I’ll be honest when I heard the original premise of Once Upon A Time, I was intrigued but I didn’t have much faith that it could be pulled off. One episode in and I’m starting to think I might actually have been wrong. For those that haven’t seen the show I’ll try to give some background. The show operates on the premise that fairy tales are real, this includes all of the ones we were told as kids. Things like Snow White and Seven Dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood, and Pinocchio are all real and take place in the same world. Needless to say, this lends itself to some strong fantasy elements and those are pulled of quite well.
If the thought of this show revolving primarily around fairy tales has you worried now is probably a good time to point out that only half of the show takes place in the world of fairytales. The other half occurs in what we would think of as the ‘real world.’ By that I mean a world pretty much like what we live in today. There are no witches, magic, or talking animals, just people and the technology of the modern world. So how does the show manage to switch back and forth between the worlds? It’s actually a pretty interesting twist on how to do things. There might be some spoilers from the first episode coming up, so if you haven’t seen it yet tread carefully.
The show is rooted in the fact that fairytales are real. Fairytale characters such as Snow White and Prince Charming exist in this world and they also exist in what a viewer would perceive as the real world. The show opens in the fairytale world and shows the meeting of Snow White and Prince Charming before leading to their wedding. One would expect that upon their marriage it would be a happily ever after ending, but sadly the wedding is interrupted by the Evil Queen who informs everyone to enjoy their happiness now as she has set forth a curse upon the land which will ensure there is no happily ever after. It is this curse that in essence expels the fairytale characters into the real world. However, before the curse can take hold the child of Snow White and Prince Charming is saved and sent to the real world before everyone else where it is prophesied that on her 28th birthday she will save all of the people of the land.
The characters are trapped in the small town of Storybrooke, Maine (notice the play on words here) where time is frozen. The hope for the salvation of the town is Emma Swan, who is unknowingly the child of Prince Charming and Snow White. However, she is unaware of this fact and assumes she was abandoned instead of saved from the curse that afflicted the fairytale land. Emma is also unaware of her role as the savior of Storybrooke, but begins to learn of it once visited by her given up for adoption son Henry. He informs Emma that she is his mother but also that fairytales are real based on the people within Storybrooke. It actually happens much better than I have described. Upon Emma’s return to Storybrooke, time begins to move once more and the viewer is lead to believe that Emma will eventually set things right within the town. For a full recap of the pilot episode I would suggest checking out Jes’ (aka onenerdycupcake) recap on Science Fiction.com its far more in-depth than mine.
What is interesting is that the writers and showrunners have said all of the shows will be split between the fairytale world and the real world. Much of the story from fairytale land will presumably be flashbacks to establish the relationships between the fairytale characters. It will be very interesting to see how similar these relationships between characters in the fairytale world are to their real world counterparts. In the real word they are unaware of their past as fairytale characters but many of the relationships seems to have developed in similar ways.
This show is built around mysteries such as how did the Evil Queen curse the town, when will people realize that they are actually fairytale characters, and how did Rumpelstiltskin (played fantastically by Robert Carlyle) end up in charge of Storybrooke. But, the show is not centered on all of these mysteries like you would see in BSG or Lost. Instead this is a character drama that revolves around multiple mysteries. What makes Once Upon A Time so different from BSG, Lost, or these other highly serialized show is that the viewers are let in on the secret from the very beginning while the characters are not. We know that everyone is a fairytale character and don’t have to guess. It takes the mystery away from the viewers but leaves it so we can see how the characters react as the plot progresses. In essence the story is revealed to the viewer and we aren’t left to guess what will happen. We know that Emma will one day save the town. There’s a little less mystery for a viewer but there’s a much more interesting dynamic between the characters because now we know exactly how everyone is connected. And it’s a twist I like.
What Once Upon A Time did in episode 1 was lay all its cards out and show everyone what will happen. The writers have once chance to hook viewers and that is in the first episode. I think they were able to do that by giving up the big secret from the very beginning and showing us how everything is interconnected and what the big secret is that needs to be discovered. It’s an interesting twist and I think it works well with this show. By doing things this way the writers have set things up to not exhaust the viewer patience trying to figure out the big mystery that ties things together. We know what happened and now we want to see how everything will be resolved. I know I will be checking in to see how things continue. I got hooked in episode one, and I think that many other people will have been as well.