TV Review - Once Upon a Time: Season 3

Robbie Kay plays an evil Peter Pan
in Season 3 of "Once Upon a Time"
I liked Season 1 of Once Upon a Time because the idea of having fairy tale characters in the real world was a clever one. Yet, we never truly got that. Because of the curse, characters like Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood were in the real world, but they didn't have their memories, so they didn't know who they were. At the beginning of Season 2, the fairy tale characters got their memories back, but they were trapped in that one small town, so seeing Snow White in New York City was something that was never going to happen. In fact, the first half of Season 2 had Snow White sent back to fairy tale land, otherwise known as the Enchanted Forest. The second half of Season 2 felt like a bit of a mess, like it was all over the map, but now I realize that it was all really just a setup for what's happening now in Season 3.

The show actually did have a fairy tale character in New York City for one episode, and it was briefly fun, but for Season 3, we're squarely back in fairy tale land, particularly Never-Never Land, the setting of Scottish author J.M. Barrie's most famous fairy tale. The road that leads all the major characters to Never-Never Land is too complicated to rehash, but I'll try.

If you haven't been following the melodramatic storyline, most of the narrative revolves around the Snow White mythology. Other fairy tales like Cinderella and other mythologies like King Arthur also are integrated, but Ginnifer Goodwin who plays Snow White is the center. Long story short, when Snow White was a little girl, she was blamed for the death of her future stepmother's lover. Her stepmother is Regina who becomes the Evil Queen. Endowed with magical powers, Regina vows revenge on Snow White.

Snow White met Prince Charming, fell in love and married him, but Regina tried to interfere using the poison apple but she failed. Eventually, Snow and Charming had a child, a daughter named Emma Swan. Regina cast a curse that froze in time Snow and Charming as well as a whole bunch of other mythic characters. Because Snow and Charming were able to send Emma away to the real world before the curse hit, Emma grew up to be Snow and Charming's age, as they stayed frozen in their age.

While Emma, played by Jennifer Morrison, was growing up, she had a son named Henry. Unfortunately, because Emma grew up without her parents, she gave Henry up for adoption. Unbeknownst to any one, Regina adopted Henry and raised him for ten years. When Emma came to get her son back, the curse was lifted and everyone got their memories and realized what was happening. There's a lot of crazy battles that happen and that brings us to where the show is now.

Season 3 begins with Henry being kidnapped and taken to Never-Never Land where Peter Pan and the Lost Boys hold him hostage. Emma, Snow White, Prince Charming, Regina, Rumplestilskin and Captain Hook all travel to Never-Never Land on Hook's ship, the Jolly Roger, to get Henry back. What I like is that the show is continuing to subvert expectations about these fairy tale characters or even reverse what we might know about them. My problems with Season 2 is that the show didn't do that, or didn't do much of that.

This season has surprises. For one, Peter Pan is the bad guy. Everything we know about Pan is that he's a fun-loving boy who fought on the side of good. Yes, he was at times selfish and reckless, and, yes, the Lost Boys were a gang but not a gang that committed murder. Pan is played by Robbie Kay and he is perfectly sinister and believable as a teen boy who could kill, even from just the look in his eye.

The show can still fall to certain stereotypes like a woman's happiness comes with finding a man. Yet, the show can brave ground too like suggesting that Mulan might be gay, though that might also be a stereotype. Mulan is a woman who is at first mistaken for a man. She's tough, quiet and very much a warrior. It would have been perhaps more daring if the show suggested a more traditional princess like Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella were gay, but doing what they do with Mulan and her same-sex feelings are still commendable.

The real criticism I have is the show's production value and overall look. The show incorporates a lot of special effects. The show is obviously produced very fast and unfortunately, the visuals suffer for it. So much of the show looks so fake. The seams are so apparent as to be distracting and the puppet strings are almost bold that it's difficult to ever be absorbed or ever fooled by the illusions. The effects are basically laughable, but the other things going on keep me hooked.

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


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