Blu-ray Review: Once Upon a Time - The Complete Second Season

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ABC’s hit series Once Upon a Time is a mash-up of just about every classic fairy tale, alternating between the characters’ natural habitat (the fairy tale land) and a contemporary setting (the fictional Storybrooke, Maine). The first season established a loyal following for the show. While the novelty of seeing folks such as Snow White, The Evil Queen, Rumplestiltskin, and Red Riding Hood in the modern world has worn off, the second season is endlessly inventive. Some of the new characters result in tangential storylines that don’t really pay off (I’m thinking of Mulan and Aurora), but the core characters continue to hold interest.

The curse of Storybrooke has been lifted and all its inhabitants are aware of their true identities. Throughout season one, only young Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) suspected they were living in a parallel world. Henry and his mom Emma (Jennifer Morrison), daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), have no alternate identity. But the family tree gets more convoluted than ever as season two unravels and we learn of Henry’s heritage.

Once Snow Henry Charming (147x220).jpgTo put it mildly, Once is most definitely not a show that can be joined in-progress. The constantly twisting narrative demands close attention and even one skipped episode can result in profound confusion. That’s why perhaps more than the average show, Once truly gains something when watched without commercial interruptions. One weakness is that the writers occasionally get tripped up over their own ambitious plot threads. Especially during the first half of season two, there were entire episodes that appeared to do little more than mark time. On disc, the 43-minute episodes seem to move along at a much zippier pace.

Once is anchored by two complex characters: Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) and The Evil Queen/Regina Mills (Lana Parrilla). Rumple is also known as The Dark One and throughout season two we get an expansion of the backstory so effectively laid out throughout the first season. Separated from his son Baelfire, he spends much of season two continuing the search to find him. Rumple also has a love interest, Belle (Emile de Ravin), who has lost her memories of their relationship (anyone who sets foot outside Storybrooke’s boundaries forgets their past).

As Regina, Henry’s adoptive mother, Parrilla incisively conveys a similarly dual-personality. Regina loves her son, but Henry is understandably torn between his far more morally-grounded biological mother, Emma. At its very core, Once Upon a Time is a show about parents and children, it just takes an oblique, roundabout way to explore those often tenuous bonds.

Once Emma Hook (380x253).jpgAll 22 episodes are absolutely gorgeous in 1080p high definition. Detail and clarity leaves nothing to be desired. This is a sharp, cinematic presentation that just sparkles. Admittedly, the technical limitations of the show’s many CGI elements are more glaring when viewed on Blu-ray. While the special effects may not be mega-budget movie level, they aren’t really distracting. Nothing to take issue with here, as Once Upon a Time’s visuals are utterly top notch.

A show as varied as Once demands an equally superb audio presentation. While the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes may not be as striking as the visuals, these are very satisfying tracks. Scenes involving magic are predictably the most show-offy, with effects swirling around all channels. The LFE channel kicks nicely at appropriate moments. More subtle audio elements are excellent as well, with Mark Isham’s distinctive score expertly balanced in the mix.

Fans will likely be pleased with the extras, though the package is not quite as loaded with goodies as one might expect. There are six commentary tracks, one of which (“The Miller’s Daughter”) is exclusive to Blu-ray. There’s a different combination of participants for each track, ensuring that they’re consistently interesting. I particularly liked hearing Robert Carlyle’s thoughts on “Manhattan.”

Once Gold Hook (380x304).jpgAlso exclusive to BD is the featurette “A Fractured Family Tree,” though at seven minutes it’s not that interesting. There are ten minutes of deleted scenes and a short blooper reel. An examination of the female characters called “Girl Power” (12 minutes) and a piece on Colin O’Donoghue, “Sincerely, Hook” (five minutes), round out the featurettes. “Good Morning Storybrooke” is a cheesy but chuckle-worthy “news” program about the fictional town.

The sprawling narrative, sometimes smudged by sloppy storytelling, is both Once Upon a Time’s most obvious weakness and its greatest asset. The sheer variety of characters keeps the series imminently watchable. But too often it strays from the emotional core of Rumple and Regina’s respective character arcs. Season three premieres on ABC September 29 and it will be interesting to see where they take things.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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