Two-Sentence Summary With the curse broken and all kinds of emotional reunions experienced, the citizens of Storybrooke face a new threat when Rumplestiltskin unleashes a powerful wraith meant to suck out Regina’s soul as punishment for what she did to Belle. In a portion of Fairytale Land untouched by the curse, a wraith is also responsible for the (possible) demise of Prince Phillip, leaving Sleeping Beauty and her new companion Mulan alone to travel to a “safe haven”—until they discover Snow White and Emma, who fell through the Mad Hatter’s hat in their attempts to lure the wraith back to Fairytale Land.
Snow: We talked about things we probably shouldn’t have even talked about…One-night stands and the like.
Charming: One-night stands?
Snow: We were cursed!
My Thoughts I have a serious case of mixed emotions about this premiere. I’m torn between liking it more than my sense of logic says I should, and not liking it as much as my sentimental heart wants me to like it. Overall, I loved the performances we got out of the actors in this episode, but I thought the plot was pretty weak.
In my opinion, a season premiere should set up the upcoming season in a fairly clear way, answering more questions than it asks. The time for asking questions is the finale; I like my season premieres to have a sense of clarity of purpose about them. I thought the pilot episode of Once Upon a Time did just that, but this premiere threw me off balance from the start and never quite righted itself.
I was incredibly confused by the opening scene. In fact, my sister and I had a moment where we panicked and thought I had recorded the wrong show on our DVR, and we only found relief upon seeing familiar names in the credits. I thought this scene would have been excellent at the end of last season, but it felt poorly placed at the beginning of the premiere. The first scene of a new season is not the time to confuse your audience, especially if you’re not even going to hint at what happens in that scene later on in the episode. It felt incredibly disconnected to the rest of the action, and, while I’m sure it will all make sense later on (my initial guess is that the mystery man is Bae), it took me out of the beginning of the episode emotionally because I was so focused on who that man was and why I was supposed to care about him.
Both plots surrounding the wraith failed to emotionally engage me like the majority of storylines last season were able to. I just didn’t care about Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip the way I knew I was supposed to. I found myself wishing that Mulan had her own storyline rather than being lumped in with theirs. I enjoyed her “girl” versus “woman” conversation with Sleeping Beauty (and its parallels to Snow and Charming’s first meeting), but this was one of the only fairytale “mash-ups” Once has done that felt forced to me.
In Storybrooke, the use of the wraith felt like an obvious plot device. It didn’t feel like it had the same emotional stakes as other conflicts because it didn’t feel organic to the characters and their interactions. And the final twist didn’t leave my mouth hanging open the way some of the ones last season did (Belle’s reveal in the asylum, Ruby as the wolf, etc.). In fact, my mother called the “parallel universe” twist from the first time the wraith confronted Regina. I ultimately enjoyed the twist for what it was trying to do (the shock value and the potential for new stories), but haven’t there been enough Charming Family separations already? Also, aren’t there already enough stories to be told with magic being back in Storybrooke (and apparently behaving much differently than it used to) without having to add this dimension to an already crowded plot? I almost wish they had saved that reveal for mid-season or even the Season 2 finale.
Don’t mistake my nitpicking for total dislike, though. I nitpick because when Once is on its game and keeping me emotionally engaged with tight plotting that flows naturally from fully-realized characters, nothing tugs at my heartstrings like it can. The emotional beats in Storybrooke were pitch-perfect in this episode. Belle and Rumplestiltskin had the interaction I thought was lacking the finale, and it packed a definite emotional punch. I loved that their reunion didn’t automatically fix what was broken between them; he’s still someone who chooses power over love, and she’s still someone who wants to see the best in him but knows all-too-well about the worst. I’m intrigued to see what happens in their relationship going forward (even if I didn’t love how quickly she went back to him after he was downright cruel to her with his biting comment about knowing him for only an hour).
Jennifer Morrison definitely had less to do in this episode than she had to do in last season’s finale, but she was incredible in her moments with Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin. There was a very in-character awkwardness to Emma’s interactions with her parents; she had trouble meeting their eyes and her body language was less confident. That only added to the power of Morrison’s performance. Emma was alone for so long with nothing but negative images of her parents in her head, and now she has to accept that these people are actually her parents. It’s enough to make anyone feel uncomfortable, especially because she is still carrying some very understandable pain. I thought it was a huge moment for Emma to even return her parents’ embraces as willingly as she did. The mixture of relief and latent hurt going through Emma in this episode is not an easy thing to portray, but Morrison did it with a subtlety that was extremely powerful.
Goodwin was brilliant as always in this episode. Her tears when she held Emma were so beautiful that I found myself shedding a few of my own. She always makes Snow’s emotions feel genuine, so it did not surprise me that she did such a perfect job of making the audience see the relief, regret, and total joy that she would be feeling after seeing the daughter that she lost for 28 years. I also really enjoyed seeing Snow’s strength and sass return in full force (see my favorite lines above). It’s amazing how Goodwin can make Snow White a fully realized person almost independent of her Disney inspiration.
The biggest surprise for me in this episode wasn’t the plot twist at the end; it was how deeply moved I was by Prince Charming throughout the episode. Dallas has never been better than he was in last night’s premiere. Charming’s reaction to seeing Emma for the first time since the curse was lifted actually got to me more than Snow’s. Dallas played it with such a sense of relief and release. There’s a beat where he lets out a breath that it looks like he was holding for 28 years, and I was a goner. The way he touches her hair was such a paternal, protective gesture, and it really sold me on their relationship despite them being the same age. And who didn’t melt when Henry called him grandpa?
Dallas also showed us a darkness to Charming that we’ve never seen before but is totally believable given the depth of his love for his family. Charming is a man who is willing to do whatever it takes to protect the people he loves; we’ve seen that already. But in this episode, we see just how dark he can get when faced with the person who took away 28 years of his life with his wife and daughter. His final confrontation with Regina gave me chills; it was so different from the noble Charming we’re used to but so in-character when you think of what he had just lost again.
The scene between Charming and Henry was also incredibly powerful. There was a warmth to Dallas’s interactions with Jared Gilmore that felt remarkably genuine. It was such a poignant writing decision to have Charming watch over Henry with both Snow and Emma gone. They’re so much alike. Henry has his grandfather’s faith and sense of hope, so it was beautiful to watch these to characters interact and share that hope. And the “I will always find you” exchanges did get a little a tired at the end of last season, but this one felt perfect. Dallas’s delivery was so earnest, and it made you want to cheer for the fact that Charming is back and ready to rescue his wife and daughter.
Ultimately, I liked this episode. I didn’t love it as a whole, but I loved certain parts enough to make up for it. I still don’t like that we were left with more questions than answers. I still see the big twists and the use of the wraiths more as plot devices than as organic story developments. But I was also blown away by the performances we got to see and the relationships we watched develop (Charming and Henry’s relationship has the potential to be one of my favorites on the show).
This was a good episode but not a great premiere. I was hoping for more, but maybe this is a case of me needing to temper my expectations and focus on the amazing acting that drew me to the show instead of its twisting, turning plot.