ONCE UPON A TIME
In contrast to Castle, Once Upon a Time has never really been about the status quo. As an adventure-drama, the appeal is about what will happen next. Nonetheless, the season premiere is as much about tying up the rather large loose end from last season and bringing us back up to speed on the story as much as it is about moving forward. We have to catch up with Emma, the new Dark One, and the rest of the characters have to figure out a way to find her before they can truly embark on the adventure of saving her…if they can. In the next episode, the main adventure starts. We get to see Camelot, meet King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, and find out exactly what Dark Emma is up to.
I really enjoy the character development in this show, and I was impressed that the writers spent the first episode delving into Emma’s psyche and her struggle with darkness. We never got to see Rumplestiltskin descend into the depths of darkness – only brief snippets of before and after. We get to see Emma turn from frightened to frightening. We also get to see the rest of the characters dealing realistically with the aftermath of Emma’s disappearance. They each do so differently and we are treated to scenes displaying this, rather than heading straight on into the adventure.
Meanwhile, Emma meets Merida (of Brave fame) and once again, the writers incorporate a new character so well into the mythology of the show that one would think that Merida, like Elsa and Anna, had always existed in the fairy tale world – as though her story were as well-known as anything from Grimm or Perreault. Had I never seen or heard of Brave, I might have thought that Merida was from an obscure Celtic myth or folktale. I am interested to see what the writers do with her character, but I am glad that they only used her for a one-off plot in the premiere. Undoubtedly she will be back again, but she has served her purpose for now and does not need to follow along with the main characters to Camelot.
Before we can really get to Camelot, the characters abruptly return to Storybrooke, six weeks after they left and with no memory past arriving at the gates of King Arthur’s magical kingdom. At first, I was disappointed that they were using memory loss again. Would the story not have worked just as well that they remembered the missing time, but we as an audience had to figure it out? Perhaps, but the mystery worked much better further into the second episode. Like the first season, and the second half of the third season, the missing memories made it more fun and more suspenseful for the audience as we try to figure out who knows what, who is related to whom, who did what to whom where how with what, etc. The characters are trying to figure that out too. We also get to see the parallels between events in the past and present. By telling the story in this fashion, we are treated to the Camelot adventure slowly, rather than all at once in a manner that might seem over-the-top. The writers have brought back the mix of “fairy tale” and “real world” that worked so well in the first season.
As for the characters and the actual plot, I am intrigued by Dark Emma’s plans. Does she plan to turn the whole world dark? Does she plan to kill everyone that she loves? Eliminate all light magic? Does she even realise it herself?
Turning Regina into the New Saviour is mostly working: however, she faces an uphill battle both with herself and with Storybrooke residents. Her past never prepared her for being a good leader – she was coddled and abused by her mother and then ignored by her husband. She never even got to dance, much to Snow’s surprise. As an adult, Snow is slowly realising that her father and mother were not the saints that she had built them up to be. How humiliating it must have been to sit at a ball while your husband danced with his daughter all night! Of course, Regina did not handle it well at the time and might have acted differently now in hindsight.
Even as she mastered dancing, Regina was soon faced with two more ghosts from her past: Sir Percival, who remembered her as the Evil Queen who slaughtered his village, and Daniel, who she was undoubtedly picturing as Robin was stabbed and lay dying. No wonder she acted as she did and desperately asked Emma to save him! And had Emma not done so and Robin died, the audience would have been outraged.
Nonetheless, Dark Emma prevailed after Camelot. For once, Emma is confident and seems happy. She has her own house in Storybrooke. She tries to appeal to Hook’s pirate nature and get him to come over to the dark side with her. She wants to maintain a relationship with Henry and certainly still cares for him.
And yet, she is lost. Power and darkness may give us short-term happiness and security, but they are also lonely. Even her family does not want her around. Hook does not want to be with Dark Emma, even just physically; Henry does not want to spend time with her and has turned into a mirror-image of himself in the first season. Now he sees Regina as his mother and Dark Emma as the interloper that is not his mom. Even her parents are more intent on saving her than spending time with her. It is no wonder, then, that Emma wants to destroy them. She feels happy and secure now – probably moreso than she has ever felt in her life – and why can they not be happy for her?
Because she really does not want a connection to them – she just wants to use them for her own ends. However, she does not seem to be so far agone that she realises this yet.