Review: Once Upon a Time 1.01: Pilot

This entry is part 1 of 22 in the series Once Upon a Time Season 1

By Heather S. Vina

Written By: Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz

There was an enchanted forest, filled with all of the classic characters we know.

Or think we know.

One day, they found themselves trapped in a place where all of their happy endings were stolen.

Our World.

This is how it happened…

Recap: The episode opens with Prince Charming desperately riding his horse. He ends up in the forest, where it’s snowing and dreary looking, and there he finds Snow White in a glass coffin, surrounded by the Seven Dwarves. They tell him that he’s too late, she’s gone, but Charming wants to say goodbye to her. He asks them to open up the coffin. They give him some privacy, and a crying Charming reaches down and gently kisses her. As soon as he does, a flash of light bursts from them. The dreary forest turns bright and cheerful, and the sun comes out. Snow wakes up and Charming promises her that, no matter what, he will always find her.

The scene changes to Snow and Charming’s wedding day, as they are taking their vows in front of all their friends from Fairytale Land. Just as they say, “I do,” the Evil Queen barges in. Snow pulls out Charming’s sword and aims it at the Queen, but Charming stops her from attacking. The Queen tells them that she is giving them a gift. Her gift to them is to take away everything that everyone in Fairytale Land loves. She will destroy everyone’s happiness, if it’s the last thing that she does. As she’s leaving, Charming throws his sword at her, but she disappears into a mist before it can harm her.

The scene changes to a book drawing in a fairy tale book. Reading the book is little Henry, who is sitting on a Greyhound bus. A friendly fellow passenger asks if it’s a good book. He tells her that it’s more than a book. Once in town, he seeks a cabbie, asking if he takes credit cards.

Emma Swan, dressed in a sexy red dress, is meeting Ryan (Hey, it’s Warren Christie, AKA Hicks, from Syfy’s Alphas!) at a restaurant. Turns out that they are on a first date, having met on the Internet. He asks her to tell him something about herself. She tells him that it’s her birthday, but she’s a loner and has no family, so she’s spending it on a blind date. When it’s her turn, Emma decides to “guess” his story: He’s an embezzler who skipped town on his bail, and abandoned his wife and family. Seems Emma is his bondswoman and she’s aiming to bring him back to jail.

Ryan takes off running, but Emma easily stops him (She booted his car). He tries to bribe her, but she says he should save the money for his family. When he snarks at her about what would she know about family, she takes his remark personally and knocks him out.

Later, Emma arrives at her apartment, where she lights a lone candle on the cupcake she brought home for herself. Closing her eyes, she sighs over her “banner year” and makes a wish. After she blows out the candle, her doorbell rings. Turns out it’s Henry, who announces to her that he’s her son.

Emma denies having a son, but Henry reveals to her that he knows about her giving up her baby for adoption ten years earlier. Emma is shocked. Henry makes himself at home in her place and tells her that he wants her to come home with him. She threatens to call the cops, but he says that he will tell them that she kidnapped him. She tells him that she has one ability – call it a “superpower” – and that’s the ability to tell when someone is lying. He’s lying about turning her in to the cops. He admits it, but asks her to please come back home with him, to Storybrooke, Maine. In the face of his sincere puppy dog eyes, she relents.

Back in Fairytale Land, Snow White is about eight months pregnant and still upset over the Queen’s curse. Prince Charming tries to tell her that it’s nothing to concern herself about, but Snow is worried and wants to talk to “him”. Charming doesn’t want her to, because “he” is dangerous and locked up for a reason. He finally relents when Snow insists that she needs to make sure that their child is safe and he’s the only one who can guarantee that.

Emma drives Henry home. She sees his fairy tale book. He tells her that everything in this book is true and she realizes that he believes it. He tells her that she is in the book, but she doesn’t believe him. She sighs that he has problems. He confidently tells her that she’s going to be the one to fix them.

Snow and Charming head to see “him”, who is Rumplestilskin, who is being held in the dungeons. The guard tells them to stay out of the light and not tell him what their names are. If he knows their names, he will have power over them. Rumplestilskin sees through Snow and Charming’s covers, though, and demands that they reveal themselves. He also knows what they want, but it will cost them something in return. Snow asks him what. He tells her that he wants the name of their child. She agrees, despite Charming’s protests. He tells them that the Queen is coming up with a curse that will engulf them all and trap them in a prison even worse than his. Time will stop for everyone and they will be trapped someplace horrible, “where everything we love will be ripped from us, while we suffer for all eternity, while the Queen celebrates, victorious at last. No more happy endings.”

He tells them that Charming and Snow can’t do anything, but their child can. The baby is their only hope. They have to get her to safety. On her 28th birthday, the child will return and find her parents, and the final battle will begin. Charming ushers Snow away, but Rumplestilskin demands the name of the baby, calling it a “her”. Charming says it will be a boy, but Rumplestilskin says that he knows it’s a girl and so does Snow. Snow turns and tells him that her baby’s name is ‘Emma’.

Back in the present, Emma and Henry have arrived in town. When Emma demands that Henry give her his address, he refuses. She stops in front of the town clock. Henry tells her that the clock is frozen at 8:15 pm and has been his entire life. It froze when the evil Queen used her curse and sent everyone from Fairytale Land to Storybrooke. Emma is skeptical. She asks Henry why everyone just doesn’t leave. Henry tells her that they can’t. If they do, “bad things” happen.

A man named ‘Archie’ comes up to them, with an umbrella in one hand and a Dalmation leashed in another. Henry introduces Emma to Archie (Hopper, according to IMDB, which is a clever little clue on who he really is) and tells him that she’s his mom. Turns out that Henry is the Mayor’s son and Archie is his counselor. Archie tells Emma where Henry lives, then asks Henry where he was today, because he missed his session. Henry lies to him about where he was and Archie calls him on it. Emma is a little weirded out by Archie. She tells him she’s going to take Henry home. When Archie leaves, Henry tells her that he is Jiminy Cricket, but that no one in the town knows who they really are because they can’t remember. They all need Emma’s help.

Back in the past, there’s a round table of Fairytale characters, 13 in all (There are Charming, Snow, Jiminy Crickey, Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother, Grumpy, Doc and one other Dwarf, Gepetto, and four of what look to be soldiers) having a powwow. Charming wants to fight, but Jiminy Cricket (who is a CGI cricket in a magnifying glass) says that’s not the way: “Giving in to one’s dark side is never the way.” Charming says that they have to do something. The forest is awash with the news that the Queen is moving against them and they have to do something. Snow is feeling fatalistic and depressed. She believes that there’s nothing that they can do. Charming tries to bolster her and points out that, if she believes Rumpelstiltskin’s bad news about the curse, then she has to believe him about the good news, too – that their child will save them.

Just then, Tinkerbell bursts in, with some men dragging in a tree. She tells them that it’s an enchanted tree. If it’s fashioned into a vessel, it will protect the baby. Gepetto (and his son, Pinocchio, who is a real boy, not a puppet) will build such a vessel, but it will only have enough power to protect one person.

Henry is begging Emma not to take him back home. He claims that his mom is evil and she doesn’t really love him. She only pretends to. Emma is a little taken aback by that. She tells him she’s sure that’s not true. Just then, the front door opens and Henry’s birth mom bursts out, acting concerned. It’s the Evil Queen, AKA the Mayor of Storybrooke. She hugs him and asks where he was. He shouts at her that he found his real mom, then rushes into the house. The Sheriff – who was with the Mayor – tells the women that he will check on Henry. The Mayor offers Emma a glass of “the best apple cider in town.” So, even in the real world, she’s still with the apples!

Inside, Emma asks the Mayor how Henry found her, but she doesn’t know. She tells Emma that she adopted Henry when he was three weeks old and it was a closed adoption, at Emma’s request. Emma tells her that Henry’s birth father doesn’t even know about him and she doesn’t have to worry about Emma, who has no intention of getting involved with Henry’s life. The Mayor tells Emma that, ever since she became Mayor, it’s been difficult with Henry. Emma tells her that it’s probably just because of the book, and the fact that Henry thinks that everyone is a character from that book, but the Mayor has no idea what she is talking about. Emma stops herself and tells her that she should be heading home.

Outside, Emma looks up to catch Henry watching her leave. As Emma’s driving away, she sees Henry’s book lying on the seat next to her (She seems a little tired, but I can’t tell if that’s just because it’s late, or if it’s something to do with the cider and maybe the Mayor poisoned it). Emma admiringly calls Henry a “sneaky bastard” at him leaving his book in her car, but when she looks back to the road, there’s a wolf standing in the middle of it. She swerves off the road and, because of the rainy conditions, ends up slamming into the “Welcome to Storybrooke” sign, knocking herself out. Hmm, prophetic?

Back in Fairytale Land, Gepetto and Pinocchio are making a wardrobe out of the enchanted tree. Snow tells Charming that she doesn’t want to do this, because she doesn’t want to leave him, but Charming insists that she has to. Snow is distraught that they will be separated for 28 years (the time until their child will return to save them), but Charming tells her that the time is nothing for an “eternal love” like theirs. He has faith that Snow will save him, as he saved her. They kiss, but when they part, Snow realizes that she’s in labour.

On the parapet of the castle, Grumpy is on look out. He glances over and sees the animals fleeing the forest, and a dark cloud starting to sweep down. The curse is coming.

Emma wakes up in the town jail, with Leroy, AKA “Grumpy” as a cellmate. Gepetto is also there. It’s clear that neither man remembers who he is. When Leroy snarks about kids being brats, Gepetto scolds him. He admits that he and his wife had tried, but had never been blessed with children. I wonder where Pinocchio ended up, then? It makes sense that Gepetto wouldn’t have him, anymore, since Pinocchio is his happiness and the Queen’s curse was about stripping that away from everyone, but I wonder where Pinocchio ended up?

Anyway, the Sheriff interrupts them and releases Leroy. He cautions Emma about having drunk too much before she went driving, but she denies that she was drunk and tells him she swerved off the road because there was a wolf there. The Sheriff is skeptical about that. Hmm, could the Sheriff be the Big Bad Wolf? He is working with the Mayor, although he, himself, doesn’t seem evil…yet. So, he could go either way.

The Mayor comes rushing in and tells him that Henry is missing again. She stops short at seeing Emma there and asks her where he is. Emma doesn’t know, but she offers her services in finding him, if they will release her.

In Henry’s room, Emma hacks his computer and discovers that he used a credit card with the name “Mary Margaret Blanchard” to pay the website “WhoseYourMomma.org” to find her. The Mayor tells Emma that Mary Margaret is Henry’s teacher.

In Mary AKA Snow White’s class, she is teaching her children about making a birdhouse. She tells them that they aren’t building a cage to cage the birds, but building them a home. She tells them that, if you love someone and they love you, they will always find you. The recess bell rings and the kids take off, but before one of them leaves, she gives Mary a pear. I guess, even with amnesia, Snow knows to stay away from apples!

The Mayor and Emma come to Mary’s room. The Mayor demands that Mary tell her where Henry is, but Mary doesn’t know. The Mayor asks if Mary gave Henry her credit card to find Emma, whom the Mayor describes as “the woman who gave Henry up for adoption,” but Mary didn’t. Seems Henry stole it from her wallet. Mary remarks that she was the one who gave Henry the book. He’s lonely and he needed the book. The Mayor is ticked off and storms out of the room, telling Mary that Henry needs a dose of reality. She snarks to Emma to “have a nice trip back to Boston,” and knocks over some books on her way out.

Emma helps Mary pick up the books. Mary explains to Emma that the book was to help Henry. He’s had a difficult life, struggling with his adoptive mother and the question most adopted children have: why anyone would give him away. Mary apologizes when she realizes that it might have sounded accusatory towards Emma. She tells her that she gave Henry the book because she hoped that it would give him hope. “Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending can be a very powerful thing.” Emma realizes that Mary knows where Henry is and Mary suggests that Emma check his “castle”.

Back in Fairytale Land, Snow is in labour, with Charming and Doc by her side. She cries that she can’t have the baby, yet. Doc tells them she needs to just hold on because the wardrobe is almost done. Gepetto bursts in and tells them that it’s ready, but Doc says it’s too late; she’s too far along. Snow gives birth to Emma, just as the Queen and her soldiers make their way to the castle.

Snow and Charming take a moment to smile at their baby girl, before Snow realises that the wardrobe only takes one. Since Emma has been born, they can’t both go. They can hear the sounds of battle, as the Queen’s soldiers start storming the castle. Snow tells Charming that he has to put Emma in the wardrobe, but he doesn’t want to. Snow is adamant, crying and telling him that they have to. They have to believe that she will come back for them and they have to give her her best chance. Snow takes a moment to kiss her daughter and tell her goodbye, before she sends Charming off with her. When they leave, Snow starts sobbing out her heartbreak.

Charming draws his sword and fights off two of the Queen’s soldiers, while holding Emma. Alas, he ends up being wounded as a result, but manages to defeat them and make his way to the wardrobe. He gently places his baby girl in it and kisses her on her head, before imploring her to “find us.” He shuts the wardrobe up and fights off two more soldiers who burst in. Unfortunately, one of them manages to stab him in the side and Charming falls to the ground. One of the soldiers breaks into the wardrobe and discovers that Emma is gone. The last thing that Charming knows and sees before he loses consciousness is that his daughter is safe.

Back in the present, Emma finds Henry at his “castle”, AKA a castle slide at the playground. She returns his book to him and realises that he’s watching the town clock, which still hasn’t moved. He tells her that he hoped, when he brought her back to town, it would move again and signal the start of the final battle. She tells him that she’s not fighting any battles and he insists that she is. She’s going to bring back all of the happy endings; it’s her destiny. She denies it again and he changes the subject. He tells her that she doesn’t have to pretend; he knows she likes him. She just feels guilty because of having given him away, but he knows why she did it: She wanted to give him his best chance. She asks him how he knows that. He tells her it’s the same reason that Snow White gave her away. She tells him that she’s a real person and she’s no one’s saviour.

Emma tells Henry that she has to take him back, but he begs her to stay one week so that she can realize that he’s not crazy. He tells her that his life “sucks” with the Mayor as his mom and Emma tells him that he doesn’t know what “suck” is. She was abandoned on the highway; her parents didn’t even care enough to drop her off someplace safely. She lived with a family until she was three, but when they had their own kids, they returned her to the adoption agency. His mom is trying the best and at least she wants him.

Henry tells her that her parents didn’t leave her on the side of the freeway; that’s just where she came through. Her parents were trying to save her from the curse; they didn’t abandon her someplace to die. Emma still doesn’t believe him and starts to take him home. As they walk together, Henry takes her hand and she doesn’t make him let go.

Back in the past, a recovering Snow makes her way to the room where the wardrobe is. She is distraught to find Charming unconscious on the ground. She grabs him, and begs him to wake up and come back to her. She even tries kissing him awake, as he did her, but it doesn’t work. She’s holding him when the Queen comes in. The Queen tells him that, soon, she won’t even remember him.

The soldiers come in and tell the Queen that the baby escaped from them. Snow is thrilled to hear that her daughter is safe. She tells the Queen that she’s going to lose. Snow’s faith in good winning out has been restored. The Queen tells her that they will see. As she does, the ceiling starts breaking up and darkness is swirling around them. Snow asks the Queen where they are going. The Queen tells her it’s someplace “horrible”, where the only happy ending will be hers.

Emma brings Henry back home. The Mayor remarks that Henry seems to have taken a shine to Emma. Emma confides that it was her birthday and, when she made her wish, she wished that she wouldn’t have to be alone. Then Henry showed up. The Mayor interrupts and tells her that she has no place in Henry’s life, that she is Henry’s mother. You know, if she weren’t an Evil Witch who caused two generations of children to be separated from their parents, I might feel some sympathy for how she is feeling threatened by Emma’s presence in Henry’s life. But since she’s the reason Emma ended up feeling abandoned and unloved, and therefore, why she gave up her son instead of feeling like she could raise him herself, I have zero sympathy for anything the Mayor supposedly feels for Henry.

After the Mayor’s little rant, and her threat to destroy Emma if she doesn’t leave town, she goes to storm back into the house, when Emma stops her with a simple question: “Do you love him?” The Mayor answers with a yes, of course she does. Hmmm, will Emma’s superpower, of knowing when people are lying or not, help her out here?

The Mayor takes Henry’s book, Once Upon A Time, and stands in front of a mirror, staring at herself. Apples and mirrors. Signs that she remembers who she is?

Mary is volunteering at a hospital and giving flowers to the patients. She enters a room, where a “John Doe” is lying comatose, and leaves him some flowers on his bedstand. That John Doe is Charming.

Emma goes to a place called “Granny’s Bed And Breakfast”, where Red Riding Hood and Grandmother are arguing about Red AKA Ruby being out all night. Ruby snarks that she should have moved to Boston when she had the chance. Grandma implies that Ruby sleeps around a lot. Emma interrupts and requests a room, which seems to surprise Ruby and Grandma. Emma tells Grandma her name. As she does, someone remarks that “Emma is a lovely name.” Emma turns around and it’s Mr. Gold, AKA Rumplestilskin.

Grandma hands Gold a wad of money and insists that it’s all there. He tells Emma to enjoy her stay, then leaves. Emma asks them who that was. They tell her that it’s Mr. Gold, who owns the entire town. Grandma asks how long she will be there and Emma tells them it’s just a week. Grandma welcomes her to Storybrooke.

It’s nighttime and Henry is sitting at his window, staring at the town clock. With Emma’s words, it moves a smidge and Henry smiles a delighted smile.

The final battle has begun.

Review: I actually saw this pilot at Comic-Con, and I quite enjoyed it. But watching it the second time around, I actually found it better and more engaging. I do have some reservations about this show, but it was a well-done pilot and really struck an emotional cord with me several times.

I think the most moving scenes for me were when Snow White sends her baby away and then starts sobbing as Charming takes her. Ginnifer Goodwin was excellent in that scene because I could feel Snow’s intense heartbreak. She knows that she might never see her child again, but she has no choice in sending her away. *sob* I was really touched that Charming got to see that his baby girl was saved before he lost consciousness. I also thought Jennifer Morrison was moving when she told Henry about how she had been abandoned as a baby on the side of the freeway, and how unloved and unwanted she felt all of her childhood. And the last scene, of little Henry watching the clock, having tried so hard to get Emma to stay and make things right, and then he sees the clock move, and this beauteous smile comes across his face. It’s not many shows that can make me tear up with sorrow and sadness one minute, and then with triumphant the next, but this one did it!

I’ve never been a huge fan of fairy tales, but I know them from stories and, of course, the Disney classics. I think watching this show will be fun, trying to discover who the fairy tale characters were and who they are in the present! It will be a game in each episode. Since this show is headed up by a couple of the writers from Lost, there were also some winks to that series, but as I didn’t watch that one very long, I can’t point those out.

I have to admit that I’ve never been a fan of Jennifer Morrison (Emma). In fact, I disliked her on the two shows I saw her on, House and How I Met Your Mother. But she was good in this. She did a good job of making Emma sympathetic – despite the massive chip on her shoulder – which isn’t always easy to do with a character like this. Emma does have a sympathetic, if a bit overdone, background. Being abandoned on a freeway, and believing that your parents cared so little about you that they left you to die as a newborn, is pretty horrible. But I cry foul on the idea that she was taken in by an adoptive family as a newborn and stayed with them until she was three, but then was sent her back when they had their own kids. Newborns are the most in demand of children and I have a hard time seeing an adoptive family – who has to go through all kinds of hoops to get on the list for adopting a child, never mind actually adopting one – returning a child just because they had their own. So, that part was a little unrealistic to me.

The scene of having Emma admit, to some criminal scumbag that she was trying to return to prison, how she has no family and is lonely, was a bit clunky, too.

But despite those two things, Emma came off as sympathetic to me and I felt for her, both in her life and how she was having a hard time dealing with the son that she had given away.

Henry is a sweetheart, and Jared Gilmore is an endearing and believable young actor. Wonderful casting with him, as he brought the right kind of sincerity, wisdom and innocence, as well as heart, to the role. And he even kind of looks like his “grandpa”, Josh Dallas!

I liked Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas as Snow White and Prince Charming quite a lot. I actually liked Ginnifer better as Snow than as Mary, if only because I found her ugly haircut and too-thin appearance as Mary a bit distracting. I hope they change the cut and she gains a little bit of weight. I also hope that Charming/John Doe wakes up soon, because seeing him in a coma the whole time will be a bit of a letdown.

Rumplestiltsken looks like he’s going to be quite the malicious player! I never remembered him as being quite this…devilish in the fairy tales. I don’t know if it was planned in the curse or not, but I do think that he remembers the past. Maybe it was just when hearing Emma’s name and it being a wake-up key for him, or something (since they made such a point out of it being a no-no to let Rumpelstiltskin know your name), and he didn’t remember before then, but watching him talk to her in that scene, he definitely remembers now.

On the other hand, I can’t decide if Regina, AKA the Mayor, remembers being the Evil Queen or not. I tend to think that she does, if only because she set up the curse so that she would be the only one who would be happy, and the only way she can be happy is by seeing and knowing that everyone else is miserable. There are a few signs that she seems to know, most specifically her upset over finding out that Henry is onto the truth about the history of the townspeople, and the way she acted with the book. But those could be red herrings, so I’m not quite sure. Love the little winks to her true identity, with the Apple Cider and the mirror, though. I still wonder if she poisoned the cider that she gave Emma to drink.
I have to say that, no matter what they reveal about the Queen and her motives, what she has already done is pretty unforgivable to me. I’m not talking about the curse on the fairy tale people (though that is definitely cruel), so much as what she did to two innocent children, Emma and Henry. By starting this curse, she forced Emma away from her parents and into a soul-wounding beginning, where she felt abandoned and unloved, to the point where she felt as if she couldn’t take care of her own child and gave him away. The Queen devastated the bond between two sets of parents and their children, and caused two innocent children to have unhappy childhoods, feeling as if they were unloved. It’s just unforgivable and what makes that part of the show a bit hard for me. The characters can all get their lives back, but Snow and Charming will never get to raise their daughter. Emma will never get her childhood back with parents who are devoted to her, and raise her with love and support. Emma will never get a chance to raise her son from birth to ten-years-old and love him as he deserves. Henry will never get those early years with his mother and being raised feeling as if he is loved by his mom. That’s just unforgivable to me. There’s no excuse to hurt children, so any backstory that they attempt to give the Queen will never justify for me what she did to the children.

The one fear I have for this show is how they will drag this story out to last an actual TV series length. It being from the writers of Lost isn’t a big selling point for me, since I quickly tired of the way that they dragged out that show and stopped watching it. Once Upon a Time is one of several TV series (Ringer and Revenge being two others) that seems to be better suited for a limited run series. So far, I see a lot of storyline potential, but how long can they really drag this out, without any resolution? It’s going to get tiring seeing the Queen continue to win, people continue to not know who they really are, people continue to not be reunited with their loves ones, and happy endings continue to be denied to everyone. The series is basically the run of the Queen’s curse, but as a viewer, I want to see the good guys win and see these people gain back what they lost. Watching for several seasons, as every character is miserable because, to be happy means the plot of the show is over, is going to get mighty tiring.

Hopefully the writers will be able to maintain the story, while still giving the viewers the proper amount of payoff. I have hope that they will, but I do admit, I’m a little skeptical, as well.

Prove me wrong, writers!

This week’s Fairy Tale Characters Who Make Appearances In Both Worlds Are:

Snow White, AKA Mary Margaret

Prince Charming, AKA John Doe

Rumpelstiltskin, AKA Mr. Gold

Red Riding Hood and Grandma, AKA Ruby and Granny

Evil Queen, AKA the Mayor

Grumpy, AKA Leroy

Gepetto, AKA ?

Jiminy Cricket, AKA Archie Hopper

Still Missing In Storybrooke World:

Doc

Tinkerbell

Pinocchio

The other Dwarves

About Heather S. Vina

Heather's been a fan of science fiction since she was five years old and developed a crush on Captain Kirk, while watching reruns of Star Trek: The Original Series. A huge Anglophile, she loves reading and watching (and mocking!) TV, but hasn't figured out a way to make a living doing either, yet. But she lives in hope!

Heather S. VinaReview: Once Upon a Time 1.01: Pilot