by Melissa Parkin
ABC’s Once Upon a Time initially enticed audiences with its imaginative fairy-tale retellings, interlocking story arcs, immensely impressive green screen animation, and perfectly depicted cast of characters. The sheer magnitude of season one and its success proved its merit among critics and viewers alike. Now, some wonder if Storybrooke’s well of creativity has run dry.
Whether it be centered on difficult circumstances or a blatant villain, a story is only as good as its antagonist. In Once, the antagonist is almost always a physical being, and season five is no exception. But let’s face it; the villains aren’t particularly compelling this time around. Up until recently, Wicked Witch Zelena was locked away in prison and Rumpelstiltskin was trapped in a coma. As for King Arthur, calling him a villain seems like a stretch. He set out with a noble cause for the sake of his kingdom, but has since let that goal distort his sense of morality. All the more proof that the road to Hell sometimes really is paved with good intentions. It’s fair to label him as an anti-hero for the time being, as redemption seems highly possible.
And don’t forget the newest baddie in town. The Savior of Storybrooke just descended into becoming the dreaded Dark One in order to save the town from its sinister magic, and that stark contrast promised viewers a terrifying villain. Seeing how the once cowardly, crippled Rumpelstiltskin turned into the most menacing, cunning, and twisted individual in all of the Enchanted Forest, our minds ran rampant in guessing what this same black magic would do to the valiant Emma Swann. What we got in return doesn’t exactly live up to expectations.
Trying to fill the shoes of the series’ most iconic character is no mean feat, so showrunners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz needed to hit a home-run right off the bat. Robert Carlyle’s depiction can easily be argued as one of the most captivating performances seen on both the small and silver screen in recent memory. His earthly persona of Mr. Gold possesses an otherworldly presence like that of Robert Knepper’s character, Samuel Sullivan, in NBC’s Heroes. His inimitable portrayal of Rumpelstiltskin’s The Dark One echoes essences to that of a twisted, sinister relative of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter, with a dash of the beastly attribute similar to Lord of the Rings’ Gollum. So how did co-creators think that simply having Emma waltz around town, coldly cooing her words while giving us her best Resting B*tch Face would compare? Rumpelstiltskin, in his heyday, carelessly turned an innocent cart driver into a snail and squashed him under his boot. The worst thing Emma’s actually done so far is make a thirteen-year-old boy cry. The scale doesn’t exactly weigh in her favor.
This last two-hour episode provided hope. Maybe we’ll get to see a proper villain at last, as we discover that dear ole Captain Hook is now possessed by the Dark One’s magic as well. The reformed pirate already suffered a mean streak, as he literally listed off to Emma in “Birth,” so we know he’s got the brass to do some pretty horrible things. But will this new development be enough to save OUAT from its recent slipshod storytelling?
It’s time to call out Storybrooke’s sinners. Since season two, the plot has strayed in too many directions, there are too many underdeveloped characters that come and go on a whim. The villains aren’t nearly as complex as the first season’s, and there are repeat offenses of regurgitated ploys. Yes, that’s right. I’m calling out the issue concerning…you guessed it: the continual memory loss. Honestly, the residents of Storybrooke have more amnesia issues than Guy Pearce in Memento.
In addition, the writing frequently lacks the primary element that made this show the success it is. OUAT originally developed profound complexity with all its characters, making everyone from the heroes to the villain all relatable and sympathetic to one degree or another. When the script focuses on the trials of these woven relationships, it strikes gold, like the thrill of Emma and Hook’s first kiss or the heartbreak when Belle forces Rumple over the town’s line. Sadly, those moments are now far and few in comparison to earlier seasons. What happened to the magic in episodes like “Skin Deep” and “Hat Trick”? Most of the relationships have stunted, particularly the pairing of Snow White and Prince Charming. What started as a cute couple has now turned dreadfully dull.
To make matters worse, the showrunners’ meandering plot-lines become all the more apparent just by looking at the general management. Fans of the short-lived Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (OUAT’s spin-off) were thrilled in season four when it was announced that Wonderland’s own Will Scarlet (Michael Socha) would be joining the main cast of characters in Storybrooke. Then, despite being booked as a series regular, Socha rarely ever made an appearance onscreen before being booted all together from the cast come season five. What was the plan? Why tease us with the arrival of a great character, only to ultimately torture us with his quick departure? The show is being pulled in so many different directions, and it’s evident that even the creators aren’t sure what to do with it. Can Once recapture its long lost magic? Only time will tell.