The Tale of Once Upon A Captain Swan
If you’re a fan of the show Once Upon a Time, then I hope you’re all caught up on the first five seasons because there are spoilers here. And I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve labeled this slice of awesomeness OUACS, which was taken from a poster on the RumBelle section of Archive of Our Own. There’s a reason for this and I’ll get to it.
So what can we writers say about Once Upon a Time? First off, if you’ve never seen the show, it’s basically a live action version of your favorite – and not so favorite – Disney fairy tales turned upside down. If you ever wondered what fairy tale characters would do in the real world, this is your show. Think Enchanted, but with more action, adventure, and an hour long. Most of the so-called ‘Disney princesses’ are actually weapon wielding warriors who really do get into fights and bust stuff up and aren’t sitting around waiting for their prince charming. They’re going out to get prince charming themselves.
Currently, the show just finished their fifth season and this is where the writer’s room comes into play.
I’ll say it right now to get it off the table – I ship me some RumBelle (if you couldn’t tell from the intro paragraph). RumBelle is the shipper name for Rumplestilskin and Belle, from Beauty and the Beast (in the show, Rumple is also the beast, so it makes sense). Probably the most real to life couple on the show, like all Shakespeare tragedies, these two couldn’t catch a break if they stood in the middle of a break store, with a baseball glove. But I’m getting a head of myself. Let’s talk about the writing.
OUAT is the storytelling baby from the same folks that brought us LOST. A good show that had a rather interesting and some say, unfulfilled ending. Backed by Disney, the two have been allowed to play in the Disney fairy tale franchise, which has been fairly good up to a point.
The show overall focuses on a young woman who discovers that fairy tales are real, thanks to the efforts of the son she gave up for adoption. The first and second seasons were all about the backstory of not only our protagonists, but the people who were living in the strange and mysterious town of Storybrooke, Maine, a city that could not be found on a map and literally repelled people not born from the magical land they originally came from.
As a fantasy show, it was different and not as cheesy as someone would think when presented with the idea of fairy tale characters living in the real world. The first few seasons were all about looking deeper into the characters that we knew and loved – Snow White wasn’t just a girl being chased down by her evil step-mother; she was a child who got caught up in one woman’s ambitions for her only child. Snow went on the run and instead of just house cleaning for seven men, she became a bandit. I’m sure in that first season some fans wondered if Snow was actually a female Robin Hood (she wasn’t). Upon meeting Prince James (long backstory on that), she hits him with a rock and as a condescending joke, nicknames him ‘Charming’.
Even Regina, the evil queen, isn’t some vain woman who goes after her beauty step-daughter – she’s a tragic figure who watched her own mother kill the man she loved and then forced her to marry another (this being Snow’s father). We’d later learn that her mother is the reason Snow’s mother died in the first place.
These seasons did a tremendous job of not only creating new and deeper looks in to classic characters, but the events of the past directly tied in with events in the current time line. Every episode goes between what happened in the Enchanted Forest (fairy tale land) to what’s happening in Storybrooke.
In TV, movies, books, video games, etc what holds the story together are the characters. You could have the simplest of plots, but the characters are the ones driving it to new levels and heights. OUAT was great at that and when you look at what we know about the characters now, all of them are flawed. Why is that great? Because the last thing you want in a character is a Mary or Gary Sue – that perfect person that everyone loves, who is brilliant at everything they do, and they are the goody goody gumdrops of the world. People hate that. Don’t believe me? If I said ‘Wesley Crusher’, what would your reaction be?
I rest my case.
Even the so-called ‘villains’ in the show aren’t inheirantly evil. In fact the motto of the show is ‘evil isn’t born, it’s made’. That’s a real biggie when you look at real life serial killers and the debate of whether they are just born evil or if they were made to be evil. And if made, what could have/can be done to start the making of these people? Our villains, even the worse ones (with exception to maybe Peter Pan. He was a dick from the beginning) have stories where, if a change could have happened, would they have still been who they are?
Obviously as a fan, my villain of choice is Rumplestilskin. Talk about a tragic character! Abandoned by his father, Rumple grows up, gets married, and is forced into a war with a force that can’t be beat. Upon hearing a prophesy in which he’ll never know the son he’s just learned he’s going to have, Rumple injures himself to return home. While a nice sacrifice, in a time when dying in a war was the greatest thing a man could do, he’s labeled a coward. His wife ends up leaving him because she doesn’t wanna be married to someone who would rather raise their son and goes off with a pirate (cue immense hatred for Capt. Hook. Again, more on this later). Poor, ostracized, and scared that his now teenage son is going to be drafted in another losing war, Rumple becomes the Dark One, possibly becoming the longest and most unique DOs ever.
What makes this character so unique is that ‘not really a villain’ motif. His life is tragedic and while he does do bad things, in comparison with some of the other characters (like our ‘heroes’) or background characters, he’s nearly the epitome of the ‘road to hell is paved with good intentions’. Being the Dark One gives him power he didn’t have before and that power goes to his head, but in an overprotective way – he ends up alienating his son, which causes their separation. All of the deeds he does afterwards is towards finding his son, regardless of how the end comes for the people he ‘helps’.
Rumple is also a main lynch pin to many of the other characters – he’s the one who teaches Regina magic, he’s responsible for turning Archie into Jiminy Cricket, he’s responsible for the cloak that keeps Red/Ruby from turning into a wolf, he’s responsible for getting Snow and Charming together – which is a huge important point, as without those two, we wouldn’t have the savior, nor would Rumple have a grandson.
The same thing is true for Regina – she didn’t start as the evil queen that we know, she started as the princess who was in love with a stable boy. Unfortunately, her very controlling mother managed to ruin her happiness and then pin it on a ten year old girl (that would be Snow). Regina is then introduced to magic to get her revenge on Snow, but actually doesn’t have the burning passion for evil. She gets there, but like Rumple, in the beginning she doesn’t want to hurt people that don’t deserve to be hurt.
Where They Went Wrong
The point of the writer’s room here is to show the good in the writing, but also the bad in the writing. Now before a flame war starts out, this is my opinion. My opinion is shared by others, who happen to be on the good ship RumBelle. People on the Capt Swan ship will obviously feel differently. And I’ll tell you why.
Since season 4, I haven’t been an active watcher. By that I mean, I start watching and then the episodes get to a point of…WTF. At this point, season 3 – which I felt was the worse before 4 and 5 – has now became a better season thanks to the last two.
So where did our writers go wrong?
Character changes, to start.
And not like small added things to their backstory, I mean huge things that basically changed the established character into a different people. But Gina, you’re saying, they’re writers and it’s their work and they can do what they want and they can’t please everyone. Well…yes and no. As a writer, at some point you’re going to have fans and these fans loved your story and characters and writing and then one day you drop an atomic bomb where nothing up to this point now makes any sense.
A notable example is Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones – book fans cried foul when GoT took a scene in the book and changed it into something completely different, basically turning a still noble Jaime into a rapist and then back to a noble guy. That’s called ‘mood whiplash’ and it usually doesn’t work well.
So what was the mood whiplash in OUAT? Let’s start with Snow and Charming kidnapping a baby and pouring all of the evil from their daughter into said baby. Then there’s formerly redeemed Rumple literally betraying his promise to be a better man on his son’s grave within the first fifteen minutes of the episode. And then there’s his wife Belle, who had previously been very much in the ‘controlling someone against their will is evil and I would never do that you’ camp to controlling her husband with the dagger he entrusted to her, thinking she would be a better person than to use it, against him. That of course leads me into the whole ‘I love all parts of him’ speech she gave said son before his death to the ‘I will only love you if you’re a good man’ BS that made up season 4 and 5.
Now…I could forgive the above if any of it made sense. Which none of it does. Rumple decides to cleave himself from the dagger? Okay, but…couldn’t he have told Belle that? Snow and Charming wanting to make sure their daughter stays an angel, so they steal a kid and put evil in it? What!? Belle…oh my god, talk about a backslide.
And then there’s the killing off characters to propel a story. That only makes sense if it does something for the character/s affected. Fans, you know who I mean.
The current arc and plotline are de-evolving and, from this side there’s only one reason for it – Capt Swan. Capt Swan is the ship for those who like the Captain Hook/Killian Jones romance with our savior Emma Swan. It seems that, as soon as this ship became popular, the writers decided to pimp it for all its worth. Episodes that are supposed to focus on other characters can not go two minutes without this couple showing up. Hence the title above, as the show seems to just cater to this ship.
Think of it when Family Matters ceased to be about the Winslows and just started turning into the Steven Urkel show. OUACS, with this focus on Capt Swan, has started alienating viewers; the show which once featured an ensemble cast, with interesting backstories, has literally just added stuff in so we can see how great and tragic Captain Hook is (he’s not and he should have died like he was supposed to), leaving the other characters, storylines, and ships to the wayside.
Oh and Camelot. Let’s talk about unresolved storylines.
Every show has them and that’s really sad, bad, and just lazy. It’s one thing to leave a plot unresolved until next season or another episode, but the big thing around season 5 was bringing in King Arthur, the knights of the round table, and bringing back Lancelot, along with learning more about the previous Dark Ones before Rumple and Zoso and…that lasted about 7 episodes before we – again – went back to Capt Swan.
As of now, there’s no resolution to the Camelot storyline – what happened to Arthur and Guinevere? What about the Camelot folks who were stuck in Storybrooke? What about our Dark Ones’ lore?
Currently, OUACS is a good show gone bad thanks to lazy writing. Cash cow grabs with the Frozen storyline was really only to capitalize on the behemoth that was Frozen and was the beginning of the end. The Frozen arc is where character changes began to happen and they exploded when 4B came around with the whole Queens of Darkness thing. Season 5 was no better, with big promises that turned into big letdowns because the writers are so focused on keeping the CS ship afloat. The problems – unresolved plots to nowhere, other favorite ships sinking to the wayside, character deaths that make no sense, and new storylines that have been added to throw in as many popular fairy tale characters as possible.
What you have is an over bloated show that is going to have to tie up loose ends in the worse way possible.
Writing wise, the writers are going for gimmicks instead of doing what they had done best – picking a particular theme and using it to combine both past and present together, giving our characters their ‘day in the life’ that made an impact on the current timeline. Every story is going have their fan favorite, but the worst thing to do is to be so focused on that character that the others fall to the wayside. Yes, it’s TV and you can only do so much, but…it’s TV and you CAN do a lot. Game of Thrones is actually very good at showcasing prominent characters, without pushing others to the corners and deaths – so many deaths – actually have their place and propel the storyline in a way that makes sense.
What you think, writers? Could we original OUAT fans be looking at LOST version 2? Will our ‘happy ending’ be a WTF instead? Let me know how you feel on OUACS in the comments!