Once Upon a Time
By Steve Herte
(Kitsis/Horowitz & ABC Studios, 2011-present) ABC-TV, 8:00 pm Sunday
Having become an avid fan of this fantasy/drama over the course of its riveting first season, I am more than ready to find out what happens in the second, and Once Upon a Time is still delivering. However, one needs a scorecard to keep track of all the characters.
In the first season we learned that Regina, the Evil Queen in the Snow White story, obtained the means from a just-as-evil Rumplestiltskin to cast a spell over the entirety of fantasy land and banish all of the inhabitants to Storybrooke, a small town in Maine, USA (I wonder if Stephen King knows where this town is?). In Storybrooke everyone has new identities. They do not remember who they really are (except for Regina and Rumplestiltskin) and cannot leave the town limits. Also, the town clock has stopped forever and magic is unavailable. This is Regina’s attempt at achieving her own happy ending and depriving everyone else of theirs.
Regina Mills (Lana Parrilla) is mayor of Storybrooke and Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) is now Mr. Gold (since he could spin straw into gold, remember?) and runs the local antiques-cum-pawn shop in town. Snow White is now Mary Margaret Blanchard (Ginnifer Goodwin), a schoolteacher. Prince James (Charming) is now David Nolan (Josh Dallas). He is married to Kathryn Nolan (Anastasia Griffith), who was formerly betrothed to a man unfortunately turned to gold by King Midas (Alex Zahara).
Then it gets complicated.
Enter Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) who is just passing through from Boston and doesn’t know that she’s actually Snow White’s and Prince Charming’s daughter, and who was saved from the evil spell by a magic wardrobe carved by Geppetto (Tony Amendola) who is now Marco. She also doesn’t know that the son she gave up for adoption is Henry Mills (Jared Gilmore) who resides with Mayor Mills as her son – named after Regina’s father, Henry (Tony Perez) – who had to die by her hand so that the evil spell would work.
Henry has a big, illustrated storybook from which he figures out whom everyone in town really is, including Emma, and convinces her to stay because, “You’re the only one who can break the spell.” And indeed, at the end of the first season, she does exactly that, with the kiss of true love, to bring Henry back to life after he ate an apple turnover baked by Regina (Never eat apple products from the Evil Queen!), which was meant for Emma.
Over the course of the first season, Once Upon a Time gives explanations for various fairy tale characters and their outlook on life. Regina’s hatred of Snow White resulted from, while a child, Snow White (Bailee Madison) failed to keep the secret of Regina’s true love from her mother, Cora (Barbara Hershey) who uses magic to kill him.
Rumplestiltskin’s evil becomes his choice to gain power when he’s branded as a powerless coward and loses his son Baelfire (Dylan Schmidt) and his true love, Belle (Emilie de Ravin).
We meet the eight dwarves: Stealthy (Geoff Gustafson) is killed trying to escape King George’s (Alan Dale) castle with Snow White; Doc (David-Paul Grove), Sneezy (Gabe Khouth), Bashful (Mig Marcario), Happy (Mike Coleman), Sleepy (Faustino Di Bauda), Dopey (Jeffrey Kaiser), and Grumpy (Lee Arenberg). Grumpy’s doomed love affair with the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy) is the reason he’s so grumpy and was an episode in itself.
The luckiest actor is Giancarlo Esposito, who falls in love with Regina as the genie from Aladdin’s lamp, is given one wish and chooses to be forever looking at her, becoming the Magic Mirror. In Storybrooke, he runs for sheriff against Emma as Sidney Glass, newspaper reporter. (The Daily Mirror – get it?) The position became open when Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan), aka The Huntsman from the Snow White story, was killed by Regina when he falls in love with Emma.
There is no lack of special effects in Once Upon a Time. Prince Charming gets to kill a dragon. Emma also gets to battle and kill a dragon, but this time it’s really Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten), the evil fairy from the Sleeping Beauty story. Prince James and Snow White try to bargain with and eventually destroy a group of trolls guarding a bridge. Red Riding Hood, as well as Granny, is a werewolf, and so that story is explained neatly.
In the second season, everyone in Storybrooke knows who they are and Regina almost becomes the victim of a lynch mob. But, reunited with Belle, Mr. Gold (Rumplestiltskin) brings magic back to the already confused town and with it, a Soul-Sucker (Wraith), intended to kill Regina. However, Jefferson (Sebastian Stan) aka The Mad Hatter gets his magic hat working to open a portal into fantasy land that sucks the wraith out of Storybrooke.
Unfortunately, Emma is also sucked in and Snow White follows her, not wanting to lose her daughter a second time. They end up in a devastated land and join with the newly-awakened Princess Aurora (Sarah Bolger), Asian female warrior, Mulan (Jamie Chung) and Lancelot of Camelot (Sinqua Walls) to fight an immense ogre. Lancelot turns out to be Cora in disguise and she wants to get to Storybrooke to create even more havoc.
Cora joins up with Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue). He became Captain Hook after Rumplestiltskin sliced off his hand with a sword (Sure why not, Hook called him a crocodile.), and hopes to use the remains of the magic wardrobe to add two more villains to an already beleaguered town. Confused yet? I told you that you’d need a scorecard. This is without mentioning Pinocchio (Jakob Davies) or Jiminy Cricket (Raphael Sbarge) as the town psychiatrist, Doctor Archie Hopper.
Not only is this television show the most original concept in at least 20 years, it has excellent portrayals (Regina has my vote for most evil), great make-up jobs, costumes and sets, characters you can identify with and a well-written script. I can’t wait for next Sunday night to find out what happens next or who else will join the cast.