“We’ve been on the sidelines too long, missed too many adventures. Now it’s embarrassing. How do you think it feels when everyone asks you how the adventure was, and you gotta say that no one asked you to go along?”
Well, you’re invited, now gather up your Disney Fastpass and get in line for more television adventures in Storybrooke. Ah, but before you get on the boat for this year’s ride you might want to be sure you’re all caught up on the adventures of these characters. This is not the place to start. The mythology of Once Upon A Time gets quite complicated over the previous seasons. This is not the place to start if you want to watch the show. Check out our previous reviews of the first four seasons of Once Upon A Time. Bang it here to get caught up: Once Upon A Time Reviews.
“Tell your timbers to stop shivering.”
There are plenty of twists and turns that it wouldn’t be fair to reveal here. The season begins with the dramatic event of last season that made Emma Swann the Dark One. There is only one way to attempt to take it from her, and that’s with the help of the legendary and most powerful of wizards… Merlin. So it’s off to Camelot, where things are not quite the way you remember from those Arthur stories you read. Eventually all of Granny’s is transported to the mythical realm with many of our heroes inside. The next thing we know they’ve all been transported back to Storybrooke, and it’s a new curse, and once again they’ve all lost their memories of the six weeks they spent in Camelot. Emma is now fully dark, and she’s the only one who knows what really happened. So the first half of the season has us involved in the current activities in Storybrooke and flashbacks that slowly reveal what really occurred back in Camelot.
A lot has changed in Camelot. In the entire kingdom there’s nary a Kennedy to be found. Arthur (Garrigan) is not such a nice guy. He’s wanting more power. He has removed Excalibur from the stone, and it is broken. It turns out the dagger that controls the Dark One is the tip of this legendary sword. Of course, all true Arthurites know that Excalibur was not the sword pulled from the stone. This Excalibur was formed by Arthur’s discovery of the Holy Grail, which has given him immortality and has been forged into a sword which brought magic into the world.
The next Disney/Pixar material to be mined is Brave. Merida arrives in the guise of Amy Manson, complete with the thick accent and long red hair. She’s had a few run-ins with Arthur and eventually joins with the heroes through their various missions and ordeals.
“Abandon hope all ye who enter.”
The second half of the season finds the troop in the Underworld where they have to contend with Hades himself, played quite entertainingly by Greg Germann. Here are the souls who have unfinished business before they can move on. Hades, of course, likes things just the way they are. And while our heroes have arrived to save one of their own, they begin to do what heroes do and help the souls to move on. We find out that Snow had a fling with Hercules when she was younger. The Underworld also offers the show a chance to bring back many of the departed heroes and villains from previous seasons. We get Cruella De Vil, once again played by Victoria Smurfit, Regina’s father,played by Hill Street favorite Tony Perez, Cora (Hershey) and Rumple’s evil father Peter Pan, played again by Robbie Kay. There’s plenty of Greek mythology to pull from in the season’s second half. We have the spark of the flame stolen by Prometheus for humans. Of course, Hades himself is the brother of Zeus, who makes an appearance toward the finale. Hades also includes an evil mirror-world Storybrooke, but without a bearded Spock.
The second half also includes a return to Oz, where we discover that Zelena (Mader) had a fling with Hades. The two stories combine to provide Hades with a way out of the Underworld if he can get Zelena to fall in love with him again. It all leads to a season finale that discovers a land of untold stories and a treasure chest of new legends to bring to Storybrooke. We meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, which gives us two of our opening big bads for next year. We’ll have Mr. Hyde, who steals Storybrooke’s magic for himself and takes over. The formula also allows Regina to split into her good and evil half. Needless to say, the Evil Queen is back.
“What with all of the curses and time jumps, who could blame you?”
The series is getting a little harder to follow. The pacing is getting uneven as we jump from land to land and time to time. The stories are being told in too many small pieces with too many stories going on at once. It’s like trying to read 10 books, all a few pages at a time before moving to the next one. I’m not sure how you folks did it over a season of television. It’s hard even when I binge-watch it over a few days.
It’s like a game of Three-Card-Monte; your characters go from good to bad back to good in the span of just an episode. It continues to be about defining a hero and the difference between a hero and a villain. It’s always been a popular concept with Disney and has lately extended to how the Magic Kingdom separates its two major parking areas. Of course, you don’t have a choice which area you will be funneled into, but that’s really kind of the point here. There’s a question of whether villains are thrust into their roles by an unseen author, or if their actions and free will determine who they are. That’s the big philosophical debate that boils through most of the show. Even the heroes find their dark moments. You will be hit over the head by the heroes/villain quotes as badly as Uncle Ben’s admonition on great power and… heck, you know the rest. ‘Nuff said.
Some of 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. This year he’s also in Emma’s head as she tries to resist her new dark 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. 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.
You get all 23 episodes, including a two 2-part season finale on five discs.
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.
Tales From The Underworld – A Knight With Cruella: (4:19) This is a vignette that shows Cruella complaining with a Knight Of The Round Table who is tending bar in the Underworld. It’s the 50th anniversary of Arthur taking over the joint. It also stars Buffy’s Spike, James Marsters.
Merida In Storybrooke: (8:00) Spend a day with actress Amy Manson behind the scenes as she brings the Brave character to the series.
The series is heading more and more into the territory of camp. We’re talking Adam West camp. The characters have gone totally over the top, and you really have to take most of these performances with a grain of salt. The show has become more of a guilty pleasure for many of its fans. It’s the show you don’t necessarily want to admit you watch or even like. Still, there are some things going for the show that certainly provide a little entertainment. And like all good fairy tales, there’s usually a moral to the story, and not always the obvious one. I think there is some lazy writing going on here, however. The show is relying too much on the time jumps, curses, and musical evil ones. That makes the series appear stuck at times. It can be very frustrating. “I’m not angry. I’m disappointed. On second thought, I’m angry.”