And now, my annual appraisal of Once Upon A Time. I have a love-hate relationship with this show. Glimmers of something wonderfully tense and intriguing often gets buried behind sentiment and cheesiness. Season three marked a high point for me in terms of character development – Rumple, Regina, and Hook (to name but a few) grew as characters, whilst the storylines had a genuine tension.

So what of this season? Well, several things in it are working deliciously well. This season hasn’t been afraid of focusing on the darkness. This is seen most obviously in the very literal split between Regina and The Evil Queen, which has also thrown up the brilliant plot device of ‘How do you defeat your enemy if you are the enemy?’ But we have also seen it in Mr Gold’s own wickedness plumbing new depths, culminating in the most recent episode being one of the strongest for a while. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s nice to see a plotline not get sugar-coated for a change.

Then there is the ongoing background plot of Emma’s fall as The Saviour. For a show that normally unravels its mysteries quite quickly (Jekyll and Hyde were dispatched within a handful of episodes), they are asking us to be patient with this particular plot. It’s a slightly daring plan, especially if the final pay-off is less than expected, but the return to form in other areas has given me optimism it will work.

Of course, not all is perfect. We have the nausea-inducing plot of Snow and Charming never being allowed to be awake at the same time under a new sleeping curse. While wickedly evil, it means we have an awful lot of two characters making eyes at each other while the other sleeps. I admit to lacking a romantic sense, but even the lovers in this world must consider this overkill.

I also find the Aladdin plot tedious. Once it had served its function as context to Emma’s storyline, it seemed to dribble into nothing. For a show that has a history of strong women, or at least women that learn to grow a backbone, Jasmine seemed exceptionally wet. Thankfully, it seems that this has been wrapped up for now. Unless we are going to see a sparkier double act, I would advise against investing much more in this.

Overall, it does feel as if the show is injecting itself with a bit of zing. Yet it is coming from going deeper and darker, something that runs head on to its usual vibe of love and family. It will be interesting how the rest of the season plays out, especially as there is no half-season split – what we are seeing now needs to sustain itself for the finale. I hope it does. When it works, this show is too good to fail.

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