SPOILER ALERT: … I spoil everything.
For the last year or so, I’d been meaning to watch Once Upon a Time. I’m a sucker for a good fairy tale, and I’m not ashamed of it, because I’m a Utero-Canadian and I can do literally whatever I want. It was actually a surprisingly well-kept secret. I think the first time I heard of it was an ad in a magazine I was idly flipping through during a haircut, at which time I took note of it and went right back to judging the Kardashians, who I think may have still been relevant in late 2011. Since then I’ve seen a couple of ads before other programs I somehow found the time to watch, but it basically flew under the radar for me, and probably for a lot of other people. Then my mother went out of town for four days, and instead of doing my homework and keeping up with the housework, that sneaky voice in the back of my head piped up and said, “Screw that, let’s sit around and watch some motherf***ing fairy tales.” So I listened to it, and I watched some motherf***ing fairy tales. And I have to tell you…
Okay, I stared at my laptop screen for ages without being able to come up with a phrase that perfectly encapsulates how incredible this show is and how bereft of life I was before watching it. I only got about halfway through season 1 before I had to stop for school-related reasons, and it’s been killing me not to know how it ends.
*NOTE: Which is why I inserted this paragraph and changed a bunch more two days after writing this review. Because I ignored my homework and got completely caught up on the show. So this is gonna be a long-ass review now, and I hope you like the show, because if you don’t, you’re gonna hate the next several pages and should probably go find a Batman review somewhere. If I’ve written it yet. I don’t know. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on.
Plot breakdown: All the fairy tale characters you know and love live together in a magical land, which is antagonized by the Evil Queen. She crashes Snow White and Prince Charming’s wedding and promises to make them suffer by calling down a terrible curse. It takes a while for her to get this going. In the meantime, Snow gets knocked up, which is great, except that in typical TV style, she goes into labor just as the Queen is getting her magic on. Snow and Charming manage to send their newborn daughter, Emma, to another world right before the curse overwhelms the land. Somehow, they all end up in the same world, but this is a fairy tale, so we’ll go with it. Everyone receives a new identity, is completely unaware of who they are, and is frozen in time in the charming town of Storybrooke, Maine. Emma, however, was less fortunate: she instead rematerialized on the side of a highway and became a foster child, making a series of bad decisions and eventually becoming a bounty hunter (which is pretty sweet any way you slice it, actually). One of those bad decisions grew up to be a ten-year-old boy, armed with a book of the real fairy tales, who drags Emma back to Storybrooke with him. He turns out to be the adopted son of the mayor, and gosh darn wouldn’tcha know, the mayor bears an uncanny resemblance to the Evil Queen, and she knows exactly who she is.
I’m going to ignore Storybrooke for the moment, because it’s your standard coastal town with grey sky and grey water and that vaguely fishy smell in the air and all the houses are white and everybody eats dinner at the diner instead of actually cooking meals, because that is a thing that people on TV do. So I’m going to switch over to the Fairy Tale Land [FTL] instead. (I think the land has another name, but frankly, after Stargate Universe [SGU] was cancelled, I’m gonna take any excuse I can to insert FTL into a review, slide it into casual conversation, or scrawl it on a brick and toss it through the front window of whoever is responsible for Firefly 2: Cancelled Harder.)
So. FTL. (Sigh.) This place is incredible; multiple kingdoms means multiple monarchies vying for power and trying to create advantageous marriages, which doesn’t always work out for the protagonists. The scenery varies, taking you from the clouds, where the fairies hang out, to the rolling plains, where everybody else hangs out. Dwarven mines, an enchanted forest brimming with mischief and misfortune, castles of all shapes and sizes… wherever you happen to be, magic is utterly commonplace but still revered, and there is always, always a solution, provided by your friendly neighbourhood Rumpelstiltskin—for a price. (And without a doubt, this guy is my favorite character on any show ever, past, present, future, in all discovered and undiscovered dimensions, and the Doctor can suck it.)
Each episode usually focuses on one or more of the characters, exploring both their true identities and the roles they’ve been assigned in Storybrooke. For example, one episode looks at Ruby, a waitress at the local diner, who used to be Little Red Riding Hood—and, in true Twilight fashion, proved to be her own Big Bad Wolf. But each character’s story isn’t resolved in the course of a single episode—these are just fragments of a larger picture that are beginning to fit together, except these pieces are all out of order, and the picture is friggin’ ginormous, and with each new piece you realize that you’re missing about a dozen more. This works to the story’s advantage in some ways, though: in the pilot, we know that Snow and Charming get married. But Charming isn’t exactly what he seems, or at least he wasn’t always. And Snow was a highway bandit, stealing from him on first sight, but eventually becoming part of a beautifully-told, agonizing, heart-wrenching story that has a horribly mangled echo in the real world.
Confused? Let me explain. In the real world, Snow is a teacher who visits patients at the hospital. One man has been in a coma for as long as anyone can remember, but when she reads to him a certain story from a special book (and you’d think that, with all the people putting their paws all over it, the mayor would eventually figure out where it is and steal it), he wakes up. How wonderful! Snow and Charming can be together in the real world! NOPE. Apparently Charming’s married to a blonde lady, who I’d love to hate except she’s perfectly lovely and hasn’t done anything wrong, especially since none of this is real. Snow and Charming try to stay away from each other, but their bond is too strong, despite their suppressed memories, and they begin an illicit romance. Aww, true love prevails!
Are you seeing the problem here?
I have a very low opinion of your intelligence, so I’m just gonna explain it. They don’t know that they were married. They don’t know that this is the Evil Queen’s scheme, making them miserable on purpose. They truly believe that Charming is married, and yet they’re doing this anyway. Does fidelity mean nothing to fictional characters? Nobody in Storybrooke has a functional relationship, not even Granny and Red, and they’re almost certainly not sleeping together. And of course this whole let’s-play-tonsil-hockey-with-people-we’re-not-married-to thing ends with Blonde Lady leaving town (which always ends in disaster, for some reason, so I guess it’s a good thing that everybody always walks or drives and that there’s no airport) and then vanishing into thin air. (!!!) And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I have no idea whether she became a traveling vacuum salesman, started a brothel, or ran off to the Orient to discover the ancient mysteries of paper-folding, and as she has not yet resurfaced, I’m forced to assume she did all three.
Oh, hey, look, it’s another *NOTE: as I am now caught up, I possess the knowledge that Regina kidnapped Blonde Lady and kept her in a basement. She is now hospitalized and has been for several episodes, and people seem to have forgotten about her, even though the curse has now been broken and she should have her memories back and be searching for the gym teacher so they can have sexy makeouts. Also, now that Charming and Snow are back together, I have somehow lost all of my carefully constructed convictions about fidelity and honesty and commitment, because feels-related reasons. I’m more than a little upset with myself, but that is neither here nor there, much like Snow’s decision to have a one-night-stand with Dr. Whalenstein (for which he was punched in season two, which was quite satisfying).
As much as I love the show and its premise, which is fully enthralling and completely enchanting, I find myself disappointed in the cheap, real-world plot devices that are keeping the story going until its inevitable end: the breaking of the curse. The FTL plot is brilliant, of course, but a grounding in reality takes away some of the creativity. Was the murder plot necessary? Probably not, though it added an interesting insight into the depth of Evil Queen’s hatred for Snow. Did they need to have the Pinocchio storyline, where Motorcycle Guy was the one who found Emma and now he’s turning into wood because he “wasn’t a good boy”? I don’t think so, though, again, it was a great resolution to the “who is this stranger in Storybrooke?” question, which didn’t really need asking in the first place. Did King George need to be chasing Charming for running out on his wedding? Seems a bit contrived to me. Of course, the show was created by the same guys who thought up Lost, so that should explain everything you need to know about anything ever.
I had wondered what was going to happen after the curse was broken. I mean, when that’s the whole point of the show, how do you keep going? But Rumpelstiltskin cast a spell and a purple cloud washed over the town at the end of the season finale, which left people wondering what had happened. And the finale itself, which was intensely heart-wrenching—Charming and Snow reunited and kissing (which made me cry), Henry dying and resurrected through True Love’s Kiss (which made me cry even harder, after yelling, “Kiss him, Emma, it’s True Love’s Kiss!” for about five solid minutes), and Rumpelstiltskin and Belle kissing (okay, seriously, I think I have a problem with kissing because I’m fixated)—was a stunning ending to the season. (And I sincerely apologize for that last sentence, which must have been a b*tch to read.)
I’ll save the season two review for another time (for a really long time, actually, because it’s only like five episodes in), but I promise it’ll be worth the wait. For one thing, I’ll be including pictures of Captain Hook, who is a cross between Colin Farrell and Liam Hemsworth and who I could stare at all day without feeling the slightest bit guilty about the fact that Boyfriend would probably object. And for another thing, it’ll just be super legit.
So this show may not win a pumpkin-coach-full of awards, except for the costume ones (because capes and corsets EVERYWHERE), but it’s definitely got the market cornered on sentimentality. Fairy tales were my favorite when I was little; I remember telling my little sister the story of Rumpelstiltskin every night before she went to sleep, and holy sh*t was that a long-ass story. Every now and then we like to go back to our roots, remembering what made us love stories in the first place. That’s why we turn on the TV, find Once Upon a Time, and watch some motherf***ing fairy tales.
*Note: This was originally marked at an A-, but after the season finale, I couldn’t let that stand. This show is superb and I need to keep watching and OH GOD WHEN IS THE NEXT EPISODE COMING OUT?!
- I always have to laugh when somebody is being emotional, because they always shed a single tear that gracefully curves down their cheek while they’re wearing an expression of anguish.
- I adore Red. I don’t know why I do, because I thought she was the biggest slut when I started watching the show. But now that she wears normal people clothes and I know she can turn into a wolf, she is the biggest badass I have ever seen ever.
- Emilie de Ravin as Belle and Rumpelstiltskin as the Beast! I can’t even tell you how much I love the story and the episode and how I don’t even mind that they took huge artistic license, because it works.
- Also in the Beauty and the Beast episode, there was a florist’s truck. It said “Game of Thorns” on the side. If you don’t get that, your Pop Culture card is hereby revoked.
- Why. In the hell. Did they kill. Graham. He. Was. Flawless.
- Emma Caulfield as the witch in Hansel and Gretel! (I’m a Buffy fan and I won’t deny it.)
- So… remember how I was talking about SGU before, bemoaning the fact that it was cancelled? Well, if it hadn’t, we wouldn’t have Robert Carlyle playing Rumpelstiltskin, and life would not be worth living.
- The emphasis on strong female protagonists is absolutely mind-blowing. In all the old stories it’s the guys coming to the rescue, so they can go watch sports while the women slay dragons and break spells and kiss princesses aaaaaand now nobody’s watching sports, because even in FTL, guys still love that sort of thing. And you’re probably not even reading this review any more, are you. Gross.