Once Upon A Time was one of the most inconsistent shows of last season, struggling to find the balance between the different worlds it was straddling. Part Lost, part Fables, the first season tried to ground the Storybrooke action in real human drama, but the writers were rarely able to make these events resonate in an emotional way. (Remember that horrible murder mystery plot? I’m still trying to forget it.) The fairybacks were often held back by lackluster special effects and repetitive storytelling, and the connections between the real and the fantastic were forced to serve the plot rather than the characters. This wasn’t always the case, and those brief glimpses of greatness showed what this series was capable of. The writers could have a lot of fun with the concept of Disney fairy tale characters living in a small rural town, but this show never fully embraced its core idea, avoiding most of the fantastic in favor of the real. That looked like it was going to change with last season’s finale and Mr. Gold bringing magic back to Storybrooke in a wave of fuchsia fog, and this season 2 opener confirms that this show is going to be a completely different beast going forward.
Before jumping into the Storybrooke action, the episode begins with a cryptic opener following Michael Raymond-James of True Blood and Terriers as he walks through a rainy cityscape while listening to Lou Reed’s “Charley’s Girl.” As he tries to shut his apartment window, a bird comes to his window carrying a postcard from Storybrooke with one word written on it: “Broken.” That’s also the title of this week’s episode, referring to the status of Regina’s curse after Mr. Gold’s actions. The cold open is a departure from the usual OUAT storytelling, with writers Andrew Horowitz and Adam Kitsis going the subtler route as they set up this mysterious new character and ease into the new status quo. Taking a page from the Lost handbook, this show begins it’s second season with a new character and an upbeat musical cue that may or may not have added significance. (See: Desmond and “Make Your Own Kind Of Music,” Juliet and “Downtown.”) The identity of Raymond-James’ role hasn’t been revealed, but the secrecy surrounding his part has lead some to believe that he’s Rumpelstiltskin’s son Baelfire, who, like Emma, was transported to the “real” world. That makes sense, and he’s definitely in the right age range for the part.
After the cold open, it’s back to Storybrooke, just moments after last season’s finale. Snow White and Prince “Charming” James are standing in the middle of the magical purple haze, and they remember everything about their past life. (From this point forward, these characters will be referred to by their fairy tale names.) They see Red and Granny embracing on the street, and when they run into the seven dwarves, they all bow to Snow and call her their queen. Ginnifer Goodwin really shines in this scene, especially once Emma shows up and the mother is reunited with her long-lost daughter. There’s a real sense of catharsis as Snow’s eyes fill with tears, which makes Emma’s reaction all the more obnoxious. Now faced with the parents she’s been looking for her entire life, Emma chooses to bitch them out for abandoning her rather than being happy she’s finally found them. Emma is this show’s most obnoxious character after Henry, and when Rumpelstiltskin says later in the episode that Emma should be thanking him rather than threatening him, it’s hard not to agree.
Led by Dr. Whale, the citizens of Storybrooke unite to take on the woman responsible for their 28 years of imprisonment, storming Regina’s door as an angry mob. Regina tries to use a spell, but her magic doesn’t work. While the curse is broken and magic is technically “back,” as is always the case with magic, there are rules that prevent characters from casting spells and summoning dragons right off the bat. The Blue Fairy can’t use magic yet because she doesn’t have a wand and doesn’t have fairy dust. It looks like Emma is the key in restoring magic (of course), and when she touches Regina at the end of the episode, she’s able to reawaken the queen’s powers. But if Emma is going to be the one who brings magic back to Storybrooke, the town is going to have to wait a while.
When Regina is thrown in prison, Rumpselstiltskin appears to confront her for locking away his true love. He’s promised Belle that he won’t kill Regina, but that doesn’t stop him from summoning a wraith that will kill her for him. Emilie De Ravin has been promoted to a regular cast member this season, and it looks like her main role will be rehabilitating Rumpelstiltskin, who succumbs to the dark arts like they’re narcotics smuggled in Virgin Mary statues. With the summoning of the wraith, this show does exactly what I hoped it would at the end of last season and fully embraces its fantasy side. Now the child custody arguments and romantic googly eyes will unfold in an environment where soul-sucking demons roam free and forest wallpaper can sprout vines to ensnare people. That soul-sucking demon is the connection between the Storybrooke action and the requisite fairyback, although this episode’s conclusion means that I’m going to need to find a new term for the fairy tale sequences.
At first, it seems odd that the fairy tale story in “Broken” doesn’t feature any of the Storybrooke characters, but by the end of the episode it’s clear why. Following Sleeping Beauty’s Prince Phillip (a quite adorable Julian Morris) and his companion knight, the tale begins with Princess Aurora (Sarah Bolger) being awoken from her slumber by true love’s kiss. Aurora is a bit prissy, and she doesn’t take well to learning that Phillip’s partner is actually a woman. For some reason, Prince Phillip is teamed up with Mulan (Jamie Chung), and they’ve been fighting together for a long time. After Aurora awakes, a wraith bursts through the ground and Phillip fights it off, but he is marked for death when he touches the medallion that he cuts off the creature. A love triangle forms between Mulan, Aurora, and Phillip, but it doesn’t get much time to develop over the course of the episode. Mulan offers to have the mark switched to her so that Phillip can live, but he refuses. When the wraith comes to suck away his soul, he turns to the two women and says, “I love you,” but never specifies which one. He might have broken Aurora’s slumber with true love’s kiss, but what if that’s because of her feelings towards him? Phillip is Aurora’s true love, but that doesn’t mean that she is his. During their time together (that we don’t see), Mulan and Phillip may have built something together that could replace his feelings for Aurora; while she slept, he moved on.
In order to get rid of the wraith, Regina tells Emma, Snow, and James that they have to send it back to the fairy tale world. While the curse destroyed most of their homelands, there is a part of their old world that still exists, and they can banish the wraith to it by using the Mad Hatter’s teleporting hat. As they fight the creature with furniture, hairspray, and lots of fire, Regina tries to get the hat to work, and it’s only when Emma touches her that Regina is able to make the hat start spinning. As the wraith charges toward Regina, Emma pushes her out of the way and sends the wraith through the tunnel, but not before it grabs Emma by the ankle and pulls her down with it. Snow White isn’t going to lose her daughter again, and she jumps through the portal after Emma, upon which it immediately closes because that’s how inter-dimensional gateways work.
Suddenly, it begins to make sense why there are no Storybrooke characters in the fairy tale plot, because these aren’t fairybacks anymore. Yup, Once Upon A Time pulls a “Through The Looking Glass” and reveals in the last scene that the events viewers thought were in the past were actually in the future, and that from now on the events in the fairy tale world will run parallel to the Storybrooke action. “Fairy-sideways” doesn’t work, but there doesn’t actually have to be a differentiation anymore now that the two worlds have been brought together. When Mulan and Aurora put Phillip to rest where Aurora slept for all those years, they hear sounds coming from the rubble where the wraith broke through the ground. Mulan moves the debris to find an unconscious Emma and Snow White, and says, “That is what brought the wraith here, that is what killed our prince.” So Emma and Snow White are now stuck in the fairy tale world, help captive by Mulan and Sleeping Beauty? I can get behind that.
Have you ever tried to explain the plot of Once Upon A Time out loud to someone? An already difficult task becomes nearly impossible after this episode. So the Evil Queen from Snow White put a spell on all the fairy tale characters and they live in small town America without their memories. OK, that’s not too bad. A season sluggishly unfolds as the writers realize that premise is kind of lame, and then they have Rumpelstiltskin break the spell. Then Rumpelstiltskin summons a wraith to suck the Evil Queen’s soul away, and Snow White, Prince Charming, their daughter and the Evil Queen use the Mad Hatter’s magic hat to open a portal to send the wraith to the fairy tale world. Uh…sure. The wraith kills Prince Phillip while Sleeping Beauty and Mulan (wait, what is she doing here?) watch in horror, and then the two women find Snow White and her daughter where the wraith appeared. Meanwhile, Belle is taming the beast inside Rumpelstiltskin, and Prince Charming is going to live with his grandson until the Evil Queen finds a way to rescue Henry’s mother and grandmother. Yes, it all sounds ludicrous, but the show is all the better for it. By accepting its fantastic nature and going completely wild, Once Upon A Time has renewed energy going forward; it’s not Lost nor Fables, and it finally feels like this show is living up to its unique potential.
- There’s a prominent sign for “Cleaner & Hatters” in mystery man’s apartment at the start of the episode, and the word “Hatter” always grabs my attention on this show.
- How about those sweeping location shots at the start of the fairy tale story? Once Upon A Time got itself a budget!
- Jared Gilmore continues to be a really bad actor, but hopefully he’ll hit puberty at some point soon and the show will just recast him.
- Who is Dr. Whale?
- Regina is such a drag queen. When she tries to use magic, it’s like she’s voguing.
- “Get to it, Rumpel.” I’m excited to hear all the goofy lines that come from everyone using their fairy tale names.
- “Maybe I don’t need answers from you, maybe I just need to punch you in the face.”
- “What was the purple haze that you brought?” I really love the idea that Mr. Gold got the residents of Storybrooke so high that they all think they’re fairy tale characters.