Once Upon a Time the Complete Second Season DVD Review
Posted by Michael Weyer on 08.18.2013
The second year of ABC's fairy-tale epic has a few missteps but still retains the daring story-telling and magical cast to make it a worthwhile story to embrace.
Once Upon a Time the Complete Second Season
It's easy to be a hit when expectations are low. ABC has learned that several times over the last few years. Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, all series with little buzz but exploded into smash successes. Such a case is with Once Upon a Time. When it debuted in 2011, most didn't give it much of a chance. Its storyline of a small town that was home to various fairy tale characters held under a curse seemed too complicated to get into for audiences. But it soon became a hit, viewers loving its twists on fairy tales backed by sharp writing and a good cast. Its second season may have some ups and downs but still retains the magic that made it so successful in the first place and an enthralling story to get into.
We pick up immediately where the season 1 finale left off as Emma (Jennifer Morrison) succeeded in breaking the curse on Storybrooke, allowing the residents to remember who they really were, especially Emma's parents, Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming/David (Josh Dallas). Naturally, the townspeople are ready to lynch Regina aka the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) while Gold/Rumplestilskin (Robert Carlyle) has brought magic back to the town. But, as he always warns, magic has a price and in this case if anyone leaves the town limits, they'll forget their real selves and only be their Storybrooke personas. Regina gains magic herself in her twisted attempt to get back adopted son Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) and this soon leads Snow and Emma to return to the fairy tale world. There, they hook up with Mulan (Jamie Chung) and Sleeping Beauty (Sarah Bolger) to try and get back. Along the way, they soon find a major threat in the form of Regina's mother, Cora (Barbara Hershey) who makes Regina look like a saint. Helping Cora is Killian Jones (Colin O'Donoghue), better known as Captain Hook, who has a personal score to settle with Rumplestilskin. Soon, events return to the real world where Emma has to face her past in Henry's father, Neal (Michael Raymond-James) who has a connection to the town even Emma doesn't know about.
The first half of the season does seem a bit scattered. It's easy to see that, after taking the daring idea of upending the central plot of the show in breaking the curse, the producers want to explore more of the fairy tale world but having the character seperated like this doesn't help the connections as well as they seemed to think it does. The adventures with Emma and the others are a bit rough, Chung and Bolger not doing as well as they could with their roles and it seems mostly an excuse to bring in Hook as well as the introduction of Anton, a giant played by Jorge Garcia. True, we are freed of the annoying bit of season 1 of Emma refusing to see the truth before her and the characters re-exploring their old lives is good but the loss of that curse also means we lose the key focus that helped the show along. The threats are too varied and the most intriguing one doesn't come in until the last few episodes. It's a shame as the show is still capable of great stuff like a flashback showing why Hook wants Gold dead and another exploring Emma's pre-Storybrooke past and why it's hard for her to trust others. There's also still the fun humor like when Snow reveals she slept with someone else and brushes aside Charming's shock with "we were cursed." Or when Charming, hearing of a wild family connection, remarks "it's a good thing we don't have Thanksgiving in our land because that dinner would suck." Even when rough, the show still retains its amazing mix of fairy tale and drama that makes it stand out well with little touches like when, right after the curse is broken, the (grown) Seven Dwarves bow to Snow White.
The "spotlight" episodes are still the best, one showcasing Ruby/Red Riding Hood (Meghan Ory) who fears her curse to become a wolf will lead to death while in the fairy tale flashback, we see how she learned more of the roots with her mother (Annabeth Gish). An inspired notion is that Dr. Whale (David Anders) is none other than Dr. Viktor Frankenstein with his world showcased in black-and-white. This leads to a great scene where Ruby and Whale talk of the irony that, for them, forgetting their dark pasts was a blessing, not a curse. A standout episode shows how Cora got into magic with Rose McGowan brilliantly mimicking Hershey as the younger Cora, showing how she started on that road. Also, we get good insight to Rumplestilskin with one episode showing the events that led to him becoming the Dark One and explaining why he's so insistent on details in deals plus a good showcase for how long Cora has been manipulating things. The way they all connect is compelling and shows the deep mythology of the show and how it's all well-planned (such as Rumple has Regina make a move that we know will later lead to Charming meeting Snow). That's showcased by an episode showing the first days of the curse in 1983, Regina at first gleeful over this victory only to realize it's not the same with everyone acting like normal people and no one afraid of her while introducing a major subplot.
Parrilla is the real star of the season, carrying every scene and also leaving you in awe of how she's able to take these crazy outfits and make them look ravishing. The arc of Regina is trying to keep her control and the power she had but also her love for Henry. A great bit is where she basically ties him up in tree branches to stay with her, Henry snaps he'll never be like her and Regina finally realizes she's doing to Henry exactly what Cora did to her. Her attempts to redeem herself are marred by Cora's arrival and Regina still desperate for her mother's approval and Parrilla sells every scene with gusto. Carlyle matches her as Gold tries to redeem himself as well with his love for Belle (Emilie de Ravin) with a wonderful bit where he confesses he's a coward always going to magic. His search for his long-missing son and the loss of someone close to him allows Carlyle to mix some Dark One into Gold, still the scene-stealer whatever his costume. O'Donoghue is terrific as Hook, charming and debonair as a pirate should be, wicked but still a code of honor and the reasons why he wants Rumple dead are easy to understand (his chemistry with Morrison also helps). Hershey is also a delight as Cora, icy cold and always a smile with her plotting as her twisted relationship with Cora showcases her as the real monster of the show, leading to a dramatic fate.
The first season had Morrison as a cool and steady force so it's fun seeing Emma now out of her league in a world of magic but trying to do her best, still handling with her strength and learning more of her past. Her work with Henry continues to be good, especially when she has to confess to him a truth about his father and her cool head is needed a lot. It's clear that Goodwin and Dallas are enjoying letting go of the personas of the first season; Snow is back to the ass-kicker she was with bow and arrow, strong and confident and great work with Parrilla as Snow tries to offer Regina a chance to change. Dallas shows a stronger Charming, able to lead and doing anything to help his family with a fun flashback of Dallas playing Charming's spoiled twin brother in flashbacks. The chemistry of the trio is good as Emma has to deal with finding out her birth parents are not only fairy-tale characters but the same age she is and this unique family bond leads to some fun scenes. Gilmore can be a bit too annoying at times but the good idea that, after being proven right about the town's secret, he's learning breaking the curse has only caused more problems. Some of the guest actors are hit and miss although Garcia has a wry charm as a giant but the introduction of Robin Hood is a major letdown and some plotlines seem more filler than really compelling (although the underused Rachel Shelley is good as Rumple's wife while Alan Dale reprises his role as Charming's father who has a wicked edge that nearly outdoes Regina). That comes true later in the season with the introduction of a couple of strangers to the town and although they play a major role in the finale, their motivations aren't as important as they should be. Indeed, while the first season was tightly plotted out with the introduction of characters, building on the story is more hit and miss.
The show's production values are still good (despite the obvious green screen backgrounds for the fairy tale world) and the costumes are always a highlight (especially Regina's). We still get gems like when Regina uses a spell to go undercover and is stunned to realize just how hated she is by her own subjects or when she uses magic to trace where a car is headed. Plus, it's fun seeing the characters evolve in the flashbacks, from Rumple turning from farmer to the wild Dark One to how Regina becomes colder and colder as she rules. The exposition in places can be annoying as is the sad tendency to lean toward magic as a quick fix to things. And yet, we still have that charm and, dare I say it, magic that made the series stand out in the first place. The finale goes a long way to fixing the season by bringing several plots to a head and a cliffhanger promising major developments for season three. So while it may have a few low spots here and there, the second season of Once, like any good fairy tale, pulls you along with good characters and stories to remind you just how engrossing a great tale can be.
Rating: 8.0 out of 10.0
Widescreen 1.78:1, the DVD is quite crisp for ABC standards, not as brilliant as the Blu-Ray edition but still quite good. It can enhance the obvious fake green screen stuff in the flashbacks but it still sells the great visuals from a Giant castle in the sky to a portal opening in an ocean and the various magical FX too. Textures are smooth and no problem taking it all in, a great picture fitting for the show.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10.0
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound with subtitles in English, French, Chinese, Thai, Spanish and Portuguese. The audio is excellent, balancing dialogue with the various effects of magic, capturing background sounds well (especially in forest scenes) and no trouble with adjusting it. Plus, Mark Isham's great musical score is always clear and the subtitles help cement a great package for the show.
Rating: 9.0 out of 10.0
The five-disc set comes in a nice plastic case with photos of the characters inside. The extras are mostly the same as the Blu-Ray version although that one has commentary for the episode "The Miller's Daughter" and a feature on families.
We have five audio commentaries: "Broken" with Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas; "Queen of Hearts" with Eddy Kitsis, Adam Horowitz and Lana Parrilla; "Manhattan" with Kitis, Horowitz and Robert Carlyle; " "Welcome to Storybrooke" with writers Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss; and "Straight on Till Morning" with writer David H. Goodman and Colin O'Donoghue. As with the first season, the commentaries are all great, Goodwin and Dallas showing their fine chemistry with theirs. They reveal that the show started shooting episode three first before the season premiere and how everyone was surprised the writers broke the curse so early instead of dragging it out another season. Goodwin wishes she'd known the plans when she dressed for the finale as she was in a coat and wool skirt for winter but it got hot for the premiere and she didn't know she'd be wearing the same outfit for half the season. She and Dallas loved playing new versions of their characters, Goodwin using her bow, getting a cut and Dallas laughing about scars being sexy. Parrilla offers great insight to her commentary with how "the closer we get to the curse, the crazier Regina is becoming." She loves playing different versions of Regina depending on the timeline and comes up with a lot of the crazy hairdos herself. The writers show their own strengths, such as how Cora was always going to be the Queen of Hearts (and how, in the season 1 episode with her, it's Hershey's voice under the mask) and how they planned Neal out too. The idea of a flashback to 1983 had been around for a while and they loved throwing in details of the time period like a payphone and how "transitions are fun to write." The finale's commentary is mostly about that plotline and some acknowledgement of missteps along the way but still proud how it all turned out. You'd wish there were more commentaries with so many fun episodes but still good insight to how the show works.
Good Morning, Storybrooke is a collection of online videos of the local TV show for the town. Hosted by Hart Archer (Paul Scheer) and Goldie Locksley (Yvette Nicole Brown), it's tongue-in-cheek with talk on the recent injury of Humphrey Dumpty and Belle sharing a "Reading Corner" but having only read half of each book. ("Romeo and Juliet, young love, they're going to turn out great.") Short but fun.
Sincerely, Hook (5:26) is a short look at the character, who was intended to be in only a few episodes but viewers responded so well, he was upgraded to series regular. Colin O'Donoghue is as surprised as anyone as he talks about his playing this pirate with some heart and laughs about the legions of fans calling themselves "Hookers."
Girl Power (13:05) examines the ladies of the show with the writers up front on how "we had no desire to write damsels in distress." Goodwin loves scenes showing "Snow White kicking ass" and knows how hard archery is as she took it as a child. The focus is on the girl heroes, from Chung feeling honored to play an Asian icon like Mulan to Bolger as a Sleeping Beauty learning to be more independent. Regina even gets props as people respect her since "what makes a hero is the same as what makes a villain, she's resourceful." Shorter than it could have been but a nice look at the factor that helps the series stand out.
We get about eight deleted scenes, clocking over eleven minutes, most cut for pacing but notable bits like Regina, Frankenstein and the Mad Hatter are trapped in a crushing crypt and a few shout-outs to events from the first season. Also, a five-minute blooper reel showing crack-ups and jokes on set.
Rating: 8.0 out of 10.0
The 411: You have to credit the writers of Once Upon a Time for daring to upend the show so much in its second year. There are missteps and poor casting and story choices. However, the show still retains smart writing and some good twists to pull you along. The spotlights on characters are still good and the actors back it up with new takes on the characters. The extras offer more insight to how it's put together and when viewed all at once, the second season is a fine new chapter of a good show that deserves to be watched for lovers of fantasy everywhere.