Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Twice Upon a Time

Last November, Kat Howard and I talked about our reactions to the new fairy tale show on ABC--Once Upon a TimeBoth of us had concerns with the show, but in spite of that, I kept watching.

And for a while, I actually had hope that interesting things might develop.  I remained frustrated by the characterization of the mayor/queen, but the other characters began to show shades of gray, making them more interesting to watch. [spoilers after the jump for those who haven't been watching]

Snow White's real-world counterpart, Mary Margaret, for example, ends up having an affair with a married man.  Granted, this married man is her husband in the fairy-tale world, but this development adds complexity to Snow White's character as well as to the show as a whole.  One commenter on a forum about the show asked if it could really be considered cheating if Snow and her prince are married in the fairy tale world--a question that shows how Once Upon a Time is providing room for discussion and moral ambiguity.

I also appreciated how the different fairy tales were being twined together.  I really like the musical Into the Woods, and seeing Snow and Red Riding Hood team up was similarly satisfying.  I liked how Rumpelstiltskin and Belle's stories came together in a way that was new, but still fit with the themes of the original story of Beauty and the Beast.  It gave me hope that the show was doing more than just parroting archetypes, as I had initially thought, and instead, twisting things around a bit to make them say something new.

But in the last few weeks, that hope has died; rather than thoughtfully intertwine stories, Once Upon a Time now seems to be throwing them together in any way that they can, trying to get something, anything to work out.  The result is not a thoughtful complexity, which I had hoped for, but instead an odd sort of stew, with little bits of everything thrown in together.  This was particularly noticeable in the most recent episode--"The Heart of Darkness."  It wasn't enough to make Red a werewolf, to make her and Snow team up and become good friends, or to have real-life Mary Margaret and David (the real-world prince) have an affair, get discovered, and then separate.  No, the show then added in a murder mystery as well--David's estranged wife's heart is found in Mary Margaret's jewelry box, which is buried in the woods, David apparently goes missing for hours at a time with no recollection of what's going on, and Mary Margaret gets arrested.  Structurally, a murder mystery might make sense, given Emma's job as the town sheriff, but the way this is all presented doesn't add complexity to the characters--it adds confusion.  Rather that providing subtle yet provocative parallels between the real-world stories and the fairy tales, Once Upon a Time takes elements from both worlds and stirs them together into a giant mess that loses its connections to the very stories that are so central to the concept of the show.

I will probably keep watching Once Upon a Time, at least until the end of the season.  I want to see how the end of the season can provide any sort of resolution to the events of the show, especially since such resolution seems to be an "all-or-nothing" type of deal on Once Upon a Time.  And while I am willing to cut a new show some slack while it gets its legs under it, I am less inclined to be so generous with a show later in the season, particularly one that has shown it could get its act together, if only it wanted. to.