The fundamental flaws of the actual season one finale were present in the ninth episode of season two billed as the winter finale. As I noted last week, Once Upon a Time is a show that's mainly about the writers getting to play with fairy tale toys, and who get so distracted by them that they forget to follow through on storylines and threads for episodes on end. Some episodes will be followed up on in the new year. The Emmy/Snow are stuck in fairy tale land was a contrivance designed to waste time and show off the dangers of the land Regina left behind, as well as the mother she left behind. The plan was, "Keep Emmy and Snow in fairy tale land until the last episode of 2012 so we get to stage a dramatic episode with a finale feel."
"Queen of Hearts" included many elements I've grown to loathe about the show: bad acting, horrible special effects, an absurd reliance on the magic to the point it feels like the writers decide to play a round of hackey-sack out back knowing a character can pull magic out of their ass to get out of a situation or make something happen that otherwise wouldn't, and an overwhelming sensation of pointless plotting. Stuff happens when a hiatus is coming; that it's. It is horrible and gives the show zero urgency. In a way, it's like older Disney animated movies, where Acts I and 2 consists of fun banter and catchy music; then, in the third act, Jafar turns the city red, makes Jasmine his paramour, and enslaves the genie. All hell breaks loose for ten minutes, but then Aladdin saves the day, frees the genie, marries Jasmine, and becomes heir to The Sultan's throne.
Emma and Snow were going to return to Storybrooke by episode's end; it was a matter of when and how they'd return. There were obstacles. Aurora was controlled by Cora and led into Rumple's old cell; Cora took the compass and the magic ashes. Gold and Regina plotted out how to prevent Cora from reaching Storybrooke, deciding upon turning the well portal into a death trap. Regina lied to her son about the plan to get Snow and Emma back because she wanted to prevent her mother from unleashing magical hell on her, her son, and the citizens of Storybrooke. There were poor special effects during the critical scenes of the episode, such as the creation of the magic lake, any portal scene, and any use of magic. The fights were poorly staged. After losing my mind (in a good way) for Arrow's magnificent fight scenes, Once rivaled General Hospital in the competition for 'Worst Fight Sequence' on any show, daytime or primetime.
Nearly every aspect of "Queen of Hearts" was rote--the fight scenes, the obstacles, the final twist of the episode; the writers can't get out of bad writing as easily as the characters get out of bad situations through the use of magic; however, the best piece of writing in the show's history occurred in Rumple's cell as Emma contemplated her role and wondered about her potential insignificance, of being nothing but a pawn in Rumple's plans. It was the most meaningful speech by any character in the series. I liked the honesty of the speech, it wasn't the typical fluff spoken by the characters about True Love, "We are Both," or "Good always defeats evil!" For one beat, Emma doubts the fated happy endings of her universe because she feels insignificant. The doubt doesn't last; she's the daughter of True Love after all, and she'll live happily ever after. Cora tries to rip Emma's heart out, but it's locked in her chest and Cora's sent flying by magic that Emma didn't even know she had.
Magic is the answer to every problem. Mulan returns Aurora her heart and learns about the possibility of restoring Phillip to life. Yes, Aurora, despite attempting to murder Snow and Emma, and going through nonsense to help those two get home, knew she could always restore Phillip--it's something with the wraith and life, and then I stopped listening. There are a lot of 'Oh, but wait!' moments in "Queen of Hearts." Cora thinks she's stuck until Hook shows her the magic bean that leads to a fully built ship and passage to Storybrooke. Henry thinks Emma and Snow will die unless Gold or his mother lifts the death trap from the portal. Regina saves the lives of the women she hates and does not receive an invite to dinner afterwards. Of course she's going to revert to the Evil Queen, and her tearful reaction to being excluded makes it inevitable. Snow wakes Charming with a kiss, and everyone goes to Granny's for a celebratory feast, quite unaware of the large pirate boat sailing into the harbor.
So, nothing really happened through the front nine of season two. The best (whatever the hell that is) is yet to come. We already knew about Regina's conflict with her mother in season 1; the constant reminders of their bad history was a waste of time. Was it worthwhile seeing Snow and Charming step up without the other? No. We knew they were capable of heroism when separated, as the first season depicted in their fairybacks. Henry's undying faith in the book, in the power of good against evil, were tentpoles of the character through the first season; his urgency showed character consistency but was otherwise another retread. Captain Hook and Cora couldn't be less interesting villains if they were turned into ragged socks.
Season 2 will resume in 2013 with more conflicts, the arrival of terribly written villains in Storybrooke, the search for Michael Raymond-James, and more repetitive fairybacks. Once again, I wonder if my reviews shall return with the show. We shall see. If you don't hang around the blog for other reviews, I wish everyone reading the happiest of holidays.
-Meghan Ory got screentime to get tossed off-screen. That's an image that perfectly represents what I think the writers think of her character, Red.
-As long as the show spends $2 on special effects, I never want to see any other land. Wonderland was botched. The extras were dressed as the extras in Eyes Wide Open (or whatever the heck the title of the Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman movie is). A TWoP forum member remarked that Syfy has better special effects. I agree. Let that sink in--it is a massive insult to ABC.
-Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz wrote the episode. Ralph Hemecker directed it.
THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK