December 4, 2012



Having blown up the initial premise of their show in its Season 1 finale, ONCE UPON A TIME creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz have inventively plotted a Season 2 that came to a satisfying Act 1 culmination in the show’s Fall Finale episode, which they wrote and which was directed by Ralph Hemecker.  (The hiatus won’t last long, as Once returns on January 6.)

With the curse lifted from Storybrooke, the evil Queen-cum-Mayor Regina (Lana Parrilla) vanquished, Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and her Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) reunited, and their daughter Emma (Jennifer Morrison) back with her own son Henry (Jared Gilmore), what was Once going to do for an encore?  Kitsis and Horowitz threw Snow and Emma through a portal back to the only part of the fairytale world that hadn’t been cursed–thanks, we learned in this episode, to a counter-curse spun by Regina’s mother Cora (Barbara Hershey), the uber-villainess of the story.  The first half of Season 2 was largely spent there, where Snow and Emma met up with Princess Aurora aka Sleeping Beauty (Sarah Bolger) and Mulan (Jamie Cheung), the latter of whom seemed to have a love for Aurora that dare not speak its name in an 8PM family show, along with new regular Captain Hook (Killian Jones), whose ties with Cora may not rule him out as a romantic interest for Emma.

All of this gave a spark to the fairy-tale universe part of the season, which included appearances by The Giant, a side trip to Wonderland, and plenty of hearts being ripped (sans blood) out of living bodies.  In addition, the more we saw of horrid Cora, the more interesting Regina became as a character, as she was revealed to be not just the one-dimensional baddie she initially seemed.  The quest to return to Storybrooke also gave Snow and Emma a chance to bond as mother and daughter, however close they are in age, and we’ve started to get a suggestion of what Emma’s powers might be beyond the ability to kick ass.  (Thinking of ass kicking, Once constantly struggles against the limits of its budget, and usually does quite well with a lot of mid-level CG, but the staging of this episode’s climactic battle between Snow and Emma on the one hand, and Cora and Hook on the other, left something to be desired.)

The only downside to the direction of Season 2 Part 1 has been a certain lessening of interest about what’s going on in Storybrooke.  With Snow and Emma gone, and Regina largely devoid of magic, Charming, Red (Meghan Ory), Henry and the rest have mostly had little to do besides look worried and send good wishes across the dimensional plane.  Scenes there have felt merely functional, time spent with the B team rather than the main event.  In addition, Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) remains the show’s most problematic figure, the exact nature of his powers, foreknowledge and loyalties still somewhat obscure.  The I’m-doublecrossing-you, no-I’mdoublecrossing-you between Gold and Regina can get a bit exhausting.

Once is now balancing at least three different times and places, with pre-curse and post-curse fairy tale world and present-day Storybrooke, and sometimes it can be more confusing than fun, sort of the way Fringe overextended itself when it added alternate realities to its parallel universes.  (Wait, if Regina is in full Queen mode, this must be a flashback, right?)  The pieces do, though, fit together to a remarkable degree–even if you’re momentarily unsure where or when you are, you never doubt that Kitsis and Horowitz know what they’re doing.  The not-so-surprising twist to the Fall Finale, with the arrival of Cora and Hook in Storybrooke, suggests that the second half of the season will mostly take place in the present-day locale, which should make things simpler to follow and provide an opportunity to build up the characters there.

Once Upon A Time has been one of the bright spots of ABC’s recent line-up–indeed, it’s been the network’s brightest spot since the debut of Modern Family.  While not a blockbuster (and not quite the compatible lead-in for Revenge that the network hoped), it’s been a very solid, reliable hit, and as long as its writers can continue to weave smart, surprising storylines into its complex fabric, it should have a place at the network for years to come, which in network terms is practically “happily ever after.”

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."