11:45 am EDT, September 25, 2012

The Death, the Twist, and the Battle: The development of ‘Once Upon a Time’ season 1

With the second season of Once Upon a Time premiering this Sunday, we thought it would be good to take a look back at season 1 and how the series developed into the powerhouse it was by the end of the season.

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As the season progressed, three moments in particular really announced the kind of show that it was going to be. We call these moments “The Death,” “The Twist,” and “The Battle.” The Death showed us that no character was safe. The Twist showed us that showrunners Edward (Eddy) Kitsis and Adam Horowitz were not going to pull any punches in playing with what we think we know. The Battle showed how beautiful special effects and skillful editing could deepen the characters. So, without further ado, let’s look back on the very strong first season of Once Upon a Time.

The Death

Coming from the realm of Lost, we had to expect that Adam and Eddy would throw some curveballs our way. And boy did they start early. What was a little bit of a surprise was they dipped not into the Lost bag of tricks, but took a page out of Joss Whedon’s playbook. In “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” we are treated to a full episode centered on Sheriff Graham. We sympathize with him as he is pulled into the Queen’s service, spares Snow’s life and tries to break free of Regina’s hold in Storybrooke. Just when we thought things might actually work out for him, Regina literally crushes his heart, killing him. In that moment Adam and Eddy made it perfectly clear that no one is safe (a tactic Whedon used rather liberally on Buffy, Angel, and Serenity). Perhaps more important than the shock value of Graham’s death is that he’s gone. The only way we would ever see him again is if he appears in the Fairytale Land flashbacks.

The Twist

“Red Handed,” more than any other episode, showed just how much Eddy and Adam embraced their Lost roots. This episode featured a wonderful twist. In the Fairytale Land that Was, Snow White meets Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. There’s a wolf that has been terrorizing the village, and it makes Granny extra protective. Red is getting frustrated because she wants to pursue a relationship with her childhood friend, Peter (and the wolf…get it?). This leads to Red and Snow trying to find and kill the wolf, and of course, there’s a major twist.

Red turns out to be the wolf, and she inadvertently kills Peter before figuring this out. Not only was the twist surprising, but it was rather brutal as well. This episode showed yet again that the creative team was not going to pull any punches. It is very reminiscent of the Lost episode “Walkabout” in that sense, with a major twist announcing just what sort of show this is going to be. This twist is even more brutal than the twist involving John Locke that we experience in “Walkabout.” The twist involving Locke didn’t kill anyone.

The Battle

By the time “A Land Without Magic” rolled around, we knew things could only get bigger and more intense. Adam and Eddy succeeded in giving the audience something fantastically shot and emotionally strong to close out the season. One of the highlights of the finale was Emma and Charming each fighting Maleficent (one seeking to hide the vial of true love and the other trying to retrieve it). Up until that point, Emma had been completely disconnected from her family. But the way in which the scenes were shot and cut together illustrated how cognizant the writers are that the viewers needed to see that connection, even if Emma hadn’t fully embraced it yet. The scene played beautifully by intercutting between Emma and Charming.

Delivering an even bigger emotional payoff was Emma’s final toss of the sword, mirroring her father’s gesture in the pilot episode. Through commentary, Adam and Eddy revealed that the original cut of those scenes were spaced out by exposition and other scenes within the episode. Changing that not only made the story a more fulfilling climax to the first season, but it also increased the urgency and the pace of the storylines.

So there you have it – three moments that really exemplify the development of Once Upon a Time in its first season. In that first season, we learned that no character is safe, that the creative team wouldn’t hesitate to twist what we think we know about the characters or the plot, and that special effects and skillful editing would be used to serve the characters, not the other way around. Here’s hoping season 2 brings more of the same. Check out our analysis of the entire second season as it develops at www.moretvplease.com.

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