For seven seasons, Once Upon A Time chronicled the lives of all of our favorite fairy tale characters, both in the real world and in the world of the Enchanted Forest that they're native to. The series had plenty of ups and downs, with characters who developed and progressed and characters who stubbornly regressed time and again no matter what opportunities they were given to grow.
Couples came together and fell apart at an honestly absurd rate, especially for a series that so readily promoted the concept of True Love as the greatest of all goods. Lies and deception were revealed to be second nature for characters who were the pinnacle of goodness, like Snow White and Cinderella and all of their princess friends.
Over time, the series began to add way too many plots and characters into the mix, making it both almost impossible to keep up with what was going on, but also inevitable that characters who viewers did actually care about were given short shrift in the plotting department.
Adding insult to injury was the fact that these characters who were often short changed usually wound up with storylines that the series would have been better off avoiding altogether - or storylines that the series eventually wound up ignoring.
With that said, here are the 20 Storylines Once Upon A Time Wants To Forget.
20 Graham's demise
When Once Upon A Time premiered in 2011, television viewers was relatively naïve about the willingness of series to write out reportedly main characters in any cruel or sudden ways. Surely there was no way that the show would get rid of one of their male leads before the first season was even half over… right? Wrong, because that’s exactly what the series did when they wrote Graham out in the seventh episode, “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter”.
After regaining the memories of his fairy tale life while kissing Emma, Graham suddenly poses a threat to the Evil Queen’s plans.
So what does she do? Crushes his heart into dust and gets off scot free for taking his life, with hardly any second thought paid to his character after that.
19 Regina's abuse of Henry
Another truly disturbing storyline relating to Regina Mills that Once Upon A Time dropped without a trace of forgiveness or admittance of guilt was the repeated displays of the ways in which she physically and mentally abused her adopted son, Henry. The series only begins because Henry runs away from home to find his biological mother and escape Regina’s torture, after all.
Over the course of the first and second season, Regina gaslights Henry into believing that he’s crazy, causes his temporary demise via poison, lashes him to a tree with magic and vines when he dares try to leave her, and wipes him of his memories so that he is forced to love her. However, by the time season three rolls around, nothing is ever said or done about her abusive behaviors, and suddenly, we’re meant to believe that she is the picture-perfect mother.
18 The Repeated use of assault
One of the more troubling storylines that the series not only overlooked, but returned to on multiple occasions as a plot device or motif is its repeated use of women assaulting men. As if this weren’t already a phenomenon that society discredits, it’s particularly troubling that a series about fairy tales and happily ever afters normalizes this behavior and uses it as a pawn.
In season one, Regina keeps Graham enslaved against his will for nearly three decades, referring to him as her pet. In season four, Zelena uses magic to pose as Maid Marian, becoming impregnated by Robin Hood in the process. Finally, in season seven, the same ugly narrative rears its head when Wish Hook impregnates Mother Gothel disguised as Rapunzel.
17 Greg and Tamara
Maybe it was once an intriguing idea to see how outsiders would respond to the world of Storybrooke, should they happen upon it. However, in execution, the story that brought Greg/Owen and Tamara into the world of Once Upon A Time couldn’t have been further from the realm of interesting or well done. Greg/Owen’s backstory made for a sad one-off episode, something that showed the effects of Regina’s cruelty and how they could truly scar someone.
However, by bringing him back as an adult, with a one-note evil girlfriend in Tamara as well, the series sucked all of the joy and belief out of its message, representing the “normal” population at large in the worst possible way.
When it was revealed that the jaded duo was, in fact, working for the evil Peter Pan, well, it wasn’t just obvious – it was downright lazy, too.
16 Neal and August's lies
Emma Swan has had a pretty rough life. As a result of the curse that banished the residents of the Enchanted Forest to Storybrooke, she was separated from her family as an infant. For the next 28 years, she bounced from abusive foster home to loveless relationship to prison to isolation.
So it’s especially troubling that the series eventually wants us to believe that either Neal or August could be a suitable romantic interest for her. In season one, the flirtatious vibes between Emma and August are strong; and later, he’s framed as one of her dearest friends. In seasons two and three, Neal is allowed to be a genuinely viable romantic interest, no matter his abusive behavior toward her.Both men get off scot free for the fact that it was their scheming together that put a sixteen-year-old Emma down a path from which it would take her a long time to recover.
15 The Frozen storyline
Whether you loved it for its cheesy warmth or hated it since it represented yet another instance of the Disneyfication of the series, the fact of the matter remains: as soon as the story was over, Once Upon A Time forgot that the Frozen characters ever existed. For some of the characters, this may have been a good thing: neither Hans nor Kristoff never contributed anything meaningful to the series, and as good as he was at mugging for the camera, Sven was never going to fit in Storybrooke.
However, for other characters, it represented a real sign of poor thinking. Charming and Anna were revealed to have an adorable history together, an unlikely friendship that was mutually beneficial in many ways. Also, it was Emma and Elsa’s friendship that proved the storyline’s reason for existing, as it was Elsa who showed the constantly struggling Emma how to finally love and accept herself, and her magic, for who and what they are.
14 Lily's backstory
As she was the only main character without a fairy tale life to offer flashbacks to, Once Upon A Time often struggled when it came to episodes revealing Emma’s history. In season four, viewers were introduced to Emma’s reported first best friend, a girl named Lily she believed to be a fellow runaway who turned out to be a foster kid from a pretty well-off family. This breach of trust was one of the first betrayals Emma experienced from someone close to her, and it served as a key moment in the hardening of her heart.
When Lily returned to the story as an adult, however, the series became most preoccupied with her origin story – namely, the fact that she was Maleficent’s daughter.
If she was Maleficent’s daughter, who was her father? Fans wondered for years and years, and the showrunners promised time and again that the answer would be revealed. However, the story never came, and the answer only arrived in a haphazard throwaway line in the series finale.
13 Will Scarlet
When a series is saddled with the weight of a failed, ill-conceived spinoff, it’s often tempting to try to integrate parts of that world back into the mothership. Once Upon A Time was guilty of this in its fourth season, when, after the cancellation of the horribly misguided Once Upon A Time In Wonderland, the series brought Will Scarlet over to the flagship. The knave was never given much of a storyline, until, suddenly, it was decided that he would be in a relationship with a rebounding Belle.
However, the relationship was never given any development, and Will had a love interest back in the realm of Wonderland who fans had actually enjoyed his relationship with. In all but the blink of an eye, Will was practically scrubbed clean from the series’ history, and any and all mentions of his relationship with Belle vanished along with him.
12 The Wish Realm
If a series deals with multiple universes and realities, it’s always going to be tempting to do a “what if?” alternate reality episode. Thankfully, for five and a half seasons, Once Upon A Time resisted this clichéd, tired urge. Unfortunately, by the time the sixth season midseason finale rolled around, it could ignore the urge no longer. What resulted from this decision were two of the worst episodes of the entire series.
Littered with out-of-character behavior for almost all of the main characters, entirely offensive stereotypes about body image, abuse victims, and alcoholism, and absolutely no consequences at all, the Wish Realm episodes, as they’ve come to be known, represented a true low point in the series’ creative output – one from which it never truly returned, at that.
11 Dark Swan
Of all of the storylines on this list, this was perhaps the one that had the most potential to be something truly amazing. Season four teased the potential for darkness in Emma, as she had been an outcast and was expected to sacrifice every last bit of herself in the name of the greater good.
So when she finally did take on the physical manifestation of darkness by becoming the Dark One – or Dark Swan, in this case – it seemed like the series would finally have something interesting to say about the fine line between good and evil.
Instead, all we got was one of the worst acting performances in the entire series, burdened by a ridiculous story that revealed that no, Emma wasn’t really tempted by the darkness – she just went goth, basically, after sacrificing her light to save Hook’s life. It suffices to say that we were thrilled when the series quickly moved on.
10 Dark Hook's rampage
While we were thrilled to be rid of the weight that was added to the series by the horrible Dark Swan arc, we can’t help but still be troubled by how quickly it moved on from the short-lived but incredibly damaging storyline that revealed Hook had been a Dark One for all of season five, as well. Once he learned this fact, Hook went entirely over the edge, lashing out at anyone and everyone who stood in his way.
It would have been one thing if he’d made idle threats and called people names – though that was a big part of it, too, including how terribly he demeaned Emma. However, something that was so readily forgiven and forgotten was that not only did he take the life of Merlin, but he also tried to take down the entire Charming family, as well. Then, in the blink of an eye, when Hook suddenly met his own demise, somehow, the family resolved to go and save him in the Underworld, no matter all that had just happened.
9 Zelena's culpability in Neal's demise
It’s a tempting urge that series should learn to resist more often: just because a character worked in the short term, that doesn’t mean they’ll do so in the long term. Not every successful recurring character needs to return as a full-blown series regular. Unfortunately, that’s the path that Once Upon A Time decided to head down when it came to Zelena, the Wicked Witch of the West. Zelena was eventually regarded warmly as a hero, invited into the circle of the extended Charming family.
This, of course, comes all in the wake of her evil ways in the third season, which included holding Rumpelstiltskin hostage and conspiring against his son, Neal, in a plot that led to the latter’s ultimate demise. Somehow, none of this is ever brought up again once Zelena is considered a member of the Mills family. However, what can we expect, really, when Regina isn’t blamed for any of her past misdeeds, either?
8 The Author
Who wrote the story book that dictated so much of the series’ early plot was probably an interesting idea at first, and something that the series needed to acknowledge sooner or later.
However, when Once Upon A Time introduced the idea of The Author in the fourth season, they introduced perhaps one of the most boring storylines in the entire series.
By creating the character of The Author, whether the totally useless Isaac or Henry, the series revealed that, in many ways, none of the characters had any control over the decisions in their lives. The decision to have an author writing the stories of these characters’ lives took the notion of any agency or culpability from them. It suffices to say it was the correct decision to move away from this deeply troubling concept.
7 Mulan loves Aurora
When Mulan was introduced in the series, viewers were led to initially believe that she was in love with Prince Phillip, to whom she had pledged her loyalty. However, as the seasons wore on, it became further apparent that this had been a bait and switch – instead, Mulan was in love with Prince Phillip’s wife, Princess Aurora, or Sleeping Beauty.
In one of the most poignant moments of the third season, Mulan is about to confess her love to a beaming Aurora, who interrupts her by revealing that she’s pregnant. Then, crestfallen, Mulan retreats... and never confesses her feelings. It’s entirely possible that this relationship was never allowed to become explicit due to the relationship with Disney canon, but all the same, it’s a real shame that the series immediately ran away from the opportunity to grow.
6 Tinkerbell's true love predictions
Tinkerbell may be a great sidekick in Disney’s Peter Pan, but in Once Upon A Time, she’s… well, she’s not exactly the brightest fairy in the bunch. Tinkerbell in the present timeline is much more jaded than the Tink we’re familiar with. However, in the past, she’s practically bright eyed and bushy tailed.
In a flashback revealed early in season three, Tinkerbell makes the prediction that Regina’s True Love is a man with a lion tattoo on his forearm. When she realizes that this man is Robin Hood himself, she tries to make this match happen. Of course, as we know, Robin was destined to fall for Maid Marian, so this match was ill-fated from the start. Even when Robin and Regina do find their way to one another years later, it remains clear all throughout that there’s never any substance to their relationship, and that Tink’s wishful thinking may well have been just that.
5 David's ex-wife, Kathryn
In the first season of the series, our favorite fairy tale characters found themselves frozen in time in lives that they truly had no choice living. Individuals were separated from their significant others, paired with people who they had never been with before, forced into demeaning careers, or addled with mysterious medical conditions. Prince Charming, or David Nolan, as he was known at that time, was revealed to be in a coma and married to a mysterious woman named Kathryn.
Flashbacks revealed that Kathryn, or Princess Abigail, had once been a potential bride for Prince Charming as the daughter of King Midas.
However, she was in love with a knight named Frederick – with whom she was eventually reunited in Storybrooke. After all of that occurs, though, Kathryn is never seen, heard of, or mentioned ever again.
4 Hook's casual patricide
It’s a pretty common trope for male villains in fantasy fiction: in order to move forward with the new lives they have created for themselves, they have to forcefully reject the past – often through dispatching permanently of their fathers. After learning that his father, who’d sold him and his brother into indentured servitude, had fathered another son and stayed behind to raise him, Hook flies into a rage and ends the man’s life.
Yet as if that weren’t bad enough, it’s revealed in the sixth season that Hook was also responsible for the tragic end met by Charming’s own father. Somehow, inexplicably, Charming forgives him for this, and even gives Hook his blessing to marry Emma. When Emma learns the truth, she is rightfully infuriated and disgusted. However, as with most horrible acts in this series, the ugly deed is quickly swept under the rug, and never mentioned again.
3 Ruby was once a main character
It’s inevitable that actors will eventually want to leave a series. It’s just unfortunate when those actors happen to play some of the most interesting characters in the entire show, and leave the series much too soon. Far and away one of the strongest origin stories the series ever told was that of Ruby Lucas, also known as both Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. It was a truly inventive, inspiring spin on the classic fairy tale we all know, and in Storybrooke, Ruby was a vibrantly fleshed out character.
When she was promoted to a series regular in season two, the potential for exciting storylines to be given to her seemed endless. However, when the series all but fell flat on its face and failed to deliver anything, Meghan Ory walked away from the series, only returning briefly in a few short guest appearances, and is never mentioned again at any point.
2 The Split Queen
Nothing says that people are capable of growing and learning from their mistakes, or owning up to them and apologizing for them, quite like magically and physically removing a person’s “evil half” from their “good half.” Somehow, this frankly ignorant storyline was deemed a good idea for the series’ sixth season for, yet again, Regina’s journey of denying everything she’d ever done wrong.
By the sixth season, the series had begun introducing regular fictional characters in addition to fairy tale ones, for some reason, including Jekyll and Hyde.
Even though that story fizzled out and never amounted to anything interesting, Once thought it would be a great idea to miss the entire point of that narrative and have Regina spend half a season fighting her “evil half” and learning to love that part of herself, rather than, say, apologize to any of her victims for anything, ever.
1 Snow White's darkened heart
It was a surprising moment for the series, but one that was filled with great potential: in season two, it was revealed that Snow White’s heart, once purer than anyone else’s, now has a darkened blemish within it. It should have been a real turning point for the series, one that showed that even those who possessed the greatest good could be capable of the most unexpected darkness.
However, rather than linger on this intriguing duality, the series brushes right on past it. Snow is revealed to have the potential for dark, selfish acts later in the series, particularly in the fourth season when hers and Charming’s involvement in Lily’s separation from Maleficent is revealed. However, the nature of her heart is never once brought up again, unless in the context of sharing her pure, True Love-filled heart with her husband.
Which storylines do you think Once Upon A Time should have totally forgotten about? Let us know in the comments!