Some time ago, I wrote a critique of the ABC fantasy series Once Upon A Time (motto: “We Forgot What We Were Writing, So We Wrote This”). I tried to balance my praise against my criticism, and I think the overall note was positive.
That was then; this is now. After the last half season, I find the show nothing so much as frustrating. I realize not all of you have been watching the show, and this post will probably make you feel better about that life decision (you’re welcome). It also makes some sort of explanation necessary so that you can know what I’m complaining about. So here’s what we’ll do: I will provide a concise yet biased summary of the first half of the season, one that will neatly combine both the actual events of the show and my reactions.
A caveat: This summary will not do justice to the show. It will be fun, and it will highlight some genuine flaws, but it will also be lopsided. Whatever the faults of the show, it has more to be said for it than I have room to say.
Now to the summary, with key words in caps to facilitate skimming, or whatever.
At the beginning, our heroes go to CAMELOT, because Emma is possessed or something by the DARKNESS and they want the POWERFUL SORCERER Merlin to help her. Whom they actually meet when they arrive is, of course, King Arthur. This sprawls into a King Arthur SUBPLOT, but we will not summarize it, because we find the prospect TIRING, and we will not comment on it except to say that the show’s creators are lucky that King Arthur is a MYTHOLOGICAL figure, because otherwise he might SUE them for defamation of character.
Then our heroes immediately pop back into Storybrooke, with Emma going FULL DARK ONE, black leather and everything. The story in Camelot is now told in FLASHBACKS. Basically, in Camelot Emma is hearing voices and trying to destroy DARK MAGIC, whereas in Storybrooke she hears voices and is trying to destroy WHITE MAGIC. Meanwhile, other people are doing stuff.
In Camelot, the POWERFUL SORCERER Merlin is freed from a tree. He helps free other people from jail, but everyone’s PROBLEMS stay the SAME.
In Storybrooke, Rumpelstiltskin overcomes his cowardice (which we never saw) and his selfishness (we saw plenty of that) to become the HERO WITH THE PUREST HEART. Fans will bitterly remember this later.
King Arthur, Dark Ones, Merlin, BACKSTORY, Merida, Hook Emma romance blah … Somewhere in the middle we miss some episodes, but we don’t bother to go back, because we heard they are about Merida, and who cares? Not us. We weren’t even that crazy about the Pixar movie. We’re still not over how, in that movie, a teenage girl convinced a band of grizzled, battle-hardened Scottish chieftains to give up their cherished ancient traditions by giving them a speech about FOLLOWING YOUR HEART, which is like diverting JULIUS CAESAR from subjugating primitive Germanic tribes with CUPCAKES.
But we DIGRESS.
In Camelot (not technically, but close enough), the Dark Curse is cast AGAIN. Whatever book the villains get their tricks from is evidently SHORT. Also, Merlin – despite being a POWERFUL SORCERER – dies. And we hate to sound unsympathetic, but considering how much use he actually is, our heroes need not have been so concerned about finding him.
Also, we just know he is coming back, which NEGATES the ANGST of the moment. On a similar note, Belle smashes the teacup again, but never mind: This will change again again again.
In Storybrooke, Hook realizes that while in Camelot he was turned into a Dark One, causing him to remember that he is PURE EVIL. In Storybrooke (also in Camelot), he engages in evil-genius PLOTTING and opens the UNDERWORLD, letting out the DARK ONES. And our heroes are going to be DRAGGED DOWN.
So it’s time for BACKSTORY. Hook’s backstory, to be precise, and it leaves us thinking that were Hook a real bloodthirsty pirate instead of a fictional one, he – like King Arthur – could probably SUE. Someday we will manage to forget it. At any rate, Hook’s backstory is why he changes his mind at the last minute and makes a HEROIC SACRIFICE to defeat the darkness and save our heroes from being dragged down.
Unfortunately, it turns out the darkness is merely TRANSFERRED into Rumpelstiltskin, who has an IQ sixty times higher than anyone else in the realms and thus makes the darkness more dangerous than EVER. And the heroes go down into the Underworld anyway. And Hook will definitely be back. So the HEROIC SACRIFICE accomplishes NOTHING, but it was a good thought. Sort of like Rumpelstiltskin’s character development.
The screen fades to black as our heroes resolutely tread the dark water into the unknown. We don’t know what will happen next, but we are sure of one thing: We are going to see a lot of old (and dead) characters come back in the second half.
If we tune in.