Once Upon a Time: When a Series Thinks it’s Smarter than its Viewers

Once Upon a Time, we need to have a serious talk.

I used to watch you back when you first were just a fledgling first season, hoping to gain new followers and break new ground. I was ecstatic when I found out that there was finally going to be a series about my childhood fairy tales coming to life and having to live in the real world and all the troubles that were going to come from that. I wasn’t expecting “Fables” (a wonderful comic book series from Bill Willingham which ABC had once had the rights to) or even the RP that I belonged to at a time that drew inspiration from this type of story- but I had really high hopes for it.

Quickly in the first season we were introduced to a multitude of characters and everything seemed to be coming together wonderfully, we had many characters that we recognized from Disney movies (obvious since ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Company) and even some fairy tales, with the great inclusion of Robert Carlyle as Rumpelstiltskin (or as you spell it “Rumplestiltskin”),  some interesting twists on the tales that we already knew and loved (Red’s story broke my heart), and some truly lovely relationships that tore at the heart.

Season Two though almost had me immediately shutting off my tv. We were rushed into meeting multiple characters, were thrown into the fairytale world out of nowhere, and overall the season felt like it had no real rhyme or reason. After stopping my viewing half way through, I started to read the recaps and became extremely angry with the way that characters were treated, relationships were displayed, and from there I started to realize how awful this show was at portraying love, which claims to be its central theme.

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I have multiple grievances when it comes to this show, especially with how poorly written it is. The main characters are basically just tropes, and there’s not a lot of character development. Say what you will, but none of the lead characters have seemed to grow in three seasons and multiple story lines. Rumplestiltskin/ Mr. Gold still is lying to everyone he knows about what’s going on, The Evil Queen/ Regina is still evil and blaming everyone else for her troubles, and Emma is still the golden child who is there to save the world. In only three seasons there have seemingly been 4 different stories, and all have seemed incredibly rushed. When a show relies on plot twists, love triangles, and cheap ploys like how every main character is related to each other, it’s simply just a sign of poor writing.

But besides that, the show portrays incredibly toxic relationships as “True Love”. We have met multiple couples that fit this trope, Snow White and Prince Charming, Rumplestiltskin and Belle, Emma and Henry, and recently Regina and Henry. Out of these, two of the relationships have been built on lies and manipulation. Rumple and Belle’s relationships has been built upon lies once she regained her memory in Storybrooke. After she begs him not to harm Regina for what she did to her, he goes and does just that. Now at the end of Season 3, after she begs him to not harm Zelena (Once’s version of the Wicked Witch of the West) he goes and does just that, and gives her a fake dagger (which is what controls him) even after she tells him she doesn’t want it. I was disgusted to find out that a ship I once supported ended up becoming married under these huge lies- something I don’t have confidence in the writers for writing out realistically. I don’t care that it’s a fairy tale- he has manipulated and lied to her from the time she came back into his life; if this is ever resolved “True Love’s Kiss” shouldn’t be able to fix this.

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My other problem comes from the recent revelation that Henry and Regina also constitute as True Love. In the first season, we witnessed Regina constantly pushing Henry away from others, leading him to the conclusion that he’s crazy, and her actions led to his death at the end of the season. She constantly claims to be trying to reform, but over the course of the series we have just witnessed her manipulating people over and over again trying to find her own happiness. This woman created the curse so that no one could be happy and while she might have created the second curse that sent everyone to Fairy Tale land and let Henry and Emma have a safe life in New York, she still is also the woman who has killed children, tried to kill Snow White over something she did as a child, manipulated  and raped Graham/ the Huntsman (I am one of the people who believe that he didn’t have the ability to consent to their relationship), and in the latest season fell in love with the man who’s wife she held captive and executed in one timeline. An abusive relationship should never be portrayed as True Love, and the writer’s decision to make it so is absolutely horrendous. They wouldn’t portray Regina’s relationship with her mother Cora as True Love, so why the decision to make her and Henry true love?

I have multiple other problems with the show, the unimaginative explanations for magic, the love triangles, the “redemptive” path for characters that are filled with lies and deception, and how character’s are just introduced and then thrown to the wayside. I can’t stand how these characters who go about killing and working for evil are expected to change just for love and how the show presents this as good. But when the newest news came out regarding the next season, I gave up one hundred percent.

Yes, after all the jumping of the shark that this series has done, introducing “Frozen” is the greatest one. It’s obvious that now the show runners only care about exploiting a popular series that is going to draw in viewers and make more money for them. Frozen hadn’t even been out for a year when Elsa was revealed in the season 3 finale and with the recent news that they were casting for Anna and Kristoff along with Elsa (as yet another mysterious woman who will have some relationship with Rumplestiltskin), I have officially given up on this show.

How can I support a show with abusive relationships portrayed as good, writers who insult the intelligence of their viewers with huge plot holes and underdeveloped characters, a severe lack of diversity (out of 14 main characters, only one is a POC), and on top of this, another cheap ploy to make a buck off of an incredibly popular series?

ABC, get your act together.

8 responses to “Once Upon a Time: When a Series Thinks it’s Smarter than its Viewers

  1. I completely agree. I haven’t watched this show since season one and probably won’t return. It hugely disappointed me especially in regards to the character development. Characters make the story for me and Once doesn’t have any true characters.

    • I have to agree: none of the characters seem fully fleshed out. These characters have been established for years and to see them reduced to nothing more than a few characteristics is insulting. Even the original characters they have (Emma, Henry, Neal, etc.) either just feel like a trope or a plot device, not an actual character. It’s sad.

  2. You put all the right gifs to used!!
    I agree with you that some of the characters are just tropes. And the writers have sometimes messed up and created some plot holes.

    However the point you mentioned about them introducing characters and then throwing them away has everything to do with the actors getting jobs on other shows. It’s not the writers. Lastly, Regina and Cora’s relationship was not true love but Regina and Henry’s is now. It didn’t used to be, I’m with ya on that, but it is now in season 3.

    • Haha thanks on the gifs! I thought long and hard for them. (;

      The characters I thought of for introducing and then discarding were King George (who was a villain and then just sort of disappeared), Tamara and Greg (who could have had a lot of potential and then were thrown away for the Neverland plot), Anton, and a few others who escape me right now. I understand that a lot of them moved on to different shows/ projects (Meghan Ory, Jamie Chung, and of course Sebastian Stan), but my main grievances were the characters who were plot devices rather than mainstays or simply just one shot fairy tale land guest spots. It was something that I really liked about the first season- seeing all of these characters interact with one another. Since the second season the focus is on the cluster of the family tree that is the Charmings/ Regina/ Rumple and it’s lost that charm.

      And yes, Regina and Cora’s relationship is definitely not true love, I didn’t mean to imply that. I don’t like the trajectory of Regina’s “redemption” though and don’t believe that she’s done much to repair her relationship with Henry. Two people can love each other but it still doesn’t mean it’s healthy or “True”. I really do want Regina to get her happy ending, but ending the season on the note that they did with the Robin/ Marian/ Emma/ Regina fiasco didn’t inspire much confidence for me.

      I just wish that they would have one solid season with a strong plot line that would get the show on a straight path. All of this jumping around is dizzying, you know?

      Thanks for your input! I’ll keep it in mind if I try to rewatch some more recent episodes.

      • That’s true. Lol yeah, where King George went is the question of the century. My pleasure! I enjoy reading what you have to say 🙂

  3. Me, too. I totally agree.But I also suffered through season 2, hoping that the plot would get better. It didn’t. It was lame, the way the characters went through so much, only to learn that all their efforts are in vain. Such a letdown is depressing for a viewer. We want to be entertained, and share in the triumphs of our heroes. Then we want to see their next challenge. We don’t want to know that everything they went through was wasted. Sort of like The Matrix 2, where we expected the plot to move forward. Unfortunately, it turns out that everything we saw in The (first) Matrix was revealed to be false. And we go back to square one. Waste of time. Same with the characters. After all they went through, they never grew. So what’s the point? Why is the series still on the air?

    • Well the series still has dedicated fans and it’s a huge tie in with Disney so as long as they’re making money off it it’ll be on the air! And I l have to agree with your point that we want to share in the triumphs of the heroes. Once doesn’t really afford us that opportunity because once something remotely good happens something turns around and makes it 10x worse.

  4. Preaching to the choir! I lost interest during the last part of season 1. I felt that it was going nowhere but I gave it a chance and finished the season. I even started on season 2 but my bullshit detector came crashing through my roof screaming *does not compute*. So, when they launched Once upon a time in Wonderland I thought perhaps I didn’t like the characters or the story in the original, and gave the new one a chance. ‘Cause I love Alice. Total failure. Haven’t seen anything since. Didn’t even know about the Frozen tie in.

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