I may be inconsistent when it comes to blog posts, but I am dedicated and invested when it comes to other pursuits of mine.
From Arrow to Revenge to bad 80s movies, Netflix always has something for me. (This may explain why I don’t get out much and have skin paler than a Tic Tac Freshmint.)
In recent weeks, I’ve gotten hooked on Once Upon a Time (OUAT). You’ve heard of it. It’s that ABC show with princesses and witches and magic spells. Sounds like your everyday show doomed to be cancelled after four episodes. And yet, the show has lasted three seasons and is about to embark upon its fourth.
Since its premiere, I’ve done little more than scoff at OUAT, assuming it would be full of nonsensical ridiculousness. Fairy tale characters transported to modern day Maine seemed a little far-fetched, even by my standards. But when I couldn’t stop avoiding articles about the addition of Frozen’s Elsa and Anna to the show, I had some serious FOMO and needed to investigate (FOMO=Fear of Missing Out, mom).
So I decided to give the show a shot. The first episode moved along as I expected. There was some wonky CGI, a tad bit of overacting, and lots of sappy love business. But something in the pilot helped me stick around. The show’s main character, Emma Swann, is living her normal, magic-free life in present-day Boston when a young boy named Henry shows up at her door claiming to be the son she gave up for adoption over a decade ago. He also has a theory that Emma is the daughter of Prince Charming and Snow White, and only Emma can save them from the Evil Queen’s curse.
Ridiculous, right? Absolutely. And Emma thinks so, too. Instead of just throwing the audience into this fairy tale insanity, the writers have given us our own voice and our own perspective in Emma, who is just as disbelieving and unimpressed as we are by this whole idea. And it is Emma that is the very important key to making this show work. When Emma scoffs and rolls her eyes, so do we. But all the show needs is this one hook. Once we’re aligned with Emma, the show is poised to move forward, and we’ve been suckered into the ride without realizing it.
But don’t worry, you won’t be mad about it. When Emma travels to Maine with Henry to deliver him back to his adoptive mother, things get interesting. His mother, Regina, is nothing short of lethal, and the town itself, aptly named “Storybrooke,” as if to invite derision, seems to exist in a hazy bubble of mundane regularity. Henry is convinced the town’s residents are all from a different world, called “The Enchanted Forest” (because why wouldn’t it be?), and that the queen cursed them to live trapped in time in modern day Maine, without any memory of their real identities. So the seven dwarfs don’t remember being dwarfs, Red Riding Hood doesn’t recall any encounters with any wolves, and Jiminy Cricket has no idea he’s a cricket. And where is Henry getting this theory? From his favorite book, “Once Upon a Time,” of course.
Due to Henry’s mentally unstable theories on life and the venomous personality of his adoptive mother, Emma can’t shake the feeling that she needs to stay in Storybrooke to watch out for the kid for a while. Which means we, too, get to invade this picturesque, boring as all get-out town. But with a stranger in town shaking things up, the people of Storybrooke find their lives getting turned upside down. Previously unnoticed things suddenly seem familiar, and stronger personalities start unexpectedly breaking through.
The only two people who seem keenly aware of these changes are Regina and the town pawnbroker, Mr. Gold. And as the flashbacks begin, we see exactly who these two were in “The Enchanted Forest”–the Evil Queen and Rumpelstiltskin.
Now, Rumpelstiltskin–there’s a fairy tale creature you wouldn’t exactly count as memorable. He made people try guessing his name and for some reason he could turn straw into gold. But beyond that, I can’t say I have a strong recollection of his story. And that might be just what the writers of OUAT were hoping. Because they’ve taken this second fiddle fairy tale character and turned him into one of the darkest, most cunning, and most layered characters there has ever been on television.
Is that hyperbole? Maybe, considering the Walter Whites and Don Drapers of recent years, but only Rumpel is a character who exists in both the “modern world” and fairy tale world. Mr. Gold of Storybrooke, Maine, is a reserved sir with a steely demeanor that somehow still manages to inflict fear into those he meets. His Rumpelstiltskin past, however, is one filled with an ostentatious, flamboyant manner of speaking and an almost childlike joy felt in the pain of others. It is difficult to reconcile the two, and yet, you know they’re one in the same. He’s smarter than everyone else around him, and seems to understand the curse better than the Evil Queen herself. Because even though Regina was the Evil Queen, it would appear that Rumpelstiltskin really ran the show.
With these two characters–Emma and Rumpel–keeping me intrigued, I found myself more and more invested in the show. And with each new episode, I met a character whose flashbacks helped weave a complicated past that explains their present-day predicaments. Even the Evil Queen has more going on in that heart (or lack thereof) of hers than first meets the eye.
And sure, being a Disney fairy tale expert helps you appreciate everything just a little bit more, but the show in and of itself is a juicy web of past and present, truths and lies, hope and evil. The fact that it can take your favorite fairy tale stories and spin them on their heads is just an added bonus. Take, for example, the story of Peter Pan. Not one of my go-to Disney classics, but one admittedly loved by many. In OUAT’s world, Peter Pan isn’t a lost boy. He’s actually a boy very much aware of who he is and who he wants to be. Who is that? Oh, just a psychopath with a desire for world domination. It’s an unexpected twist, just one of many OUAT has hidden up its sleeve
So now, six weeks after I started watching this show on the God-given gift that is Netflix, I get it. Once Upon a Time may be ridiculous, but it’s the great, entertaining, shocking, all around most fun to watch kind of ridiculous. And if you, too, accept that your life will be better for having watched this show, then you, too, can know the wonders of the OUAT world, like how Prince Charming came to be called Charming, and why Hook should really be named People Magazine’s next Sexiest Man Alive. Stop pretending you’re not interested in this nonsense and get to watching. If you do, I assure you yours will be a happy ending.
I mean, hello. This is all you need to start watching, right? #hooktastic