Once Upon A Time is among the most fun and creative shows on television. It constantly provides unexpected twists for familiar fairy tales, and even modern Disney films, in family-friendly fashion. From classic characters like Snow White and the Wicked Witch of the West to contemporary favorites like Frozen‘s Elsa and Brave‘s Merida, the show never fails to delight with the meeting of unlikely characters and an increasingly complicated family tree. Many of these characters take on an array of roles in the connective narrative. Only Once Upon A Time can pull off Rumplestiltskin being the Dark One, the Crocodile in Captain Hook’s story, the Beast in Belle’s story, the son of Peter Pan, and make it all work. Whether it’s the small town of Storybrooke or fantastical realms like the Enchanted Forest and Camelot, the magical locations also complement the characters and their thrilling arcs.
Sustaining itself into the currently airing Season 7, the show has remained popular among fans, affectionately known as Oncers. But this does not mean the show is without its issues which go beyond the departure of many series regulars. The relationships you ship can be problematic, and the world-building wildly inconsistent as the show juggles a vast ensemble of characters. Here are 15 major problems fans don’t want to admit about Once Upon A Time.
15. The Timeline Is A Mess
For a while, the show maintained a decent timeline by everything taking place X amount of time before or after the first Dark Curse. This didn’t mean the timeline of all events was as specific as, for example, Emma coming to Storybrooke 28 years after the Dark Curse was cast. However, at least fans had an idea of when all events took place before or after the first Dark Curse. As more Dark Curses have been cast and the passage of time became more vague in both the present and flashbacks, the timeline has become quite convoluted. For a while now, the show has just settled for “many years ago” or “many years later.” A timeline is an integral piece of world-building, and everyone knows quality fantasy needs intricate world-building.
14. #Rumbelle Was Abusive For Way Too Long To Ship
The romantic relationship between Rumplestiltskin and Belle—known to fans as#Rumbelle—certainly had its beautiful moments, especially in the episodes “Skin Deep” and “Beauty.” Yet, Rumplestiltskin emotionally abused Belle for far too long to make this a relationship truly deserving of a ship or happily ever after. Forgiveness is an important theme in the show, but that doesn’t negate the years of Rumplestiltskin’s lies, empty promises, and alienation. Belle’s book-smarts, fierce independence, and compassion for others made her an incredible character. This made it really disappointing that so much of her story revolved around her relationship with Rumplestiltskin both in the present and in flashbacks. Ultimately, Rumplestiltskin did change and they got their happily ever after, depicted in the emotional Up-style montage in “Beauty.” But it’s still a difficult relationship to get behind after years of abuse.
13. Creepy Age Differences In Many Of The Romantic Relationships
They may look similar in age because of all the different curses, but many of the significant others on this show are actually hundreds of years apart. Rumplestiltskin and Hook lived for hundreds of years before even meeting Belle and Emma. Emma was in her late 20s and early 30s for most of her relationship with Hook. Belle’s exact age is unknown, but her age is likely similar to Emma’s, if not a little younger. You’d be hard-pressed to find a pirate more handsome than Hook, but the swooning may cease when realizing he’s hundreds of years old, kissing a woman born not long ago according to his lifespan. True love may not know the bounds of age, and #CaptainSwan is a much healthier relationship than #Rumbelle, but both relationships become a little creepier when considering the age gap.
12. Rushing True Love
The show steadily builds “true love” with some relationships over many seasons, but the show just as often tries to create true love relationships in the span of a single episode. Fans can buy into the romance between Snow and Charming or Emma and Hook because of how gradually these relationships are developed. This makes it completely unbelievable when the show tries to convince audiences that certain characters also have true love in just a handful of scenes, like with Hades and Zelena, and Ruby and Dorothy in Season 5. As important as the Ruby-Dorothy relationship was for LGBTQ+ inclusivity, it comes off as less believable when the characters barely know each other and only interact a couple times before sharing true love’s kiss. There was powerful attraction and chemistry between Snow and Charming, or Emma and Hook from the beginning. But the show took time for the characters to get to know each other, learn to trust each other, open themselves up to true vulnerability and face hard truths before true love was achieved. Rushing true love in other cases undermines the gradual development of the steadily built relationships.
11. Rushing Redemption
As with true love, the show steadily builds redemption with certain characters like Regina. But some characters suddenly become fully redeemed after one episode or one positive action. King Arthur was among the show’s most despicable characters. Arguably his worst crime was throwing the Sands of Avalon into his wife Guinevere’s eyes in order to control her and always have her support him. Others might argue convincing his impressionable squire to drink a fatal poison was even worse. These crimes and others made Arthur a despicable character. However, when he died and crossed paths with Hook in the Underworld, the pirate convinced the disgraced king to aid him in a mission to stop Hades and his plans in Storybrooke. This one good deed somehow redeems Arthur of all his villainy as he becomes leader of the Underworld and plans to rule in a benevolent manner. Redeeming a character like Arthur after one good deed undermines the gradual redemption of characters like Regina that need multiple seasons to prove they’ve changed.
10. No One Ever Found Out That Regina Killed Graham
Regina’s hard-fought redemption is earned, but there still wasn’t enough reckoning for one of her most villainous acts. Regina murdering Graham was a dark moment where audiences realized how high the stakes were and that any of these fairy tale characters could die in Storybrooke. In a twisted, manipulative way, Regina cared about Graham, but that didn’t stop her from crushing his heart. It seemed like there was never enough consequence for it, though, as no one ever found out that Regina was the one to kill him. Graham played a pivotal role in placing Emma on the path to belief as she began opening up. Considering all the tension between Emma and Regina in Season 1 and these kinds of secrets rarely stay buried, the revelation that Regina murdered Graham would’ve provided a crucial layer of compelling conflict and character development.
9. Poor Resolution Of The Emma-Regina Relationship
Emma and Regina came a long way from their contentious relationship in Season 1. They certainly grew close, learning to trust and confide in each other. But their relationship ended in very disappointing fashion. Emma allowing herself to become the Dark One so Regina wouldn’t have to after her hard-fought battle for redemption seemed to show Emma and Regina were best friends. Regina took charge of the mission to Camelot to bring Emma back from the darkness. They loved each other in a way that transcended the fact that they were Henry’s mothers. But in Emma’s final episode in Season 7, the two characters barely acknowledged each other. As much as there was to wrap up concerning Emma’s relationships with Henry and Hook, there was just as much to wrap up with Regina. At least there’s still plenty of Regina for fans to enjoy in Season 7.
8. Moving Through Villains Too Quickly
Many awesome villains like Jafar, and Jekyll and Hyde have been introduced over the seasons, but they’re quickly killed or defeated in order to move on to other storylines and other villains. The buildup and awesome acting from these iconic characters makes their quick departures feel like a betrayal. Through Jekyll and Hyde, there was incredible potential to explore the Land of Untold Stories and the duality of not just Regina and the Evil Queen, but many other characters as well. Jafar was set up to be the perfect antithesis to not just Aladdin, but all Saviors. Instead, the show squandered Jekyll and Hyde, and Jafar despite ample source material to draw from and their rich potential.
7. Abandoning Many Intriguing Storylines And Characters
Beyond just the villains, many important characters and storylines have been abandoned over the seasons. Lily and Maleficent may be the most memorable, especially given the blatant cliffhanger at the end of Season 4 concerning the mysterious identity of Lily’s father/Maleficent’s dragon lover. Despite promises from the showrunners, this mystery was never revealed, and fans never found out how the Lily-Maleficent relationship evolved. Did they find in each other what they’d be searching for their whole lives? Did Maleficent completely relinquish her villainous ways or did she ever slip back? Were Lily and Emma able to continue their rekindled friendship? Other characters and storylines such as Jefferson/The Mad Hatter are also frustrating in terms of their loose ends. His knack for traveling in between realms seems mighty useful, and his intriguing past in Wonderland and other realms could’ve tied into a variety of storylines.
6. Traveling Between Realms
The whole plot of Once Upon A Time was built on the Dark Curse, something Rumplestiltskin manipulated to happen because it was the only way to travel across the realms to reunite with his son in the Land Without Magic. Engineering everything that needed to happen to enact the Dark Curse was tricky enough, let alone the 28 years of waiting with no memories of one’s true self until Emma showed up. As evidenced by this, early on, traveling between realms was complicated and quite difficult to accomplish. As the show went on, it became easier and easier, just a matter of convenience to the storyline. The Blue Fairy obviously lied about Baelfire using the last magic bean as many characters have used magic beans to travel. Magic beans and the ubiquitous kinds of portals used by many characters cheapens the foundation of the show. What seemed like a genius plan back in Season 1 now seems unnecessarily convoluted and a foolish use of time.
5. Inconsistent Rules Of Resurrection
>At first, the show made a big deal about no magic being able to bring back the dead. Then it changed so someone could be brought back if someone else died in their place, such as when Neal/Baelfire died, so Rumplestiltskin could live again. If they were going to change the rules, at least it contained a dark cost. But the rules of resurrection continued to change, and without a price. Charming returned to life when Snow split her heart in two with him. Hook was brought back from the Underworld as a gift from Zeus for helping to defeat Hades. The Robin Hood we knew stayed dead, but a very similar version came back via the Wish Realm. The show kept changing the rules in order to bring back fan favorites. Not only does this create inconsistent world-building, but it lowered the stakes as it seemed like the main characters were never in real danger if they could always come back to life.
4. Why Don’t Rumplestiltskin And Henry Have More Of A Relationship?
If Rumplestiltskin loved his son Neal/Baelfire so much, then why wouldn’t he want more of a relationship with his grandson Henry? This is particularly baffling in the aftermath of Neal’s death. Henry is the living legacy of Neal, and yet Rumple has never seemed to want much of a relationship with Henry. There was a spark of potential in the beginning of Season 4 when Henry became an apprentice in Rumplestiltskin’s shop. Rumplestiltskin also planned to take Belle and Henry with him when the Snow Queen’s curse hit Storybrooke. But when that didn’t work out, there was never much more of an effort to have a relationship with Henry. Since both characters are still series regulars, the show can still remedy this.
3. Cringeworthy CGI
Once Upon A Time may not have the budget of Game of Thrones or Westworld, but the CGI is cringeworthy nonetheless. Sometimes it makes the show feel less immersive as it pulls audiences out of the scene and makes you laugh. The lion Zelena faced in the Season 6 episode “Where Bluebirds Fly” is probably one of the most memorable examples of lackluster CGI. It looked so fake that it partly robbed the scene of its intended emotions. The same issue occurred with Hades’ blue flaming hair, unfortunately creating a comedic effect despite Greg Germann’s chilling performance. The CGI doesn’t need to be worthy of an Emmy, but it shouldn’t detract from the strongest elements of the show.
2. Why Is Neal’s NYC Apartment Still Unoccupied Years Later?
>NYC apartments don’t stay unoccupied for long when tenants move out, but Neal’s apartment somehow remained open to any characters traveling to NYC, including Robin Hood and who he thought was his wife Marian in Season 4. Even when they lived there, there’s no evidence of them working, and at that point Robin’s thieving days were behind him, so it’s unclear how they were paying the rent. Certain characters are well off financially, but it seems unlikely any of them would pay rent just for any characters that decide to show up in NYC. All magic comes at a price, and the magic of a Manhattan apartment comes with the steep price of high rent.
1. Zelena Assaults Robin Hood
Under the guise of Robin’s wife Marian, Zelena made love with Robin Hood. Only after she became pregnant and Emma and Regina checked up on Robin was Zelena’s disguise and her heinous act unveiled. Zelena sexually assaulted Robin in order to spite her sister Regina. Zelena may ultimately have become a better person and both she and Robin did a lot for their child. At the same time, that doesn’t negate the fact that Zelena took advantage of Robin and the show doesn’t really acknowledge it. This is Zelena’s most villainous act, but the show never comes to terms with this fact, nor does it ever really come to terms with Robin as a survivor of sexual assault. Instead, the show uses the angle as a shocking “I’m pregnant” moment and to later place Zelena on a redemptive path when she becomes a mother.
What storylines from Once Upon A Time still drive you up the wall? Let us know in the comments!
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