A delectable show about the sometimes ambiguous battle between good and evil, Once Upon a Time is a retelling of classic fairy tales woven into one beautiful tapestry. At the centre of this retelling is the concept of true love explored in a slightly more layered way one would expect of the genre, as love is not only a romantic feeling between a man and a woman, but also a loyal friendship or a strong family connection. And of course, the fact that the true love of a mother for her child played such a central role in breaking a curse really helped expand the definition of what true love can be.
This layering, done at many levels, is what makes this show addictive. Fairy tales are usually so straightforward. There is evil. There is good. Good always has a tough time, but it also always prevails – usually because of true love. But there is nothing straightforward about the complex story of revenge in Once Upon a Time.
What better story than that of Snow White, her Prince Charming and her evil stepmother to explore true love and revenge? But this is not your grandmother’s Snow White. She is not isolated in her own magical world; that world is also home to Cinderella, Geppetto, Pinocchio, Belle, Jiminy Cricket and so many others. In Once Upon a Time, there is such a thing as a world with magic and a world without magic; they are parallel one to the other, in a way similar to the parallel worlds in Fringe. And just like with J.J. Abram’s show, Once Upon a Time masterfully parallels in both worlds stories about courage, friendship, revenge, sacrifice and, of course, love. Both shows feature in one episode the same concept using two storylines; Fringe parallels the case under investigation with the lives of its central characters, while Once Upon a Time parallels what is happening currently in our world with what happened in the magical world that brought us to this point.
While romantically quite sappy at times – Prince Charming and Snow White promising each other that they will always find one another was particularly painful at times – the show is a great platform for interesting discussions about good and evil. The battle between the two seems pretty straightforward at first, but becomes more and more ambiguous as the season advances. The most intriguing reaction I have had to this episode is when I started feeling sorry for Regina, the evil stepmother. While it most certainly is what the writers had in mind, and was, just like other plot lines in the show, pretty obviously displayed, it did not mean I did not enjoy the ride; I am enjoying the tug of war between my disgust for everything Regina has done and pity of how it came to be.
Another thing I loved is the retelling of classic fairy tales, and the relationships between the different characters – who knew that Snow White and Red Riding Hood were such good friends? And don’t you love this version of Snow White better – the courageous woman who storms a castle to save her Prince Charming? Much better than the helpless, innocent version described in so many other retellings! (Walt Disney, I’m looking at you.)
Of course, like any show, don’t expect to learn all about how to act from this show; just like with the fairy tales it is inspired from, the show is meant to entertain and to make you think about love, the most powerful force that exists. For “what a power is love! It is the most wonderful, the greatest of all living powers. Love gives life to the lifeless. Love lights a flame in the heart that is cold. Love brings hope to the hopeless and gladdens the hearts of the sorrowful. In the world of existence there is indeed no greater power than the power of love. When the heart of man is aglow with the flame of love, he is ready to sacrifice all – even his life.”
Between retellings of classic fairy tales that all have the most interesting of twists and a plotline set in modern day America, one is in for quite a ride. I strongly suggest adding Once Upon a Time to your list of must see television, and suggest you leave behind all your adult cynicism and questioning; remember the awed kid you were, watch the show and enjoy this adult oriented story that will grip you from the very first episode.
First published here on Blogcritics.