And So It Begins – Once Upon a Time

Once Upon A Time  – the very phrase brings to mind fantastical tales of fair damsels, charming princes and magical enchanted lands. Where love triumphs over hate and evil is always destroyed. But such fairy tales are nothing more than make-believe bedtime stories to send little children to a peaceful sleep. Or are they?

ABC’s new series Once Upon A Time bridges the gap between Happily Ever After and the complicated modern world. The tale begins when 10-year-old Henry Mills arrives on the doorstep of his birth mother Emma Swan – a tough as nails, emotionally detached bail bondswoman who hasn’t seen Henry since the day she gave him up for adoption.

When most kids go searching for their birth parents they are looking to re-connect, learn about their history and get answers to typical queries like ‘why did you give me away?’. But little Henry has a far stranger mission. He hails from the small town of Storybrooke, Maine and he’s convinced that all the residents are lost fairy tale characters trapped in suburbia – living a timeless existence with no memory of their true identities. Henry believes Emma is actually the daughter of Snow White and that she alone can break the evil curse.

Emma doesn’t exactly buy what he’s selling and who can blame her? Coming face to face with your kid is shocking enough. Accepting fiction as reality and embracing your destiny as a savior? Yeah … that’s gonna take some time!

But WE know the dark truth that lies behind Henry’s seemingly crazy ramblings. Once Upon A Time interweaves the present day story with fairy tale scenes that give us context and history. On the day of Snow White’s wedding to Prince Charming, the Evil Queen was overcome with anger and jealousy. She crashed the ceremony and swore to make everyone pay for their insolence, threatening to unleash an evil curse that would put an end to ‘happily ever after’. Approximately 9 months later, as Snow White is giving birth to her first daughter, the curse finally arrives. But before it reaches the castle, Snow and Charming place their newborn daughter Emma inside a magic tree that transports her far away to safety. It has been foretold she will someday break the curse.

Although Emma doesn’t believe Henry, she does agree to drive him back home to Storybrooke where she clashes with his cold, overbearing adoptive mother and finds herself embroiled in strange events.

The Players

Emma Swan
A 20-something year-old bail bondswoman, who is nothing like the typical fairytale heroine. She’s pushy, sarcastic and far from delicate. Emma is an orphan with no family, who never stays in one place for too long. She doesn’t want to be a mother, but she’s drawn to Henry and becomes determined to protect him. Through her job and her tough life she’s learned to spot a liar and is disturbed by her sense that Henry’s mother Regina doesn’t really love him. Emma decides to stay in Storybrooke for awhile, to watch over Henry. By sticking around she inadvertently starts a war with Regina who is the Mayor of Storybrooke. But Emma refuses to back down and even attempts to fight back – taking a chainsaw to the Mayor’s prized apple tree.

Henry Mills
A troubled young boy who has found solace in a book of fairy tales, Henry has a tumultuous relationship with his adoptive mother and believes that she is the Evil Queen.

Evil Queen/Mayor Regina Mills
The Evil Queen had a HUGE hate-on for Snow White and when her original sleeping curse backfired – hello true love’s first kiss! – she devised another plan to inflict misery. And this is one cold bitch who will go to any lengths for revenge. In order to enact the curse, she had to cut out the heart of the thing she loved the most: her own father!

As Mayor of Storybrooke she has the whole town trembling in fear. No one actually recalls voting for her, but she’s been in power as long as they can remember.

Snow White/Mary Margaret Blanchard
In Storybrooke, Snow White is Mary Margaret Blanchard, Henry’s good-natured teacher. A soft-spoken and sweet young lady, Mary feels a strong connection to Emma, the feisty new stranger in town. When the mayor has Emma arrested for breaking and entering, Margaret puts up her bail and lends a sympathetic ear. It was Margaret who gave Henry the book of fairy tales. She saw how lonely he was and hoped it would offer him comfort.

Prince Charming/Coma Patient
As the curse was engulfing the Enchanted Forest, it was Prince Charming who carried his daughter to the tree and sent her to safety. He had to fight his way through the Queen’s evil guards and was stabbed through the stomach. In Storybrooke he’s known as John Doe – a comatose patient at the local hospital.

The Queen may be a mega-bitch but he’s the one with really frightening powers. In fairy tale land, Rumpel was locked up in a dungeon because of his disturbing visions of the future, but Snow White and Prince Charming sought his help after the Queen’s threats. He confirmed their worst fears of the curse, but also revealed the key to breaking it – their unborn daughter. But his info never comes without a price and he demanded to know the name of the child … which supposedly gives him power.

But Rumpel doesn’t mention that he’s also the person who gave the Queen the curse in the first place. He counsels her on how to enact it and also warns her about Snow White’s unborn child. In return for his service, he demands that he be wealthy and free in the new land. He also insists that if he should ever ask the Queen for anything, that she must heed his every request as long as he says please. But he won’t remember any of this, so that shouldn’t matter … right?

In Storybrooke, Rumpel is Mr. Gold, a rich and influential resident. He seems nice enough, but that doesn’t make him any less creepy! It’s revealed that Mr. Gold was the person who procured a baby (Henry) for Regina. Seems too much of a coincidence that he would bring back the child of the one person with power to break the curse. So how much does he really know and whose side is he actually on?

Jiminy Cricket/Archie Hopper

Everyone’s favourite little green cricket is Dr. Archie Hopper … Henry’s therapist. Terrified of Regina, he gives in to all her demands, even setting up Emma on a breaking and entering charge. But he does really care about Henry and believes that fairy tales are the language that is helping Henry cope with his unhappiness. He counsels Emma not to shatter the child’s imagination or discount his fantastical theories.

Sheriff Graham
Sheriff Graham is the law in Storybrooke. While he has a healthy amount of fear for the Mayor, he’s not quite a push-over. He has to obey her to a certain extent, but he’s on the fence about her judgment. Interestingly, he seems to be the only character with an unidentified fairy tale identity. I’m hoping we’re in for a killer reveal.

Bit Players
In Storybrooke, Little Red Riding Hood/Ruby and her Granny run a local inn, and the Evil Queen’s magic mirror is a reporter for the paper. We’ve seen some great cameos in the Enchanted Forest as well. The Evil Queen got into a delicious girl fight with frenemy Melificent, and Gepetto and the Blue Fairy helped build the tree that sent Emma to safety.

First Impressions

I’m a sucker for fantasy, but it’s the duality of this show that is really intriguing. With every modern day character having a fairy tale alter-ego to explore, there’s so much juicy material to mine! I can’t wait to see which character turns up next in Storybrooke and how their back story plays out in the Enchanted Forest.

The casting is nothing short of brilliant. With her jet-black hair, brazen red lips, and stony expressions, Lana Parrilla is deliciously evil as Regina/Evil Queen. Ginnifer Goodwin is the picture of demure innocence as Snow/Mary Margaret. And Robert Carlyle as Rumpelstiltskin? YEESH! He is bone-chillingly creepy. I get the heebie jeebies just watching him.

There is always going to be a certain amount of ‘cheese’ that comes with a show like this. You’re dealing with people whose names are ‘Snow’ and ‘Charming’. But the mix of modern and fable tempers the melodrama just enough to keep the action grounded in real emotion.

I think I’m going to have to brush on up on my fairy tales if I want to stay one step ahead of the game. For example, I can’t remember what in the hell Snow White ever did to the Evil Queen other than be prettier than her – but apparently she took something precious that ruined any chance of future happiness.

Burning Questions

-How much does Regina know about her fairy tale past? It’s been left a little ambiguous as to whether the Evil Queen’s memory survived the curse. Henry is worried that she knows and has gone to great pains to hide key pages in his fairy tale book. And can it really be a coincidence that she chose to call her son Henry … the same name as the beloved father she murdered? But she hasn’t actually come out and done anything that reveals the depth of her awareness. So we’re left wondering.

-On that same note, does Rumpel know the truth?

-How does it really work with no one aging? Henry himself is an outsider. We know he’s from the real world because Emma gave birth to him and he’s aged normally. So when he arrived in town as a baby, did he start to notice as he grew up that no one else was getting any older. Does he keep advancing grades while the other kids in his class stay the same age? And speaking of children, can people in Storybrooke have them or did all the other children in town already exist in fairy tales?

BAH! My head hurts, but I’m cool with it. 😉

Photo Courtesy of ABC

2 thoughts on “And So It Begins – Once Upon a Time

  1. I LOVE this show and I a pleasantly surprised how much I love the other fairy tail show GRIMM! It’s a great modernization of some tried and true stories. I really enjoy realizing who the characters are.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *