I have now come to the end of the incredibly inconsistent second season of Once Upon a Time. There are some good moments, but for the most part, things remain underwhelming.
Still wracked with guilt over killing Cora, Snow retreats into the woods to clear her head. There, she chances upon someone else lost in their own guilt: August, animate but completely wooden. He is too ashamed over his failure to show his face in Storybrook.
Meanwhile, Baelfire’s fiance, Tamara, arrives in Storybrook. He tries to come clean to her about his magical origins, but it doesn’t really have the effect he hoped.
And our flashbacks this time around take place in the real world, showing August’s journeys before contacting Baelfire and going to Storybrook. He manages to track down a mage hiding in Hong Kong, but things are complicated when he meets a woman planning to uncover the sorcerer’s secrets: Tamara.
I found this an improvement over the mediocrity that has defined most of the last few episodes. I like August, and it was long overdue for us to learn what happened to him after the breaking of the curse. Plus Tamara looks like she could make a good villain — I already want to push her down a flight of stairs.
But there are still some hiccups. Tamara is mostly portrayed as a criminal mastermind, yet she was foolish enough to leave a sack of thousands of dollars right in front of August and expect nothing would happen? And how the Hell does a tazer kill both a powerful sorcerer and a man made entirely of wood? Those things are nonlethal for most normal people.
Overall rating: 7/10
Okay, it needs to be asked: Why isn’t anyone doing anything about Regina? What is it with these people just letting incredibly dangerous supervillains just wander around freely? You couldn’t at least try to supervise them?
Ahem. Anyway. Moving on.
Most of this episode focuses on Rumpel and Belle, which is normally the very best of news, but this episode doesn’t quite have the heart such things usually do.
Rumpel finally seems to be making some progress in winning Belle back, but a spiteful Regina decides to reactivate Belle’s curse persona, Lacey. And it turns out her curse identity was less the forgetful but still heroic versions Grumpy and Red got and more the “perverse parody” that Charming got.
It just gets sad and weird from there.
The flashbacks are set in the era shortly after Belle began to live with Rumpel and serve mainly as a retelling of their initial story, which is nice but pretty unnecessary.
I do wonder if we’ll see Robin Hood again. Seems wasteful to have such an iconic character play just a bit role in one episode.
I should probably stop investing in Rumpelstiltskin so much as a character. It’s becoming increasingly clear he’s not going to change, and even if he does, he doesn’t really deserve any kind of forgiveness or redemption at this point.
Overall rating: 6.9/10
“The Evil Queen”:
We are now moving towards a climax to the season. Regina has finally gone off the deep end, planning to use the remnants of the curse to slaughter everyone in Storybrook while she and Henry escape to the Enchanted Forest.
But it’s not going to be quite that simple. Greg and Tamara have enlisted Hook’s aid, and they have their own nefarious scheme to enact.
Emma begins to suspect Tamara, but her concerns are brushed off as jealousy by all but Henry.
I think I’ve identified the main way in which this season has gone wrong. Once Upon a Time is a show with idealistic themes, and it’s always trying to send the message that there’s good in everyone, that everyone deserves a second chance.
And early on in the season, the plots jived with that message. Regina and Rumpelstiltskin were making a genuine effort to reform, and it added a lot of interesting nuance to their characters.
But the latter half of the season has spent all its time making those characters appear irredeemable, which wastes the development from the first half, goes against the themes of the show, and makes the protagonists look like idiots for continually giving them new chances.
I did enjoy the endlessly intricate double-crossings of this episode, though. More like triple and quadruple crossing after a while.
I’m also curious how Greg and Tamara were able to neutralize Regina. They made it sound like nanotechnology or something — are we about to move to science fantasy? Frankenstein is already in the mix, so it’s not much of a leap.
Overall rating: 6.9/10
“Second Star to the Right”:
After being on the back burner for nearly the entire season, Greg and Tamara finally take center stage as villains in this episode. And surprisingly, they’re proving pretty effective in the role.
It turns out they’re members of some sort of fanatical — possibly religious — anti-magic organization, and they’re out to destroy Storybrook at any cost. Greg is also still searching for the truth about his father, and he begins torturing Regina in an attempt to learn the truth.
Snow and Charming work to save Regina because… I don’t even know at this point. The only good reason I can see for trying to figure out what happened to Regina is morbid curiosity. And the magic beans, I guess.
The flashbacks in this episode take another odd turn. It seems when Baelfire came to Earth, he arrived in the nineteenth century. He meets a girl named Wendy Darling… and I think you can guess where this is heading.
It is interesting that this version of Peter Pan seems so much darker than the traditional depiction. Based on what little we’ve seen of it so far, Neverland seems like a pretty scary place.
I don’t have a lot of complaints about this episode specifically. Mostly it just suffers from the lingering effects of all the stumbles of this season. I just don’t care as much about the characters or the story as I otherwise would.
But it’s pretty effective at setting up the end of the season. Crisis, mortal peril, tragedy, and so forth.
Overall rating: 7.1/10
“And Straight on ‘Til Morning” (season finale):
The last episode have me high hopes for this to be a good season finale. But unfortunately it encapsulates everything that’s wrong with this season.
They’ve spent so much time and effort making Regina and Rumpel out to be irredeemable, but now out of the blue their inner goodness is winning out again. I even prefer seeing them as more nuanced characters, but it’s just so jarring with how they’ve been portrayed for the last ten or so episodes. It’s sloppy.
And once again, the characters are acting like complete morons. No one thought to check Hook’s bag to make sure the bean was in it? No one? Really? This is Hook we’re talking about. He’s sleazy even by pirate standards.
Which also begs the question of why Hook decided to do the right thing at the end. At least Regina and Rumpel have been shown as having some heart in the past. There has never been any indication of Hook having any redeeming qualities, and there’s no clear indication of why he’s spontaneously developed a conscience.
Again, it feels sloppy.
The only upside is this does lay the seeds for some interesting plots next season. Baelfire’s wound up in the Enchanted Forest, and it looks like we’ll be seeing more of Mulan, which is great. I’m also curious as to why Peter Pan is after Henry and apparently running an anti-magic crusade on Earth. That’s… unexpected.
Overall rating: 6/10