When Once Upon a Time first began, I was cautiously optimistic about the show. I loved the idea of a series based on fairy tales, but wasn’t sure how long they could maintain it and what direction they could take it once the stories were told. I was pleasantly surprised and have been hooked ever since!
Before I post the reviews on the episodes of this half of season three, I will do just as the producers have done twice before and do a recap. This would be a good place to get caught up if you haven’t watched the show so far and would like to start.
When the series began, we met Emma, a bounty hunter living in New York. It wasn’t long before there was a knock on the door and standing there, was a young boy who claimed to be her son. The story came out that she had given her son up for adoption and he had come to find her because he believed her to be the “savior.” He believed that the town that he lived in, the town that his adopted mother was the mayor of, was cursed and that all the inhabitants were fairy tale characters from his book, given to him by his teacher, aka, Snow White. Emma doesn’t believe this, but drives “the kid” home. She sticks around town, mostly because the mayor likes to throw her weight around and Emma is rebellious and won’t be told what to do by anyone. She also genuinely cares that her son is okay. Henry, her son, believes that his adopted mother is the evil queen (Isn’t this every child’s thought? That they are adopted and their current parent is evil and somewhere they have an amazing mom?). We meet the inhabitants of Storybrooke and figure out their alternate identity. Ruby is Little Red Riding Hood, the psychiatrist is Jiminy Cricket, the somewhat nefarious Mr. Gold who seems to control everything is Rumpelstiltskin.
Interspersed in modern day happenings, we get flashbacks on the characters, telling not only the story we know, but also the story beyond that–what we might imagine is that character’s life.
One of the things that I love about this series is the interweaving of multiple stories. For example, the beast from Beauty and the Beast is Rumpelstiltskin; Mulan secretly is in love with the Prince from Sleeping Beauty; the evil queen is also Ursula the sea witch; Pinocchio is chosen as the one to smuggle Snow White and Prince Charming’s baby (Emma) out of the Enchanted Forest. The other thing that I like is the occasional nod to Disney (or Lost, as the producers also produced the Lost series), such as when Belle “chip”ped the teacup. I also like the explanatory stories, like why Red has to wear her riding hood.
So, Emma sticks around to tick off Regina as well as to humor Henry. She becomes the Sheriff and she and Regina often butt heads as it is an apparent good versus evil matchup, but also as Henry’s birth mother threatens the relationship that Regina longs to have with her adopted son, showing us that even the evil queen has feelings. Ironically, Emma ends up moving in with Mary Maragaret, aka Snow White, who is Emma’s mother in fairy tale land. A John Doe shows up at the hospital, who is Prince Charming. When Mary Margaret reads to him, he comes out of his coma and they have a strong connection. He is married to someone else, so there is lots of tension as they grapple with their feelings and what they should do. When he decides to leave his wife, who is actually a plant from the evil queen, she turns up missing and assumed murdered and the evidence points to Mary Margaret.
Along the way, we learn why the evil queen hates Snow so much. When Snow was a child, her father was going to marry Regina and the two were friends. However, Regina was in love with a stableboy, which Snow discovers and Regina’s mother manipulates her to spill the beans. So, Cora, Regina’s mother, aka the queen of hearts, kills the stable boy so that her daughter will be queen. Snow is blamed and Regina begins to turn toward hatred and evil and learns dark magic.
Mary Margaret is proven not to be a murderer when the missing woman appears again. In an attempt to kill Emma, Regina bakes a turnover with poisonous apples. Henry knows what it is and to prove it, he takes a bite and collapses. To save him, Regina and Emma (who now believes everything Henry has been trying to tell her) try to work together, showing that despite Regina’s evil nature, she does love Henry. However, it is Emma’s kiss on his forehead that is true love’s kiss that brings him back and breaks the curse. But instead of all the fairy tale people returning to the magic forest, they are just aware of who they are and Rumpelstiltskin has used a potion to bring magic to this world. Thus ends season one.
In the season two opener, the characters are all reunited, but Snow and Emma end up falling through a portal to the Enchanted Forest and meeting Mulan and Sleeping Beauty. Regina and the townspeople are at odds because they now know she is the evil queen and want to destroy her and she wants to kill them, especially Prince Charming. Except, now Henry stands in the gap. No one wants to hurt Henry by killing his “mother” and Regina doesn’t want to alienate Henry by being evil. The dwarves realize that if anyone crosses the line out of Storybrooke, they lose their memory. While Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin has brought magic there for power, Belle is prevailing on him to be a good man and he loves her, so he tries. We find out his back story. He had a wife and a son, but he was known as the town coward for not fighting in the ogre wars. His wife leaves him for Captain Killian Jones. When Rumpelstiltskin becomes “the Dark One”, he kills his wife and cuts off Killian’s hand, thus becoming the “crocodile” (his skin as “the Dark One” is scaly) and Captain Hook. Rumpel loses his son Baelfire–Bae wants him to give up his evil ways and found a portal to another world. But, Rumpel cannot give up his love of power and lets his son go alone.
Emma discovers that she has some magical powers of her own and is able to fend off Cora and make a run for a portal. On the other end of the portal, Rumpel and Regina are trying to keep anything from coming through, believing it will be Cora. Henry asks her to trust him and prove that she has changed because he believes Emma and Snow will come through, which they do. Cora teams up with Captain Hook to get revenge and they travel to Storybrooke another way and Cora frames Regina for a murder, which everyone believes since she has proven herself over the years to be an evil murderess. Cora’s plan is to turn all of the people against Regina so Regina will come running back to mommy.
Rumpel has devised a way to leave Storybrooke and not lose his memory, so he is about to set off to find his son. However, Hook appears and shoots Belle, injuring her enough that she falls across the line and loses her memory, essentially exacting his revenge by taking away the woman that Rumpel loves as he had done to Hook. As Rumpel is about to kill Hook with a fireball, a stranger drives in and crashes into Hook. This is odd because no one ever enters Storybrooke and they are all wondering what to do and how to keep this a secret. Rumpel is distraught that Belle doesn’t remember him or care to know him. Emma, Henry, and Rumpel go looking for his son, Baelfire, and it is revealed that he is also known by the name Neal and is Henry’s father. He had set Emma up to take the fall for a crime and go to jail, because Pinocchio had found him and told him that was the only way to protect her and allow her to fulfill her destiny. Baelfire/Neal doesn’t want anything to do with his father because he left him.
It’s an intense moment as you start making the connections. Rumpel is Henry’s grandfather, and since Henry’s adopted mother is Regina, Rumpel is now related to the evil queen. Poor Henry’s grandparents now include Snow White, Prince Charming, the Dark One, and the Queen of Hearts, while one mom is the evil queen and the other is the savior. And you think your family get-togethers are awkward!
It is revealed that Cora is the girl whom Rumpelstiltskin taught to spin straw into gold and they fell in love. But, Cora ripped her own heart out so she wouldn’t be weak. Rumpel was wounded by Hook and is dying, but Cora wants to kill him so she can become the Dark One and have his power and Regina, being manipulated by her mother, is helping her. Mary Margaret ends up casting a spell that, in essence, will make Rumpel live and Cora die if Cora’s heart is put back in her chest, which she tricks Regina into doing because she just wants her mom to love her. As Cora dies, she indicates that loving her daughter would have been enough. Regina is livid.
The stranger that hit Belle turns out to be mysterious and went came there looking for magic. He is in cahoots with Neal’s fiancee Tamara and it is revealed that he had been there before. He and his dad stumbled on Storybrooke when it first appeared. While Regina liked cursing everyone, she was bored with the same old routine and that no one either feared her as before or respected her or wanted to be her friend. She met this man and his son and begin to care for the boy but let him go because she didn’t want to keep him against his will. That’s when she decided to adopt Henry, to fill that void. The stranger and Tamara are there to destroy magic and get Henry because Peter Pan wants him. A team goes after them on Hook’s ship. Belle’s memory is restored and Rumpel tells Belle that there was once a prophecy that a boy would be his undoing. That boy is Henry, but as he failed his own son, he will not fail his grandson and he goes with them, stating that he is the only way they can get Henry back–he knows something that he isn’t telling. The end of season two.
The first half of season three is all in Neverland. We meet Tinkerbell and see what soured her friendship with Regina. We find that Peter Pan is evil and is trying to manipulate Henry, who has the “heart of the truest believer.” Pan needs the heart to remain young. This season was a bit tedious as they ran back and forth in Neverland. Hook kisses Emma, so she is torn between Hook and Neal. Charming gets nicked by poison and is told he can never leave the island with the cure he is given, but Rumpel says he can cure him when he gets back. It is revealed that Pan is Rumpelstiltskin’s father (yet another twisted branch in the old family tree) and that he abandoned his son to stay young forever and in Neverland. Peter Pan is also known as the pied piper. Henry is convinced to give up his own heart to “save magic”, but the team is able to trap Pan and restore Henry–though Pan switches bodies with Henry, unbeknownst to everyone else. Rumpel switches them back and Pan escapes, once again stirring up a spell that will destroy everything. The only way to stop this is if Regina destroys the curse, thereby sending everyone back to the Enchanted Forest. However, since Henry is not from there, he would be alone. So, Rumpel saves the day by killing Pan and himself (though I am not convinced that Rumpel is really gone for good) and Regina casts a spell on Henry and Emma that they will remember only a life together in New York, nothing of magic and Storybrooke. They all say a quick, tearful goodbye as the curse cloud billows towards them. Fast forward a year and Henry and Emma are happy together until Hook comes knocking on her door, somehow having returned to this world and telling her that her family needs her, which she finds ludicrous and shuts the door in his face. This is how they left us hanging in December.
Parental guide: the series itself is rated PG-13 and most episodes are rated PG. The main reason for this is due to violence. Obviously if you are familiar with fairy tales, you know that there is lots of fighting, swordfights, murderous villains, etc. This is a regular feature of the Once Upon a Time episodes. Bad language is at a minimum. It’s so rare, that I am usually shocked when I hear it. There are a couple of sex-related scenarios. There is no nudity and no actual sex shown, but there are scenes with two people in bed or a discussion about one-night stands, etc. Except for the sex content, I am considering letting my adolescent daughters begin watching the show. I think they will enjoy it as much as I do.
Stay tuned! Now that we are caught up on the series, look for reviews/recaps of each new episode!