The sixth season of Once Upon A Time ended the story of Emma Swann and Storybrooke, but now a new chapter has begun. The soft reboot of the show via the seventh season, and replacement of a majority of the cast was met with mixed reactions, but there was a sense of excitement that Once was going in a new direction. Or rather, a fresh take on the show’s original concept, where fairy tale characters were cursed and trapped in our world by an evil villain. But does retelling an old story wave a wand over the fading magic of this fantasy series?
Well, with Emma’s story finished, the role of hero now falls to Henry (first played by Jared Gilmore, and then as an adult by Andrew J. West), who decides to leave good old Storybrooke to find his own story. For the past six seasons, Henry has been mostly an observer of events, recording the stories of others, while never really having his own. He travels via magic bean and motorbike to another realm, which turns out to be an alternate take on the Enchanted Forest. Time also appears to run differently here, since Henry is now an adult, while his family back home haven’t aged.
Like in the previous seasons, the episode has two subplots, one told via flashback in the fairy tale realm, and other in the modern day. Let’s start with the flashbacks. Henry rides through the woods but has a close encounter with a very different Cinderella (Dania Ramirez), who is not on her way to dance with a prince but rather assassinate him for ruining her life. Well, that escalated quickly. She promptly knocks Henry out, steals his bike, and goes off to the fateful ball where her stepmother Lady Tremaine (Gabrielle Anwar) and sister Drizella (Adelaide Kane) are hoping to mingle. At Henry’s persuasion, Cinderella can’t go through with murdering the prince, only for Lady Tremaine to do it to prevent her stepdaughter’s happy ending. Cinderella is then framed for the crime and goes on the run.
During this, Henry was drugged by our new version of Alice (Rose Reynolds), who warns him not to get involved, on orders from his grandpa Rumplestiltskin. But, of course. He considers going home using a timely portal, but decides to stay in the new Enchanted Forest to help out Cinderella. As teased at the end of the sixth season, Henry and Cinderella will marry and have a daughter, Lucy (Alison Fernandez), only for the dreaded Dark Curse to take hold and trap the fairy tale characters in our world – only instead of Storybrooke, it is now in a Seattle neighbourhood called Hyperion Heights.
Henry, cursed himself, is now a struggling author and cab driver, who is visited by Lucy, claiming to be his daughter (which she is). She asks him to come to Hyperion Heights, meet her mother, now named Jacinda, and break the curse cast upon them. Like his mother, Henry is completely unconvinced, since the curse has removed his sense of belief and given him falsified memories that he had a wife and child who died in a fire.
Henry travels to the rundown neighbourhood, which is slowly being bought out by Lady Tremaine’s counterpart Victoria Belfry, who is implied to be the puppeteer behind the curse. Victoria is a larger-than-life ruthless businesswoman hoping to kick out the fairy tale folk and make Hyperion Heights her own gentrified empire. Yeah, lady, it’s a like a block of shops. Not much of a domain.
We meet the other characters one-by-one, including the few brought over from Storybrooke – Henry’s foster mum Regina, now called Roni (Lana Parilla) who runs a bar, Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) is a vigilant cop named Rogers (haw-haw!), and good old Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) appears as a shady detective named Weaver, who is partnered as Hook’s new partner. Oh, the irony! Alice, now Tilly, also works as an agent for Weaver. One other character introduced is Sabine (Mekia Cox), Jacinda’s hardworking roommate. While the episode doesn’t directly reveal who she is, a certain comment about hating frog’s legs might give it away. Regina and Hook have never been directly cursed before, so this should provide some delightful new takes on the former villains.
What makes Hyperion Heights different from Storybrooke is that it isn’t an isolated community in Maine, but set in Seattle amongst normal people. Lucy also mentions that not every fairy tale character is in the neighbourhood. How interesting.
The episode basically follows a beat-by-beat re-tread of the pilot. You’ve got the child coming to find their missing parents and drag them to the cursed neighbourhood, separated family who are likely going to reunite without knowing it, a badguy with shady plans for our heroes, etc. There is even a speech signifying hope, this time fittingly given by Regina to a flabbergasted Victoria.
However, it looks like the Dark Curse may have a few holes in it, since when Henry goes to visit his fictional family’s graves, he finds the cemetery missing. In Storybrooke, Regina could weave the curse as she wanted away from prying eyes, but Tremaine’s social ladder climbing snobbery likely led her to rule over a more crowded place.
Acting all around is good, and I really like the new roster of characters. Andrew West captures Henry’s expected adulthood just about right, and even more refreshing with the character as a cynic. Lucy is absolutely adorable and will work as the “new” Henry, and it broke my heart seeing her dad pretty much reject her. The new Cinderella is likeable, but feels a little bit too much like how Snow White was portrayed as an independent, badass princess on the run. Not much time is dedicated to Alice, Drizella, or so-totally-not-Tiana, but we’ll have plenty of time.
Regina, Rumple, and Hook are fun as always. But it has to be Lady Tremaine who rules the roost in this new season, being quite fearsome, rude, and bitchy. Even Regina is a bit unnerved around her. She is also proven to be quite genre savvy, clipping the wings of Cinderella’s fairy godmother and then blows her up with her own wand. Her driving weapons are fear and surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to evil, and nice red high heels!
I look forward to seeing what schemes she has planned, and unlike Regina, she doesn’t seem to have any affection for her family, though we’ll have to see how she treats her granddaughter. The return to Once Upon A Time’s original plot is a good move, if a little stale, but I hope there are some new ideas to be found in this new take on the story.
What are your thoughts on Hyperion Heights and the return of Once Upon A Time? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.