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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Morning Dawns On Once Upon a Time

Article first published as ONCE UPON A TIME RECAP Season 2 Episode 22 And Straight On 'Til Morning on Seat42F.

Grade: 99%

ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME ended their freshman run with a completely unexpected development which completely changed the focus of the series. This week’s sophomore season finale, “And Straight on ‘Til Morning,” does much the same thing, switching the rules again, and moving both the setting and missions for season three.

Early in the episode, Greg (Ethan Embry) and Tamara (Sonequa Martin-Green) activate the trigger that will destroy Storybrooke, killing all of its fairy-tale-land-born inhabitants. From there, it’s a race against time to either escape this realm or stop the catastrophe from happening.

But as pressing an issue as the trigger may be, the story, as usual, all comes down to character development. Regina (Lana Parrilla) created the trigger, so she decides to sacrifice herself, slowing the trigger enough for everyone else to escape. She knows she isn’t accepted by anyone in town, and this final act might make up for some of the bad stuff she’s down, as well as redeem herself in Henry’s (Jared Gilmore) eyes. It’s sad that she feels this is the only thing she can do, but she’s right, and her actions earn her forgiveness from everyone in town.

It’s weird to see the fairy tale folk jump to Regina’s defense, Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) being the lone hold out. None of these people like her, and she has caused such irreparable harm to their lives. Even if she does the right thing in the end, it would test the level of forgiveness of any sane person to be able to look past Regina’s spells and feel bad for her. I guess it proves just how good-natured and heroic the main characters are to be able to do this.

This pays off for Regina because Emma (Jennifer Morrison), David (Josh Dallas), Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin), and Henry try to come to her rescue, negating the sacrifice, but it’s the thought that counts, right? They refuse to leave her behind, no matter how tempting that might be. This is the satisfying culmination of Regina’s road towards trying to be good.

I’m not saying Regina will always be on the right side from here on out. Every tale needs conflict, and Regina is a wonderful source of said tension for ONCE UPON A TIME. But by taking her so far onto the positive side of the line, she is bound to keep working with her former foes, who are her family, for the foreseeable future. She’s earned her place in their eyes, and that should have lasting effect.

Sadly, the plan to save Regina almost fails because of Hook’s betrayal, and Emma has to step in with her own power. Together, Regina and Emma cancel out the trigger, thus proving just how strong they are when working in concert. I have a feeling this team up will be important again soon enough, as they will face huge challenges in the future.

While everyone is distracted with stopping the trigger, Greg and Tamara kidnap Henry and jump through a portal into Neverland. Apparently, they work for “Him,” who has been searching for Henry, and thus the trigger is not their end game. These are smart villains who manage to trick our heroes, and that makes them all the more dangerous.

Thankfully, this means they will have to stick around the series in some capacity, Martin-Green’s availability permitting, now that she’s full-time on The Walking Dead. And we still don’t know why Henry has been singled out, or what their intentions with him are, so there’s lots to ponder this summer.

We get a little glimpse of Neverland in “And Straight on ‘Til Morning” as Bae (Dylan Schmid), in flashback, sails on Hook’s ship among the crew. It looks like a terrible place, with the pirates (except for Hook) afraid of the sinister Lost Ones, led by Peter Pan. Peter Pan is not the Big Bad, it seems, but is in service of “Him.” This is a very dark world, and not one anyone would be anxious to venture into it.

Again, what we are shown of Neverland is secondary to a character-driven story, this one focusing on Hook. Hook is a scoundrel, but he has the capacity for good. He protects Bae for his own selfish reasons, out of love for the departed Milah (Rachel Shelley), but then softens towards him. Then he hands Bae over to the Lost Ones. In the present day, Hook betrays Emma, but then comes back and lends his ship and his services to the protagonists.

Is Hook good or is he evil? He definitely realizes that a life bent on revenge is not a life well-lived, but it almost seems like he doesn’t quite know how to be good. Like Regina, he has a bad childhood, mentioned in “And Straight on ‘Til Morning,” and thus finds it hard to make the right choices. But also like Regina, he comes through in the end, making him not completely despicable. It will be interesting to see how he continues to evolve next year, now firmly ensconced with the principal cast.

Unfortunately, or fortunately for an interesting story’s sake, Neverland, with all of its unknown threats, including mermaid curses, will be a major setting next season. This installment ends not only with Greg, Tamara, and Henry going there, but with Hook, Emma, Mary Margaret, David, Regina, and Gold (Robert Carlyle) following in pursuit.

Gold, too, learns to turn his back on his darker nature when he not only spares Henry, whom he considers killing early in the hour, but also sets aside his differences with Hook. It seems Neal’s apparent demise has the desired effect, making Gold questions his priorities and make the right decisions. Yes, there is still a hint of threat in Gold talking to Hook, but they are going to be working together, and Gold is definitely not trying to kill Henry anymore. This is where fans want his character to be.

However, I and many others are very disappointed that Belle (Emilie de Ravin), memory restored through an act of kindness by Grumpy (Lee Arenberg), doesn’t get on the Jolly Roger with the rest, Gold leaving her in charge of protecting the town.. It’s clear that the story of ONCE UPON A TIME is leaving Storybrooke next year, with the entire core contingent departing. This likely means Belle will be downgraded back to recurring player, and won’t have more scenes with Gold anytime soon.

The same can likely be said for Ruby (Meghan Ory), who has been absent from the past few episodes, including the season finale, and has a pilot just picked up by CBS. I hate that ONCE UPON A TIME so frequently dispenses with main characters, even if they aren’t vital to the continued tale, and Ruby and Belle seem to be the latest casualties of this trend.

Neal (Michael Raymond-James) could still be promoted to series lead, though, because, as we find out at the end of “And Straight on ‘Til Morning,” he’s still alive and in fairy tale land with Aurora (Sarah Bolger), Mulan (Jamie Chung), and Phillip (Julian Morris). None of these three are principal players, but Neal is so pivotal to the larger arcs that his latest adventure could steal some screen time away from the rest of the leads. I welcome that.

ONCE UPON A TIME delivers a fantastic finale, with some major developments, unexpected twists, and wonderfully written and performed roles, with Parrilla and O’Donoghue sharing the MVP title for the hour. I am super excited about what will come next, and anxiously await its return next fall, as it has been renewed.

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