I have to admit it took some prodding for me to start watching Once Upon a Time. It was the urging of a friend that finally got me to sit down and watch it. Thankfully, she knows me really well and knows stories that play with traditional fairy tales = love (to me). There’s just something about subverting what we think we know about these characters that tickles me. And Once Upon a Time does that.
Or at least it did.
In the second season the writing hasn’t been as tight and it has left me more than a little disappointed, especially on two points.
You learn as a writer that it’s important to maintain a manageable cast of characters. If you don’t some get left behind leaving viewers/readers wondering what the hell happened to them or worse confused about who’s who.
In the first season there was a central cast that the show focused on: The Charmings (Snow, Charming, Emma, Henry) and their interactions with a select few residents of Storybrooke, Rumpelstiltskin and the Evil Queen, Regina. They all received intriguing backstories and motivations and their stories were all interwoven in a plausible way. I kept coming back to find out how one character was related to another and to see how the writers had evolved them to make the stories work. It was wonderful.
In the latest series new characters are thrown in what seems to be a random, need-them-right-now-for-the-plot kind of way. Some come without histories and others, even more frustratingly, with but because they disappear into the ether their stories have no resolution. What happened to characters that we’ve come to know if the first season? Jefferson? Archie? August? Kathryn? Ashley? Marco? Victor? What about the newer ones like Aurora, Mulan and Anton the giant? Don’t tell me we watched an entire episode about his life before Storybrooke only to never see him again.
Another thing that’s been dragging for me is the adage ‘good will always triumph’ being touted at every turn. Why create characters that are so different from the ones we’re used to and then stick to that? We all know that the original stories are much darker than they are now. Why not explore that a little? Change it up! Keep us guessing! If we know who will win every story arc why are we going to bother?
One thing they have gotten right, to a fashion, is their willingness to kill off characters. Even main characters like Graham and Cora. But why stop there? It’s as good a way as any to close off loose endings, add tension and motivation to the remaining characters not to mention keep viewers on their toes.
I hope that the rest of this series brings it all together to become that fun and interesting viewing experience again. But at least I can learn what works and doesn’t in storytelling by watching it.