The midseason premier of Once Upon a Time, “The Cricket Game,” is another game-changer. However, it lacks some of the luster that usually defines Once Upon a Time.
Regina’s redemption arc comes to a sort of messy close. On the one hand, it is awesome to see the Evil Queen restored to her throne. With Cora and Captain Hook, it will be interesting to see how these villains all play off each other, which is always one of the best parts of the show.
However, the problem with Regina’s turn back towards evil is how it happens. The heroes of Once Upon a Time seem to be trying to push her off the path of redemption. Emma makes one cursory push towards welcoming Regina at the very beginning of the episode by inviting Regina to a dinner for Henry’s sake. But Emma, and everyone else, basically ignores Regina after she enters the room. Later in the episode, she tries to prove Regina’s innocence in the murder of Archie; Emma is convinced it’s a frame job. It never occurs to Emma that, in a world of magic, someone could make themselves look like Regina to further the framing. So, when Emma becomes convinced of Regina’s guilt, she doesn’t just arrest Regina, she starts a massive fight with Regina over who is really Henry’s mother. It’s this fight that pushes Regina over the edge back to evil, and not the accusation of murder. Everything, then, that will follow in this season could have been avoided if Emma had only kept from rubbing salt in the wound.
In the parallel flashback storyline, Snow White seals her family’s fate. First, she refuses to execute the Evil Queen; then, she gets a protection curse for herself and Charming as long as they’re in the Enchanted Forest. This necessitates the Evil Queen putting the curse in action and Snow and Charming sending their daughter away. Arguably, Snow did the merciful, and therefore good, thing by letting the Evil Queen go with just banishment. At the same time, letting the Evil Queen’s evil perpetuate by letting her live, with her powers and grudge intact, is an awful thing to do to the Enchanted Forest. It makes it harder to keep swallowing that Snow has the moral high road.
Additionally, the present-day Enchanted Forest has been such a part of the storyline in the last half of a season that it is a bit disappointing not to see it in “The Cricket Game.” “Queen of Hearts” left Aurora and Mulan on a bit of a cliffhanger, with the hope that Phillip could be restored. But there’s no hint of where that could lead in the future. Hopefully it will lead somewhere, though, and the present-day Enchanted Forest will make its reappearance into the story.
While disappointing, “The Cricket Game” is still a great episode. It pushes Once Upon a Time into an area of grayer morality than normally present in its fairy tale façade. That could turn out to be a great thing for the story in the coming episodes.