Once Upon a Time conjures a sprawling epic for all fairy tale lovers

Commentary by Michael O’Hearn – Social Media Editor – mohearn@unca.edu

As children, each one of us was exposed to the library of fascinating stories involving charming princes, rebellious children never wanting to grow up and a princess who just wanted to go to a ball.

These stories stuck with us as we grew older. The lessons they taught us resonated within our souls and inspired us to emulate the heroes of these fairy tales in later years.

Five years ago, the creators of ABC’s Lost were coming off the success of the island series and wanted to play their hand at another genre-bending show.

In comes the intriguing saga of all our childhood fairy tales combined. In this show, Hook could run into Rumplestiltskin. Maleficent could have a run-in with Ursula and Ariel.

The possibilities were endless with the birth of Once Upon a Time, so long as ABC owned the rights to the characters. Because ABC is the offspring of Disney, there was no problem with that.

However, like the books this show is inspired by, Once Upon a Time is starting to run into a problem of its own.

The show has a short shelf life and the end is approaching fast. The show’s fifth season has taken an interesting twist, changing the main protagonist to a villain to drive the plot forward, but I feel like even that could send the series into a nose-dive.

This became evident to me during the Frozen run of episodes during last season. Yes, Disney capitalized on their massive profit from the hit movie and relayed it to fit their TV show.

But it got boring, and quickly. No amount of references to the movie in the form of lines ripped from the animated film’s script could save it.

Yes, I chuckled every time a line was mentioned, but it got me worried this show would become lazy.

What keeps this show on the air, though, is how showrunners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz are able to interplay their own narrative with those of the classic fairy tales to bring something original to the table.

King Arthur charging into this season intermingled with a backstory about the legendary sword in the stone is appealing enough, but I’ve noticed a storytelling device used in a few shows already this fall.

This element may either bring the show down or amp it up by keeping viewers anticipating the twist.

By adding the element of the “flash forward” in time, in which viewers get to see what ultimately unfolds many episodes into the season, viewers have something to wait for later on in the year.

Three shows on the CW network tried this too, hoping fans will keep coming back week after week to check in with the progress.

Arrow did it by hinting at a character death, The Flash did it by hinting at the inclusion of a major game changer this season, and Supernatural even did so, not by incorporating the “flash forward” scenes but flashbacks to provide insight and foreshadowing into the overarching fight with this season’s big enemy.

So while we know what will eventually transpire on Once Upon a Time after seeing the season premiere, we don’t exactly know how or even when things will change.

Which is exactly the kind of kick this series needed. After a great second half of their fourth season, how would Horowitz and Kitsis be able to infuse Once with storytelling that would top what they did months ago?

By laying out every aspect of their intended story arc immediately with the season premiere, the duo is not looking to top their previous efforts, but they want to simply keep viewers and fans tuned in.

At least, that’s what I think. Just like in the movies or books, these little tricks where the authors or directors clue viewers into what is going to come further on down the road keep viewers interested and, hopefully, hungry for more.

I know what’s going to happen later on Once Upon a Time and the other three shows aforementioned above, but I want to see how or why. Giving me just a taste won’t do, as we live in an on-demand society where it has to happen now.

I can wait until the rest of the story happens to know what’s going on and trying to figure out the rest of the puzzle won’t keep me up at night, no, but by including hints of what’s going to occur moving forward, viewers will either be sorely disappointed or thrilled to see what’s next.

Because, as Leonardo DiCaprio‚Äôs character from The Wolf of Wall Street quipped, “you had my interest, but now you’ve gotten my attention.” If the showrunners can live up to the promises unveiled in their season premieres, then good on them.

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