Review of Once Upon a Time

60 minutes

From the inventive minds of Lost executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis comes a bold new imagining of the world, where fairy tales and the modern-day collide.
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Oct 29, 2015 4:44PM EDT
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Once Upon a Time
5.01 “The Dark Swan”
Grade: B-

Once upon a time, I was really freaking obsessed with Once Upon a Time. It seems absurd now, that a show that devolved into an over-the-top parody of itself could once have been unironically enjoyable. But according to my last blog post about it, as well as several unpublished documents of season two notes (heavily seasoned with my all-caps feelings, of course), I loved this show. I thought it was good—entertaining, at least. What’s most embarrassing is that I thought of Once as the rightful heir to Lost, when that honor obviously belongs to Orange Is the New Black. Nowadays (at least since last year’s uninspired Frozen plot), watching Once has become a chore. As I mentioned in my Fall Preview, this show better get really good or really gay or I will make good on my promise to quit.

Aside from the promised return of Mulan (and Sleeping Warrior, I hope…), I couldn’t resist checking out how Once Upon a Time would handle Emma Swan as the Dark One. Last season’s finale flourish was one of the more ridiculous and enjoyable twists I’ve seen on the show in years. Evil on this show is a bit too campy for my taste, but a Dark Swan seems like deceptively good fun. Emma has always been one of the show’s strengths as an actual human with realistic flaws and emotions (the melodramatic, holier-than-thou Charmings, for example, have become insufferable), although the logic surrounding her destiny and her powers has often been quite questionable. Still, my favorite scenes of this episode were of Emma battling the darkness inside her, personified by Rumplestiltskin. The former Dark One is the obvious choice here, but it works because Robert Carlyle is so delightfully good at being bad. I was indifferent about the addition of Amy Manson as Merida since I haven’t seen Brave, but I liked her chemistry with Jennifer Morrison. I would have liked to see more of Emma’s interactions with Rumple and Merida, but this episode had other plans.

The scenes in the Enchanted Forest were fun to watch until about a dozen of Emma’s closest friends show up to dampen the mood. The logistics of how they get there are so ridiculous it’s hardly worth getting into. There’s a magic wand, a prison break, a green tornado, some dwarves with FOMO, and a baby that should probably have been left with a sitter or at least been buckled into a car seat or something. Everyone wants to save Emma from herself, probably because they care about her but probably also because she was a pretty formidable witch to begin with. I won’t blame a show so rooted in the battle between good and evil for giving speeches about resisting one’s own dark side. But the overacting really takes me out of the moment. Hook and Snow White especially have become quite one-note, aggressively brooding/whining and trying to “save” Emma via increasingly ridiculous means. Regina can still pretty much do no wrong in my eyes, but at what point will this show’s fast-diminishing returns finally tunnel through to China?

Because of course this episode ends with a flash-forward and a memory wipe. Once abuses amnesia as a plot device more than Supernatural has Sam and Dean keeping secrets from one another. And of course Once is doing Camelot this season. No Disney property is safe from a group of writers running out of ideas. Apparently Regina is supposed to be the town Savior now? Honestly, I’m just rolling my eyes at the whole thing. But Emma Swan as the Dark One, decked out in reptilian leather and bleached eyebrows? That’s too fun to miss.
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