Once Upon a Time, the fairy tale drama on ABC, premiered in the fall of 2011. Before Frozen and Maleficent and Into the Woods and Cinderella, there was Once Upon a Time. It was refreshing, back then, to see our favorite fairy tale characters interact with each other. The twist was that these characters — Snow White, Prince Charming, the Evil Queen, Rumplestiltskin — were living in the modern day world. And thanks to the Evil Queen’s curse, no one knew who they really were. The premise was fantastic! These dual personalities allowed Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, the co-creators, to utilize flashbacks to show us each character’s backstory, as well as what was happening with them in the present. (Horowitz and Kitsis are experts at parallel timelines, having been writers for Lost.)
I enjoyed Once Upon a Time thoroughly for two seasons. But the pattern of introducing Disney characters (Disney owns ABC) for the sheer novelty of throwing them on the screen was wearing thin. Most of the characters had very little to do, including (ugh) Sleeping Beauty and Mulan. In fact, by the time those two characters popped up, I had nearly given up on watching Once. Lately, I’ve been wondering what keeps me coming back to it. (I finally figured it out. More on that later.)
The other problem with Once Upon a Time, which I have written about previously, is that the show is terribly boring when the Evil Queen isn’t so evil. Sure, we all love a redemption story, but her character is just redundant when she’s trying to be a hero (that’s a buzzword on Once). We already have milquetoast heroes aplenty, including Snow and Charming, and all the other goodie goodies in Storybrooke. Having Regina (the Evil Queen) join their ranks was titillating at first, but the result is that they end up parroting each other in nearly every conversation. (I’ve invented a drinking game where you drink every time a character says, “I promise you…” You’ll be drunk before the first commercial break.)
(Possible spoilers ahead for those of you who aren’t completely caught up on Once Upon a Time. You’ve been warned!)
I finally gave up on Once Upon a Time when Peter Pan showed up. They sucked me in with the novelty of visiting Neverland (they’re very good at sucking you in with novelty), but Peter Pan’s posturing and our heroes’ endless wanderings on the island were enough to kill my enthusiasm. When Peter Pan possessed Henry, and I had to endure actor Jared Gilmore’s attempt at being evil, I clicked it off for good. (I didn’t even mention having to watch poor Robbie Kay, who played Peter, try to talk around all those teeth! Excruciating!)
Then, however, came all the ads that showed Elsa, from Frozen, sashaying her way into Storybrooke. They hooked me again! I tuned in, watched the “catch you up” clips they aired just prior to the fourth season premiere, and whoosh! Just like that, they hooked me in with some icicles and Elizabeth Mitchell, an actress I truly enjoy watching in anything, who played the evil Ice Queen. And guess what? Wow! It was Once Upon a Time’s best storyline in a long, long time. Sure, Regina was still good, sorta, but I could even overlook that, because the rest of the cast was so, well, charming. (Elizabeth Lail, who played Anna, needs her own comedy, stat!)
The other fantastic storyline that was woven through the Ice Queen’s was the revelation to Belle — the ONLY character who didn’t know — that (gasp!) Mr. Gold really is still evil. I’m looking forward to seeing where that little wrinkle takes us, considering Belle banished him from Storybrooke. (Lordy, she’s another “hero” that’s worn out her welcome with me. Poor Emilie de Ravin must be completely dehydrated at the end of every day, thanks to bawling in just about every scene she has.)
The only downside to the brilliant Frozen run was watching the soap opera between Regina and Robin play out. Robin kept wishing there was, gee, some way he could forget about Regina and let her go. Oh, I don’t know, how about some… MAGIC! But no! We had to keep seeing them come together, get torn apart, come together, get torn apart. I can put up with a lot of suds, but that soapy, sappy, stupid storyline had to end, which it did, to much rejoicing. I was happy to watch Robin walk across that damn border and forget all about Storybrooke. When have you ever seen a hero, an archer, an outlaw, like Robin, played so blandly, so weakly! That character was so thin I could see through his stupid goatee and tattoo without a smidge of magic.
So, what keeps me watching Once Upon a Time, which is frequently poorly written and has more do-gooders than Sesame Street? Once Upon a Time is one of only a few TV shows that stars more female leads than men, all of whom are doing their best to kick someone’s butt at some point. Name another show on TV, right now, with at least five female characters in lead roles, who aren’t focused on finding a man, shopping, or back-stabbing someone. You CAN’T. We’ve got Snow, Evil Queen, Emma, Belle (for better or worse), and Ruby, when she’s around. Then throw in the women who come and go in main roles, like the Ice Queen, the Wicked Witch, Elsa, Anna, Tinker Bell and Ariel. More often than not, the characters who show up, even for a little while, are women.
Not only does Once Upon a Time have more women per capita, these are women who are in charge. Regina was the mayor (and Queen, don’t forget). Snow is the new mayor, as well as a leader in the rebellion against the Evil Queen back in their realm. Emma is the savior. The Blue Fairy is usually the go-to chick when big magic is needed. Granny keeps it locked and loaded, not to mention her granddaughter Ruby, who hunts and tracks better than any man in town. The big bads of the show are usually women. The men are generally left trying to keep their women (Gold, Hook) or doing their bidding (Charming, dwarves, Robin).
I love it!
Don’t get me wrong; I’m no dominatrix (much to my husband’s chagrin, I’m sure), but what better wish fulfillment is there for a woman, than watching a bunch of other kick-ass women?!
So, I finally figured out that THAT’S why I’m still watching Once Upon a Time. And look out, because starting tonight, there are three more tough broads rolling into Storybrooke, in the forms of Cruella de Ville, Ursula and Maleficent (played by one of True Blood’s best actresses, Kristin Bauer van Straten). I’m hooked. Here’s hoping I don’t get bored.