Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And some stories then have an epilogue, followed by a sequel, followed by a third sequel that’s better than the second but not as good as the first but overall forms kind of a nice story, and then they ruin it by tacking on a fourth sequel several years later that only has a couple of the same characters, and then there’s a gritty reboot that doesn’t acknowledge the previous versions but still has some in-jokes that make all the nerds wet their pants, and the point is that not every story does, in fact, have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
You may not believe it from the mad ramblings I throw at you every week, but I’m a storyteller. I was trained to be one, or at least that’s what the degree I’ll be getting in five months will say. I know the best place for a story to begin, the kinds of twists and turns it needs to take along the way, and the ideal place for it to end while leaving the audience juuuuust satisfied enough to appreciate the story and juuuuust curious enough to write fanfiction about it. This is my territory. I know it well.
And yet I don’t understand season 2 of Once Upon A Time.
When last we left our fairytale heroes, the evil queen’s curse had just been broken. Charming and Snow White were finally together, knowing who they were and who their daughter was. Emma accepted them as, if not true parents, very influential people in her life. Rumpelstiltskin/Gold and Belle were together and she remembered who she was. And Regina… was still kind of pissy, I guess, but I don’t think that’ll ever go away.
To the average person, this would be a great place to leave things. But instead we go back to the fairytale world, the one we thought was destroyed. Turns out a small corner of it survived, filled with other storybook characters like Prince Philip and Princess Aurora and Mul— hold on, Mulan is a real-life character. What the actual f*ck. Anyway, somehow Emma and Snow fall into this nonsense and end up hanging out with rebels and Hurley from Lost and some b*tch named Cora who turns out to be Regina’s mom, all of whom are super interested in getting to Storybrooke and being accepted there. And then once they get there, everyone is super interested in getting back to Fairytale Land, because apparently no one can make up their minds.
In this season, I see five main conflicts. I’m sure someone will pipe up and say, “No, you’re wrong, there’s like forty-seven and that’s just the main characters,” but be quiet, please, because reasons.
One. Snow White struggles with her past relationship with Regina and the role she ultimately plays in Cora’s death. Snow has always been true to her name: pure, innocent, and utterly unsullied. She’s the height of morality and do-goodiness and oh whoops, moral crisis, there goes Regina’s mom. And her heart starts blackening as a result.
This is interesting because, when storybook characters die, we never see survivor’s remorse, or guilt, or any of those emotions that apparently accompany causing another person’s death. We just see the triumphant hero striding off into the sunset, carrying the fair maiden in their arms and riding a horse that totally wasn’t there two minutes ago. We don’t see the aftermath, so it’s nice to see it here, even if it’s handled in the same overwrought way as every other emotional issue in this show.
Overall, I think Snow is doing a pretty crappy job of combating her own darker nature. She’s not handling it like a mature adult at all. Instead, she’s asking Regina to kill her, deliberately placing herself in danger, and jumping at any opportunity to return to the place she still thinks of as “home,” because that’s a place where she was a person she can actually live with. She doesn’t seek recompense or therapy, but instead spirals into a pretty serious state of self-destruction, and the only person who seems to notice is Charming. But that’s something, because not everyone has a support system, no matter how much they might need one.
Two. Regina, too, is struggling with her own evil nature. But this time, she’s trying to cope with the hatred of everyone whose lives she ruined, as well as that of her adopted son, Henry. She becomes a pariah overnight, but she loses her magic, too, making her just as human as everyone else. Of course she gets the magic back, because hello, story, but Regina comes to realize that her son will never want to see her again if she doesn’t get that sh*t under control.
So she gives up the magic. She tries to control her temper. She legitimately makes an effort to be a better human being. And what happen? Still hated. Still outcast. The only thing that’s changed is the main group’s attitude, which ranges from mistrust to abject pity. And it’s better to be hated than to be pitied, in my opinion. But Regina doesn’t feel the same way, so she goes back to her old self, magics all over the place, and generally wreaks havoc.
At the end of the season, though, she does manage to redeem herself, not only for her recent actions but for those she made when Storybrooke first came into existence, by saving the town and everyone in it from a sort of magical self-destruct. Now, I guarantee you that her near-sacrifice will have no effect on anyone and that they’ll hate her just as much as ever next season, but it shows growth on her part that she was willing to give her life for everyone else when they’ve done nothing but treat her like crap. The old entitled Regina would’ve left them to die, so it’s nice to see her regaining a little of her humanity.
Three. When the curse breaks, a stranger, Greg, finds his way into Storybrooke—the first stranger since Emma. Remember Regina’s actions I just mentioned, the ones when Storybrooke first showed up? A man and his son came into town then, just like now, and she killed the father and ditched the son: Greg. When he grew up, Greg returned to find out what happened to his father and to avenge his death with the help of his scheming sweetheart, Tamara.
The main group has their hands full trying to keep him from finding out about all the magic in town, and Emma is trying to be mature about the fact that Tamara’s here (I’ll explain why in a second), and Henry is convinced there’s more going on, because he’s like twelve and everything is a conspiracy—or at least that’s what everyone else thinks, so even though he was right about everything last season and has proven himself pretty damn mature, it takes a while for Emma to believe him, and even then she’s barely tolerating his ideas.
After the chaotic first half of the season that is Cora, Greg and Tamara feel like a bit of a letdown as the new villains. They’re almost comically evil, so focused on their vendetta and on informing everyone exactly why they’re revenging that there’s no more interest in it. They almost seem disinterested themselves, and not just in the plan, but in each other, too. For a couple that’s supposed to be madly in love, the actors have no real chemistry.
Four. Emma’s pissed that Tamara is around because Tamara is engaged to Neal, Henry’s father. But that pales in comparison to the real family connection, which is that Neal is Baelfire, Rumpelstiltskin’s son. It kinda turns out that them getting together was fate (or something), because Henry’s now some special kid born of the only two Fairytale Land people ever to leave, and now there’s some big plot significance where he’s concerned.
But the main part of this conflict is Neal dealing with his feelings of betrayal. Rumpelstiltskin abandoned him to maintain his own power, and Neal got swept through a bunch of worlds as a result. Now Gold is trying to repair that relationship, but he isn’t having a lot of luck. That, at least, rings true for me. Neal’s anger and hurt are easily apparent to me, but that also might be because he’s not exactly a closed book.
Five. Hook is pissed at Gold for taking his love and his hand. He refers to Gold as “the crocodile” (yes, that crocodile) and is hell-bent on taking his revenge. Honestly, though, this isn’t a particularly compelling plot thread, as revenge-taking does tend to get old when it drags on for a while without any actual revenging.
Remember what I said about beginnings, middles, and ends? All those conflicts could’ve fit into a movie. Season one: movie. Season two: sequel. Season three: trilogy-forming sequel. And I would have watched the absolute crap out of those. See, that was the big issue I had with the Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey series—well, one of the many, many issues—and that’s the lack of clear, concise plotting. Side stories can add greatly to a story—just look at Harry Potter—but if you don’t have a strong enough main story, the side stories will just detract from the power of the overall narrative. And in a show that deals heavily in flashbacks, that’s exactly what happens.
All that would be fine if this were a movie, but it’s not. It’s a TV show that dwells overmuch on romantic moments and emotional distress and convoluted plot lines that just end up getting snipped partway through the season. It drags on, week after week, trying to replicate the success of its first season. Back then, it was an original premise with intriguing characters, and we genuinely wanted to see the curse broken.
Now, it’s just one big jumble of fairy tales, literary references, and real-world in-jokes for humour. I’m willing to bet season 3 introduces Captain Ahab as a smoldering swashbuckler who’s pursuing the White Whale, who is, in fact, an overweight fairy who broke his heart and took his leg.
This isn’t the clever, sweepingly beautiful show I fell in love with, and I don’t think it ever will be again. I’d say this show is on its way out, but it just launched a spinoff, so somehow I don’t really see it leaving anytime soon. And that’s kind of sad, because Once Upon A Time’s best times are behind it, the end has come and gone, and we’re headed toward what promises to be several seasons’ worth of overwrought emotion, signified by a single tear sliding down someone’s cheek–assuming I keep watching.
Final Grade: C+
- PAUL MCGILLION IS IN WONDERLAND
- So there’s this love triangle between Prince Phillip, Princess Aurora, and Mulan. Wait, what?
- It’s super cool learning about Dr. Whale/Frankenstein. After all the speculation about who he was, I know some people were disappointed, but it’s very cool seeing him like this.
- It’s actually hilarious that Emma isn’t too old to be made uncomfortable by her parents. Yes, she walks in on them doing the do. As someone who was never subjected to that, I have no sympathy, only laughter.
- Belle not remembering who Gold is for an entire season is absolutely heartbreaking, even if it turns both of them into horribly dark people who like inflicting pain on others.
- Why is everyone related now? And why are they harping on about how they’re family and that’s why they should do everything for each other? This is starting to sound like an after-school spec— ooh, right, I forgot it was ABC.
- I think Hook has given me an eyeliner fetish. That might be a little weird.
- Emma can use magic now. Just… I just… *gets up and walks away* That is all.