Once Upon a Time

To save my friend from my endless walls of text on skype, I just had to write a blog post about the TV show Once Upon a Time. This isn’t my usual kind of show, over the past few years I have broadened my tastes and now I like a lot of Sci-Fi. However, this is fantasy, not something that would usually get my attention.

I subscribed to Netflix for the free month, I wanted to watch Marvel’s Daredevil. To give Netflix their due, they know what they are doing as I’m now past my free month. We even got an Amazon FireTV box, in the sale, to make watching streaming services easier. As I was now subscribed I went through their catalogue looking for other shows to try.

The first episode made me want to watch the second, within a couple more I was safely hooked. I’ve now watched all of season one, and the first few episodes of season two. Really Netflix is a good fit for how I watch TV, as I binge watch everything. I don’t watch anything live, as I live in the UK. I’m used to getting the dvd’s, now with the FireTV box, Netflix works just like a dvd.

Anyway, the show itself, where do I even begin? Fair warning, it might seem like I’m complaining. Although it might not seem like that, the more I like something, the more I pick fault. I think it’s because I care enough to bother, I actually think about it rather than just accepting it for what it is and moving on.

Rumpelstiltskin/Mr Gold
He’s my favourite character. His initial performance was mesmerizing, there’s such depth to everything he does, everything he says. I’ve said this before but Robert Carlyle is a fantastic actor. I don’t often acknowledge that, usually it’s just enough that I believe in the character. However, his performance is extraordinary and I would be remiss not to mention it. I don’t actually know if he’s won any awards for it, or even been nominated, but in my opinion he most certainly should have, and definitely should have won.

Now a random observation. I don’t know if it’s because of the timeline, and how the fairytale land parts bounces around, but it seems that in season two Rumpel is less imp like. In the beginning of season one, his voice was different, he had that insane little giggle, even his looks were more exotic. Now in season two, he looks and sounds more normal.

I suppose the beginning of season one was when he was most extreme, that was right before the curse, so that was the closest to the present fairytale land got. If he got more insane/imp like over time then that could make sense, or maybe Robert Carlyle got tired/bored with the makeup and the effort those initial chilling performances required.

That was random but seriously as a character he’s incredibly compelling. Personally I don’t think he’s a monster or a beast either, I think he’s cursed with something far worse – common sense. Fairytale land seems to see everything in terms of good and evil, black and white, not the grey that is reality where the world really lives.

They say he’s a monster right but what does he actually do that’s so bad? There was that episode where Snow White, the dwarves, Granny and Red attacked King George’s castle looking to free Prince Charming. Some of the fight scenes were pretty bad, like banging into people and them just falling over bad, but even so there can be no doubt that some guards were killed. Clearly killing men just doing their jobs is ok, I would have thought that was a grey area personally. However, I get the feeling that things like that are ok if the ‘heroes’ do it, especially because they’ll ‘feel bad about it’, but they pass judgement if anyone else does something similar.

Everyone is always so quick to call Rumpel a coward but really he’s just sensible. What do reckless heroics ever achieve? In an episode I just watched last night he’s told that Hook (or whatever his name was at this point) took his wife, he goes to ask for her back. Hook tells him that they will have to duel for her. Now he’s younger, certainly more mobile as Rumpel is pre-dark one and can hardly stand without his cane. Rumpel is also not experienced in sword fighting, or at least it appears that Hook is more experienced.

What would fighting him have achieved? Rumpel was facing his death, which would have left his son Bae without a mum or a dad. He walked away, that’s not cowardice, that was the right thing to do.

Now I’m not saying that Rumpel isn’t a coward. In that same episode there was a scene where his wife offered that they move away, find somewhere where no-one knows him and wouldn’t call him a coward for whatever happened in the ogre wars. He refused, whether because he didn’t believe her offer was genuine, or because however uncomfortable the status quo was at least it was familiar. Change is scary, the unknown is even worse, it’s natural to be afraid. There is that old saying, the devil you know, which isn’t real cowardice, that’s just normal.

When it comes to cowardice I should next talk about Bae, the magic bean and Rumpel refusing to give up his power and go with Bae. Now Bae was thirteen, he was a child, he was inexperienced in how the world really works. I’m going to say something that I doubt the show will ever agree with – Bae was wrong.

I’m not saying that Rumpel is a good guy, I’m not saying that the dark one’s curse doesn’t corrupt his mind. However, he took that curse in order to protect his son in the first place. His desperation pushed past his fear, it made him brave enough to walk into a burning building, steal the dagger and kill the previous dark one. Perhaps it was because he was more frightened of the alternative, than he was of those actions. I know there’s the old saying, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but Rumpel did take that curse to protect his son. He brought an end to the ogre war, saving countless other lives.

Yes, his paranoia increased. Yes, his protectiveness went too far but the solution wasn’t to run away. The power Rumpel held was a great advantage, it changed his station in life. We’re all under someone’s power, we all answer to someone. He went from nothing, to being someone who could effect change, who could protect the person he loved the most. All power has it’s limits and it’s price. Running away, casting off into the unknown was not the answer, it wasn’t the right way.

Bae forced the issue, he decided he knew best but how could he? As a sheltered child, one who hadn’t even seen the horror of war, he didn’t know how the world really worked. Perhaps I’m more sympathetic to Rumpelstiltskin because of the type of flawed hero I usually write. I like bad guys that do good things, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it aligns with their own interests. I have no problem with heroes that work the situation to their advantage. In fact I find it more realistic, I find it more understandable because who in their right mind would risk their life for no reward? Everything in life is a risk, and that would be a pointless one.

Rumpelstiltskin and Belle
I didn’t actually intend for this entire post to be about Rumpelstiltskin. He might be my favourite character but there’s a lot more to the show than that. I think this post might just be an epic length to make up for it. Anyway, Belle and Rumpelstiltskin became my ship for this show from their introductory episode. It was just so perfectly done.

Usually I complain bitterly about relationships that are developed in just one episode, it feels rushed, I can’t sympathize with the characters and how they feel, because it doesn’t seem real, the emotions can’t be deep because it’s only been a few days. However, I don’t know how much time passed in the show but it didn’t feel rushed, it felt right. I could totally see the development, I could feel the growing emotions, I could see the coming trainwreck – it was awesome.

When the evil queen said that Belle was dead at the end, I knew that had to be a lie. However, I didn’t expect for her to suddenly show up in that episode with Grumpy and his fairy true love. That sort of didn’t make sense, I couldn’t make out why she was there. I really hope the show goes back at some point and fills in the blanks of what happened to Belle, after she left the dark castle.

Oh and random point but dwarves hatch from eggs? I guess it was convenient, they didn’t have to explain dwarve society, they just exist to work. However, watching them hatch, and wearing clothes and everything was just odd. How do the eggs even come to be in the first place?

Anyway, we really didn’t see anything more of Belle, besides a shot of her in the asylum, and realising Regina has locked her up, until the season one finale. Jefferson let her out, to cause Regina problems because she backed out on their deal. He told her to go to Gold, that Gold would protect her and man Gold’s face when she walked in the shop. Really they played that just right because he would have been heartbroken, he would have been bordering on disbelief. His true love, the one he thought dead, just walked in the door, talk about a shock.

The curse then was broken and she remembered him. This is bizarrely where the problems started. In their episode, Belle struck me as being very strong. She loved Rumpel for who he was, despite of what he was and perhaps even a little bit because of it. Seriously watching Rumpel’s reactions, his disbelief that anyone could even like him, that just really sold the whole thing. Anyway, he was scared of losing his power because he thought he needed it to find Bae.

He told her to leave, Belle left and in my mind I thought that she would come to regret that. I could see how she thought it was the only thing that she could do, but it’s the sort of spur of the moment decision that people regret. She left with dignity, she left almost to preserve their love, it was wrong but I get it.

Back in Storybrooke, Rumpel attacks Regina with a wraith. He promised Belle he wouldn’t kill Regina personally, he plays with words to get around that. Quite rightly Belle pulls him up on the technicality, saying that he went against what she meant, that he knew that and did it anyway.

However, the issue is that Belle is horrified that he hasn’t changed and walks out. She knows what he is like, ok so he isn’t cursed exactly here but she fell in love with the cursed version. Seriously what did she expect? Anyway, she then comes back after a long walk, says that she loves him and he’s not a monster, she’ll help him see that etc. Then a couple of episodes later, she sees him using magic, he doesn’t explain what he’s doing and she complains that he’s not changing. She walks out, says that she can’t be with him, that he’s a coward and won’t let her in. It’s that word again – coward.

I watched this and it was like watching a different person. I realize that stuff happened to Belle after she left the dark castle, I realize that having false memories and twenty-eight years in solitude is going to do a number on her mind. However, she’s not coming across as damaged which would maybe excuse it. In fact this kind of romantic trope is something I’ve seen a few times and I always hate it.

Relationships take work, they take effort, it’s about compromise. If she loves him, truly loves him, then she needs to love him for who he is, not just who she wants him to become. Yes, there’s compromise, people do need to change for others, so that they can work together as a pair and not just as individuals. However, that’s the sort of thing that takes work. What Belle is doing is demanding he change how she wants, throwing a tantrum the second he doesn’t and then walking out on the whole relationship. She’s using his love against him by constantly saying “I will leave you unless you do what I want.”

That isn’t love, that’s manipulative and wrong and mean. The right thing to do would be to have a fight, to get mad and say he needs to let her in, to explain things to her. Then after the fight he’d do what people do, which is give in a little. He actually did this in the show, explaining it and apologizing. The difference between what should have happened and what did happen, is that she left him, she walked out. They could have had their fight without her leaving.

The rest of the show
Yes there is actually more to the show than Rumpelstiltskin. My current big pet peeve is that the curse is broken, and everyone is still using their fake names. Seriously what is up with that? They remember who they are now, true they still have their false memories, but why wouldn’t their true selves come forward? I find it utterly bizarre that they are still calling each other the fake names.

Speaking of utterly bizarre why isn’t Regina locked up? They lock her up at the beginning, mostly for her own protection but then after the wraith that seems to have been forgotten. She has complete freedom of movement, true a simple jail cell wouldn’t hold her once she had magic back but they don’t do anything. Seriously she even goes to Dr Hopper for therapy, that has two black marks against it. One, using the false name which I mentioned before and two, I get he’s supposed to be a good guy but how does that make sense? He was one of those characters we saw trying to run from Storybrooke when Regina got her magic back, yet all of a sudden he’s ok being alone with her.

Oh speaking of when Regina got her magic back. She marched into the town hall and scared everyone. Henry said that she was there for him, which I guess she was. However, they let Regina take him with her. They just watched as they walked away. Now, I understand perhaps they thought that she wouldn’t hurt him, but there was no way they could know that for certain. After all, the mother they had ‘known’ was before the curse was broken. There’s no telling what she would do now the status quo has changed, now she has access to magic again.

I was absolutely horrified at that scene. He’s a child, they didn’t even make a token move to try and protect him. That was just wrong, extremely wrong.

Random but Charming has decided to be temporary Sheriff. That’s cool, I mean if people are looking to him for leadership and to fix problems, he might as well have the official title. However, my random point is the two gun holster he was wearing in that scene outside Granny’s. One, where did he get the guns? Two, does he even know how to use them? Three, wouldn’t it be more in keeping with his character for him to have his sword on his belt, or strapped to his back? Seriously, the sudden gun thing was weird.

Speaking of weird, why is Emma the only one freaked out that she’s the same age as her parents? I’m a little creeped out just watching it, I mean no wonder she’s having trouble coming to terms with it. Whenever she imagined meeting her parents one day, it would not have looked like that.

Oh about Emma, a thing I absolutely love is her common sense. She goes to fight a dragon, takes a sword and then says screw it and shoots the dragon. Now, it didn’t work because this is fantasy and so the sword has to be the weapon of choice. However, I really liked that for once the hero tried the easy option first. Usually I’m screaming at the TV, asking them to think about it. Then in fantasy land she goes for her gun again, it didn’t work obviously because fantasy land couldn’t allow something so sensible, but seriously the fact that she even tried made me love the show even more.

I also loved in the last episode I watched that the heroes weren’t stupid. They found Hook alive, they didn’t believe his tale, they didn’t let him lead them into some ambush. They acted preemptively, they used their brains and that’s good.

Happy Endings
I was going to end the post there but then I remembered a really important point. Henry says that the curse took away the happy endings. I sort of have a problem with that, as ending means ending. A story can have a happy ending, because a story can end at any point that it chooses. However, in life, there can be no happy ending except right before death, as otherwise life happens.

In my opinion there’s no such thing as a happy ending, there’s just a happy for now. Snow White and Prince Charming had their happy ending, the road to true love didn’t run smooth but they made it, they got married. That was their happy ending in the story. In life that was their happy for now, then stuff happens. In Once Upon a Time, what happened next was the evil queen cast a curse. That didn’t take away their happy ending, it just was more trials on the path between one happy for now and the next.

Regina and Motive
Leading on from happy endings, just what is wrong with Regina? In her origin episode she started off as a really nice, good person. She was kind and caring, how she went from that to being the evil queen is somewhat beyond me. I know the show continues to fill in the blanks but, at this point, it still doesn’t add up for me.

I don’t understand why she blamed Snow White. I can understand what happened with Snow so easily, someone who had as much compassion and empathy as Regina showed initially, I can’t believe even with heartbreak she wouldn’t see the truth and understand. Snow was manipulated by Regina’s mother, who played upon the fact that Snow didn’t have a mother and idolized mothers in general.

Plus I can’t quite get a handle on Regina’s character. One moment she’s cool, calculating and evil. The next we’re supposed to believe that she cares about Henry, or about what other people think of her. I realize that perhaps she’s conflicted herself, but it doesn’t come across that way.

Now Rumpelstiltskin he comes across as conflicted, as someone who is at war with themselves and their issues. He makes bad choices, perhaps choices that he regrets afterwards but he hides that regret as he’s a monster, perhaps he even excuses what he does as he’s the beast. Regina doesn’t have that sort of depth to her, she doesn’t have a conflict I can understand. I just don’t understand her character, perhaps because it’s a writing issue, and therefore hard to explain within the context of the show.

Forgotten Characters
The show weaves a very complex narrative. In most episodes there is the storyline back in Storybrooke, then there is another storyline which fills in the blanks of something that happened in the past back in fairytale land. Whatever snippet of the past is being shown relates somehow to the current present day storyline. At the moment, at the start of season two there are three storylines. The two I just named and a third, taking place in present day fairytale land.

It’s the sort of backwards and forwards storytelling that really confuses people who don’t pay attention, and can’t remember and then place things in the proper order in their mind. I have no trouble as I’m hooked on the show, completely going for my obsessed fan label yet again. However, one problem with this quite frankly cool storytelling technique is story threads get dropped.

The show picks back up on the main storylines but there are others which aren’t revisited. They could always be revisited in the future, or they could just be forgotten in favor of another storyline. That is the risk that this technique runs, the dropping of previously started story threads. Regular viewers might not even notice, and probably wouldn’t care beyond wondering what happened to X or with Y. However, I notice and I remember and quite frankly I sympathize.

Usually my favourite character is not a main character. I’m quite fond of background characters, I always want to see more of them. With Once Upon a Time I’m quite lucky because my favourite character is Rumpelstiltskin, who is very much a main character and gets a large amount of screen time.

This is great for me but what if someone really liked Cinderella? She’s all but disappeared and we never did find out what happened to her husband back in fairytale land after they captured Rumpel. There was just a suggestion that he’d paid the price for the magic, but what price did he pay and where did he go?

Oh randomly, that quote “All magic comes with a price.” is so memorable. It’s one of those phrases that I can hear in my head, I can hear the actor saying it. There are other lines like that but not very many. Professor Xavier in X-Men, Patrick Stewart really made an impression. Most shows don’t have that, Once Upon a Time does.

Also Tony Amendola, he is wasted as Geppetto/Marco as he’s not in the show enough. I know that as Bra-tac he wasn’t in Stargate SG-1 very much if you count episodes. However, he had a real presence so it felt like he was there a lot, even though he wasn’t. Unfortunately the same can’t be be said for Once Upon a Time. He is a fantastic orator, he should be doing speeches or something, dispensing wise wisdom because he always sounds so wise. He was occasionally brilliant in Continuum like that.

I really need to stop typing. Every time I think I’m going to end the post I then think of something else to say. However, this is possibly already my longest blog post ever. If it’s not the longest, it’s certainly up there in the top five.

I suppose it’s been a bit of a stream of consciousness about how much I love this show. Finding new shows to love is always good. I’m the queen of rewatching, dvd boxsets are not wasted on me, but watching something for the first time, well it can never be replicated.

Rewatching allows to go back and revisit a world that otherwise we don’t get to see. Either because we’re waiting for new episodes to be released, or because no more will ever be made. I’ll never say anything against rewatching, but after I’ve seen something a few times, it’s just not the same.

I’m still in the early heady stages, I’ve only just recently found the show, there’s still so much to see and so much potential. What will I think when I’ve watched more of it? Who knows, I guess I’ll just have to watch more. All four seasons are on Netflix already, as Netflix picked up distribution for the UK. I hope that they will do the same with season five, so that they will add the episodes to netflix a week after it airs in the states.

Part of me says to slow down and savor the episodes. The other part of me just wants to watch them, to dive in and learn everything the show has developed so far. I have read some things online but nothing beats seeing it actually play out, context is everything.

Considering this show really isn’t what I usually go for I guess that means one of two things. Either the show is so good it transcends genre, or I’m missing out on great stuff in other genres because it’s usually invisible to me. I guess I’ll have to go looking for some other stuff to watch, see if I can prove which theory is true.

Definitely recommended.

One thought on “Once Upon a Time

  1. Epic. Post.

    First, let me say, you need to blog more about OUAT. Often. Because I want to read. Heh.

    Also let me say, I need to re-watch OUAT. Because, although I remember the basic storylines—most of the basic storylines—I’ve forgotten details, especially in season one and two.

    Point: I’m pretty sure the characters in Fairytale Land you are talking about, we see again a little later, if it’s those I’m thinking of. Several characters make extra guest appearances at later dates.

    I think I sympathize with Bae more than you do—not that you are wrong at all. Whether that’s because I’ve seen Bae in the episodes you haven’t watched yet (trying not to spoil here!), or just because, well, we are different, I don’t know. But the whole Bae/Rumple relationship is just very sad—at lot of Rumple’s issues stem from his own childhood and father, which you’ll see in season three, I believe. Major twist on a fairytale there, heh. Bae and Rumple tried to do their best for each other, because at one point they were each other’s world, and, well, it just went wrong. On both sides. But, I guess I can see why Bae was pissed off with his dad. /shrug

    As for Rumple and Belle? Oh, you have much more shouting at the screen to come as yet. Heh. I’ll actually be interested to see what you have to say about Belle/Rumple in the latter half of season 3 and 4.

    Henry and Regina. Yeah, I got why Henry chose to go with her; in my mind, he felt he was protecting everyone else; he wanted to be the hero, in a way (I don’t mean selfishly so). And he knew she would never truly hurt him. And I think that was everyone else’s reasoning too, to a degree. I think (if I remember correctly) in the end, Emma let him go with her, until she could find a way to shop Regina once and for all. I could have a different opinion on a re-watch. Like I said, I’ve forgotten a lot of things.

    Anyway, glad you are enjoying it. Please blog again about this show. It’s an very interesting read.

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