Writers have been retelling or fracturing fairy tales for a long time. Now the film & TV industry have gotten into the fray big time, with two Snow White movies releasing this spring and a couple of fairy tale-inspired TV shows. The one that I’ve been faithfully following is Once Upon A Time.
Storybrooke, Maine is your average idyllic New England small town–with one difference. Every inhabitant is a fairytale character, brought into this world by the Wicked Stepmother from Snow White (Snow White, again! What’s with the popularity of that particular fairy tale this year?). They remember nothing of their former lives, and they’ve been trapped in time for 28 years, ruled over by Mayor Mills, aka Evil Queen. No one comes to Storybook, and bad things happen to anyone who tries to leave. The Evil Queen’s revenge on Snow White (now separated from her Prince, and a school teacher) is complete. Until the day the mayor’s adopted son brings his birth mother into the small town–and time moves forward once more.
Er, I mean this of course:
While the framing story is that of Snow White, Once Upon A Time draws from a number of fairy tales, blending them so that they are all part of the same tapestry of events. These are fluid fairy tales, fairy tales without boundaries, where Hansel and Gretel find themselves at the Gingerbread House on an errand for the Evil Queen, Cinderella bargains away her first-born child to Rumpelstiltskin for a chance to go to the ball, and Beauty’s Beast is–well, I won’t spoil that little detail here. Secondary characters get their own subplots, and backstories are fleshed out. Each episode has a Fairy Tale Land thread and a Storybook thread, which, for the most part, work well together, revealing not only the changes happening in Storybook but also the mysteries of the past (like why the Evil Queen enacted such a bizarre curse on everyone in the first place–which is a season-long, if not series-long, mystery).
The writers pepper the Storybrooke narrative with little clue as to the true identities of its inhabitants. Snow White is Mary Margaret Blanchard, Rumpelstiltskin is Mr. Gold, and the Evil Queen is Regina Mills (thus making me believe that she’s the original miller’s daughter from Rumpelstiltskin, and is yet another indicator of how fluid the boundaries of the fairy tales are in this show). Because the Queen has replaced everyone’s memories (breaking up relationships she found offensive, I suppose), their happy endings have turned into never-afters. Cinderella is a pregnant teen whose boyfriend’s father won’t let him see her. Hansel and Gretel are the results of a brief fling. And Snow White and her prince may feel they belong together, but he’s married to someone else, and their attraction only bring lies, betrayal and heartache.
There are some parts of the worldbuilding that are hard to swallow. If everything’s stayed the same for 28 years, why has the mayor’s adopted kid managed to grow up while his schoolmates haven’t aged a day? And I only realized a couple of episodes ago that the creators of Lost are behind this series, so I’m not at all confident that they can keep the storylines under control and nail the ending.
Do you watch Once Upon A Time? What do you think of it?