Tag Archives: Once Upon a Time

Lost in a Fairytale: Once Upon a Time and the Flashback Trend on TV

It was a pretty surprising moment for the show. Not as shocking as a death or pregnancy or any of the many events that usually make up May sweeps. But still, it was very surprising when in the second season premier of Once Upon a Time, a show that had become rather formulaic by the end of its first season, actually changed from something very procedural into a more serialized narrative. And it was in that moment that it became clear that the show could probably survive into more seasons to come.

The show, built on the conceit that fairytale characters are real and that a curse has brought them into our world, relied on a flashback formula during its first season to help explain that often confusing concept. The fact that the local schoolteacher is Snow White, the mayor is the evil queen and a pawnbroker is Rumplestiltskin is much more easily explained by showing the same actors in gowns and crowns, fighting off monsters and magic. And as the show veered from the accepted versions of fairytales that everyone knows, the flashbacks helped to create a world that was unique to the show, and that had its own rules. In essence, Once Upon a Time spent half of its first season on some very glitzy exposition.

But when the curse was broken at the end of season one and suddenly everyone remembers who they all really are, the time for explaining how and why was over. The time for the past was over, as the future was so uncertain for the characters. But how to change something that had worked for a whole year?

The premier did indeed flash between the fairy tale world and the real one, only not in a way that the show had ever done before. In fairyland we see Sleeping Beauty, a brand new character, awakened by her handsome prince who is accompanied by Mulan. They encounter a hooded phantom who marks his victims with a metal disk and then sucks out their souls. Aurora’s prince is marked and dies.

It all seems a little irrelevant until the phantom appears back in the real world. Although it still seemed a little unnecessary. Introducing three new characters just to explain what the scary hooded monster did? He was scary and hooded and so logic says he probably sucked out souls. But when in the real world they get rid of the phantom by banishing him back to fairyland, and the two female leads with him, they land right next to Aurora and Mulan. It wasn’t a flashback; it was a peek into the not-so-distant future. The show had introduced three new characters to move the plot forward, not back. And suddenly a whole world of possibilities emerges.

The flashback formula was made most popular by Lost, and when you think back to the first season of that show, you can understand why it was so good. It made a high concept, serialized show more procedural, and easier to watch and understand. It kept the show from having the entire series on a beach. The audience could see how the plane crash had changed the characters. It was a great way to bring those characters together.

But in that show, and others, the brilliance of the flashbacks just didn’t last as characters joined cults, got married randomly, and got strange tattoos in Thailand. And when the flashbacks started to falter the show started flashing forward and eventually “sideways” into the increasingly absurd. These scenes weren’t telling the audience anything about the characters or the plot of the present. They were just there to be there, because that is what the show had always done.

But now Once Upon a Time is not cursed to the same fate as Lost. It doesn’t have to flashback endlessly to fairytale characters who don’t last more than one episode, or create increasingly absurd back stories for the characters. And they can continue to flashback, occasionally. It never hurts to know more about the characters, even if we think we already know everything about Snow White. But inevitably the story matters more than the procedure.

Of course the showis still struggling with the transition. A few episodes in this season have gotten a little heady, sporting three separate plots in a short forty-three minute episode: the real world, the current fairyland, and a flashback. But as the stories converge over the season and the stakes are raised, the show ultimately has dropped the flashbacks in episodes where they weren’t needed. It has chosen instead to focus on the here and now, where all of the action is happening. This is a lesson Lost never learned.


Because One Identity is Too Mainstream…

Once Upon a Time Season 2 Episode 2 “We Are Both” Review and Recap

Well, that was a little disappointing. The season premiere was so strong, with twists around each corner and genuine intrigue as the show stepped out of its straight flashback structure, but the second episode, “We Are Both,” regressed back to the flashback/current structure. Validly, it was all for the good of the plot, as much exposition and dealing with the intricacies of the post-curse world were taken care of, but all in all, the show felt lacking this evening.

Our flashbacks took us back to good Regina, post-Daniel’s death but pre-magic. Looking to revenge her mother for killing Daniel, she calls on everybody’s most reliable resource, good ol’ Rumpy, to exact vengeance. Of course, all magic comes with a price. After giving in and pushing her mother through a mirror to a “handy little world” as described by Rumple (which we assume is our loverly Earth), Regina realizes how much she likes doing magic and her descent to the evil queen we know and love (admit it, evil Regina can be pretty BA). All of this info is sort of the cherry on top of the sundae from last season’s Regina flashback that showed us Daniel and young Snow, finally answering the question of how Snow “ruined” Regina’s life. This was more specific, showing that it was Regina’s mother (and this show is alllll about mothers) is really what did her wrong. But, really, I feel it was a two steps forward one step back kind of plotline.

It relates to the fact that Regina in Storybrooke is trying to regain her powers but must eventually turn back to the same book that originally gave her magic. She uses that magic to get Henry back, but eventually lets him go, choosing his happiness over her own. She almost burns the book but stores it in cupboard instead. We’ll see where this takes us. Is Regina possibly turning good? It’s all very interesting in light of tonight’s big reveal (more on that in a bit).

Meanwhile, in Storybrooke central, chaos reigns. Charming is desperately trying to find a way to get Snow and Emma back, everyone is trying to cope with their dual identities, and generally, yelling, a lot. It is here that we realize that it’s basically an anarchist little town now, with no central authority and no one doing anything normal. We find out with the return of the sneezing drug store owner that people who try to leave Storybrooke become re-cursed, forgetting their fairytale selves. Charming says he’ll fix it, but he has no idea how. He eventually turns back to Henry’s storybook, discovering it’s the Mad Hatter who controls the hat. On his way to confront Jefferson, Red convinces him to save everyone in the town first, leave Snow and Emma for later. He drives to the edge of town, gives an impassioned, if lacking in oratory eloquence, speech basically telling everyone to embrace their multiple personalities, to be sorta schizo. To learn from their Storybrooke personalities and embrace their fairytale personalities too. It’s interesting because it is this duality that drove the Jefferson version of the hatter insane. But we’ll see where this takes our friends.

And at the end of the episode several key things are revealed. Pinnochio/August is not in his hotel room; my bet is he’s gone to join his friend in Manhattan. Also Snow and Emma are around! It was interesting to see the show keep its two main actors under wraps for nearly an entire episode. They’re held captive by Sleeping Beauty and Mulan, brought back to the sanctuary they built in the Enchanted Forest. Locked up in a cell they encounter another prisoner…Regina’s mother Cora! Well now isn’t that interesting? I’m wondering where she’s been, if she was in the forest the whole time or if she was sent back from our world when the curse hit. Who knows? Who knows how good or bad Regina will be now that the biggest baddie of them all (I mean, as far as we know) is back in the mix?

The flashbacks to Regina made sense only when her mother was revealed at the very end of the episode, but they still didn’t really sustain themselves. The show needs to keep moving forward, keep changing up its basic procedural model if it wants to work through its post-curse existence. Because so far there’s just been a lot of yelling and rehashing of old information. But I’m hopeful. The trailer for next week looks like it will be focusing on the present in the Enchanted Forest. So we’ll see what happens.

Once Upon a Time Season Premiere Review and Recap

Just another day in Storybrooke. Oh wait, no it wasn’t. When we last left our fairytale characters, the curse had been broken and everyone remembered who they really were. And then Mr. Gold unleashed a big purple haze of magic on the whole town, changing the rules and blurring the line between fairy tale and reality. That’s what the whole episode was about, really. Blurring the set formula we had last season and transitioning to a place where the show can sustain itself without flashbacks. But let’s dive in.

We open 0n a horse and buggy, apparently in the fairytale land but oh wait no, we’re just in Central Park in NYC. And we follow a man, down the subway, up into his small apartment. we have no idea who he is until a bird delivers a postcard from Storybrooke with one word written on it: “Broken.” Omnious? Yes? Theories? My best bet is on whoever August/Pinnochio was in contact with, and that person probably is Baelfire, Gold’s son. But moving on.

The rest of the episode moves between fairyland and Storybrooke, much like every other episode has. The flashback to fairyland is to Sleeping Beauty being awakened by her handsome prince, a tale I expected to see sooner in the show (given Malificent’s importance to the storyline thus far). He’s accompanied by a masked soldier, who although they try to keep up the appearance of a man, the cut of the outfit and the liner on the eyes immediately gave away this new character as Mulan (Jamie Chung). They encounter a hooded phantom they call a wraith, who marks his victims with a metal disk and then sucks out their souls. Aurora’s prince is marked and he runs away to try to save the women. They run after him but are too late. The prince dies. It all seems a little irrelevant until Gold pulls the disk out of his cabinet and marks Regina, after he promised Belle (love her Australian accent, by the way) he wouldn’t kill.

Meanwhile, Snow, Charming and Emma spend most of the episode trying to convince people not to kill Regina, and then later saving Regina. It’s because they’re heroes and because Henry asked them to. There are also lots of awkward moments where Snow and Charming, full of their memories, try to connect with Emma as their daughter. It’s super weird, as Snow mentions, because they were equal adults before. “There are lots of things I shouldn’t have mentioned, like one night stands.” “One night stands?” “Whale. What we were cursed!”

When it comes down to it, the only way to defeat the wraith is to send it back to fairyland, which Regina swears is gone. She thinks sending it to an abyss will kill it. Everyone’s favorite portal device, Mad’s hat, is required and it doesn’t work until Emma touches Regina’s arm. Curious and curiouser. Of course, all magic comes with a price, and the wraith is sucked it, along with Emma. Snow jumps in after her and so does Charming, but the portal closes and he hits the floor. And where Emma and Snow land is back in fairyland, right next to Aurora and Mulan, and we realize that it was no flashback, it was actually a flash forward, the wraith appearing to Aurora, the prince, and Mulan after it had left Storybrooke. Whef, timelines have always been confusing in this show, but I think they’re going only going to get more so.

And there we leave it. Emma and Snow are back in fairyland, everybody else is trapped in Storybrooke with Regina and Gold magicking all over the place, and there’s a mysterious New York stranger involved. All in all it was a good premiere, holding onto the bomb that it wasn’t a flashback anymore until the very end. But there are many questions left unanswered, and people we haven’t heard from. Where is August? And Jefferson? They’re linked very intricately with the fate of our main characters, but we don’t know anything about them, post-curse. Also, just putting an appeal out there for Amy Acker’s fairy/nun to come back. Because it’s Amy Acker playing a fairy/nun, it’s so adorable I can’t even handle it. But alas, we’ll just have to wait and see.