TV Review - Once Upon a Time: Season 2

The cast gathers to confront
the Evil Queen in "Once Upon a Time"
In the TV series True Blood, the main character, Sookie Stackhouse, played by Anna Paquin, says at one point or realizes that characters or ideas that have been limited to children's books are real. For example, Sookie discovers that fairies are real and exist in her world, and then she has to fight them. There have been other TV shows in the past decade that have been the same like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed where you have female characters realizing that characters from books like those by the Brothers Grimm are real and then having to fight those Brothers Grimm characters. Once Upon a Time is shaping up to be another in this category. The female character in this case is named Emma Swan, played by Jennifer Morrison. Not only does Emma realize that the Grimm characters are real and that she has to battle a few but she also realizes that she's related to them by blood and in fact is one of those characters herself.

If you didn't watch the first season, what happens is not just revisionist history when it comes to the back stories of these famous fairy tales. It's a Shrek-like amalgamation of the fairy tales to see how the characters might interact if they were aware of each other. The series plays on the major elements and general themes associated with most of the fairy tales. It weaves a sequel, which one could imagine might happen after the Brothers Grimm put their pens down. The main fairy tales on which writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis focus is that of Snow White. It also integrates the stories of Rumpelstiltskin and Pinocchio in a more effective way that continues overtly or subversively throughout the first season with other tales like Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood popping up briefly, but clearly the focus is Snow White and the next chapter that Horowitz and Kitsis have crafted for her.

Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love) plays Snow White and the next chapter for her is that she's a mother. Snow White marries Prince Charming and has a baby with him, a daughter, and that daughter turns out to be Emma Swan. The revisionist history is that the Evil Queen didn't die. She's alive and decides to curse not only Snow but all the fairy tale characters in her kingdom. The curse transports the characters from her kingdom to the real world and into a town called Storybrooke in Maine. The curse prevented them from aging and it also took away their memories, so that Snow didn't even remember she had a daughter. Yet, before the curse, Snow was able to send Emma as a baby to the real world ahead of them without being affected by the curse. Pinocchio was sent with Emma to watch over and protect her.

Emma lives for 28 years and even has a son out of wedlock whom she gives up for adoption. Her son is named Henry and the Evil Queen ends up becoming his adoptive mother. The Evil Queen goes by the name Regina Mills and raises Henry for ten years in Storybrooke. Henry realizes his true nature and the true nature of the people in Storybrooke. He figures out for example that Snow White who now goes by the name Mary Margaret is the iconic fairy tale princess who is actually his grandmother.

The goal of the first season was to get Emma to figure all this out too and believe in it. Her arc is basically the arc that Robin Williams has in Steven Spielberg's Hook. Emma's arc in the second season is to overcome her abandonment issues, which tie into her issues last year of feeling unready to be a mother and take care of someone other than herself. Given the way the writers have positioned her, it won't be much of an arc or it won't be a long journey in the emotional sense.

The real arc, and probably the most interesting one, is that of Regina, the Evil Queen, played by Lana Parrilla. The question in the opening of Season 2 is whether to kill her or not. The majority of Storybrooke's population argues to kill her, but Henry convinces Emma to stop that from happening. Thanks to Mr. Gold, aka Rumpelstiltskin, played by Robert Carlyle (SGU Stargate Universe and The Full Monty), Regina regained her magic powers, which she lost when the curse first brought them to Storybrooke. She can try to use those powers to go after Snow White's family and loved ones, but her path might be toward redemption for all the bad things she's done, mostly because she has motherly feelings for Henry.

Last season, the structure of each episode of Once Upon a Time was very much akin to Lost for which Horowitz and Kitsis were also writers and producers. Each episode centered on one fairy tale character who lived in Storybrooke. The episode depicted that character's present life in Storybrooke as opposed to their past life in Regina's kingdom. The episode would then flash back-and-forth. The structure this season seems like it's changing a bit. The episodes will still bounce back-and-forth between Storybrooke and Regina's kingdom, but it won't be past versus present. The Storybrooke population, wanting to return home, will have to deal with life in the modern world. It won't be something totally like Enchanted or Kate & Leopold where the characters are fishes out of water. This will be split between scenes in Regina's kingdom where Emma will get to see firsthand the magical land from where her parents came.

I had grown tired of the series by the end of the first season. The off-and-on romance between Mary Margaret and David Nolan who was Prince Charming's alter ego, played by Josh Dallas, was drawn out too long. The special effects and production value were non-impressive. I could tell that a lot of it was shot against green screen instead of relying more on practical locations. Tarsem's Mirror Mirror, the early 2012 film also about Snow White, incorporated a lot of CGI, but Tarsem's art direction and cinematography makes the visuals gorgeous-enough and seamless-enough that it doesn't look or more importantly feel as fake as the first season of Once Upon a Time.

The budget for Mirror Mirror was probably more than the first season of Once Upon a Time, and that movie only had to produce two hours whereas the TV show had to produce over twenty hours. Yet, the special effects in the premiere episode of Season 2 looked better to me. For example, Snow White and Prince Charming had to fight a Wraith, a ghost that looks like a flying grim reaper. The Wraith appeared more solid and more real than the dragon that Emma had to fight at the end of the last season. It might be because the Wraith was smaller and darker in color than the dragon.

After the decline in the first season, the series is going to need to do more bold things in Season 2 to be as fun a show as True Blood or Charmed. It doesn't have to be as bloody, vulgar or cheeky as those shows. It can still be Disney friendly, but the show is falling into boring tropes like the Mulan and Sleeping Beauty story that's told in the Season 2 premiere. Some bad screenwriting is employed here too that's a bit of a turn-off.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG-LV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Airs Sundays at 8PM on ABC.


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