First of all, you have to give “Once Upon a Time” credit for really putting itself out there. It would have been easy for the ABC series, with some of its success and the sets that are already built to just be comfortable with setting another season in Storybrooke, and giving us more of the same drama there in the town. Instead, they took a risk and spent most of season 3 in a new world in Neverland. This could have been a great success, or some sort of catastrophic failure.
By and large, we’re mostly happy with the returns. While we do not feel like the show checked every box and hit Neverland out of the park, it was a fun little trip that introduced us to new characters, and helped to set up the show’s best episode in almost two years in “Going Home.”
What worked – Obviously, the cliffhanger of Emma and Henry back in New York City, with no real recollection as to the life that they had previously, was phenomenal. (As for how Emma affords that apartment, we’re still curious…) Even before that, the show succeeded at giving you what was a pretty action-packed storyline. Peter Pan proved to be a capable villain, and while you could argue that there may only be like three families in the entire fairytale kingdom based on his lineage, we didn’t mind it.
The strongest performers for us during the first half of the season were some standbys in Lana Parrilla and Robert Carlyle, but also newcomer Robbie Kay as a particularly terrifying version of Pan. He had probably the biggest challenge out of anyone in that he didn’t have much of a template to go on since his character here was so different. He had to create an entirely new perception for someone who was originally supposed to be a hero.
What didn’t – We still admit that we’re not the biggest fans of Snow and Charming’s story, mostly because it is constantly idealistic to the point of being frustrating. That somewhat changed during the first part of the season, but not completely. There was also a sizable portion of the middle part of this season that we really don’t remember much, and it felt like there was just a ton of wandering that took place.
Overall – There were times that we wanted “Once Upon a Time” to capture more of what Neverland could be, and some of the new characters that were present there; but in the midst of individual complains about there about there not being enough Belle or wanting more of Storybrooke, the performances and the winter finale made up for most of it. Never discount what having a great finale can do for the entire scope of a season. It can create enough magic to overlook some of the flaws. Grade: B+.
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