Last night's episode of Once Upon a Time was kind of like the cookie segment of an Oreo: It was not the frosting. There was a conspicuous absence of certain favorite characters: Emma, Snow, and Belle in an oversized men’s shirt with bedhead, for example, but much like the cookie part of the Oreo, the episode had substance, provided necessary structure, and was pretty great in and of itself (as long as you weren’t constantly thinking, where my frosting? WHERE MY SWEET FROSSING?).
Once my disappointment faded after the first act made it clear that we were not to expect any intercutting betwixt present-day fairy-tale world and Storybrooke, I was honestly surprised by how much I loved "We Are Both." No joke, this might be one of my favorite episodes from the entire series, for three reasons:
1. Lana Parrilla.
2. Storybrooke right now, seriously amazing, can we all rent houses along a street in Maine and just recreate it cosplay-style for a week guys come on who’s with me?
3. The 10th Kingdom. Like many of you, I am obsessed with The 10th Kingdom and dammit if this episode didn’t lay down a scaffolding to turn OUaT’s second season into one long extended sequel.
The world of woken-up Storybrooke is one of the more surreal thesis statements to play out on television (since, say, Lost, perhaps!). It was audacious how devastated the writers made the town after a single trip from the wraith: broken curbs, overturned cars, apocalyptic damage in broad daylight . And the conceit of an “invisible line” similar to the one in The Village of the Damned is so fantastically creepy, and more importantly ups the stakes and gives characters an almost irresistible choice: to wipe the slate.
Although seriously there’s never been a better time to stay in Storybrooke, what with the free counseling and first aid and people openly discussing stuff like wraiths and “our prince.” The town’s confusion over its mixed identities was exhilarating and consistent with how modern people would react if they remembered how they used to say, live in a shoe...
...and I loved and cannot praise highly enough the realism in approaching such a batshit crazy premise.
I had the same question about whether or not the nuns would start dating. As much as we’re all revving to get to fairy-tale land (FTL, as I’ve noticed y’all been saying), Storybrooke is a much more interesting and conflicted place when you view it on a grand scale through a realist filter, as the writers have wisely elected to do. OUaT even dropped its snails pace for once and worked from premise to conclusion in one episode: The premise is that crossing this line means a fresh start, the logical conclusion is that all the Storybrooke characters hop in their cars and head for the line to escape the Evil Queen/their own emotional chaos. Dark, right?
I’m sure “crossing the line” will continue to be an issue and an option, but the fact that the writers had the Storybrooke characters caravan there en masse was incredibly dark (they are in THAT MUCH pain and fear) and forced a point I thought the show would drag out for weeks. And having Charming go down to the threshold and literally and figuratively turn the town around was a huge redemptive moment, for the town and for a character that up ‘til now has been pretty terrible. I asked once in a Season 1 review what this show could possibly do to make me forgive David Nolan; well, having Charming hop up into a truck bed and explain David as representing the weakest part of his nature is a good start.
Although I did not fly across the room at a single flick of her wrist, Lana Parrilla seriously blew me away last night. As did Granny firing a crossbow. (Was she just carrying a cross bowaround town? Oh, Granny.)
Seriously Lana Parrilla is a national treasure and it's hard to imagine what this show would be like without the complexity and sympathy she gives Regina, and for once her dialogue wasn’t in opposition to her subtlety. The introspection and growth of our increasingly sympathetic and un-Evil Queen was written with incredible care and made a lot out of parallels between the way her mother had abusively smothered her and the way she was hurting Henry.
While her return to the town was full of sound and fury, the fact that she ultimately swept out of the room once Henry came back to her was infinitely touching to me. She doesn’t want to pursue their misery anymore, she just wants her own happiness. And her pitch to Henry—her promise to be honest with him and even make the house a Hogwarts homeschool, personally I would have found that irresistible, even if that cupcake didn’t look so great. Carby! Too carby for me, sorry.
Defying all our expectations, Regina actually changed after being rejected by her son. She learned a lesson from her conflicted memories of her mother and gave her son some agency. Layering her progress back toward magic with the reveal she had learned everything from Rumplestiltskin was certainly a game change, one that shifts more of the responsibility for the town’s ultimate renewal onto Mr. Gold. This second episode went a long way in establishing that Regina is not the ultimate villain, the real Evil Queen was her power-hungry mother Cora, who warped her and who is returning, 10th Kingdom-like, to the show.
If any of you have not seen The 10th Kingdom, vomit right now at your work desk and go home “sick” and watch it on Netflix because WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?
For those of you who have, the mirror portal was totally ripped from that series, n’est pas? And Cora is a true analog for the Evil Queen (and mother of the hero) in 10th Kingdom, right down to her costume.
And the fact they’re running into her in a prison, look... I don’t want to put spoilers in here for people who haven’t seen 10th Kingdom, but trust me when I say there is a lot, a LOT Of homage stuff going on here and far from being peeved about it, I am very excited at how dark, weird, twisted, and fantastic this could go. Just the fact that Disney Princesses are unabashedly dragging their prisoners behind them on horses into a Mad Max encampment really says it all. Mulan, WTF? Aurora, you DESERVED that knee to the crotch!
So while I certainly felt initially cheated by the way this episode sidestepped picking up on last week’s excellent cliffhanger, if we spent the hour on the “B” storyline, that is saying a hell of a lot about how intense this show can be, because this episode was completely engrossing. There were so many great decisons here I haven’t even touched on! Allow me to list them OCD-style right here:
1. Regina obtained, but did not destroy her mother’s spellbook.
2. Charming knows the Enchanted Forest exists.
3. Jefferson and Charming are in touch.
4. Rumplestiltskin and Charming have agreed to stay out of each other’s way. (Okay, honestly that one I’m not so sure about. Considering they are essentially the hero and the villain, doesn’t that just mean they’re going to delay an inevitable conflict? Whatevs.)
And of course, the emergence of a bigger, badder, unpredictable Evil Queen is a huge game change. Next week, yes, had better be about Emma and Snow... but even coming after an outrageously fantastic premiere, this second episode managed to be somehow even more engrossing. Five stars, you maniacs at OUaT. You glorious maniacs.
– Why did Rumple smash his sparkling glass counters when he found out about crossing the line?
– Will Cora seek vengeance on Regina or be proud of how evil she became?
– Will Snow immediately recognize Cora?
– Just how many portals are floating around on this show?
– What do you think Belle was doing this episode?
– Did Aurora deserve getting kneed in the crotch?