The Dementors have come to Storybrooke. Well, okay, technically they are un-dead, soul-sucking wraiths with black, tattered robes and gleaming red eyes with a fancy-sounding Chinese name; though, if I were JK Rowling, I’d be calling my lawyer. The wraiths, however, are just one of the new fairy tale characters to be introduced in the season 2 premiere of Once Upon A Time.
Chief among the newcomers are Mulan (Jamie Chung) and Aurora, portrayed by The Tutors actress Sarah Bolger, and better known to little girls everywhere as Sleeping Beauty. Theirs is the story that runs concurrent with what’s playing out in modern world, which makes sense, as Sleeping Beauty is the most quintessential of the “true love’s kiss” tales.
Accompanying them is Prince Philip (Julian Morris), one of the few Disney princes to be granted a first name back in Walt’s day. It’s he who slays the wraith when it bursts into the fairy tale world and he who is subsequently marked for death. This is unfortunate, since not much energy is put into fleshing his character out more – but this is also Once Upon A Time, written by the creators of Lost, so he may live on in flashbacks as the season progresses.
The Mulan/Aurora pairing is slightly drab and two-dimensional until the final moments of the episode. The soulless, lifeless, Philip is laying on his bier, mourned by the two women who love him when Mulan decides Aurora deserves the medallion containing Philip’s soul, along with a few other tidbits she and the late prince neglected to pass along.
While Aurora believes she has been asleep for a less than a year, in fact it has been twenty-eight years. Mulan explains the curse Regina (Lana Parrilla) cast has affected all the land save their small corner of it. No one is sure why this is, but they are aware that they’ve spent the last twenty-eight years in stasis and have only recently been freed. The land that did survive, however, is rife with danger and Mulan urges Aurora to come with her to their last remaining safe haven.
Before Aurora can decide what to do there is a rustling amid the wreckage left by the wraith upon its initial entrance. Mulan declares with ire that the two unconscious figures she uncovers – Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) – are the reason the wraith has come into their world in the first place; the reason their prince is dead. However, in order to be the judge of that, one has to go back to Storybrooke.
Per the precedent set during the first season, every Once Upon A Time episode has a “fairy tale” plot and one set in the modern world. This season’s opener begins in world so modern it feels like a different show. That is, of course, until the phone drops, the music stops, and a carrier pigeon delivers a postcard from Storybrooke bearing one word, “Broken.”
Executive producers Adam Horowitz and Ed Kitsis have been extremely tight-lipped over the summer about the identity of the postcard’s recipient. Michael Raymond-James has been equally mum about the character he’s playing, reminiscent to the shroud of secrecy surrounding Eion Bailey’s, August Booth last season. Booth at first was suspected of being the long-lost son of Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) but turned out to be Pinocchio; could this be Gold’s son instead? Or is he some other, as yet unmentioned character?
Unfortunately, these are questions for another episode. The season premiere is interested instead on what has happened since the curse was broken in the season one finale, and by and large the answer is that the townspeople have regained their memories of the fairy tale world. This makes for an opening rife with hugs and kisses and wide smiles as one reunion after another takes place throughout the town.
The biggest reunion, of course, is between Emma and her parents. The juxtaposition, however, of the idealistic Mary Margaret and her cynical daughter makes for several awkward moments that are never quite resolved. On the other hand they do provide several gems of dialogue including Emma’s zinger about which curse is the worst, and Mary Margaret shoving aside the off-handed comment she’d made about her one night stand with Dr. Whale (David Anders).
Before the schmaltz factor can get too high, the newly reunited family is thrust into the fray yet again; having to sort out what to do with Regina now that everyone remembers who she is and what she done, as well as how to procure answers about the mysterious purple mist from Mr. Gold. Gold, as expected, is one step ahead of everyone else and is hellbent on revenge having learned that Regina imprisoned his beloved Belle (Emilie de Ravin) for the past twenty-eight years.
It is here that the fairy tale land plot and the modern collide, for it is Gold who summons the wraith and Regina who ultimately sends it back into the fairy tale land where it eventually kills poor Philip. Emma ends up being sucked in along with the wraith in an effort to protect Regina and Mary Margaret dives in as well, unable to stand losing her daughter a second time.
This sets up an interesting arc for the coming season. Emma will now encounter the land she should have grown up in, which will hopefully bring out the stronger, less naive version of her mother. Meanwhile, David and Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) have a new quest and new territory to explore as grandfather and grandson. Regina, no doubt, will not give up Henry without a fight, and will continue discovering how to use magic in this new world. Finally, one should never rule out the true puppet-master in Storybrooke, Mr. Gold. No matter how bent on restoring him Belle is there are certain monsters that cannot be tamed. All in all, a fairly decent start to a new season.
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.