You can change the path to the destination, but the destination is the same. On the day you saw, in the battle you saw, you will die.The Oracle
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, Rebecca Mader, and Robert Carlyle.
Episode 1: The Savior
After seemingly countless adventures, through countless iconic characters like Snow White, Cinderella, Tinkerbell, Peter Pan, Princess Aurora, King Arthur, Merlin, Ariel, Ursula, Belle, Hercules, Megara, Hades, Mulan, Anna and Elsa, Once Upon a Time has finally reached its sixth season. Over the course of its previous five seasons, we’ve met just about every human fairytale character there is to encounter, and the Disney back catalogue is nigh-on depleted. Then again, that was also the case in Season 4 when we were treated to a surprise, and vaguely unwelcome, appearance from some sort of warlord Bo Peep.
For the latest collection, the show runners have decided to shake up the narrative structure of the past few seasons by having story arcs that last for half a season, and adopt a more fluid approach like the original two seasons. It certainly allows for more flexibility instead of the somewhat predictable monotony of knowing when particular plot points would be resolved and when they wouldn’t. It’s a welcome change generally for the programme, and it seems to have slowed the pace considerably in this premiere, as it isn’t concerned with setting up the antagonist for the next few episodes and is content to leave us with a few tantalising clues while making this particular adventure as entertaining as possible.
One of the more intriguing elements of this premiere episode revolves around Emma, which is unsurprising of an episode called “The Savior”. Except, it doesn’t appear that Emma is the only saviour in existence. For one, Jafar (who we see only briefly in the opening sequence) addresses Aladdin as a fellow saviour, who is also flanked by the same oracle that Emma seems to bump into at the close of the episode.
Throughout the episode, Emma is haunted by a vision of a climactic sword fight between her and an unseen assailant. A vision that comes to her at the strangest of moments, but is clearly unsettling. Upon meeting with the Oracle at the close of the episode, it is revealed to Emma that she will die in that battle regardless of the decisions she makes in the present. This, coupled with Jafar’s warning to Aladdin that Saviours can never have their own happy endings, seems to suggest quite a focus upon Emma’s journey throughout season six as we will see her continue to struggle with her identity as the saviour and what that role means for her own life.
However, despite this promising pull, the cracks are starting to show here. While we don’t have to sit through a tenuous flashback sequence this week, certain plot points seem to be repeated from earlier seasons, which is somewhat inevitable once a show gets as established as this one is.
Firstly, there’s the reversion of Emma to her persona from Season 1 where she keeps her visions to herself. In the time since the first season, she has learned time and time again the dangers of trying to deal with her problems alone when she has the brilliant support system that she has, but instead of sharing her problems so that they can all help solve it, she elects to keep her visions a secret from those around her. It’s frustrating, and it seems like it’s there purely to create extra drama by dragging the idea out as long as possible. I understand that change is nowhere near as neat as learning a lesson and always behaving in that particular way, and habits are hard to break, but when it comes to magic, Emma should definitely know better by this point.
Elsewhere, it felt like Regina and Zelena’s relationship took a step backwards. The pair had settled into quite a nice dynamic by the end of Season 5, as they had a shared understanding over their losses of Robin and Hades. Zelena had proved herself as loyal to her sister by sacrificing Hades to protect Regina. However, now, for the sake of additional drama, Regina has realised that she blames Zelena for what happened to Robin, which has served to drive a wedge between the pair.
Not only is this a frustrating backslide to their previous less-than-friendly dynamic, but it serves to push Zelena closer to the Evil Queen, who has made her way to Storybrooke. This just, once again, puts Zelena at odds with our heroes and, while it’s nice to see her and Lana Parrilla together – Rebecca Mader continues to be a series highlight – it feels like we’ve been here before with Zelena, and had just got her to a stable place, only to derail it once more.
Meanwhile, Rumple goes to wake up Belle and she decides that she doesn’t want anything to do with him again. I am quite pleased by this plot point, if I wasn’t so confident that the pair will ultimately end up together, even though there have been countless of breakups and episodes dedicated to why they shouldn’t. It just feels like we’ve been here before, though. Rumple has tried to charm his way back to Belle, and she has walked away from him multiple times. Admittedly she always comes back, but the fact that they’ve had this scene multiple times makes it more irritating to sit through. The scenes of her leaving him don’t have much impact because she’s done it so many times and you know that they’re just going to wind up back together anyway.
Having said that, introducing Morpheus as the grown up version of their child was a nice touch and helped to contextualise Belle’s partings of the ways with Rumple. It is much more satisfying than seeing Belle getting back with Rumple after he attempted to trick her and seduce her within her own dreams. The problem is with Rumple is that he refuses to either change or to let go of Belle. She doesn’t love him for who he is, and the fact that true love’s kiss won’t wake her up just proves that. He cannot have it both ways like he’s been trying, so he either needs to choose her over power or choose power over her. But we’ve been there before, too.
These elements just seem to make Once feel more repetitive than it should, which is strange considering the wealth of possible storylines available to the showrunners. Belle and Rumple’s story is tired by this point, and Belle sorely needs development outside of their connection. Hopefully with Emilie de Ravin back from maternity leave and with a credible reason to stay away from Rumple, the writers can think of ways to involve her in storylines that don’t involve Rumple trying to seduce her, but five years of bitter disappointment have taught me better than to imagine that that’s possible. Hopefully Zelena and the Evil Queen’s union also serves to defy expectations as well.
An intriguing, and unknown, element moving forwards is just what was contained within the dirigible from the Land of Untold Stories that touched down in Storybrooke. Hyde was quite vague about what exactly these creatures were, but they seemed to be pretty threatening from the way that he described them. I’m still none the wiser about what exactly the Land of Untold Stories actually is, or how these characters differ from any of the literary characters we have already met, but I’m sure answers will be provided soon.
“The Savior” was a slower start to the season than Once has been known for since Season 3, but it demonstrated that the writers are quite committed to grounding the stories within the existing characters within the confines of Storybrooke. Considering that we love these characters so much, this should mean great things, but if it means a season of slightly meaningless and bizarre character inconsistencies, then this season may prove to be the most frustrating of all. Hopefully the writers also find a way to involve all of its main cast and give them something meaningful and purposeful to do, instead of leaving all of the character development and screen time to Emma, Regina and Rumple.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.