hat after Emma. Charming tries to follow, but the portal closes and the hat is smashed and useless. David is left in Storybrooke, and Emma and Snow are elsewhere. He’s determined to find where they are, but there’s a more pressing matter: Henry. David embraces his instant grandfather status and takes charge of Henry.
It’s a solid start to the second season, continuing the story from its end last season and promising new threads. But one thread is still loose — why should we care about Mulan and Aurora? That’s the big twist. The Enchanted Land story is sideways; it has occurred at the same time as the Storybrooke story. A part of the Enchanted Land survived the curse. As Mulan and Aurora leave the castle, they make a startling discovery. Emma and Mary Margaret/Snow White have been cast into the Enchanted Land.