Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 1 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," entitled "Broken."
You'd be forgiven for thinking ABC started accidentally airing the wrong show after seeing the innocuous opening of "Once Upon a Time" Season 2, which featured "True Blood" and "Terriers" star Michael Raymond-James wandering through a decidedly mundane New York City.
Or at least it seemed mundane, until a dove delivered Raymond-James' unnamed character a postcard direct from Storybrooke, inscribed with only one word: "Broken." From then on, we were transported back into the fantastical world that so enchanted us last season, switching between the now magic-infused town of Storybrooke and a desolate corner of Fairytale Land.
It was a risky move to open the season with a batch of characters we were unfamiliar with, but the confidence paid off, first by dangling the mystery of Raymond-James' role (as well as the question of who mailed the postcard), and then by throwing us headfirst into the mashup of "Sleeping Beauty" meets "Mulan."
I greatly approved of Julian Morris as Prince Phillip, who was just the right mix of earnest and dashing, and Jamie Chung played Mulan with a compelling blend of steel and strength. Sarah Bolger (whom you may remember as Mary, Catherine of Aragon and Henry's daughter in "The Tudors") had the somewhat thankless task of portraying a newly awakened Aurora, who mostly existed to follow Phillip and Mulan's lead and look doe-eyed and delicate -- but this show does strong female characters so well, I have no doubt that she'll evolve as Mulan and Aurora continue their journey together. I hope (and have a feeling) that we haven't seen the last of Phillip, but mostly I'm intrigued to see how Snow and Emma's story ties in with Aurora and Mulan's as they explore Fairytale Land's dangerous new landscape.
I'll admit, it took me a rewatch of the episode to grasp the timeframe of the narrative; upon first watching, I was confused as to how the wraith's talisman seemed to be in Storybrooke and Fairytale Land concurrently, since Emma and Snow ending up in Fairytale Land at the end of the episode led me to believe the two stories were unfolding simultaneously. Only later did I realize that Emma and Snow were supposed to have been dumped in Fairytale Land when the wraith burst out of the ground. The screener that was provided to press was missing a few special effects (and I wrote this review in advance of the show's premiere based on said screener), so I hope the finished visuals helped to clarify the sequence of events -- or were you as confused as I was?
Aside from Phillip being a truly terrible liar after he was marked, I was immediately drawn into the trio's tale, especially since the wraith was a surprisingly terrifying new foe, and looked like something that would result if "Lost's" smoke monster and a Dementor got together for a long weekend in a log cabin. "Once" is such a family-oriented show that it still surprises me when it goes dark or scary, but those are usually the instances when the series is at its strongest (one just has to look at last season's amazing "Hat Trick" as proof). The visual effects on the wraith were particularly impressive, and I hope ABC has thrown some more money the show's way, given its success last season.
But the real meat of the episode -- and its most compelling moments -- came from the Storybrooke half of the narrative. It amused me to see so many comments on various recaps last season predicting that the story would somehow be over once the curse was broken, as if the fairytale characters regaining their memories was the endgame instead of the first step in a larger story. Naturally, then, it was thrilling to see creators Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis taking that step so soon, when it seemed that many viewers were expecting them to drag the curse out indefinitely.
Shattering the status quo in Storybrooke certainly invigorated the plot, and I'm sure seeing Snow and Charming reuniting with Emma and Henry was what viewers were anticipating most from the season premiere. That moment didn't disappoint, and Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas sold it spectacularly -- I found myself tearing up when Snow and Charming swept Emma into their arms, and the raw pain and relief on their faces was utterly heartbreaking.
In a recent interview with Jennifer Morrison, the actress pointed out that there's a lot of comedy inherent in having parents who are technically the same age as you -- especially since Emma and Mary Margaret were behaving like friends or sisters last season. One of the most hilarious moments of the episode came from Snow's revelation that she had discussed one-night-stands with her daughter, and Charming's horror that she'd slept with someone else. "We were cursed, and that is neither here nor there," is probably one of my favorite line deliveries on the show to date, and Goodwin seemed to be in her element this week, effortlessly replacing Mary Margaret's meek demeanor with Snow's easy confidence and maternal instincts.
Likewise, Morrison realistically and poignantly sold Emma's hesitation upon being reunited with her parents; it was heartbreaking (and totally believable) when she pointed out that being separated from her parents and believing she was abandoned for all these years was a far worse fate than all of them being cursed together. Of course, we know from Jefferson's (Sebastian Stan) story, and from watching David and Mary Margaret being drawn together and pulled apart throughout last season that if Emma had stayed with Snow and Charming, the three of them would've just ended up separated with no knowledge of what they meant to each other anyway (and there would've been no-one to rescue them), but 28 years of loneliness and abandonment trumps logic every time. Even more intriguing -- the possibility of Emma having some grasp of magic; Regina's attempts to open a portal didn't work until Emma touched her arm, so does Emma have magical abilities of her own, or can she just help to magnify it in others?
It will be especially interesting to see where Regina goes from here. Though she's apparently still powerless (for now), it didn't take her long to turn on a dime and try to kill Charming after Emma and Snow vanished. In a recent interview, Lana Parrilla told HuffPost TV that Regina was going to be a very lonely woman this season -- which makes sense, since Henry demanded she stay away from him until she found a way to bring Emma and Snow back. Obviously, that's still a fairly self-serving agenda, since she desperately wants to reforge a relationship with her adopted son, but I wonder if working to help someone else will have a positive effect on our erstwhile Evil Queen?
It was also great to see Charming attempting to take charge, and hopefully we'll see him move back into a role of leadership after all of David's less-than-heroic decisions while he was cursed. It'll be nice to see Henry and Charming having some grandfather/grandson bonding time while Emma and Snow are off adventuring, but obviously not everyone wants to fall back into the Fairytale Land hierarchy, least of all Dr. Whale (David Anders). I wonder if we'll see the two of them come to blows, especially now that Charming knows about Snow and Whale's hook-up ...
And then there's Rumple and Belle. I'm still not entirely sold on their relationship, since -- as Rumple pointed out -- they've only known each other a short time. It's clear that Rumple's "beastly" nature isn't going anywhere any time soon, which I'm glad about -- true love might be able to conquer all, but it would be a little too easy if Rumple just flipped a switch and was instantly reformed, especially since he's clearly playing the long con and has other plans besides simply releasing the wraith to kill Regina. Time will tell if he can ever truly feel worthy of Belle's love, but it will be an interesting journey.
Overall, "Broken" was a gripping and competently plotted hour -- none of the scenes felt extraneous and although there was undoubtedly a lot of plot and set-up to get through in 42 minutes, the narrative certainly felt more liberated without the curse hanging over everyone's heads. I think Horowitz and Kitsis have pointed the show in a compelling direction with plenty of new mysteries to unravel, and I'm eager to see how magic affects our world.
A few stray questions the premiere left me with (I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!):
- Who is the mysterious Dr. Whale?
- For that matter, who is Michael Raymond-James playing?
- What kind of favor could Rumple possibly ask of Emma when the time comes?
- How did Mulan and Phillip know that they'd been frozen for exactly 28 years when the curse weakened? I didn't see any self-regulating calendars in Fairytale Land!
- How do you think Emma and Snow will escape from Fairytale Land? Are we still counting on Jefferson to rescue them now that his hat is wrecked?
- Do you think Emma can now use magic the way Regina and Rumple could in Fairytale Land?
- It was such a packed premiere, we didn't get an update on August -- do you think he's still made of wood?
- How do you feel about the fairytale characters switching between calling each other Snow/Mary Margaret/Charming/David? It's designed to illustrate that the characters are living with two identities and two sets of memories now, but I'll admit that I found it a little jarring.
- Do you think Phillip is truly dead, or will destroying the wraith's amulet free his soul and awaken him?
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
Who are you most looking forward to seeing in Season 2? Share your predictions and reactions from the premiere below!