Note that this post may contain spoilers of the current episodes of Once Upon a Time and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. Click for my thoughts on Season 1 and Season 2.
We're now four episodes into the third season of Once Upon a Time (which airs on Sundays) and two episodes into its spin-off, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (which airs on Thursdays). And my reactions to these six episodes are not quite what I expected. For simplicity's sake, I will refer to the shows as Once and Wonderland.
Because of certain weakening points (versus the clear plot of Season 1) in Season 2, I was expecting that it was too early to start a spin-off and stretch the universe too far too soon. However, Wonderland has come off to a strong start, especially considering that shows can have a shaky one or two episodes to start. Although Once has some good actors, the acting quality in general seemed better in Wonderland; in fact, the production value as a whole was high. It was sleeker, as if it had learned from experience. Whether or not it has a plot that can last has yet to be seen.
Once, on the other hand, did not get off to a particularly strong start with the opening episode. There was little plot, which didn't always give the actors much to work with. But it was exciting to finally reach Neverland after all the Neverland hints in Season 2. After what I just said about the varying qualities of acting (some of it is great, some is good, and some is . . . not), I'm delighted by the casting of Peter Pan. I thought his henchman, Felix, was alright, but Peter himself is fantastic. Even though he is a young actor, he has weight to his performance, almost like Robert Carlyle as Rumplestiltskin. So that scene they had together tonight, that was amazing to watch. Two volatile characters at each other's throats through words. If I can see more of that type of thing in this show, I'll be happy.
The writers said there would be some sort of crossover between the two shows, but they weren't very specific. For some reason, I was expecting Wonderland to take place years before Once--back in the Hatter's old days in Wonderland. I even started a half-formed idea that Alice would be the his wife: we've gotten hints about her story, but haven't heard it yet. But the timeline is more modern, with fairly recent flashbacks--except that Alice is from the past, just like Bae went back to the past (London) before coming to the present. All of this time of timeline treatment, along with the traveling between worlds, has been making this universe more like a place of time travel. It's very different from how the show began a couple years ago, but as long as both shows maintain uniqueness, I suppose it isn't a bad thing.
I have one last topic to touch on. Although this theme is completely unrelated between the two shows, it has enough similarity that I wonder if it will provide unity between the two in the future. Both shows have introduced the concept of changing magic. In Once, Peter has told Henry that he is the one Peter has been waiting for because it is Henry who will be able to keep magic from fading and to imagine more into Neverland. Over in Wonderland, the Red Queen wants Jafar to help her so that she can manipulate magic to do something or other that doesn't currently fit into magic's rules. The question, of course, is what she wants to do: probably there is some complicated backstory to explain it. Given that magic has always been a pretty stagnant thing in this universe, except that it exists in some worlds but not others, the appearance of this new development in both shows must be significant. (There also seems to be something starting with dreams, but it's still in the early stages.)
I suppose that's all for now. I'll definitely give more feedback at the end of the season, but perhaps also at significant points like the mid-season break. We'll see. Until then, I'll enjoy watching Peter Pan, young/adult Bae, and Rumplestiltskin and Cyrus and Alice.