Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Once Upon a Time tugs at our hearts

ABC's Once Upon a Time ended its fall run this week with "Queen of Hearts." The various plots that have been playing out for the past few months all converge and mostly end, avoiding a dramatic, violent showdown (though we get a small taste of such a thing), instead playing more to the emotional depth of the characters. It's also an episode heavy on revelation, making it a tasty treat that should tide fans over until January.

The biggest message to come out of "Queen of Hearts" is the power of true love. Emma (Jennifer Morrison) discovers her name written in magic ink in a cell, which enables her and her friends to escape after being locked up. Cora (Barbara Hershey) learns that she cannot remove Emma's heart. Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) admits he has nothing to do with, and doesn't even know the full extent of, Emma's power. It feels like a bit of a Harry Potter rip off, but clearly true love is the most powerful force in Once Upon a Time, and it will make sure, as Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) asserts, that good will always triumph over evil.

This means that Emma's focus in the series should not lessen as the show goes on. She already plays out her role as the savior last year, and her family relations to several other main characters mean that she won't be going anywhere. But now that magic has returned, and the fairy tale and real worlds begin to intermingle, one might think that Emma's lack of experience with the former would handicap her. Instead, she will still likely be the best hope everyone has of surviving, given this new development.

And survive, they must. Cora and Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) are temporarily defeated in the fairy tale realm, but by the end of the episode, they are sailing into the harbor of Storybrooke on Hook's ship. This does feel a little liked a cheat. So much effort is exhausted to thwart them, and yet, off screen, they suddenly manage to achieve their goal anyway. However, there is still a battle to wage, so the excitement will not lack concerning them when the show returns.

Cora and Hook's emergence in Storybrooke points to signs that Once Upon a Time may not visit the fairy tale world for awhile, other than in the frequent flashbacks. True, Mulan (Jamie Chung) and Aurora (Sarah Bolger) are still there and have a new quest to embark on, but they are not main characters, despite what it has seemed like this fall, so it is likely that we will see very little, if any, of their mission. Instead, the bad guys have broken into our world, so that is probably where most of the action will stay.

Emma has huge talents that we are just beginning to glimpse, but she cannot stop Cora and Hook alone. She merely holds them off so that she and Snow can make their escape before, and now that things will be deteriorating, she will need all the help that she can get. The problem is, most of the talents of good guys on the show are limited, standing little chance against great mahic, so her best bets for helpful allies are Rumplestiltskin and Regina (Lana Parrilla), whose allegiances are circumspect.

Rumple just wants to find his son. He can't leave Storybrooke, so he's stalled in this desire, but he has no particular loyalty to anyone else here, save Belle (Emilie de Ravin). He helps in "Queen of Hearts" and the events leading up to it because of his soft spot for a boy, Henry (Jared Gilmore), who may remind him a bit of his own child, and because he really doesn't want Cora coming to this world, as she could get in his way. If he can run away and avoid confrontation, he likely will, just as he is coldly willing to sacrifice Emma and Snow in this episode if it will keep Cora from crossing over.

Regina is a bit more of an enigma. She desperately wants to be good again, at least in Henry's eyes. But no matter what she does, she isn't figuring as an important person in his life. She absorbs Rumple's deadly spell so that Snow and Emma can get home, which could cost her something that hasn't been revealed yet, given her looks of pain. And yet, after a quick hug and word of praise, Henry runs off with Emma again. How hard would it have been to invite Regina to come along with them, considering how much she played a role in their safe return? By excluding her, they risk alienating Regina, leaving her vulnerable to Cora's influence. If Regina sides with her mother, Storybrooke could really be in trouble.

Much praise has to be given to Parrilla, who can definitely be argued to be this season's MVP, much as Carlyle dominated last year. She plays the layers of complexity that make up Regina expertly, balancing all of the facets of her personality so, so well. She makes us care about someone who started off the series as the most villainous member of the world, and her vulnerabilities as a mother, no matter who Henry's flesh and blood are, make her someone to root for. Even if Regina trends dark again, I hope that Parrilla is given the opportunity to make her a hero in the end.

The "Duh!" moment in "Queen of Hearts" is when Cora is revealed to be the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland. Given her penchant for stealing the blood pumping organ from people, this is something I should have seen coming from a mile away. And yet, like many of Once Upon a Time's great twists, I somehow did not put the pieces together until the last moment. It's touches like this, the seeds planted months, even a year, beforehand, that prove that this show has some of the best writing on television. Other awesome callback bits in "Queen of Hearts" include a return to the lake, Rumple's use of the fairy wand, seeing Cora create the dome that saved part of fairy tale world, and the logic leap many viewers are making that Rumple planned very well in advance, allowing himself to get captured before the curse.

Once Upon a Time will return in January on ABC.

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Article first posted on TheTVKing

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