“ONCE UPON A TIME”: Tolerating Ambiguity

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“ONCE UPON A TIME”: TOLERATING AMBIGUITY

A good number of the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fandom seemed to be divided over what was revealed in the series’ latest episode called (4.16) “Best Laid Plans”. This division seems to be especially apparent in the episode’s flashbacks and the moral implications hinted from those sequences.

Since the second half of the series’ Season Four began, there have been rumors and hints on the Internet that two of the series’ leads – Snow White aka Mary-Margaret Blanchard and Prince Charming aka David Nolan – may have done something questionable or even terrible in their past in the Enchanted Forest. The first hint appeared in the episode,(4.12) “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, when the couple had protested against allowing villainesses Ursula the Sea Witch and Cruella DeVille to enter their Maine community, Storyrbooke. Later in the episode, both Snow and Charming warned the villainous pair not to say a word about their past to anyone, especially their daughter Emma Swan.

The episode, (4.13) “Unforgiven” gave further hints of the royal pair’s ominous deed. The Storybrooke sequences featured Snow and Charming’s failed efforts to prevent Ursula and Cruella (with Rumpelstiltskin’s help) from resurrecting their former comrade, Maleficent. The latter had been trapped in dragon form by Regina Mills aka the Evil Queen in a cavern underneath Storybrooke during those 28 years of the first curse, until Emma killed her in the Season One episode, (1.22) “A Land Without Magic”. But the flashbacks for “Unforgiven” revealed that the Charmings had briefly formed an alliance with Maleficent, Ursula and Cruella to find a way to prevent Regina from casting the first curse. The alliance fell apart after Maleficent killed a pair of guards who blocked their way to a magical tree that could give them advice. Snow and Charming eventually learned – ironically from Maleficent – that the former was pregnant with Emma. They also learned that their unborn child would not only have the potential for good, but also for great evil. To anyone with common sense, this would be an apt description of any sentient being. Yet, the idea of their future child – who became dubbed as “the Savior” – possessing a potential for evil frightened the Charmings . . . especially Snow White.

So, what actually happened between the Charmings and the “Queens of Darkness” in the Enchanted Forest? “Best Laid Plans” provided the answer. The episode revealed that the royal couple had stopped to help a roadside peddler, who warned them that Maleficent had torched a village after becoming a dragon and laying an egg. He also advised them to seek advice from a “man in a cottage”. The latter turned out to be the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the same elderly man who had directed Queen Ingrid aka the Snow Queen to our world and whom Rumpelstiltskin (with Hook’s reluctant help) had entrapped inside the Sorcerer’s Hat. It was the Apprentice who told the Charmings that their child would grow up with the potential for both good and evil . . . like everyone else. He also added that if they wanted to ensure Emma would remain good, they would have to find another sentient being to serve as a vessel to absorb their unborn child’s potential for evil. In the end, the Charmings kidnapped Maleficent’s egg, which carried an unborn child to use as a vessel for Emma’s inner evil. And the Apprentice, who cast a spell that sent Emma’s inner evil into Maleficent’s unborn child, took the royal pair by surprise by declaring that such evil should not reside in the Enchanted Forest. He sent Maleficent’s child to “the Land Without Magic”, sucking Ursula and Cruella into the portal, as well.

The reaction to the Charmings’ actions in the Enchanted Forest and their subsequent lies in present-day Storybrooke proved to be very emotional and mixed within the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fandom. Many fans accepted what the Charmings did and recognized what they had done was wrong. However, other fan reactions to the Charmings’ actions and “Best Laid Plans” has been . . . well, interesting. Some fans have accused show runners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis of retconning Snow White and Charming’s characterizations . . . and bad writing altogether. Others have made excuses for the Charmings, claiming they could understand the couple’s need to save Emma from a life of evil. Others have used the peddler, who turned out to be the Author that many have been seeking, as an excuse for the Charmings’ terrible act. The episode revealed that instead of recording the going-ons in the Enchanted Forest, the peddler had been occasionally manipulating the actions of the inhabitants to “make a better story”. And since the episode revealed that the peddler/Author had manipulated the Apprentice into sending Maleficent’s unborn child to “the Land Without Magic”, he must have manipulated the Charmings into kidnapping the child in the first place. Ironically, the charges of bad writing and excuses reminded me of the reactions to Snow’s murder of Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts in Season Two’s (2.16) “The Miller’s Daughter”. For some reason, a certain portion of the series’ fandom find it difficult to accept any signs of moral ambiguity from either Snow White, Prince Charming or their daughter, Emma Swan. And there are those fans who have raked the Charmings over hot coals for their deed. I get the feeling these particular fans are angry at the couple (or at Horowitz and Kitsis) for shattering their ideal image of innate goodness.

Personally, I had sighed with relief over the revelation of the Charmings’ past misdeed. No one was more happier than me when Snow and David proved how low they could sink. Some might view my comment as crowing over the couple’s downfall. Trust me, I am not. I am happy that Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis has finally resumed portraying the couple’s moral ambiguity after . . . how many seasons? I believe the last time audiences really saw any signs of questionable morality from either Snow or David was in Season Two’s (2.16) “The Miller’s Daughter”, when Snow murdered Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts by cursing the latter’s heart and emotionally manipulating Regina into placing that heart back into Cora’s body. Many fans – to this day – have used Cora’s own moral compass and goal to become the new “Dark One” as an excuse for her murder. These same fans continue to claim that Snow’s intent was to save Storybrooke from Cora’s machinations. But Snow White’s declared intent to murder Cora in revenge for her mother’s death in (2.15) “The Queen Is Dead” makes it clear that Snow White’s only intent was to exact revenge.

There have been other signs throughout the series of Snow’s moral ambiguity. Flashbacks revealed in episodes that she was a kind, yet spoiled and slightly bratty child. I have always wondered about her attempts to redeemed Regina on her own terms, instead of allowing the latter to make the choice to seek redemption, herself. Was this some effort on Snow White’s part to regain the affection of the young woman who first saved her when they met? Or to be the “loving” stepmother and mother substitute she had assumed Regina was before King Leopold’s death? Who knows. I also recalled Snow White’s attempt to murder Regina in the flashbacks featured in Season One’s (1.16) “Heart of Darkness”. Many fans had attributed Snow’s murderous intent to the potion given to her by Rumpelstiltskin, which stripped away her memories of Charming. Those fans seemed to forget that the potion merely erased her memories of Charming. It did not make her murderous. I suspect that the stress of being a fugitive, along with anger and resentment over Regina’s part in Leopold’s death had finally got the best of Snow and she decided to resolve her situation with an act of murder. Thankfully, Charming managed to stop her.

And for quite some time, I have brought up Snow’s action against Mulan in Season Two’s (2.08) “Into the Darkness”, in which she and Emma were trying to leave the Enchanted Forest and return home to Storybrooke. As many know, Mulan had snatched a magical compass that mother and daughter were planning to use to return home. But Mulan wanted to exchange the compass for Princess Aurora, who had been kidnapped by Cora. Snow and Emma managed to catch up in time, before the former engaged in a tussle with Mulan that led to an implausible victory for her. Angry over Mulan’s theft, Snow demanded to know the reason behind it. Even though Mulan admitted that she stole the compass to save Aurora’s life, Snow gave into her anger and tried to kill the former. Fortunately for Mulan, Aurora (who had been freed by Killian Jones aka Captain Hook) stopped Snow from committing murder. Emma, on the other hand, had done nothing to stop her mother. Wow. Snow managed to commit two murder attempts before finally achieving one, when she arranged Cora’s death. Now, her body count is a far, far cry from the likes of Rumpelstiltskin, Regina, Cora, Zelena and other villains. But for someone with a reputation for innate goodness, her penchant for murder (whether successful or not) is at least worth contemplating.

As for David, one of his major character flaws has always been his penchant for judging others with extreme prejudice. Not only has this trait been apparent in his attitude toward Regina – even when she finally managed to achieve some form of full redemption – but also toward others whom he would view as different. This is a trait that Snow White also shares. How else could someone explain the couple’s willingness to use Maleficent’s child as a vessel for Emma’s inner evil? As far as they were concerned, the baby was nothing more than a replica of her mother – a personification of evil. Transferring Emma’s inner evil to her would cause no harm . . . or so they would believe. David was also willing to destroy the book’s page that contained the entrapped Author – an act that could have killed the latter and robbed anyone else of a future “happy ending”. He wanted to destroy that page to hide his and Snow’s theft of Maleficent’s child from everyone . . . especially Emma. His willingness to destroy the page struck me as a stark example of his own personal cowardice that has manifested itself, time and again.

In the Season Two episode, (2.02) “We Are Both”, he told the citizens of Storybrooke that the cursed David Nolan who was too cowardly to be truthful about his adulterous affair with the cursed Mary Margaret Blanchard; and the heroic Prince Charming were one and the same. In Season Three’s (3.14) “The Tower”, he resorted to hiding from others for a few nips of booze in order to hide from his guilt over Emma’s upbringing away from the family and a fear that he might prove to be an ineffective father to his son, Neal, with whom Snow was pregnant at the time. In “Unforgiven”, Snow woke up in the middle of the night following a nightmare about Maleficent, and found David drinking on the staircase to hide his worries over Ursula and Cruella’s arrival in Storybrooke. I am beginning to suspect that he might be a secret lush. Oh dear. And most addicts, if not all, tend to resort to this behavior because they are afraid to face the complete truth about themselves – especially their less than admirable traits. Charming has always struck me as the type willing to face external dangers like evil magic practitioners, dragons, a dangerous water temptress and his malevolent adopted father. Facing his flaws, personal mistakes and demons has always been a problem for him.

Why is it so difficult for some fans to view the Charming family – Snow White, David, Emma and Henry – as morally ambiguous? I never understood this attitude. “ONCE UPON A TIME” is not a television series solely for children. If it was, ABC/Disney would have aired the show on Saturday mornings, instead of during the usual prime time hours. This is the same series in which other heroes and villains have been portrayed in an ambiguous light. Why should the Charmings be exempt from such ambiguity? Because they are among the show’s main protagonists? Some would point out that Emma is a morally ambiguous character, due to her past as a thief and ex-convict. But Emma has committed some questionable acts since the series began – destruction of property, breaking and entering, accessory to her mother’s attempt to kill Mulan in “Into the Deep”, changing the timeline and lying to Henry. In fact, she is still driving the same yellow Volkswagen that she and Neal Cassidy (Baefire) had stolen when they first met. However, many fans tend to brush aside these acts – including the stolen Volkswagen. With the exception of her lies to Henry, which they saw as a threat to the Charming family’s reunion, many fans were willing to brush aside Emma’s questionable acts as long as she was not guilty of murder. Personally, I find this viewpoint rather hypocritical and an example of certain fans’ insistence upon viewing protagonists like the Charmings as morally ideal.

I personally do not care for morally ideal characters. I find them rather boring and unrealistic. I remember reading in a few Agatha Christie novels in which the main character – usually Miss Jane Marple – tend to express the view that just about anyone is capable of murder, given a specific situation. I agree with this assessment. I sometimes feel that human beings like to regard themselves as better than we really are. Perhaps this is why they love the idea of fictional characters – especially those dubbed “the protagonist” or “hero/heroine” – as being morally ideal. Mind you, this is merely an opinion of mine. I tend to find morally ambiguous characters more interesting. Such characters are very entertaining and really do make a story bridle with energy. Characters of one-dimensional morality do not. Even one-dimensional villains. Both Regina and Rumpelstiltskin had struck me as a pair of uninteresting villains in Season One, until episodes like (1.08) “Desperate Souls” and (1.18) “The Stable Boy” revealed just how ambiguous and interesting they truly were.

After Season Two, both Snow White and Charming seemed in danger of becoming a pair of rather dull characters. Between (2.17) “Welcome to Storybrooke” (in which Snow tried to me avert the emotional impact of Cora’s death) and“Darkness on the Edge of Town”, they were not that interesting to me. Well . . . there was the (4.11) “Shattered Sight”episode, in which Queen Ingrid of Arendelle aka the Snow Queen’s spell in which the couple exposed their . . . um, inner resentments and anger toward each other. But for me, that was not the same as deliberately indulging in or utilizing one’s unpleasant traits. After all, they and other Storybrooke’s citizens were under a spell. However, this story arc featuring Maleficent’s stolen child is an entirely different matter. Yes, Snow and Charming’s crime happened in the past. But they were not under a spell.

But there is one potential problem. Earlier, I had revealed that in “Best Laid Plans”, audiences learned the true identity of “the Author” – a peddler who had been commissioned by the Sorcerer and his apprentice to record the happenings in the Enchanted Forest and other “fictional” realms. After the Apprentice had sent Maleficent’s child to “the Land Without Magic”, he confronted the Author and accused the latter of manipulating him into banishing the unborn (or unhatched) child to our world. He also accused the Author of manipulating past events in the “fictional” realms. Certain fans jumped on this narrative turn-of-events and claimed that the Author had manipulated Snow and Charming into stealing Maleficent’s child. Yes, it is possible that the royal pair had been manipulated by the Author. Then again, the Apprentice never accused the Author of that particular act. So, the audience will never learn the truth, until Horowitz and Kitsis decide to reveal it. If they reveal that the Charmings’ act of kidnapping had been manipulated by the Author, then I will be sadly disappointed.

But you know what? Even if the show runners decide to include that Snow and Charming had been manipulated into kidnapping Maleficent’s child, the royal pair still managed to commit some morally questionable acts since the Apprentice had entrapped the Author in that book. And because both of them, along with other characters in “ONCE UPON A TIME”, have shown they are capable of both decent and very questionable acts, I can never regard them as innately good. Frankly, I see that as a good thing. Because in my eyes, there is nothing more boring or damaging to a good story than a morally one-dimensional character.

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“The Problems of a Savior Complex”

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“THE PROBLEMS OF A SAVIOR COMPLEX”

The Season Three finale of ABC’s “ONCE UPON A TIME” ended on a curious note. The finale consisted of two episodes – (3.21) “Snow Drift” and (3.22) “There’s No Place Like Home” – in which two of the series’ protagonists, Emma Swan and Killian Jones aka Captain Hook, found themselves transported back in time and to the Enchanted Forest due to circumstances beyond their control.

Let me make this brief. The main villain of Season Three’s second half turned out to be Regina Mills’ older half-sister Zelena, who was also known as the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz”. Due to Zelena’s jealousy of her younger half-sister’s privileged life, which included being raised by their mother Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts, she wanted to go back in time and erase Regina from existence. Although Zelena managed to set up a portal to convey her back in time, Regina managed to defeat her. Unfortunately . . . an angry Rumpelstiltskin ended up murdering an incarcerated Zelena for the death of his son, Neal Cassidy aka Baefire. Zelena’s spirit ended up re-opening the time travel portal. And both Emma and Hook got sucked into the portal and into the past.

During the pair’s adventures in the Enchanted Forest of the past, Emma nearly ruined the first meeting between her parents – Snow White and David, Prince Charming. She and Hook, with Rumpelstiltskin’s help, set out to repair the timeline and ensure that her parents will not only meet, but fall in love. Their efforts to do so led to Emma’s capture during the wedding party of Charming and Princess Abigail by Regina, also known as the Evil Queen. Inside the Queen’s jail cell, Emma met a woman who had been incarcerated for helping Snow White flee Regina’s wrath. With her and the woman set to be executed the following morning, Emma managed to break out of the cell. Hook, who had earlier warned Emma about changing the timeline, reacted with slight dismay when he discovered that she helped the woman escape. And yet . . . when Emma wanted to bring the woman with her and Hook to Storybrooke, Hook agreed to help her, arguing that the woman’s family thought she was dead and they need to continue to believe it. The woman refused to go with Emma and Hook to Storybrooke, so the former knocked her unconscious and with Hook’s help, brought her with them. As it turned out, the woman proved to be Maid Marian, Robin Hood’s wife. And Marian’s presence in Storybrooke brought an end to Robin’s newly found romance with Regina Mills.

Judging from Regina’s angry reaction to Emma and Hook’s actions, many fans reacted in different ways to this new twist in the story arc between the two women. Many fans continue to assume that Regina will fall back on her old evil ways and seek revenge against Emma for ruining her romance with Robin. Some believe she will be tempted, but continue her redemption arc and eventually forgive Emma. What is interesting about all of this is that most of the fans seemed to be interested in how Regina will react to the loss of Robin in the upcoming fourth season. Only a few fans have even bothered to criticize Emma and Hook for their actions. Yet, despite these criticisms, other fans came to Emma’s defense by stating that she was right to save Marian from being executed by Regina. I am tempted to discuss this situation from Regina and Robin’s point of view. But right now, I am more interested in what led Emma to change the timeline in the first place.

I can image the response to the last sentence in the previous paragraph. What led Emma to change the timeline? To save Marion’s life, that’s why! Emma Swan is supposed to be “the Savior”. As fan as the series and many of the fans are concerned, this is what she is supposed to do. I wish I could agree with that sentiment. I really do. But considering her actions in “There’s No Place Like Home”, I wish it were not so. Emma became labeled as “the Savior” back in Season One, when it was revealed that she was the person destined to break the curse that found many of the Enchanted Forest’s inhabitants in “the Land Without Magic” – namely Storybrooke, Maine – thanks to Rumpelstiltskin’s creation of it and Regina’s willingness to cast it. After spending nearly a season refusing to believe in the curse, let alone the idea that the town’s inhabitants came from a fairy tale world, Emma finally broke the curse with a “true love” kiss to her son Henry, who was trapped in a sleeping curse. And the only reason Emma found herself in this role as everyone’s “savior” was because Rumpelstiltskin manipulated events so they would lead to this moment. And why? Because he wanted to find his son Baefire, whom he discovered had ended up in our world. Now, if the only reason Emma had been set up as “the savior” who break that first curse . . . why did everyone else continued to regard her as “the savior” after she broke it? Why did she, for that matter?

One would think I am accusing Emma Swan of developing a bad ego trip. And you know what? They would be right. I am well aware of the fact that Emma reacted with a great reluctance and wariness to the idea of her being “the savior”. I am also aware of the fact that she was willing to flee Storybrooke (with Henry) in the Season One episodes, (1.20) “The Stranger” and (1.21) “An Apple Red as Blood” because she could not face the responsibility of being responsible for the lives of Storybrooke’s citizens. But once she broke the curse in (1.22) “A Land Without Magic”, Emma ended up embracing her “savior” role with a vengeance . . . despite her continued wariness. This was especially apparent in three episodes from Season Two and Three. After she, Snow White, Mulan and Aurora ended up captured by Cora and Hook in Season Two’s (2.09) “The Queen of Hearts” in the present day Enchanted Forest, the following exchange occurred between the four women:

(Emma is futilely banging the door of the cell with her sword, while the rest of them watch.)

Snow White: We aren’t going to break it down, Emma. It was enchanted to hold Rumpelstiltskin. We don’t have a chance.

Aurora: This is my fault.

Mulan: No, it’s mine. Cora stole your heart because I failed to protect you.

Emma: That’s very sweet, but I believe it’s my fault. I’m the saviour, and I’m not doing much saving, am I?

When I first saw this episode during the fall of 2012, I thought nothing of Emma’s words. But when I recently viewed the episode from my copy of the series’ Season Two DVD box set, her comment stunned me. I could not believe what I had just heard. For the second time, Emma expressed her deep-seated view to her mother Snow White that she would always be destined to be “the savior” in the Season Three episode, (3.11) “Going Home”. In this episode, Rumpelstiltskin had defeated his father Malcolm aka Peter Pan and Regina had to permanently destroy the curse by ripping the scroll that contain the words to it. Because Henry was born in “the Land Without Magic” and Emma managed to avoid the first curse, they were able to avoid being sent back to the Enchanted Forest. Before Regina destroy the scroll, both Regina and Snow White hinted that since Emma was “the savior”, she was supposed to remain behind and take Henry away. Emma responded to Snow White with the following words:

“I’m the savior, right? I’m supposed to bring back all the happy endings.”

Dear God. Emma’s belief in her role as “the savior” truly reached egotistical heights in her conversation with Hook in “Snow Drift” in which both discussed Emma’s plans to return to New York with Henry:

Hook: Don’t listen to me, listen to your son. (He takes the storybook from his satchel and hands it to Emma.) He thought this might remind you of what you’re leaving behind–your family.

Emma: Henry is my family and I am taking him where he is safe.

Hook: No, Swan. The safety-first nonsense is just that. You defeated the bloody Wicked Witch. You defeated Pan. You broke the curse. And you keep running. What are you looking for?

What I found amazing about Hook’s words is that he had credited the defeats of Peter Pan and Zelena to Emma. Apparently, he had forgotten that Regina was the one who saved Henry’s heart from Pan back in Neverland. Hook had forgotten that Rumpelstiltskin was the one who ultimately defeated Pan . . . and that Regina was the one who defeated Zelena. The only thing Hook got right was the fact that Emma had broken the curse. Some fans claim that Hook was merely trying to bolster Emma’s self esteem. Emma’s self esteem was not on Hook’s mind. Emma’s reluctance to live in Storybrooke with her parents WAS the topic between them. Hook merely slipped in Pan and Zelena’s defeats into the conversation. And what I found even more amazing . . . and scary is that Emma never bothered to correct him. By this time, Emma had incorporated the idea of her being “the savior” so much that she ended up wallowing in illusions over who had really defeated the Big Bads of Season Three.

As for the situation with Maid Marian . . . I can only shake my head in disbelief. I realize that many fans believe that Emma should have chosen saving a woman’s life over maintaining the timeline. I do not. Throughout most of “Snow Drift”, Hook had warned Emma about changing the timeline . . . for any reason. This reminds me of an episode from the 1998-2006 supernatural series, “CHARMED”. In the latter’s Season One episode called (1.17) “That ’70s Episode”, the Halliwell sisters traveled back in time to 1975 in order to prevent their late mother from being coerced into making a pact with a warlock – a pact that might have deadly circumstances for them. The youngest sister (at the time) Phoebe Halliwell gave into temptation and left a warning to her mother on how the latter would die nearly three years later. Realizing that she would end up changing the timeline, Phoebe tore up the letter before she and her sisters returned to 1999. As much as Phoebe wanted to save her mother, she realized that maintaining the timeline was the right thing to do . . . even if it meant her mother’s early death.

Despite the constant warnings from Hook about changing the timeline, Emma ignored him and saved Maid Marian from the cell. While I might admire her willingness to save someone, I wish she had realized that one cannot save everyone all of the time. And sometimes, it is not a good idea. But in her arrogance and misplaced belief that she had to save everyone, Emma decided to change the timeline. To make matters worse, she forced Marian to accompany her and Hook back to Storybrooke, despite the fact that Marian wanted to remain in the Enchanted Forest and find her family. And Hook’s argument that Robin and the others probably thought she was dead did not sit well with me. Emma had already screwed up the timeline by saving Marian. I did not see how dragging the latter back to Storybrooke was going to help the matter. As it turned out, it did not.

After what I saw in “There’s No Place Like Home”, I have come to the conclusion that Emma has absorbed the idea that she is “the savior” to such a degree that she has become slightly illusional in her belief. Emma’s role as Now that I think about it, I believe that the series’ creators, Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, have become illusional in this belief that Emma is always supposed to be “the savior”. Unless they were planning for Emma to develop some kind of complex over her role as “the savior” in later seasons, I suspect that Horowitz and Kitsis will never allow Emma to face the consequences of her action in There’s No Place Like Home”, aside from a few angry rants from Regina. And I suspect that Regina’s anger will not last very long. I have complained about this in an earlier article that when it comes to Emma and her family, Horowitz and Kitsis have a bad habit of not allowing them to consider or face the consequences of their actions . . . with the exception of Snow White, who had committed murder. And the consequences she faced proved to be mild and rather brief.

I must admit that I am getting weary of Emma constantly being labeled as “the savior”. This is a label that should have dropped after she had broken the original curse in “A Land Without Magic”. The only reason she was fixed with “the savior” role in the first place was because Rumpelstiltskin had arranged for her to be the one to break that curse. The longer this series continues to label Emma as “the savior”, the more I will become convinced that she has developed serious complex issues over this role.

Five Favorite Episodes of “ONCE UPON A TIME” – Season Two (2012-2013)

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Two of “ONCE UPON A TIME”. The series was created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz: 

 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “ONCE UPON A TIME” – Season Two (2012-2013)

1 - 2.16 The Millers Daughter

1. (2.16) “The Miller’s Daughter” – While Regina Mills and her mother Cora hunt for Rumpelstiltskin’s dagger in Storybrooke in this spine-tingling episode, Cora’s back story as a poor miller’s daughter who becomes the wife of a prince is revealed in flashbacks.

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2. (2.10) “The Cricket Game” – Following Cora and Captain Hook’s arrival in Storybrooke, the former set about framing Regina for Archie Hooper’s “murder” in an effort to emotionally break the former mayor. Snow White and Charming disagree over how to handle the captured Evil Queen in the Fairy Tale Land flashbacks.

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3. (2.05) “The Doctor” – The true identity of Dr. Victor Whale is revealed to be Dr. Frankenstein, when he attempts to resurrect Regina’s long dead fiancé in an effort to make a bargain with her. Flashbacks reveal Rumpelstiltskin’s manipulations of a young Regina that prove to have major consequences.

4 - 2.22 And Straight Until Morning

4. (2.22) “And Straight Until Morning” – Regina and the Charmings join forces to prevent Storybrooke from being destroyed by the former mayor’s magical trigger, stolen by anti-magic vigilantes Greg and Tamara in this surprisingly interesting season finale.

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5. (2.14) “Manhattan” – Emma Swan, Henry Mills and Rumpelstiltskin’s search for the latter’s son in Manhattan results in a major surprise for all three. Flashbacks reveal Rumpelstiltskin’s encounters with a blind seer, whose predictions will harbor consequences for the former.

The Great “ONCE UPON A TIME” COSTUME Gallery

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Below is a gallery featuring the costumes designed by Eduardo Castro for the first two seasons of the ABC series,“ONCE UPON A TIME”. Do not expect to find Jennifer Morrison, Jared S. Gilmore, Eion Bailey or others performers not featured in any of the Fairy Tale Land flashback sequences: 

 

THE GREAT “ONCE UPON A TIME” COSTUME Gallery

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Colin O'Donoghue as Captain Hook on Once Upon A Time S02E04 Crocodile 4

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“How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Charmings?”

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I first wrote this article before (2.10) “The Cricket Game” of “ONCE UPON A TIME” aired on January 6, 2013:

“HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE THE CHARMINGS?”

I will be the first to admit that I have become a diehard fan of ABC’s “ONCE UPON A TIME”. It was not easy for me. The concept of fairy tale characters existing in the modern world because of a magical curse really appealed to me. However, I had some difficulty in maintaining interest in the series, due to what I felt was the slow introductions of the major characters and slow pacing in the first half of Season One.

In the end, it took episodes like (1.11) “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree”(1.12) “Skin Deep”(1.15) “Red-Handed” and (1.18) “The Stable Boy” to maintain a strong interest in “ONCE UPON A TIME”. By the time protagonist Emma Swan broke the curse (somewhat) in the first season finale, (1.22) “A Land Without Magic”, I was a diehard fan. Then Season Two arrived and the series’ hold on my interest continued. Some critics and fans have complained about the storylines and characterizations featured in the first half of Season Two. Many complained about Emma and Snow White’s adventures in Post-Curse Fairy Tale Land, frustrated by Snow and Charming’s new period of separation. Some have complained about the minimal attention toward the Rumpelstiltskin/Belle romance. Some have complained about Regina Mills/Evil Queen’s redemption arc, demanding that she remain a non-redeeming villainess. And some have complained about the revelation of Dr. Whale as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, a character from literary horror.

If I must be honest, I had an easier time enjoying Season Two’s first half than I did the first half of Season One. The pacing seemed faster. Unlike many others, I had no problems with the idea of Emma and Snow White being stuck in Post-Curse Fairy Tale Land. The sequence re-introduced memorable guest character Cora Mills/the Queen of Hearts as a more memorable recurring character and a new spin on Captain Hook. I certainly had no problems with Regina Mills’ redemption arc, and my instincts tell me that the character is in for a long and difficult road ahead. And Dr. Whale’s revelation did not bother me one bit. Yes, I had a problem with the writers’ handling of the Mulan and Princess Aurora characters, even if I did like them. Rumpelstiltskin and Belle did not strike me as interesting as they were in Season One. And I was not impressed with (2.07) “Child of the Moon” and its handling of Red Riding Hood’s wolf nature or the King George/George Spencer character. But the one aspect of Season Two that I found truly annoying were the characterizations for the members of the Charming family – Snow White and Prince Charming, their daughter Emma Swan, and her biological son Henry Mills (Regina’s adoptive son). I found them more than annoying. There were many times when I felt bile rising up my throat.

Snow White and Charming were not much of a problem for me during Season One, especially their cursed Storybrooke alter egos – Mary Margaret Blanchard and David Nolan. Superficially, Mary Margaret and David seemed like slightly boring personas. But at least their affair, which really hurt David’s alter ego wife Kathryn Nolan (aka Princess Abigail), made them interesting and somewhat corrupted. Last year, I had viewed the affair as inoffensive, especially since they were really husband and wife in real life. But as far as the pair knew in their cursed state, David was married to Kathryn . . . and that did not stop them from hurting her with an affair. It took a second viewing of Season One to make me realize this. I found the affair distasteful, but I also believed it made Mary Margaret and David more interesting than their Fairy Tale Land counterparts.

After the couple regained their memories of their true selves, Snow White and Charming became very annoying. Season One introduced the idea of Snow White being an action woman. But the writing in Season Two took this concept to ridiculous heights in two particular episodes in Season Two. In (2.03) “Lady of the Lake”, Snow White made a big deal about the dangerous aspects of ogres. Yet, when an ogre threatened Emma, Snow killed him so easily that I found her warnings rather ludicrous. Writers Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg did not even bother to make it difficult for Snow to kill him. I found the ogre’s death anti-climatic and disappointing. The writers’ handling of Snow White in (2.08) “Into the Deep” really pissed me off. One, her fight with Mulan left me shaking my head in disbelief. I realize that the years of evading Regina had transformed her into some kind of action woman. But honestly . . . I really found it difficult to swallow the easy manner in which she got the best of Mulan in a fight over the compass that could lead them to a portal. Mulan was a trained warrior, who had more experience in combat. Yet, the audience was supposed to believe that Snow could easily best her in a fight? This was a fairy tale of the worst kind. Snow’s intitial compassion toward Aurora disappeared real fast after Mulan took the compass to trade it for the younger princess’s life. Even worse, she tried to kill Mulan for the compass. While most fans bashed Mulan for being concerned enough about Aurora to take the compass, I was too busy being disgusted by Snow’s murder attempt. And guess what folks? Her act of attempted homicide has been swept under the rug and quickly forgotten.

Charming has been a real pain in the ass in Season Two. Remember the finale of the Season Two premiere, (2.01) “Broken”? I do. The Charmings had learned that Rumpelstiltskin had sent a wraith after Regina to kill her in retaliation for Belle’s incarceration during the curse. They prevented the wraith from killing Regina, but it dragged both Snow White and Emma into Jefferson’s magical hat and Fairy Tale Land. What happened next? An enraged Charming shoved Regina and threatened to kill her if she did not bring back Snow and Emma. Regina retaliated and nearly killed him using magic. Guess which act Henry conveniently appeared to witness? Not Charming’s attack, but Regina’s.  And Henry threatened to never talk to her again if she did not bring back his mother and grandmother. How convenient for Charming. And the self-righteous bastard never admitted that his attack on Regina led to her to retaliate, thanks to Horowitz, Kitsis and their writers. Charming proved to be an ineffective guardian for Henry. Even though he knew how to be the kid’s best friend and promised to train him in the arts of being a knight, he never really bothered to discipline Henry. When Regina informed him about a resurrected Daniel in (2.05) “The Doctor”, Charming’s only method in getting information from her was to threaten her with jail time. Honestly, I found the scene laughable. However, I was not laughing in the scene in which he punched Dr. Whale for the latter’s one night stand back in Season One. I was simply disgusted. Whale pointed out that his brief affair occurred during the Curse, when everyone believed that Charming was married to Abigail (Kathryn Nolan). But Snow’s husband had to prove his manhood with a move that left me viewing him as a dick. A good number of the fans shared my views. But there were many others – especially male fans and critics – that crowed with delight over Charming’s punch. The incident merely lowered my opinion of him a step further. His decision to use the sleeping curse in order to communicate with Snow White via dreams struck many as infantile, especially since he discovered that he could not be awakened by her in the dream state.

As I had stated earlier, Emma Swan and Henry Mills have been a problem since the series’ premiere. I personally believe it was a big mistake for Horowitz and Kitsis to make Henry the biological son of Emma. I suppose the pair needed him as a means for Emma to “somewhat” break the Curse with a mother’s kiss. But honestly? Their storyline has been a problem since Day One. One, how on earth did the 10 year-old Henry get from Storybrooke, Maine to Boston, Massachusetts on his own? To this day, I am still flabbergasted by the idea of Emma, who had given up her son while in prison, remaining in Storybrooke to keep an eye on both Regina and Henry. All because Regina had insisted that she stay away from the boy. This was Emma’s excuse? It is only natural that the parent of an adopted child would want the biological parent to stay away . . . especially if the child was a minor. I do not believe that Regina’s antipathy toward her was a good excuse for Emma to remain in Storybrooke. Regina could have easily filed a restraining order against Emma for harassing her and Henry. She even threatened Emma with a restraining order once, but she never made good on her threat, thanks to the writers. And are we really supposed to believe that Regina was an abusive parent? Henry has never exhibited signs of being an abused child. The worst Regina ever did to him was hint that he may be emotionally or mentally unstable in order to maintain the secret of the Curse in the first season, and use magic to keep Henry with her in (2.02) “We Are Both”. Regina may have been a bit of a disciplinarian, but I found that a lot more admirable than the Charmings’ penchant for indulging Henry’s habit of skipping school or putting himself in dangerous situations. I still recall one Season One episode in which Emma allowed Henry to skip school without Regina’s permission in one of the early episodes . . . a habit that Charming occasionally continued in Season Two.

Ever since the character was first introduced, Emma has boasted of her ability to sense when someone was lying to her. I found this boast a joke, especially since newspaper editor Sidney Glass/the Magic Mirror in Season One and Regina’s mother, Cora Mills in Season Two; have both been able to successfully lie to her. Many fans have also complained of Emma’s talents as a law enforcer. If I must be frank, I have not been that impressed myself. Think about it. She has no real experience or training to be a police officer, let alone a town sheriff. She spent her adolescence either as a thief or a prison inmate. And she spent the rest of her years before her arrival in Storybrooke as a bails bondsman. Emma was qualified to find a missing person, not police a small town, let alone a city neighborhood. And how did the writers ensure that Emma would maintain her job as sheriff? By having her run in an election against Sidney Glass, the town’s newspaper editor? Who were they fucking kidding? It got worse in Season Two. After her first encounter with Cora in“Lady of the Lake”, Emma regained her ability to sniff out a liar when she met Captain Hook for the first time in “The Doctor”. She first proved that she was her mother’s daughter by killing Maleficent in dragon form in “A Land Without Magic”. I found the scenario of a bail bondsman successfully killing a dragon just as implausible as her father Charming killing his first dragon with ease in(1.06) “The Shepherd”. Although Emma displayed a lack of familiarity in Fairy Tale Land during the season’s early episodes, she became another ideal action woman – like her mother Snow White – in episodes like (2.06) “Tallahassee” and“(2.09) “Queen of Hearts”. The latter episode featured a sword fight between Emma and Hook before she and Snow White jumped into a portal in order to return to Storybrooke. I realize that Emma had difficulty in defeating Hook. I simply had difficulty in believing that she was able to defeat him at all. He is an experienced swordsman. The series has never hinted that Emma knew anything about sword fighting. Hook should have sliced her up in bits within a minute. I do not know how to explain this phenonemon. Perhaps his feelings for her led him to merely toy with her. Between Snow White and Emma, the producers and writers seemed to believe that portraying the Charming women as badasses, while maintaining near ideal personalities is a sign of good characterization. Audiences also discovered in this episode that being the offspring of “Twu Luv”, Emma’s heart is impregnable from being ripped out by magic. Oh God! I guess no one can spare me from this ridiculous crap. Some fans and critics found this revelation brilliant, romantic or both. When I saw Cora fail to rip out Emma’s heart because she is the emodiment of “Twu Luv”, I merely rolled my eyes in disgust.

I have saved the worst for last – namely Henry Mills, Emma’s biological son, Snow and Charming’s biological grandson and Regina’s adoptive son. God, I cannot stand him. I really cannot stand him. Henry has to be one of the most unreal child characters I have ever come across in recent years. I have discovered that in one-and-a-half seasons, he has not developed as a character one whit. He has remained the same, self-righteous child with a desire to be a fairy tale hero. How did he discover that Emma was his natural mother, let alone discover that she lived in Boston? The series has never revealed this and honestly, his possession of the Fairy Tale storybook is not much of an excuse. And not only do I find his ability to track down Emma in Boston and travel to said city without his stepmother’s knowledge implausible, I also find his ability to identify nearly every citizen of Storybrooke with their Fairy Tale Land identity hard to accept. Did the fairy tales book in his possession provide him with this information? I became increasingly weary of his penchant for skipping school. His self-righteous claims of “magic has a price”got on my nerves. To be honest, I got tired of many characters – especially Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold – making the same claim. I also became weary of Henry’s constant and self-righteous “good always defeat evil” declarations. Are we, the viewers, supposed to regard this ten year-old as the voice of morality? Dear God! I hope not. But what really irks me about Henry is that he seems to be the driving force of many of the actions of the major characters. Regina decided to redeem herself in order to win Henry’s love. It was Henry who lured Emma to Storybrooke so that she would act out her role as savior. It was Henry who reunited Jefferson/the Mad Hatter with his daughter. It was Henry who drove Emma to finally break the curse. It was Henry’s dreams that provided Rumplestiltskin with the opportunity to communicate with Emma and Snow so they could return to Storybrooke. Henry, Henry, Henry! I am so sick of him. Then I remembered. Both Horowitz and Kitsis used to be among the staff writers for “LOST”. And that series did a piss poor job in its portrayals of children characters. With Henry’s characterization, the tradition continues.

Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis need to do something about the Charmings. By mid-Season Two, they have become ridiculously ideal and at times, self-righteous. I get tired of certain fans wallowing in the crimes or mere mistakes of other characters, while making excuses for the mistakes of this increasingly annoying family. Please do something. Provide the family with some real character development or moral complexity, instead of portraying them as badasses and ideal leaders. And please have another character call them up on their bullshit. Just for once. As for Henry Mills, the only change in his character that will truly please me is his death. Yes, I realize that I sound cruel. But that damn brat simply brings out the worst in me.

POST SCRIPT: Judging from the last scene of the Season Two episode,(2.15) “The Queen Is Dead”, Snow White has plans to kill Cora Mills, Queen of Hearts; in revenge for the death of her mother, Queen Eva. Alas, Horowitz and Kitsis barely explored this dark turn in her character.  Not surprising.