Once Upon a Time: “Hyperion Heights” Review


By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

In the 7th season opener of Once Upon a Time, it becomes very clear we’re not in Storybrooke anymore. Well, actually the opening scene is, but we have moved into a new story. In said scene, Henry, having just finished school, is saying goodbye to Regina, riding into a portal on a motorcycle wanting to find where he belongs and find his story. Cut to years later in an alternate Enchanted Forest where he accidentally runs into Cinderella’s carriage (yes, there is another one) and the two meet cute. He says he will help fix her story and get her to the ball, but she punches him in the face (just like the other love stories in his lineage). She steals his motorcycle and his dagger because she’s not going to the ball to fall in love with the Prince, but rather to kill him for taking her father away from her. But after a dance and pep talk with the opportunity to join Henry back home for a fresh start, she can’t go through with it. But her evil stepmother does, sounding the alarm that Cinderella has and she and Henry must fight their way through guards with a plan to meet at midnight and go through a portal. Unfortunately, something goes wrong and she never arrives. Henry finds her shoe and lets the portal close to go on another mission: Operation Glass Slipper.

Of course we know much happens after this because Henry, along with three characters we know and a slew of new ones, are cursed into real-world Seattle in a neighborhood called Hyperion Heights. This includes his daughter Lucy who arrives at his doorstep, the book he wrote called Once Upon a Time in hand, telling him that not only is it all real, but he has to help break this new curse, find his True Love (her mom Cinderella), and help restore the happy endings just like before – just like Emma. Sound familiar? Yes, the set up and premise is almost exactly the same as the first season. It even begins with a similar title card and description. The differences are the characters and some of the scenarios. Because of this, it feels very much like a pilot or spinoff, and I think that may have been a better route. But I understand the practical business reasons for not doing so, along with keeping three favorites along for the ride. It’s unclear for the moment how this will go story-wise. But what is clear is that this is both the same and yet different. Once Upon a Time was always presented as Emma’s story and the creators always said that the last happy ending would be hers. They obviously changed their minds, which I will admit is disappointing for story fluidity and continuity. With Jennifer Morrison, along with Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas, choosing to move on, and the creators wanting to continue, they’ve moved onto a new book: Henry’s. For me, Once will always be Emma’s story. But if there was any character to continue the story with, it makes sense that it would be her son.

Losing so many cast members (Jared Gilmore, Rebecca Mader, and Emilie de Ravin are gone as series regulars as well as Morrison, Goodwin, and Dallas), including the main heroine, is a profound loss so it’s not so much change that is difficult, but the loss of so much that we held dear. Of course Season 6 ended on such a beautiful note for these characters that felt very much like happily ever after, so one issue is that the three returning characters (Regina, Killian, and Rumple) are cursed away from their families. For me, I found “Hyperion Heights” an enjoyable and pleasant watch. I liked it, but did not love it, especially when comparing it to the show’s original pilot. That beginning was epic and enthralling with a clear objective and an evocative sense of mystery, leaving me waiting on bated breath for the next episode. This time, around I found myself entertained and interested, but the enthusiasm was much milder. Most assuredly there were positive aspects, but also some middling ones, with differing perspectives determining how Season 7 with play out for fans of the fairy tale show.

The Positives

Without a doubt (besides the presence of the three returning characters) the best part of “Hyperion Heights” was Andrew J. West as adult Henry Mills. Kudos to the casting department, because he truly looks the part. But even more so, I must praise West who clearly did his homework to step into Henry’s shoes previously embodied by fine young actor Jared Gilmore. West undoubtedly studied Gilmore’s performance and mannerisms while the writers maintained the character’s steadfast attributes. It takes a fine actor to leap into a part so well and West is obviously up for the challenge. In the Enchanted Forest 2 (I’m not sure what to call it), Henry remains earnest, sweet, brave, heroic, and hopeful, but importantly no longer feels like a child, but rather a man with more experience and confidence who has a great deal of his family in him. He dresses like Charming, has romantic moves like him and stepfather Killian, and fierceness like his entire family. And in Hyperion Heights, despite being cursed to have lost his hopeful outlook, believing his wife and child died in a fire, we still see glimpses of his true self. And not just story-wise, but also in personality, and you can also see how much he is like Emma. I smiled when I saw that he has Emma’s swan necklace as a keychain, and at one point said, “Really?” exactly like her. I already love West’s Henry for these reasons, not to mention that while nothing can truly make up for the absence of Emma and the Charmings every week, having Henry there as he is and in a capable actor’s hands helps make their absence more bearable. West is a wonderful Henry and will no doubt be one of the best aspects of Season 7.

The other returning characters were some of the episode’s brightest spots in the sense of familiarity, likability, curiosity, and potential. It may be confounding not knowing why they are cursed yet, but I like their personas. Regina is Roni, the owner of a bar who is tough but laid back, and in the end, stands up to bully Victoria Belfrey, who is attempting to gentrify the neighborhood. It may throw some viewers seeing Regina this low-key, but she is very likable nonetheless. In one lovely moment, Roni gives a “Snow White hope speech” of sorts over a montage, placing her in a somewhat ironic, but overall heroic and nice position in the story. Rumple is now Weaver, a corrupt detective – because what else would he be like? – his first appearance showing him waterboarding someone. Weaver’s new partner is Killian, AKA Officer Rogers, who is kind and by the book, a sort of cross between the shy deckhand and courageous Lieutenant Jones, but with a sense of melancholy yearning. In the episode’s most resonant moment, Rogers looks through the Once Upon a Time book and stares at an illustration of Emma with a sense of longing and inexplicable recognition. It’s so similar to the way in which a cursed Emma saw an illustration of Captain Hook in the storybook in the Season 6 finale. There is no curse that is strong enough to break the connection between them because True Love is the most powerful magic of all. It was a brief but very powerful moment. That’s the Emma Swan factor! I don’t know where the story goes from here for any of these characters, but I hope to see more moments like this: glimmers of recognition in each other their stories to each other and those they are separated from.

The other positive aspects of “Hyperion Heights” belonged to two new characters. Henry’s daughter Lucy (Alison Fernandez) most definitely takes after her father in story placement and precocious nature. And although all the exposition they had her deliver at the beginning of the episode was a bit much, she is definitely a sweet and capable young actress, in particular in her scenes with West. There were definitely Emma and Henry vibes with Henry and Lucy and it’s quite emotional. The most intriguing new character was Alice, played by Rose Reynolds. In the Enchanted Forest 2, she drugs Henry to warn him not to interfere in someone else’s story and that Rumple is watching out for him. In Hyperion Heights, she skulks on rooftops and seems to be an informant for Weaver, once again keeping a watchful, slightly stalker-ish eye on Henry. She is a little creepy and mischievous and smart, not at all like any Alice we know, especially the one from Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. Her moments and character were the most intriguing of the episode, so I am interested to see where this Alice of Wonderland and “other places” fits into the story. Lastly, I liked what I saw of Mekia Cox’s Tiana. She seemed to have exactly what imagined her personality to be like and it was great.

The Middling

Other aspects of “Hyperion Heights” I call middling because they were either underwhelming, trite or resulted in conflicting emotions. I liked that this Cinderella (Dania Ramirez) felt decidedly different than Ashley, and that she was another strong female character in Once Upon a Time fashion. But in Hyperion Heights, the character fell a bit flat. The scenes between Cinderella and Henry were cute, but it also felt a little forced, lacking subtlety with the chemistry, most prominently on West’s side. They were sweet but not quite up to magnetic caliber of such couples like Emma and Killian and Snow and Charming that we’re used to. You cannot manufacture chemistry between actors. It must happen naturally. For now, Henry and Cinderella do not seem like they’ll live up to the epic standard they were proclaimed as being by creators. But they are sweet and have potential. Cinderella’s stepmother and sister were more interesting in Hyperion Heights than the EF2. I think both Gabrielle Anwar and Adaleide Kane are fine actresses, the former I’ve loved for years in such things as Burn Notice and Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. But their fairy tale counterparts felt a bit generic with the exception of touting that fear is more powerful than magic.

Whereas those aspects were conflicting, there were a few aspects that did not sit well with me. As Henry prepares to leave Storybrooke, he says, “I’m the only me,” as if that’s a bad thing. I know they are playing off the fact that there are now multiple versions of characters, but being a unique individual is a virtue, not a defect. I’m guessing this was not their intent, but it’s an odd choice of words that feel more plot driven than character driven. The same can be said for Henry leaving Storybrooke. It’s understandable that someone of his age would want to leave home and find themselves, but at the same time, Henry was always so insistent throughout the series that Storybrooke was his home, wanting his family all together. And now to leave with no known way of how to return – again, this is more about the plot than what makes sense for his character. Which leads me to the one thing I had the most issue with: the cursed setting. In past seasons, we occasionally saw urban settings and it was a fun and dynamic diversion. But now I fear the novelty may wear off quickly. Part of Once Upon a Time‘s charm, and what made the show what it was, was Storybrooke: a sleepy town out of time; a magical creation that was quaint and charming. Hyperion Heights not only lacks that uniqueness but also feels dreary and prosaic. I understand the reasons why they can’t be in Storybrooke anymore, but that does not lessen the gravity of its loss.

The last small issues had to do with this new setting and curse along with some little plot holes. How did Henry have gas to power his motorcycle and how did his cell phone work in this fantasy realm? Cinderella could ride said bike after a 30 second lesson? And why did she steal Henry’s dagger? What was she planning on killing the Prince with? I can forgive these little things and employ suspension of disbelief but the curse is quite confusing. Is Hyperion Heights a made-up neighborhood suddenly plopped into Seattle or was it always there and these characters were simply transported there? And why would the real world people they’re living amongst not notice anything if they’re not cursed? Who cast it and what is its purpose? We’ll no doubt find out but I think it unwise to come out of the premiere with that many questions, most especially not really mentioning the absent characters. I can only imagine how casual viewers who had no idea about the cast changes being very confused and wondering where Emma, Snow, and the others were.

Differing Perspectives/The Big Picture

When it comes to how audiences with watch and react to Season 7, it comes down to differing perspectives and what you want from the show. I think objectively it’s enjoyable but subjectively and by comparison, it doesn’t reach the heights of what came before. For me, as I said, I liked it but it’s not quite as magical. I liken it to going to your favorite restaurant and discovering that almost the entire menu has changed. Some staples remain and the new meals are good but it’s not quite the same flavor or satisfaction that you’re used to. I tend to approach viewing from an emotional, analytical, and big picture perspective. How long will the curse last? How long will the series last? I know upcoming actors’ appearances are meant to be final ones, but call me crazy to hope, but I think regardless of new characters, the final episode of the series should include the original characters as well. Pilots and series finales should feel connected and after all, this is now Henry’s story. Besides, his true love said she’d love for her and Lucy to live in a little cottage on the bay by a lighthouse. Sounds a lot like Storybrooke to me. That is where his family and loved ones belong. And on this show, and in Henry’s eyes, family is everything.

Favorite Line:

Lucy: You’re waiting for the perfect first sentence. But no story is perfect. It just needs to start.

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