Sunday, October 23, 2011

Once Upon A Time "Pilot"

Once Upon A Time
"Pilot" (100)
Emma Swan's birthday brings a surprising visitor with an unbelievable story about who she is and where she comes from.
Air Date: Oct 23, 2011

Fade up on a title card with those famous words "Once Upon a Time". And after a few more bits of text we find a handsome prince galloping across the countryside into an Enchanted Forest where he finds a group of vertically challenged men in rustic wear gathered solemnly around a glass coffin.

We all know the story, yes? It's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. And we are not surprised when the heartbroken prince insists on giving his love a goodbye kiss, only to have it awaken her and they marry and live happily ever after. Or Don't. And why don't they. Well because the Evil Queen (aka Snow's step mother) puts a curse on all the happy people of Happily Ever After land so they won't be happy just like she isn't. And that curse sends them all to the modern word where they think they have lived all their lives and they have total amnesia about being fairy tale characters.

Wow, what a witch (and I mean that literally and figuratively).

Enter into this modern world, a lovely lady named Emma. She's just your typical hottie in a red dress, balls busting bails bondsperson/bounty hunter type. Basically everything Stephanie Plum wishes she could be (including being smart enough to boot the guy's car so she doesn't have to chase after him in 4 inch heels). But Emma is also alone. Deepily alone. It's her birthday and she doesn't have a single person to grab a drink with or have chat on the phone. In a scene that is so sad it is borderline pathetic, Emma comes home and pulls a single yummy looking cupcake out of a bakery bag. She pops in a candle and makes a wish. Which is followed by a knock at the door.

On the other side is a 10 year boy who happens to be the same child Emma gave up for adoption at birth. Henry, wise beyond his years, is in possession of a book of fairy tales. A book of tales he believes to be completely true. And in fact, he believes that his neighbors in his hometown of Storybrooke Maine are in fact the same people from the book and his birth mother is fated to help them remember who they are and get back their happy endings. Emma takes him home to his adopted mother (the town mayor) who is less than happy to seen Henry's birth mother in town. Henry explains about the book, even showing Emma the town clock which has been stuck at 8:15 for as long as everyone remembers. That is until Emma decides to stay for a few days and the clock mysteriously starts working again.

Intercut with this is the tale of the Evil Queen showing up on Snow's wedding day to give her curse, Snow and the Prince going to the imprisoned Rumplestilskin, who can see the future, to find out how to stop it (only their daughter can, when she's 28 years old) and the building of a magical wardrobe that can protect a mere one person. That person being the baby who is born just as the Queen enacts the curse.

The casting is great. Lana tends to chew the scenery a bit as the Evil Queen but her Regina is a delish mix of deceptively sweet and cunning. At first glance one might think even she doesn't remember but her piercing gaze into the hallway mirror sets that record straight. Jennifer is the cynical anti-hero (nice touch with the 'white' hair). Her superpower about being able to tell when someone is lying sets her on edge about the mayor which is why, after a wolf surprises her into running off the road, she decides to stick around. Ginnifer was a surprising choice that I think works well (although why did they give Mary Margaret that terrible hair). And so on.

I tuned in based on one detail. The creators were writers of Lost. In fact depending on which version of the story you believe, they came up with the idea of 'fairy tale characters trapped in the modern world by a curse' before they even worked on Lost but no one wanted to pick up the idea. Now of course having an award winning show on your resume gets you noticed. And I'm actually glad. There's a few skips in the pilot, like the title cards that explain what's happening even though it is all better shown in the course of the action but whatever. It's a blink and they never repeat it. Many names are clearly picked to reference something about the characters. Regina is an old world term for Queen. Blanchard sounds similar to blanche or white. Mr. Gold, enough said. The dual world style is of course totally Lost but works to provide the backstory to the whole curse. And it seems they have the same love of Easter Eggs in repeated dialogue and innocent tidbits (come on you thought 8:15 was picked randomly. nope). Heck even the Prince's "I'll always find you" has echoes of Nadia's "in this life or the next".

One thing that isn't explained, also a very Lost style detail, is the way the curse works. Rumple says the curse is Time but how exactly. Were they jumped in time? Were they frozen somehow until that point? Are they in fact from another dimension or time stream that is centuries before today's world. Was the Enchanted Kingdom, always taken to be Europe or part of, actually a mystery island that jumps in time and space, dislodged by the Curse like a cosmic explosion. It's a question that doesn't matter in the end, anymore than the 'truth' about the Island was really important to the story on Lost. It's a detail we just have to accept as it is because it is and move on.

Many shows over the past couple of years have been heralded as 'the next Lost' but none pulled it off. Would it be a shock of the only writers that could create the next Lost came from the original. Nope not a shock. Were they setting out to create the next Lost, probably not. But after so much time working in that style it's hard not to have remnants of it in your head. On purpose or not, have they achieved it. Time will tell. As does the most important question. Does it work to help the story, or does it hinder it.

Tune in next week and we'll continue our search for these answers and more.

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