ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME begins its two-part sophomore finale this week with “Second Star to the Right.” A young Bae (Dylan Schmid) falls through the portal in fairytale land and ends up in London, England. There, he meets the Darling family, who take him in, give him a bed and food, and treat him as one of their own. But when a mysterious shadow threatens the family, Bae must sacrifice himself to keep magic from destroying their home, like it did his.
The flashback events of “Second Star to the Right” pick up just after we see Rumple (Robert Carlyle) lose Bae through the portal in a previous episode, but thank goodness there is then a six month time jump, since Schmid has definitely aged a bit. He has also grown into a fine young performer, who does a terrific job in this installment.
London itself look good, and ONCE UPON A TIME strikes the perfect balance between making sure it seems like the plot is set in the real world, but including the trademark Peter Pan elements that make the tale so familiar, such as the striking image of Big Ben, the large bedroom window, Nana the dog, the beautiful house, Michael’s (Benjamin Cook) teddy bear, and John’s (William Ainschough) glasses and umbrella.
Yet, there’s also something very sinister that one may not perceive in the classic tale. Peter’s shadow is a scary CGI creation that looks more demonic than playful. And after a visit to Neverland, Wendy (Freya Tingley, Hemlock Grove) remembers it as a sad prison for lost boys, rather than the magical place to have an adventure. This actually makes sense in the context of the larger story, even as it differs drastically from the animated Disney version.
It must be incredibly hard for Bae to give himself up for Wendy and the rest of the Darlings. As noble as he is, he has already lost so much. It’s understandable he would want to keep them from suffering as he has, but to give up the good life he has just fallen into would be so, so difficult. Bae is a hero, through and through, and just as he will eventually, as an adult, give up the love of his life for her own good, he turns his back on a comfortable existence for others now.
I’m a little disappointed we won’t see any of the traditional telling of Peter Pan, with the fun side of Neverland readily apparent before the darkness sets in. And I do want to know where Tinkerbell may be hiding. But the ending, where Bae escapes the shadow and ends up on the deck of Hook’s (Colin O’Donoghue) ship, the Jolly Roger, is an intriguing set up for the last hour of the season.
In Storybrooke, adult Bae (Michael Raymond-James) is faced with yet another unhappy situation. He may have his son, Henry (Jared S. Gilmore), around now, and doesn’t intend to lose him, but he has yet to connect with his own dad, Gold, who is flitting around with bad influence Lacey (Emilie de Ravin), whom encourages Gold to be a bully and get rid of Henry. To make matters worse, Emma (Jennifer Morrison), whom Bae sees as a jealous ex, doesn’t seem to be letting go of her suspicions about Bae’s current fiancé, Tamara (Sonequa Martin-Green).
I’m kind of glad that Tamara is evil, as this clears the way for Bae and Emma to be together now, instead of having to wait around for closure and healing. It’s true, Bae may need some time to get over being betrayed by the woman he loves, finding out his entire relationship is a lie. But it will be easier on him than if she is innocent.
It’s surprising that “Second Star to the Right” has Bae and Emma confess their love for one another. Many series would stretch out such a relationship for years before allowing any culmination of happiness. Bae has only really been in the last part of this season, and is still not a main character. Yet, the couple has expressed their feelings, setting them up for a happy ending.
Except, Tamara shoots Bae, and then he falls through a portal into another world. I don’t think Bae is dead, no matter how dire it looks for him, as he is too pivotal a player in this saga. To see him taken out so easily and quickly, especially as vital as he is to a number of the central characters, just won’t do. It could be awhile before we see him again, but with luck ONCE UPON A TIME will keep his tale going, signing him on full-time next year, even if it takes part of, or all, the next season for Emma to find him again.
Emma is such a pessimist! She holds out no hope Bae has survived, telling her parents, Snow and Charming (Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas), that Bae is dead. Even for one who has had such a depressing life, as Emma has, to give up hope so quickly for the man she loves is not cool. Emma still has a ways to go before growing into a true hero, of course, but that is no excuse for declaring Bae dead immediately, and not even attempting to find him. This is disappointing.
The upside of Emma believing and telling others that Bae is dead is that this might finally shake Gold out of his misbehavior. Clearly, Bae’s angry words aren’t enough to make Gold realize that he’s on the wrong path, but perhaps losing his son again will. I don’t think Gold will just accept, without proof, Bae is dead, and could even be the instrument by which Bae is found again. But it might be enough for him to shake off hanging with the ill-tempered Lacey and try a different approach to get his lady love, and son, back, and will allow Henry to survive.
If not, we’re in quite a bit of trouble, as Lacey now knows that Gold can do magic, and she definitely does not have kind plans for the use of his power.
The final arc addressed in “Second Star to the Right” is Greg’s (Ethan Embry) torture of Regina (Lana Parrilla) as he searches for his long-missing father. What Greg does to Regina, no matter what she has done, makes him seem like the villain. He is cold and causes Regina great pain. In the end, this allows him to find his dad’s body (despite internet rumors, I do believe he is dead), but it also costs Greg whatever bit of a soul he has left.
Which means Greg is now extremely dangerous. And he has the tool to carry out his vengeance. He and Tamara have Regina’s trigger that can wipe out Storybrooke and everything in it, and thanks to their mysterious “home office” (next season’s story?), they know what it is. Destroying the town, including the magic and inhabitants within, is their plan anyway, and now they have a convenient way to do so. There is nothing to stop them from trying.
What might stop them from succeeding is a Regina / Snow / Charming team-up. Snow doesn’t make up for killing Regina’s mother, of course, and with all the bad blood between them, there likely never will be familial peace. Thankfully, though, at least one side sees the value of kinship, no matter what has happened, which allows Snow to save Regina from Greg. This provides some promise that they might find some common ground to work together and save everyone. It’s an unlikely and temporary alliance, but one that could prove crucial at the right moment.
“Second Star to the Right” is a wonderful, nearly (but not quite) flawless installment, and a great set up for the season finale. ONCE UPON A TIME’s second season (there will be a third) ends next Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.