Once Upon a Time: Season 6
Fairy tales have been a routine part of human life arguably since people decided to entertain each other by weaving fanciful stories. Throughout time the stories have undergone numerous alterations, but the remained primarily didactic with the most frightening elements commonly bowdlerized. One source of entertainment has done more to bring fairy tales to generations of new people, Walt Disney. The Disney studios own the rights to most of the modern incarnations of these perennially classic characters and stories. They have created the distinctive look and personalities infused in these stores. Over the last nine decades or so the most substance exposure to fairy tales have been through the venerable Disney ‘princes's movies.' It only fitted that Disney, through their broadcast subsidiary, The American Broadcast Company or simply ‘ABC television network. Their fairy tale oriented fantasy/action series, ‘Once Upon a Time,' is about to embark on its seventh season, to the delights of millions of fans. As such, the Blu-ray of season six has been released and is the subject of this consideration. With the existence of magic and other realms, this show has been able to consistently remain fresh by drawing from the almost inexhaustible roster of heroes and villains. Each season the stalwart characters are placed in novel circumstances as well as joined by a host of new friends and foes. This formula is highly conducive to diversity. Ranging from swashbuckling pirates to Arabian princesses the composition the cast is in a constant state of flux turning the series into something different each year. Among the many aspects of the show’s construction that separate it from other fairy, tale interpretations are a penchant for cumulative story arcs. Each episode of each season builds upon the past to craft multidimensional characters and fully defined situations. The effect provides a firm basis in a believable reality. While this is crucial for most stories when the narrative is so dependent on magic and the supernatural, the most effective means to attract and retain the audience, turning them into fans, is to erect a foundation the viewers can readily form emotional bonds.
It was known since the first season that the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Ginnifer Goodwin), would be The Savior, the only person capable of breaking the ultimate dark magic curse that started placed everything in motion. That child, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), is endowed with strong Light magic and continues to be central to most of the myriad of threads. Emma extends her importance by being the intersection the most powerful figures in both the light and dark sides of magic. In season, one of the most intriguing variations the past couple of seasons the strongly defining aspect of all fairy tales, good versus evil, was flipped around examining what would happen if the villains were able to attain their happy endings. In every fairy tale, it is always the heroes that reach the end with their dreams fulfilled leaving their opponents either disgraced or dead. The publicized intention of the sixth season is to conclude most existing storylines to re-establish aspects of the fundamental continuity by modifying the standing canon. A tactic such as this provides the means to reinvigorate the enthusiasm for even the most ardent fans, reigniting the story enabling it to go in different directions. The alternative taken by most TV series able to survive a sizable number of the season is to jump the proverbial shark, rehashing slight changes in the same tired tropes and archetypes. Few examples of fanciful fiction can successfully achieve this goal.
The creative brilliance is inherent in a simple plot device as multiple realms become obvious in this season. In fashion, like the regeneration cycle used in Doctor Who, each realm infuses the series with a new, self-contained set of rules enhancing the potential for growth to occur organically. The ‘Land without magic, connects the stories to the real world as the ‘Land of Untold Stories’ provided a seamless segue to fresh content. Introduced in this way where several realms are combining science fiction and horror. Examples include Mr. Hyde (Sam Witwer), Dr. Hank Harris (Hank Harris) and other characters taken from sources like Jules Verne resulting from the realm’s location, The Mysterious Island, characters directly from his ‘Mysterious Island, the nuclear-powered submarine, the Nautilus commanded by Captain Nemo (Faran Tahir). This newly introduced setting provided a device to extend what is already known about the complicated past of Captain Killian 'Hook' Jones (Colin O'Donoghue). Indicative of the attention to detail routinely taken by the creative teams Hook began his involvement in the story as an adversary for the Dark One, Rumplestiltskin, better known in Storybrooke as the owner/operator of the pawn shop, Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle). It is revealed that Hook was at one time a member of the Nautilus’ crew. That connection continued the infusion of non-fairy tale sourced material. Back in season one, Frankenstein’s creator, Dr. Whale (David Anders), was pivotal as a scientist resorting to magic to reanimate his creature. In a fun cameo, Mr. Anders reprises his role but must explain his bleached white hair. It was necessary for his principal role on ‘iZombie’, brushing off a comment as a fashion choice. The utilization of alternate realms expands beyond providing different locations, characters, and circumstances, the blending of realms offers exciting juxtapositions that reinvigorates the series. Refugees from the World of Untold Stories created a source of synergy making this one of the most interesting and entertaining seasons thus far.
The sixth season also distinguished itself as perhaps the most plot intense season yet. The showrunners announced they are tying up the considerable number of previously created loose ends most existing story threads required revisiting them one last time, making this a rather crowded season from a thematic perspective. At the forefront are a plethora of emotionally intense relationships. Hook and Emma’s relationship has endured and progressed to the point that Hook is ready to propose marriage. As a traditionalist, he needs to have the blessing of her father, Prince Charming better known by his Storybrooke name, David. The issue Killian, nee Hook faces is not overcoming his nefarious past. That would be the expected path for the story. Instead, the quagmire Killian faces are proving to himself he is worthy of David’s positive opinion of him. Redemption is a common theme, especially in tales such as this. What places the narratives and character progression seen here is the deep psychological examination and emotional intensity that occurs after such a life changing event as turning away from evil.
Killian is far from the only one facing the effects of this redemptive transition. The inclusion of Dr. Henry Jekyll (Hank Harris) and Mr. Hyde (Sam Witwer), consideration of the dichotomy of good and evil would be a natural, albeit hackneyed way to proceed. This sub plot relegated to a minor position used only to contrast with the crucial example of this duality. Regina (Lana Parrilla) had been the dominant antagonist for most of the series. She fell in love with Robin Hood (Sean Maguire) which provided the incentive to forego her evil ways. She split the evil side of her personality into a separate entity, The Evil Queen, who then did her best to destroy all happy endings. Rarely has the theme of redemption been given such an imaginative presentation. The crucial continuity retained through a character who frequently appears to reside on the periphery of the action, Henry Mills (Jared Gilmore). As the biological son of Emma, the adopted son of Regina and the biological grandson of Mr. Gold, Henry was the lynchpin for the entire series, the commonality binding the main characters and transcending the designation of good or evil. He brought the magic book of stories to Emma bringing her to Storybrooke, eventually gaining passion of the ‘Author,' able to create and change stories. Again, this could easily become a plot contrivance cable of extricating characters from an overly entangled situation, but it is deployed thoughtfully, never casually used.
In some ways, I am saddened by the prospect of these stories concluding but it is for the best. All too many excellent television series continued beyond their ability to be innovative jumping the proverbial shark. This series is about to help establish a new type of sequel, the internal spinoff. It will retain the same title and season numbering but introduce a new generation of characters. I look forward to watching how this unfolds and feel the conclusion of the current stories performed with imagination, talent and most importantly respect for the devoted fans.