Once Upon a Time Season 1 (2011)

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time Season 1 Review

Once Upon a Time is a fantasy TV show which centers on the fairy-tale characters that are trapped in the modern world and can’t remember who they really are. It intersects from the present to the fairytale past and ties everything up eventually into a coherent whole.

The first season is a very strong one as it is more dramatic which some find problematic, but I personally love it as I find the switch from real to fantastical really well done and the parallels are many times striking and very well incorporated into each other. It starts magnificently with a fantastic first episode and ends with two amazing episodes, but the middle of the season has its inconsistencies with a couple of truly bad episodes, but more on that later.

First, the characters. I found Snow White’s character to be one of the best here. And she is the most intriguing person of the bunch as the two versions are very different from each other. Snow is the more ferocious and action-oriented one whereas Mary Margaret is the more emotional, sweet and calm one. But both are well depicted and although at times the show focuses too much on her, her story is still very well realized. David is one of the more annoying characters to me as his story is too soapy in the Storybrooke story and he is too arrogant in the fairyback. And the relationship between the two, although melodramatic and sometimes resembling a soap opera, is still at times quite moving and you root for them to find happiness as both are well developed and the actors share good chemistry.

Emma Swan is to me a very good character as she is not only very realistic but also feminist and, although mostly unlikable, still grounded and gets superb development. Her emotional scenes are superb and she is the one who gets the most development in this show with her relationship with Henry, her troubled past and her fear of being in charge all very well explored. August is fantastic and I really liked his story and his Pinocchio got excellent treatment in the fairyback and it wonderfully pays homage to Disney’s original film. But he is phenomenal in his relationship with Emma and also Gold, but his quest to make Emma believe is so dramatic and he is a very mysterious character done right. His scene with Emma where she fails to see his wooden leg meaning that she does not want to see magic even when it is right in front of her is so powerful and one of the best sequences in the series as that theme of not believing is well explored and the scene gets right to the heart of Emma’s character.

Jiminy Cricket is great in the fairyback, but I found his Storybrooke counteract quite forgettable. Huntsman is also not as best realized, but his tragic end is done well in a great scene. As for Henry, he is annoying, but not as obnoxious to me as others find him and his character is essential for the story which is why he has to be there.

Rumpelstiltskin is one of the best characters in Once Upon a Time as he is so mysterious and so powerful and the competition between him and Regina is so well established and leads to many memorable scenes. He is well explored in the fairyback, but Mr. Gold is even better and the shift between his campy and calm demeanor is so well done. But he is still not used as best as he could be used and he has a lot of potential to become even better as the series progresses.

Regina is the reason why I love this show. She is so amusing in both Storybrooke and faryback. She gets excellent backstory and her motivations are really well established and I love how everyone here has a reason for their wrong-doings thus staying away from the typically clear good-evil mechanics usually found in these stories. But she is powerful and her powers are visually appealing and her constant competition with Gold in Storybrooke is so entertaining to watch while her campy and over-the-top behavior in the past is so amusing. She steals every scene she’s in and is the highlight in my opinion.

Ruby is weak as Red, but even she got better treatment as the season progressed. Grumpy is so obnoxious and his backstory results in the worst episode of the season. But the other dwarfs are fine and even he is good when interacting with Snow as they are such a good team. Genie is also a well explored character, Maleficent is criminally underused, Cora is such a badass villain and Jefferson is one of the best characters from the season’s second half and such a welcome inclusion as his mad behavior is perfect and his Mad Hatter gets such a great backstory.

Yes, the backstories are here mostly really well done apart from a couple of weaker storylines. The pacing of the show is slower which I appreciated and I loved the many conversations and deals made throughout the season as they strengthen the characters and lead to a more coherent plot. Some of the highlights are the pilot episode which starts the season so incredibly well and instantly hooked me in. Huntsman’s episode is also superb and refreshingly dark, Red’s episode is also terrific and has such a terrific twist, Heart of Darkness is wonderfully dramatic, if soapy and Pinocchio’s backstory is excellent and of course the finale and the penultimate episodes are two of the highlights.

Dreamy is an awful episode that shows everything that is wrong with this season and that is sometimes cheesy plots and weak special effects, but most importantly some pacing issues as that episode stops the season’s progression in order to focus on an uninteresting character. And yes, it definitely does have some soap opera resemblances at times with the love triangle in the first half being so annoying, but this season is mostly stupendous and so incredibly entertaining with a great attention to detail and excellent use of objects as connectors in the entire storyline. The characters are mostly really well developed and I love how each and every character gets a proper due and superb backstory that wonderfully explain the origin of these fairytale characters. It also wonderfully parallels the two worlds with the fantasy and drama elements well incorporated. And it is so ambitious and epic in scope which I also loved about it along with its great world-building and intricate story elements. It is thematically rich as well and I loved its feminist overtones as they are so well handled. The action and cinematography could have been better, but the effects aren’t that bad and it overall looks pretty good. And the acting is naturally great as most of the performances are absolutely terrific and most actors deliver in spades.

This first season of Once Upon a Time has its problems, but it is mostly such an entertaining time to be had with well developed and intriguing characters, great themes, excellent performances, such ambitious and detailed storytelling and many memorable moments and a couple of truly powerful episodes.

Worst Episodes: That Still Small Voice and Dreamy.
Best Episodes: Pilot, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Red-Handed, Heart of Darkness, Hat Trick, The Stable Boy, The Stranger and A Land Without Magic.

My Rating – 4.3

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