Retro Review: Once Upon a Time, Season Three: Episodes 18-22

I now reach the end of Once Upon a Time’s third season, and it goes out not with a bang, but a whimper, leaving me to wonder if this show is still worth my time.

The logo for Once Upon a Time“Bleeding Through”:

It’s seance time!

Despite the best efforts of Regina and Robin Hood, Zelena has stolen Regina’s heart, and not in the fun way.* Zelena is now on the brink of victory, but if the people of Storybrooke are to defeat her, they need more information on her plans, and her past.

*(That’s Emma’s job. :P)

To this end, Belle delves into Rumpel’s collection of lore to determine what sort of spell Zelena hopes to cast, and Regina attempts to summon the spirit of Cora to learn the truth of Zelena’s origins. The tale therein shows Cora as close to sympathetic as she’s ever been.

Surprisingly, this also offers the opportunity for Snow and Regina to bond — bet that’s something you never thought you’d see.

I have to admit I’m rather embarrassed it took me this long to realize the significance of Zelena stealing courage, a heart, etcetera.

Lana Parilla as Regina Mills in Once Upon a TimeThus far this whole Wicked Witch arc has been decidedly underwhelming, but “Bleeding Through” is pretty good, perhaps due to a strong focus on Regina. It was very strange but also very enjoyable to see her and Snow bonding so much, and I really liked Snow’s assessment of Regina as a person at the end.

My complaints with this episode are several but mostly minor. It was entirely too easy for Zelena to track down Regina’s heart, which rather invalidated the ending of last episode. There’s still no explanation of how or why Zelena wound up in Oz — this seems to have taken place before Cora started learning magic.

I also feel the characters judged Ava’s actions with excessive harshness. I mean, I’m not saying what she did wasn’t a little catty, but Cora was lying, and she was clearly only interested in Leopold as a path to wealth and power.

Overall rating: 7.8/10

“A Curious Thing”:

Time is running out to stop Zelena (no pun intended). The people of Storybrooke come to believe they may already know how to defeat her, but lost the memory along with the rest of the year they spent in the Enchanted Forest. To uncover the truth, they’ll need to break the curse (again), but to do that, they need Henry, so first he must recover his own memories.

Emma and her son, Henry, in Once Upon a TimeBut Zelena isn’t about to let that happen without a fight, and between that Hook continuing to be really quite awful, Emma and company are going to have a rough ride.

Thankfully, we as television viewers don’t need Henry, so we get to learn the truth via the traditional flashbacks.

This was a pretty enjoyable episode. The pacing is quick but not rushed, there’s a good emotional weight without being too sappy, and it moves the story along quite well. The fact that Zelena didn’t cast the curse is quite an unexpected twist, but it makes perfect sense, and I quite liked Snow’s plan to circumvent the price of the curse. Very clever.

And Hook is having a bad time.

Quite good all around.

Overall rating: 7.9/10

“Kansas”:

And now we’re back to an old problem: Emma and Charming are morons.

Josh Dallas as Prince Charming in Once Upon a TimeSorry, but there’s just no other word for it at this point. Charming insists that Emma bring Hook when she goes to confront Zelena, even knowing Hook can destroy all of Emma’s power. That’s idiotic.

Then Emma gives Hook mouth to mouth to save him, knowing it will destroy her magic. That’s even dumber. Even if Hook wasn’t a worthless sleazeball, it still wouldn’t be worth sacrificing the whole town to save him, which is essentially what Emma chose to do. Of course, someone stepped in and cleaned up her mess, but she had no way of knowing that was going to happen.

And that brings us to the saving grace of Storybrooke, and this episode: Regina.

With Emma failing miserably in her role as saviour, it’s up to the ex-villain to save the town, and it’s a fantastic culmination of Regina’s redemption arc to date. And once again, Lana Parilla’s gravitas has saved what would otherwise be a truly dreadful episode.

There’s also yet another series of flashbacks, this time dealing with Zelena’s time in Oz and her fateful encounter with a girl named Dorothy, which is… fine, I guess. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I don’t see that it adds much.

Overall rating: 7.1/10

“Snow Drifts”:

Snow White and Prince Charming in Once Upon a TimeAll seems well in Storybrooke. But Emma is not content. For reasons that are not entirely clear, she’s planning to abandon Storybrooke and her family and take Henry back to New York, despite the fact that no one wants this, least of all Henry.

Hook is sent to calm her down — because nothing says “voice of reason” like murderous, alcoholic, self-centered pirate — but they spot Zelena’s reactivated time portal, and because Emma has all the wisdom and good sense of a crack-addled chicken, she rushes in to investigate instead of, you know, seeking the help of someone who could actually do something about it.

Inevitably, she and Hook wind up stuck in the past, and promptly destroy the future. It is then their task, with the aid of Rumpelstiltskin, to fix things such that Snow and Charming once again fall in love and everything proceeds as it should.

In case the heaping portion of snark hasn’t given it away yet, I did not particularly enjoy this episode. Once Upon a Time’s two worst characters trying to save the world from their own incompetence just doesn’t make for a particularly compelling plot.

I don’t know what else to say about it, honestly.

Overall rating: 5.9/10

“There’s No Place Like Home” (season finale):

Captain Hook in Once Upon a TimeThe final episode of Once Upon a Time’s third season is pretty much a continuation of the last one. Which is not a good thing.

Again, we see two incredibly uninteresting and unlikable characters trying to save the world from themselves… and having no real trouble with it, either. They almost effortlessly manage to repair the damage to the timeline. There’s no drama.

Worse still, the episode concludes with Emma finally falling for Hook, a plot twist I find so utterly unpleasant it’s making me give serious thought to giving up on the series altogether. The only thing making Hook’s presence tolerable was Emma’s continued rejection of him.

I cannot withstand a world where Emma/Hook is a thing. I just can’t.

That said, there a few saving graces this time. Not enough to make it a good episode, but enough to make it not a total waste of time.

I did very much like Emma’s confrontation with past-Rumpel near the end. It was a rare case of Emma not sucking. Snow and Charming naming their son after Baelfire was also a very touching moment.

Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan in Once Upon a TimeThe woman Emma rescued being Maid Marian is also a very good twist. I just hope it doesn’t once again reset Regina’s redemption arc.

Overall rating: 6.4/10

* * *

Months have passed since I originally wrote this post (yeah, dat backlog), and although further seasons of Once Upon a Time have been added to Netflix, I have not watched them. I won’t say it’ll never happen, but I don’t have any particular desire to at the moment.

This series has always been very hit and miss, but its flaws are becoming increasingly difficult to stomach. Emma and Hook are genuinely ruining the show for me. Emma is not an interesting character, and the actress behind her is simply wooden and lifeless. Hook was introduced as an utterly despicable character, and the subsequent ham-fisted and half-assed attempts to make him sympathetic have only made me resent him more.

Furthermore, the Peter Pan arc was so excellent that I just know the series will never be that good again, and part of me thinks it would be better to quit while I’m ahead, so to speak.

I’m still a big Robert Carlyle fan, but Rumpel’s character seems destined to be an unending source of disappointment. It seems unlikely he’ll ever stop relapsing to his evil self, and at this point, I’m not sure he even deserves redemption. It’s not worth getting invested in the character.

That leaves Regina as the one major redeeming feature of the series, but I’m just not sure she’s enough on her own.

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