So after six seasons, Once Upon a Time desperately tried to fend off the inevitable with a seven season reboot. Sadly for the show, it wasn't enough and ABC finally gave up on the show. After following this from the beginning there's always a bitter sweet element to letting it go - even when there are several elements we certainly don't miss - there's still a lot there that still could have been
Which, of course, means it's time for a Requiem
I think it’s hard to remember how original and interesting this show was when it first started all those many years ago. I think we need to give praise to that even as it has become more normalised in the years the show run. The whole concept of taking these fairy tales and mixing and mashing them up was really fun for me to see. Simple things like Rumplestiltskin being, obviously, the titular deal-giving monster, but also the Crocodile from Peter Pan and the Beast from Beauty and the Beast is the kind of mash up that I really really love.
The show has also brought some really iconic characters - Regina first and foremost, of course, but Emma, Maleficient, Cruella De Ville were some of my favourites. Throw in some really nice plot twists - the weirdness of how King Arthur fit into the show, Peter Pan as Rumple’s father, the complicated Cora/Regina/Zelena family tree. It had some gems.
Also Killian’s eye-shadow.
The Charmings. The problem with the Charmings is they’re probably the characters that have most held onto the fairy tale origins of the show. So while everything else is bring a sometimes-gritty but often more eye-open reality take to the world, the Charmings are there being kind of flabby and soggy and grossly PASSIVE. These two are repeatedly held up as heroes but, despite occasional past flashbacks of action, they generally did nothing to earn that. They only ever react to what the bad guys do - and then not often. In fact, even their claim to heroism seems to be far less because they champion the little guy or help people or hunt down evil - they’re heroes because EVIL COMES FOR THEM. If Regina didn’t devote so much effort to actually squishing Snow then she’d probably not do anything at all, no matter what kind of reign of terror was unleashed on the actual kingdom.
And this pervasive passivity followed through to everything they did. They never planned anything - just rested on this soppy “good will find a way” “love will find a way” “good is rewarded” “evil never prospers” twee philosophy which ruled out them actually having to do ANYTHING. If they are “good” then good never succeeded or triumphed -good twiddled its thumbs ineptly until evil collapses under its own evilness. And they’re central characters, they’re heroes, they’re leaders of their people for crying out loud! Words can’t express how frustrating I found their smug, pointless, passive, purity.
Good and Bad: The Season 7 Reboot
I know I’m almost a broken record on the final season of Once Upon a Time but it’s because I’m so twisted up about it as being both a perfect example of why we need Reboots while similarly being a text book example of how reboots can be badly done
I praise season 7 being a reboot - because after 6 seasons, Once Upon a Time was done. The fairy tale ouvre just doesn’t have enough big bads to both match up to the last big bads AND to be able to assail the amazing force that Team Good Guy had finally mustered. The core characters had hashed out every single last emotional family drama possible at this point. Emma had love and family and it’d be ridiculous to sunder this AGAIN. The Charmings after 8,000 plots keeping them apart were now together. Everyone believed, Henry was the author and if Rumple turned evil just One More Damn Time or Regina had ANOTHER tragic love affair I was just going to scream. It was done. Stick a fork in it.
But the world? The concept? That had lots of potential - and a reboot, picking up with a new generation, carrying the tropes and settings but cutting away all those COMPLETED STORYLINES, starting a new chapter. I praise the courage of the writers for doing this, for being brave enough to say “these stories are done, we need new ones” and moving on. While at the same time I curse them for the cowardice in not seeing that through and still desperately hanging on to Regina, Killian, Rumple and, to a lesser extent, Zelena. I don’t know what was worse - the Jacinda became so utterly irrelevant to the story she virtually disappeared in the second half of the season (which has to be galling for a main character) or that Henry kept hanging around and being awkwardly forced into plots despite him not being involved or necessary. It’s like going on a couples holiday and finding your single best friend has kind of followed you and is now hanging around awkwardly at the bar.
Once Upon a Time lasted for 7 seasons with a vast cast of characters including over 50 characters who appeared in 10 episodes or more and a further gajillian that appeared for an episode or more. And while Once Upon a Time is often, rightly, praised for taking the whole concept of passive female characters common in fairy tale and taking that and making the core of the active, powerful characters of this series female is definitely a plus - especially as female friendships begin to develop between them (Regina and Emma allying took way too long but was awesome when it happened). But other marginalised people are glaringly absent or reduced in this series. The only prominent POC in the series throughout is Regina - who is either evil or stuck on an eternal mea-culpa redemption arc that keeps resetting over and over and over and over. Other POC are inevitably short lived and sidelined: even when they had incredible potential. Mulan, Lancelot, Merlin, the Magic Mirror, the entire utterly ABANDONNED Aladdin storyline - these characters had plot hooks, they had potential, of course they did. But nothing happened, they were killed off, dismissed or just dropped in the plot box and forgotten (Mulan, I’m not over this). This applies equally to the LGBTQ characters - Mulan (assuming we even accept she’s depicted as bisexual since her “reveal” could equally have been “hey Aurora.. I actually like Phillip and don’t want to just step aside), Dorothy and Red; all reduced to bit parts. One element of the reboot that was positive is that, with Tiana, Naveen, Jascinda, Lucy, Tilly and Robin, the reboot seemed to recognise There Was A Problem and be willing to take steps to correct… except for that whole reboot cowardice.
Worst Fairytale Arc
I think we both agree that the Frozen arc made our eyes roll right out of our heads. It’s not like there weren’t other bad seasons (Peter Pan), but at least those felt planned. But Frozen? Honestly it felt like the writers had a plot line, were all ready to go and then suddenly someone yelled “OH MY GOD THIS MOVIE JUST MADE BANK! JUMP ON THAT ‘LET IT GO’ BANDWAGON!. Frozen felt ill planned, show-horned in and, unlike most of the other arcs, utterly unconnected to the other storylines before or after. I mean, Peter Pan wasn’t ideal but he was woven into the world. He was Rumple’s father and very much woven into Rumple’s backstory, angst et al and, through that, is linked to the whole Charming family as well as being integral to establish Henry as the truest believer. Tinker Bell fit with the established fairies mythos et al. Peter Pan wasn’t great - but it fit both the established world and the plot which Frozen didn’t - and didn’t even try. I mean, they could have thrown in a few call backs to Arundel in the seasons after it.