Once Upon a Time 1×02 – The Thing You Love Most

Written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Directed by Greg Beeman

In which we find out how the Queen got the curse and what she was willing to sacrifice to cast it, and Emma finds herself the target of Storybrooke mayor Regina.

“A horse?  This is the curse to end all curses!  You think a horse is going to do?”
-Rumplestiltskin to the Queen on her choice of sacrificial victim

Now I didn’t expect that.  No, after a pilot that failed significantly to impress me, a pilot that made me want to revisit a similar story that I felt was better told, I expected to find more reasons to pick apart Once Upon a Time.  I expected to find the show good but a pale comparison to Fables.  But no, this episode completely negated the lackluster pilot, proving once more that one should never judge a show by its pilot.

The device that worked so well for the early seasons of Lost were the character flashbacks.  The action on The Island would usually focus on a particular character and would be intercut with flashbacks to the character’s life before the plane crash.  Once Upon a Time is using this device to great effect.  I admit to being apprehensive when it first started, but Kitsis and Horowitz are doing great character work.  Once Upon a Time is quite reminiscent of Lost’s first season.  Characters are more important than plot.  And honestly, I think that is a good move at the moment.  This is what hooked me on Lost, the character studies, and it seems to be working in this show as well.  Exploring the motivations of The Queen really helps us to sympathize with her real-world counterpart Regina.  And because of the revelations in this episode, she is made into a tragic figure, a woman who chooses to destroy herself by pursuing revenge.

While I enjoy the flashbacks, I’m still apprehensive about the meta-narrative.  I don’t mind the existence of the curse and the before and after worlds portrayed in the show.  What worries me is that, given the trend in American network television, narrative cannot sustain a show long term.  While Lost continued to work (and frustrate) by revealing layer upon convoluted layer, the narrative of Once Upon a Time is quite simple and straightforward.  The Queen cursed all the fairytale people.  The curse must be broken.  Emma Swan is the one who can break it.  Sure, we can spend a good part of season one exploring the lives of the characters we have met so far (The Queen, Snow White, Rumplestiltskin, the sherif-who better not turn out to be a wolf), but the overall narrative of the curse cannot believable sustain the show for more than two seasons, and I think I’m being generous with that estimate.  What I would love to see is the curse plot resolved by the end of the season and a second narrative set into motion.  Perhaps we find out that the fairytale world still exists and is still inhabited.  Maybe Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin can travel between the two.  Maybe the power vacuum led to some sort of takeover.  Granted, the latter would begin to delve even more into Fables territory, but the point is that the writers should do the unexpected by changing the plot from time to time.  This show doesn’t have big mysteries on the scale of The X-Files or Lost, and it shouldn’t pretend it does.  Let the characters grow and be amazing while giving us story-arcs with actual endings.  British shows do this more than we do and, surprise, surprise, it actually works!
So, where does this show stand at the moment.  One vote for and one vote against.  I’m thinking of giving it best out of five.  If I still like it, I’ll keep with it.  I don’t really have enough time in my life to keep with a “decent but not great” show.  And at the moment, it could go either way.

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