Once Upon a Time

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TV Series Review

"And they lived happily ever after."

This is what we learn from our fairy tales, and we learn it at our peril. As we grow, we see its folly: We do not seem to live happily ever after. We pay bills and go to the dentist. We worry about our kids and labor at our jobs. We struggle. We suffer. We die. This is no fairy tale, this life of ours, no Eden.

But living an actual fairy tale life isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be either.

So we've seen from the characters of ABC's Once Upon a Time, who for much of the series have lived a sort of dual life: One in flashback in the land of fairy tales, and another in the more rote world of Storybrooke, Maine—a place given life through a curse.

But it gets complicated. Originally the story of how a cop named Emma reacquainted herself with her biological child and wrested him from his evil witch of a stepmother, Once Upon a Time has become a labyrinthine fable that even the Brothers Grimm might not be able to piece together. Characters from ancient fable mingle with unalloyed Disney princesses ( Frozen's Anna and Elsa show up in Season 4.) It's the brainchild of Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, who helped form that other ABC mythical world Lost. And, indeed, this new flight of fancy embraces some Lost-like elements: different worlds, bewildering timelines and interwoven relationships that can be deciphered only through obsessive viewing or a handy-dandy cheat sheet.

Die-hard Lost fans will say this latter series doesn't have the same depth or resonance. And, frankly, as the cast of characters here grows ever larger, the storylines seem to get shallower. But under the surface, there's still some pretty interesting stuff going on. As Mary Margaret told us way back in the pilot, bedtime stories become "a way for us to deal with our world." As such, the show itself has the potential to allude to greater truths and become a springboard to deeper themes.

Consider how Emma escaped the original curse that set this story in motion—a curse that, in Season 1, magically created the non-magical hamlet of Storybrooke and caused most of the characters to forget who they were.

As a baby, she was placed in what's characterized as a "wardrobe" (a nod to The Chronicles of Narnia?) where she's transported to our world, apparently biding her time until she's ready to return and save her people. It's a scene rich in archetype, both pagan (Perseus, sent away from his rightful kingdom in a chest) and Christian (Moses, placed in a basket and set on the Nile). Clearly, this program has ambition to tell us more than just ... fairy tales.

Once has its faults. Characters here fight, bleed and die. Some of them swear. Costumes can be immodest. Casual intimacy is sometimes shared. The temptation of marital infidelity (in the name of "true love") has been a theme. The use of magic—some of it dark—is, of course, nonstop.

But it also sets up strong distinctions between good and evil. It gives us characters who seem to care about one other. It even provides for us the occasional bedtime moral. And, most importantly, through its fairy tale proxies (if we look really, really closely), the series communicates a very important truth: We're all more than we seem. We can be better than we are. In the midst of our pain and suffering and workaday lives, there's an actual fairy tale to be found—not a fictional construct, but the understanding that our lives are wondrous, miraculous and highly improbable gifts.

It tells us that there are happy endings. And, as Christians, we know that to be true.

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Episode Reviews

OnceUponaTime: 10-5-2014
OnceUponaTime: 12-15-2013
OnceUponaTime: 10-28-2012
OnceUponaTime: 1-22-2012
OnceUponaTime: 10-23-2011

Credits

Rating

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Genre

Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Author

Cast

Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan; Jared Gilmore as Henry Mills; Ginnifer Goodwin as Mary Margaret Blanchard; Lana Parrilla as Regina Mills/Evil Queen; Josh Dallas as David Nolan; Robert Carlyle as Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin; Meghan Ory as Ruby; Emilie de Ravin as Belle; Raphael Sbarge as Archie Hopper; Colin O'Donoghue as Captain Hook; Lee Arenberg as Grumpy; Beverley Elliott as Granny; Georgina Haig as Elsa; Elizabeth Lail as Anna

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Network

ABC

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Reviewer

Paul Asay Paul Asay