The fairy-tale-meets-real-world series is back for season 4 and doing what it does best: exploring its villains' eternal struggle with redemption.
Once Upon a Time (Sundays at 8pm on ABC) isn't just a fairy tale soap opera. It's evolved into a complex and enjoyable exploration of the struggle for redemption. In between the "heroes" who mostly commiserate about their dysfunctional relationships until the finale when they put aside their personal drama to save day and the "villains" who drive the action until the heroes get their act together, there is the most fascinating characters of all: the villain trying desperately to be a hero. The showrunners know this and spend most of the enjoyable premiere episode focusing on just that. Plus, they really delivered on the Frozen goods teased at the end of last season.
Before we get too far into it, let's quickly cover where we left off with the denizens of Storybrooke: The Evil Queen's sister, the Wicked Witch of the West came to town with a plan to open a time portal to stop their mother from giving her up as an infant. But Regina discovered she could perform white magic as well as dark and used it to disrupt her sister's spell allowing our heroes to capture the green witch. However, the time portal still opened and sucked in Emma and Hook, dropping them into the Enchanted Forest during the time when Snow White was a fugitive and Regina was at the height of her Evil Queen phase. With the help of Rumplestiltskin, the two lovers managed to make it back to the present, but they brought two things with them: Robin Hood's long-lost wife and a jar that opens to release Elsa, the Snow Queen of Arrendale from Frozen.
Now, on to the premiere review.
As I mentioned above, the villains seeking redemption are the best characters on the show. Regina, played by the wonderful Lana Parilla, bounces back and forth between scheming murderess and loving mother. Rumplestiltskin, aka Mr. Gold, played by Robert Carlyle, also expertly zig zags between raving all-powerful sorcerer and loving husband and father struggling to do what's right for his family. At the end of the last season, both of them ended in a good place with Regina embracing white magic and in love with Robin Hood while Mr. Gold had married Belle and gave her the magic dagger that is the source of his power allowing anyone who wields it to control him. But they quickly fall back into old temptations in the premiere.
When Emma had inadvertently brought back Robin Hood's dead wife from the past, she shattered Regina's future relationship plans with the Earl of Locksley. This throws Regina in a tailspin and plunges her in self-doubt about whether villains such as herself ever get a happy ending. It doesn't help that the Maid Marion repeatedly reminds Regina of her past as the Evil Queen. Even some of the town's residents aren't convinced that she has turned over a new leaf. When Snow White asks if Regina is ok, Prince Charming snarkily replies "Well, no one has been incinerated so that's a good start."