Previously on Once Upon a Time; characters from the most beloved fairytale stories were brainwashed, ripped away from their home the Enchanted Forest, and forced into a modern-day hellish locked down town called Storybrooke run by the evil witch queen and self-appointed mayor Regina (Lana Parrilla, still looking as dark and controlling as ever) who wished to punish everyone for lifelong feuds she had with various people. As more of the characters’ complex, intertwined past was revealed, the more enriched everyone’s background story became. With enough flashback sequences to explain and unmask various people’s true intentions, Season 2 was setting up as though the residents of Storybrooke were finally ready to move on with their lives.
With a flash of mystical-looking purple smoke, magic re-entered Storybrooke in the Season 1 finale, along with everyone’s memories, and soon after we find that the inhabitants are rightly out for blood: Regina’s blood. But hold on, we’re not just interested in Storybrooke here.
Back we go to the magical fantasy kingdom to be introduced to Princess Aurora (Sarah Bolger), aka Sleeping Beauty, who, as her name suggests, doesn’t do anything, Mulan (Jamie Chung), aka the Chinese Princess, who you’d think would be able to put up a decent fight, but doesn’t, and Prince Philip (Julian Morris), aka Aurora’s boyfriend, who’s as useless if not more so, than his narcoleptic girlfriend. These are the good guys, although at times it’s hard to see how exactly they contribute. The new bad guys? Cora (Barbara Hershey), Regina’s witch mother who’s twice the bitch her daughter is, and Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) - these two are plotting a comeback, eager to transport themselves to Storybrooke to wreak havoc.
With two parallel narratives to juggle, did we really need a third? Yes, we absolutely did. Piling on to the overlong, overly complicated structure, the writers clearly felt there was a need to link everyone to everyone else, making Lost seem like a trivial, small-scale drama. With season 1 the characters, along with the audience, had no idea who they were. Now with everything restored back to normal, as well as the audience getting a firm grasp on who’s loved/kissed/betrayed/killed whom, the writers could have dialled it back on all the highly irrelevant flashbacks.
The show never seems to know when to leave the past alone. It would appear Regina and Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) are constantly trying to kill each other over what feels like a hundred years, with Charming (Jos80h Dallas - dull, corny, and hardly ever heroic) popping by for a few showdowns; but that’s not all, Regina’s past with Cora complicates things, and so does the entrance of Snow White’s mother. Regina has a past connection with Captain Hook, he holds a grudge against Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle), who has a thing for Belle (Emilie de Ravin), who is also a target of Hook, Belle also met Mulan and Red Riding Hood in the past, etc, etc. You think you get the full picture? Look again, and you’ll realise as long as this show goes on, you’ll never know for sure just who is involved with what when and where. Whereas season 1 took very neat, clever approaches to linking various characters together, now everything seems far-fetched and a touch desperate in an attempt to squeeze absolutely everyone into the plot.
Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) and her mother Mary Margaret/Snow White have some quality mother-daughter bonding session when they inadvertently find themselves away from Storybrooke, although after some horrendously bad, childish “action” scenes they’re back where they belong united with their family; which is when they really start laying on the cheese. The whole “I see good in you”, “there’s good in everyone”, “you have a good heart” “be a good person no matter what” angle grows more tiresome than Glee’s endless weekly message of “be yourself”, as residents of Storybrooke show they need a big reality check when it comes to life in general.
On the plus side the one character the show could do without, Rumpelstiltskin/Mr Gold, has every chance to flourish in his self-centred, duplicitous schemes. Although standing by his side is the irritating Belle, who acts as the lead spokeswoman of the “be good” campaign.
Cora and Hook, who are up to no good, add some fresh dynamic into the otherwise dull narrative. Hershey absolutely nails her role as she channels hints of her similar “mother-from-hell” character from Black Swan, and O’Donoghue shows he’s more than just a pretty-face eye-candy with a different accent for the ladies who make up a large percentage of the demographic.
It’s a show full of ups and downs, but given the abundance of material, it really should be better. Be bold and kill off a few characters, less focus on the past, more driving forward with the present storylines, and who knows, some flashforwards, which served Lost so well during its mid-series struggle, might do some good for a series that is growing stale very quickly. The season 2 finale promises adventure into a new realm, with a super-villain (who can fly, who can fly, who can fly) who is bound to be a cunning, conniving man-child (hint, hint). So here’s to hoping some magic will be brought back into the world of OUAT.