December 4, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Midseason Finale Review: “Once Upon A Time”


Times are dark indeed in Storybrooke this season.  The ratings for ONCE UPON A TIME have never been worse, and the the once-inventive show’s writing, by series creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis and their staff, is at a low ebb.  Truth be told, this has been coming for a while (remember the show’s sojourn in the Underworld, where half the scenes were shot through tinted lenses?), but the effect was temporarily masked by the very popular Frozen arc, the only time Once has directly synergized Disney’s movie division.  That’s worn off now that we’re in Season 6, and the results are threatening to topple ABC’s entire Sunday.

The season started with a few flailing episodes in which Once tried to become a sort of fantasy procedural, where refugees from the Land of Untold Stories like Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and the Count of Monte Cristo had their tales disposed of on a weekly basis.  That was bad enough, but once the show started telling its real Season 6 story, things got worse.  As though under a curse themselves, Kitsis & Horowitz seemed unable to do anything beyond mercilessly rehashing their own tropes.  Having spent seasons developing Regina (Lana Parrilla) as a character who’d grown out of her Evil Queen-ness, splitting that persona off last season so that she could be–or so it seemed–definitively disposed of, the show brought back the Evil Queen with a random explanation, so that she could do exactly what she’d been doing through all the early seasons.  (Except less interestingly, because now she had no countervailing Regina personality.)  Regina’s sister Zelena (Rebecca Mader) once again waffled between good and evil, before once again deciding to be bad.  And Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) practically became a drinking game:  despite having tricked, misled and conned everyone in the cast countless times, every 2 or 3 episodes he’d come along and explain earnestly that this time he was absolutely positively telling the truth–and then, 2 or 3 episodes later, he’d trick, mislead and con them again.

Tonight’s midseason finale was more of the same, with Kitsis & Horowitz (who wrote the episode, with Ron Underwood directing) offering their spin on The Matrix.  They sent Emma (Jennifer Morrison), by way of the Evil Queen’s misuse of Aladdin’s lamp, to a synthetic version of the Enchanted Forest, where the Evil Queen had been vanquished and Emma was no Savior, but of course all that changed when she had to save a loved one, in this case her son Henry (Jared S. Gilmore).  Just as a few seasons ago, when the Big Bad turned out to be Rumple’s miraculously non-aged father Peter Pan, this time we learned that the Big Bad will be Rumple’s miraculously grown-up newborn son.  And Regina clutched at the chance to be reunited with another temporarily-dead character, her true love Robin Hood.   The premise of Once is so broad that literally anything could happen within it, but Kitsis & Horowitz (and/or ABC) seem terrified of introducing anything genuinely new.  The behavior of the characters is so repetitively looped at this point that they might as well be hosts on Westworld.

Once Upon A Time doesn’t return with new episodes until March, and it’s not clear how much of the season’s remainder has already been written and shot.  (When it returns, it will be leading a new Sunday line-up, since Secrets & Lies has breathed its last for the season at least and probably for good, and the also-gasping Quantico has been shuffled off to Mondays.)  If the show is on extended hiatus, there could still be time for a rescue, either by Kitsis & Horowitz or–well, let’s call the person a savior.  Someone needs to rethink and reconstruct Once, because each week the evil wizard Nielsen edges closer to putting a curse on the series that even true fan love won’t be able to cure.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."