I held out on watching the television show Once Upon a Time for quite some time. I read a couple of fairytale blogs and they talked about it a lot, but it felt a bit too silly for my tastes. And indeed, there are a lot of aspects to this show that make me wince, most of all the writing surrounding the beat-you-over-the-head theme of “true love solves all”. It’s more than a little saccharine at times. The special effects feel outdated, and the acting is largely mediocre.
However. Three things kept me interested. First was the excellent Robert Carlyle as Rumplestiltskin (especially when he was being his most evil, he is delicious, although to my dismay it seemed his Scottish accent weakened a little over the course of the season). Second was the intertwining of this-world and other-world, which resonates with me personally. And third was the reason I finally decided to sit down and give it a chance in the first place: it seemed like it might be a Girls Underground story. And I think it is.
Emma Swan, abandoned as a baby and alone as an adult, is one day approached by the son she gave up for adoption years ago. He tells her that she is the only person who can break a curse over his entire town, one originally set in place by his adoptive mother, who is in reality an evil queen of a magical world – a world where every person in the town comes from, although none of them remember. Of course Emma doesn’t believe any of this (although we know it is true, and are given frequent flashbacks to that otherworld to see how this all came to be), but she brings the child – Henry – home and quickly becomes entangled in the local community.
Emma’s primary goal is to rescue Henry from his adoptive mother (even though she doesn’t believe in the fairytale story, the woman is still clearly a bad person), which is a common plotline for adult Girls Underground. She has companions in this, friends she makes in the town (one of whom betrays her, as often happens). The adversary – the evil queen/mayor – has her own minions, townsfolk who are in her pocket and help her try to defeat Emma. (There is also a secondary evil character, Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold, who has hidden motives of his own. He owns a pawn shop that functions nicely as the GU “junk shop” archetype.) However, the most important goal is to break the curse on the town, for which Emma will have to believe in the fairytale reality, and that takes a lot of work.
Interestingly, at the end of the first season, when it all comes to a head, Emma ends up working with her adversary, when the wicked queen’s apple poisons not Emma but Henry. Saving him simultaneously breaks the curse, and temporarily defeats the queen. It also gives Emma certain knowledge of the otherworld and their shared history, revealing her to truly be what Henry claimed all along – the savior of the whole fairytale world.
What happens next remains to be seen.