Once Upon A Time


I love a soap opera. OUAT is not your traditional “oh no, my boyfriend’s my brother!” kind of soap opera, instead relying on the fantastical to create ridiculous plotlines… which does actually put it more in the vein of PASSIONS and PORT CHARLES (RIP). Anyways, the primary family tree is so insane, “soap” is the only true word to describe it. I have a severe love-hate relationship with the series. After a great first season, the second season had a rough start before a solid second half, followed by two seasons with great first halves and terrible second halves. After the end of last season’s begin character pregnancy reveal, I was completely unsure of how season five would bounce back. It has managed to repeat an old trope of passing of time with lost memories while still not feeling too repetitive. Not sure how they will manage to make this work or if it can top the great Peter Pan and Frozen arcs but I’m perfectly happy to sit through the pain and hope for the best. To kill time as we watch the season play out, let’s see how this episode breaks down and how it compares to previous season structures.


ONCE UPON A TIME debuted in Fall 2011 on ABC, created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. It has a failed spin-off, ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND, and is currently on its fifth season. The series follows the “Charming family.” Prince Charming married Snow White and had a daughter, Emma. The Evil Queen, Regina, created a curse that sent all the characters of the Enchanted Forest to a small town in a land without magic called Storybrooke. A prophecy declared that Emma would grow up and break the curse, so Charming and Snow sent their new born daughter through a portal where she grew up in the foster care system and had a child, Henry, that she gave up for adoption. Henry came looking for her when he was 10 years old, demanding that she break a fantastical curse as she is “the Savior.” The first season followed her realizing that fairy tales were real and developing a relationship with her son, who had been adopted by Regina. Subsequent seasons have followed her acceptance of her role as the Savior and developing her powers. At the end of the fourth season, Emma sacrificed herself to save Regina from becoming “The Dark One,” a wholly evil entity that was previously held by Rumplestiltskin.

In the first episode of season four, the Charmings and friends transport themselves to Camelot to find Emma who is now The Dark One. They run into King Arthur, who they need to lead them to Merlin as he is the only one who can seemingly save Emma. At the end of the episode, the gang has returned to Storybrook. Emma has fully taken on the role of the Dark One, six weeks have passed, and no one has any memories of what happened.



Emma Swan

Snow White, Emma’s mother

Charming, Emma’s father

Henry, Emma’s biological son and Regina’s adopted son

Regina, the (formerly) Evil Queen

Robin Hood, Regina’s boyfriend, father to Roland

King Arthur



Hook, Emma’s boyfriend

Belle, Rumplestiltskin’s ex-wife

Rumplestiltskin, former Dark One, currently in a coma


A-Story: Present time, Regina tries to prove herself to the town as the new Savior and save her boyfriend, Robin, from Emma’s newest attack on the town.

B-Story: Camelot, Regina pretends to be the savior to protect Emma while Emma struggles with denying her dark side.

C-Story: Hook wants to find a way to save Emma.

D-Story: Henry has a new crush.


A: The dwarves test the town line to see what the new cost of crossing the line is. They push Dopey over. He turns into a tree.

TITLES 02:19

B: The Charmings and friends arrive at court. The people have been waiting so long for their prophesied arrival that they are throwing a ball in their honor.

B: Regina’s sister Zelena threatens to reveal that Emma is the dark one and to upset Arthur. Regina mutes her.

B: Arthur takes them to “Merlin.” The wizard is trapped in a tree. They need Merlin’s help to save the Dark One. Arthur says they need the Savior.

B: Regina uses the dagger to silence Emma. Regina steps forwards and says she is the Savior.

C:Hook asks Belle how to use true love’s kiss to save Emma. Belle warns him against it.

A: Henry summons Emma to ask her what happened. Regina arrives to protect Henry.

A: Emma says her curse has no savior to break it. Henry says Regina will by the savior.

A: Emma warns a problem is en route to harm the town. Regina will handle it.


A: The dwarves are surrounded by knights. It is Arthur and he demands to know what happened. He has no memory of what happened.

A: The Charmings tell Arthur what happened. He wants to kill Ema.

A: News comes that others have arrived from Camelot in the forest. The men leave to round them up.

B: Emma tells Regina not to control her again. Regina explains that she was protecting Emma from having to potentially use dark magic later on.

A: Regina tells Robin her insecurities over saving the town and winning their approval. Robin comforts her.

A: Guinevere notices that Excalibur is missing from Arthur’s side. Charming says they’ll find it.

A: A demon attacks Roland. Regina and Robin rush forward to scare it off.


C: Hook speaks with Emma. She take him to her new house.

C: Emma still wants to be with Hook but he looks uncomfortable.

C: Hook sees a mysterious locked door. Emma quickly distracts him with liquor.

C: Hook kisses Emma. It has no effect and Hook is upset.

C: Emma won’t tell Hook what happened so he leaves.

A: The gang has cased after the demon. Regina attempts to fight it but it gets away with Robin.

A: Regina tries to chase after. Snow White insists she get help for her injury.

B: Knight Percival gives Regina a gift from Arthur, a beautiful necklace. She loves it.

B: Robin comments he’s excited to dance with her. Regina looks terrified.

B: Regina tells the Charmings she doesn’t know how to dance and looking like a fool will give away the fact that she’s not the savior. Charming and Snow White teach her how to dance.

B: The necklace is actually a mirror, acting as a secret camera to Regina for Percival who watches in another room. He knows that Regina is not the savior and he is please.


B: Regina arrives to the ball. There is a great fanfare.

A: Enraged, Regina cusses out Rumplestiltskin’s comatose body. She says she will prove everyone wrong.

A: Belle tells Regina that the demon is a Fury. In order to save Robin they will have to sacrifice someone else in his place.

D: Snow and Charming see Henry eyeing a girl his age. Charming says “I’m on it.”

D: Charming gives Henry some advice. Henry goes over and talks to the girl.

D: The girl tells Henry how bored she is by balls. He shows her his ipod and plays a song.

D: The girl enjoys the music. She tells Henry her name is Violet.

B: Percival dances with Regina. He tells her a story of how his village was destroyed. Regina knows he is aware of her secret just as he pulls out his sword.

B: Robin lunges to save Regina. Charming kills Percival but Robin is gravely injured.


A: Regina arrives at Emma’s home to find out how to save Robin from the Fury. Emma taunts Regina, saying that Regina summoned the Fury.

B: Regina tries to heal Robin but her magic can’t do it. She asks Emma to heal her boyfriend.

B: Emma agrees to try. Rumplestiltskin appears and Emma stops.

B: Rumple says someone has to die to save Robin. Emma says she’l fix it and saves him.

B: Emma claims she is faint and steps out. Rumple’s apparition appears again, taunting Emma and pointing out that darkness is clearly growing within her.

A: The group run to Robin who is about to be sacrificed to the grim reaper. Regina offers herself in his place.

A: The Charmings and Grumpy join in, offering themselves, and the Fury lets go of them and Robin. They’ve won.

A: Grumpy says it proves Regina can save the town. Regina is now empowered.


C: Hook tells Belle about the kiss. He’s as determined as ever to win back Emma.

D: Henry sees the girl at Grannies. He shows her how to use a jukebox.

D: The song plays and the girl recognizes it though she doesn’t know how. She introduces herself as Violet.

A: Charming tells Snow they’re going to win back Emma. Snow tells him that if they win, Emma loses.

B: Regina tells Arthur she’s the evil queen. Arthur is more concerned with who she is now.

B: Guinevere doesn’t trust the new arrivals. Arthur reminds her they are the key to rejoin Excalibur.

A: Rumple appears again to Emma. He tells her she must rejoin Excalibur with her dagger in order to remove her emotional connection to her family. Emma sees Excalibur in the stone in her basement. She pulls and is blown back: it won’t be that easy.



Typically the series has two storylines per episode and if there are more, they are minor and act more for seasonal arcs than full episode arcs. Season One always had a story in Storybrook and a story in the past about the Enchanted Forest. Season Two was similar with occasional exceptions but things altered in Season Three. Half way through the season, Emma and Henry left Storybrook and the town disappeared. Their memories were removed. When the show came back from hiatus the two had returned and Emma was needed to save them. They gave her memories back fairly quickly, but no one in her family knew what had happened over the last year they were gone thanks to a curse from Zelena. This storyline was terrible. There is no way around it. There were a million plotholes and confusing story choices. The one saving grace was the relationship between Regina and Robin Hood. Episodes flashed back to the time in the year the characters could not remember.

Season Four repaired itself by introducing FROZEN. It was fairly solid and a strong return to the old format of stories “pre Season One curse” while still moving characters’ emotional arcs forward. The second half did some more damage. In introducing three female villains the show created great flashback episodes for each villain, but the overall arc was not as strong as hoped and Zelena was brought back in one of the worst/weirdest soap opera moments I have ever seen where she reveal she was pregnant with Robin Hood’s child.

The beginning of Season Five has a lot of promise so far. Yes, the characters left and have come back with no memories, a plot device that is growing stale, however isolated the amount of time to six weeks was smart. As was the decision to focus the flashbacks to that time period instead of continuously retconning old stories. Hopefully the end payoff will be stronger than “the Author” (there was really no way that wasn’t going to be a let down) but it all sort of hangs on how much Zelena will step in and convolute any story and the Dark Swan plot. So far I’m excited. I would honestly be okay with all the confusion if they found a way to bring Neal back to the series, but that seems an impossibility so I will just cross my fingers and hope that Michael Raymond-James’s new series GAME OF SILENCE is fantastic.

Something to consider as you work on your own series is how to keep a storyline going past the first season. You don’t want everything planned but you do need to know where you’re going. You also don’t want to drag out the hook too long or give it up too early. Many shows are giving away the endings right in the pilot. It’s tough because usually that ended will occur in that season finale, meaning the writers have to start from scratch and top it the following year. It’s a very tall order. Do yourself a favor and check out these kinds of series, both successful and not (LOST, FLASH FORWARD, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, QUANTICO) and see what they did successfully or could have done better in order to help you plan ahead for your own awesome project.

Happy Writing!

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