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


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.

Retro Review: Once Upon a Time, Season Three: Episodes 13-17

I continue my Netflix binge watch of Once Upon a Time’s third season. After the brilliance of the Peter Pan arc, the series has unfortunately taken a much less interesting turn as the story focuses on Oz and the Wicked Witch it produced.

The logo for Once Upon a Time“Witch Hunt”:

This is one of those “not quite filler but not terribly eventful” episodes necessary to establish the plot.

In the Enchanted Forest’s past, Regina infiltrates her castle to confront the Wicked Witch, whose proper name turns out to be Zelena, while in the present, Emma and Regina join forces in an attempt to uncover who cursed the town.

Shipping intensifies.

Also apparently flying monkeys operate under werewolf rules.

After how awesome Pan was, I thus far find myself severely underwhelmed with Zelena. She hates Regina based on arbitrary and largely nonsensical reasons, so she cursed everyone with a half-baked curse that doesn’t even seem to have accomplished much as of now. It feels terribly contrived.

The actress is hamming it up a bit, too. Although to be fair I’m not sure how you could not ham the Wicked Witch of the West.

Fly, my pretties!The only thing I’m enjoying about this arc so far is Regina. Her torment over the situation with Henry is palpable, and it’s nice to finally see on the side of the guys, hopefully for real this time. She’s managing to carry an otherwise mediocre series of episodes.

Overall rating: 7/10

“The Tower”:

Okay, this one is just filler.

Both past and present plots are more or less carbon copies of each other, save that one is about Rapunzel and David and the other is just David. The theme is facing one’s fear, and this being fantasy, that means literally.

It’s not a particularly interesting story, and it feels largely disconnected from the rest of the story. The only significant revelation is that Zelena has stolen David’s courage, or a symbol thereof, for some reason.

Supposedly Zelena’s enemy is Regina, but right now all she’s done in Storybrook is insinuate herself into Snow and David’s life. It’s very confusing.

Overall rating: 6/10

Josh Dallas as Prince Charming in Once Upon a Time“Quiet Minds”:

In this episode, the common thread in both timelines is the search for Rumpelstiltskin.

In Storybrook, Emma and Charming comb the woods for him, but they soon find that something is terribly wrong with Rumpel. Beyond the usual.

Back in the Enchanted Forest, Baelfire and Belle seek to resurrect Rumpel with the aid of a talking candelabra — because why not — but in his desperation, Baelfire makes the grave mistake of forgetting his father’s most important lesson: All magic comes at a price.

Meanwhile, Regina tries to track down Zelena with the aid of Robin Hood, and things get awkward.

This episode gets points for having a lot of Rumpel and Belle. Aside from that, it’s not especially memorable, though it also doesn’t have a lot of significant flaws.

At this point I’m never trusting a death in Once Upon a Time to last, but Baelfire’s end did have a certain note of finality to it. If that’s the case, I’m not sure how I feel. I have nothing against Baelfire, but he’s also not a character I’m going to miss terribly, and his end did seem a bit sudden and out of the blue.

Neal/Baelfire in Once Upon a TimeIt also doesn’t work very well as a way to make Zelena more menacing, since it was more due to Baelfire’s own recklessness than anything.

Overall rating: 7.2/10

“It’s Not Easy Being Green”:

This episode serves as Zelena’s origin story, and it has convinced me that I simply don’t like her.

And this isn’t the kind of “don’t like her” that you want and expect from a villain. I liked Pan even when I hated his guts. But Zelena’s just not that interesting.

I don’t know whether to chalk it up to acting, directing, or writing (or, most likely, all of the above), but she just comes across as so cheesy and hammy — even by Once Upon a Time standards — and it takes me right out of the story.

I wish I had more to say about this episode, but that’s pretty much the only feeling it left me with. I suppose I could also nitpick about how Oz appears to be another pseudo-Medieval setting when it should be more along the lines of steampunk, and I will say that Regina was quite entertainingly badass this time around.

The Wicked Witch of the West in Once Upon a TimeBut yeah, just not feeling Zelena. It’s especially disappointing after how awesome Pan was.

Overall rating: 6.9/10

“The Jolly Roger”:

Well, here’s a first: a Hook episode that doesn’t suck.

Even more impressive is that the other key characters here are Emma and Ariel, who are also not my favourites, but yet I still enjoyed “The Jolly Roger.”

In both timelines, Ariel seeks Hook’s aid in finding her prince, who is apparently always missing. In the Enchanted Forest, he’s been taken prisoner by Blackbeard the pirate, who has also absconded with Hook’s ship. In Storybrook, things take a darker turn still.

As this is going on, Regina once again attempts to hone Emma’s magical talent. The nice thing about Emma/Regina arcs is that Regina is awesome enough to compensate for how dull Emma is, and that holds true here, as well. Regina has some, shall we say, unconventional teaching methods, and that’s more than entertaining enough to compensate for Emma’s continued dullness.

Captain Hook in Once Upon a TimeBut I digress. The real star here is Hook, and for once, that’s not a bad thing.

This is mainly because the show has stopped pretending he’s a good guy. There’s still an attempt to show him trying to do the right thing, but he fails — miserably — and that’s a lot more believable.

I’m perfectly willing to accept that there is some good in Hook so long as they also acknowledge that it’s not enough to overpower his more craven and selfish sensibilities.

Not only does “The Jolly Roger” at last acknowledge that Hook really isn’t a good guy, he also ends up having a pretty miserable time of things, which also pleases me.

I really don’t like him.

I expect this return to sanity in regards to Hook’s character probably won’t last, but I might as well enjoy while it does.

My only major complaint with this episode is the very tacky and totally unnecessary (though mercifully brief) sub-plot in which Charming attempts to convince Henry he can be just as cool as Hook. Just… no.

Overall rating: 7.5/10