After last week’s mess, I thought “Snow Falls” would be the episode that would make me want to stop watching Once Upon a Time for good. Surprisingly, I ended up enjoying it, though I still have some reservations.

“Snow Falls” brought some much needed plot advancement to the show, finally waking up the erstwhile Prince Charming (now known as David Nolan) from his coma. He wandered around the nearby forest in daze, which gave the opportunity for Mary (the erstwhile Snow White), Emma, and the Sheriff to go trekking through the woods. Meanwhile, the fairy tale flashbacks showed us how Snow White and Prince Charming met, and they introduced us to Charming’s former fiancée, the daughter of a powerful king.

This is all mainly good stuff. Mary was drawn further into Henry’s quest, which brought us one step closer to someone finally believing him. Now that David is awake and the modern-day version of his former fiancée is here, there’s the potential for some soapy love-triangle drama down the road, which might be terrible, but at least it’ll be something. I enjoyed seeing Emma and Mary work together to solve the case and find David; heck I’d watch a show where they work together to solve fairy-tale related crimes. (That sounds like a female version of Grimm.) Jennifer Morrison and Ginnifer Goodwin play very well off each other, and now that their characters are roommates, we should see them working together more often.

The flashbacks actually worked this week, because the story they told was interesting in and of itself, and it wasn’t burdened with the melodrama of last week’s ones. So now, I have a reason to care about Snow White and Prince Charming, not just their modern-day counterparts.

Unfortunately, Snow White’s characterization did not at all match Mary’s. Snow White was portrayed as cynical and scrappy, whereas Mary is caring and gentle. They don’t feel like two halves of the same character; they feel like entirely separate people. So now, I’m rooting for Mary to get together with David, but not necessarily for the right reasons. I want to see a “happy ending” for Mary because she’s a nice person, not because Snow White and Prince Charming got together.

The other big problem with this episode was one that the series as a whole has: the Queen/the Mayor is a total misfire of a character. She’s the second worst kind of villain. The worst kind of villain is one that has no clear motivations for what she’s doing. The second worst is a villain with no goals. All Regina Mills wants to do is to maintain the status quo in Storybrooke. She’s not working towards anything else, or so it seems. That makes her boring. Moreover, she’s such a ridiculous, two-dimensional character that almost everything she does is laughable. When David Nolan woke up from his coma, of course she’d be there to stop Emma and Mary from investigating, and of course she’d act like a mega-bitch about it. The writing for her character is terrible, but so is Lana Parrilla’s acting. She might be having fun chewing more scenery than a colony of termites chews wood, but it’s painful to watch. I hate the Mayor not because she’s evil, but because I just want her to get off my TV screen.

The Mayor isn’t likely to disappear from this show any time soon, but she could be fixed by making a few tweaks. In fact, a lot of this show could be fixed by making a few tweaks. Once Upon a Time has the potential to be very good, not just mediocre. Here’s how to fix it:

  • Give the Queen/the Mayor more shading. Make her a three-dimensional character. Right now, she’s so mean to everyone that I fail to see how anybody would put up with her (and her general failings as a human being). She needs to be a villain with more than just evil on her mind. It’s a weird comparison, but Once Upon a Time is a lot like The Chicago Code, in that a group of crusaders are working to wrest a town or city from a villain’s iron grip. That show’s central villain was Alderman Ronin Gibbons, and though he was clearly the “bad guy,” he served more of a purpose in the story than just being a villain. In fact, he did some genuinely nice things over the course of the series. Of course, Lana Parrilla is no match for Delroy Lindo, acting-wise, but even a little nuance would go a long way.
  • Get rid of Henry. He’s super-irritating. It pains me to criticize a child actor, but Jared Gilmore is terrible. Just flat-out terrible. I understand that Henry is important to the story, and killing him off is too dark for this show, but he only needs to appear every three or four episodes. Meanwhile, Mary and Emma can investigate the goings-on in Storybrooke on their own. But in order for that to happen, we need to…
  • Let Mary and Emma start believing Henry completely. The faster this happens, the easier it will be for the plot to advance.
  • Give Emma some more background. Morrison is doing the best with the material she’s been given, but I’d understand her character better if we could have a “modern-day” flashback to her life as a bounty hunter.
  • Pick a consistent speech pattern for the fairy tale world. In this episode, Prince Charming started off speaking in stilted fairy-tale speak, but his conversations with Snow White were in modern English. It’s possible the writers were trying to emphasize that Charming was acting like a phony when he was around his former fiancée, but it didn’t come across that way.
  • Define Storybrooke better as a town. Once Upon a Time created such a rich world in its pilot, but the show hasn’t taken advantage of it. I want to get to know the town and its people. The best way to do that, in my opinion, is to have a big gathering or event where all of the townsfolk can interact.
  • Seriously, get rid of Henry. It bears repeating.

Once Upon a Time could be a very good show, but right now it’s starting to look a lot like The Killing: a show that started out alright but that never became great because it kept doing the same stupid things. That show ended up collapsing completely about midway through the season (and we all know what happened after that). If Once Upon a Time continues down the path it’s following, then that same fate will befall it. Let’s hope that the show makes the necessary adjustments to avoid that fate.