Once Upon a Time: Season 2
Two years ago when I first heard that ABC was going to produce a fairy tale oriented series I had some doubts. Superficially this might appear to be yet another attempt to jump on the current up-trending fad, the supernatural, particularly bring fairy tale characters to life. Then I recalled that the parent company for ABC is none other than Disney; a founding father when it comes to quality family entertainment and the origin point for most modern interpretation of traditional fairy tales. Ant residual trepidation quickly vanished as I began watching season one; becoming an instant, ardent fan. Disney knows how to tell a story and that initial season progressed dolling out clues and exposition in a delightfully teasing fashion pulling everything together in a season finale that looked as if it would have to destroy the original premise. In the long months of hiatus fan were full of conjecture as to how the series could reestablish equilibrium and retain the exceptional degree of quality and carefully intertwined story lines. Then the time came at last; season two began and not only did it regain its momentum rather quickly it surpassed its freshman year easily blazing a path for this and subsequent seasons.
The original premise provided for two separate locations the real world and the magical one. As of season two the vista has greatly expanded with the introduction of several new venues. Our world is now ‘The world without magic. The magical place where the citizens of the quaint town of Storybrooke originated is ‘The Enchanted Forest’ within it lie several different kingdoms each representing different sets of fairy tale characters and stories. During this season other realms emerge; ‘Wonderland’, ‘Neverland’ and the ‘Land without color’. The latter is a place where science has supplanted most of the magic and scientist hopes to reanimate the dead. While all this branching out ant intermixture of stories sounds doomed to crash in under its own weight the writers were brilliant in establishing order out of the potential chaos and seamless fuse the various worlds into an imaginative universe.
The initiating event was a vengeful spell cast in the Forest by Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) that transported the inhabitants to the real word New England Town of Stoybrooke. Each fairy tale character arrived unaware of their past with a new identity. The queen retains her memories and came along to watch her subjects suffer. Now she is Regina Mills, the Town major. At the end of the first season the biological mother of her adopted son Henry (Jared Gilmore), Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) broke the spell and memories returned. Since time was suspended Emma’s best friend, Mary Margaret Blanchard (Ginnifer Goodwin) is Snow White and her mother. Mary Margret’s significant other David (Josh Dallas) is the father and back in the old county, Prince Charming. Always one to instigate trouble the town’s power broker, Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle0) is the most powerful user of magic, The Evil One, Rumplestiltskin. Through him magic is brought to Storybrooke and a magical boundary wipes your memory of your real identity is crossed.
Mar Margret and Emma fall into a vortex returning to a kingdom in the Enchanted Forest disparate to find their way back. They encounter the Princess Aurora (Sarah Bolger) has just awaken and is searching for her Prince with the help of a warrior princess from another kingdom. Mulan (Jamie Chung). They join with Emma and Mary Margret on a dangerous journey. In the course of that we are introduced to the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland, Cora (Barbara Hershey) who is also Cora, Regina’s mother and as great evil power second only to Rumplestiltskin. We also encounter Captain Hook (Colin O'Donoghue), the bean stalk giant Tiny (Jorge Garcia). Back in Storybrooke we now know the Reverend mother (Keegan Connor Tracy) is the Blue Fairy and the hospital’s doctor Whale (David Anders) is Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the name a nod to the director of the 1931 film, James Whale.
As the back stories and relationships begin to emerge there is a slight propensity towards the techniques common in soap operas but thankfully done with restraint. You can tell this is fundamentally a Disney directed series. Besides the obvious use of characters in their most popular animated ‘Princess’ movies there is the infusion of the pervading themes of family, redemption and honor as the only way to oppose the forces of evil. The loving family unit of Emma, Henry, Snow and Charming are seen in stark contrast to the dysfunctional relationship of Regina and Cora that when combined with Rumplestiltskin tends to bring death and destruction down on innocent people in the vicinity.
Rumplestiltskin is basically the trope from mythology, the trickster. While traditionally morally natural their purpose is to constantly stir things up. Here Gold does that with his perchance for making unbreakable deals with calamitous clauses. His character has one of the best development arcs of the season. When he is reunited with the only woman that saw him as the Evil One yet loved him, Belle (Emilie de Ravin) he is moved to earnestly amend his ways. Another bout of conscience is experienced by Regina hoping to bring Henry back in her life. The presence of her completely wicked mother Cora puts a crimp in that plan.
While the eternal battle between good and evil form the foundation of this series it is far from being the theme giving life to it. At its heart this is a character driven series that bounces beautifully between the two realms. The stories in each location echo the other but typically the personality traits of the characters remain consistent crossing borders. One magical trope introduced is the evil magical ability to remove a person’s heart, not so much the literal one; a glowing read gem that can be used to control or murder the owner. It is a story thread utilized to bind all the stories. Another truly entertaining feature is the opening of each episode; it is an animation referring to the episodic title and providing a clue to the important revelation about to be made.
The expansion of realms was brilliant avoiding the usual cause of the sophomore slump. The show runner is typically trapped between retaining the elements that made the first season a success while providing a novel twist keeping the story fresh and able to move forward. This season achieved this goal much better than most.
Good Morning Storybrooke: Wake Up With Storybrooke's Favorite Morning Show