‘Once Upon a Time’ in Duality

Courtesy of ABC Studios

Each day, we find ways to grow up and move forward. The university is just the place for all the fun and stress that comes along with becoming adults. Sunday night prime time, however, tries to keep childhood close to our imaginations with ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” a show from the writers of the cult favorite “Lost” that lets childhood tales back into our lives.

The show has progressed from its less than optimal pilot into an exploration of the intriguing paradox of living between two different realities — a plot that reminds us of the parallel universe that made “Lost” so popular.

Like those on the island in “Lost,” these characters must remember that they are not meant to live in the real world. Rather, they exist in an ageless little town called Storybrooke and are all lost within a curse that keeps them from remembering their lives in the world of happy endings.

The show begins with Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) saving Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) from the Evil Queen’s (Lana Parrilla) sleeping curse. The Evil Queen plans to take away all that makes Snow White happy by casting a curse on all of the fairy tale characters, dooming them to the real world: a realm without happy endings.

The catch is that Snow White’s child, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) is the only hope for the freedom of the fairy-tale characters from this curse. Emma was sent away to be protected from the curse when she was born, and on her 28th birthday, a young boy named Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) from Storybrooke shows up at her doorstep claiming that he is the son she put up for adoption 10 years prior. Of course, Emma Swan has no knowledge that her destiny is to bring back the world of happy endings. It is up to Henry to convince her that his crazy imagination is not fictional at all, but the reality of the lives in Storybrooke.

The fate of all fairy tale characters is in Emma’s hands as this show, like so many before it, attempts to tell the tale of good versus evil. The theme is clearly portrayed in this show, as nothing detracts from the clash of the young savior versus the Evil Queen. Will Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) prove to be a side-story in the show, giving us reason to doubt the sureness of this battle?

The owner of the town’s estate, Mr. Gold is the omniscient but wily Rumplestiltskin in the fairy tale realm. Even in the real world, he seems to know about the curse and about Emma’s presence in Storybrooke as the beginning of the battle between good and evil. After Madame Mayor tries to sabotage Emma’s plans to help her son, Mr. Gold reveals to the Mayor that this woman is exactly who the Evil Queen fears: the savior of fairy tale characters and therefore her archenemy.

When the rivalry between Storybrooke’s Mayor (who turns out to be the Evil Queen) and Emma begins, Emma becomes resilient, promising to fight the Mayor until something changes in that town. Her bravery resembles Snow White’s and we begin to see this family of three generations unfold in modern reality. Will Emma’s character develop enough to make this show less predictable? In order for “Once Upon a Time” to remain at the top of the ratings, the writers will have to remember the twists and surprises of “Lost” in order to keep viewers wanting more.

Within each episode, the scenes jump from the past fairy-tale time to the present Storybrooke time, giving background to each real-world version of the fairy tale characters. This shifting aspect to the show will keep viewers watching as long as the fairy tale characters are presented in a less phony light. This will prove to be a challenge for the writers; making developed entertainment out of children’s stories is no simple feat. “Once Upon a Time” is halfway there with its parallel modern world universe, but ABC may see its viewers dwindle if the fairy tale scenes remain so predictable.

Some of us wish we had the chance to be the hero, and some wish we could be the damsels, saved by our true love. Emma Swan is given the chance to be that hero, and all who watch “Once Upon a Time” will see the ultimate fairy-tale story. As young Henry places his hopes in fairy tales, ABC places its hopes in “Once Upon a Time.” So far, the show has given ABC its best performance in the 20-50 age group in three years. If this show matures into anything close to what “Lost” brought to television, then we are in for an enchanting experience.

Rating: 3 out of 5