ONCE UPON A TIME 1.01 ‘Pilot’

Emma Swan is dragged into a town where fairy tale characters live as ordinary humans under the thumb of the evil Queen.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Pilot"

Writers: Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz

Director: Mark Mylod

Premise:

All of the fairy tale characters we remember are real. They lived in a far off land until an Evil Queen placed a curse upon them all; trapping them in our world as they live mundane lives for all of eternity. Only the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming can lift the curse and save the day. Too bad she doesn't believe in fairy tales…

Story:

Long ago in a land far, far away… well you get the idea. It's the land of Fairy Tales, in which all of our collective storybook characters live in the same country. And if you've ever read or seen Snow White, then this opening scene should look familiar. We see the lady herself, Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) lying in her glass coffin as the seven dwarfs mourn her. Prince Charming (Joshua Dallas) arrives too late to save his love, but when he kisses her, she awakens and returns his embrace. Soon enough, the two are married in a grand ceremony which is crashed by none other than Snow White's mother, the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla).

EQ lashes out at her daughter and son-in-law with a promise to destroy their happiness. (I'm sure that they would have accepted flowers instead) The prince even makes an attempt to kill the queen, but she teleports away as his sword heads towards her heart. Thousands of seconds later, we find ourselves in the present with Bella… I mean, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) in a tight red dress as she meets a blind date… and tells him that she's there to arrest him for skipping his bond. As he runs out of the restaurant, she calmly walks after him and she ends up subduing him before taking the loser into custody.

At her home, Emma celebrates her 28th birthday alone when a ten year old boy named Henry (Jared Gilmore) shows up on her doorstep and claims that she is his long-lost mother. Although Emma denies it, she does seem to have previously had a child that she gave up for adoption. When Henry claims not to care if she calls the cops, Emma reveals that she can tell when anyone is lying. Finally Henry asks Emma to take him to his home in Storybrooke, while adding that Emma is needed to save the residents of the town. Back in fantasy land, Snow White and Prince Charming decide to approach the imprisoned Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) about the fate of her unborn baby and how they can avoid the curse.

But Rumpelstiltskin has a price for his help: the name of their child so that he might have power over it down the line. Once Snow White hastily agrees, Rumpelstiltskin says that the queen's curse will send all of the residents of the fantasy world to somewhere else where they will be frozen in time. He adds that if Snow White and the prince can get their child to safety, she will return in 28 years to free them all from the curse as the last battle between good and evil begins. As they leave without sharing the child's name, Rumpelstiltskin insists that they live up to their deal. So Snow White reluctantly tells him her daughter's name is Emma.

Once in Storybrooke, Emma takes Henry to his adopted mother, Regina (who also happens to be the Evil Queen). Although Regina is cordial at first, she is dismayed at the idea that Emma is Henry's real mom and she strongly hints that Emma should leave. But once Emma is on the road, a wolf gets in front of her car and she crashes into the side of the road. Back in the fantasy world, the Blue Fairy suggests building a "vessel" out of an enchanted tree that could save one person from the queen's curse. Charming intends to save Snow White and their daughter, but Snow White gives birth shortly before the queen activates her curse.

At Snow White's insistence, Charming takes his daughter and fights his way to the room where the wood has been carved into a wardrobe. Once he places the baby inside, Charming is attacked and fatally wounded. But inside of the box, the baby is long gone. In the present, Emma wakes up to find herself in jail seemingly for the accident when Regina comes into the station looking for Henry. Emma offers to help find him if they let her out. Soon after, Emma meets Henry's teacher, Mary Margaret, who looks very much like Snow White. Alright… let's just say that she's Snow White.

Mary Margaret reveals that she gave the storybook to Henry and that he stole her credit card to uncover Emma's relationship to him. Mary Margaret also suggests a location where Emma might find Henry. She soon goes to a playground where Henry sits alone. He tells her that he knows that she put him up for adoption to give him a better chance in life. Henry also tells Emma that Snow White and Charming did the same thing for her when they sent her to this world, but Emma insists that she was abandoned on the side of a road. He asks her to stay in town  to help break the curse over the residents, but she refuses.

Upon returning Henry to Regina, Emma is taken aback when Regina lashes out at her and tells her to stay out of Henry's life. In response, Emma asks Regina if she loves her son and she says yes. Across town, Mary Margaret volunteers for the local hospital, where one of her patients is a comatose John Doe… who also happens to be Prince Charming. At the local bed and breakfast, Emma checks in for a week because of her lingering suspicions about Regina and her concern for Henry. She encounters the creepy Mr. Gold (Doctor Rush, NO!!!!!!). Anyway, Gold is clearly Rumpelstiltskin and he is delighted to learn that "Emma" is in his town. Oh yes, Mr. Gold owns the entire town and the utilities, but I hope to buy Broadway on my next trip past "Go" while riding the top hat.

Because of Emma's decision to stay, time starts moving ever so slowly in the town. Which is an incredible coincidence, since time slowed down for me as I watched this.

Breakdown:

Prior to the official announcement of "Once Upon A Time," it was rumored that Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz were going to adapt Bill Willingham's "Fables" comic book series for ABC. In retrospect, I wish that they had done "Fables" instead of this project. Because that book has great characters, compelling stories and enough structure to last for years as a television series.

"Once Upon A Time" has none of those qualities and quite a few problems.
 
Starting at the top, the biggest concern is Jennifer Morrison's Emma Swan (who looks more like 38 than 28). I remember enjoying Morrison's role on "House," but on this show she seems to have only a single facial expression that seems oddly reminiscent of the same look that Kristen Stewart always has on her face. Must be a Swan thing.

Nothing about Emma Swan is believable. Not her job, not her age, not her motivation to stay in town… Nothing.

In theory, Emma is supposed to be the grounded character that the audience can relate to as she experiences all manner of weirdness in the town. But on top of her character deficiencies, Morrison delivers a performance so flat and lifeless that I couldn't wait for her to get off of the screen. When your main character evokes that kind of a response, it's a big problem for any show.

The fairy tale flashbacks fare a little bit better, but only Robert Carlyle seems to truly inhabit his part and shine through the lackluster story. Carlyle's Rumpelstiltskin may actually be better suited to be the long term villain than the Evil Queen is. Carlyle may only in a few scenes as Rumpelstiltskin and his alter ego, Mr. Gold, but he made a good impression in both roles. The other standout scene of the hour was Prince Charming's sword fight while carrying his baby in his arm. That was the one time that Charming resonated onscreen and seemed like a viable hero.

Ginnifer Goodwin and Joshua Dallas aren't necessarily bad as Snow White and Prince Charming, but I never felt like they believed in the parts they were playing. It was almost as if they were embarrassed to be playing fantasy characters and couldn't fully commit to them. Goodwin was better as her school teacher alias, Mary Margaret and Dallas out-acted himself by playing a coma patient. Not a good sign…

Oddly enough, this show reminds me of "Haven," both in terms of its location and protagonist, as well as the town with supernatural overtones. Storybrooke should be a fascinating place that we want to know more about. But instead it seems dull and boring. I don't know how this series can be expected to go beyond a single season when even the pilot episode can't muster any excitement.

There's no easy fix for this. There's always a chance that "Once Upon A Time" may improve, since the bulk of the exposition is out of the way. But for now, it's just not a good show.

Crave Online Rating: 5 out of 10.