Once Upon a Time, "Pilot": welcome to Storybrooke

Quick Take: Once Upon a Time, “Pilot”
“The Queen has created a powerful curse -- and it’s coming. Soon you’ll all be in a prison, just like me, only worse." – Rumpelstiltskin

 Once Upon a Time

Review: Once Upon a Time, “Pilot”
(S0101) Welcome to Storybrooke, Maine – a fantastical little town, home to our most favored and most feared fairy tale characters. It’s hard to gauge how I felt coming in to the premiere of Once Upon a Time; I was both hesitant and anxious to see how the new series would handle the contemporizing of popular fairy tales.

And it’s not like they tried to wean us into their universe – in the first half-hour alone, we’re introduced to Snow White, the seven dwarves, Prince Charming, the Evil Queen, Gepetto, Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, the Blue Fairy, Red Riding Hood, her Granny, and Rumpelstiltskin – a dynamic that I hope the show can keep pace with throughout the rest of the season. At the very least, I’ll be tuning in until the writers follow through on the Alice in Wonderland allusions that seem to be doing some early foreshadowing. Oh, and did I mention Giancarlo Esposito (the late Gus Fring from Breaking Bad) is set to make recurring appearances?

Our story begins, as so many do: “Once upon a time,” in an enchanted forest, “filled with all the classic characters we know. Or think we know.” A bit vague, perhaps, but necessarily open-ended. The enchanted forest is a magical place – beautiful and timeless, like a Disney movie. Plotting her revenge against Prince Charming and Snow White, the Evil Queen has devised a way to exact her wrath upon all the inhabitants of the enchanted forest and steal their happy endings. She discovers a curse that will trap everyone in time – that is, our world: a world bound by entropy and atrophy; disorder and decay – with no memory of their fairy-tale lives.

Enter Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), a bail bondsperson with a proclivity for weeding out liars, who is spending her twenty-eighth birthday first on the job, and then chauffeuring a mysterious boy named Henry who claims to be her son back to his home in the mystifying town of Storybrooke. Ten years ago, Emma put Henry up for adoption; twenty-eight years ago, Emma was herself put up for foster care after being saved by her mother, Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), from the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) and her curse.

On the night of the Queen’s attack, Snow White gives birth to Emma; believing in the prophetic message from the imprisoned Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle), she and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) send Emma to our world through a magic wardrobe, protecting her from the curse so that one day she could save those who are now trapped in Storybrooke. Emma brings Henry back to his adoptive mother, the Mayor, who turns out to be the Evil Queen’s accursed incarnation. It’s not clear yet how much she knows about who Emma is, or if she even remembers her own identity, but the Queen-Mayor is determined to keep Emma far away from their time-locked little town, and especially Henry.

Already distracted by the mysterious storybook that Henry rightfully believes to hold clues into how she can undo the Queen’s curse, Emma crashes her car when she tries to leave town, swerving to avoid a white wolf that appears in the middle of the road. After waking up in jail – introducing us to the men who were once Gepetto and Grumpy the dwarf – Emma accompanies the Queen-Mayor and the yet-unknown Sherriff Graham in a search for Henry, who has once again run away. Emma briefly encounters her own mother at Henry’s school as his teacher, Mary Margaret Blanchard; despite an exchange of inquisitive, familiar glances, the two remain ignorant of their relationship, being apparently no different in age. Not only is Snow White the same age as she was when the curse took hold twenty-eight years ago, but Prince Charming, who was stabbed while saving Emma, is comatose in the hospital, known only as John Doe.

With a sixth sense for knowing a lie when she hears one, Emma discovers that the Queen doesn’t truly love Henry; compounded with a growing suspicion that there is something wrong with Storybrooke, Emma checks in to Granny’s Inn, where she meets Red Riding Hood, her Granny, and the ominous Mr. Gold, a less toothy, though no less sinister manifestation of Rumpelstiltskin. Once blessed with the power of foresight and privy to the name of Snow White’s daughter, Mr. Gold seems to recognize Emma’s when she checks in to the inn.

The story’s progression seems to be bound by two conventions: excerpts from Henry’s storybook lead us into the flashbacks from the Enchanted Forest, while the clock-tower in the center of town reveals Emma’s progress in undoing the curse that binds Storybrooke and its inhabitants. There’s always going to be a stigma associated with a show that is heralded for being written by the same people behind Lost – though Lost certainly had its faults, I respect and admire the risks the writers took in developing the show’s mythology and its characters. For once, we have a chance to see how fairy-tales have adapted to a modern society, with plenty of room to grow and to display a range of characterization not yet realized in a children’s book. Despite what we know about our beloved fairy-tales, Once Upon a Time opens up a new chapter in which our favourite stories can interact and grow with each other, while still preserving the essence of each tale and its characters as we remember them.

By Mark D Curran

About the author

Mark is a freelance writer, student of English and Philosophy, and still has too much time on his hands. If you have any of your own, check out the blog and follow him on Twitter!


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