ONCE UPON A TIME: A midseason review by Kristen Micek.

ABC’s Once Upon a Time recently aired the 12th episode in its first season. The enthralling series, from Lost creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, begins as bail bondswoman Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) must return Henry (Jared Gilmore), the son she gave up for adoption ten years prior, to his home in Storybrooke, Maine after he shows up on her doorstep. Henry uses his brief time with her attempting to convince her that she is the only one who can break a curse on the town that has trapped all fairytale characters there with no knowledge of their true identities and no hope of a happy ending. When Henry insists that his adoptive mother (Lana Parrilla), the town’s mayor, is the actually the Evil Queen, Emma decides to remain in town to look after his well-being and begins to inadvertently break the hold the curse has placed on the residents of Storybrooke.

The realistic world in which the show is grounded, with drama and romance the likes of which any of us could experience, contrasts nicely to the elements of whimsy and fantasy their fairytale counterparts offer. In each episode, the story alternates between both worlds and seamlessly integrates each storyline into one comprehensive plot, giving insight into both sides of the characters’ identities and making their troubles all the more emotionally-charged. The characters are given dimension, depth, and flaws that any fairytale fan will appreciate—they balance the noble (or murderous, in some cases) hearts’ of the fairytale origins with human flaws. The show has featured fairytale favorites including Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Jiminy Cricket, the Huntsman, and Little Red Riding Hood.

The story of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) is one of the strongest and most captivating, as their fairytale shows that true love will preserve, while their Storybrooke lives’ are kept apart by David’s marriage to another—a fact he discovers after waking with no memory from a coma. The writers’ handle the forbidden romance with care, leaving viewers alternating between hope and despair right along with the characters. Other characters get equally well-developed storylines, with Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) and the Evil Queen both being fleshed out to reveal the humanity they once had and allude to deeper reasons for their immoral actions. Rumpelstiltskin is used as the thread to integrate the majority of the storylines together as he uses the characters’ most desperate hopes against them in a twist on the traditional tales—he acts as Cinderella’s fairy godmother in exchange for her firstborn, and takes the place of Beast in “Skin Deep” in a successful reimagining of Beauty and the Beast.

The acting is phenomenal, with each actor embodying both sides to their characters—Goodwin is as strong and determined as Snow as she is delicate and kind as Mary, Carlyle is as cunning and sly as Mr. Gold as he is unstable and unsettlingly astute as Rumpelstiltskin. Morrison is perfectly cast as the flawed, but honest newcomer to the town, and is able to hold her own as a new character among fairytale favorites.

Inevitably, there is the question of how long it will take the curse to break, and the episodes seem to suggest that it won’t be anytime soon. The episodes deal more with the specificities of each fairytale character’s backstory and current unhappy situation in Storybrooke than with the progression toward breaking the curse. Some characters seem to find resolution at the end of their episode, while others only begin their longer, more complex story arcs. For those willing to ignore the looming question, the show breathes new life and added depth into old favorites, which paired with the strong cast and entrancing storylines, makes it a series to be highly recommended.

Kristen Micek.
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