This review contains spoilers.
Magic has come to Storybrooke, and with it comes potential: potential for its citizens to reclaim what they love, potential for miraculous things to happen, potential for forgiveness. This episode, too, is an indicator of season two’s potential as Once Upon a Time sets off in a new direction. It’s like an appetizer: not entirely satisfying in its own right, but a tasty peek at what’s to come.
The game-changing end to season one left Once Upon a Time with a lot of ground to cover at the start of its new season. That made for an episode jam-packed with plot development, but a little sparse on the inventiveness and close character examinations that were the highlight of the season one. This was perhaps unavoidable under the circumstances, and now that a direction has been set for the season, the show has freed up some breathing-room for itself to expand into the new stage it has set.
The episode begins with an unfamiliar man in New York City getting a postcard from Storybrooke that says only “broken.” Which refers to the curse, most likely, but who sent it and who is the man? We’ll have to wait and see, because he doesn’t show up again this episode.
In Storybrooke, the residents have a series of touching reunions – or rather, “I remember who you are now, let’s hug” sessions. Emma is finally together with her parents, and they are overjoyed, but she is having a hard time dealing with this change. That’s a perfectly understandable reaction after she spent a lifetime thinking they’d abandoned her, and apparently still sort of thinks that even now. Snow and Charming don’t see this, though; they made a great sacrifice, and this was supposed to be their happy ending. The situation is a sad and brilliantly-done taste of reality.
Meanwhile, Dr. Whale (who refuses to reveal his fairy tale identity) leads an angry mob to Regina, but Henry defends her and Snow and Emma back him up. Despite everything that’s happened, Henry still cares about his adoptive mother, and she him. This is growing into a fascinating conflict about what happens when you love someone who does wrong, whether they can or will change, and whether it’s okay to keep loving them in spite of it.
The same conflict is playing out for Belle and Rumpelstiltskin. Rumpelstiltskin’s first move when he learns that Regina locked Belle up for twenty-eight years, is to seek revenge, even though that’s not what she wants. He’s not sure he can change for her, which is a legitimate concern given what we’ve seen of him before. It promises to be a fraught relationship, but Belle will stick by him; he needs her because he is a monster. Honestly I hope he doesn’t change too fast, because evil Rumpelstiltskin is just too much fun.
Take, for example, that awesome Dementor thing he summons with a pendant and sics on Regina. This wraith is busy sucking Regina’s face off when Snow goes all Aragorn on it and scares it off. Regina says they can’t kill it, but they can get rid of it by sending it away in Jefferson’s hat. This will be sending it to oblivion, she claims, because the fairy tale world no longer exists.
As usual, running parallel to the Storybrooke plot is another story taking place in the Enchanted Forest. This is often the highlight of the episode, but unfortunately this week’s offering isn’t very impressive.
OUaT has a knack for making the boring old-time Disney characters more interesting – they did it with Snow White and her Prince Charming, and with Cinderella, too. Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip don’t get the same treatment. Their onscreen time is mostly kissing and talking about love and sacrifice. Yawn.
In a strange twist on the tale, the episode also throws Mulan into the mix. She’s been helping Philip in his quest to rescue Aurora, and naturally, Aurora is not happy to learn that her prince has been gallivanting around with a woman while she was getting her beauty sleep. Plus Mulan can pwn doods and all Aurora does is look pretty, so Mulan wins.
But really, for all her talk, Mulan pretty much does the same stuff Aurora did except in armour and with a little “we fought many battles together” superiority thrown in there. Which is a real shame, because Mulan was a groundbreaking Disney character when her animated film was released, and a lot less of a lovesick stuffed shirt, too. What happened to all that feminist fairy tale love we got last season?
In the end the Storybrooke and Enchanted Forest plotlines tie together nicely, despite the loss of the first season’s alter-ego mechanic. Phillip has been marked by the wraith, and it gets his soul despite the fact that Aurora and Mulan put their love triangle on hold and go try to save him. On the Storybrooke end, Emma and the gang manage to get the wraith sucked down Jefferson’s hat, but Emma accidentally gets sucked down too.
Snow goes after her, and Charming tries to follow but the portal disappears and he ends up faceplanting. Aurora and Mulan find Emma and Snow under some rubble, and Aurora announces that they were the ones who brought the wraith that killed Phillip. The whole fairy tale plot’s problem is Emma and her peeps’ fault. Oops.
So Emma’s in the Enchanted Forest, and it’s about time. Her tough, down-to-earth attitude is not exactly fairy tale material, so it’ll be interesting to see how she responds to the princes and witches and true love’s kisses and whatnot.
Storybrooke is teetering on the brink of chaos, too, and Charming’s vendetta against Regina probably isn’t going to help. Then again, Regina hasn’t exactly reformed, either, but maybe she will try to fix things and get Emma and Snow back since Henry asked her to.
It seems that forgiveness is going to be a major theme of this season, and it’s a nice change from last season’s theme of the power of true love. Forgiveness is more complex, more relatable, and teeming with potential. I wouldn’t rush to watch this episode again for its own merits, but it has made me very excited for the remainder of season two, and that’s not bad at all for a first episode.
Season two of Once Upon A Time will air on Channel 5 in the UK later this year.
Read Kylie’s look-back at season one of Once Upon A Time, here.
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