Cross-posting from another board:
I've only watched a handful of episodes from the current season of the show (mainly due to time), but am nevertheless aware that many people have been disappointed in this season, with many of the complaints having to do with an abundance of different storylines and certain characters - most particularly main characters Ruby and Belle - being sort of pushed to the side as things coalesced around Rumple, Regina, Emma, Henry, Snow, and Charming and recurring characters like Cora, Hook, Baelfire, and others. Because I haven't been able to consistently watch the season, though, I really couldn't comment too much on these feelings, but that's now changed.
Having had an opportunity to watch last night's "The Price of Magic" retrospective, I really have to vehemently disagree with the above-listed complaints. There's actually only ONE story arc being played out through the course of the season, and it basically boils down to this: What happens when magic is brought to a land that previously didn't have it.
All of the characters' individual story arcs are the threads that make up this larger tapestry of an arc, but not every main or recurring character has threads that end up being woven into said tapestry. It's unfortunate, particularly since you can tell that the creators really like all of the characters they've utilized up to this point either as main characters or as recurring/supporting characters, but, as I know from first-hand experience, the process of creative writing is very much an organic one and sometimes a story ends up evolving - on its own - in a direction that doesn't end up providing opportunities to use all of the characters you thought you were going to end up using, as is very much the case with regards to Ruby.
Belle, on the other hand, actually features much more prominently in the larger tapestry that is this season's 'what happens when magic comes to a land that previously didn't have it' storyline than I think many people - particularly die-hard Rumple/Belle shippers - realize. Belle and Rumple would've been separated from each other with or without Killian Jones/Captain Hook's actions, but by introducing the hurdle of Belle losing her FTL memories, the writers escalated the situation and, in doing so, also tied Belle directly into the larger above-mentioned tapestry of the season's story arc by using her predicament to expand the consequences of magic having been brought to a land that didn't previously have it through the introduction of Owen/Greg and Tamara, which they then interwove into Rumple's personal story arc of searching for his son.
Speaking of Baelfire, I was vehemently opposed to the idea of making the character tied directly to Emma and Henry by making him Henry's father (and therefore directly linking Regina, the Charmings, and Rumplestiltskin to each other by blood and therefore diluting the poignancy of Rumple - for good or ill - basically orchestrating the circumstances surrounding the curse's creation and its enactment purely as a means of getting to our world in order to find his son), but, in execution, the PTB ended up defying my expectations and worries by not only making the decision to do so work, but also making Emma's real-world backstory - which had previously only been relevant to her own personal character development - not only relevant to but a critical and integral part of the overall story arc for the season.
I know that others probably won't agree with me, but, after having the opportunity to see every piece of this year's arc - as it's played itself out thus far, anyway - laid out and examined, I actually think the show's gotten better, at least from a purely narrative standpoint. There's been a much slower build this time around than there was in Season 1, but given the way the PTB ended up evolving the show's concept and premise from what it was during that first season, I don't think there was really any other way they could've built up this broader, more expansive narrative arc, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how they resolve things and set stuff up for the future.