Midseason Report Card: ‘Once Upon a Time’ season 6 is (so far) all about Lana Parrilla’s performance

Regina -A certain fictional someone once said that “life is like a box of chocolates,” but we’re starting to feel as though that same analogy may fit for “Once Upon a Time” as a series over the past couple of years. You never quite know if you’re going to get a batch of episodes that you love, or one that you’re disappointed by. Either way, the good news is that one storyline will end, another will begin, and there won’t be much of a mention of everything that came before.

Look at it this way: When was the last time that we saw on the show a reference to the whole “Frozen” arc, or even a mention of Hades from last season? Even though we saw Robin Hood in the alternate universe, at the same time the way in which the original Robin died has not been mentioned to any great degree. There are some benefits in allowing the show to stand more on its own two feet with every arc, and with this story in particular, it worked out rather well. Season 6A is our favorite first half of a season since arguably season 2, and there are several reasons for that.

What worked – Lana Parrilla. Rather than try to bring in some overarching Big Band or a flurry of new characters to last throughout a season, we focused more on the ones we already had. Separating Regina from the Evil Queen was a smart way to honor the character’s evolution while reminding us of what made her so interesting in the first place, and Parrilla did a brilliant job of balancing out both roles. Regina pretending to be the Evil Queen in the midseason finale was particularly wonderful, given that it was funny at times and heartbreaking at others. She’s long been one of the show’s strongest actors, so giving her more to do will always be celebrated.

Also, the idea of the prophecy for Emma was a worthwhile bit of storytelling, given that it gave you a point to look ahead to and allowed some speculation to enter the picture. The same can be said here for what we had a chance to see between Belle and Rumpelstiltskin; we do think that the show works well when there is something specific to look forward to, provided that they find an interesting way to build towards it. (This is where the Dark Swan story failed; it never felt like the writers went all-in with this concept.)

What didn’t – The biggest issue with the first part of the season is simply one where some added elements did not work and mesh properly into the rest of the story. Take, for example, Aladdin. We love the characters and really wanted this to work, but it always felt vestigial, like it didn’t really need to be there. We would’ve rather seen it tied a little more organically into the main storyline or saved for something down the road. It felt almost like Disney pandering and there wasn’t a great take on it. The Dr. Jekyll – Mr. Hyde story was a little in the same vein, but it at least had one strong episode before the character’s demise.

The reality here is that not every new character can be a winner, but the ones this time around were a little less successful than ones we’ve seen in the past like a Hades or a Cruella de Vil. We don’t necessarily love these characters (we’re not meant to), but they were compelling.

Overall Grade – B. A very entertaining first half of the season for the most part. While not perfect, it at least felt complete and it really emphasized the stars that we have on the show already. If “Once Upon a Time” continues with this in the second half of the season, we feel like we’ll be happy in the end.

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