Saturday, May 11, 2013

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time
Episode 21: Second Star to the Right
By: Carlos Uribe

Once Upon a Time is a show about fairy tale characters who got sent to our reality, which has magic now.

Spoilers Ahoy!

Fairytale Flashback Story:

It's been referenced that Bae has been to Neverland between the time that he left his world and he met Emma. We find out how that happens in this episode. He turns up in our world only he's in London and what appears to be the late nineteenth century. He doesn't have any money which makes it difficult for him to survive. It soon gets to the point where he's so hungry that he breaks into a nice mansion in order to steal some bread. The bad news is that he gets caught. The good news is that it's Wendy Darling, the character Peter Pan whisks away in his titular story. She allows him to have as much bread as he wants while trying to hide him from his parents. She fails in the latter point as they quickly figure out he's been staying at their house but mother decides to adopt him. The father's response to this is absolutely hilarious. His “what?” while having that amazing mustache really made me day. Bae is happy to have found a new home and family but he quickly finds out that it's under a threat from that he sought to escape: magic. The shadow of Peter Pan comes and offers the Darling children the opportunity to go to a land where there are no adults and magic is everywhere. Bae tries to warn them away from the Shadow by admitting that magic took his parents away. They seem to grasp the gravity of his warning but then Wendy decides to open the window anyway. The shadow takes her to Neverland but he lets her go because she's not a he. This shadow is not only sexist but he holds children against their will. It's an interesting situation to paint the shadow as the bad guy in this situation. This show might take some liberties with the characters but it generally keeps their black-and-white alignments. Hook is a scoundrel, the Evil Queen is evil, and Rumpelstilskin is not to be trusted. This might just be a trick and Peter Pan is just a misunderstood hero but so far the series seems to be sticking that he's actually a villain. A pretty nifty twist that saves the otherwise predictable story. Granted, part of that predictability is because know that Bae is going to end up in Neverland. So I saw it coming that when the shadow comes back for one of Wendy's brothers, Bae gives himself up. He does escape from the shadow's grasp before he actually sets foot on the island. He is brought on board Hook's ship.

The cliff-hanger is that the ship is heading towards Neverland. There's a lot of promise here that we haven't even begun to cover. Is Peter Pan really evil? Is Bae going to help defeat this shadow overlord? How does the relationship between Bae and Hook develop? What does Hook plan to do in Neverland? Will the descendants of Wendy Darling come up in the modern-day Believers story? When Bae gets brought on board the pirate ship, there is just so much promise in what could happen that it's impossible not to be excited for when this plot thread gets picked up in the finale. The fairytale flashback (although most of it was in the real world) was pretty great and holds a lot of promise for the very near future.

Storybrooke Story:

This is a show that has a lot of influences from the legendary series Lost. The whole fairytale flashback intertwined with what's happening in the modern time was a technique perfected by Lost. The creators of this show were executive producers on Lost and it's clear they tried to carry over what worked on Lost into their own creation. They've had mixed results largely because they have tried to do two conflicting things. The first is they tried to add gray to their characters to make them more compelling but they have also tried to stick true to their fairy tale origins by having them be as black and white as possible. I've already discussed this flaw in the show's structure but I bring this up again because Lost was a character drama. It might have hooked people with the mystery of the island but it was ultimately about the survivors. The success of the show was so grand that it has inspired a whole group of imitators that tried to capture what worked on Lost. They understood the importance of characters but they rarely created compelling and interesting ones. They became so busy trying to ensure that their plot was going somewhere that they failed to truly flesh out their characters. Once Upon a Time was an ambitious show but it was simply a Lost imitator that works and fails at the same time due to it's conflicting ideas of character. This is an episode that reminded me of Lost in more just the flashback technique or it's focus on character. It reminded me because the plot would have felt very much at home on Lost.

Regina gets captured by Tamara and Greg Mendell. The two talk about how they are members of a group called the Believers. Their mission is to wipe out magic from their world because it's not natural. I don't know why but they very much reminded me of the Others. It doesn't help that Greg basically tortures Regina using mental shock therapy. The final line by Tamara-the one where she claims they're going to blow up Storybrooke-seems like something that they would have said on Lost. I'm not saying this is a bad thing but it's odd just how reminded I was of Lost in this episode. The Storybrooke plot does set up the finale pretty well while giving hints as to where the third season might go. The characters manage to rescue Regina from these two antagonists but they quickly figure out they have bigger problems. Tamara and Greg are planning to use the trigger to destroy the town. This basically sets the stakes of the finale's conflict to literally be the town's existence. What's more is that Neal gets shot in this episode before falling down the bean's wormhole into an unknown world. He's given up dead by the characters but any viewer of television know that he's going to survive. The question isn't whether he'll live but where he ends up and how he'll recover. Once Upon a Time is a show that's quickly making me realize something. The characters might be flat at points while three-dimensional and compelling at others but the plotting can be just as troubled. The writers are really good at beginning and ending arcs. They are always able to build up promises and deliver on the big moments but it's the journey between where they really struggle. The whole middle-point is where the weak points tend to show themselves. If Once Upon a Time wants to improve for it's third season then it's going to have to deal with improving the entire journey rather than settling on a thrilling beginning and conclusion.


Second Star to the Right is a pretty good penultimate episode of Once Upon a Time. The flashback story is interesting in the way it flips Peter Pan's alignment while setting up a new story arc with a lot of potential. The Storybrooke story felt a lot like something from Lost but it was setting up a conclusion that promises to be change the status quo as much as the first season finale did. I'm pretty excited to see how this season ends thanks to the events of this episode.

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