Review: Once Upon a Time Season 1 Episode 2
Warning: Mild Spoilers
The Thing You Love Most, gives us a little more character development, a little more plot development, and a whole mess of problems.
I’m going to put this up front: For a series with three very strong female leads, (Jennifer Morrison’s Emma Swan, Lana Parilla’s Evil Queen/Regina Mills, and Ginnifer Goodwin’s Snow White/Mary Margaret Blanchard) I’m pretty sure they have yet to pass the Bechdel Test. There’s at least a minimal reference to a male character in every scene between them.
It’s as disappointing as the weirdly-rendered CGI sets, and somewhat more problematic.
That said, Morrison and Parilla sink their teeth into their characters as the tension between Henry Mills’ (Jared Gilmore) biological and adoptive mothers is ratcheted up. This is especially evident in a pair of memorable scenes involving apples and chainsaws. This is a fun, if so far, not particularly original show.
Through the requisite flashbacks weaving together the present in Storybrooke, Maine and the past in the Enchanted Forest, we learn a few key points about the Evil Queen: she really is far more ruthless than we’re giving her credit for, she may not be the one pulling all the strings, and she’s madder than a march hare where Snow White is concerned.
Speaking of Snow White; Ginnifer Goodwin managed to give Snow some backbone in the pilot episode, but Mary Margaret Blanchard is about as milquetoast as it gets. This is not a character that’s interesting to watch. It feels like the only reason she exists is because she has to for the plot to play out.
At worst the narrative is beginning to feel like a transparent melding of the “Desperate Housewives style” soap with the “kitchen sink does it, doesn’t it mean anything” of Lost. If this is the formula co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz are relying on to hold an audience, they may find themselves disappointed. That’s a trick that only works once, unless further iterations are done extremely well. Once Upon a Time is going to have to stand on its own once the novelty of the fairytale backdrop wears off.
At best there is an edge of the defiant anti-hero to both Emma and Snow White, and the possibility of seeing the Snow White/Evil Queen dynamics in a setting where it’s not about beauty or competition over a man. Thus far, we’ve got women competing over the love of/possession of a child and a yet-undisclosed wrong committed by Snow White.
There are a couple of outstanding things about the show: Jennifer Morrison, who brings a vulnerability and toughness to the good but not necessarily nice Emma Swan; and Lana Parilla, who seems fearless in making The Evil Queen/Regina the most thoroughly despicable female character I’ve seen on TV in a while. While the writing isn’t serving the characters well enough, the actors are filling the gaps. Parilla’s scenes with Morrison, but particularly with guest star Kristin Bauer van Straten as Maleficent, are chilling. If future episodes find a way to take advantage of the assembled talent, rather than forcing them to elevate the narrative, Once Upon a Time has the potential to be the next great chapter in genre television.
So far, what it is, is a very shiny apple indeed, but I’m not ready to sink my teeth into it. Yet.