Once Upon A Time: If We Tune In
Some time ago, I wrote a critique of the ABC fantasy series Once Upon A Time (motto: “We Forgot What We Were Writing, So We Wrote This”). I tried to balance my praise against my criticism, and I think the overall note was positive.
That was then; this is now. After the last half season, I find the show nothing so much as frustrating. I realize not all of you have been watching the show, and this post will probably make you feel better about that life decision (you’re welcome). It also makes some sort of explanation necessary so that you can know what I’m complaining about. So here’s what we’ll do: I will provide a concise yet biased summary of the first half of the season, one that will neatly combine both the actual events of the show and my reactions.
A caveat: This summary will not do justice to the show. It will be fun, and it will highlight some genuine flaws, but it will also be lopsided. Whatever the faults of the show, it has more to be said for it than I have room to say.
Now to the summary, with key words in caps to facilitate skimming, or whatever.
At the beginning, our heroes go to CAMELOT, because Emma is possessed or something by the DARKNESS and they want the POWERFUL SORCERER Merlin to help her. Whom they actually meet when they arrive is, of course, King Arthur. This sprawls into a King Arthur SUBPLOT, but we will not summarize it, because we find the prospect TIRING, and we will not comment on it except to say that the show’s creators are lucky that King Arthur is a MYTHOLOGICAL figure, because otherwise he might SUE them for defamation of character.
Then our heroes immediately pop back into Storybrooke, with Emma going FULL DARK ONE, black leather and everything. The story in Camelot is now told in FLASHBACKS. Basically, in Camelot Emma is hearing voices and trying to destroy DARK MAGIC, whereas in Storybrooke she hears voices and is trying to destroy WHITE MAGIC. Meanwhile, other people are doing stuff.
In Camelot, the POWERFUL SORCERER Merlin is freed from a tree. He helps free other people from jail, but everyone’s PROBLEMS stay the SAME.
In Storybrooke, Rumpelstiltskin overcomes his cowardice (which we never saw) and his selfishness (we saw plenty of that) to become the HERO WITH THE PUREST HEART. Fans will bitterly remember this later.
King Arthur, Dark Ones, Merlin, BACKSTORY, Merida, Hook Emma romance blah … Somewhere in the middle we miss some episodes, but we don’t bother to go back, because we heard they are about Merida, and who cares? Not us. We weren’t even that crazy about the Pixar movie. We’re still not over how, in that movie, a teenage girl convinced a band of grizzled, battle-hardened Scottish chieftains to give up their cherished ancient traditions by giving them a speech about FOLLOWING YOUR HEART, which is like diverting JULIUS CAESAR from subjugating primitive Germanic tribes with CUPCAKES.
But we DIGRESS.
In Camelot (not technically, but close enough), the Dark Curse is cast AGAIN. Whatever book the villains get their tricks from is evidently SHORT. Also, Merlin – despite being a POWERFUL SORCERER – dies. And we hate to sound unsympathetic, but considering how much use he actually is, our heroes need not have been so concerned about finding him.
Also, we just know he is coming back, which NEGATES the ANGST of the moment. On a similar note, Belle smashes the teacup again, but never mind: This will change again again again.
In Storybrooke, Hook realizes that while in Camelot he was turned into a Dark One, causing him to remember that he is PURE EVIL. In Storybrooke (also in Camelot), he engages in evil-genius PLOTTING and opens the UNDERWORLD, letting out the DARK ONES. And our heroes are going to be DRAGGED DOWN.
So it’s time for BACKSTORY. Hook’s backstory, to be precise, and it leaves us thinking that were Hook a real bloodthirsty pirate instead of a fictional one, he – like King Arthur – could probably SUE. Someday we will manage to forget it. At any rate, Hook’s backstory is why he changes his mind at the last minute and makes a HEROIC SACRIFICE to defeat the darkness and save our heroes from being dragged down.
Unfortunately, it turns out the darkness is merely TRANSFERRED into Rumpelstiltskin, who has an IQ sixty times higher than anyone else in the realms and thus makes the darkness more dangerous than EVER. And the heroes go down into the Underworld anyway. And Hook will definitely be back. So the HEROIC SACRIFICE accomplishes NOTHING, but it was a good thought. Sort of like Rumpelstiltskin’s character development.
The screen fades to black as our heroes resolutely tread the dark water into the unknown. We don’t know what will happen next, but we are sure of one thing: We are going to see a lot of old (and dead) characters come back in the second half.
If we tune in.
After reading this article I was grinning the whole way THROUGH. The piece is biased indeed, but based on things my wife has told me about the show, also quite cathartic.
My wife tried to be a “Oncer” (is that what they’re called?) but couldn’t. It turns out that even “Arrow” (with the possible exception of season 3) has had better success moving away from the cyclical drama and is actually seeing its characters grow and develop into better people. However, based on my wife’s frustrations with the failures of “Once Upon A Time,” I was able to take the plunge and persuade my wife to watch “Justice League” (DCAU) on Netflix with me, because I promised a cartoon had better character development. She did, and she now agrees. So “Once” did at least some good!
I see very clearly the appeal and the flaws of this show. What really tips the balance for me is how things, introduced with great fanfare, are always coming to nothing. Merlin is one example (not the most important one). Before we saw him, and especially in the fourth season, he had an aura of a mysterious, powerful figure, playing a role like Providence – secret but benevolent. And then, when they brought him in, it all collapsed.
I was disappointed. That’s why I had to include him in my summary.
“So the HEROIC SACRIFICE accomplishes NOTHING, but it was a good thought. Sort of like Rumpelstiltskin’s character development.”
This basically summarizes my frustrations with this show. They aren’t brave enough to follow through on half of their developments because it might not be *gasp* what the viewers wanted to see.
I sincerely wish they’d left Rumple dead in Season 3, let the darkness die this season, and a half dozen other things I’ll never see. If nothing else, this show inspires me to get things right and not reverse a bunch of things in the story just so we can keep all of our main cast on screen.
Rumple is my favorite character, so personally, I don’t mind bringing him back – especially because it wasn’t cheap: a life for a life (a character for a character). Also because he is my favorite character, I am very irritated by this endless circle they spin him in. Villain, hero, villain, hero, villain …
But I agree with your general point. Instead of going boldly forward, they reverse and go back to the beginning.
I love Rumple, too. But it’s that constant need to reset him that bothers me. It seems like Regina’s the only one who’s really allowed to grow.
lol – I’m sorry. I am. Though I think it’s funny how many fans are getting fed up with Once when I dropped it halfway through the 2nd season for the same reasons. I guess some people hold out hope longer than others! 😉
I’ve never seen the first two seasons. I began in season 4, went back to season 3, and continued with season 5 … but never the first two. I was warned.
In fairness to holding out hope, it’s not unusual for good shows to have a clunky first season. But if you don’t make it by, or in, season 3 …
Yeah, i gave up on OUAT in the latter half of season 2. I was sick to death of Regina whining and behaving badly, and still getting treated like somehow her evil actions were all somebody else’s fault.
Season 1 and early season 2 had promise, but never lived up to their potential. For every episode that did something well, there was one that was meh at best, and probably one that wasn’t that great.
Hahahahahaha. This is great. 😀 I gave up after a couple seasons of OUAT. It all felt contrived and the cleverness the show once had turned into “let’s throw every element we can in here, yay!” I’m glad my decision to ditch the show seems validated by pretty much everyone else too.
Try “Justice League” or “Young Justice,” both on Netflix, with better-written characters and story arcs, and a heightened sense of character realism!
I have never seen the show, but where do I sign up to read more reviews of this caliber?!
Just above the comments section you should see the box labeled Join our mission to explore fantastical stories for God’s glory, which includes the email subscription form and links to our social-network portals.
OUAT used to be my favorite show because I enjoyed the inter-twining of the fairytales. And even though there’s a ton of backstory, it was bearable, because for me, it revealed cool stuff. THEN … they went to Never Never Land. I bore through that, hoping for a good return to the story. However, when they went Frozen, I stopped watching. SO obvious Disney and not fairytale at all. UGH.
Shannon, my favorite character was Rumple, too. Robert Carlyle is a fabulous actor. He made the whole show!
Why is it that these types of shows can start off so strong, but they can’t maintain? Heroes did the same thing. 🙁
I really admire Robert Carlyle’s acting. He made the very complicated character of Rumpelstiltskin so real and magnetic. I do regard Robert Carlyle/Rumpelstiltskin as the best part of the show. It’s fascinating to me that of all the villains looking for a happy ending, he’s the only one who knows he doesn’t deserve one.