Back in Storybrooke, the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) has learned from the sorcerer’s apprentice that a magical wand will be able to grant the gang passage to wherever Emma went, as long as someone powerful and dark enough wields it. Turns out all that redemption and self-sacrifice turns an Evil Queen into more of a Chaotic Neutral Queen, so they have to resort to asking for her wicked sister Zelena’s (Rebecca Mader) help in waking the wand and summoning a portal to the Enchanted Forest.
As is usual Once Upon A Time style, nothing goes as planned, but the rescue-mission-at-large ends with a premiere that feels like it’s ready to completely reset the pieces of the show and settle in for a season in a intriguing new locale: Camelot. That is, until a last minute twist reintroduces one of the show’s simultaneously most intriguing and overused devices – amnesia! – and flings back our heroes to the starting line to pick up the pieces of a lost six weeks and attempt to figure out why Emma’s skin is looking a bit more crocodile-ish nowadays.
Overall, those who were largely unenthusiastic about last year’s story arcs pushing some of the leads into the shadows will undoubtedly feel largely relieved by the season 5 premiere. Morrison’s flip into the antagonist role feels largely earned, and is far more believable and entertaining than some of those character inversions from last year’s alternate reality episode. Really, what feels most winning about Once Upon A Time is that, five seasons in, everything comes off as exciting and fresh and different from the rest of what’s on television. Coupled with the vast array of Disney brands at its disposal and a ridiculously addictive way to twist and alter what the audience expects out of each, and there’s still more than enough reasons for fans to tune in, and for non-fans to shut down for a weekend and catch up already.
With a smart decision to focus on the lead characters and not the overall "gimmick" plot of the season, Once Upon A Time feels renewed with a dark energy in its shockingly sprightly fifth year.