Dealing with Intangible Concepts as Physical Objects: Once Upon A Time (TV Showcase #32)

I can’t remember if I’ve said this before on the Showcase, but I’ll say it now: I am not a fantasy fan. I’ve seen Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, I’m up on my Disney, classic and new, and I think it’s safe to say that I know more nuances of fairy and folk tales than alot of people my age. But I’d heard so much good stuff about this one that I thought I’d give it a try. I enjoyed the story-mixing that went on in Into the Woods, and as this is the same concept, I thought I might like it. It turns out that I’ve liked it much more than I thought I would, and sure enough, the show had one overarching aspect that made it stand out from other fantasy re-tellings. I’ve never seen this done before, even though every television drama has had the potential to do it. So let’s cross realms to visit the world of “Once Upon A Time”.

“Once Upon A Time” (OUT for short) was created by Edward Kitsis and Anthony Horowitz in 2011, and has of summer 2016 run for 111 hour-long episodes over the course of five seasons, still continuing today. The show’s plot becomes increasingly complicated, but at the core, all of the storybook characters that ever existed live in various fantasy realms and are brought to our world, in Maine, through a horrific curse. Essentially, the show displays two story arcs per season, each which contributes to the overall saga of the show, and in each arc the characters are presented with a huge problem involving the different realms and villainous fairy tale characters, and they always defeat them right before being thrown into the next story arc.

Throughout the seasons, OUT has had some hits and misses, but as mentioned before, I believe that there is one main plot point running throughout the show that manages to keep it standing out from the crowd. Modern and real-world reworkings of fairy tales have been done before, and I cited up top one of many mixings of different stories that has been done before (though I must say OUT did a fantastic job with their mixing in the first couple of seasons). So what else does the show have to offer that’s unique, not just fairytale mainstream? And no, it isn’t Elsa and Merida.

The characters in OUT have the unique ability to wield light and darkness in their pure forms. Every single television drama and movie alike have good and evil, light and dark, but these are only concepts, to be represented by a hero fighting a villain. And while OUT has plenty of both, the heroes use light magic, and the villains use darkness. Sometimes they’re even visible in their purest forms, like when Emma took all darkness in from ex calibur.

The fact that light and dark magic is used exposes the hero/villain’s source of power, and it gives the show a fresh perspective on good fighting evil. And despite the sometimes scary or worldly themes of the show, the light and darkness generally gives the show a strong sense of morals without pounding it down the audience’s throat like a kids’ show might (I’m not saying this goes for every episode, i.e. Red and Ruby and other scenarios). The strategies and conversations arising from direct contact with light and darkness themselves cause extreme applicability among audience members, as we all battle our own darkness. Additionally, so far anyway, the light always wins. Even in the most recent story arc of the Underworld, the villains all returned and were defeated again! This is encouraging to see in a popular show, but somehow OUT doesn’t let it be predictable.

Another implication of using light and darkness directly is that several characters convert from one to the other, and when a dark character makes the decision to operate in the light, they must make conscious and continual decisions to stay in the light despite the darkness’ lure. This is especially evident in Regina’s talks with Emma and her separation from the Evil Queen; and Rumpelstiltskin displays the other side of that, as a character who converted to light and then went back to darkness. The interesting thing about Rumple is that he flip-flopped several times, and each time the darkness took more from him, and it was harder to escape, until it became inescapable.

So, really, when you think about it, “Once Upon A Time” can be viewed as a scary metaphor for life in regard to dealing with light and darkness. We too must make our decisions as to which side to operate on, and like in the show, both sides have consequences. What do you think?

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