TV Review: Once Upon a Time

The first time I mentioned Once Upon a Time here on my blog was almost three years ago now. It’s crazy just to think that I’ve actually been blogging for that long already, it feels like I just barely started yesterday. It’s also a little depressing to think that a show I was clearly enjoying so much back then has gone so far downhill, as has my experience with it. Back then, it was a shoo-in addition to my weekly lineup, but since then, they just made so many missteps that my patience finally wore out last season and I dropped it weeks before the finale.

So, this is one of those shows that has good points, especially in the earlier seasons, and bad points, especially in the later seasons.

I said this before, way back when, but I was certain that I would not like Once Upon a Time. The commercials just didn’t sell me on anything about this. But then my dear friends commented on how much Rumpelstiltskin and I were alike, and when someone says that, well, you just have to watch the show, ya know? I watched, and was pleasantly surprised.

Easily my favorite part was Rumple himself, who I so loved being compared to! Were I an immortal, all-powerful, psychotic dark wizard in a fantasy world, I would so act like him! His flair and flamboyance! His hilarity, concealing his conniving machinations! I mean, what’s the point of being so powerful if you can’t have a bit of fun with people?

Prince Charming needs something, and the price, “How about your coat?”
“My coat? Why do you want my coat?”
“It’s drafty in here.” As he obtains something vital to his plans, namely one of Charming’s hairs. From the coat.

Of course, I always had some issues, but they proved to be fairly small. While the narrative was a little choppy, as the audience is let in on pretty much everything from the beginning, and while there’s plenty of cheesy camp-factor, and while… we shall say, many obvious liberties… are taken with our beloved childhood stories, particularly the ones told to us by Disney, still, the show told an entertaining tale. It improved considerably over the first few seasons, especially with the culmination of the first two seasons in the third season’s Neverland arc, which led to the Wicked Witch of the West arc, and then they pulled a trick out of their hat to bring about the Frozen arc, all while keeping us in our seats.

“The Neverland Arc: our show’s greatest height!”

Flaws notwithstanding, I enjoyed the earlier seasons immensely. We have complex, interweaving plots and subplots involving all manner of characters we can enjoy and relate to on some level as they go through pivotal moments and changes in their lives.

I love all the nods to Disney culture. They’re everywhere in the show, if also adapted for it. A dancing singing cup (Chip, from Beauty and the Beast) would be a bit out place, but not a chipped teacup that holds special significance to Belle and Rumpelstiltskin. (and I love how they dance to the movie’s theme song on their honeymoon)

I also very much enjoyed how they redeemed both Rumple and Regina. The former was saved by having legitimate hidden depths within him, revolving around his drive to make things right with his son, combined with his genuine affection for Belle, which served to bolster his selflessness and his humanity. The latter was saved by her tragic origins and her experiences with the other characters, even her victories, most especially the act of raising a son, and her eventual, genuine repentance for her past misdeeds. And both stories were brought to a head with the third season, where hero and villain alike found themselves dealing with people who were even worse than these two icons of villainy.

And then things began going wrong. It was slow, gradual, but the decline is evident.

They undid Rumple’s redemption, for one, for which they lost much of my love and even tolerance for the character. They went back and forth with that, even when they had him still doing utterly reprehensible things for no better reason than his own greed. And still they kept him around as a sometimes-ally serving his own agenda. Reaching much?

For another, they kept using the same ideas over and over again, including villain-redemption arcs, which rather undermined the idea of justice on the show. They repeated the half-season arcs, which became both repetitive and progressively more and more convoluted. And how many times did they stop the imminent threat of destruction by having the villain suddenly turn back for whatever reason?

A small taste of the convolution that is Once Upon a Time.

They also let a number of loose threads just hang. There are several but I am most thinking of Lily, Emma’s childhood friend and the anti-Christ to her Savior role, the daughter of Maleficent and an unidentified male figure. Whatever happened to her? They just had her and her mother just drop out of sight without further comment. I was actually looking forward to seeing her story unfold, and they literally did nothing with it.

And the couplings, the couplings, the couplings! I liked some of them, especially Snow and Charming, as it was involved and dramatic and they took the time necessary for it. Regina and Robin was pretty great, but that took strange and fatal turns. Belle and Rumple was a little off-putting with the visible age difference, and the odd complexity of the Hook-Emma-Neal triangle was a bit disturbing on the face of it. But what really began annoying me was how they began treating the later pairings. Red and Dorothy, Aladdin and Jasmine, some others, they barely did anything more than meet and they were instantly in true love with each other. It. Was. Ridiculous!

And was it just me or did they have the heroes become stupider and more idealistic as time went on?

So, stepping back, if we look at a timeline of the series, it starts off good, steadily increases in quality through the first two or three seasons, maybe declines a little but mostly holds true for the Wicked Witch and Frozen arcs, and then it goes decidedly downhill, and keeps doing so until the end of the sixth season, which is where we are right now.

There’s still a lot of things to like, though, even when it’s bad. The villains are great, especially as they interact with each other. There are a number of tender moments as well, though my personal favorite heart-tugging moment And it was fantastic seeing Henry growing up. There’s a reason they kept managing to buy another week of my patience for so long.

So, I look forward to the seventh season of Once Upon a Time with mixed feelings. They’re clearly trying to reinvigorate the show with a soft reboot, keeping some things, changing others, rewriting the story without erasing it. A bit of that sounds like they’re doing the same thing over again, but there may be something promising here. If they’re trying to rework their old, most successful formula, their may be renewed hope for the show yet.

For now, I have to say Once Upon a Time is a half-and-half show. Half of it is great, and the other half is really not.

Rating: 7 stars out of 10. (9 for the earlier seasons, 6 for the later seasons)

Grade: C-Plus. (A-Minus for the earlier seasons, D-Plus for the later seasons)

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