Sunday, September 29, 2013

REVIEW: 'Once Upon a Time' Disappoints in 'The Heart of the Truest Believer' as the Series Tries to Regain Its Focus

ABC's Once Upon a Time - 3.01 Heart of the Truest Believer

As Emma, Mary Margaret, David, Regina, Mr. Gold and Hook enter Neverland, they're greeted by a school of not-so-friendly mermaids who threaten to end their search before it begins; Henry finds himself on the run from the Lost Boys with another escapee from Peter Pan's encampment; and Neal, recovering from his wounds, travels through the Enchanted Forest with Mulan in an attempt to learn the fates of Emma and Henry.

Once Upon a Time's second season was scattered at its best. It kept on adding new fairytale characters to its cast. None of the new additions stood out amongst the original ones. Most were actually quite bland - and yet the show kept adding more and focused more on them than on their core five group (Emma, Snow, Charming, Regina & Gold).

And whenever it would bring up a story with game-changing potential, it would backpedal quickly into safe territory. Regina's redemptive arc was often great and gave us some stellar work from Lana Parilla. However, she soon returned to her evil ways because at her core she is the "Evil Queen" and the show stands firm on not changing that characteristic. Another story like this was the entirety of the Greg Mendell character. He started off as a mysterious human outsider to the town of Storybrooke. His discovering of the mystical qualities of the town was an intriguing prospect. Instead he quickly was revealed to have a deep connection and hatred to the town. He was set out just to destroy the town and offered further proof that the show has no real interest in the outside world around this town in Maine.

But the second season finale made sure to set up a singular focus for, at least, the first part of the third season - the trip to Neverland to rescue Henry. So, in the premiere, it feels like the show has more focus on its core characters than the bulk of the second season. But major issues are still very present.

I absolutely hate how so much of the focus of this plot is placed on Henry. He is the most annoying character on the series. Additionally, Jared S. Gilmore still cannot carry a plot on his own but the show is still trying to do just that. The search for Henry would be better if it didn't show what was happening to Henry. The villainous faces of this season - Peter Pan and the Lost Boys - seem lackluster as well. That is a necessary evil because those characters fundamentality had to be young actors. So while I'm intrigued by Robbie Kay as Peter Pan - and I called that twist the second he showed up - I just don't think these characters will have the range in their performances to make this arc ultimately feel satisfying.

The core six characters on Hook's ship are where the focus of the story should be. And yet, there conflict in the premiere is purely superfluous and extraneous plot elongation. It was conflict for conflicts sake. Yes, it was entertaining and exciting watching them fight during the storm. Yes, that was a quality drastically missing in the second year. But the ultimate point of this story was to reaffirm that these six characters - five, once Gold makes a quick departure to do his own thing - need to work together. They all have a certain skill they'll need if they are to rescue Henry and thusly need to get along in order to be successful. That idea pretty much was established in the finale. I wasn't expecting them to be all happiness and excited to be a team together. But what actually occurred felt like the characters disappointingly just repeating actions from earlier in the series.

Some more thoughts:
  • Ratings for the second season decidedly fell off in the latter half of the year. I don't expect them to rebound much. I'm likely to finally tune out after next week's episode as well - I'm only watching that episode because I have a screener for it.
  • I do love the set design and special effects of the Neverland sequences. Pairing those with the Enchanted Forest stuff makes it even more apparent of how computer generated that world is.
  • Storybrooke is no where to be found in the opener which makes me very happy. Unfortunately, since Emilie de Ravin is still a series regular, I expect the show to return to that realm sooner rather than later.
  • The swift exits of Ethan Embry and Sonequa Martin-Green were entirely expected. They were anticlimactic pawns that never contributed much. Now, Martin-Green can go back to The Walking Dead and forget about this whole thing.
  • And now, Robert Carlyle is simply just being asked to be Rumplestiltskin all the time. Since that is the most entertaining - and flashiest - performance on the show, I'm not entirely surprised. But a lot that I liked about Carlyle and his performance was the dichotomy between Rumplestiltskin and Mr. Gold.
  • Michael Raymond-James is now a series regular so he had to be a part of the opener. But Jamie Chung, Sarah Bulger and Julian Morris were among the bland additions last season. Sean Maguire as the new Robin Hood also seems like he'll fall into that category. So the sooner Neal is reunited with the rest of the group the better.