Top positive review
A Noticeable Decline but Still Carries Some of Season 1's Fruits
on March 29, 2016
The major problem with the second season is that you realize the writers rushed something very good to a premature conclusion. This is probably the biggest SPOILER in this review: the curse, that made everything so intriguing in season 1, has been broken (finale of season 1) and everyone is remembering who they once were in the fantasy realm. The trouble, and the larger thematic conflict of this season, is that they are still stuck in the purgatory-like Maine town. The problem is that the story could have probably been better paced and provided more intrigue if the curse remained unbroken for another season or so.
There is a continuity of sorts, however, since the fairy tale world (ravaged by Regina's curse) is still around. Emma and Mary Margaret (Snow White) are accidentally sent there, which sets up the two major villains for the second season: Cora (Regina's mother from the previous season) and new comer Captain Hook. The Captain's story isn't as compelling as you might think (re-hashes a lot of the tropes from Regina's story). Cora, however, ranks as one of OUAT's greatest villains (so much so that they'll bring her back about once per season after this). Barbara Hershey plays Cora with the subtlety with which Carlyle plays Gold, but her actions are far more vicious and do a great deal more damage. Regina and Rumple aren't heoric by any means (thank god), but each are on very obvious roads to redemption. The interactions between the now uncursed Snow and Charming and their daughter, whom the writers made the wise choice of giving a cynical initial outlook on the situation, is quite entertaining. Snow/Mary Margaret (played by Ginnifer Goodwin) is much more interesting in this season, and she and Jennifer Morrison have pretty good chemistry, which is expanded and explored through a number of different avenues. They are still friends and confidants as they were in season 1 but they have the added burden of dealing with their knew relationship as mother and daughter. David/Charming (played by Josh Dallas) only gets more boring, and I wouldn't get my hopes up for him to become more interesting anytime soon. Belle (played by Emilie de Ravin) adds some dimension to Gold/Rumple's plot, but no one seems to acknowledge what the effects of being locked up in a padded cell for close to thirty years might do to one's psyche. The character seems unphased, and she is written with a sense of moral self-righteousness that can be a bit much.
This is the last season before the two-part structure takes its ungodly hold over every season to come. With consecutive seasons, the first half will be a plot-line that exists fairly independently and is given more artistic attention while the second halves will be largely convoluted stories that are basically put in place to set up the beginning of the season to come. Said structure isn't as pronounced in this season, but it begins about four or more episodes from the end. You'll begin to see a lot more retcon, gratuitous characters that don't impact the plot that much (many of which are fan-service for Disney aficionados), and the introduction of story-lines that go no where. For instance, season two begins with Sleeping Beauty being released from her respective curse by Prince Phillip. Yeah, you aren't going to see much of these two in the future. Also, don't hold your breath for Maleficent's reappearance. Even though she was both shown and teased in the first season, she won't be showing until a few seasons after this.
The best things about this season are Regina's rocky road to redemption, Cora's menace as a villain, the town coming to terms with its two-fold identity (though it doesn't last very long), Emma and Snow awkwardly bonding, and the revelations surrounding Rumple's motives. For that last one, much of it could be seen coming and is foreshadowed in season one, but it is nice to have the actual pay-off concerning Mr. Gold's elaborate schemes. There's the added bonus of Mr. Gold becoming VERY ruthless when he finds out he can achieve his goals. One great element that I forgot to mention, which is a selling point for this season, is more explanation as to how Regina became an evil witch whilst being the queen. However, there are a lot of plot-lines that overlap with her own that seem quite unnecessary and introduce/re-introduce characters who will be more or less gone after this season (one of whom is just terribly uninteresting; another who we'll lose because of his obligations to a certain major franchise [whose future absence leaves many questions unanswered]).
I guess the cardinal sin, aside from breaking the curse too soon and transitioning to that awful double-arch-with-cliff-hanger-ending season structure, is the continued explosion of characters who either are tertiary to the plot, are not given any development, will not impact the plot in any meaningful way, are transparent attempts at fan-service, or all four.
I'm being very generous with some of my assessments of the protagonists. The antagonists (even with Regina in a moral conundrum state) are the high points. Once again, Parrilla and Carlyle, and Barbara Hershey, carry the show. Regina's quips only get funnier (one of the show's few conventions that never wavers and only gets stronger over time). It's not season one, but it picks up where the first story arc left off with some element of grace and carries on with a sense of purpose, even if it is largely unknown to even the creators.