Saturday, February 18, 2012

Some Thoughts on "Once Upon a Time"

Hi everyone!  Thank you much for your prayers and encouraging comments regarding Middle Gal's recovery.  She's doing really well! :)
This is a post I've been working on all week, and I wanted to get it published before the next episode.  Hope you enjoy it!

Okay, I've been holding out on writing about this series because I wanted to see the direction it was going, but I admit it...I've gotten a bit hooked on "Once Upon a Time".

WARNING:  THERE WILL BE SPOILERS AHEAD!  If you haven't watched this series and don't want to know anything about it before watching, I would suggest you skip this post.  I'll try to warn you before the big spoilers, but there will inevitably be things I have to reveal as I share my thoughts.

WARNING #2:  I've been working through this stuff in my head for a while, so I'm most likely going to be very wordy, just so you know.  You've been fairly warned. ;)

I was able to hold my ground for quite a while.  I was a bit concerned with some of the content, and reluctant to get interested in a series that was written by guys whose last series lasted for EIGHT SEASONS!!!! ("Once Upon a Time" is written by the same guys who wrote "Lost", which I have not seen, by the way.)  But after last week's episode, "Skin Deep", I could feel my resolve slipping.

When I first heard that ABC was doing a TV series called "Once Upon a Time", I was cautiously excited.  I have always loved fairy tales, and I thought it had some great potential.  As I learned a little bit more about the series, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, even as I got interested in the story line.  There were some definite similarities to my stories I'd been developing and working on.  Not that they were identical or anything, but my book would definitely have been more original if it had been published before "Once Upon a Time". :{

For those of you who are not familiar with the series, the basic premise is that every fairy tale story you've ever heard really happened.  All of the fairy tale characters we know and love really existed in their own world.  However, angry over Snow White's happy ending, the Evil Queen put a curse on the entire fairy tale world.  Now all of the fairy tale characters are stuck in Storybrooke, Maine, where the Evil Queen resides as mayor.  None of them know their true identities (except for the mayor and one other character), and only one person can break the curse:  the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, Emma Swan.  Emma was transported to our world via magical wardrobe (hmm, Narnia, anyone?) as a baby by her parents.  Of course, she has no memory of her life as a fairy tale character, which could prove a daunting obstacle.  And she's not in Storybrooke.  Thankfully, her son, Henry, whom she gave up for adoption as an infant, finds her and takes her there.  He's been given a book of fairy tales by his teacher at school and has connected the dots.  Now all he has to do is convince Emma that the stories are true, and that only she can save them.  Oh, and that his adopted mom is the Evil Queen from Snow White's story.

Involved, I know.  It's hard to describe.  The idea is great, though.  I was just a little concerned with what they'd do to all of my favorite fairy tales, so I tried to go into it very cautiously.  I didn't want to get swept off my feet before I could properly evaluate everything.

There are definitely some things that they got right on this series.  The writing is great.  At the end of each week, you find yourself dying to know what happens next!  While the writing style can sometimes make it a bit difficult to remember details from past episodes, as they jump from character to character for weeks at a time, it definitely keeps you hooked!

The stories have overall been much cleaner than I expected, too:  not too much swearing, no explicit sexual content.  Also, because ABC is owned by Disney, there are a lot of clever references to the Disney versions of the fairy tales that we've all grown up with.  

The acting is phenomenal, and the casting is superb.  I haven't seen any character yet that made me think, "They just really don't look the way I imagined them."

And speaking of characters, just who have we met so far?  Snow White and her dwarfs, Prince Charming, the Evil Queen, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Jiminy Cricket, Red Riding Hood, Belle, and many, many more.  The writers go "behind the scenes" of the fairy tales we all know so well and give us all sorts of extra information on what happened between the pages of their original stories.

I also appreciate that the characters are very layered.  Instead of the perfect sweet and kind "good guys" and the melodramatic "bad guys", you see believable human characteristics in each.  Good characters sometimes make mistakes, but try to learn from them.  With some of the "bad guys", we see the progression of their characters.  It doesn't excuse their behavior, but you can see how the choices they made and the influences they chose to follow affected their life and shaped them into the person they became.  There are some great opportunities for spiritual application here.  More on that later, though. :)  

Of course, as is to be expected, the series has its faults.  The most frustrating issue for me involves Snow White and Prince Charming.  Because of the fact that no one remembers who they are in Storybrooke, some of the characters have been separated from each other, including Snow White and Prince Charming.  It is believed, at least at this point in the series, that Prince Charming's Storybrooke counterpart, David Nolan, is married.  SPOILER!!! (At the beginning of the series, David is in a coma, and when he wakes up, he doesn't remember anything.  Right when he and Snow White's Storybrooke counterpart begin to get close, the mayor/Evil Queen conveniently shows up with David's "wife".) END OF SPOILER (SORT OF)  Yet he "feels a connection" with Mary Margaret Blanchard (known as Snow White in the fairy tale world) that he doesn't feel with his wife.  As a result, the two of them end up starting a relationship in spite of his marriage.  It is not specified how far this relationship has gone, but they are at least very emotionally involved and have shared kisses and embraces.

Now, I realize that they are truly married in the fairy tale world, and it's pretty likely that his "marriage" to this other woman is a hoax or a ploy set up by the Evil Queen to keep him and Snow White apart.  That being said, I am so tired of TV shows or movies using the whole "soul mates" thing to excuse sin.  If you're married, you need to be faithful to your spouse, both physically and emotionally.  It doesn't matter if you find your "soul mate" after you're married.  You have committed to your husband or wife and that's the relationship you need to be cultivating.  If more people had this mindset, we'd have a lot less divorces and unhappy marriages in this world.  I realize that in some situations, such as abusive scenarios, this just isn't possible.  But on the whole, in a normal marriage relationship, this is God's design.  We really don't need any more encouragement to "follow our hearts", especially when a romantic fairy tale couple is involved, which makes us feel all gushy inside and therefore justify their actions.

There are also several characters that are known to be sleeping together, and while we don't see anything explicit (yet! Hopefully it will stay that way!), this is treated as the norm, and even encouraged in some instances.  Sadly, this has become the norm for most of society, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.  There also have been at least a few innuendos (and probably more than that, as these tend to go over my head unless they're really obvious).

I don't remember how much swearing there is.  There have been at least a few instances of some swearing, and a few improper uses of God's name.

Alcoholic beverages are frequently consumed throughout the show.  There are also some low-cut and otherwise revealing outfits worn by some of the female characters, especially the Evil Queen and Red Riding Hood's Storybrooke counterpart, Ruby.

The other thing is that there are some pretty dark themes and some violent content in some of the episodes.  Because of this, I would definitely not recommend this show for kids.  It's geared much more towards adults.  Of course, when you read some of the original fairy tales, they were pretty dark and violent too.  Something that comes up quite frequently is murder, and it's usually instigated by the Evil Queen or those around her.

I should also mention that magic plays a pretty big part in this series too (duh!).  For the most part, though, it's Disney-ish magic:  wands, fairy godmothers, wishes from Genies, and other such things.  There is at least one battle between the Evil Queen and Maleficent that is rather Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter-esque, and a couple of dark scenes where the Evil Queen begins the curse.  I just wanted to mention this because I know this is a real issue for some people.  For me, as long as they're not constantly reciting incantations and making spells the entire focus, I'm not as bothered.  I mean, you can't really have fairy tales without magic...the plot lines would be completely impossible. :}

So what was it that finally got me really interested in this series?  You won't be surprised.  I watched Snow White and Cinderella's stories with interest, but I was able to remain fairly detached.  Rumpelstiltskin and Jiminy Cricket's stories were interesting, but sad, too.  The Magic Mirror, the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel...all of them were interesting, but still I was doing well.

Then, last week, they did Beauty and the Beast...and I was totally sunk.  Are you shocked? ;)  It was, in my opinion, the greatest episode yet (minus the annoying secondary plot with more on the Mary Margaret/David Nolan issue, and SPOILER!! the Storybrooke Cinderella character who got pregnant before marrying her Prince Charming! Grrr!  At least this didn't happen in the fairy tale world, but still...) END OF SPOILER  I had my doubts at first when I realized that Rumpelstiltskin was going to take the role of the Beast.  The episode was written so well, though, that it didn't take me long to love it.  The writing, the acting, and the music all melded together to make one amazing episode!  It seriously took me almost all night to wrap my head around all the little nods and references to Beauty and the Beast, but with twists of their own.  SPOILER ALERT!!  Sadly, this version did not have a happy ending, but there's still a chance that the story might resolve itself later on in the series!  END OF SPOILER  I'm on pins and needles to find out what happens.  And apparently, I'm not the only one.  Just look up "Belle and Rumpelstiltskin" on YouTube, and you'll find dozens of fan videos celebrating the couple.

At first, I felt a little bad about liking the episode so much.  I mean, the more you watch of this series, the more you realize the evil that Rumpelstiltskin is capable of, and the amount of power he really holds. It made me think of a Phantom of the Opera type situation.   But at the same time, most of the things he'd done were unknown to Belle, and he truly cared for her and showed her kindness as the episode wore times, at least.  So really, from her perspective, he was just a guy that was a bit creepy-looking and a little rough around the edges. [EDIT:  In reading over this, I realized I was rationalizing the scenario because I liked the episode so much. I need to be consistent here! :}  Rumpel is not exactly the greatest candidate for a future mate (okay, that's the understatement of the year), and even though Belle didn't know everything he'd done, this still was definitely more of a Phantom case.  Of course, when Rumpel SPOILER went all ballistic on her for trying to break his curse, she wisely didn't stick around (partially by choice and partially by force).  I appreciate the fact that she stood up to him and was able to see through his phony excuses, yet she was strong enough to say goodbye, even though she still loved him. END OF SPOILER]

I think that Rumpelstiltskin, more than any of the other characters, really exemplifies the possibility of redemption.  He made some horrible choices in his life.  In the beginning, rather than facing his problems, he chose to do something wrong to give him the power he'd always dreamed of.  He justified his decision by thinking of all the good he could do, but instead, his power corrupted him and turned him into something evil. [Side note here:  While I pitied his beginning, I did not have much empathy for Rumpelstiltskin at all before this episode!  He gave me the shivers!]

When Belle came into his life, he slowly started to remember his humanity.  She brought back feelings that I'm sure he thought he no longer had.  This episode showed a different side to him, a vulnerable man who had the capacity to love, if only he would let go of his bitterness and desire for power.  We were also shown in this episode that he made another decision that he came to bitterly regret...a decision that still haunted him, even in Storybrooke.  

I think there's hope for Rumpel yet.  In all the episodes about the Evil Queen, we've seen her make bad decision after bad decision.  While she seems to have some feelings beneath that icy exterior, she is ruthless and never fails to crush all who get in her way.  She is manipulative, power-hungry, and will stop at nothing to pursue her own interests.

Rumpel has similarly made some horrible choices and done some horrible things.  Yet there is still a shred of goodness that is fighting to get out.  SPOILER!!  He still cherishes his memories of Belle, so much so that his most prized possession is a chipped teacup (you'll have to watch the episode to find out why!). END OF SPOILER  Don't get me wrong.  Rumpelstiltskin (and his Storybrooke double, Mr. Gold) is far from a nice guy!  He's got a long way to go...but there's still hope. :) 

I think this is such a wonderful picture of us regular, non-fairy tale humans. ;)  In our lives, we are daily presented with choices, and every choice we make affects our future path.  The friends we make, the influences we follow, the books we read, the movies we watch, and the goals we set all determine who we become.  We can choose to do what is right, or do what "feels good" and works best for us.  And any of us who have been on this earth for a considerable period of time know that the more we keep giving into our selfish nature and to the evil influences around us, the easier it is to continue down that road.

But, praise be to God, we do not have to redeem ourselves.  In fact, there is nothing we can do to save ourselves.  It is only by accepting Christ's sacrifice for us on the cross that we can be saved.  And His death covers every sin that ever has been or ever will be committed.  It may be difficult to choose what is right after years and years of doing what is wrong, but it is never impossible.  No one is a lost cause.  And I think that Rumpelstiltskin may possibly end up being an illustration of that.  The problem is, he's going to have to make the right decision first...and that could be a pretty tough choice.

 Even as followers of Christ, we are not immune to the pull of sin and the world.  It is a daily struggle to yield to Christ and His will for our lives.  Thankfully, when we fall, we need only to confess our sins to our Savior, and we can start fresh again.  I think that's why, especially as I get older and become more acquainted with my struggles and failings, I tend to appreciate less-than-perfect heroes and heroines.  I've come to love characters who can be used for good in spite of their flaws, who learn from their mistakes and move on.  

I would like end with a word of caution to my younger, unmarried sisters in Christ.  It is so easy to get caught up in a story like this and not think about the tragedy of giving our hearts to someone who does not share our faith.  I think that as women, we have a natural desire to "save" someone when we see their potential.  Think of all of the stories that pull at our heartstrings, like "Beauty and the Beast", "The Phantom of the Opera", "Jane Eyre", and more, where the main character is a tortured soul with a capacity for goodness.  May I just encourage you to keep these sorts of relationships for your stories and stay away from them in real life?  You will avoid so much heartache if you do.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with befriending and witnessing to someone who needs to know about the love of Christ.  But dating or courting someone with the soul purpose of converting them almost never works, and once your heart is involved, it's harder and harder to let go.  How sad to share your life with someone who may not ever be able to relate to what is most important in your life!

Okay, getting down from my soapbox now. ;)  I just know that it's easy to get caught up in the romance and excitement of stories like these without thinking about the dangers of seeking that sort of a relationship in real life.

For those of you who are now interested in watching "Once Upon a Time", I have to say that I cannot fully recommend this show, especially for my younger audience, and I can't guarantee that it won't get worse (most shows do!), so proceed at your own discretion.  I think, though, for my older readers and lovers of fairy tales, this show has some potential, aside from the issues I've mentioned.  More than anything, this show inspires me to keep writing my own fairy tale series I've been working on! :)  

I'll leave you with a couple of collages I did of my favorite couple, just for fun. :)

I almost cried when I watched this scene!! (Sorry the picture is so can click on it to make it bigger.  I've also added it to the bottom of my blog.) :)


Claire said...

I managed to get most - and by most I mean my mom and sisters - into this show! I've always loved fairy tales, which is why this show appealed to me so much.

Like you, I think the best one was the Beauty & the Beast episode. I was a bit skeptical about Rumpel being the beast, but my mind was changed during the episode. ;)

beastsbelle said...

My hubby's not too interested in this series, but my mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law, and aunt are all watching it. It's nice having someone else watching it too so you can talk about it. I was completely geeking out about the Beauty and the Beast episode, so I had to discuss it with all my family members! ;)

I think what made that episode so great was Robert Carlyle's acting. It was amazing to me how much he could express just through subtle facial expressions. And Emilie de Ravin, who played Belle, played off of him so well. Add the lovely music and the heartfelt story, and it was just a perfect blend. :) I've re-watched the episode about 5 times. :}

Alexandra said...

I haven't seen this series yet, but kept up with it via several blogs, and the Beauty and the Beast one really fascinated me! From what I've heard...I do wonder if they took a page from POTO, seeing as most refer to the story of POTO as a take on Beauty and the Beast. Especially as Rumplestilskin is quite nastier than the Beast character usually is...more of an Erik IMO. :-)

"When Belle came into his life, he slowly started to remember his humanity. She brought back feelings that I'm sure he thought he no longer had. This episode showed a different side to him, a vulnerable man who had the capacity to love, if only he would let go of his bitterness and desire for power."

Sounds like the Phantom to me. :-)

Anyway...this series sounds FASCINATING and I may try it once it comes on DVD. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts as the show progresses.

Glad to hear your daughter's doing well, BTW. Been praying for her!!!

OH, also...I didn't get the link (I will try and remember that), but when I was on YouTube the other day finding some videos I needed for a post, I found several videos of James Barbour as the Beast...actually on stage in costume. I thought of you when I saw them...there was "Something There" and the "If I Can't Love Her" reprise. Not sure how many other ones there were. Anyway. :-)

Elliebob said...


beastsbelle said...

:) I do look forward to it each week. We'll have to wait 2 more weeks now, though. Belle is supposed to be in it again for Episode 13! :D

beastsbelle said...

Hi Alexandra!

Sorry I didn't respond to your comment until now...once again, it was in my spam folder! :(

Thanks for praying for my daughter. Her recovery is progressing very nicely. :)

Yes, I think the Rumpel and Belle storyline is definitely more of a "Phantom" take on Beauty and the Beast. Sigh. And here I was on team Raoul and everything. ;) I appreciated the episode from a writer's standpoint, especially as someone who has done lots of research on different versions of Beauty and the Beast. Well, not excessive research. Not like I've done a thesis on it or anything. ;) The acting was just so wonderful in this episode. I hope there's some redemption for old Rumpy yet!

The series is fascinating, but definitely applies a lot of today's morals to its storylines, especially in the Storybrooke part. Sooo frustrating! Just know that going into it.

Oh, I'd love to see actual clips of James Barbour as the Beast!! Watch out, YouTube, here I come! ;) Thanks for letting me know.

Have a great day!

Anonymous said...

I like Snow and Charming the best:):):)

beastsbelle said...

I liked Belle and Rumpelstiltskin the best until Season 2. :(