Once Upon a Time

SF elements: fairy tales
  1. season 1. 2011
  2. season 2. 2012
  3. season 3. 2013
  4. season 4. 2014
  5. season 5. 2015
  6. season 6. 2016

2011 / TV

22 × 45 min episodes

season 1 review
[Snow White and the Seven Dwarves]

Once Upon a Time, an Evil Queen, wicked stepmother of Snow White, was determined to destroy her step-daughter. When all her plotting failed, she cast a tremendous curse, conveying all the characters from fairytale land to our world, where they live in timeless Storybrook, with no memory of their past, condemned to be without their true loves. But Snow White and Prince Charming’s baby daughter Emma was saved from the curse, and sent to our world outside Storybrook. Twenty seven years later, she is grown up, and Henry, the son she gave up for adoption as a baby, seeks her out and convinces her to come to Storybrook. He knows that she is the only one who can break the curse, but Emma naturally thinks he is making up fairy tales.

[Mary margaret]

This is excellent. Each episode has some scenes set in fairytale land, filling in the complex backstory, gradually building up the tale of how, and why, the evil queen cast the curse. Meanwhile, other scenes are set in Storybrook, as all the same characters play out their lives under the curse. Will Emma save the day, or will Regina (the Evil Queen, now the Mayor of Storybrook) get her way. And on whose side is the mysterious Mr Gold?

The twists on the well-know fairy stories are great, and the backstory unfolds in non-chronological order, so trying to fit the pieces together is an intriguing jigsaw, and much more fun than a linear info-dump. Because of this story telling order, Snow White (amusingly referred to as “Snow” for short) oscillates between pampered princess and tough outlaw, and we slowly get to find out why. Prince Charming’s background is even more complex. And the other characters – Rumplestiltskin, Pinnochio, the Mad Hatter, Red Riding Hood, and more – initially seem to be in separate fairy tales, but all come together in the end. For example, I love how one of the already introduced characters turns out to be the “Beast” in the “Beauty and the Beast” part of the tale.

The counterpoint scenes in Storybrook are mostly more poignant, but sometimes funny, because we know the true identity of the characters, yet they themselves don’t. Here Snow White is the meek schoolteacher Mary Margaret, and Prince Charming is a mystery man in a coma. Emma ends up staying with Mary Margaret, and some fun is had with the fact that although they are about the same age, Emma is of course actually her daughter. (This means that Regina is Henry’s step-great-grandmother in fairy tale land; she is his step-mother in Storybrook!)

It could have been cheesy and twee. Instead, it’s great fun watching as the complex and interesting plot unfolds, leading to a satisfactorily symmetric conclusion in both lands. I hope the second season, with its necessarily different twist, can keep up the standard. Recommended.

Rating: 2.5
[ unmissable | great stuff | worth watching | mind candy | waste of time | unfinishable ]

reviewed 1 September 2012

2012 / TV

22 × 45 min episodes

season 2 review
[Fantasy meets Storybrook]

Once Upon a Time, season 2, now has all the fairy tale characters remembering who they are, but still stuck in Storybrook as their real-world counterparts, with magic on the loose. Can they find their way home, and do they even want to?

This second season keeps up the high quality of the first, with the clever use of flashbacks to provide insight into how characters became the way they are today, particularly Henry’s father. This can lead to some whip-sawing of sympathy, particularly for Regina pre- and post-evilness. We also get new characters, including Cora, Regina’s even wickeder mother, the beanstalk giant, Mulan, Hook, and more.

It all gets rather complicated. But in a good way. It’s still great fun, witty, clever, and (mostly) not twee. It wraps up a lot of plot strands, but ends on yet another giant cliff-hanger, ready for season 3.

Rating: 2.5
[ unmissable | great stuff | worth watching | mind candy | waste of time | unfinishable ]

reviewed 14 September 2013

2013 / DVD

22 × 45 min episodes

season 3 review

Once Upon a Time, season 3, continues the concept of fairy tale characters living in Storybrook. This season is split into two parts. In the first half, we have Henry kidnapped by Peter Pan, and Emma, Hook, Gold, Regina, Snow, and Charming off to save him. They succeed, but at a terrible price. Pan’s curse sends everyone back to the Enchanted Forest, except Emma and Henry, who go back to New York with no memory of any of their adventures. Then the second half starts with everyone suddenly back in Storybrook, with no memory of their time in the Enchanted Forest. What happened, and what has the Wicked Witch of the West got to do with it all? Again, only Emma can help; but she has no memory of any of this.

This is another great entry in the series, cleverly weaving fairy tales, plus the previous two seasons plot-lines, together into a complex plot. I found the Peter Pan half just a little slow going – lots of slogging through the island jungle, and a sub-plot only possible because of one character not telling another something very important, in order to protect them: aaargh!. But the revelation of Pan’s relationship to another character is unexpected and brilliant. The second half romps along much more briskly, with a cliff-hanger ending, plus a dreadful heartache for Regina as her past comes back to threaten her True Love: will it turn her back to the Dark Side?

Rating: 2.5
[ unmissable | great stuff | worth watching | mind candy | waste of time | unfinishable ]

reviewed 27 June 2017

2014 / DVD

22 × 45 min episodes

season 4 review

Once Upon a Time, season 4, continues the concept of fairy tale characters living in Storybrook, and expands the cast further, with Cruella De Vil, Ursula, Maleficent, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice (who is nothing like Mickey Mouse), and several characters from Frozen.

This is another great and imaginative season. There are lots of little in-jokes about the characters, but also several longer and darker arcs. Will Regina find true love with Robin Hood, or will she revert to the Evil Queen? What terrible thing did Snow White and Prince Charming do to ensure baby Emma’s safety, and how will this come back to bite them? Can Rumplestiltskin be honest with Belle? Will the evil conspirators turn Emma dark in order to gain their freedom? Will the Author grant everyone their Happy Ever After?

The resolutions of some of the arcs are satisfying, of others are surprising. And, of course, some lead into the next season...

Rating: 2.5
[ unmissable | great stuff | worth watching | mind candy | waste of time | unfinishable ]

reviewed 6 Aug 2019