Once Upon a Time’s second season falls short

Once Upon a Time’s second season, which ended last month, has not one but three plots, plenty of new characters, magical places, twists and questions both answered and unanswered. The result?

Storylines that are more concepts than fully developed plots.
In so many ways, what made season one strong is exactly what makes season two fall short. Though different characters’ stories and time-jumps could be confusing to a viewer who missed the pilot, season one was headed in one direction: to break the curse that locked fairytale characters in a magic free New England town with no inkling of their former identities. Season two has lots of goals, though which one an individual episode is heading towards is not always clear.

One of the downsides of last season was the amount of questions that kept recurring with growing suspense and urgency, leaving no choice but to answer them promptly in this season. We find out who Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold’s (Robert Carlyle) son is, who Henry’s (Jared S. Gilmore) dad is, and what happened to Pinocchio/August (Jakob Davies). For the sake of those catching the season on DVD or Netflix, I refrain from spoilers but the answers are not as shocking or revolutionary as they were built up to be.

Disney’s influence was also much stronger over this season, but whether that’s a good thing depends on if you see every Disney film as an acceptable definition of “fairytale.” The addition of Disney’s “Mulan” was completely unneeded, as was a foray into Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” realm.

All these bold, experimental turns took away from time that could have been better spent developing Sleeping Beauty’s character played by the ethereal Sarah Bolger. While I found last season’s subtle references to classic Grimm’s and Perrault’s tales fresh and clever, the overuse of Disney elements was unnecessary at best and annoying at worst.

The show’s real strength is its charismatic, engaging cast, both old and new. Ginnifer Goodwin’s portrayal of Snow White is spot-on, lovely and graceful; Josh Dallas’ Prince Charming is markedly improved, though he’s underutilized; and Robert Carlyle as Rumplestiltskin is a series highlight, who can change from good guy to bad guy with the slightest shift in tone of his Scottish burr. Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan carries a lot of weight as the series’ lead, a role she’s better at this season but hasn’t quite hit in stride. The best among the new cast is Colin O’Donoghue as a younger, edgier Captain Hook, who was confirmed as a regular for season three.

Despite its shortcomings, “Once Upon a Time” remains hugely entertaining, with a powerful message about forgiveness and what it means to be a family. The Evil Queen/Regina Mills (Lana Parrilla) is given repeated opportunities to redeem herself of the evil committed in season one and the aftermath of the portrayal of Snow and Charming’s “happily-ever-after” is strongly positive, with both showing mutual love and protection. New relationships emerge, and watching the dynamics between them is always the best part of the episode.

While it’s not perfect, the show is worth a watch, and the season finale ends with a pleasantly shocking twist and an encouraging plot setup for next season with a real goal. The unpredictable nature of the show may cause its shortcomings, but it’s also precisely what makes it fresh and fun.

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