Why I Love Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time is one of my favourite shows. Make fun of me all you want, but with both Community and The Crazy Ones not being renewed for next season, there’s just this and SHIELD that will carry over to next year (I don’t watch that much TV, at least not live). Anyway, after this week’s season 3 finale, I was thinking about why I like this show. Here are some major themes (spoilers will ensue):

The Power Of Love

The theme predominant throughout particularly season 1 and the first half of season 2 is that love conquers all evil, kinda like that Bible verse (Romans 12:21). Probably my favourite scene in the whole show so far was in season 2 when Cora reaches out to kill… I think it was Snow… by ripping out her heart and Emma steps in front. To this point we don’t know of Emma having any power other than breaking the curse (through pure love of Henry), but the super-powerful Cora cannot overcome that act of sacrificial love. Many similar stories follow, with the one exception of Never Land where the ultimate power is belief instead of love (in itself a good theme).

Cause and Effect

Nobody in the show is simply “good” or “evil.” We might start the show thinking that, but we quickly come to realize otherwise. Regina is only evil because of what Cora with the accidental help of Snow did to her first true love. Cora was only evil because of being a peasant who desperately wanted to move up the social ladder, encouraged later by her being used as a one-night stand and then Rumpelstilskin’s teachings. Rumpel did evil things because of his father Peter Pan and then being outcast due to some misguided notions of nobility. Captain Hook isn’t really that evil of a pirate until Rumpel kills his wife. Pan is the only one so far who we don’t see the genesis of his evil, which is probably simply because we’ve already gone back so many generations that it would too much away from the main plot.

Lots of Gray Areas

Similar to the above, nobody is really either good or evil. Everybody seems to spend some time in both, again with the exception really of Pan. All of the other villains, though, we are left cheering for their redemption because we sympathize with their motives even if we can see how their actions in response is hurting others. On the flip side, none of the heroes are always good, either. We feel sorry when Snow sinks to Cora’s level and kills her or when Charming rushes in foolishly with no plan swinging his sword or when Emma refuses to be vulnerable with anybody. In other words, despite some very fantastical fairy tale elements, the characters are pretty real, somewhere between being a good guy and a bad guy like all of us.

Redemption

Many of the evil characters have been redeemed. Regina is a particularly-tortuous path to redemption, one that I really hope is over and not restarted because of Marian’s appearance in the finale. Rumpel’s is similar, although all of his “evil” is easier to sympathize with when you realize it was all to get back to his son. That one is also clearly not complete as we know he lied to Belle about the dagger so he could kill Zelena. Cora we briefly see that she does love her daughter before she dies. While Zelena doesn’t repent she is also very sympathetic, especially when we learn that she did repent once before and it just didn’t stick when her envy set in again.

Kick-Ass Women

The women drive the show. Emma is the Saviour to break the curse. Snow White is not some damsel in distress; she was basically a rebel leader who stood up to the evil Queen and met Charming when she robbed him. Regina is probably my favourite, mainly because the actress pulls it off both good and evil so well. Cora and Zelena were similarly amazing villains.

The show definitely isn’t anti-men as some might be quick to assume. The men aren’t pushovers. They’re heroes and villains in their own right. They just don’t drive the story in nearly the same way, with the only real exception being the first half of season 3 which was predominately focused around Pan, Rumpel, and Baelfire/Neal.

The Ridiculous Family Tree

I debated trying to make a graphic of it, but it would be too complicated. Here I go, just for fun. Snow and Charming are Emma’s parents, but send her through a magic portal so she grows in foster care in our world. Emma is Henry’s biological mother but gives him up after having him in jail. The woman who adopts him is Regina, the evil Queen from the Enchanted Forest who was the stepmother of Snow; ie Henry’s adopted mother is also his step-great-grandmother.

The reason Regina hates Snow is because she accidentally led to Cora killing her lover Daniel. Later we find out that Henry’s dad is Neal, who is also Rumpelstiltskin’s son. Rumpel was married but she left him for Captain Hook, so he killed her and took Hook’s hand. Hook then essentially adopted his son Baelfire (Neal) for a time in Never Land, well before he came to our realm and hooked up with Emma.

Cora is Regina’s mother and used to be in love with Rumpel but gave that up to increase her power. Along with Regina, Cora was the unmarried mother of Zelena, the Wicked Witch of the West, but gave her up to avoid scandal. Zelena was also at least a little in love with Rumpel, although it was probably more of a mentor Daddy-issues thing. Rumpel is also the Beast and is now married to Belle.

Regina started dating Robin Hood, but then we just found out that Robin’s wife Marian is still alive after all thanks to some Back to the Future antics in the finale. Emma briefly reconnected with Neal but is now with Hook after Neal died. Snow and Charming have a new son, who they named Neal, which means that their daughter’s (Emma’s) new brother is named after her former lover and their grandson’s (Henry’s) new baby uncle is named after his dad.

Ok, I think that covers it, not including more peripheral characters, but I probably missed several connections. Mostly this just amuses me, but there are some interesting ideas here about how everything is connected and insanely messy family can be.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • Amen and Amen. We are fans of the show as well, and your points are spot on from our perspective. I think Hook’s story line is a wonderful example of the road to redemption. For the longest time we saw him as a guy portrayed as “a bad guy,” and “evil villain,” but one who wasn’t given a chance. He masks his pains and struggles and desire to help and be seen as a good guy once again behind the persona and life of the rugged pirate because it’s what has helped him survive.

    Like with Lost, the show takes intentional steps to make sure we see that no one character is good or bad.

    Good show. Not the best. Needs some help in the writing here and there and the acting of some could be better, but good overall. I’m not laughing at you, bro.

    • Phew. Considering it just got renewed for a fourth season, I knew there had to be other fans, but it’s been one of those shows people seem to be afraid to admit they like.

      Definitely agree about Hook. He’s a favourite character, definitely the favourite of the men.

      Also agree it isn’t the best technically. Sometimes the acting is strained – I’ve never really been able to feel any connection with Emma, for example, but others like Regina make up for it. Ditto for the writing, although it is definitely at its best when it embraces its own corniness, like when Regina finds out why Zelena hates her… a few really cliche lines but they embraced it and that just made it even more awesome (probably again at least in part because of the acting of Regina).

      • Totally agree. Regina (who was on Lost) does pick up a lot of the acting slack from Emma. Emma acts the same way she did on House, which may have worked then but doesn’t translate as well to OUAT. A lot of great one liners at the perfect time work very well.