Recently returned from Hell, the royal family of Storybrooke, Maine seems ready to take on their next onslaught of existential threats — but because we're so far into the series now, we're running out of characters from the Disney cultural hegemony to rumble with. Aladdin and Jafar (played by Oded Fehr), who appeared for a hot three seconds at the top of the episode, are some of the very last of the truly A-List Disney film characters left.
We've covered just about everybody else, from 2015's Frozen, to King Arthur of ancient British lore. Assuming they don't wrap the series up soon, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) is going to end up sword-fighting Louie the Enthusiastic French Chef from The Little Mermaid next year... If she survives the current season, that is!
To stave off this inevitability, the writers have crashed a steam-punk dirigible into this season from a new new realm called "The Land of Untold Stories," also known as "The Land of Stuff We're Just Going To Make Up Now, We've Run Out of Disney Characters, It's Season Six And We Are So Very, Very Tired." And according to an Oracle with too much blush on one side of her face, someone presumably from this land is going to kill Emma!
(Here's a sincere question: can characters on this show even die? Zeus resurrected Emma's boyfriend Captain Hook a couple months ago, and her son has a magical pen that turns his words into reality. I don't think Emma's getting off this ride any time soon.)
This season, in addition to featuring The Land of Plot Spackle, is also going to double down on what they know we love best: live action re-enactments of the ball scene from Beauty and the Beast and Lana Parrilla. Lana Parrilla's subtle and nuanced portrayal of Regina turned her into the unofficial lead of OUAT, and she has essentially been playing a dual role for the last four seasons, as a repentant and relatable Regina struggled to master her Evil Queen urge to make people burst into balls of flame.
Weirdly the show doesn't seem to understand that it's the subtle inner conflict of this duality that made Regina so compelling to viewers (along with the literally magical chemistry between her and co-mom Emma), and siphoned off her darkness into a literal second role. Not complaining, because obviously we all do love to see the Evil Queen swanning around casting campy one-liners and pushing the boundaries of winged eyeliner. But it does take some of the complexity away from Regina to see her holding hands with Snow while patiently sitting through yet another rehashing of the importance of hope.
And this is kind of the thing with OUAT: its villains are so much more fun and compelling than its heroes. So the audience always ends up liking the villains best, and wants happy endings for them, but of course they can't have happy endings in the logic of the show until they become good-hearted, and the show always conflates kindness of heart with tediousness of dialogue.
Which is why Hook is now essentially a kiss delivery device, and Zelena is now wearing a side braid and pedal pushers instead of her sick leather corsets, and Belle has morphed into a joyless scold who dreams about kissing her own son.
Rumple's journey through what Belle was dreaming as she was under the sleeping curse was actually one of my favorite things about the episode. Not the part where they just straight up re-enacted Season 1's "Skin Deep," but the conceit of Rumple showing up in Belle's dreams and walking straight into a threateningly handsome young man, and then that twist: its his unborn son! Yes, Belle's fetus is also having a dream, and apparently he's been eavesdropping while in the womb during all his parents' fights. Even though back in the real world he had not yet started developing appendages, he had still managed to develop some pretty major daddy issues. He insisted Belle leave Rumple until Rumple changed for good and woke her up with a True Love's Kiss so she could go storming off through a magic mirror portal back to Storybrooke. Which is just an awkward way to end an argument because you can't really slam the magical mirror portal behind you.
These kinds of intrinsically awkward scenes are actually my favorite thing about the series now. The impossibly talented cast doing their best to deliver soap opera dialogue against what appears to be backgrounds from 2003's The I of the Dragon fantasy PC game.
Ah well. The important thing is the huge cliffhanger from last season, Belle being under an unbreakable sleeping curse, was resolved in the premiere. Now all we have to worry about is how Emma is not going to die, and if Regina will ever get that feather from Zelena, and if Mr. Hyde will kill Dr. Jekyll.
Again, another perfect example of the "bad" guy being about a thousand times more interesting than his foil who we are supposedly rooting for. OUAT's Hyde is a Hannibal Lector-esque steam punk gentleman who launches into a verbal sparring war with Emma far more engaging than any of her fist fights with her current love interest Captain Hook. Though maybe this is just my personal bias, I always feel like I'm being forced to watch a brother and sister make out when Emma and Hook mash mandibles.
In six seasons, Once Upon at Time has given us some incredible, unforgettable highs and some truly low lows, but the premieres and finales were always consistently excellent, laying out an exciting premise that expertly trapped its audience. Two dueling Reginas is good bait, and exactly what will keep me coming back for more; but there was an overall tone of anti-climax to the season six premiere, a pivot from starting a new adventure to setting up another defensive maneuver... And it makes me wonder if this is the last season premiere we'll see from OUAT.
...are you worried about Emma dying, or is that so obviously not going to happen that its almost like they failed to come up with a conflict for this season?
...where is Henry in his education currently? Is he going to be able to get into a good college?
...have you ever lost an important feather? Have you ever ended a friendship because someone lost something of yours?
...Did it seem like Robert Carlyle was too embarrassed and/or tired to do the full Rumplestiltskin voice?