Warning: Minor plot point spoilers from the show are contained in this review. This entry is for the July 2022 Fantasy Genre Grandeur hosted by Movie Rob.
Once Upon a Time is what ABC initially called fairy tales for the modern age (modern being 2011-2018, the time of which the show aired). They took the idea of a, “happily ever after“, and turned it upside down, asking deeper questions such as, What does the Evil Queen’s happiness look like? Did Snow White and her Prince have kids? Do the heroes in the story ever do anything wrong or immoral?? Do the villains of the story ever feel guilt, or were they always just evil? It was an ingenious formula that for a few years worked insanely well. They were able to bring the viewer all of their favorite characters, offering new spins on their backstories, while crafting their futures, all while maintaining those standard elements of why we love them in the first place.
The main story line centered around Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), the daughter of Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) and Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin). When Emma was born The Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parillia) enacted her revenge against Snow and Charming by casting a curse, given to her by Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle OBE) that would transport them to the real world and live a life without magic or happy endings. Emma, who was born and sent away from the Enchanted Forest realm before the curse affected her, was then the only hope of breaking the curse, and restoring peace to the Kingdom. However, the catch comes when the curse can only be broken after her 28th birthday, and until that time, everyone, except for Regina, will live out a life in which they have no idea who they are or who they love in the town of Storybrooke.
Although Emma is unaffected by the curse, she lives with the fact she doesn’t know her true background and grows up believing she was orphaned/ abandoned by her parents. She eventually has a son, Henry (Jared Gilmore) at the age of 18, and places him up for adoption, not ready to be a mother. Henry is then adopted by… you guessed it Regina, The Evil Queen. It is then on Emma’s 28th birthday Henry shows up at her door, wanting to A: reunite with his birth mother and B: convince her to believe in magic and break the curse. Thus begins the OUAT saga!
The show used a parallel narrative structure that showed the characters in the real world, and their life back in the Enchanted Forest before the curse took place. Often of times their two story lines would be paralleled featuring the same lesson, or a different perspective of a similar problem showing how their life has changed.
For me personally, Once is not a show that I watched when it first aired in 2011. I got on board with the show in 2014 just before the 4th season premiere, binge watching all of 1-3. I was drawn to the show because honestly the Frozen story line was coming up, and I thought it would be so cool to see a live action interpretation of those characters. I then stuck with the show because the Emma-Captain Hook romance was also heating up and when I was 18, I thought the most appealing aspect of the show was one man: Colin O’Donoguhue, who played Captain Killian “Hook” Jones (the character was based on Disney’s version of Captain Hook from Peter Pan 1953). In fact, I believed this so much I initially called the first season, “the most boring“, because Hook wasn’t a character until season 2.
My favorite plotline on the show came in the first 2 seasons: Emma putting the pieces together, getting the backstories of all these characters and then in season 2 seeing how they would figure out the after math of the curse and what they would do next. My favorite episodes were, however, in season 3 with the 2-part finale when Emma and Hook have their mini Back to the Future story when they accidentally time travel though an open portal and interrupt Snow and Charming’s first meeting. With a little help from Rumpelstiltskin, they have to get the meeting back on track or risk erasing Emma from the timeline. It’s super cute as Emma realizes how much she loves her parents, and also starts to loosen up around Hook- being more flirty around him and learning they do make a super great team!
Now being 25, I look back at this show a little differently. Some of the plot lines were pathetic, pointless, and downright unacceptable even for the time span of 2011-2018. For instance, the season 5 Zelena- Robin Hood baby plot point was always disgusting. I hated the plot then and hate it now. Who in their sane mind thought that was an acceptable plot fans would be OK with? Also I thought The Dark Swan/ Dark One Emma plot line was done terribly. Making Hook also The Dark One was pathetic, and defeated the purpose of Hook trying to stay, “good“, while Emma was newly, “evil“.
I also look back with the viewpoint of while Hook was a fun character in seasons 2-4, by season 5 there was a shift; either A: Colin stopped trying or B: the writing had deteriorated so badly, he wasn’t given anything to work with; therefore, he was going to give a phoned in performance no matter what.
I’ve also seen the light on who carried the show: Mr. Robert Carlyle OBE. Mr. Carlyle was always the most interesting part of OUAT, and even though I considered Hook to be my favorite character, Mr. Gold/ Rumpelstiltskin always had my attention on what he would do next. My only complaint was Carlyle had to neuter his voice down to something an American audience can understand (anyone here know Hamish Macbeth (1995-1997)- Now there’s a great show where he got to speak in his real voice!). It was strikingly obvious he was having a blast in seasons 1-3, and you can tell his enthusiasm for the part came out in the performance. However after Rumple’s arc of redemption was considered to be complete by many fans by season 3, by season 4 something changed. What what I gather, Carlyle was trying to work with the writers/ co creators to craft a better story line plot-wise and because of that attempted collaboration, unacceptable on the writers behalf, they punished his character, giving Rumple bizarre, recycled, and often pointless story lines. Still, he carried the show when the plot went down the toilet, and for that, he has my total respect.
While I would not wanna sit through this whole show again, I would re-watch certain episodes, and there are specific badass character moments I love (most of them involving Rumple and Hook). I do dismiss all of season 7, I did not watch it, but would read weekly recaps. I thought the new ‘wish realm” plot basis to be pointless, yet I will admit the finale episode ever was a payoff especially if you watched the whole show.
Overall, my most important takeaway was the show put Robert Carlyle into my life. As an actor (and as a person) I’ll never move on from him, never be “over him“. I also believe this show had one of the best casts on TV, you can really tell they all adored each other. It’s a show that I am glad to have seen, for in the end, Once Upon a Time to me summed up is: a fun fantasy show with the characters you know and actors you come to love.