Once Upon a Time returns to ABC Sunday tonight at 8/7c for its third season, and with Season 2 being a recent addition to Netflix’s streaming catalogue, now is the perfect time for a binge session to get caught up on the hit fairy tale series.
After the first season saw the breaking of the curse which had kept the residents of Storybrooke, Maine from remembering their true fairy tale selves, Season 2 takes off in a different direction. Where the first season had the tension of beloved fairy tales characters like Snow White and Prince Charming living drastically different lives, unaware of who they really were, the new season moves the focus to the terrible price of magic, characters grappling with dual identities, and a fear of outsiders.
“All magic comes with a price,” has been a crucial theme all long and as Season 2 begins, magic is no longer restricted to those Fairytale Land flashbacks. Bringing magic to Storybrooke significantly changes the game and puts stress on several already fragile relationships. Whether it be between Henry and his adoptive mother, Regina (a.k.a. The Evil Queen) or Belle and her beast, Rumplestiltskin, the opinion of whether magic is more of a hindrance than a savior is hotly contested.
Where the structure of the series initially had each episode contain a story in present day Storybrooke that would, in some way, connect with a story from the past in Fairytale Land, Season 2 adds another element: present day Fairytale Land. Up until now it was assumed The Evil Queen’s curse, which ripped everyone out of Fairytale Land and into our world, had destroyed their old home in the process. Not so, and the knowledge their home still exists and it may be possible to travel back becomes another big point of division among the characters.
With its focus now split between following characters in Storybrooke, Fairytale Land of the past, and Fairytale Land of the present – not to mention, the occasional episode where we see Storybrooke in the past – Once Upon a Time’s second season becomes a little convoluted. Introducing new locales also means introducing more characters and, because of these new introductions, several characters from the first season are either forgotten entirely or rarely seen. This does more harm than good when you’re building an ensemble of familiar and beloved fairy tale icons and with so many storylines, certain characters tend to disappear for two or more episodes at a time.
Stemming from the debate over whether to stay or return to Fairytale Land, another threat is added this season: US. Meaning, the people of our world who, now that the curse has been lifted, can enter Storybrooke and potentially become aware there’s more to this town than there appears. This is a good, though not particularly innovative, development which obviously has the potential for further conflict inside and outside of the town.
The writing for Season 2 is easily on par with Season 1, with some episodes shining and others that are obviously filler, only serving to plump up its 22-episode order. At times, the dialogue can be clunky and just a little soap opera-ish, but for fans familiar with the series this isn’t anything new. The acting is just as good, if not better, than the first season since almost all the actors are now playing roles that are interesting amalgamations of their Fairytale Land and Storybrooke selves. Standout performances include Lana Parilla and Robert Carlyle as The Evil Queen/Regina and Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold. The two villains of the first season get to play with redemption as well as falling back into old habits, and the two really prove the notion that bad guys have more fun.
From an effects standpoint the series is really hit or miss, depending on the episode, and perhaps what was left of the budget. Being a television series which needs to travel around — a lot — Once Upon a Time relies heavily on green screen and this is either done with mediocrity or very well. Game of Thrones it isn’t, but thankfully it never tries to be, relying more on the audience’s suspension of disbelief than painstakingly accurate renderings of magical places, beasts, or people.
All in all, Once Upon a Time is enjoyable escape. It’s family friendly programming, which, at times can stifle any really intriguing development, but at least you won’t feel awkward if your parents or children walk in. If you’re a fan a fairy tales and are looking for a series that falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between the Disney movies and the comic series, Fables, then Once Upon a Time is it.