ONCE UPON A TIME
Written By: Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Draft Date: January 28, 2011
Once Upon a Time is billed as a sort of Fables, a story where fairy tales come to life in a town in the real world. This is both literally true and entirely misleading.
The pilot presents a twin story structure. One, in the Fairy Tale Land, where we begin with a familiar scene of Prince Charming finding Snow White dead in a glass coffin. He kisses her, she wakes up, yadda yadda yadda, happily ever after. Or is it? We play out what happens next, which involves the Evil Queen (hey, I thought she died in the fairy tale? Just the Disney version?) cursing the happy couple, their as-yet-unborn child, and the entire land, then Snow and Charming doing everything in their power to prevent said curse: no more happy endings.
Meanwhile (at least on screen, certainly not chronologically), in the real world, 28-year old Anna Swan is celebrating her birthday by tricking a man via an online dating website into having dinner with her so she can apprehend him. She's a bailbondsperson (or bounty hunter, though that term isn't used). She finds people for a living. So it's quite ironic that, when, following this "date," she settles into her apartment for a lonely birthday dessert and her doorbell rings and it's Henry, a 10-year old boy claiming to be her biological son. Anna did give a baby boy up for adoption 10 years ago, so there's no time spent on any sort of verification, which is fine.
Henry is quite precocious, not to mention manipulative and resourceful. He carries an aging, illustrated book that seems to contain the fairy tale we're watching unfold as he tries to convince Anna to come home with him to his hometown, Storybrooke. As he attempts to manipulate her (she threatens to call the cops, he says he'll tell them his biological mother kidnapped him... it's actually quite amusing), she tells him that she has a kind of superpower that she doesn't understand or know where it comes from... she can tell when people are lying. Anyway, Anna relents and agrees to take get him home (even if, at first, it's just putting him on a bus... but he causes a scene and she is forced to drive him).
As they're driving, Henry takes out his book of fairy tales... and tells Anna that she's in it. She looks at him, with her ability to sense is anyone is lying, and Henry certainly believes that he's telling the truth. It plays into a very "fairy tale" theme of "do you believe?" Henry is bringing Anna back to town... to fix it. He believes Anna can break the curse. Time is stuck in Storybrooke, according to Henry. Even the clock tower is stuck at 8:15. Anna will fix all that because of what he read in the fairy tale book.
They arrive at Storybrooke and Anna takes Henry home. His adoptive mother is the mayor... who looks exactly like the Evil Queen. Anna stays the night, as it's late when they get to town, and we see other denizens of the Storybrooke, all of whom look like figures from our glimpses at Fairy Tale Land or are in some way associated (i.e. Geppetto is a handyman). Anna meets Snow White's lookalike, Sister Mary Margaret Blanchard, a nun and Henry's teacher. She apparently gave Henry the book that's given him all these crazy ideas.
Anna is going to leave the town, nothing has changed, and Henry is disappointed... so runs away. Anna is able to find him and, once again, return him to his adoptive mother, and decides to stay another week.
And the clock strikes 8:16.
I wish I were more satisfied by the end of Once Upon a Time because it's just the kind of "one foot firmly planted in reality, one foot firmly planted in fantasy" mixture that I adore. I guess, in the wake of Enchanted (regardless of if that movie kind of sort of falls apart in the third act but is still totally winning)... the problem is that everything in the fairy tale world works, going from cheesily over the top to heart-wrenching (and I choose to not spoil what that is and what Anna's connection to it all is), but things in the real world feel like they move at a snail's pace, comparatively, and just aren't as delectable. The end of the episode feels like what should be an act two break. It's all prelude leading to... episode two? Is this a series? Or a miniseries? There doesn't feel like there's really that much juice in it. Yes, I want to know what happens next, but I feel pretty cheated that I don't find out even a hint of it in this pilot.
There's also a big gap between the events in fairy tale world and the real world that makes things in reality feel nebulous and leads to a lot of questions. On one hand, yes, I'm tantalized and want to know the answers, but without knowing those answers, I'm not sure the events we see make any sense. And while there has to be a certain suspension of disbelief... things still need to make sense!
If the residents of Storybrooke are "frozen in time," as Henry describes, then when did it materialize? The town seems a little antiquated, but in a very real world, sleepy New England village way.
If the Evil Queen was apparently victorious in her curse... why does she also seem to be affected? Does she really not remember? She's very cordial to Anna, so if Anna is a threat to her curse and an enemy and she does remember... why not just do away with her?
If no one in the town can leave (again, something Henry dictates from the book), then how was Henry adopted by the Evil Queen? If she's affected (again, as she seems to be)... she can't leave, either.
I'm also just not sure how much we care about this town. In the real world, yeah, there are d-bags like the embezzler guy Anna hunts down in the first act, but "no happy endings?" It doesn't feel like that. What does lifting the curse mean to us, if anything, or does it just impact the lives of the fairy tale characters who are frozen in time and don't remember their pasts / true lives?
To sum up... a mixed impression. I want to know more, mostly because I'm confused, partially because I kind of want to know what any of it means. But I'm not sure how much I care.