Perhaps the only consistent thing about “Once Upon a Time” is the brilliantly colorful performance from Lana Parilla as Regina / the Evil Queen. Her character may be over the top, as she squashes hearts and snarls in people’s faces, but she’s over the top in an entertaining way. It’s an angry, campy performance that a show like “Once,” which is often way too dry, truly benefits from.
So every time Parilla was on screen in “True North,” the show was a lot of fun, just as this show is supposed to be. The Queen was at her wickedest this week, sending Hansel and Gretel into the Blind Witch’s house to be murdered, and then herself murdering the Blind Witch by setting her on fire. But the creepiest scene of the episode—and the second creepiest scene of the show, behind the spooky doll scene in Episode 5—was when the Queen dropped Hansel and Gretel in the middle of the woods, and we realize that they’re forever trapped in a maze of trees, never again to reunite with their father. It was an exceptionally dark scene, and a new level of evil for the Evil Queen.
The rest of the episode, unfortunately, didn’t nearly pack as much of a punch. The Blind Witch, played by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” Emma Caulfield, was given far too little screen time, and wasn’t nearly as spooky as a character like her is supposed to be. It was a mistake having Caulfield play a “blind” witch because it limited her ability to play a truly menacing villain, although her screams for help as she was being burned alive were a bit creepy.
Meanwhile, in Storybrooke, Emma reunited Ava and Nicholas with their father, after they somehow managed to live in an abandoned house for years without anyone noticing. This should’ve been a heartwarming plotline, but the show made it seem like foster care is a fate worse than prison, and any parent who gives up their child is a truly awful person. This must’ve left a bad taste in the mouth of foster children and their families, as “Once” again displays a lack of understanding what life on Earth is actually like.
Among the piles of expository writing that this show always struggles with, “North” did in fact introduce a potentially interesting mystery. Emma lied to Henry, saying that his father died a hero, when in reality, he’s actually alive and a pretty awful person—so awful that Emma had to lie to Henry about his true identity. This plotline could go in a number of exciting directions, hopefully revealing them sooner rather than later.
Another fairly interesting mystery introduced in this episode—who is the motorcycle man that came riding into town? Storybrooke never gets visitors (hasn’t anybody ever wondered how unusual this is?) so the arrival of this mysterious man is a big deal. The show is slowly— very slowly— branching out into new, exciting territories, but whether the payoff is worth the build-up remains yet to be seen.
Jeremy Grossman is Entertainment Editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.