Sunday, May 18, 2014

ONCE UPON A TIME "Drifts" "Home"

Article originally written for Seat42F.

ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME ended their third season last night with two episodes: “Snow Drifts” and “There’s No Place Like Home.” While Zelena (Rebecca Mader) really is dead and is not coming back to cause more trouble, her passing has re-activated her time portal. When Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) get too close, they are sucked back into the past. They decide to seek Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) to help them return to the present, but before they find him, Emma accidentally disrupts the meeting of her parents, so that must be fixed before she can go home.

“Snow Drifts” and “There’s No Place Like Home” are really a stand-alone two-parter, much more than the wrap up of the Oz arc. Well, not stand-alone, because they culminate everything that has been building for Emma over the past three years, but they aren’t strongly tied to the rest of this half-season. It’s a really fun, reference-intensive journey for the central character, not a battle to the death with a powerful foe.

In a way, it’s good that Zelena doesn’t come back because the false defeat would ring very familiar, similar to the way Peter Pan’s fall story wraps up. On the other, this makes defeating Zelena way too simple, as I complained last week about how easily she is taken down. The trouble she causes in these episodes are purely accidental, and she herself is gone.

Emma’s tale is an Enchanted Forest remake of Back to the Future. Not only does ONCE UPON A TIME borrow the story and some of the conceits, it makes reference to the film via dialogue, just in case viewers couldn’t make the connection themselves. I assume Disney / ABC Studios doesn’t have the rights to the film, or else we might have seen a DeLorean in Rumple’s vault. Still, the parallels are obvious.

Which does not take away from how successful “Snow Drifts” and “There’s No Place Like Home” work. Emma has long been dealing with abandonment issues, and plans to leave Storybrooke now that the crisis is over. This tale wakes her up to the fact that she has a home and belongs with her family. Not only does she miss them when encountering younger versions of Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming (Josh Dallas) that don’t know her, but she becomes a princess herself and is permanently injected into their story. This is Emma belonging, once and for all.

Along the way, ONCE UPON A TIME includes a number of bits for the fans. Recurring players such as Granny (Beverly Elliott), the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy), Marco (Tony Amendola), and lesser seen faces aren’t really needed, but pop up to help the world feel fully rounded out, something the series needs to do more of in the present day. Even better, the familiar characters of Snow, Charming, Rumple, Belle (Emilie de Ravine), Red (Meghan Ory), and even another Hook are trotted out and interacted with, putting Emma back in connection with who these people were, not just who they are.

The story itself is not too complex. Rumple helps Hook and Emma correct Snow and Charming’s path, disrupting Charming’s marriage to Abigail (Anastasia Griffith, a delight to see again after a long absence) by way of using younger Hook and a ball, then making a daring rescue. The individual elements that come together are far more important than the plot arc, yet it feels cohesive and without any glaring flaws, a triumph for a time travel story.

Emma’s flashbacks, at an orphanage and with Neal (Michael Raymond-James, who can’t seem to stay away, thankfully), enhance the main story. They aren’t strictly necessary, but make sense for what “Snow Drifts” and “There’s No Place Like Home” are trying to do. Plus, they are more fun glimpses of the characters of the past.

The seamless blending of past and present are very well done in these two episodes. Not only do the actors get back into hair, costumes, and makeup to match their former roles, but some scenes already seen before are viewed in a different way, especially difficult to film with a now-very-pregnant Goodwin. Yet, though a combination of body doubles and special affects magic, the visual presentation is solid in the finale.

Of course, this being ONCE UPON A TIME, nothing is without kinks. Emma’s bleeding heart results in saving the life of Maid Marian (Christie Laing, whom you may remember from last year’s “Lacey”), which interrupts the budding romance between Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Robin Hood (Sean Maguire). Regina’s first reaction to this is anger, thinking Emma is just like her mother, Snow, in ruining Regina’s life because Emma doesn’t think of consequences. Hopefully, cooler heads will eventually prevail. We don’t need a tame, domesticated Regina, but we do need one that shows how far she’s come, not ignoring all the growth she’s experienced.

The only real problem I have with these episodes are that Rumple drinks the forgetting potion after learning that Neal is dead. This Rumple of the past hasn’t gone good yet (nor has our present Rumple, apparently, tainting his wedding to Belle in an unpleasant way). This Rumple’s sole goal is to be reunited with his son. Why is he content to listen to Emma when she says that Neal’s death is for the best? And Emma is known to be a terrific liar. Why can’t she do it now, when it’s most necessary?

The slightly lesser issue is that of popping up recurring players for no reason, which should be happening all along, but because it doesn’t, it feels odd now. Why is Abigail / Kathryn at the Royal Baby party, even though we haven’t seen her in a very long time? Aurora (Sarah Bolger) is glimpsed, too, but not her husband, and still no talk about which flying monkeys our heroes might have murdered. It’s these cracks that remind us of the larger flaws in the show itself.

The cliffhanger ending is excellent. We see a blue form emerge from a container that is being kept in Rumple’s vault, now unleashed on Storybrooke. Though I haven’t seen the film Frozen myself, the internet seems to be abuzz that the new figure ties into that. It seems like perfect symmetry, bringing on characters from a very popular film onto ONCE UPON A TIME. I guess this means Carrie Fischer and Mark Hamill might want to clear their calendars in the near future?

ONCE UPON A TIME pretty much nailed the landing, after a few missteps in recent months, and now all that’s left is for fans to wait for its fall return.

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