By Danielle Williams
I didn’t have high hopes for ABC’s new series Once Upon A Time when I first saw the previews starring Jennifer Morrison (Dr. Cameron, from House, M.D.) and Ginnfer Goodwin (Margene Heffman, from HBO’s Big Love). The pilot starts off with a Prince Charming-esque man riding on a horse to find Goodwin’s character lying in an ornate, glass casket, surrounded by what appears to by seven dwarves. When he asks to kiss her one last time before the dwarves bury her, Goodwin – who we now definitively know is Snow White – suddenly wakes and after declarations of love, the two marry, only to have an evil witch and fallen queen disturb the ceremony. The Witch Queen grants the couple a happy wedding day and vows to make the couple suffer for every day thereafter, declaring that they will never know happiness again.
Thus, the scene changes to the present day, of a young boy on a Greyhound bus, alone, reading the book containing the fairytale we’ve just witnessed. The camera cuts to Emma (Morrison), who is seemingly on a blind, internet date, which turns out to be a cover for. Emma is actually a bail bondsperson and her date is a ruse to bust an embezzling businessman. When he tries to run, Emma walks calmly into traffic, in a tight dress and heels, to arrest him. Her vulnerability shows a bit when the little boy from the bus – Henry – shows up at her door, with the notion that he’s her son (which is a bit ridiculous because how you can forget that you gave up a baby for adoption, I will never understand) and that she’ll come home with him. Emma leaves her life in Boston to take Henry back to his hometown of Storybrook, Maine.
The show reverts back to its fairytale arc (which I’ll call the Sotryverse), Snow White stands that the window of her castle, pensive and very pregnant, still thinking on the Witch Queen’s words from her wedding day. Though her husband ensures that her words are empty threats, Snow beseeches him to allow her to talk to an unnamed fortune teller to ensure the safety of their unborn child. Switch briefly back to the present where Emma questions Henry about the fairytales he’s reading when Henry says that all off the stories in his book are true and that Emma is a character in one of them. (Oh, we might actually be getting somewhere now.)
In the Storyverse, Snow and her king – who is finally declared as Prince Charming – go to the dungeons to visit Rumpelstiltskin (the aforementioned fortune teller), who mocks them even from his jail cell. He promises to ease their minds for the name if their unborn child. He tells them that the Witch Queen has created a powerful curse that will imprison all of the Storyverse characters in a time where “everything [they] love will be stripped from [them] for all eternity while the Queen celebrates” their demise. Their only hope is to send Snow White’s child away and on its twenty-eighth birthday, he will return to defeat the Witch Queen. Snow White and Prince Charming turn to leave, but Rumpelstiltskin protests that they never gave him the name they promised. Reluctantly, Snow tells him that her child’s name is Emma. Before the commercial break, the camera cuts to Emma arriving with Henry in Storybrook.
Once the pair reach Storybrook, Henry refuses to give Emma his address and instead launches into a long story of everything we’ve already experienced over the last 15 minutes. Witch Queen sent everyone in the fairytale to Storybrook, with no recollection of their Story-selves, and stopped time (he shows Emma clock tower has been stuck on 8:15 for as long as anyone can remember) in order to exact her revenge.
Cut back to the Storyverse where Prince Charming has called his council to figure out a way to stop the Witch Queen’s curse from befalling the castle, where we learn of an enchanted tree that has the power to protect only one person from the Queen’s curse, meaning that either Snow, Prince Charming, or Emma can be protected, but not the whole family. Gepetto (yes, the Pinocchio Gepetto) Informs the council that he will a wardrobe from the enchanted tree, to transport the chosen person.
Meanwhile, in the present, Emma returns Henry to his him where the Witch Queen is Henry’s adopted mother. The two mother’s share a glass of wine and before long, Emma is on her way home, only to find that Henry purposefully left his storybook in her car, but before she can return it, a wolf appears in the middle of the road and Emma crashes into a tree to avoid hitting the animal
The book falls open on the passenger’s seat and we’re transported back to Storyverse to find Snow White giving birth to Emma and the Queen launching an attack on the kingdom. Cut to the present where Emma is in jail (for drunk driving because, seriously, who would believe her about a wolf in the road) to discover that Henry is missing again, but that he stole his teacher’s credit card to track down his birth mother. After investigating at the school, we finally get to see that Snow White is Henry’s teacher in the modern world and that she gave him the book of fairytales, but Henry’s present mother won’t tolerate her son believing in anything but reality, so she storms out of the room. Privately, present-Snow tells Emma to check Henry’s “castle” if she wants to find him.
Back in the Storyverse, Snow White gives birth while the Witch Queen marches on the city. Snow remembers that the wardrobe will only take one occupant to stay safe and convinces Prince Charming to put Emma in it in the hopes that one day, she will come back to save the people in the Storyverse. The Queen’s men kill Charming on his way back from the wardrobe.
In the present, Emma finds Henry at his “castle,” a jungle gym on the coast. Henry and Emma finally acknowledge the unspoken grief between them because of the adoption. Emma shares he past of being left on the side of the road and get passed around in the foster care system. Henry tries to conveinve her otherwise, that she simply came through the wardrobe in a bad place, but Emma refuses to believe him. In the Storyverse, Snow White finds her late husband just as the Witch Queen magically transports everyone to Storybrook. Cut to Emma dropping Henry off at his house, his mother waiting at the door for them. She makes it perfectly clear that ten years ago, Emma asked for a closed adoption and that if she ever comes back to Storybrook, the Witch Queen (with a ‘b’) will come outm prominently slamming the door in her face. At this point, we find out that the book is called Once Upon A Time as she looks pointedly into a mirror. It seems that Henry’s prior convincing worked because the next thing we know Emma has decided to stay in Storybrook for a week, to validate his claims. As the episode ends, Henry stares out of the window to see the clock finally move first time in the history of the town.
Overall, my worst fears were confirmed, there are some pilots that grab you from the beginning and keep the viewer’s attention, but Once Upon A Time failed to do that. The writers tried to build suspense by giving out the clues only when then absolutely necessary and taking pride when the characters in one universe revealed their parallel selves. At this point with so many plotholes to fill and recreate, Once Upon A Time could go the route of Lost where viewers lose interest or go the way of Desperate Housewives, where people keep coming back for more. However, I give the show a rating of 5.5/10 for being mediocre and predict that it won’t last long after the first season, if at all.