Tuesday, January 31, 2017

5 Problems Once Upon A Time Needs To Fix

When a new season of Once Upon A Time whirls around, there's promising adventures to behold. Savior Emma Swan and her charming parents and son, swash-buckling boyfriend Hook, and Evil-Queen-turned-Hero Regina face off against 'fictional characters' re-imagined for the real world. And, the series' ability to plant powerful messages of hope, courage, and love is refreshing compared to darker-themed shows.

However, there is no doubt the fandom has been struggling. As much love as there is for Once Upon A Time, the storytelling  often falls down a rabbit hole of messy writing and confusing world-building. Off-screen, the show dropped in ratings and stars like Robert Carlyle and Jennifer Morrison are considering not returning. When rumors swirled over the holiday break that the series might be canceled, it wasn't surprising to ONCERS despite what a rotten apple the news was. But as the show has taught us over the years: there is always hope - we just have to look and fight for it. Here are five ways Once Upon A Time can break its own curse.

Less Dispensable Characters

Grumpy and the other dwarves, Mad Hatter, Frankenstein, August/Pinocchio, Aurora and Prince Phillip, Merida, Tinker Belle - all of these characters and more have left an indelible mark on Storybrooke/Enchanted Forest/ETC. They make up the wonderful background of townspeople who are on their own quests or put their faith into the Charmings clan to protect them from whatever evil portal of evilness they've conjured.

But, they're also ridiculously dispensable, quickly plucked into the plot for appearances' sake. When they're killed off or disappear, it's jarring to see them re-animate out of nowhere just to disappear again. Sometimes even the main characters struggle to play off their absence. Potential heroes and villains can be more than cameos.

Regina Deserves Better

No question about it: Lana Parrilla is amazing (as are all the other heroines). Watching Regina or the Evil Queen, in particular, struggle with her wicked-and-good-ness has been a compelling arc and series staple. She's healed severely broken relationships with her parents, learned to forgive herself for some pretty dark mistakes, and continually tries to balance the good with the evil.

But the writing has also severely blocked her growth. When people need her magic to find their true happiness, she steps up to the plate, even shoving aside her reluctance to do so. Meanwhile, her true loves are killed off and then her family rarely offers meaningful support. Her past is held against her by people who have earned her trust, forgiveness, and guidance and vice versa. It's like nothing she does earn her a rightful place at the BAMF throne. Regina deserves better.

Stop Time-Traveling

Many Years Ago. Months Ago. Weeks Ago. Ever watch an episode of Once Upon A Time and snort fairy dust every instance the story jumped further and further back in time and/or to more and more alternative worlds? Not even the Doctor in his Tardis has ventured all over time and space like these guys do.

Time-traveling is useful when characters' pasts parallel a present storyline to reveal a surprising betrayal, or for a character to regain resilience after feeling like giving up. Too easily, it's used as filler to wipe characters' memories, alter past events or conveniently change characters' destinies at the last second. By all means use Storybrooke or the Enchanted Forest as a home base, and visit other worlds, but every side-jump to another era or landscape should matter in the long-run.

Use Consistent Magic

Magic is powerful and all-encompassing. It comes in the forms of hats sucking out the souls of unsuspecting victims and quills that literally pen the future for all characters. It's no secret uber-hoarder and deal-maker-breaker Rumplestiltskin has everything at his disposal. So it's a little frustrating when that thing that couldn't be found, conjured or used two episodes ago to save someone's life or break a powerful spell suddenly pops up in another form with a different name and does the EXACT. SAME. THING. Unpredictable solutions are one thing, but magic shouldn't break the series' own rules.

Develop Plots Beyond Tag Lines (or Brand Placement)

Somewhere over the years, taglines and brand placement have replaced compelling stories. It's not that the show isn't heartfelt or the characters aren't engaging, but we mostly become aware of what they're up against by how many times a theme is declared: The Dark One, Light, Dark, Evil, Curse, The Author, Happy Endings, Untold Stories. And Disney doesn't have a problem dropping in non-fairytale franchises like Star Wars or its newest Princesses like Frozen or Brave.  (WHERE'S TIANA, BTW?)

Personally, season one is my favorite because Emma was 'cast' as the Savior, but she didn't want the job. Instead of everyone pointing out her role in every other sentence, her actions spoke louder. She tried to distance herself from fate, but everything she did freed the town from Regina's curse. Swan was the Chosen One but the story explored her and other character's Enchanted Forest pasts to deepen who they were in Storybrooke, created engaging feuds, and develop rich alternative worlds.

In recent seasons, dots don't consistently connect beyond basic themes or summing things up to Magic or Memory Wipe. Depending on which season(s) are your favorite, the show has proven individual and collective quests of the heart can be successful, but the show must stop closing the book on good storytelling.

What do you think? Does Once Upon A Time need to be saved?

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