There is much overlap in Once Upon a Time‘s audience and lovers of animation. It is here that we find the pulse of this lively weekly conversation, Storybrooke Sound-Off. Returning for the first time since December, it is here that, for the next several months, the voice of the reader will be a vital contribution as we cover Once Upon a Time in its fourth season on ABC. We’ll discuss the show’s inspiration, from its animated roots to character development, and everything in between. Sometimes we’ll cheer, sometimes we’ll shake our heads, and sometimes we might even do that weird clap/skip/squeal thing that Rumpelstiltskin does. Be whatever it is, we’ll be doing it together and we’re glad you’re here.
Let’s get started with the first episode following the winter break (and thus the beginning of a new story arc), the season’s twelfth entry: “Darkness on the Edge of Town”.
While you can read a play-by-play on Wikipedia if you so choose, here’s the basic rundown of the episode:
- The “Queens of Darkness” (yes, that’s what we’re supposed to call them) are ascending, both in present-day real world and long-time-ago Forbidden Fortress (yes, that’s what we’re supposed to call it). The Forbidden Fortress may or may not be in the same realm as the Enchanted Forest. Anyway, Maleficent, Cruella de Vil, and Ursula are this season’s baddies. The timeline is a little iffy but, at this point, who’s really keeping track?
- In Storybrooke, the search continues for the mysterious author of Henry’s storybook. Does he or she have the power to give villains happy endings?
There was a time when Once Upon a Time was revolutionary. Its focus tread the original derivative stories its fairytale characters hail from and sought to give those stories more depth. Each episode shed new light on a well-known tale, not by adding anything extraneous to it but by often just offering a simple shift in perspective. Today, the series’ focus is admittedly different. The norm is no longer adding depth to timeless stories. It is now either (1) sequel-esque plots taking place after the original stories, or (2) attempting to add depth to the show’s own previously original storylines, which inadvertently becomes confusing.
This is not to say that the show has gone completely south. It’s still fun, just in a different way. But, if it doesn’t pick up steam soon, it will lose much of the charm that makes it so unique and likable. I adored the Frozen arc that just wrapped up in December. That arc was pure (sorry) gold. However, I realize my stance may be a bit slanted given how much I enjoy Frozen. I’m ecstatic about that film, so a half-season devoted to it was tremendous to watch unfold. Although, even with bias aside, the development added to the Frozen story (and its connection to the show’s primary motif of the importance of family) made the season enticing and made me view Frozen differently. That’s what Once does best. Now, we have a messy villain trio in a story that I hope doesn’t wind up as convoluted as it currently seems.
We now have Cruella, Ursula, and Maleficent helping out Rumpelstiltskin in hopes that they can all have their happy endings. It sounds like something out of crazed fanfiction, and the results are even weirder. Maleficent is clearly a Jolieficent wannabe, riding off the coattails of Disney’s Maleficent. This is especially apparent considering Maleficent already died on Once. (That’ll be extrapolated soon, Rumple assures us.) Cruella’s presence is still unexplained. As a contemporary character (and an animal whisperer, apparently) in a medieval(ish) world, she sticks out. I imagine her backstory will be fully explained in a future episode. Lastly, Ursula is so different in appearance, age, and personality from her animated counterpart that it’s difficult to think of the performance as even being the same character. The whole thing is just odd in a way that, again, feels like fanfiction more than it does primetime television. If you’ve ever wanted to hear Ursula complain about ramen noodles or see Cruella order fast food chicken from a drive-through, this is the show for you.
What’s most aggravating is that we’ve seen all this before, just with different characters. The villain takes over town, characters set aside differences to conquer said villain, some sort of curse happens, and someone either dies or is banished. Either way, both the curse and the death/banishment don’t really matter, because neither of them will be in effect very long and the show will just reset itself and start the cycle over again. It’s the same plot and it’s becoming tiring.
Terrible CGI certainly doesn’t help matters. The graphics on most special effects (this episode’s being a ravage of bugs and the monstrous Chernabog from Fantasia) look horridly embarrassing. I’m not sure if budgeting, timing, or both, is the problem, but something needs to change.
All this to say that this half of the season seems a bit off in terms of purpose. However, there is still plenty to like. Unlike last year when there was no carry over of any plot elements after the winter break, this year the Frozen arc left a few loose ends to explore. Namely, the author of Henry’s storybook. That’s where the depth of this season will come, as stemming from it is a labyrinth of intricacies to established relationships: Regina and Henry, Emma and Henry, Emma and Regina, Belle and Henry, Henry and Snow White, Regina and Robin Hood… the list goes on and on. It will be exciting to see how the hunt for the author plays into this season.
Additionally, if the final scene of the episode is any indication, we’ll see a lot more of Snow White. (Not that her stint as Storybrooke mayor wasn’t a fantastic idea…) Following Ginnifer Goodwin’s pregnancy and delivery, Snow and Charming quietly went from series frontrunners to awkward bystanders. Hopefully, more screen time from the both of them, along with developments about the sorcerer and the author, will be enough to balance out the cray cray levels radiating from the Three Caballeros villainess tragedy.
- The What-the-Heck Moment: I personally have been waiting four seasons for Regina to stare creepily at a painting of a bird before incinerating it.
- The Magic Moment: Regina and Emma taking on Chernabog at the town line was pretty sick. Both characters have come a long way.
- The Whoa Moment: The storybook author and the sorcerer are two different people? Well, tickle me pink and call me Ingrid.
Use these questions as a springboard for discussion below. Feel free to talk openly about this episode but, if you happen to know any spoilers for future episodes, keep them to yourself as a courtesy to other readers. Let’s get started. Sound off in the comments and let the conversation begin!
- What do you think about this Queens of Darkness trio? Is this a hit or miss for the show?
- We’ll likely get to learn more about the three individual villains as the season progresses. Which are you most looking forward to?
- Where is the Knave of Hearts? He is listed as a main character in the credits but, yet again, he is nowhere to be seen.
- Did Mr. Gold just catch a lucky break impersonating an Oxford professor and hoping Belle might reach out to him with requests to translate runes, or…?
- Snow White has some beef with Cruella and Ursula, hmmm?
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes