Watch This: Once Upon A Time

photo of once upon a time pictures
You guys, my Super Best Friend has only recently started watching Once Upon A Time. He and I tend to watch a lot of different television shows and put off watching others or giving others a try. When we finally do, the result is usually similar to Squidward’s first time tasting a Krabby Patty on SpongeBog Squarepants: “All the wasted years!”

I mean, he’s the guy who first got me to watch Gossip Girl, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Dante’s Cove, Titan Maximum, and Gundam Wing. And, soon, Revenge, which I know is totally up my alley. “This is not a story about forgiveness.” That line could be the blurb under my biography.

Right, so, the show comes on ABC on Sunday nights and, honestly, I was not all that impressed when I watched the first few episodes. Well, the first episode. It’s one of those shows that has an awkward beginning but gets better and better until you can no longer remember a time when you were not in love with the show. Every week slows to a crawl as you anticipate the arrival of the next episode.

Yeah. This show also has a very rabid fandom.

I want to talk about the women on the show. Women have not, historically, had the best roles in fairy tales. They tend to be the villains or the helpless damsels. And while Disney “villains” are typically the most interesting parts of the films (and ABC is a part of Disney, so there are overt references on the show to Disney’s interpretations of a few fairytales. Jiminy Cricket is a character, the “Evil Fairy” from Sleeping Beauty is called “Maleficent,” etc), the princesses did not really possess a great deal of agency until more recent years.

Regina Mills is, as far as I am concerned, the main character. In season one, the writers try to make her out to be the primary antagonist, but …

… by season two, they have basically given up on the idea of the audience rooting against her. This is a powerful woman with a tragic backstory, and she fell prey to the manipulations of the other Most Interesting Person on the show: Rumplestiltskin.

Regina is (or, rather, was, in the enchanted forest where the story’s characters lived before she brought them to Storybrooke, Maine) a powerful sorceress and a queen (the “evil queen” from Snow White, who was never an interesting character, really, until I saw this show). Even in our world, without magic, she is a powerful woman with a commanding presence (Lana Parrilla portrays her perfectly). The people in Storybrooke do not even remember who she was (or who they were) in the other world, and they are nevertheless terrified of her. She is raising an adopted son, Henry, and trying to be the best mother that she can (and she’s not perfect, but she is not a bad mother. Jiminy Cricket almost seems offended at the notion when someone asks if Regina might ever hurt Henry—his answer is “Everyone else, but not him.”).

This show is really weird about adoption. I’m just going to put that out there. As if genetics mean anything when it comes to who is or is not your parent? So there is this really uncomfortable struggle over Henry, and Henry is just the worst, too. I will not even get into that. The actor does a great job, but goodness I cannot think of a single viewer of the show who likes Henry.

I do like how some typical storytelling elements are turned on their heads. For example, Captain Hook is a man who, although a skilled combatant, sometimes relies upon how ridiculously attractive he is in order to curry favor with women. That is a role which, in traditional and often sexist fiction, tends to be assigned to a woman. We usually see things like this in the seductive female secret agent who sleeps with a man much more powerful than she is. Instead, it’s Captain Hook using how gorgeous he is to make sure that the powerful and evil sorceress, Cora, does not kill him, even after he betrays her. I love that kind of role-reversal.

Also, Cora is the worst and she scares the crap out of me. She is actually two characters from well-known stories, but I will not spoil that by revealing any of them. She’s Regina’s nightmarish mother. Every flashback with her in it is enjoyable to watch but also terrifying.

The main characters are Regina, Emma (whose parentage and role on the show is complex, so I will leave that for you to see on the show—she is, allegedly, the protagonist), Snow White, Henry, and Rumplestiltskin. Prince Charming, Red (Riding Hood), and Belle also play major roles. We are about a third of the way through season two, and Aurora and Mulan have both been introduced.

You notice that those are a lot of women? Yeah. They are each distinct, they are each, in their own way, strong female characters (even Snow White, oddly enough, who kind of has a forest thief/Katniss thing going on). And I love that.

So watch Once Upon A Time. Is some of the dialogue (mostly in the flashbacks to how things were in the enchanted forest) cheesy? Absolutely. But this series is so exciting and you should watch it. And, like me, you may find yourself thinking of it as the “Regina And Rumplestiltskin Adventures.”

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