December 15, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Midseason Finale Review: “Once Upon A Time”


Even as ABC’s Agents of SHIELD suggests the limits of corporate/entertainment synergy, it’s been working out just fine for the same network’s ONCE UPON A TIME.  Whether the idea originated with the show’s network, studio or (as they claim) producers, melding Disney’s Frozen with the Once melenge of fairy tale, myth and pop culture has given the 4-year old series a significant uptick in the ratings this fall.

Dramatically, though, the arc has been far from Once‘s best.  This is the most contemporary piece of pop to enter the Once universe, and the show treated the source material too gingerly, as though nervous to damage such a massive corporate asset.  There were all too many nods to the Frozen movie (the animatronic reindeer may have been the worst), while the characters were reduced to wan heroes, with the real plot centering on the Ice Queen (Elizabeth Mitchell) who turned out to be their aunt.  The already-cluttered backstory of series heroine Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) was complicated even more, and much of the plotting was awkward or worse, especially in last week’s climactic hour, which softpedaled its promise of the Ice Queen’s curse causing Storybrooke’s inhabitants to turn on each other savagely (no one was seriously hurt), and ended up turning on an actual note in a bottle, thrown into the sea in the middle of a shipwreck in another dimension, followed by the Ice Queen’s convenient decision to commit magical suicide.  Meanwhile, the show couldn’t possibly compete with the unlimited visuals permitted by animation (Once has never looked so cheap), and of course there was nothing to compare with the songs, especially as sung by Idina Menzel, that kept the feature version of Frozen buoyant.

Tonight’s midseason finale, written by series creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, and directed by Ralph Hemecker, was a transition hour that served as an epilogue to the Frozen arc, sending Elsa (Georgina Haig), Anna (Elizabeth Lail) and Kristoff (Scott Michael Foster) home, and a bridge to what’s coming up when the show returns from hiatus in March.  That looks to be a curious mash-up, with Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle), once again evil, joining forces with Sleeping Beauty‘s Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten from True Blood), no longer the revisionist heroine of the movie that bears her name, The Little Mermaid‘s Ursula (Merrin Dungey), and 101 Dalmatians‘s Cruella de Vil (Victoria Smurfit) to get back into Storybrooke, from which he’d been banished during the course of the episode, and possibly conquer the non-magic rest of the world.  It all threatens to engulf the series in arch campiness.  The arc also promises to bring us closer to the identity of the “Storyteller,” the person or entity who wrote the book in which all of Once‘s tales are inscribed, and which among other things keeps holding the reformed Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parilla) from a happy ending.

Along the way of its first stretch of season, Once did move some of its continuing storylines down the field.  The romance between Emma and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) proceeded when Rumpelstiltskin didn’t have Hook’s literal heart in his control–a trope on Once that’s never quite managed to make sense–and Parrilla made something genuine out of Regina’s thwarted love for Robin Hood (Sean Maguire).  The decision to move The Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) over from the doomed Once Upon A Time in Wonderland has so far, though, failed to pay any dividends.

Once Upon A Time had a healthy run in the ratings with its Frozen cousins, but the show is better off sticking to its more legendary roots.  We don’t need to see Wreck-It Ralph or Big Hero 6 make an appearance in Storybrooke anytime soon.



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."