TV Report Card | 'Once Upon a Time' Season 3A Review

Overview: Season 3 saw the gang from Storybrooke heading to Neverland to retrieve Henry from the evil clutches of Pan. Meanwhile, Ariel emerged from the sea, Tinkerbell from Neverland, while our band of heroes made life-altering sacrifices.

Storyline Direction Pros: The storylines that were consistently riveting were Rumpelstiltskin and Regina’s. Each has been well executed and throughout the first leg of the season, the characters found their respective journey’s welcoming a fare share of revelations. Peter Pan turning out to be Rumpel’s long lost dad, was at first jarring before eventually seeping into the other various surreal storylines.

Pan as a villain was a great angle to explore. The story of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, even in its most traditional form, is creepy and writer’s Kitsis and Horowitz were wise to hone in, on that aspect. Drawing the parallels between unwilling parents, who want to remain kids forever instead of taking care of their actual children, was perfectly crafted into a clever allegory with Pan. It also added another dimension to the often sad backstory of the show’s anti-hero/part-time villain, Rumple. 

Ariel and Tinkerbell were enjoyable, new additions. Given the way the season had begun, the mid-season finale signed off with an exceptional episode that brought a game changing twist and compelling emotion. It was one of the series best episodes. It showcased how spectacular the show can be when it is firing on all engines.

Storyline Direction Cons: The coldest triangle on television, otherwise known as the Hook/Emma/Neal triangle, continued to irk. How on earth Hook is intrigued by the frosty Miss Swan is a head scratcher. The character of Hook is lively, charming and could have any woman he wants.

Why he would settle for the curmudgeonly Emma, in all of her infinitely prickly predications, when she behaves with such indifference, over most everything, is frustrating to behold. Meanwhile, the constant lovefest that is Snow White and Prince Charming’s relationship, continued to blossom with the sugary boredom that could initiate, countless cavities.

The first half of the season, despite its strong points, saw the utilization of considerable stall tactics. For too many episodes too count, characters wandered aimlessly in the rainforest with supposedly witty banter and self-ruminations. It dragged on and on, before finally hitting its stride in the last two episodes. Another con to the season has been Neal, a character who similarly to Emma, lacks any real personality. 

Production Caliber: May viewers, never again, bare the sight of Neverland aka the Never-Ending Rainforest. Aside from that, the show maintained its whimsical charm and still holds the record for one of the highest uses of daylight green screen, on network TV.

Personal frustration continues to mount, over the lack of continuity between the signature costuming and conceptualization of the animated characters and the ones on the show. Disney owns the rights and they own ABC. Why can't they get closer to the look? It's bewildering.

Performance Quality: The superb Robert Carlyle (Rumple) continues a multi-layered performance that is definitively dynamic. After three and a half seasons, his range continues to astonish, transforming from a cutthroat villain and then to an emotionally tortured, sidetracked and battered good guy. He’s fun to watch and he plays his role devoid of camp or over-the-top theatrics. In a world as unreal as “Once” portrays, Carlyle still manages to bring a genuine tangibility to his bizarre surroundings. 

Lana Parilla (Regina/Evil Queen) is another standout, who continues to play the thin line between sort of good and outright evil, with vigorous conviction. Her work in the mid-season finale was flawlessly riveting. Despite her character’s often irredeemable behavior, Parilla’s performance has perfectly balanced; the good with the evil. Because of this, Regina’s whiplash conduct doesn’t feel out of left field. She plays Regina’s emotions top side and it works. 

The young Robbie Kay (Peter Pan) performed with a maturity beyond his years and in doing so gave the series a worthy, straight-up villain. JoAnna Garcia Swisher (Ariel) and Rose McIver (Tinkerbell) were refreshingly jovial in their performances. The series still seems wary to showcase the talents of Colin O’Donoghue (Captain Hook), who has proven to have raw star quality. Committing to his talents the way they have to Robert Carlyle and Lana Parilla, would pay off in spades for the series.

Musical Score: Mark Isham’s quirky score continues to serve the series well.

Overall Grade: B+, the talent of its stars buoyed the series when the story was going nowhere fast. If it were left meditating on the talents of anyone other than the aforementioned, the series would’ve been in big trouble. With a mid-season finale that shook the show into a potentially revitalizing new start, things are only looking up.

[Images by ABC]

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