Around the Water Cooler: “Once Upon a Time,” The Season 3 Premiere (+2, SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who: “Once Upon a Time” currently airs on network TV, specifically on ABC, Sundays at 8:00 PM.

What: “Once Upon a Time,” a fantasy drama wherein storybook and fairy tale characters are not only real but are living in this world, away from their enchanted kingdoms and worlds beyond reality, and how they all interrelate (for a more detailed Synopsis, read here: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/tv/once_upon_a_time/summary.html).

When: The Season 3 premiere aired on Sunday, September 29, 2013, on ABC at 8:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in fictional Storybrooke, Maine, as well as in “The Enchanted Forest,” the fairy tale kingdom from where most of the main characters originate.  The action takes place primarily in present day, though there are flashbacks to the characters’ past lives, before they were whisked away to Storybrooke via curse wrought by the Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parilla) and before they were made run-of-the-mill real world residents with serious bouts of amnesia.

Why: Two primary reasons: one, I love fantasy and fairy tales, and the Disney network green-lit a live action serial television program about fairy tale characters that they would probably own the rights to, if the characters weren’t already public domain.  Two, the creators are Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, two of the head writers of Lost. Whatever else may be said about the latter program, I don’t think anyone could argue that Lost wasn’t well written.  Once boasted some whopper ingredients that promised to result in an explosive and tantalizing mixture of story possibilities; the show has done nothing but live up to that expectation and then some.

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

Once Upon a Time is firing on all cylinders at present.  Season one focused on Emma (Jennifer Morrison) accepting the fact that she is the “Savior,” i.e. the prophesied individual who could break Regina’s curse over Storybrooke, and the long lost daughter of Snow White, now dubbed Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin), and Prince Charming aka David Nolan (Josh Dallas).  Season two saw the return of magic to Storybrooke, no thanks to morally ambiguous Dark One Rumpelstiltskin aka Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle), the primary antagonism of the show rests between Emma and Regina, Henry’s (Jared S. Gilmore)’s biological mother and adoptive mother, respectively.  Though Regina appears to have procured her parental rights in an evil manner, there is no doubt that she loves Henry; and though Emma gave Henry up for adoption and was reintroduced to her fairy tale parents via her searching son’s savvy yet innocent quest to find his real mom, she has now bonded with her son, who has believed in his magical roots at all times.  We also know from season 2 that she gave up Henry for adoption because she was abandoned by Henry’s biological father, who is none other than Neal aka Baelfire, Rumpel’s long lost son, who Rumpel allowed to fall into a portal many, many years ago and for whom he has been searching ever since.   At the end of season 2, Neal and Emma were reconnecting and establishing bonds with young Henry, while Regina debated whether she was evil at her core and beyond redemption, no thanks to her now deceased sorceress mother Cora (Barbara Hershey), and deserving of Henry’s love.  Neal/Baelfire was attempting to find a reason to forgive his father, even as Rumpel recalled another prophesy implicating Henry, now connected to Rumpel as his grandson, to be his downfall.  Snow and Charming were trying to be parents to Emma, despite the fact that they are the same age.  The residents of Storybrooke faced interconnected dilemmas, none so far applicable to the current season.

Yet, two regular humans, apparently on orders from Peter Pan, the overlord of Never Land, in a quest to eliminate magic from the “real” world, attempted to destroy Storybrooke, but the results of the events, including Emma discovering magical capability she did not know she had, led to Henry falling through a magical portal, only to land in Never Land.   Thanks to Captain Hook’s (Colin O’Donaghue) arrival in Storybrooke due to his alliance with Cora, he, Regina, Emma, Snow, Charming, and Rumpel – the Crocodile after whom Hook continues to seek vengeance – board the Jolly Roger and sail for the second star to the right and straight on til morning, leaving the seven dwarfs and Lacey aka Belle (Emilie de Ravin) in charge of the town.

The first three episodes of Season 3 have squarely been focused upon the quest to #SaveHenry, as the marketing suggests.  After a tricky run-in with mermaids, Emma, Hook, Snow, Charming, and Regina have landed on shore and are being baited to find Henry according to the “games” of Pan and the Lost Boys.  Meanwhile, Rumpel, who has some past with Pan thanks to Baelfire’s previous stay in this world, seeks his vengeance against the Boy who doesn’t grow up as well as searches for his grandson in an effort to stave off his downfall.  Pan, meanwhile, after tricking Henry into believing he was an abductee of his Shadow, confesses that he is looking for someone with the “Heart of a True Believer,” which he believes belongs to Henry, evidenced by the fact that Henry believed in the power of pixie dust and flew without provocation or prompting.   Snow and Charming attempt to bolster Emma’s self-confidence, though Pan tricks into her confessing that she still feels like an orphan.  Regina is consistently tempted by the thought of using magic, while Pan goads Emma into thinking that Henry may opt to not leave Never Land, purely by choice, in the end.  At the same time, Baelfire, who fell through another portal and mistakenly returned to the Enchanted Forest, with the help of Mulan, Aurora the Sleeping Beauty, and her love Prince Philip, returns to his father’s former castle, encounters Robin Hood, and hatches a plan to return to Never Land to save his son and Emma, who he informs Mulan he truly loves.

The last episode introduced Tinkerbell, a forgotten fairy, stripped of her wings by the Blue Fairy after she stole pixie dust to help Regina find another soul mate, after losing the man her mother killed following Snow’s innocent but cataclysmic confession to Cora that Regina was in love.  Regina and Tink have bad blood, but Tink agrees to help the Save Henry club, provided they agree to rescue her from Never Land, though she indicates that Pan “knows” her somehow.  Baelfire managed to call the shadow with the help of Robin’s adorable son and has flown to Never Land on the wings of a prayer. Rumpel has had a run in with Felix, the apparent leader of the Lost Boys, who goads him about his own troubled past.  Emma, meanwhile, has found her mothering instincts but continues to doubt her self-worth.  In addition, Hook discovers that Charming was hit in the side with an arrow laced with Dream Shade, a slow moving poison that kills in Never Never Land.

In another stunning revelation, though it seemed implied that Mulan loved Philip in the past, Baelfire convinced Mulan that it’s best to confess love to a loved one before it’s too late…yet, Mulan encounters Aurora first, who informs her that she and Philip are expecting a baby.  The disappointment on Mulan’s face was ambiguous – does she love Philip or does she, in fact, love Aurora?

Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations

1) Belle appeared to Rumpel in a magical vision in episode 2, as she is his true love and his tether to goodness and reality, in some senses.  Yet, isn’t she still amnesiac back in Storybrooke?  Isn’t she still Lacey, thanks to her unfortunate crossing of the village line?

2) In fact, how are our Storybrooke friends doing?  I miss the dwarfs, Granny, Red, Archie/Jiminy Cricket, Mother Superior Blue Fairy, and the others.  Also, fun fact: Cinderella in season 1 was played by the same actress who plays Sarah Newlin on True Blood.

3) What does Pan mean when he believes that Henry will choose to stay in Never Land?  Especially since Henry is pretty excited about his magical family reuniting.   Also, what’s with this business about needing the Heart of a True Believer?  I know he said that Never Land exists and operates on imagination, but wouldn’t that be the imaginations of several as in millions of believing kids?  What’s Henry’s part to play here?

4) Emma is oftentimes the voice of the audience – in episode 2, she bit back at her mom by suggesting that she and Charming couldn’t be her parents when they’re now the same age, and that circumstances meant they couldn’t be the family Snow and Charming envisioned.  Still, Emma has some serious traumas to work through: being an orphan, being a fairy tale, being magical, being in a weird symbiotic relationship with the Evil Queen – and how about that love triangle with Bae and flirtatious Hook?  Since it’s a win/win all around with those hot men, I’d say she’s a luckier woman than she thinks.

5) Despite the above, Emma and Bae, all the way!

6) There are too many interesting tidbits and Easter Eggs to cover.   My only hope is that these writers, along with former Buffy head writer Jane Espenson, can keep on chugging and creating a truly magical Sunday night viewing experience.

PARTING SHOTS

Once Upon a Time is simply must-see television.  It’s family friendly and thrilling all at the same time.  It’s not perfect: the dialogue can be a little ham-fisted at times, and the special effects a bit questionable, but the creativity of this show and the attention to detail proffered by the writers makes it a truly magical hour of television each week.  Also, the Lost alums learned lessons from their prior job: while they keep the audience guessing, they know when to provide the key answers at the key times without it becoming frustrating or a story too big to rein in by the time all is said and done.   Hopefully, the show has a long life ahead of it.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Once Upon a Time  was automatically ordered for a full season, as it is one of the network’s highest rated shows, so much so that a spin-off was created (to be reviewed on this site shortly).  This viewer predicts additional season renewals because the program is one of the highest rated shows in its time slot.

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