Once Upon A Time: Allusions, Parallels, and Unsung Heroes


By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

One of the best things about Once Upon a Time, and writing reviews here on The Nerd Machine is that it is such a perfect example of what it means to truly be a nerd for something. This show about fairy tales, hope and true love has become a passion for so many fans and it is easy to understand why. With the second half of season 4 fast approaching (the show returns March 1st), it seemed like an appropriate time to discuss why Once Upon a Time is so worthy of nerdy devotion.

Allusions: Once Upon a Time is no stranger to allusions and references. The entire show is one giant reference to almost every single fairy tale and Disney film known to man. Many of these are done in jest or as a subtle wink to the audience. From Emma wondering if her parents were going to present their new son in front of the clock tower like Simba in The Lion King, to Ariel admiring the treasures in Mr. Gold’s shop saying “look at this stuff,” these mentions and inside jokes never fail to make me smile. And the show does not stop at Disney films, with references and nods to Star Wars, Back to the Future, Harry Potter, Thor, The Princess Bride, and LOST. But there are also countless moments that are indirectly reminiscent of many other stories, some I’ve just mentioned. The interconnectedness of good stories whether intentional or simply a personal reaction, is truly special and I always delight in finding parallels in unexpected ways.

The themes and many iconic lines from the Harry Potter series are so reminiscent of the themes found on OUAT, unsurprisingly as both feature protagonists (Emma and Harry) who are lonely orphans thrust into a magical world and destined to be a Savior. Sirius Black’s line, “We’ve all got light and dark inside of us. It’s what we choose to act on that matters” is undoubtedly paralleled with OUAT. Similarly, two lines from Albus Dumbledore ring true for our characters: “It is not our abilities that show us what we truly are. It is our choices” and “Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” Every character embodies the light and the dark and enter morally gray areas. Emma has threatened Regina out of protectiveness of Henry, David contemplated shooting his adoptive father after he destroyed Jefferson’s hat, Killian stole a magic bean with plans to leave Storybrooke to its fate, and Belle chose to reach for a memory stone instead of helping Anna who fell off a cliff and was consequently captured. Even sweet Snow White darkened her heart when she killed Cora. These mistakes do not degrade these characters; on the contrary, they humanize them. And when they realize their mistakes they do whatever they can to make things right and to return to a path of light. David found another way to communicate with his family across realms (a sleeping curse), Killian came back with the bean, helped save Henry in Neverland, and has been trying to be a good man ever since, Belle revealed her past with Anna, and Snow and Emma have been showing Regina friendship, understanding and forgiveness. None of these choices were easy but they were the right things to do. It must not have been easy for Killian to give up his ship in order to save Emma in New York, but he did it not only because he loves her, but because as he said it was “the right thing to do.” And ever since he made that choice, Killian cannot fathom choosing anything over love. When he says to Rumple, “[Belle] truly loves you. You could have her forever, or all the power in the world. It’s your choice,” Rumple scoffs that he can have both. Rumple took the easy path and chose power over love and it cost him everything. Our choices can lead to heartbreak, but there is always hope. It was not easy for Regina to see Robin leave Storybooke so that Marian could survive, nor for Belle to banish Rumple from the town, both woman seeing the men they love disappear right before their eyes. But all of these were the right choices, and ones that solidify how much the characters on OUAT have come to embody bravery, heroism, and selflessness.

Additionally, seeing Killian lose hope of his survival but request that Rumple not harm anyone else in Storybrooke was very reminiscent of Lord of the Rings hero Aragorn’s speech “I give hope to man. I keep none for myself.” Aragorn’s hope was for the world’s survival, not his own and Killian’s thoughts were very much the same. And although the two characters are very different, I cannot help but feel a kinship between them. Both Aragorn and Killian deeply love two women, and parted from them believing they would never see them again. But they beautifully were. And when Aragorn was reunited with Arwen at his coronation, and when Killian sees Emma again and she restores his heart, the first thing Aragorn and Killian do is passionately kiss their loves, both men overcome with feelings of love and pure joy. Their hope was restored and although the future was uncertain, both couples were ready to face it together.

Lastly, though unexpected, when Emma shared a box of her childhood mementos, I could not help but think of a similar scene between Jim and Pam on The Office when Pam entered Jim’s room and discovered his High School yearbook. In both scenes, we see the trepidation and nervousness in Jim and Emma’s eyes, but also the delight in sharing these pieces of themselves rarely shared with others. They were nervous but happy to share a part of their past because who they were sharing it with was very special. Both Killian and Pam smiled with glee at these discoveries, undoubtedly feeling honored, and although Jim and Pam were not together at this point and Killian and Emma were, both couples were experiencing the kind of moment reserved for the ones who are their best friends, their kindred spirits, their soulmates.

Parallels: One of the most remarkable things about OUAT is the amount of parallels that we see from episode to episode. The show is like a beautifully woven tapestry of connections, each one poignant and lovely. There are parallels between all the romantic couples, between the curses, and between individual characters. Some made me cry, such as baby Balefire touching his father Rumple’s nose, and Rumple repeating the gesture after the Charmings announced their new son’s name was Neal, and David dreaming of dancing with Emma, telling her she’s a natural, which paralleled Killian dancing with her at King Midas’s ball, telling her the same thing. Both Snow and Emma rescued David and Killian from drowning, whispering “come back to me” to them both. But perhaps the loveliest were the ones between Henry in the “Pilot” and Killian in “New York City Serenade.” In both episodes both Henry and Killian find Emma and tell her she needs to go to Storybooke to break a curse. After convincing in one and a memory potion in the other, they return to the sleepy town in Maine, driving into town with similar camera angles and the same musical score. Even much of the dialogue of both characters is nearly identical. These parallels were truly wonderful and invigorated the show in a beautiful way.

Unsung Heroes: When we praise this beautiful show’s attributes we often mention the creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis and the immensely talented cast, and rightly so. These wonderful actors breathe beautiful life into the words, with both grandeur and subtlety. And I will forever be grateful to Horowtiz and Kitsis for creating this show and its characters that have grown to be so special in my heart. They also pen numerous episodes, many of which are my very favorites (“There’s No Place Like Home,” “A Land Without Magic,” and “New York City Serenade”) to name a few. But of course the entire team of writers are worthy of praise. When I look at some of the best episodes from the past year we must mention how David H. Goodman moved me to tears with Killian’s line “I Swear on Emma Swan” in “The Jolly Roger,” and Emma’s line “I can’t lose you too” in “Rocky Road” which he penned along with Jerome Schwartz. The two also created the moving moment in “Smash the Mirror” when Emma learned to control her magic by accepting and learning to love herself. Of my three favorite episodes from Season 4A, two were written by Jane Espenson: “White Out” which added a new layer to David’s character and gave us the moving moments of Emma nearly freezing to death, being saved by Elsa, and finding comfort in Killian’s relieved and loving arms, and “Fall” which was equally epic and touching filled with tearful goodbyes and reunions between ALL of the characters. Kalinda Vazquez consistently wrote moments of strength and love for Snow and David, as well as Regina dealing with personal struggles in “Kansas” and “Breaking Glass” (co-written with Scott Nimerfro). Andrew Chambliss not only co-wrote “Kansas,” but also gave us the dynamic complexities of Rumple’s dark addiction in “Family Business” and “The Apprentice.” The latter episode, who he penned with new staff writer Dana Horgan, gave us the swoon-worthy moments of Killian’s wardrobe change and he and Emma’s romantic first date. And their moments together felt like a tremendous and exquisite gift.

In addition to the writers, each and every person who contributes to the production of the show is essential and solidly why each episode feels like a mini-movie. I would be remiss if I did not mention the perfection that is the casting department led by Veronica Collins, the production design by Michael Joy, and the opening title graphics which are different for every episode and something I always look forward to. Composer Mark Isham’s music is truly stunning, thematic and deeply evocative, while Eduardo Castro’s costume design is nothing short of brilliant, created with a care and intricacy that is remarkable. You can listen to these two men discuss their process in these two videos: The Music of Once Upon a Time and Touring the Once Upon a Time Costume Department. Lastly, two people who always go hand in hand (Director and Cinematographer) are also the ones who make this show so visually and viscerally gorgeous. “The Jolly Roger” conveyed moments of heartbreaking beauty created by cinematographer Tony Mirza and director Ernest Dickerson. Stephen Jackson, the director of photography for most episodes, always gives us moments of quiet beauty, or resplendent grandeur. “Fall,” directed by Mario Van Peebles, managed to balance both moments of intense intimacy and great epicness. Ron Underwood filmed sweet moments both grandly and intimately in “Snow Drifts” and “White Out” and Billy Geirhert balanced both cityscapes and enchanted forests in “New York City Serenade,” one of the most visually interesting episodes ever. And Ralph Hemecker, who is at the helm of important episodes such as “There’s No Place Like Home,” and “Smash the Mirror” always, along with Jackson, creates moments whose visual beauty is so stunning one cannot help but also be moved, such as Emma gleefully creating fireworks for her loved ones and a montage of all the couples happily expressing their love in moments of quiet, loving intimacy. If you are a Once Upon a Time nerd you understand the praise given to every person who helps create this beautiful show that is a feast for the eyes and soothing to the soul- new fairy tales created for an audience who long for stories about hope, true love, and happy endings.

    One Comment

  1. fangirlmum4everFebruary 17th, 2015 at 6:49 am

    Beautiful! Thank you for this!

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