A Writer's Journey

January 22, 2018

Once Upon a Time: My Thoughts on Season 7…So Far

Filed under: off topic — mackenziew @ 1:00 am
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We’ve reached the midpoint of Once Upon a Time’s new season. The midwinter finale was December 15th and the season isn’t due to start up again until March 2nd. I’m sure the producers, writers and the network executives have a lot of things to discuss and consider as it comes time to decide if the show gets a season 8 or not.

So now should be a good time to stop and examine the season so far. Fair warning: There will be spoilers for those who haven’t seen the season yet.

For those who don’t know, the writers decided to wrap up the original storylines of Once Upon a Time with the season 6 finale. Of course, the show’s fate was also still unknown so they had to craft something that could stand as a series finale if they were cancelled but they still also wanted to try something new. They wanted to reboot the show and hopefully breath new life into it and they got the green light from ABC to do just that.

The writers have aged up Henry, now played by Andrew J. West (though Jared Gilmore showed up in the first two episodes of the season to play younger Henry in flashbacks). He’s living in Seattle as a failed writer when a young girl named Lucy (Alison Fernandez) knocks on his door and tells him that she’s his daughter. This had actually been the last scene of the season 6 finale, a parallel to Once’s pilot.

It is explained that another curse has been cast, making Henry forget about his daughter and his wife—Cinderella, another version played by Dania Ramirez. You see, there are multiple versions of our favorite fairy tales and so multiple versions of beloved characters. So Jessy Schram played one version of Cinderella and now Ramirez is playing another.

Anyway, Lucy is trying to reunite her parents so they can break the curse before her evil step-grandmother, Victoria Belfrey AKA Lady Tremaine (Gabrielle Anwar), can scatter all the cursed fairy tale characters by chasing them out of a Seattle neighborhood called Hyperion Heights.

There, Cinderella is Jacinda and she lives with Sabine AKA Tiana (Mekia Cox). Hyperion Heights also boasts a bar owned by Roni—Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) cursed identity. Hook and Rumple are there as well—cursed as partners on the police force named Rogers and Weaver, respectively. Cinderella’s stepsister Drizella (Adelaide Kane) is Ivy in Hyperion Heights and is her mother’s assistant.

Phew. I think that’s a good enough summary for now. Let’s move on, shall we?

I’ll start this part by saying that this season has been really divisive on opinions. I’ve seen people decide they don’t like it, that it’s just not the same while others like it and think it’s the shot in the arm the show needed. So pretty much what follows is my own opinion and not necessarily gospel truth.

I feel really bad for this cast. Because they are a talented and diverse group. However, TV shows normally don’t do such a radical cast change like Once did. Most of them lose and gain characters over time. So this cast faced an uphill climb—they were coming on as fresh faces after the audience lost a two-thirds of a very beloved cast. Of course people miss the actors and characters they’ve spent the past six years with, though I doubt many fans who were vocal realized the implications of the fact that they were often calling for the return of white actors on casting announcements featuring African-American or Latina actresses.

(At least, I hope they failed to realize the implications).

I feel that maybe it would’ve been best to have had the last episode of season six serve as the series finale. Then to have saved this reboot for the 2018-2019 season. It would give the audience some time to breathe and put some distance between the “old” Once Upon a Time and the “new” Once Upon a Time. This would’ve been a proper season one with a new cast and some familiar faces instead of season 7 with mostly new faces with only a few familiar ones. They could’ve stood on their own merits for a greater portion of the audience, which is something they all definitely deserve.

Someone I follow on tumblr hit the nail on the head for another point—the characters don’t feel fully developed yet. The writers always talk about capturing the feel of season one yet I don’t think they understand what that feel was.

Back in Season 1 and even Season 2, the writers took the time to flesh out the characters. While things continued to happen and move forward, we still had better understandings of the characters and connected with them. That seemed to have been forgotten over the past few seasons. I mean, do we really know why Hades was banished to the Underworld and why he wanted to conquer the world besides it’s such the stereotypical villain thing to do? He really had no backstory episode. Even Robin Hood got one. Kinda.

We have gotten a few backstory episodes—Tiana, Lady Tremaine—but not much more. It’s almost hard to connect with some characters because they haven’t been fleshed out the way they used to be. The writers are trying to jam too much plot and important things like characterization are falling by the wayside.

Which is a shame because I feel these characters could be so much more. Even characters who are a bit more developed than the others, like Ivy/Drizella. Because there were some plot holes with her backstory. If she was so close to Cecilia, Ella’s mother, why is she now desperate to gain her mother’s attention and approval? Why is her hatred for her mother born from jealousy of the devotion Lady Tremaine shows to the dead Anastasia rather than that Cecilia was driven away and Lady Tremaine took her place? And why did she turn on Ella when it was shown that they were close as girls?

There are rumors going around that Anwar and Kane won’t be on the show much longer and that their characters are going to be written out. I’m not sure how true those are but I have to agree with those that say that Tremaine/Rapunzel/Victoria’s arc is pretty much over. She’s always just been a red herring—we all assumed she was going to be the big bad, Adam and Eddy even compared her to Regina, but she was never the Big Bad. Drizella orchestrated the Dark Curse, though ultimately she got Regina to cast it, and she was being played by Mother Gothel (Emma Booth). There really isn’t much else I can see the writers doing with her.

Anwar, though, is a regular cast member, not a recurring one. While this show has a history of not using regulars to their full potential (Meghan Ory, Michael Socha, Sean Maguire) and killing one off mid-season (Michael Raymond-James), I still don’t know if it would make sense to have signed Anwar to a regular contract and then let her go halfway thought the season. It hasn’t been much of a secret that Once has had budget cuts lately, so I can’t imagine ABC would be happy to know that the production would have to continue to pay an actress no longer being used on the show.

Of course, all of this is based on rumors so it’s also just as likely that Anwar will stay around for the whole season.

I don’t really think Kane will be going anywhere, though it could be argued that Drizella’s part of the story is at its end. She was just a means to an end for Mother Gothel, who has what she really wanted all along—Tremaine’s oldest daughter Anastasia (Yael Yurman). However, I think they could still have Drizella learn and start working with the heroes. Because though the writers had set up Lady Tremaine to be Regina 2.0, Drizella really is. She has a similar backstory (sans the death of her first love and forced marriage to a man twice her age) and Kane looks like she could play Parrilla’s daughter.

(It’s still a crime that she’s not playing some secret Outlaw Queen daughter as far as my OQ shipping heart is concerned).

Anyway, yes, I think Drizella could pull off a Regina heel-face turn herself. I would love to see that.

Let’s go back to the writers’ not taking the time they need. I think the midseason finale is a perfect example of that. A lot was packed into it and it was very poorly set up. I think it was done that way to make the audience want to come back for answers but I feared all it did was confuse us. What is Zelena doing suddenly living in the other Enchanted Forest? How did she get her magic back? Why did Lady Tremaine decide to help the Resistance? How did Tiana become queen? Why did they keep the statue of Drizella in the courtyard?

The Henry/Ella relationship has also suffered from how quick everything keeps progressing. It’s almost like the writers forgot how to write a romance or are all tapped out after devoting so much attention to Captain Swan. It has been rushed and we really haven’t been given a lot of time to fall in love with the couple. Thankfully, they seem to be giving Henry and Jacinda some time to fall in love…but I’m still not feeling Henry/Ella. One episode they are just kissing for the first time, then they have Lucy and then Lucy is eight. It’s just all too fast.

Perhaps this would’ve been something that could’ve been improved if Once had been put on hiatus and then come back with a brand new season 1. The writers may have had time to work out the kinks and craft the story, going back to really learn from their mistakes and their successes like they recently said in an interview. Or at least maybe taken some time to rest and recharge the creative juices. It’s almost like they’re running on fumes and just doing the same things over and over the past couple seasons.

Hopefully, someone will realize that they are going too fast and tell them to slow down over the break. Of course, they could also be told to wrap it up as ABC pushes it closer to cancellation. Channing Dungey sounded optimistic about Once’s chances, but there are a lot of factors to take into consideration so we probably still need to prepare for the end.

Which is probably another disservice we fans—or at least me—have done to the season and the cast. I have gone into this season believing it will be the last and I know I am not alone. So I’m sure there are people who wish that they had the familiar to end the show with rather than so much new. I can still see the familiar but it still makes it difficult for me to connect with the new, believing it won’t be around next year. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I’m not alone in that sentiment.

So, what’s the bottom line?

The bottom line is that the reboot does seem to be like a good attempt to breathing new life into the show but that it might’ve needed some distance from the old version to succeed. It also seems like the writers are falling back on old tricks and maybe aren’t willing to admit that they are tapped out for now, that maybe some time off would’ve allowed them to recharge their batteries. It may have also given them time to return to developing characters rather than relying on shocks they’ve poorly set up for.

There are still plenty of bright spots and I’m not going to break up with the show. I just hope that if this might be the end, the writers can deliver something worthy of wrapping up such a season. At the same time, I’m hoping for an abbreviated season 8 to give them time to do just that.

We’ll just have to see.

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