Once Upon A Time Is Back And Much Improved
By Alex Cranz
All right Once Upon a Time. You got me.
Back in May I said that this season could be really really awesome if you fixed a variety of issues and followed through with the promise of the finale.
And then you did just that. You have us forty plus minutes of a bickering family failing at battling mermaids, a “regular dude” trying to explain movies to Mulan and two boys flying off together on a cloud of pixie dust.
Like. You were fun, big, flashy fantasy and that’s all I, or anyone, has ever really wanted from you.
Besides the shippers. But shippers proooobably should set their sights on another show. One actually BUILT for shipping, like Grey’s Anatomy or its Canadian cop rip off, Rookie Blue. This is a show that plays up romance, but is ultimately about family. Big gooey hugging repulsively and cloyingly sweet family.
And we know this because the show crammed it down our throat with Emma’s declarations at the beginning and the end of the episode. Eleven years ago she wasn’t a mom. She couldn’t be a mom. She didn’t want to be a mom. When Henry was born she refused to even hold him. And now she’s taking charge of
a herd of catsfairytale characters and finally, after two seasons, firmly in the “mom” camp. And not because she feels sorry for Henry and not because she wants to antagonize Regina, but because she’s reached a point where she wants to be that person that she never had.
Something she sort of acknowledges when she calls both her parents out. That was the big turning point of the episode. Not ten minutes in and there’s Emma, talking like one of the show’s critics, and calling her parents out for being boring, milquetoasty do-gooders who never actually do any good. She then quickly followed it up with noting they’re all the same age.
It took us a whole damn miserable season but we’re FINALLY getting that juicy interfamily drama promised way back in the season one finale. Shoving all these jackasses on a boat together was one of the best things the show’s writers have ever done.
Second best? Not turning Regina into a “good guy” just because she wants Henry back. She tried that once and got burned for her troubles. So now she’s firmly in “giving zero shits” camp and we, dear reader, get to reap the benefits. Lana Parilla was on fire with the zingers, serving up sass like a tennis pro and carelessly doing whatever she wanted whenever she wanted because she an evil Queen and people should recognize. Even Snow and Charming were sort of deferring to her queenliness.
Until she and Snow had a Dynasty-level fight in the middle of a storm that quickly spread to Charming and Hook while poor Emma stood around flabbergasted. Do you think there was something in the water in the Enchanted Forest that makes all its former residents punch out their feelings?
And why does Charming hate Hook so much?
While the Fab Five worked out their problems with fists, fishing and cutting remarks Henry was busy carrying the plot and doing a surprisingly excellent job of it. I mean, it was clear early on that the boy he was working with was Peter Pan, but they still worked well together and Henry got to feel less like a grating plot point and more like the kid of the show’s heroine and antiheroine. And Peter Pan, when he revealed himself was wonderfully menacing and all kinds of creepy.
It was a great entrance for the show’s new villain. Though, two pretty okay villains had to die so he could be introduced properly. Poor Greg got his shadow (soul right?) ripped out so we’d know how dangerous Pan is (though I doubt that the death will be too permanent). And Tamara, hitherto the best villain the show’s had, got her heart crushed by Gold. The actress playing her is moving onto a series regular role with The Walking Dead so her death was foreseeable, and if anyone is going to wipe her out it was nice to see it was the guy we’ve previously established does horrible things to women of color, but still. Tamara was fantastic and we must now demand that the show adds at least three other fabulous women of color to make up for her loss.
At least the same episode that saw the loss of Tamara saw the return of Mulan. And, even better, it saw her having the conversation someone needed to have regarding Disney’s Mulan. And extra bonus? It made Neal feel like less of an interloping penis thrust into a narrative ostensibly about women and more like someone I wouldn’t mind watching lope around the Enchanted Forest. If it turns out he’s secretly a Disney fanboy and he starts acting out scenes from Mulan and Sleeping Beauty he may even rival Regina as the show’s most entertaining character, and if he also picks up on how Mulan and Aurora totally want to get together and brings them together and then runs off into the sunset with Prince Philip or Robin Hood? Well, be-still my heart.
Until then it will be all about Emma, the goofy brash idiot that knows how to punch, picks up on the little details, and can force a bunch of bigger, brasher idiots to work together by jumping off a boat in the middle of a storm. Girl I’ve missed you since sometime in early season 2, never ever leave us again.
- There was some concern last season that there’d been a bait and switch regarding Henry’s “specialness” (Emma was the destined one but just so she could produce Henry?) so it was wonderful when it was revealed that he was special for a trait that first appeared in the pilot and has little to do with magic or fate or other big epic fantasy motifs. He’s just got faith. Lots and lots of faith.
- Regina’s best moment of the night wasn’t one of her snarky rejoinders, but the moment she went from being pleased with the wooden mermaid bit to being a bit sorry when she saw the giant wave that resulted. I love confident and always right Regina, but I do enjoy her appearing a little human sometimes.
- Seriously, the fight between Snow and Regina will go down as a top moment of the show as a whole. It was that entertaining.
- Gold spent the whole episode squeaking around in a leather jacket and trying to be all Rumpelstiltskin-y despite being a pawnbroker for 28 years. And judging from how undone he came at the sight of a doll he may be a little rusty.
- Captain Charming is still a thing. This pleases me.
- Henry sassed it up this hour. I guess sass runs in the family?
- Aurora may appear to be a delicate princess with giant hair full of secrets, but she has no problem disappearing into a world so terrifying it haunts Snow and Henry. Mad respect.
- With the exception of Henry’s birth this episode was flashback free and incredibly engaging because of it.
- Next Week: The Fab Five get their Avengers moment, Neal continues to wander around with his new besties while trying not to sing Disney tunes, and Henry regrets many of his life choices.