TV Review: ‘Once Upon a Time’ filled with complex characters, magic

Annie Bruce, Writer

I remember the first time I saw a preview for “Once Upon a Time.” I was waiting for the midnight showing of Harry Potter to start when this ABC fantasy drama came across the screen. A fairytale TV show? I thought it looked good but belonged where it was — on the movie screen. I stumbled across the series again on one of my all-too-frequent trips to Netflix, and I was soon hooked. After a one-month hiatus, “Once” returned Sunday for the second half of season two with “The Cricket Game.”

Season one of the series was filled with interesting fairytale characters with captivating stories reworked to fit this unique show. All the favorites are there: Snow White, Prince Charming, Little Red Riding Hood, Jiminy Cricket, and non-traditional classics like Mulan and Captain Hook.

In the movies, fairytales are retold on a regular basis, but “Once Upon a Time” works hard to avoid the norm. In this show, the fairytale characters are trapped in the real world with no memory of their past lives. A typical episode floats between flashbacks of Fairy Tale Land and their new earthly realm, Storybrooke. Because of this style, I am always amazed at the amount of action the “Once” writers are able to fit into a single episode.

In the last episode of season two’s first half, evil queen Regina saved Snow White, and Regina’s magic-obsessed mother Cora and Captain Hook were plotting their revenge and sailing into Storybrooke on a pirate ship — not your typical fairy tale. With storylines like these, it is safe to say the writers of “Once” feel comfortable entering uncharted fairytale territory.

The newest episode centered on a problem the series has been grappling with from the start: Does Regina have the ability to change and become a good person? By seamlessly switching between flashbacks and reality, the writers depict Regina’s previous feud with Snow White and Prince Charming and their inability to trust her in this new realm.

Similarly suspicious, the other citizens of Storybrooke are quick to assume Regina is guilty of a murder. (Not-really-a-spoiler alert: Her mother framed her.) Regina, however, is hardly one-dimensional — one of the reasons the series is so interesting is because viewers are never sure if they should root for her. This rule also applies to other characters in Storybrooke, like the constantly plotting Rumplestiltskin.

By taking simple fairytale characters and adding layers and complexities to them, “Once” keeps viewers invested in each person. “The Cricket Game” was filled with as many dilemmas and surprises, as most “Once” episodes are, proving this show is still in its prime.