Try as I might I couldn’t find time to watch Once Upon a Time when it first aired. A combination of factors made me want to tune into ABC’s marathon of the show last Sunday. First, I have heard nothing but good things from friends about the show. I have friends that are nuts about this type of entertainment and then I have friends who won’t go out of their way to watch it. What struck me about Once Upon a Time is that the friends that started to tell me about it are the non-sci-fi/fantasy inclined type! The fact that they were hooked on the show told me all I needed to know! If you have friends that aren’t all that inclined to watch the fantasy or sci-fi genre, this could be a show you could share with them, and maybe it will help you pull them over to the dark side!
Second, I’m familiar with a few of the actors. Robert Carlyle, who played Nicholas Rush on Stargate Universe, plays a pivotal role in Once Upon a Time as Rumpelstiltskin. I can’t remember the last time a TV character has given me such a bad case of the creeps! Between the two roles we get to see two completely different characters, and it just goes to show how talented Carlyle is. He is joined by another Stargate alum, Tony Amendola, a fan favorite as Bra’tac on SG-1. Thus far we have really only seen Tony in two episodes as Geppetto, the toymaker father of Pinocchio. He was listed as a guest star, but I have high hopes that we will see more of him as the series progresses. Alex Zahara, who has played more roles on SG-1 both in and out of prosthetic make-up than I can count off the top of my head, also had a short role as King Midas.
Once Upon a Time is the story of what happens when our favorite childhood fairytale characters are thrown into our world by a curse wielded by The Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla). Her goal was to destroy the happy endings of everyone else’s story’s and create her own happy ending. All of her victims lose their memories, and in many cases they lose the ones they love most.
This is the type of show that you can pick up on quickly. I watched six episodes in one day and I feel like I have a very good grasp of what’s going on. The plot has lots of twists and turns, as well as flashbacks that are not in sequential order. It doesn’t make events hard to follow, but it sure makes it hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been watching. I know what you’re thinking. They’re fairy tales! They’re classics! Who doesn’t know the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Cinderella? Yet Once Upon a Time has the added quality of taking these stories and tweaking them, fitting them together like a jigsaw puzzle while not inherently changing the story itself.
So if the stories are jigsaw pieces, who is the glue? Rumpelstiltskin of course! He has his long ugly fingernails in everyone’s pies. Everyone has had dealings with him whether they wanted to or not. Cinderella’s fairy godmother? Once Upon a Time would have us believe that Rumpelstiltskin had a bone to pick with her, and after making a trade for her location, he kills her and takes her wand! Then he helps Cinderella (Jessy Schram) get to the ball! Snow White’s Prince Charming (Josh Dallas)? He’s really the son of a poor woman, a shepherd! King George needed an heir, and the woman was about to loose her farm, so Rumpelstiltskin took one son in return for saving the woman’s farm. Years later, before the prince ever met Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), he was killed in battle. The King, desperate to make a deal with King Midas by killing a dragon plaguing Midas’s land, needs his “warrior son” back, so Rumpelstiltskin offers to fetch his twin brother! Virtually every fairytale character has a reason to dread the appearance of the horrid little man!
In the real world, each of the fairytale characters have jobs and lifestyles that fit them. Snow White is a school teacher who volunteers at the local hospital. Red Riding Hood (Meghan Ory) is a waitress at the diner. Rumpelstiltskin is a pawnbroker who reportedly owns the whole town of Storybrooke (literally or figuratively, we don’t know, but it’s clear that everyone owes him something just like they do in their story lives). The Evil Queen is the Mayor, and seems to have an ideal life. At least, until Emma shows up.
Finally we get to Emma (Jennifer Morrison), the heroine of the story. Emma is the child of Snow White and Prince Charming. She just doesn’t know it. A warning from Rumpelstiltskin and a cabinet made by Geppetto from a magical tree protected Emma from the curse. She grew up alone and made a living as a sort of private investigator, finding people whether they want to be found or not, but all the while never really finding herself. When she had a child at the age of 18, she gave him up for adoption. Little did she know that her son, Henry (Jared Gilmore), would come and find her and bring her back to Storybrooke. Henry somehow knows the truth, and he knows that Emma is the only one who can break the curse. Oh yeah, did I mention that his adoptive mom is The Evil Queen?
Rather than just being evil for the fun of it, Once Upon a Time paints the villains as sad people who just want to have happy endings with everyone else, but for reasons yet unexplained, their happiness has been denied. In the case of The Evil Queen, she says that something Snow White did ruined her life. We have seen other creatures – a blind old crone, and a giant among others – but if they also came to Storybrooke to find better lives, we haven’t seen them yet. Speaking of the Queen, she is the only one who retains her memories of her less than stellar fairytale life. This knowledge means she has an annoying habit of showing up whenever Emma and Henry start to make some progress at cracking the curse.
There’s only one thing I can’t figure out about Once Upon a Time. What’s so much better about The Evil Queen’s life? Sure, she’s the Mayor. She has power and leverage. The people she hates are stuck in time, separated, their lives unfulfilled. From the look of her house she has money. From the standards of every other villain, she has everything she should need to be happy. However, as I said, in Once Upon a Time even the villains are not all we expect them to be. The Queen craves the hallmark of a happy ending, love, and she may have tried to get it by adopting Henry. The smart ten year old has been rebelling against her since before Emma arrived on the scene though. Once again, the Queen is fighting what is surely is a losing battle because in the end the good will always win.
Unless Once Upon a Time is going to change that too?
I highly recommend this series for viewers of all ages and genre interests. After watching just the first seven episodes I know I am hooked. The writing is really impressive with a good balance of action, dialog, and witty humor, the irony is just incredible, the characters are engaging because we all grew up with them, and Emma and Henry are our proxies as well as our heroes. I give Once Upon a Time five SpaceGypsy wagons!
Once Upon a Time returns with new episodes tonight at 8/7:00 Central on ABC. Haven’t been watching it? You can catch up on Hulu!