I need to figure out what my story is.Henry
Starring Lana Parrilla, Colin O’Donoghue, Andrew J. West, Dania Ramirez, Gabrielle Anwar, Alison Fernandez, and Robert Carlyle
Episode 1: Hyperion Heights
So this is the new normal. Once Upon a Time is back for its seventh season, and half of its cast have completely disappeared off the face of whichever realm they currently reside in. With this season premiere, the show is tasked not only with providing a good episode, but also in establishing what the show will look like outside the area of Storybrooke. It’s no mean feat, but it manages to successfully reignite the charm of the first season, and is packed full of engaging and charismatic leads.
I hardly thought it possible, but the seventh season actually does breathe some new life into what was a vaguely tired narrative. Much as I love the quaintness of Storybrooke, it’s a very sleepy and quiet town, and constantly being overrun by a new supernatural threat every year was getting just a tad stressful. With this new curse storyline, Once is able to riff off what made it so successful in season one, and hopefully reignite some inspiration and passion into new avenues.
It’s fortunate, really, that most of these characters are ones that we haven’t met before. If they had tried another Season 1 curse on Storybrooke, that would have been far too much of a resemblance to what originally occurred, and it would be frustrating to have to watch the characters that we know wandering around with negligible character development.
Though we still don’t know exactly what caused this mysterious new curse, which – for some reason – landed everybody in Seattle, the way that this episode ties it to the past makes the transition seem less jarring. This is helped along the way by Jared Gilmore, as a younger Henry, to help explain that Henry left Storybrooke by means of a magic bean to explore his own life outside of the town. It definitely makes sense for his character: though the Henry we know was ruthlessly devoted to his family, it’s only fitting that he should go and discover himself, especially since he knows all there is to discover out there.
Andrew J. West does a terrific job as an older Henry. He manages to demonstrate all of the traits that we already know of Henry, of his hopefulness, positivity and resilience, but plays it with slightly more confidence. His chemistry with Dania Ramirez as Cinderella is palpable, and makes them a nice central couple to root for, as I’m assuming that they are the Snow/Charming dynamic of this season. Andrew also proves himself to be a protagonist you can root for at the centre, and his Seattle persona is so divergent to what we see in the Enchanted Forest. He’s clearly fulfilling Emma’s role here, as the cynic who ultimately has the power to save everybody. For a character who started the show, it’s only appropriate that he should be at the centre of the story moving forwards.
Henry isn’t the only link to the show that we used to know. Still remaining in the cast are Lana Parrilla, Colin O’Donoghue and Robert Carlyle, so there’s still plenty to appreciate from before. Parrilla is now a feisty, empathetic barmaid called Roni, O’Donoghue a detective called Rogers and Carlyle a corrupt member of law enforcement known as Weaver. Rumple? Morally spurious? Well, who would have thought? I’m assuming that these three are new cursed personas of Regina, Hook and Rumple, though quite how they’ve found themselves separated from Storybrooke remains to be seen, and hopefully doesn’t undercut any happy endings that we’ve already seen depicted in the show.
The new setting of the show is interesting, and it definitely brings a new tone and vibe to the series. Hyperion Heights seems like many areas in America: full of skyscrapers, businesses and constantly rumbling traffic. It’s a far cry from Maine, that’s for certain. Still, even though it lacks that magical quality, it seems far more relatable to an audience.
So, too, do the characters feel relatable. Cinderella as a single mother, struggling to make ends meet financially, forced to reduce herself so that she can keep a job makes her much more sympathetic to an audience than twee Mary Margaret did. Her friendship with Sabine (Mekia Cox) already seems organic and real, and Jacinda as a character is fiercely independent and butts heads with Henry. It’s also noticeable that the show has clearly consciously made a decision to attempt to make the cast more diverse, in having a Latinx Cinderella, as well as Lucy, and Mekia Cox within the cast, which shouldn’t be understated, since we’ve had six seasons now with exclusively white main cast members.
The new villain on the scene, Victoria Belfry (Gabrielle Anwar), the alternate persona of Cinderella’s devious stepmother Lady Tremaine, is suitably threatening. Lady Tremaine as a villain has always had an air of vague menace, and her main form of torture is psychological in the ways that she constantly subdues and puts Cinderella down. She’s certainly very different to how Regina was when Emma appeared in Storybrooke, but she maintains that aura of menace and power. In the Enchanted Forest, the way that she rips off the Fairy Godmother’s wings and then kills her with her wand demonstrates that she’s also massively ruthless, so I look forward to learning all about her tragic backstory.
Victoria is aided by her daughter Ivy (Adelaide Kane), or Drizella as she was known in the Enchanted Forest. She hasn’t had a great deal to do yet, but she does enough for the audience to be intrigued by her from the off. Another interesting addition to the cast is Rose Reynolds, who plays Tilly, a street informant to the corrupt Weaver. In the Enchanted Forest, she is known as Alice, who works on Rumple’s orders to stop Henry and Cinderella from uniting. Again, there’s not terribly much from her either, but she appears enough to leave the audience wanting to discover more about her.
The storyline moving forwards from here seems like it’s going to be rooted much more in relatable everyday problems, at least where Hyperion Heights is concerned. The villainy displayed from Victoria is much more rooted in the power from her business, compared to Regina having the entire town of Storybrooke under her thumb. The fact that Victoria seems to be using things like money and gentrification to fight against our heroes are real-world evils that are going to prove much trickier to get out of than some of the supernatural threats faced in the past.
An obvious highlight of this episode was Roni’s speech about hope. It’s a clear signal that Regina is bouncing around in there somewhere, even if she doesn’t know it yet. Refusing to give in to Victoria is a massive step, and it’s fitting that fan favourite Parrilla should be the one to deliver this speech. It’s also a subtle signal to the fans; a reassuring note that, even though lots has changed, this is still the same show at its heart.
Ultimately, Once Upon a Time’s controversial seventh season gets off to an assured start. The new characters are introduced well and feel realistic and compelling. The show will have to do a lot in subsequent episodes to buck the trend and the storytelling elements set up in the first season of the show to continue to hold the audience’s interest.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. Seasons 1 – 4 are now available on Disney+ in the UK. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.