Once Upon a Time Mirrors Lost And Murders Hunks
Once Upon a Time is based in two worlds: Storybrooke, Maine, and the somewhat more magical Fairy Tale Land. The citizens of Storybrooke are fairy tale characters that have been cursed to forget their happy endings and live like the rest of us.
The first scene sets up in full cliché the central fairy tale. Our story opens on a handsome prince riding desperately across a beach. Suddenly, Prince Charming is in the woods and demanding to kiss a dead woman in a glass box. Thus begins our plunge into Fairy Tale Land, and its complicated politics and happy endings. Based on the dwarfs, the glass coffin, and the guy trying to make out with her, this is Snow White’s Story. The following conversation offers us such romantically foreboding lines as “You never have to worry, I will always find you.”
Flash forward to their wedding, and our introduction to the Antagonist of the series: The Evil Queen. We are shown right away what she is capable of, as two guards are flung across the room with a wave of her hand. A dwarf handily identifies her as “the Queen,” and requests that Snow run. Instead, in her last show of feminine might for the episode, the bride draws her husband’s sword and fearlessly points it directly at the Queen’s lace doily.
It is not revealed what everybody in the room did to the Queen. Whatever it was, she opts for a more evil, time-consuming plan to take away everyone’s Happy Endings, to flexing her powers, and disappears in a cloud of smoke. This relationship is what the rest of the show is based around: Snow White versus the Queen. A lot of the tension centers around Snow White’s dire need to be with the man she loves, as this defines her happy ending. That, and settling down to bear his children and give up her adventuring ways.
Enter the real world. We are on a bus, and following a young boy.
Much of the pilot is consumed by the dynamic between Bail Bondsman Emma Swann and a son she gave up for adoption who shows up on her doorstep, armed with a story book. Emma is introduced through a short-skirted, high-heeled set up to collect on a bond. From this first and last glimpse at her lonely apartment, to later comments by her roommate-mother, it’s made clear to us that Emma not only unable to keep a man, she’s not alone by choice. There are heavy implications throughout the series that Henry will fulfill the huge lonely void in this single, capable woman’s life.
Once Upon a Time is really more about relationships and missed connections than anything else. Very similar to Lost, all of the characters are connected through their past life in more intimate ways than they would imagine. Unfortunately, it brings some of what killed Lost and even the Office’s atmosphere: The focus on characters Mary Margaret and David’s will-they-won’t-they relationship is not only frustrating, it threatens to swallow the otherwise excitingly suspenseful story lines.
The “real world”story line is kicked off when Emma drives Henry back home to Storybrooke, and is unable to leave. Henry informs his biological mother that everyone in Storybrooke is under a curse by the Evil Queen, and no one can leave. Also, no one can remember their magical pasts. And she is the daughter of his elementary school teacher (Snow White in the past life), and Prince Charming, whose whereabouts were then unknown. Finally, she has been destined to come and return everyone’s happy endings.
From this point on, everything the characters know, or think they know about their pasts comes from Henry’s book, paired with indecipherable flashes prompted by contact with Emma.
Mary Margaret Blanchard is the real-world incarnation of Snow White. In Fairy Tale Land she was exiled to the woods for an unknown reason, and resorted to thievery. Prince Charming is the comatose David Nolan. In an unfortunate turn of events, it is not necro-lip-rape that brings him back from the half-dead, but Mary Margaret reading over his hospital bed at the prompting of Henry. At this point, David/Charming seems to “remember” his fake past with his Storybrooke wife, placing a new barrier for him and Mary Margaret/Snow White’s reunion.
In the pilot, we were introduced to Rumpelstiltskin (the sticky-fingered Mr. Gold IRL). He has made deals with many, if not all of the townspeople back in Fairy Tale that still hold in Storybrooke.
Storybrooke’s mayor, and Henry’s adoptive mother, is Regina. Her Fairy Tale counterpart is the Evil Queen. While her fingers appear to be in everyone’s doings, Regina’s desire that a woman she does not know or have any reason to trust leave her son alone does not seem unwarranted. There are also heavy implications that only Henry’s birth mother could possibly love him the way he should be loved, unlike some lady that cared enough to adopt him.
There are other characters, such as Jiminy Cricket who is Henry’s therapist, Archie, that serve as foils to the more central characters. Also a confused and pregnant teenage Cinderella, whose story is mostly used to flesh out Rumpelstiltskins/Gold’s mob-boss-esque involvement in the town.
Many of the town’s reoccurring characters’ origins have been briefly revealed, though much of their involvement is in Storybrooke, as opposed to the Fairy Tale flashbacks. Some are obvious, such as “Granny,” while others are mostly in context clues and as background characters in principle scenes from the past. One of these characters is the cliched small-town tramp Ruby, who is, in fact, Red Riding Hood.
Much is taken for granted. Henry’s main reason for bringing his birth-mother in is that Regina is a bad mother. There is little evidence to this fact, however, except for the fact that we, as an audience, know that she is the Evil Queen, and assumedly incapable of love.
Let’s fast forward to our latest episode:
Now, we have been left with a big cliff hanger and some unanswered questions as we entered the month-long holiday break. In the Heart is a Lonely Hunter, the seventh episode we are a little over half way through the season. Instead of more answers, we get some disturbing twists. The town Sheriff (Graham), and back and forth love interest of Emma, is revealed to indeed be the Huntsmen in Snow White’s story. He cries over a kill in the first scene as dreamily as he does everything else, and sports the same tumble-down locks. In an equally eye-rolling moment, he is brought before the Evil Queen, who, in all her firm and evil power, tries to use her magical powers of seduction. She successfully hires out this hardened huntsmen with the steadfast policy to kill anything without mercy, then cry about it.
He is sent to accompany Snow White on a walk in the woods, and steal her heart in the non-romantic sense. The princess reveals she knows he’s an assassin and hits him with a log. A chase goes on for too many scenes, and she presents him with a letter so beautiful, and heart-wrenchingly full of remorse for whatever it was that made the Queen hate her so much, that he cannot kill her. Instead, he brings the Queen the heart of a deer. This is where things get truly dark.
Through out the episode so far, the Sheriff has been experiencing flashbacks to his Fairy Tale life. He goes AWOL after experiencing a disconcerting night bonding with wolves, and returns to sleeping with Regina. Oh, did I mention he has been sleeping with Regina, despite a cliché set up to hooking up with Emma? Let me use that as a shooting off point to jump back into Fairy Tale:
The Huntsmen presents his fake-human heart to the Queen, which she quickly discovers is fake. In place of Snow’s heart, she takes his, ripping it out of his chest with her bare hand (albeit, magically and bloodlessly). In a shocking turning of the sexual tables, she informs him that he now must do everything he is told to, and orders him dragged up to her bed chamber. Fairy Tale closes with a shot of his look of pure fear as the guards drag him through the massive double doors.
The episode ends in by far the most promising make out scene in the show yet, overlaid with Regina descending into what was supposed to be her father’s mausoleum. For the first time in the series, Regina pulls a move that crosses from Storybrooke into the Fairy Tale past. Her cabinet of human hearts is below a secret staircase in the pretend crypt. Here, she locates Graham/the Huntsman’s heart, takes it in her hand, and squeezes it to dust. Graham collapses, and assumedly dies, in Emma’s arms.
At this point, we do not know whose side Mr. Gold is actually on (if not simply his own). Similarly, who is on Regina/The Evil Queen’s side (At some point, all the townspeople seem to have been). Also, it’s possible several of the background characters remember some of their pasts, as this has been hinted at slightly. The next episode, airing tonight, will focus on Rumpelstiltskin’s personal back story, as well as his relationship with Regina in Storybrooke while Emma runs replace Graham.