Why Did Once Upon a Time Go from Delightful to Disappointing?

Once Upon a Time poster


I swear, guys, I did not join this site as a television critic to be negative all the time—but like Emma Swan, I must accept my fate when it is time. I want to start by saying that I’m a fan of Once Upon a Time. I watch it every week! However, as a fan, I feel I can call a show out when it messes up or doesn’t meet the expectations it’s set. This show has been deserving of being called out for some time, but no one seems to be willing to say, “Hey! What are you doing?”

Let’s start with the good. I take you back to season 1: Once Upon a Time took your favorite stories from the Disney movies you loved as a child and made them suit you today as an adult. It had that sense of wonder but with a dash of darkness. The cast was promising, the setting was beautiful, and it was a hit. What could go wrong? My theory is that the problem was it going past one season. I’m not saying the creators never intended on going past season 1. I’m saying they did such a great job on season 1 that they made it very hard to top it—and they have failed to do so.

So what factors continue to hold back Once Upon a Time from being great? They are actually quite simple.

The Villains                                                        

Once Upon a Time poster featuring Rumpelstiltskin


When it comes the villains of Once Upon a Time, characters fall into three groups: the ones who were used properly and worked; the ones who were a waste of a good villain; and the ones that didn’t work due to being a bad choice, not being given enough time, or bad casting. Let’s break it down.

Season 1

Villains: Evil Queen/Regina (Lana Parilla) and Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle)

Grade: A. It worked great!

Season 2

Villains: Rumplestiltskin, Cora (Barbara Hershey) as Regina’s mother,  and Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue)

Grade: B. It wasn’t as great as the first season, but still good.

Season 3

Villains: First half, Peter Pan (Robbie Kay); second half, the Wicked Witch of the West (Rebecca Mader)

Grade: First half gets a B+ because the Peter Pan story was genius! The second half gets a B− because it wasn’t bad, but a decline had begun.

Season 4

Villains: First half, Rumplestiltskin and the Snow Queen (Elizabeth Mitchell) from Frozen; second half, Rumplestiltskin, Maleficent (Kristin Baur van Straten), Ursula (Merrin Dungey), and Cruella De Vil (Victoria Smurfit)

Grade: The first half gets a C− because it was a horrible story overall. The whole thing was annoying, made little sense, and clearly was a way to pander to certain people with the recent success of Frozen. It was way to soon to use that story. The second half fares only slightly better with a C. Why? Though these villains were better choices, they were misused in several ways. My main criticism is that at least two of them could have held a season on their own, but the writers had to burn off all three in one go, and thus they can’t really be used again (with the possible exception of Maleficent).

Season 5

Villains: First half, King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) and Dark Swan/Emma (Jennifer Morrison) as the Dark One; second half, Hades (Greg Germann)

Grade: Unfortunately, both average about a C. The whole King Arthur part of the story was dumb, and his role, I feel, was favored over the far better Dark Swan story. The Dark Swan idea was actually a brilliant one except that it was limited to half a season, which resulted in a less than satisfactory piece. The Hades half? I’ve seen Greg Germann’s work before and was very surprised at how bad this performance was. It was so over-the-top that it was comically sad . . . or sadly comical.

Split Seasons

I argue that some of the stories mentioned above could have been saved if the villains had been given a whole season to themselves—instead, for some reason, the creators have taken the idea of a midseason finale and bastardized it into two “mini” seasons. I’m all for how shows such as Supernatural do things, which is typically having a midseason finale episode that plays out much like a season finale in that it is either devastating or a cliffhanger. That is a good idea, but if you split the season into two fully separate stories that really don’t connect in any way other than being the same show (supposedly), the story gets jumbled and the emotion and entertainment of the whole thing gets lost. Imagine if Dark Swan had gotten an entire season to wreak havoc on the rest of the characters . . .  I think that would have been great!

Stale Characters

I can’t speak for everyone, but I am getting tired of so many of the characters on Once Upon a Time being boring and one dimensional. Think about it for a second; I’d argue that less than half of the characters are still entertaining. You know why they recently killed Robin Hood (Sean Maguire)? Because he served no purpose other than being a love interest for Regina; other than that, he had no real personality or value.

Personally, I actually ask myself all the time why it wasn’t Belle (Emilie de Raven) instead. Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) are boring! We get it, your love conquers all . . . what else do you have to offer as characters? The honest answer is absolutely nothing, and they are are getting so old and predictable that the only way they’d ignite a spark in the audience is if they died. And Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) . . . sigh. Could anyone tolerate this kid past season 2? Henry’s only purpose was as a fighting piece for Emma and Regina and a way for Emma to finally love something. Plus—and I’m preparing myself for the hate mail—Jared S. Gilmore can’t act.

Promotional image featuring an ensemble cast photo


So the question becomes: “How does this show get fixed?” I read recently that the creators are underway bringing back the full-season format rather than two halves, and to that I say thank God! Other than that, we can merely speculate. Season 6 teased us with Mr. Hyde (Sam Witwer) and the evil side of Regina returning in her own form as villains. If I were in charge, I’d vote for Henry and Belle being tragically killed. This would cause Emma and Regina to blame the other, which then creates a schism in the town, with some in Emma’s corner and some in Regina’s while they have to unite to fight a grief-stricken Rumpelstiltskin, who has begun destroying the town and enslaving the people.

What do you think? Too dark?


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