Ginnifer Goodwin; Jennifer Morrison; Lana Parrilla; Josh Dallas; Emilie de Ravin; Colin O’Donoghue; Jared S. Gilmore; Sean Maguire; Rebecca Mader; Robert Carlyle
Elliot Knight; Caroline Ford; Liam Garrigan; Joana Metrass; Sinqua Wells; Amy Hanson
The last two episodes before the break of Once Upon A Time epitomize everything you really need to know about the show: when it’s good, it’s very, very good. When it’s bad? It’s boring.
This season has been wildly uneven: repetitive and just plain odd in some places, beautifully acted and lovely in others, let’s look at what is and isn’t working.
To start the Camelot storyline has been drawn out long past its sell by date. I worried going into the season that bringing in another host of new characters and repeating the memory wipe storyline from last year would be a detriment and I was right. It’s taken us nine episodes to remotely get to the point of the Camelot story: the reforging of the Dark One dagger and Excalibur into one sword, as they were originally, to destroy the darkness once and for all.
In an effort to amp up the tension of the Dark Swan storyline the writers layered on the mass memory wipe and it’s unnecessary. With Zelena in play there’s no need to add that layer. She’s a walking weapon of mass destruction and hate, just let Rebecca Mader off of her leash and between her scenery chewing and Liam Garrigan’s lunatic Arthur you have all the story momentum you need.
Which brings us to the other issue: Arthur. The show clearly wants us to hate him and has systematically made sure to have him wrong almost every major character in his obsession with Excalibur. He crossed the moral event horizon with his mind rape of Guinevere, Snow and David, framing of Lancelot and binding of Merlin to him. It’s all too much. While on the one hand, not every villain has to have a Freudian excuse for their villainy, on the other hand it would be nice if we saw any reason to Arthur’s beyond, ‘Merlin didn’t believe in me enough.’ Especially as Merlin clearly did believe in him enough to entrust Camelot and his own life to him.
The season did have it’s bright spots though. Elliot Knight has been a gift to this show as Merlin, who is deeply wise, playful, kind to a fault and breathtakingly beautiful. It’s also refreshing to see a character, particularly on this show, who is willing to practice what they preach: Merlin is hands down the most powerful character this show has ever had and his power has in no way been tamped down. He is magic in human form, a man who has lost everything, but he will not, no matter how tempted, use his powers for anything but defense and healing. On a show where so many characters fall down the ‘ends justify the means’ hole it’s nice to see a character who doesn’t.
There’s also the always strong family dynamic of Regina, Snow and Emma. These three women have been through hell and back together, often because of each other. Their love and faith in each other, the sheer belief that they can get through anything because they have each other is one of the loveliest things on television and is well earned. Since season one it’s this dynamic that’s kept me watching this show and it’s the growth of these characters, and the actresses talent and commitment to the parts, that keeps me hanging on, even when the sloppy writing and plot first, character second, based stories make me want to hang up the towel.
So will I continue to watch Once? Probably. The newest twist, while revolving around a character who bores me to tears, is an interesting one that I’m fairly certain will require a team-up between old favorites Regina and Rumple with the show’s best new addition Merlin. However there needs to be a paring down of the extraneous storylines and characters. As I’ve said many times before: keep it tight, keep it focused on your core cast and you’ll keep my interest.
We’ll see if OUAT’s showrunners listen.