ABC’s Once Upon a Time, despite a rough start, has quickly become one of network television’s best shows. The Complete Second Season, now available on Blu-ray and DVD, is a great example of the series’ strength, with some of the best episodes to date, and the addition of some intriguing new characters and plots.
As season two opens with “Broken,” the curse has been lifted and everyone in Storybrooke knows they are characters from the Enchanted Forest, though they retain the memories of their time spent in our world. Dealing with these duel identities and finding a way forward, while keeping in mind of the past, is a major push in the second season. With the secrets and mysteries of the first year blown wide open, it’s a reset, and also a source of momentum for the story.
This finding oneself theme is most evident in the villainous characters. We see Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) tragic introduction to magic in “We Are Both,” and she struggles to regain her lost soul in the present, with her love for Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) serving as a life preserver. She backslides throughout other installments, but always finds herself again. She has a long journey ahead of her, but there are hints that she might overcome her flaws.
Similarly, Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) wants to be a better person for Belle (Emilie de Ravin), as well as for his son, Bae (Michael Raymond-James), who re-enters the tale in a big way mid-year. This is not an easy road for Gold, as the hold the Dark One and magic have over him is strong. Dangers prompt him to keep his power close, and test his mettle. Like Regina, he is no where near redemption, but that path is open to him.
To replace these two, as Once Upon a Time must have bad guys, we get Cora (Barbara Hershey), a.k.a. The Queen of Hearts, and Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), the former of which is truly evil, and the latter perhaps just misguided, but with some sort of honor code. Later, Tamara (Sonequa Martin-Green, The Walking Dead) and Owen (Ethan Embry), intruders from the world at large, serve a similar dynamic. These four characters illustrate the show’s ability to have both black-and-white roles that serve a purpose, and layered ones that seem realistic, similar to the fairy tale-real world settings. It’s quite impressive.
Once Upon a Time does occasionally suffer from a sprawling cast, especially when Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) are stranded in the Enchanted Forest, dividing the viewers’ attention in too many places at once, but it does strive to keep the core people at its center. To that end, Archie (Raphael Sbarge) and August (Eion Bailey) are demoted to recurring status at the start of year two. They are still present, but don’t necessarily need their own plots very often, pushed back into the larger fabric of the many villagers, some important, some less so, that make the world feel complete.
I would argue Red (Meghan Ory) also belongs in this secondary group, though she is promoted to main character for this season, and may not return at all next year. Belle is a similar situation, yet there have been hints that an increased role might be in store for her, so her upgrade is welcome, if she is well-used in the future. The third new central player, Hook, is not only pivotal often throughout these twenty-two episodes, but a compelling player who fans have rallied behind, so it makes sense to retain him.
Among the stand-out episodes in The Complete Second Season are: “Tallahassee,” in which we meet Tiny (Jorge Garcia, Lost), a kind giant, and see Neal and Emma’s back story; “Child of the Moon,” which reveals the true Red; “The Cricket Game,” in which it appears Archie has been murdered; “In the Name of the Brother,” a story that adds Frankenstein mythology to the universe; “Manhattan,” which brings several central players in New York City; “The Miller’s Daughter,” where Snow battles darkness; “Welcome to Storybrooke,” in which a stranger comes to town in Storybrooke’s first days; and the two-hour finale “Second Star to the Right; And Straight On ’til Morning,” where the town’s very existence is threatened, thieves attempt to take magic out of this place, and the core cast bands together for a hero’s journey into season three.
The special features on Once Upon a Time The Complete Second Season are pretty great. Of the deleted scenes, a couple are wonderful character moments that should not be missed. The blooper reel is genuinely funny. There are several insightful commentaries, including one with the great writer Jane Espenson which is only included on the Blu-ray version. Also exclusive to the Blu-ray is an explanation of Henry’s family tree, which has gotten quite twisted over the years. Plus, there are five minutes with O’Donoghue which should please many female friends.
The best inclusion is a twelve-minute episode of “Good Morning Storybrooke.” Hosted by The League‘s Paul Scheer and Community‘s Yvette Nicole Brown, as fictional characters, it is a parody-like morning show set in the world of the show. While sometimes a little hokey, and not always quite in keeping with the established mythology (a note to Ariel, who isn’t in Storybrooke? Red acting nervous? Gold being too salesman-y?), it does feature many of the supporting ensemble, and is highly entertaining. Plus, there is a fantastic Lost reference, and we finally get to see Grumpy (Lee Arenberg) and Nova (Amy Acker) reconnect!
Lastly, there’s an unnecessary “Girl Power” featurette celebrating the strong women on the show for, um, I guess, people who don’t pay attention, since Once Upon a Time has never made any secret of featuring powerful females. But there may be some very young women out there who appreciate it.
Besides the couple of exclusive features, checking out the Blu-ray version is necessary because of the type of production this is. While not all of the CGI sets look spectacular in HD, the physical places, which are highly detailed, really do. Not to mention the rich costumes and great magic bits, which deserve to be examined closely, as do the amazing emotions that dance across many a face. There is a beautiful, sweeping soundtrack, so to get the crystal clear audio and visual presentation, high definition is a must.
Overall, this is a terrific release, one that will satisfy fans who crave a little more from their extras, and a superb season with some really exciting, moving stories. Once Upon a Time The Complete Second Season is available now.