‘Once Upon a Time’ Brings the Magic Back
The second season of ABC’s hit fantasy drama Once Upon a Time premiered this past Sunday. It picked up where last season left off, with magic suddenly returned to Storybrooke, Maine, and all the fairy tale characters suddenly aware of who they used to be. After last year’s finale there was some concern that they had written themselves into a corner, breaking the curse after just one season, and solving the big mystery that drove the story that entire year. This season, however, seems to be off to a great start, dealing with a lot in just the first episode, and introducing a major twist in the process.
Instead of doing a blow by blow recapping of the episode, let’s focus on what happened for each group of characters.
[WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the first episode of Once Upon a Time. If you have not watched the episode yet, you may want to stop here, or skip to the end.]
Before we dive into the episode, let’s start with the opening scene, because it was just … weird. Between the shooting style and the music, I was honestly concerned that I was watching the wrong show. I suppose it was supposed to point out that we were not in Maine for this first bit, but the obvious New York City landmarks really would have been enough. It did manage to introduce us to another mysterious character we can speculate about for the next several months (there seems to be a decent chance of him being the long lost son of Rumpelstiltskin.
Now, to the good stuff …
Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold and Belle
Now that he’s brought the scary purple cloud of magic back to the world, Rumple turns his attention to Belle. She informs him, as we all already knew, that she did not die back in Fairy Tale Land, but instead has been held captive by Regina in an asylum for the last 28 years. Understandably upset over this situation, Rumple vows revenge on Regina, but promises Belle he won’t kill her. Of course, this is Rumpelstiltskin we’re talking about, and he is basically like the worst parts of every lawyer you’ve ever met, which means you have to be very aware of wording. He makes a beeline for his shop, finds a mysterious medallion which will summon a soul sucking wraith, and takes it to the prison in which Regina has been locked up. He marks her with it, dooming her to be the wraith’s next victim, which seems a little harsh, even for her.
Emma, Snow, and Charming hunt him down and threaten him for betraying Emma and endangering Henry. He makes a good point about the ends justifying the means (Henry’s fine, Emma has her parents, and the curse is broken). Rumple obviously has a plan bigger than just seeking revenge on Regina, since he won’t tell them why he brought magic back in the first place, and he reminds Emma that she still owes him a favor. Belle feels betrayed because he broke his promise, and runs out on him (I have a feeling this is going to end badly for her at some point), but she returns at the end of the episode, promising to stay with him to keep him on the straight and narrow (how long do you suppose that’s going to last?)
Snow/Charming/Emma/Regina/Everyone else in the world
Immediately after the curse is broken, all the newly identified storybook characters seem to gravitate toward each other. Snow and Charming find Red and Granny, and then the seven dwarves, and finally Emma and Henry, and the Blue Fairy informs them that magic may be back, but its still a little broken. The family reunion is cut short though as the rest of the characters are on their way to Regina’s house to, you know, kill her. Henry, as pretty much the only truly good character, convinces them to save her.
In true Evil Queen style, Regina confronts the angry mob head on, until she finds out that she is magically impotent, which is never something you want to hear with a lynch mob on your doorstep, but the others come to her rescue. They lock Regina up in hopes that she can help get them back to their world. (Side note: we discover that basically no one knows who Dr. Whale is, so that’s gonna be another episode at some point. Any guesses?)
Things get a little domestic, as Snow/Mary Margaret (I’m just going to go with Snow) forces the issue with Emma, leading to the funniest exchange of the episode, and also the first real conversation about what Emma went through not knowing who her parents were for so long. This is probably going to be a much longer conversation for the next several weeks, since they’re going to have a lot of time to chat (more on that later).
Mary Margaret: We talked about things we probably shouldn’t have even talked about. One night stands and the like…
David: One night stands?
Mary Margaret: Whale.
Mary Margaret: We were cursed. That is neither here nor there.
Back in jail, the wraith finally attacks Regina, who is once again saved by Emma, Snow and Charming. Charming doesn’t want to help, obviously seeing this as payment for her many sins, but Emma reminds him that she promised Henry she’d protect Regina, so they have to kill it. Regina seems genuinely surprised that Henry wanted Emma to help, which just makes you feel bad for her, since, unlike Rumple she’s really more tortured than power hungry. The Mad Hatter’s hat returns, and since there is magic again it should be able to open up a portal to FTL and suck the wraith back through … right? Turns out, the Blue Fairy wasn’t kidding, magic has some new rules, and Regina can’t summon even the slightest bit of it.
With the wraith held back by the fire they’ve set, Emma grabs Regina’s arm while she attempts to open the portal, and suddenly it opens, proving that Emma apparently has some serious magical mojo, probably from being a child of “true love” or some such Disney-esque nonsense. Emma makes one last heroic move, pushing Regina out of the way of the wraith, and getting sucked through the portal herself. Snow jumps in after her, not willing to give her daughter up again, but the portal closes before Charming is able to do the same, causing him to fall flat on his face (which is a little too humorous for such a dramatic moment). He angrily confronts Regina about getting them back, but since the curse supposedly destroyed FTL, she doesn’t know how. Oh, and she apparently has a little magical mojo back herself, since she attacks him with it before Henry interrupts.
In the most heartfelt scene of the episode, Henry pleads with Regina to bring them back, then accuses her of being just as evil as everyone thought, before telling her to leave him and everyone else alone, and leaving with his (far too young and handsome to be one) grandfather.
Last but not least, and actually, first in the chronology of the episode, we meet Aurora and Phillip, plus a mysterious character, who are, of course, in FTL. Before he wakes her from her sleep, Phillip tells his companion not to let Aurora know the whole story of what has happened since she began her extended nap. She wakes, everyone is happy, Phillip tells her that a lot has changed in the time she’s spent unconscious, and then they are promptly attacked by the episodes big, disembodied, soul sucking villain.
Phillip’s companion finally removes her helmet to reveal that she is none other than Mulan (a character I maintain has no place within a world based on French, English, and Germanic folklore, but it’s Disney and they rule the fairy tale world these days). Mulan’s gender seems to be a sticking point for Aurora who has been an annoyance ever since she frolicked on screen in the ’50s, so her complaints are quickly dismissed. Mulan lets them in on the Wraith’s secret: he’s afraid of light (which seems a little silly until you realize they’re about to spend the entire episode in a forest), but at least he won’t be back to suck their souls because none of them have been marked — oh wait, Phillip was, since he was dumb enough to pick up the medallion.
They make camp, and Phillip takes off to allow the wraith to suck out his soul, because he’s all noble and princely, and in love. Mulan decides to go after him and leave Aurora behind, claiming that she would only slow her down, and lets face it, Aurora is possibly the most useless Disney Princess of all, so this was likely a good call.
Unfortunately, Aurora catches up with Mulan and they have a bit of a spat where Mulan is obviously pissed off that Phillip is willing to sacrifice himself for someone who doesn’t seem to love him enough to do it herself. In a surprising moment of intelligence, Aurora figures out that Mulan is, in fact, in love with him, which she feebly denies. They run off to find him, which they do, and Mulan offers to sacrifice herself to save him. He refuses, offering one last “I love you” to … one of them … before getting his soul sucked out (I’m voting that this was for Mulan, because, obviously, I have issues with Aurora).
They cart his body back to Aurora’s sleeping altar thing, and place him there. Finally, Mulan chooses to reveal to Aurora the truth of what happened while she was asleep: the Evil Queen cast a curse, which, I guess, froze time in part of the world for 28 years, while the rest was destroyed. When time finally started moving forward again, she and Phillip continued their quest to save her, and in the process discovered that FTL was a much scarier place, finding a safe haven somewhere (my money is on Neverland). Finally, they discover that the wraith did not appear by accident. It was brought there by none other than the portal from Storybrooke, as they uncover Snow and Emma who are unconscious under a pile of rubble.
So, you think you got all that? I told you a lot happened in that episode, and now that everything has finally been dealt with, I think they might actually be able to keep the show not only going, but interesting. They have always had a killer cast, and a writing staff that seems to understand how to balance the ongoing mythology with intriguing week-to-week stories that, themselves include interesting one off characters. While I wish they would stop Disney-fying everything, they’ve managed to make it work so far, so I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt. The biggest challenge they are going to have this year is maintaining the level of storytelling they’ve had, without twisting the narrative into convoluted knots of unnecessary plot twists and speculation. One thing is for sure, though, they’re going to have a hell of a time navigating the “real world”, the new/current FTL, and the FTL that was.
If you’re interested in this fan’s opinion on the biggest mystery of all, personally, the fact that there is a section of FTL that is still running along at the same time as the real world, but apparently degrading as it does, makes me think that we’re headed in a Lost type of direction. Not in the literal “they’re in purgatory” way, but in the sense that FTL itself is a sort of metaphysical world that only exists in the imagination of those people who wrote the stories we all know and love. The curse essentially tore a hole in the fabric of reality, pushing the majority of FTL into the real world, and destroying it in the process (since we already know that parts of it are buried beneath Storybrooke). The portion that was left behind is literally occupying the same space adjacent to what we know as Storybrooke, separated by a veil of some sort — say, the forest. As that world gets slowly eaten up by the curse, it degrades. Essentially, anyone that is tied to that metaphysical world would be destroyed if they attempted to venture beyond the borders (hence why bad things happen to those who try to leave), and anyone not connected at all wouldn’t even know it exists (which is why they don’t get visitors). Those who are connected, but not tied to the curse, would be able to pass in and out (Emma, Henry, Pinocchio, and this new mystery man, for instance).
So, what do you think we’ll be seeing this year? Besides the obvious Captain Hook appearance, as well as a few other major characters, there is sure to be more information and backstory about some of our favorites, including a second episode (or 3) featuring Barbara Hershey as Regina’s mother. Better yet, who do you think our newest mystery man will turn out to be? What about Dr. Whale? And what do you think the curse really did to the Fairy Tale Land?
These questions and others will likely be answered in the coming season, at least we hope, but the guessing game provided a great deal of fan debate last year, so it will certainly continue into this one.