Once Upon A Time, Episode 1: Pilot



A few years ago a comic premiered, this was not unusual, but the subject matter was a little off…

The main characters were the Big Bad Wolf and Snow White, took place in a small town run by Old King Cole and Little Boy Blue. Prince Charming was a lecherous cad who married Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio is a pissed off eternal child.

Oh, and Geppetto is the original Big Bad!

This comic was Fables, and it is amazing. Fifteen collected volumes have been published, with more to come as the series is still on going. It has inspired a prequel, two spin-offs and a Novel. Fables has won fourteen Eisner Awards and is pretty much the definitive Modernization of Classic Fairy Tales, Legends, Fables and Tall Tales.

The Point…

This is what Once Upon A Timehas to contend with when I watch the series progress.

“We kept circling back to the idea of fairytales. The very first stories that you hear when you’re a kid. They’re full of magic and heroics and fear and joy. But we also found fairytales are full of all these unanswered questions. Like why is Grumpy grumpy? Why is Geppetto so lonely that he’d actually carve a little boy out of wood? And did the Evil Queen really try to kill Snow White simply because of vanity? With Once Upon A Time, we set out to explore those questions and not re-tell these stories but attempt to dig beneath what we all know and try to discover something new.” – Adam Horowitz, Co-Creator/Executive Producer

That is not to say that I’m not going to give OUAT a fair shake. It already has quite a bit going for and against it.

In its favor

I really do like fairy tales and legends.

Once Upon A Time is, at its core, a story about hope. “For us, that’s what a fairytale is. It’s that ability to think your life will get better. It’s why you buy a lottery ticket—because if you win you get to tell your boss that you’re quitting and you get to move to Paris or wherever and be who you always wanted to be. And that’s Cinderella, right? One day she’s sweeping up and the next she’s going to the ball. Adam and I just wanted to write about something hopeful that for one hour a week allows one to put everything aside and have that feeling that your dreams just may come true.” – Edward Kitsis, Co-Creator/Executive Producer

I was raised on fairy and tall tales. From a very early age my parents would read me to sleep at night with Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Mother Goose. When I got a little older, I’d watch Fairy Tale Theater and Tall Tales and Legends, and as a teenager I discovered the original stories. Even though what I grew up on was watered down, it didn’t make me like the original, bloody and violent tales any less.

My favorite fairy tale.

Little Red Riding Hood, with The Company of Wolves the better adaptation.

Red appears both in Fables and here, though little more than a glimpse in OUAT. I will almost certainly talk about Red Riding Hood in a blog entry in the future, so I won’t dwell too long here, but seeing the red cape in the Council Scene was a welcome sight.

Ginnifer Goodwin

She spells her name funny…

Her ears stick straight out like radar dishes…

She plays Snow White…

She is gorgeous. A little less so in the strange white dress from the Fairly Land scenes, but that was a stylistic choice and I can forgive that. Having a personal aversion to watching polygamy, I didn’t watch Big Love, but she was a hard draw to avoid. Ginnifer is also one of the reasons I handicap my rating on the actors, I can forgive a lot from Actors and Actresses I like.

Not in its favor…

It’s by the Creator of Lost.

I hated Lost, not because nothing was ever answered or the cop-out ending or the stupid, never ending mystery. No my hatred of that dread show was its smug attitude about everything and the idea that any of the characters were worthy of my time. Lost pretty much acted, from the start, as though if you didn’t like it, you just didn’t get it. Oh I got it, I just hated it.

Lost was the Hipster ass, sipping its latte in the Seattle’s Best (not Starbucks) and smirking that it liked the Arctic Monkeys before …the Dance Floor, which a total lie, because no one liked the Arctic Monkey’s before …the Dance Floor.

Jennifer Morrison

The most annoying part of House and Star Trek.

ABC

These are the same people that cancelled Pushing Daisies and, through a sister network, Middleman, and is owned by Disney, rapers of Fairy Tales for nearly 100 years…

That’s a lot to over come. Now, how did it do? Spoilers ahead… big time…

The Review…

I use a matrix to determine the rating I give a review, both a number from 0 to 10 and a letter from F to A+, that places a 5/B- as Average/Adequate. The reviews are broken down into four sections: Story, Acting, Directing and “The Good, the Bad, and the Weird.”

Story

First, a not so brief synopsis:

Opening:
Fairy Land: The episode begins with Snow white in the glass coffin seemingly dead. Charming arrives, somewhat late and is told by the Dwarves Snow White has died. Charming decided that he wants one last kiss and so wakes the enchanted girl, at which he promises to always find her…. foreshadowing…
Jump to their wedding day, and the Previous Queen, now referred to as an Evil Witch, appears so she can be threatening. Snow White brandishes a sword and Charming calms her down. The Witch plants the seeds of paranoia and promises a curse to Destroy Thier Happiness. Charming throws his sword, in just the way swords cannot be thrown in the real world and the Witch disappears in a puff of smoke.
Real World: A small boy, who we will eventually be told is Henry, is on a bus to Boston, using a credit card to buy a taxi.
Emma is meeting and man for dinner, a jumped bond, on her birthday. He tries to escape and she kicks his ass. And, to really show her as a badass Emma crosses a busy street without looking and slams the jack ass into his steering wheel.
Emma is home and has a cupcake birthday, when Henry arrives and flatly tells Emma is his mother. Fade to Suede.
Act One
Real World: Henry pushes his way into her home and life and claims to be her son she put up for adoption, also he drinks her OJ from the bottle. When she threatens to call the cops, he says he will claim to be her son… she calls his bluff and he weakly begs her to take him home to Storybrooke Maine, a place we will be told is the most horrible in the world.
Fairy Land (This is a thing, don’t know how to end a scene, cut to the other world…): Snow White is now very pregnant, but still wearing white (I’ll leave that one alone… for now) when Charming attempts to assure her that the curse is only words… after the witch had disappeared into a puff of smoke. Snow White wants to consult “Him.”
Real World: Emma and Henry are now in her car and Henry tells Emma that all the stories in his over sized book are real… and that she is in the book.
Fairy Land: In a scene clipped from Silence of Lambs, Snow White asks Rumplestiltskin how to prevent the curse, he tells her the way… for the name of her unborn child. It is not made clear if he is in league with the Witch or just caught in the curse….
Act Two
Real World: Emma and Henry arrive in Storybrooke, where Emma decides it’s appropriate to stop a car in the middle of an intersection. Henry tells Emma that time has stopped and that everyone has been fooled into thinking they are real people.  Archie, walks up and makes it clear that Henry has been in therapy. Henry then tells Emma that Archie is actually Jiminy Cricket. Not Fairy Tale count: 1, so far.
Fairy Land: Charming wants to fight the curse (not really sure how that will happen) and the newly introduced Jiminiy Cricket, and I shit you not a CGI cricket, advices him that fighting is a bad idea. Snow White looks stoned. The group is then joined by the Blue Fairy, with very large… tracks of land… Gippeto is tasked with carving a magic tree into a vehicle (see: Wardrobe, Not Fairt Tale count: 2, so far).
Real World: Henry and Emma arrive home and the very worried Regina (Evil Witch/Town Mayor) invites Emma in for Apple Cidar. The Hipster Fucking English Pretty Boy Twat Sheriff is also there… The apples everywhere are a bit heavy handed. Regina denies knowing about the fairy tale world Henry in which believes. Emma decides to leave but almost hits a wolf on the road and crashes her VW.
Fairy Land: Gippeto is hard at work on the wardrobe with Pinocchio and Snow White is pensive. Snow White doesn’t want to be the one to leave, but Charming is sure she can save their kingdom. With the timing only found in real life and bad fiction, Snow White goes into labor just as the Curse arrives (convientently appearing as a Ominous Black Cloud, nice).
Act Three
Real World: Emma awakes in a holding cell, Marco greets her and expounds that he can’t have children (really heavy handed) and leroy is grumpy (extremely heavy…) The Sheriff fuck acts stupid and Regina reports Henry has disappeared. Emma is let out to help with the search. Doing the simplest of computer searches they discover that Henry used the credit card of his teacher, Mary Margaret (Snow White). Regina is rude to Mary Margaret and dismisses her oppinions about Henry.
Fairy Land: Snow White is giving birth to Emma and the Witches troops are advancing on the castle. When Gipetto finishes the Wardrobe, it is too late to move Snow White. Emma is born and since the Wardrobe will only take one, Snow White tells Charming to take the baby to the wardrobe. Charming does so during a pitched battle in the corridors of the castle, killing evil knights while holding his new born baby. Emma is placed in the wardrobe moments before Charming is killed.
Closing
Real World: Henry is sitting on a make shift castle on the seashore, where Emma finds him. Henry tells Emma that he understands why he was given away. Henry begs Emma to stay for one week, where Emma expounds her own hardship story and takes Henry back to Regina.
Fairy Land: Snow White finds Charming’s body and tries to wake him with a kiss. The Witch arrives to gloat about her apparent victory, when they learn that Emma has escaped. Snow White tells the Witch that she will lose and the Curse finally takes them.
Real World: Emma returns Henry to Regina, who informs Emma that she can’t have Henry back. Regina, rightly states that she has been Henry’s mother and that if Emma does not leave Regina will “Destroy [Emma] if it’s the last thing [she] ever [does]. And she also states coldly that she loves Henry, before returning to the house. Regina then takes Henry’s book and stares into her Mirror (Symbolism gone wild). Mary Margaret is seen in the local hospital caring for the injured, Charming is there in a coma.
Emma has decided to stay for the week and goes to Granny’s Bed and Breakfast for a room. There Granny and Ruby (Red Riding Hood, her real world name is not given in the episode) are fighting. Red is obviously the town bicycle, or at least it is heavily implied so. When Emma gives her name, Mr. Gold (Rumpelstiltskin) appears and is given a wad of cash. Emma is informed that Mr. Gold owns the town.
The Clock moves one minute.

Still with me? Good…

With the synopsis complete we can get in to the review proper, starting with the Story:

Since this is an ongoing series that is just beginning with this episode there is not much to say about the over all Plot, it appears to be a “Mystery” with discovering “how” Emma is supposed to defeat the curse and, by extension, the Evil Witch the driving arc. Looking ahead there is a good list of character actors in roles as Fairy Tale Character coming up, so a quasi-guest of the week format looks to be the order of the day, until the characters are fully established.

As for the plot of this episode, it was a little weak, not in a bad way though. The Pilot of a show is supposed to establish the over all plot and introduce the main characters. This episode did just that.

But, really only that.

The use of the Fairy Land/Modern World inter-cutting gave a better grounding to who the character are and why they do some of the things they do, but the one doesn’t drive the plot in the other. It seemed like they are trying to do two seasons simultaneously, maybe because they knew they would not get the same amount of time to ruminate on subplots the way as Lost.

She’s not the Queen anymore… she’s nothing more than an Evil Witch!

The Dialogue in this first episode was bad, but it didn’t really stretch out side standard soapy-tv-fair. The interactions between characters don’t always come across as natural reactions to the events around them, at least in the Modern World. At times Jennifer Morrison looked too bewildered by what was going on around her, and Archie walking up to Henry after Emma has stopped in the middle of an intersection doesn’t mention the fact that a child he knows, personally, is currently hanging out with a woman Archie doesn’t know. The only person acting reasonable in the Modern World is Regina, the Evil Witch.

In Fairy Land the dialogue was much more natural, more fanciful, but also the performances were weaker and two dimensional, except for Robert Carlisle, but that is another section.

I gave the Dialogue a 5, that’s average. I don’t watch a lot of shows of this time, so I can’t speak to whether the lines were very good or very bad, but they seemed adequate for a pilot. I would like improvement in the next couple of episodes. For the Story itself, I give the story for the Pilot a 7.2, as an average of the five acts of the episode. The Open and First Act were the weakest, but the Second and Third acts improved greatly with a slight drop off toward the end of the episode. Together the overall score for the Story was 6.10, slightly better than average.

Acting:

The acting in this show is all over the map, from Jennifer Morrison acting like a deer in headlights to Robert Carlisle crawling up the walls, and to a point that really works for this show. The Casting was nearly perfect, all the actors fit the archetypes of their characters and are really trying. The casting fits best in the Fairy Land, though that is where the acting probably the weakest. The Cast is graded on their performance in Fairy Land and Modern World averaged together.

Since I know that I have a preference to certain actors and a disdain for others I have added a handicap, a -1 for actors I like, a 0 for those I have no real opinion and +1 to an actor that I really don’t like. The Main Cast:

  • Ginnifer Goodwin, Snow White/Mary Margaret – Ginnifer is okay in the role of Snow White, starting out very strong, but appeared to become bored after the curse scene. Though limited in the the Modern World to one extended scene she pulled off one of the better characterizations in the whole show. The marketing for sho make it obvious that this is going to be as much about her search for Charming, and that will probably mean that we’ll get more of the Mary Margaret character, and I think that will be better for the sow, since Snow White will take some work to redeem after the pilot. Fairy Land: 3, Modern World: 6, Handicap: 0, Overall: 4.5, just below average.
  • Jennifer Morrison, Emma Stone – The obvious Audience Surrogate, Jennifer is really trying here. She does not appear, for obvious reasons in the Fairy Land, and is basically an excuse for Henry to tell the audience what is happening in the town. I am personally not a fan of Jennifer Morrison, but she’s doing okay in this… Fairy Land: na, Modern World: 6, Handicap: +1, Overall: 7, better than average.
  • Lana Parrilla, The Evil Witch/Regina Mills – Wow, just wow. Lana really looks like she’s having fun with this one. As the Witch she has been handed one of the stupidest costumes I’ve seen outside a High School One-Act, and lines that are deep in cliche, but all that really works for this show. She seems gleeful when she says, “Someplace Horrible.” In the Modern World she plays the Mayor of Storybrooke, and is probably the only person acting like a normal human being. She show’s concern for Henry, apprehension at Emma’s arrival and resentment when Emma appears to be asserting parental authority over Henry. Fairy Land: 5, Modern World: 9, Handicap: =0, Overall: 7, better than average.
  • Josh Dallas, Prince Charming/John Doe –  There’s not much I can say about Josh Dallas, the only other thing I’ve seen him in was Thor, and that was as Fandral (not much of a character). But as Prince Charming he is pretty good, it’s not a challenging role, just act like a douche-bag jock, and he does that very well here. Fairy Land: 5, Modern World: na, Handicap: 0, Overall: 5, just average.
  • Jared Gilmore, Henry Mills – Jared Gilmore is a conundrum for me, I really didn’t care for the heavy handed nature of his part in the pilot, but I also have to concede that he was handed a lot of exposition and that would have an effect on any one’s acting. For that reason I won’t be too hard on the kid this time around… Fairy Land: na, Modern World: 5, Handicap: 0, Overall: 5, just average.
The Supporting Cast:
  • Raphael Sbarge, Jiminy Cricket/Archie Hopper – As a supporting role I like the Fairy Land character better, he plays the cricket, and it is a CGI cricket, much better than the human analogue. That is not to say that Raphael plays either poorly, he’s just more believable in Fair Land. Fairy Land: 6, Modern World: 5, Handicap: 0, Overall: 5.5, just a hair above average.
  • Jamie Dornan, Sheriff Graham – This is one character that I just could like from the start, and I’m not sure I’m supposed to. It’s not clear from this episode if the Sheriff is complicit in the plans of the Witch or if, like in the Fables, he is the Big Bad Wolf. I tend to think he is at least the wolf, but he may just be caught up in the machination of the curse. But what really irks the hell out of me is the characterization, he’s a hipster twat, from start to finish. He walks around with a brown vest and his collar flipped up, he talks with a poncy English accent. He’s a tit, and it’s gonna take a hell of a lot to change my mind. That is why he has the biggest handicap of all the Actors on the list… Fairy Land: na, Modern World: 3, Handicap: +2, Overall: 5, just average.
  • Robert Carlyle, Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold – Hoo, this is who really drew me to this show, I love Robert Carlyle in just about everything he does. I watched Stargate Universe because he was in it, and that sucked hard ass. Here he is in rare form. In Fairy Land he’s been locked up, but they still seek he council in a scene directly ripped from Silence of the Lambs. In the Modern World he’s just in one scene, but still looks like he knows what is going on. Where Regina might have still known of her Fairy life, Mr. Gold really does seem to know what the whole deal is. Fairy Land: 9, Modern World: 7, Handicap: =-1, Overall: 7, above average.
  • Tony Amendola, Geppetto/Marco – Tony is character actor that most scifi fans will recognize as master Bra’Tac. He pulls out a pretty good performance as Geppetto and even better as Marco. He gets two scenes in the pilot, and his imdb page does not show that anymore appearances as Marco, and that would be a shame, because his scene where Marco speaks about he and his wife’s inability to have a child is stranger when you know he is Geppetto. Fairy Land: 8, Modern World: 8, Handicap: =-1, Overall: 7, above average.
  • Lee Arenberg, Grumpy/Leroy – This is another scifi stalwart, having played the Drawf in Dungeons and Dragons, Ambassador Gral in Enterprise and Pintel in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. His casting as Grumpy is a no-brainer. Fairy Land: 5, Modern World: 5, Handicap: = 0, Overall: 5, average.
  • Keegan Connor Tracy, The Blue Fairy – This is more of an excuse to include this video:  …and this image:
...she has huge... tracks of land!

This score for the Casting of the show is a solid 8, everyone was a good fit for each of their roles, even in the smaller roles like the Geppetto, Red Riding Hood and The Blue Fairy. The average for the actors is a 5.8, about average and that brings the average for the Acting is 6.9, better than average.

Production:

Since television is a serialized medium, where Directors come and go, I won’t focus on the Director, Mark Mylod. He’s British and worked a lot in their TV, and he’s bad…

My focus, rather, will be on the Cinematography, Audiology and Editing.

I’ve watched the Pilot episode three times since last Sunday and I with just a few minor quibles, I like the look and sound of the episode. For me, not being able to spot an error is the hallmark of a good production and there is little.

If I needed too, I’d say that the transitions and the effects of the Witch moving in the wedding scene stick out. The transitions from Fairy Land to the Modern World could be jarring at times, but that really is minor and could be improved as the series continues. I gave Production a 7.67.

And that brings me to the Good, the Bad, and the Weird.

The Good:

  • Robert Carlyle – As mentioned before, one of the major draws for this show, over say Grimm, was the casting of Robert Carlyle as Rumpelstiltskin. I was not disappointed. From the moment he was on screen he owned his scenes and acted around everyone else. Even from inside a cage.
  • Geppetto – This is a combination of the part and the casting.
  • The Dwarves – This was such a little thing that they didn’t have to do, but they took the trouble of casting the seven dwarves and having them show their characteristics.
The Bad:
  • The Sheriff – Also mentioned before, but still irking me to no end…
  • Snow White in Fairy Land – I may have touched on this earlier, but honestly Snow White is so bi-polar in fairy land, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. She goes from hope to despair back to hope in one episode. It’s really confusing.
The Weird:
  • Jiminy Cricket – A CGI Cricket…
  • The Blue Fairy – Did I mention this picture?
  • The Caterpillar – This was so subtle, most people probably missed it, in fact I had to carve up this one myself…

For the Good, the Bad, and the Weird this episode earned a 5.63.

The Result:

The final score for the review is based on a weighted system. Story and Acting are 35% of the average score, with Production at 20% and the Good, the Bad and the Weird at 10%. For this episode:

Story

6.10 35%

Acting

6.90 35%

Production

7.67 20%

The Good, the Bad and the Weird

5.63 10%

6.65

B

Yay!

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