TV REVIEW: New season of "Once Upon A Time" brings more characters, more mysteries

As ABC’s top-rated freshman show last season, “Once Upon A Time” was guaranteed a second season, and with it, creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz have clearly taken the opportunity to expand their world-building at top speed.

Season two starts immediately following the undoing of the curse plaguing the cast of fairy tale characters, in which they were destined to live unhappy lives in the town of Storybrooke, Maine, not remembering their true identities.  Thanks to lead protagonist, outsider Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), the curse has been broken to the extent that all the characters’ memories are back.

However, the characters are still stuck in Storybrooke with no way to get back to the fairy tale realm they call home.  This leads to further confrontation with Regina (Lana Parrilla), Storybrooke’s mayor and “evil queen” of Snow White fame who enacted the curse, and after a lot of running around ensues, Emma along with Mary Margaret a.k.a. Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) get trapped in a fragmented part of the fairy tale realm that was left.

Did I forget to mention that Snow White is Emma’s mother?  Or that now characters are capable of using magic in Storybrooke?  Or the birth mom vs. adoptive mom subplot going on between Regina, Emma and 10-year-old Henry?

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Kitsis and Horowitz were also the creators of a little show also on ABC called “Lost.”  Like “Lost,” “Once Upon A Time” is constantly growing a mythos with subplots and back stories more tangled up than Rapunzel on a bad hair day.  The show constantly switches back and forth between what’s going on in the current remains of the fairy tale world, how characters are still coping in Storybrooke and flashbacks of how fairy tale characters came to be who they are.

Yes, it’s longwinded and difficult to explain to a newcomer.  And yet, like “Lost,” it easily attracts viewers and turns them into followers because they like to see what’s going to be done with a compelling, if crazy, plot and cast.  They like guessing what’s going to happen next and in “Once Upon A Time,” these guessing games become even more exciting with trying to figure out which Storybrooke citizens might be from which fairy tale … or even from any fantasy or folklore source in general at this point. One of the biggest differences in the new season is the further adaptation of non-Grimm sources such as Mulan, Peter Pan and Frankenstein.

The drawback with such a large cast is the reasonable concern of whether we’ll get to see proper development for all the characters being shown to us.  It’s hard to judge how well that will happen at this point in the season, but I’m especially hopeful for more focus to come the way of season newcomers Mulan (Jamie Chung) and Aurora (Sarah Bolger).

As with the first season, the show-stealers are hands down Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) and Parrilla’s Regina.  While both were excellent antagonists in the first season, waffling carefully between despicable and sympathetic, both appear to be on the road to redemption now, both being persuaded to do so for the sake of loved ones.  That both were influenced into changing their ways so early in the second season felt a little rushed, but given that it’s still consistent overall with their development in the first season and that both characters are still struggling with habits of cruelty, it seems likely each will be done justice in this season’s story arcs.

Convoluted?  Sure.  Cheesy at times? You bet.  But if you’re a fantasy nerd or even slightly interested in the idea of what some might consider the biggest fairy tale crossover fan fiction ever, “Once Upon A Time” is worth your time.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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