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Once Upon a Time- Episode 3.12 "New York City Serenade" Review- Character insight is sacrificed for plot progression, but the episode is still good

Hello dearies! Once Upon a Time is back, after almost 4 months off the air and pushing the reset button (in which was one of the best episodes on the show, even fitting for a series finale), the show comes back with renewed strength and will to move forward. Sadly, a lot of momentum is turned off by the end of the episode because the show is still figuring out what’s going to do now, as opposed to the winter finale in which we could see the show had an objective: return to the show’s root of season 1 while still moving forward. In that respect, I think this episode has both some misses and hits.

We have two stories here; for one, Hook is trying to open Emma’s eyes while she enjoys her new life with Henry and her new boyfriend (Walsh), and for the other one, we have Snow and company returning back to the Enchanted Forest and finding out new threats. Both stories work, but they don’t completely work.

My main issue with the whole Emma/Hook portion of the story is that it relies in the super cliché “You have to do it! Believe me”: this cliché is an easy escape route to make the plot progress while sacrificing character development. I say OUAT handled this cliché fairly way, but it was so utterly predictable that Emma would end up believing in what Hook had to say that it wasn’t really impressive at all, as I’ve seen that done in many, many other fantasy shows/movies. It’s the classic quest for restoring lost memories that depend solely on the magic of relationships; it’s not that it’s terrible, because it’s not and the show makes good building up to that moment, it’s just that you know what you are going to get.

In order to get this plot to work I would have liked to explore Emma’s new life a little bit more and I would have liked that there was more of a sense of sacrifice when she decided to get her memories back. Sure, she had this new boyfriend (almost fiancé) and she seems happy with him, but we don’t know the guy, he seems nice, but that’s it. After Regina gave Emma and Henry a great happy ending I wish I got to know more of their life in that happy ending, but it all ends up being taken away by a bottle before we could know what was so good about it, and that’s because there’s more to life than just making breakfast and playing video games. Does Henry have any friends? Does Emma have any life outside her work, Henry and this new guy? If we just had a glimpse into more of their happy life it would have created a lot of momentum, that bottle would have represented truth vs happiness, and I’m sure that’s what the writers intended, but it felt more like that bottle just represented plot progression and as such it threw away any chance to feel the weight of that choice, which surely wasn’t an easy one for Emma.

On paper the episode feels right and Jennifer Morrison continues to deliver on a season that has been her strongest acting wise yet, but the show is so worried in settings things up as quickly as possible (while still being believable) that it sacrifices insight. However, Emma and Hook’s chemistry is able to carry on this plot, and so is Emma’s interaction with Henry (and I have to say that, while still not good enough, Jared S. Gilmore did make some improvements acting wise), their mutual concern for maintaining the happy lives they got is one of the few moments in which I can connect with their current situation, and that’s really impressive, as if the show has finally found a way to make Henry work (but the character still needs some evolving to do).

Once Emma regains her memories, she decides to tell Walsh that they can’t be together. Plot twist: he knows it’s because she drank Hook’s potion and he is actually a flying monkey who tries to kill her. It looks better in the episode than what it looks written down. I was actually surprised (I saw the episode with my sister and we both yelled “WHAT?!”) and it set up a nice change of pace to an otherwise slow episode. While I don’t usually like slow paced episodes, this one needed said pace and this moment is so abrupt and it breaks along the relationship drama so fast that I was left unsure if I liked it or not. I think the show would have gained more seriousness if Emma’s boyfriend was actually a human person and he walked out the door hurt, and it would resonate with how Emma is always forced to sacrifice the good things on her life for being the savior. The choice to make Walsh a monster actually makes Once Upon a Time dive on its silliness, and sometimes I like its silliness, but it didn’t feel like the right time.

Meanwhile, the other plot takes place on the Enchanted Forest, where everyone on Storybrooke returns to. There are many good moments here, but also some that feel random, awkward or not thought through. For the most part, I like seeing Regina in the good guys side; she’s a reluctant heroine now, just like she was in Neverland, but now nothing is forcing her to be on the good guys side, she is doing it because she has grown and evolved a lot, while never losing her primary characteristics that makes her who she is. And yet I felt that her scene with Snow was a little bit too forced. I get why she ripped out her heart and I get why Snow’s words could get through her, but there’s something in that scene that feels too prompted and it’s not acting, both Lana Parrilla and Ginnifer Goodwin are great actress; I think the trouble is the quickness. They have been back like, how long? An hour? And Regina decides to take her heart out. We haven’t seen her mourn and I’m sure she’s far from completely understanding how the loss of Henry will affect her, yet the show acts as if she was dealing with the loss for over a month and she was ready to leave it behind.

That’s the same trouble Neal gave me around the episode: it’s been too short and he already seems to be losing his mind over Emma and Henry, and so Charming and Snow. The show seems so hurried into settings things up that they don’t actually feel organic. I have always liked more that people show love instead of saying “I love you”. The same goes for missing them; it would be much stronger if the characters looked upon something and remembered their lost ones instead of them saying right off the bat that they miss them, it feels as if the writers are yelling at you “hey! Our characters miss these other characters!”. It’s not that they’re not allowed to say that, it’s just that they say it so soon that there is no time to build up those emotions. I think the episode’s biggest flaw is that, on how much it hurries in order to set things up.

Robin Hood’s addition to their party feels a little bit too convenient, but this is a show about fairy tales and true love, so it was inevitable that at some point Regina would meet the man she was meant to be with, and one can feel the sparkles in the air, there is some ongoing chemistry there even when it is not supported by the dialogue (Robin Hood: “Your black knights gave us a lot of trouble”, Regina: “I’m sure you did something to deserve it”). I’m all in for a love interest for Regina, but they still have some kinks to work out.

Finally, both plots become linked near the end. Snow and company find out that the way to the castle has been shut down by a spell; Robin Hood offers a hide out where they have shelter and food, and Regina is set on discovering who blocked the path. Emma, now fully aware that she has to go to Storybrooke, takes Henry there along with Hook and discovers that her parents are back, but they don’t remember the past year. And Snow is pregnant! Both the blocked path to the castle and everyone back to Storybrooke with no memories of the past year have one common factor: Wicked is behind it.

I liked the episode, it makes good use of the show’s character chemistry, the plot is mostly thought through and there are some very good dialogues that entertain, but more often than not it feels like the show is trying to set everything up as fast as it can so it can to the next chapter, and that makes this episode feel like it has less value while it could have been used for better insight of our characters.

Grade: B

Stray Observations.

-Henry and Emma play Diablo III, product placement? I must say, I didn’t think that game would be their cup of tea (I always imagined Henry playing games closer to Final Fantasy franchises, or RPG games anyway).

-Emma: "Since when you became so wise?"
Henry: "Since level 16 when I became a knight."
That's a clear shout out to Charming being an actual knight, and the fact that he appears in the next scene with sword and everything makes it even more obvious.

-Emma showing Hook some pictures of her and Henry in Storybrooke.
Hook: "That's proof of what I'm saying"
Emma: "These could have been photoshopped!"
Hook: "Photo... what?"
Before Emma said the word photoshop I said to myself "a normal person would think those are photoshopped" and then she says that! Sometimes I don't give the show enough credit.

-Snow talking Hood up to Regina: “He’s kind of cute, uh?”
Regina: “He smells like forest.”
Regina is still unable to be honest about her feelings.

-Aurora and Phillip don’t warn Snow’s company that something has happened in the Enchanted Forest; I foresee conflict in future flashbacks.

-In many moments I felt like this was a whole new pilot until the moment Emma drank the potion, then it felt like the show returned to where it was at the winter finale.

-Can’t wait for Robert Carlyle to be back! We all know Rumple isn’t dead (Belle makes it obvious).

-And that’s it! See you for next week’s “Witch Hunt”, something tells me it’s going to be a good one! (Or I hope so, now that the setup is all done)

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