It’s been a week and a half since the midseason finale of Once Upon a Time’s Season 3, which means I’ve had plenty of time to sit around and figure out what I thought of it. In general, I think it’s moving in a good direction, but I still have some complaints. Specificity (and therefore spoilers) after the jump.
The bulk of this season was tied to the Neverland/Pan storyline, and I think that was to its detriment. With very few exceptions, the story centered on the—at this point comically extended, multi-generational—Savior family, which now includes Henry, Emma, Neal, Regina, Snow, Charming, Rumple, and Pan. Besides Hook, and a few supporting scenes from Belle and Tinkerbell, the show neglected to explore any of its other ensemble cast members, and I felt the loss. (A light went out when Meghan Ory left the show—there is not enough Ruby in my life.) Even most flashbacks to pre-curse Fairy Tale Land tended to center around Snow and Charming, whose characters I am becoming more and more bored with as time goes on. In the end, developing a character as powerful as Pan was necessary to justify the reduxed curse and plot twist at the end of the midseason finale—but in eleven episodes, I think they could have afforded to spend more time on their side characters.
This brings me to my pet cause: Sleeping Warrior. The almost-probably-certainly a love confession scene between Mulan and Aurora in episode three was downright emotionally destructive, and I expected that it would be followed up on in later episodes—especially since Mulan is now palling around with Robin Hood, who is apparently Regina’s destined paramour. At best I think it’s poor writing and at worst scared writing to avoid coming back to their characters—they either were too worried about setting up the Pan plot to focus on it, or they wanted to wait and test the audience’s reception after giving us only a scene that could be a precursor to queer representation or could be easily back-panned and played as a different sort of confession.
There were two characters in particular who just rubbed me the wrong way this season, though for different reasons. The first was Hook. For some reason (which I’m guessing has a lot to do with Colin O’Donaghue’s face) Hook has become a fan favorite, but I’m becoming more and more uncomfortable with his character as time goes on. The problem I have is this: Hook constantly engages in verging-on-rapey behavior and is never punished for it; rather, he’s often rewarded for it. He had made untoward comments in the past season, but I was particularly put off by his insistence to Emma that he deserved a kiss because he had saved Charming. And he got one. I would have been fine with their kiss if it had been framed as Emma giving into her desire to kiss him, perhaps after learning about the good deed and realizing he was really a good person. However, it seemed to me more like Emma felt obligated to kiss him because he had saved her father, and only after kissing him realized that she was really pretty okay with kissing him. Coercion and obligation are not consent—that’s 101-level stuff.
There was also some tricky business with the love triangle between Neal, Emma, and Hook, where Hook seemed to adhere to the school of thought that another man’s claim to a woman is the foremost reason to cease romantic advances. Finally, I’m not sure what assumption his decision to forcibly kiss memory-wiped Emma at the end of the episode was based on. Maybe he was being optimistic and thought it would be true love’s kiss, and break the counter-curse? Or more likely, he was so enamored of his own kissing skills he thought that if Emma remembered anything, it would be their one uncomfortably lengthy smooch in the woods. Look, I know that Hook is unreasonably attractive and wears a lot of leather and eyeliner. In a vacuum, I would hit that. But I would also like his character to learn that just because he’s a smooth dude who’s done some baseline good deeds, he’s not entitled to anyone’s romantic attentions. That’s creepy and gross rhetoric that ought to be shut down, not encouraged.
The other character I disliked was Ariel, albeit for tremendously different reasons. I mostly felt that her addition to the story was more based on a plot problem—“How can the characters in Neverland communicate with the characters in Storybrooke?”—rather than a legitimate desire to introduce a new fairytale character. Because of this, the writers didn’t really take any time to put an interesting twist on Ariel’s story in the way they had with the other characters. This wasted opportunity means that Ariel is a boring character whose very appearance doesn’t even differ from her cartoon incarnation, right down to the red hair and purple bra. And her reunion with Eric was downright yawnworthy—barely worth including in the episode.
In the next half of the season, there are a lot of things I’d like to see. First of all, a commitment to more diversity. I know that they’ve cast a black actress as Rapunzel for an upcoming episode, which is an awesome move, particularly given the character and the politicized dialogue around black women’s hair. There’s no harm in more diversity, though. As of right now, all of our characters of color other than Regina and Mulan are dead, and this is a show with a large ensemble cast.
I’m excited to see, now that the bulk of our characters are back in fairytale land, the plot involving Robin Hood and Regina (and therefore the plot involving Mulan and Aurora) progress past foundation-laying suggestive comments. I’m not too worried about how the mind-wipe storyline will play out, because clearly it will end well—Henry and Emma are the main characters after all. This isn’t some Donna Noble nonsense where a character forcibly loses her memories and then leaves the show forever. Getting most of the characters back into Fairy Tale Land with their memories intact is a big problem out of the way, and I’m honestly more excited to see them react to and rebuild their homeland than I am to see the way Emma and Henry will (because they undoubtedly will) regain their memories.
The one thing I’m still not sure about is Rumple. Although I loved his character and I feel horribly for Belle losing her true love, I’m of mixed feelings about him coming back. As defining character moments go, his decision to sacrifice himself for his loved ones was a huge one. For two and a half seasons now we’ve seen him torn between his selfish desires and his wish to be a better person for the people he cared about, and he finally decided against the easy way out. Much like Gabriel finally taking a stand against Lucifer in S5 of Supernatural, it was a big development for his character and, though tragic, was well-justified in the narrative. (And as with Gabriel’s upcoming return in S9, I’m not sure if there’s any way to bring back his character that doesn’t undermine the weight of his death. Maybe a Orpheus-esque quest for Belle to bring him back? I dunno.)
In retrospect, this review came out pretty negative, but I’m really genuinely excited for the second half of this season. I felt bogged down in the Pan storyline, and so I’m eager to see what the writers bring to us with the massive paradigm shift that’s just affected the bulk of our characters. Unfortunately—and you should have heard the appalled noise I made when I saw this—OUAT won’t be back till March. So till then, Truest Believers!