10 Plot Twists That Hurt Once Upon A Time (And 10 That Saved It)

Few genre series in recent memory have proven to be more frustrating than ABC's 2011-2018 series Once Upon A Time.

What began as a series with an original, engaging premise soon devolved into nothing but bad writing, Disney movie cross promotion, and plot twists substituted for actual narrative coherence.

Characters evolved and regressed at the drop of a hat - almost as though their actions were chosen out of a hat at random.

Certain characters remained constants throughout, becoming beacons of light in the gaping black hole that the show continued to spiral into. However, on the whole, by the time the series reached its fourth or fifth season, it was past the point of return for any hope that it could reclaim the greatness it once possessed.

In the age of social media driven television, it's an unfortunate reality that plot twists have come to receive precedence over thoughtful storytelling. With a rabid online fanbase to tend to, it was only natural that Once Upon A Time produced myriad plot twists in its overly long run.

However, while a few genuinely surprising twists did work in the series' favor, far and away, Once Upon A Time struggled as a result of its overly dramatic choices far more often than it succeeded.

Here are the 10 Plot Twists That Hurt Once Upon A Time (And 10 That Saved It).

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Rebecca Mader as Zelena The Wicked Witch on Once Upon A Time
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20 Hurt: Zelena is Cora's daughter

Rebecca Mader as Zelena The Wicked Witch on Once Upon A Time

It's perfectly reasonable for creators to hire actors they've worked with before on different projects. Sometimes, great things can come from it. Other times, as with the introduction of Zelena on Once Upon A Time, greatness is nowhere remotely near the realm of possibility.

After having worked with Rebecca Mader during their time on Lost, creators Adam Horowitz and Eddie Kitsis cast her as Zelena, aka the Wicked Witch of the West.

While Zelena could have been interesting as a half season villain, as the show was best known for utilizing over time, they made one of their biggest mistakes early in her run.

The revelation that she was, in fact, Cora's other daughter - and consequently, Regina's sister - didn't do much for the show.

By making Zelena yet another awkward addition to the family, the series found itself saddled with yet another character who would never meet their full potential.

19 Saved: Henry and Emma's life in New York

Emma Swan and Henry Swan Once Upon A Time in New York City

Once Upon A Time has often been discussed as a series of unfulfilled potential and missed opportunities. Ironically, one of its strongest episodes came as a result of a plot twist that allowed it to correct some of its past mistakes.

In the season three episode "New York City Serenade", the series allows viewers to finally see what life could have been like for Henry and Emma had they been allowed to live together as the family they were always meant to be.

Even in the real world of New York, magic continues to find them, which allows the episode to play as a perfect example of magic realism and wonderment even in the industrialized heart of New York City.

18 Hurt: History repeats itself as the series reboots

Andrew J West as Henry in Once Upon A Time Season 6

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, what does it say when a show blatantly plagiarizes its own work in the name of a reboot that no one really wants?

That's exactly what Once Upon A Time did when ABC decided to renew the series for a seventh season, despite a majority of the principal cast exiting the show.

What would have served as a perfectly good series finale in season six was capped off with the reveal that a now 28 year old Henry had a 10 year old daughter who was searching for him as part of some epic mission.

Viewers who stuck around were then subjected to a season filled with memory wipes, double identities, bad acting, boring new characters, and basically an utterly hollow imitation of what once made the series so enjoyable at the very start.

17 Saved: Ruby is Little Red Riding Hood AND The Big Bad Wolf

Meghan Ory as Ruby Lucas Red Riding Hood in Once Upon A Time

In the middle of all the badly conceived fairy tale adaptations, Once Upon A Time occasionally struck gold, producing stories that felt truly original and refreshing from stories that are hundreds of years old.

One of the earliest and strongest examples of this can be found in the character of Ruby Lucas. Viewers are clued in from the very beginning that she is, in fact, Little Red Riding Hood.

However,  in her season one centric episode, it's revealed that she isn't just Little Red - she's the Big Bad Wolf, too, a werewolf whose red riding hood keeps her from shape shifting into the monster that lurks within.

It added a level of complexity to Ruby's already enjoyable character that few recurring fairy tale figures were allowed to have.

16 Hurt: The reveal that Baelfire = Neal = Henry's father

Neal Cassady in Once Upon a Time

One of the biggest problems Once Upon A Time struggled with was its tendency to bite off more than it could chew - often in the form of making single characters serve more roles than they could truly handle.

Take, for example, the horrible decision to reveal that Henry's biological father was in fact Emma's con artist ex, Neal - who was, of course, Rumplestiltskin's long lost son, Baelfire, and who knew the truth about the magic realm all along.

Neal was never a particularly enjoyable character, given his selfish and criminal tendencies.

However, by saddling him with a story line connected to Rumplestiltskin's odious past, the series truly never gave the character a chance.

15 Saved: Peter Pan is the villain of the story

The series was always at its best when it took familiar stories from childhood favorites and retold from different points of view.

One of its most successful, albeit shocking examples came when it was revealed that Captain Hook wasn't the bad guy of the story after all.

In the world of Once Upon A Time, Peter Pan was a dastardly villain, portrayed to greatly chilling effect by Robbie Kay.

His youthful, innocent looks hid the true darkness of his heart, which led him to become one of the most fearsome villains in the series' entire run.

Of course, Pan's story became all the more confusing when it was revealed that he was, in fact, Rumplestiltskin's father Malcolm as well - but that's a matter best left ignored for the sake of enjoying how strong a character Pan originally was.

14 Hurt: Dark Swan and Dark Hook

Captain Hook Killian Jones and Emma Swan as The Dark Ones in Once Upon A Time

With the fifth season of the series, Once Upon A Time set out to do what it had so far only hinted at: turn the ultimate representation of light, Emma Swan, to the dark.

What began as an intriguing premise, however, quickly fizzled out as it became clear that the writers refused to fully commit to the idea, instead finding whatever shortcuts they could take to get themselves out of having Emma go fully bad.

Emma's darkness was revealed to have been caused by Hook's sudden demise, and therefore became a paradoxically heroic kind of darkness.

However, it was the reveal that Hook had been a Dark One all along as well - and his subsequent total spiral out of control - that truly made this plot impossible to bear.

13 Saved: Writing Neal out

Neal Cassady in Once Upon A Time

It happens all too often that writers find themselves stuck with characters who offer little to no worth to a storyline. Where once there was promise, eventually there is nothing.

A character can have a very finite purpose, but due to behind the scenes contract negotiations or changes in plotting, shows are stuck with them long beyond their tenure.

Thankfully, Once Upon A Time got the memo and dealt with their lingering Neal issue midway through the third season.

By removing Neal from the equation, the series freed itself from multiple unwieldy, uncomfortable storylines.

It no longer had to worry about making amends between Emma and her abusive ex, nor did it have to struggle with reconciling Rumplestiltskin's villainy with his longing to reconnect with his lost son.

12 Hurt: Writing Robin out

Sean Maguire as Robin Hood in Once Upon A Time

While writing Neal out of the series certainly changed Once Upon A Time for the better, the decision to get rid of Robin Hood is undeniably one of the worst choices the show ever made in its run.

When Robin was introduced in the third season, he was a genuinely interesting character. He offered outsider's perspectives on life in Storybrooke, forged unlikely friendships, and found love with an even unlikelier source, the Evil Queen herself, Regina.

As the seasons wore on, however, the show seemed to give up on doing much of anything with Robin, other than having him serve as Regina's tag along.

So when they wrote him out suddenly at the end of the fifth season, fans were understandably infuriated.

A character who had once had so much potential was suddenly gone without a trace.

11 Saved: The Mad Hatter's origin story

The Mad Hatter is likely not a character you would expect to be adapted into a sympathetic figure, never mind one with a charming personality and mysteries by the drove.

Yet, Once Upon A Time managed the unthinkable once again with the backstory it created for Jefferson, the future frantic hatmaker.

Once a portal jumper thanks to his own magic hat, Jefferson was a single father who was separated from his young daughter - and therefore, driven to madness.

His entire journey from madness to loss to separation to reconciliation was one of the series' strongest storylines.

This is a shame, considering how short it wound up being, due in large part to Sebastian Stan's success elsewhere.

10 Hurt: Writing Ruby out

Ruby Red in Once Upon a Time

Sometimes, actors decide to leave a series and force the writers' hand. However, there's no denying that Meghan Ory's departure from the series in its third season was precipitated by the show's earlier failure to fulfill the potential of her character.

For the second season, Ruby was made a regular character, which suggested bigger and better things to come for Storybrooke's resident wolf.

There were suggestions of a bigger role for her earlier in the season, with friendships with Charming and Belle taking up much of her screentime.

However, due to changes in the story that had initially been devised for the season, the likely Ruby-heavy plots were scrapped, and she was once again shoved into the background.

So when Ory exited the series after its second season, apart from a few guest appearances later on, it wasn't really a surprise - but that didn't make it any less disappointing.

9 Saved: Little Red Riding Hood is an LGBTQ character

Even though Ruby never got the full storyline focus that she deserved to have in the series' run, the character did still manage to totally shake up the Once Upon A Time universe with a later appearance during the fifth season.

In her fifth season arc, it is revealed that Ruby has fallen in love again - and this time, it's with a woman: Dorothy Gale herself.

The couple, who admittedly don't get very much screentime at all, are even allowed to have a True Love's Kiss, the series' greatest sign of real and lasting love.

As Once Upon A Time was consistently heralded as a truly modern fairytale retelling, it was nice to finally see the series get up to date with LGBTQ inclusion, no matter how briefly their story was told.

The series would continue this inclusive message with the love story between Robin and Alice in the polarizing seventh season.

8 Hurt: Attempting to redeem Regina by magically declaring her the person capable of the greatest light

One of the biggest overall themes in the series is the notion that evil isn't born, it's made.

There are pros and cons to argue on both sides of this perspective. If evil isn't born, but made, then no one has to ever take accountability for their actions - they can just blame someone else for causing them to be bad.

This is the kind of behavior that the allegedly reformed Regina displayed for much of the series' run, even as she claimed to have moved long past being the Evil Queen everyone loathed and feared.

Yet despite showing no real change or growth or regret of any form, the series adds insult to injury by claiming that Regina is capable of producing the greatest light.

This is after viewers have seen her produce nothing but darkness.

7 Saved: David isn't the real Prince Charming

Josh Dallas as Prince Charming in Once Upon A Time

Doppëlgangers, identical twins, impostors - whatever form they take, the notion of the double has been a hallmark of many key fairytales, folklore, and legends.

Once Upon A Time tried its hand at tackling this tricky issue with the reveal that Prince Charming as we know him was not, in fact, the original Prince Charming.

In fact, David, the Charming we know, had a twin brother named James, who was given to the evil King George and who was raised to become his arrogant, power hungry son. David, meanwhile, was raised by his parents as a shepherd.

Following James' sudden demise, David is given the power and prestige of his title, and thus became the charming prince we all know and love.

6 Hurt: The entire Maid Marian plot

In a world filled with evil magical beings, it was only a matter of time before someone posed as someone else and truly hurt others as a result of it.

However, Once Upon A Time managed to make this already uncomfortable situation truly disgusting and unforgivable with the entire Maid Marian arc.

When Marian suddenly returns to Storybrooke and reunited with Robin, it's a truly emotional moment.

However, the entire weight of their reunion is ruined by the eventual reveal that Marian was never really Marian at all - but instead, the evil Wicked Witch Zelena in disguise.

Making matters worse, Zelena becomes impregnated via Robin while posing as Marian, leading to all sorts of complicated orientation and consent issues that the show was never bold or adult enough to address.

5 Saved: Jefferson starts to make Emma believe in the truth of magic

As we've already discussed, Jefferson, also known as the Mad Hatter, was one of the strongest character adaptations that Once Upon A Time produced in its hundreds and hundreds of character translations.

However, it wasn't just Jefferson's backstory that made his character so key to the series' early run, however - it was also what he offered to the main plot concerning Emma's status as the Savior of the fairytale characters.

Through kidnapping Emma and forcing her to confront the falsehood of the reality she had been living, Jefferson was the first person to make Emma truly question the nature of life in Storybrooke.

While his means may have been less than savory, what he managed to achieve was necessary for the progress of the series and the development of Emma's character.

4 Hurt: The Wish Realm episodes

Captain Hook in the Wish Realm in Once Upon A Time

Fans may love to think about alternate universes where certain things never happened, but good things rarely come from the series indulging those ideas and creating alternate universe episodes of their own.

Take, for example, the disastrous Wish Realm episodes of the series' sixth season. In this bizarre, if not outright offensive world, Emma grew up with her parents as a princess - spoiled, weak, and devoid of all personality.

Hook became a bumbling, overweight alcoholic. Rumplestiltskin was a madman who carried Belle's bones with him.

At the end of the day, Emma was forced to thank Regina for originally ruining her life to begin with, so that she suffered and became strong.

Every single part of this universe was a bad idea - and that's even before you take its tenuous reality rules into account, seeing as the seventh season made the Wish Realm Henry a more real character than he originally had been intended to be.

3 Saved: Through the magic of time travel, Emma gets to help her parents meet for the first time

Emma Swan watches her parents fall in love in Once Upon A Time

Two of the series' strongest episodes came as the two part finale for season three, "Snow Drifts" and "There's No Place Like Home".

Arguably the series' love letter to the likes of works such as Back to the Future, the pair of episodes finds Emma traveling to the Enchanted Forest - and back in time, as well.

Through the magic of time travel and all the hijinks that ensue with any time travel adventure, Emma inadvertently prevents her parents from meeting for the first time, fundamentally altering the course of history as a result.

Thanks to some other kinds of magic, Emma is able to course correct and help her parents meet one another again, so that their love story unfolds from the very beginning right in front of her eyes.

2 Hurt: The whitewashing of Regina's abuse of Henry

Regina Mills and Henry in Once Upon A Time

As we've previously made clear, Once Upon A Time struggled to make Regina into a character worth caring about, particularly since she struggled to care about anyone other than herself.

However, perhaps the most egregious twist of logic and plot the show created because of her was the idea that Henry was, somehow, Regina's True Love.

The series begins with an unhappy and very clearly emotionally abused Henry seeking out his birth mother because he wants to get away from Regina.

Over the course of the subsequent two seasons, Regina wipes his memory, forces him to love her, constrains him with vines, and very nearly leads to his demise on multiple occasions.

However, by season three, all of that is forgotten, as if the series attempted to wipe the memory of not only its characters, but its viewers as well.

1 Saved: Emma breaks the curse by giving Henry True Love's Kiss

Emma Swan gives Henry Swan True Love's Kiss in Once Upon A Time

At its heart, Once Upon A Time was a family love story. Romantic love stories came and went, but it was the love of the Charming family that served as the beating heart of the series - which more than explains why the series struggled so horribly in their absence in its final season.

However, in the first season finale, the series accomplished its most emotionally resonant scene of all.

When Henry is on the brink of passing after being poisoned by Regina, and with Emma now believing in the reality of magic and fairytales, Emma gives her young son a kiss on the forehead.

Suddenly, the room fills with the signature rainbow light of a True Love's Kiss and the memory curse affecting all of Storybrooke is broken.

The greatest plot twist that Once Upon A Time ever accomplished was a display of love from a mother to her child. If only the series remembered what once made it great in its later, wayward years.


What plot twists do you think helped or hurt Once Upon A Time the most? Let us know in the comments!

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