September 29, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Once Upon A Time”



The Season 3 premiere of ONCE UPON A TIME didn’t step foot in Storybrooke, nor did it feature any flashbacks to pre-curse incarnations of the protagonists.  Whether this was a one-time event for the premiere or a new template for the series is unclear, but the season’s initial hour, written by series creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, had a focus that sometimes seemed lacking in last year’s dark convolutions.

The bulk of the action took place in Neverland, where at the end of last season Henry (Jared S. Gilmore, starting to push puberty) was abducted by a pair of anti-magic activists.  The premiere presented the outline of a classic quest adventure, as a handful of motley heroes, several of whom despise each other, reluctantly joined forces to accomplish their goal of getting Henry back.  They include (to provide just a sliver of their complex mythologies) Henry’s two mothers, his biological Earthly mom Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) and his adopted Evil Queen mother Regina (Lara Parrilla).  Also along are Snow White and Prince Charming, AKA Mary Margaret and David (Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas), who are Emma’s parents and the subjects of Regina’s undying hatred; and Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), whose allegiances are always murky.  In addition, the rescue party has a joker in the deck, Rumplestiltskin AKA Mr. Gold, who’s Henry’s grandfather on his father’s side but who’s also received a mystical warning suggesting that Henry, if rescued, will destroy him.  Rumple quickly breaks off from the rest of the group, whether to help or hinder them is ambiguous.

Meanwhile, in the other alternate universe of the Enchanted Forest, Henry’s father Baelfire/Neal is just catching up to the story, with the help of returning players Mulan (Jamie Chung) and Princess Aurora (Sarah Bolger) and a guest appearance from Robin Hood.  Baelfire will presumably try to make his own way to Neverland, now that he’s given up trying to explain to Mulan what the “movie” about her life is all about.

ABC must have felt like it was under its own evil curse last season, as the ratings for Once Upon A Time took a season-long swan-dive, starting with a smash 3.9 and ending tepidly in the low 2s.  It was very early for a hit show to lose so much momentum so quickly, and it suggested that fans just weren’t responding to the way Kitsis and Horowitz followed the shocker Season 1 ending of the curse against Storybrooke that had seemed to be the central plot of the series.   There’s no question that while maintaining a high degree of imagination, Once became increasingly complicated as it flashed between different universes, dimensions and timeframes, and characters like Regina and Rumplestiltskin seemed to change from good to evil and back again every few episodes.

So far, it appears that Season 3 will be structured more straightforwardly.  The bickering heroes are united with a common goal, to rescue Henry from a single adversary.  He, somewhat audaciously, is Peter Pan (Robbie Kay) himself, and the premiere wasted no time in making clear that this Peter really is a bad guy, having him rip the shadow–and thus the life–from one of the minions who’d kidnapped Henry last season, while one of his hooligan Lost Boys shot the other kidnapper with an arrow (she was later finished off by Rumplestiltskin).  It should also help that the season will be scheduled with a minimum of preemptions and reruns, an uninterrupted fall run followed after a winter break by another run in the spring.  (On the other hand, Once will face the challenge of showrunners with divided interests, since they’ll also be supervising the spin-off Once Upon A Time In Wonderland that begins its run on Thursdays in October.)

Once has never suffered from a lack of quality.  Its cast is strong, Kitsis, Horowitz and their fellow writer/producers provide unending twists and a fair amount of heart, and tonight’s episode was another example of how well the technical staff (the premiere’s director was Ralph Hunsecker) stretches a broadcast series budget to provide a reasonable facsimile of epic scale.  Will Once last long enough for its own happily ever after?  If you believe, you don’t need to clap your hands–just don’t delete the Season Pass from your DVR.

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."