by Jeremy Grossman
Lana Parilla’s performance as the Evil Queen is proving to be not only the highlight of “Once Upon a Time,” but also one of the best parts of the new television season, as her sexy, sinister smiles and wicked glares create a highly likable antagonist. Take, for instance, a scene in “The Thing You Love Most,” when the Evil Queen – or, as she is known in the “real world,” Regina – gives away a shiny red apple. Despite any warm emotions her character may claim to possess, Parilla’s face reveals a heinous smile that delivers chills to audiences and demonstrates she is capable of handling the show’s wild plot.
It is all the more unfortunate, then, that the show’s “good guys” fail to deliver any onscreen fun. Jennifer Morrison is fine as tough-girl Emma Swan, but throughout the episode, as her character is framed and yelled at by nemesis Regina, it is impossible to root for someone so grounded in a show that feeds on being fantastic and over-the-top. Ginnifer Goodwin as Snow White, or Mary, once again, is serviceable, but as she is given so little to do but offer kind gestures and nice intentions, the audience cannot be bothered with her for long when the Evil Queen has something deliciously sinister cooking in the very next scene.
What is keeping the show from embracing its full potential is the absence of a significant focus on plot. Emma Swan and Snow White/Mary are not yet fully developed characters, and have nothing to work with except what the plot has built up for them. “Most” once again takes us into the past, showing us the complex relationships between the fairy tale characters – this week, the relationship between the Evil Queen and Rumpelstiltskin – which is all interesting, but as for the “real world” that we spend most of our time in, the characters are unsure of themselves. Emma and Mary are “friends” in the real world, but as we’ve learned from flashbacks, are actually mother and daughter, leaving viewers forced to ride along with the plot until the characters finally catch up to everything that the audience knows.
“The Thing You Love Most” proves, however, that “Once Upon a Time” is quite possibly one of the most creative and daring shows on television. The fairy tale sequences in particular, as well as the town of Storybrooke, are created with such attention to detail, and the tongue-in-cheek fairy tale references establish a style of comedy that fits perfectly with the wondrous style the show is striving to achieve. Once all of the “real world” characters can finally come to life, “Once Upon a Time” can truly begin its breathtaking story.
Jeremy Grossman is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.