While I enjoyed this past Sunday night's Once Upon a Time episode, the show still has a long way to go if it is going to convince me that it can be viable and engaging television beyond ten episodes or so (because this still really, really "feels" like a miniseries). The second episode, aptly entitled "The Thing You Love Most," explored that concept in both real-world Storybrooke as Regina a.k.a. the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) attempts to permanently oust Emma (Jennifer Morrison) from her son Henry's (Jared Gilmore) life. In Fairy Tale Land, we're treated to a lengthy flashback detailing how the Evil Queen cast the curse, and in doing so what it cost her (though we're still in the dark as to how exactly Snow White earned her emnity).
Since I am a HUGE Sleeping Beauty fan, I was completely geeked out by the appearance of Maleficent (Kristin Bauer). I liked the idea that these "evil queens" traded curses in their attempts to wreak havoc on their enemies -- the Evil Queen's crack about Maleficent's sleeping curse being broken by a lousy kiss was pretty funny. I found myself somewhat surprised by what the Evil Queen had -- or perhaps I should say, was willing -- to sacrifice in order to cast this curse to end all curses and wreck Snow's happiness. (Note to ABC: the smoke monster thing is still unbearably stupid looking!) I'm eager to learn what exactly Snow did to cross the Queen, because murdering her father (Tony Perez) elevates the Queen's perceived wrong much higher than the traditional "who is the fairest in the land" story beat.
Interestingly enough, I am getting the impression that Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) isn't so much in league with the Queen, as I half suspected after the premiere, but merely out for his own personal gain. I am fascinated by the idea that Rumplestiltskin is somehow impervious to the Queen's curse -- and that she is apparently blind to the fact that he's playing her. She seems to savvy for that, but everyone has an Achilles' heel, hmm? Is Rumplestiltskin somehow calling the shots? Interesting possibilities...
The real-world action in Storybrooke was this episode's strongest aspect. I was rather surprised to learn that Regina apparently has no clear memory of her true identity as Fairy Tale Land's Evil Queen -- though I suspect her "true" personality is going to become more apparent week after week as Emma's arrival set time on the move again. Little details, like the fact that Regina is obsessed with apples -- even going so far as to offer a basket to Emma -- are nice ways of incorporating key aspects of the traditional stories in the modern day.
Morrison and Gilmore have a wonderful mother/son relational chemistry -- how Emma is drawn to her son, despite the fact that they just met, is a great indicator of warmth in her tough-as-nails bail bonds woman personality, and speaks to her hunger for a sense of belonging, of family and community. In the context of Storybrooke I haven't been able to buy for one moment that Regina has actual, genuine maternal feelings for her adopted son. I'm open to being convinced -- but her hunger to keep his attention on her smacks more of desperation and manipulation than it does familial feeling. The revelation that Mr. Gold (Rumplestiltskin) "brought" Emma's son to Storybrooke, and that Regina named the child Henry, after her murdered father, suggests that the dire prophecy Maleficent spoke in regards to the curse has come true. In order to exact her revenge on Snow White, by unleashing the dark curse the Evil Queen has ripped open a void inside her -- a void for affection and familial love, the latter of which she destroyed with her father's death -- that cannot be filled even in Storybrooke, where her real-world alter-ego isn't even fully aware of the reason for the gaping emptiness inside.
While Emma has a long way to go before she's able to accept Henry's fairy tale claims, I like the fact that right now, she's playing along, if you will, because she realizes its more important to validate Henry than give him a "reality check." I love how Morrison is showing us how Henry's suggestions are impacting Emma's view of the people she encounters -- particularly when it comes to Mary Margaret/Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin). So far, the connection Mary and Emma feel, that sense of "knowing" each other but not knowing why is being played relatively well on-screen (I confess I did like the cinnamon on hot chocolate cue). I can sympathize with Emma's incredulity; after all, it would be hard to wrap your head around the idea that you were somehow the same age as your mother. *wink*
A few more quick notes -- loved meeting the Queen's Mirror (Giancarlo Esposito), and discovering that his real-world counterpart is the editor of a gossipy newspaper. I continue to be disturbed by the idea that Jiminy Cricket (Raphael Sbarge) is a psychiatrist, and for all his seeming concern about Henry is willing to compromise his patient files on Regina's word. And could Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan) be any more adorable?? If he turns out to be in the Evil Queen's camp I will be crushed. His final conversation with Regina seems to suggest that he believes in Emma's innocence, and doubt's Regina's motives, so hopefully he'll stand up for that at some point.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on how Once Upon a Time is progressing. I'm enjoying it thus far, but I'm not completely sold on the future of the show long-term. However, it is rather fun to see how familiar fairy tale characters appear in Storybrooke, and how Regina and Emma are awakening to the enmity between them that is apparently Emma's birthright. As long as future episodes feature a lot of Sheriff Graham and Prince Charming comes back, I'll be happy. *wink*