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Once Upon a Time - The Savior - Review

Here we are, back again to the land of stories that is Storybrooke. I have to say I’m excited for this new season and the premiere definitely has something to do with that. Season five felt lackluster to me. There were highlights, but on the whole it didn’t have that spark that always intrigues me when it comes to Once Upon a Time. Where we ended up, with a bounty of new characters coming from the Land of Untold Stories, did promise to breathe some life into the show and I think we can say it succeeded in the episode, “The Savior”. As much as I welcomed the idea of all those new characters, I was leery of having so many new faces on screen as it tends to cause focus to stray from out main heroes. However, “The Savior” focused on the heroes we know and love, spending very little time on new faces. A perfect example of this is in the scene where Snow White and Charming come across strangers in the woods and yet we barely see them. The focus is on our main heroes, which is welcome and preferred. “The Savior” ushers in a new season by finally focusing on the ramifications all these adventures have had on characters; the loss, the stress, the betrayal. I hope season six of Once Upon a Time continues to climb upwards in quality and show as much care for the established characters as it did in “The Savior”.

I was pleasantly surprised that for once an episode didn’t rely on flashbacks as heavily as it has in the past. I love digging deeper and deeper into the past of these characters, but at some point learning about the 928th attempt Regina made on Snow White’s life gets a little old. However, the flashback “The Savior” does open with has very little to do with the immediate plot of the episode aside from establishing that there have been more saviors than Emma and that they aren’t privy to happy endings. I like this, I like that the show is laying a foundation early and gently. “The Savior” didn’t knock my socks off, but from that moment when we saw Aladdin and Jafar and learned that there was more to being a savior than what Emma Swan has gone through, I was interested. On the subject of Jafar, I’m disappointed in the casting change from Naveen Andrews, who did wonders with the character in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, but I understand that his filming schedule wouldn’t allow a return. Oded Fehr is fine as the villain, but I would need to see more to know how he makes Jafar unique.

Speaking of saviors, it’s time to learn more about the burden that Emma Swan has borne since she blew out that candle years ago. Emma’s current problems with saviorhood seem to have moved beyond her own doubts now. That act of giving so much to so many, to ensure happy endings, sucks away the life from a savior. This is an interesting metaphor for personal relationships. It’s possible to be “used up” by others; to care and give until you can’t anymore. Only in the case of Once Upon a Time, this can prove to be fatal. I especially like that Archie Hopper has returned to the show in the capacity of offering counseling to Emma, who he points out has been fighting constantly since she came to town. An apt commentary on how villains regularly seem to be cropping up at the town line. Not only is it a welcome sight to see a fan favorite character like Archie returning, their commentary on mental health is refreshing. There is no magic pill, even in a land with magic, which can solve Emma’s problems, no shortcuts around therapy. Unfortunately, Emma thought it best to keep the revelation that she may be doomed to die from Hook, which I don’t understand since she literally went to hell and back for him. I don’t care for this conflict because I don’t understand why Emma is closing herself off again.

Hyde and Emma have a few interesting encounters in “The Savior”. I was a bit surprised the villain was so easily apprehended this season. Zelena even lampshades this; that normally there is an epic battle, but things actually went quite to plan time out. The villain’s imprisonment allows Once Upon a Time to have sort of a Hannibal Lecter / Clarice Starling relationship between Emma and Hyde. He’s captive and knows more than he’s willing to say, she seeks answers and is barely in a role of authority over her more sinister counterpart. Emma toed a dangerous line this episode and she did let Hyde get to her. Hyde, like Lecter, is in control; he knows the buttons to push and holds all of the information. He also is an intriguing character to me, sinister in a way Hades wasn’t. With Hades there was cold calculation, but Hyde is like watching a barely contained animal. You find yourself searching for a sign as to when it will strike. Couple that with the villain’s insistence that his work is in Storybrooke and the “friends” he brought over from the Land of Untold Stories all seem to be afraid of him and we’ve got an intriguing mystery to also start out the season.

Rumpelstiltskin is once again off doing his own thing. This time he is reaping the benefits of signing the town over to Hyde in order to wake Belle, because if you remember True Love’s Kiss between the two doesn’t cut it anymore. Rumple invades Belle’s dreams and tries to recreate the moment they fell in love all those years ago. He is forever doing the wrong things for what he believes are the right reasons. I was not very invested in this story line until Belle was struck with sudden realization that she had done all of the things in her dream before. The worry I had that this couple would once more regress as Belle forgave Rumple was evaporated by the pleasant surprise that Belle remembered all the lies and chances she’d given him and has had enough. And in an odd twist, Bell passed the test here. Morpheus, the god of dreams who has been helping Rumple navigate Belle’s mind, is actually their son. Ok, not actually their son, Belle plainly states that their son, who was also brought into the dream via magic, was playing the part of Morpheus to protect his mother. For an unborn baby, this kid doesn’t pull any punches telling his father he doesn’t want Rumple to ruin this family like he did his last. With Belle heeding her son’s warning, Rumple is left alone. I have a feeling this break up for the pair will stick for a while, which is good because Rumpelstiltskin hasn’t earned the number of chances he’s gotten. On a lighter note, the Beauty and the Beast segment between Rumple and Belle is much better here than it was in season four. It’s so much more subtle and what the scene should have been; a nod to the Disney tale, not outright fan service.

A bit of comedy that I wish had been explored more was the idea of Zelena and Regina living together as sisters. These two actresses play so well off each other and their snark would have injected the season with fun, “slice of life” moments. However, these two sisters are having a hard time connecting, though I’m not disappointed by that. Regina is still hurt and mourning for Robin, while Zelena is adjusting to the new familial feelings she has toward Regina. They are friends, there is no doubt, but neither of them is used to opening up. At the center of this conflict is the idea that the instant fix of Cora restoring Zelena’s memories last season wasn’t so instant. Yes amends were made, but years of mistrust, abuse, and loneliness for both women aren’t going to disappear in a few episodes. This is what true character development and drama is like. You can do what’s comfortable but hurts you or you can do what makes you happy but also puts you are risk and right now neither women want a risk. I’m not fond of Zelena immediately teaming up the Evil Queen, who is discovered lurking about Storybrooke by the end of the episode, but we’ll have to let that one play out and see where it goes.

My favorite relationship of Once Upon a Time, one that I think is at the very heart of the show, had some significant screen time in “The Savior”. Regina and Snow White are truly friends now after all they’ve been through and this episode solidifies it. No longer begrudging allies, they truly value the other now. The episode closes with a remarkable scene between them, where Regina expresses her doubts and she and Snow White discuss their relationship with each other. Snow is very generous in saying that Regina made her the kind of person who believes hope is a chance, but I think the best part of this scene is Regina’s voiceover. It plays over various scenes of our main characters as the former Evil Queen ruminates on life being many different stories and some of the roles she has played. It’s the perfect analogy for Once Upon a Time and its take on familiar tales. This late in a show’s run reflections like these are welcome, like getting a card from a familiar friend reminding you of a nostalgic event.

“The Savior” opened season six at a bit of a slower pace. There were action scenes, many of which coupled with interesting cinematography that stand out among the quieter character driven scenes, but what was important in this episode was the idea that consequences mean something now. The effects of these stories our heroes live out, the loss and pain, are all being brought up. The main conflict is internal, within the characters themselves and their relationships, as opposed to some new villain swooping in and biding their time until they curse the town. And while it was stated in this episode that Emma Swan’s fate as a savior is to die, I highly doubt Once Upon a Time will go there. While it would really shake things up on OUaT, especially if this for some reason becomes the final season, Once Upon a Time has always been Emma’s story and the exploration of what it’s like to be straddled between two worlds. “The Savior” was a comfortable, intriguing welcome back to the world of Once Upon a Time and I hope that the foundations laid in this episode continue to be expanded and explored throughout the season.

Tune in next week for “A Bitter Draught”!

About the Author - Ashley B
Ashley is as serious as a sleeping curse when she says television is her life. Professional event planner, avid movie viewer, convention enthusiast, and resident sass master, Ashley writes reviews for ABC's Once Upon a Time. She looks forward each week to the weird and wonderful world her favorite television programs provide.
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