Why “Once Upon a Time” Needs to Step Up Its Game

“Emma refuses to let anything happen to Hook, Rumpel will always choose dark magic over Belle, and Snow White will never leave her daughter’s side. Rinse and repeat.”

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“Emma refuses to let anything happen to Hook, Rumpel will always choose dark magic over Belle, and Snow White will never leave her daughter’s side. Rinse and repeat.”

Why 'Once Upon a Time' Needs to Step Up Its Game, Seriously

Fixing Once Upon a Time

“Emma refuses to let anything happen to Hook, Rumpel will always choose dark magic over Belle, and Snow White will never leave her daughter’s side. Rinse and repeat.”

By Jill Phelan, Saint Vincent College


Once upon a time, ABC’s hit TV series Once Upon a Time was a masterfully crafted show.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the program, the overall concept revolves around unique twists on classic Disney stories that coexist in the same realm and seep into the modern world, showcasing how the character’s journeys are intertwined with one another—all stemming from the tale of Snow White.

The first few seasons were filled with daring, enchanting heroes and dazzlingly complex villains, accompanied by wonderfully detailed storylines for many of the show’s characters.

Never had the relationship between Snow White and the Evil Queen been depicted in such a complex manner, or the background of Beauty and the Beast been so captivating; I had no choice but to keep watching intently. I had fallen spellbound to a new world of magic, with gorgeous princes no less. I mean, have you seen Josh Dallas as Prince Charming? *Hardcore Swoon*

Beautiful cast members aside, Once successfully managed to introduce many of Disney’s beloved characters and incorporate their stories into the plot in very clever ways that engaged the audience. Plus, the writers began to develop the main characters really well over the course of the show, giving them amazing depth and plenty of room to grow.

But now that the show is nearing the end of its fifth season, it’s beginning to drop in quality (in my opinion at least). I know the majority of fans will probably come after me with pitchforks for saying such blasphemy, but I have my reasons. In fact, I have three, and they are as follows:

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t

Poof! Where did all the secondary characters go? They up and disappeared all hocus-pocus like. One of Once’s unfortunate downfalls has always been that it has the nasty habit of discontinuing certain storylines without any form of resolution.

And now that the show has been focusing more on the relationship between Emma and Captain Hook, there’s seemingly no time for other characters. Talk about hogging the TV.

What ever happened to Aurora and Mulan? Or Cinderella and Ariel? It would be nice to hear from them every so often, but their story arcs were completely dropped after a few unsatisfying episodes.

When the show does revisit characters, it’s usually the same ones over and over again. Seriously, Cora, just leave already. Everybody hates you, so just leave your daughter alone, you overbearing nuisance.

And then there’s the lack of the show’s fresh meat. Occasionally, viewers get a surprise visit from a new fairytale icon, but it’s a more of a drive-by than a stay.

For instance, Gaston’s little story arc was a nice addition, but it didn’t last for more than an episode. And his presence was really only a means of telling more of Belle’s story with Rumpelstiltskin, which brings me to my next point.

Deja Vu

The focus of the show has shifted so much to progressing the storylines of major characters that it’s beginning to feel like there’s nothing left to develop. The same themes are starting to repeat themselves to death. The least the writers could do is present the motifs in ways that feel a little more original.

Oh no, did Rumpelstiltskin turn to the dark side again for the hundredth time? What is Belle going to do about it? Probably just get really upset with him, wonder why she stayed with him and then continue to love him because gosh dang it, there’s still good in him yet. Yawn. Wake me up when Belle decides to do something unpredictable.

The characters and their plots have begun to plateau, meaning the same tried and trite struggles for Emma her band of heroes.

So basically, Emma refuses to let anything happen to Hook, Rumpel will always choose dark magic over Belle, and Snow White will never leave her daughter’s side. Rinse and repeat.

Oh, and since it seems that the Wicked Witch of Oz, Zelena, will be sticking around for a while. I should mention her central plotline that keeps recurring: no one mourns the wicked (sorry, I just couldn’t resist—I love that musical).

Come on Once, don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit more.

RIP Acting

Just like the subplots, some of the actors’ skills have vanished. Probably the worst of the bunch is Jared Gilmore (a.k.a. Emma’s son, Henry). I don’t think he got the memo that child actors are supposed to get better as they age, not the other way around. Let’s hope this is just an awkward teenage phase and his acting abilities come out of hibernation soon.

But Gilmore isn’t the only actor failing to impress on screen. Ginnifer Goodwin seems like she’s been forcing her lines a bit lately too. I get it, family sticks together, you miss your son, and hope is what makes the world go on—now make me believe it.

And some of this acting deterioration might be a result of the repetitive story themes, making the characters words trite and cheesy, but the decline is evident nonetheless. So Goodwin and Gilmore might not be terrible actors—it could just be that everything that comes out of their mouths has been said by their characters countless times before—but I honestly just can’t tell anymore.

Overall, everything about Once feels a bit overdone and forced right now, yet it somehow also feels a tad lazy on the writers’ part. But like Snow White, I would dare to say that there’s always hope to turn things around and make them good again. I don’t want to give up on this show because I know from previous seasons that it can be great.

So if the producers can manage to get back on track the way they did before, I think there’s a Happily Ever After in the Once’s future yet.

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