“There is a town in Maine where every storybook character you’ve ever known is trapped between two worlds, victims of a powerful curse. Only one knows the truth, and only one can break her spell.”
ABC has had a very important asset going for it for years. It’s one that the network has seldom taken any advantage of. That asset is its parent company. You see, ABC is part of the Walt Disney family. With the rich history of stories the studio has in its arsenal going back to the 1920’s, it was only a matter of time before some clever people decided to find a way to use that rich history into a television series. That time has arrived, and the result is Once Upon A Time. It’s the most clever and original series to hit the tube in a long time.
The mythology of Once Upon A Time gets quite complicated over these three seasons. This is not the place to start if you want to watch the show. Check out our previous reviews of the first two seasons of Once Upon A Time. Bang it here to get caught up: Once Upon A Time Reviews
“Don’t believe every story you hear.”
The season begins where last season left us. Henry has been kidnapped by Lost Boys and is being taken to Peter Pan (Kay) in Neverland. It turns out that Peter’s grip on the magic in Neverland is reaching its end. He needs the heart of a true believer to keep his power. Henry (Gilmore) has that true believer’s heart. Captain Hook (O’Donoghue) is leading a rescue mission on the Jolly Roger with Emma (Morrison), Charming (Dallas), Snow White (Goodwin), Regina (Parrilla) and Rumpelstiltskin (Carlyle).
For the first part of the season, this is where we are. The various characters are looking for Henry and trying to thwart Peter Pan. In this season arc we learn who Peter Pan really is, and he has a very close relationship to Rumpel. It’s this back story part that is the most interesting, not only because we get more of Robert Carlyle, but also because it’s at least a compelling story. The several episodes of the characters on the island provide for the most listless storytelling that the series has provided to date. Without the number of supporting players, this descends quickly into a very bad copy of Lost. As the characters appear to go around in circles along with their bickering and rather forced discoveries, the show also spins in what feels like an eternal spiral as well.
It is certainly interesting to see the story of Peter Pan turned on its head. He is not a good guy in this story at all. He’s just as devious and evil as any character we’ve yet encountered. Robbie Kay delivers a pretty nice performance, but he doesn’t really get to cut loose. The writing here is absolutely in a rut, and I’m thankful that this is only about a third of the season. It finally wraps up, and we get back to Storybrooke, kind of.
The Little Mermaid herself, Ariel (Swisher) gets a little time here. Her story isn’t so far off from who she was in the Disney classic. It does lead to one of the worst examples of computer-generated f/x on the series as Regina pretends to be Ursula. It’s quite awful, really it is.
The series heads back to Storybrooke, but only for a brief visit. A transition to the rest of the show involves just a couple of episodes. The Curse finally broken, Regina sends everyone back to where they belong. This all comes thanks to a heavy sacrifice by Rumpel. For Emma and Henry, they are in New York with no memory of the events of the last 2 1/2 seasons. It all comes crashing down when Hook shows up trying to get Emma to take a potion to restore her memory. From there it’s back to Storybrooke, but with a huge twist. The Curse has returned after a year, but no one can remember what happened in that year they were back in the Enchanted Forrest.
In a bit of an amusing twist, it’s Henry who is the only one that doesn’t know who everyone is. And of course waking him up to the truth is the key, as it was for him to wake up Emma in the first season. So who is behind the new curse? Who is the new villain? Let’s just say she’s absolutely wicked.
“We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
OK, we were never really in Kansas, but you can guess where we’re going from here. The rest of the season incorporates the stories of Oz into the show. It’s the Wicked Witch Zelena (Mader) who has a grudge against Regina. She’s managed to capture and control Rumpel, and she’s brought back the Curse but with even more devious plans. She intends to do something not even magic has ever accomplished before. She wants to open up a time portal and change the past to give her the life Regina had. As Regina herself points out, it wasn’t exactly a picnic, either. After more problem-solving and hints of the events of the year no one can remember, we discover it’s all tied to the new baby Snow and Charming are expecting. That’s right. Here we go again.
One of the more interesting events has Hook and Emma doing the Back To The Future thing. They get sucked into the time portal, and she inadvertently interferes with her parents’ first meeting. In one of the many Back To The Future references, this also involves someone in a tree. Now she has to get her parents back together without changing anything else. Like the famous movie it all leads to a big dance, a ball in those days.
I didn’t find this season to be near as interesting or compelling as the last two. It’s almost as if the season were taking one track and someone realized it wasn’t working out. The Oz stuff is more than a little forced, even if the flying monkeys were actually kind of cool. Not enough use was made of the many supporting characters from the town, and I think I missed that community feel most of all. The Oz story appears awkwardly as almost a second thought and never really manages to draw you in. Perhaps the attempts of making a spinoff that didn’t last more than a couple of episodes took a toll on creative resources for the season. Whatever the reason, I was left pretty flat when it was all over. Even if not the most compelling television, the previous years at least moved. This one feels like it goes on forever, and that’s during a binge-watching session. I can’t imagine how it was during the season. It lost viewers in season three, and that’s really not a surprise.
The cast is also quite good. Robert Carlyle steals every scene he is in. He also has the most diversity between his Storybrooke character and his fairyland character. Rumpelstiltskin is quite a prominent character here. Carlyle certainly gets to have the most fun as the flamboyant Rump and delivers the most maniacal and hideous giggles in the role. His face is painted gold. As the “mundane” Mr. Gold, he’s merely cold and calculating and a convincing devil character at all times. Still, you never really quite know which side he is truly on. He gets a shot at redemption and even love in this season, and it would be spoiling to tell you how it worked out. Needless to say, he’s not completely regained his “good” nature. Ginnifer Goodwin and Lana Parilla have too close a look to be as distinctive as the characters should be. Parilla’s is by far the more convincing and better performance. Of course, it really is more fun to play evil than it is to portray good. Raphael Sbarge is terribly underused as Jiminy and doesn’t appear in most of the episodes. He’s the show’s grounding character and certainly should have more to do. Young Jared Gilmore is infectious as Henry and shows a lot of energy and passion in the part. Of course, the true lead here is Jennifer Morrison as Emma. She doesn’t really have a counterpart in fairyland, so she doesn’t get to stretch the performance as much. Maybe that’s for the best. She represents us here, and we see, at least the mundane world, through her eyes.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. The picture is nothing short of stunning for a television series. The fairytale land is particularly magical. The image gives us nice textures in the environments and costumes. Some of the computer-generated environments are a bit obvious, and the sharpness of the image can work against the presentation on those instances. Colors are vibrant and shiny. You do get the atmosphere of a hyper-fantastic world. Black levels are solid in the rare instances where they are required.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is dominated by dialog. That isn’t to say there aren’t some rather fanciful uses of surrounds. You’ll find them more aggressive in the fantastic world. The musical numbers are clean and dynamic. It’s a solid audio presentation without actually calling much attention to itself.
All of the features are in HD.
Commentary & Deleted Scenes on select episodes.
Wicked Villains: (12:05) This is a profile on the villain characters of the season both new and old. Cast and crew offer their thoughts on what makes a truly good villain.
The Tale Of Ariel: (7:35) This feature looks at the process of adding Ariel to the characters. We get to see the CG work that gives her a tail and the casting process that brought the actress to the role.
Inside The Writer’s Room: (3:07) This is really a mockumentary that delves into the new character who enters Storybrooke in the season finale and the upcoming season.
Comic Con Meets Ariel: (1:25) The teaser reel for Ariel that was presented at the 2013 Comic Con.
The final moments of season three give me some hope for the coming season. Emma brings back two things that will lead to serious trouble. One is revealed outright in the series finale. The other is strongly hinted, but we all know who that is. Not to give you a cold shoulder here, but if you don’t know it yet, I wouldn’t want to freeze you out of some enjoyment and surprise. So I will leave you out in the cold for now. “It’s a good thing you don’t ask too many questions.”