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Suspension of Disbelief: Once Upon a Time Season 2

Staring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Jared Gilmore, Robert Carlyle

3/5 Pure Hearts

Last year, Mindy gave you all a nice overview of Once Upon a Time season 1, but since then the second season has come and gone and now it seems like a good time to review what’s happened since then and whether you need to tune in for season 3. Last season we saw the town of Storybrooke under the thumb of Regina, the evil queen who had trapped fairy tale characters there without their memories. Season two starts with the breaking of the curse: magic returns to Storybrooke and all the characters regain their memories. The thrust of season 2 is that the characters want to return home to the Enchanted Forest where they came from.

Season 2 seemed to be the progression of the show from one in which love will always triumph to one in which the characters begin to fall down. Characters who had previously been redeemed by love find themselves going back and forth between good and evil, and even the purest of hearts gets tainted with anger and revenge. Different kinds of love are pitted against each other: Regina is torn between her mother and her adopted son, and Henry tries to reconcile his love for his birth mother and his adopted mother. Snow White’s love for her dead parents drives her to revenge at the cost of the love of her family and her attempts to reconcile with Regina. The white knights become far more interesting in this season as their love is questioned and tested. In many ways this is a more realistic season than the previous one.

The best part of this show for everyone is probably the joy of seeing what each new character will become. Each time someone is introduced you wonder how their backstory will be changed from the traditional fairytale you know. This continued strong in this season just as in the last, however because we now have two seasons of characters, it made for lots and lots of characters. On the positive side of it, the writers used new backstories to bring old characters together and weave things more tightly.

Unfortunately this season was also harder to follow and more unwieldy. Unlike season 1, season 2 did not feel like it had a cohesive direction. Season 1 clearly was aimed towards breaking the curse and allowing love and goodness to win out. In contrast, the attempts to get back to the Enchanted Forest often seemed lost in the individual episodes, and the aim of the characters was somewhat hard to see. More and more characters were introduced, which was hard to follow. We didn’t get as much time with our old favorites and many characters were introduced for only two or three episodes to be used as plot points, then discarded without a great deal of exploration.

Perhaps most frustratingly, the plot didn’t move as steadily as it did in season 1, mostly because there were so many things going on, and because the stories in the Fairy Tale realm jumped around in time a great deal. It was often difficult to tell what happened at what point in the storyline. In addition, more worlds were introduced, and that complicated understanding even further. How does Wonderland match up in time with Neverland and with Fairy Tale land and with our land? It’s hard to tell. Someone needs to make a flow chart.

In addition, some of our favorite characters from last season stagnated. Regina stopped gaining depth and seemed to just flip flop between good and evil repeatedly, and I won’t even go into Mr Gold (spoilers lay that way as well as the broken remains of my heart). Because of the sheer number of characters there just wasn’t time to get to many people. While we enjoy seeing new characters, we may want the show to give us good solid episodes of our old favorites.

However despite all these downfalls, this season felt like a more grown up version than season 1, and it continued with the previous strengths of the show. The main characters were given more and more depth (particularly those who had previously been all good), as well as more struggles, and the strong cast of female leads kept the show engaging. The theme of love was still prevalent, but it seemed to be a more mature exploration of love (“I will always find you” in many ways turned into “I’ve made a mistake”). And by the end of the season, it was revealed that there was more going on than simply a curse and an evil queen. The feel of the season was that it was setting up something big for season 3. While this meant that season 2 itself was not the best, it could bode well for the future. I see big things in store.

Overall, there were some problems with the characterization and plot in this season, but it set up what could be an extremely strong third season. Interestingly, a spinoff set in Wonderland is also set to begin. I look forward to both of these, and suggest that anyone who enjoys fairy tales, traditional characters bent in interesting ways, and deep relationships in their characters will love season 2.

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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