ABOUT LAST NIGHT: 3 Inconvenient Truths About Once Upon a Time

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1. This series is over.


Historically, Once Upon a Time could move their ratings with dynamite premieres, bonkers season finales, and well-timed episodes featuring the Evil Queen. None of that is true anymore. The season premiere bowed to a 1.3 rating, down more than 20 percent over the show’s 2015 debut. Episode 602 featured a double dose of Regina and the Evil Queen, but only us diehards are still watching: the show dropped to a 1.1. There is no evidence of a creative revival.

The Once creators have repeatedly boasted about a long winning streak in the Sunday 8:00 pm network, non-football timeslot. They are justifiably proud of their longevity, but that streak appears to be snapped for good.

• Last spring ONCE was unceremoniously beaten by NBC’s Little Big Shots.
• This season Fox’s comedy lineup is handily defeating OUAT: The Simpsons had a 2.6 last night, while Son of Zorn scored a 1.6.
• CBS moved NCIS: Los Angeles to Sundays at 8 and guess what? Last week it debuted ahead of its 2015 numbers, and last night it beat OUAT with a 1.5.

Can ABC afford to keep an aging series that is very quickly heading toward a 1.0 rating? Click To Tweet

2. When a woman character goes “dark,” Once uses the sex-is-bad trope.

It’s worth remembering that when OUAT wants to give a female character a darker edge, they immediately play up her sex appeal. Belle’s stint as Lacey found her dressing in skimpier clothes, hanging around bars and coming on to men other than Mr. Gold.


When Emma was Dark Swan, she was intensely horny for Hook. The insipidly-written arc took Dark Swan from “bad girl” mode to “sad girl” mode pretty quickly. However, when Emma is just regular old Savior Swan, she frequently pushes Hook away. She defaults back to a persona that is decidedly less sexual, which appears to have become more pronounced as the show has emphasized her role as “Savior.”

Now the Evil Queen is back and OUAT is already tinkering with her history. Rumple has always been her mentor, friend, and frenemy, but in last night’s episode, she decided to shamelessly flirt with the man who was basically a father figure. I’m willing to wager that the Evil Queen will play this same card with nearly every character this season, so if you’re an Evil Charming or Swan Queen shipper, you better gird your loins.

I'm willing to wager that the Evil Queen will play this same card with nearly every character this season. Click To Tweet

OUAT has no interest in subverting the “bad girls want sex trope.” This is one way that the show has shifted away from its original purpose of subverting or changing fairy tale themes. During seasons 3-6, OUAT has more often chosen to reinforce the moral traditions pushed by the Brothers Grimm.

Unfortunately, the series no longer engages viewers in an analysis of fairy tales or literature in a deep or meaningful way, and the show is poorer for it.

3. All the current couples will remain coupled.

Shippers, I advise you to sit back and enjoy the ride, because nobody on OUAT is going to break up! Snow and Charming? No. Hook and Emma? No! Hook isn’t going to have a fling with pregnant Belle and the show is not going to suddenly decide to run with Swan Queen (even though the through lines of the story between those two are super strong throughout the entire show)

  • That doesn’t mean that you can’t read the show in other ways! (And if Eddie Kitsis and Adam Horowitz want to leave you with any message, it is definitely that you should always have #Hope)
  • I think the ending of the series was foreshadowed in 602, and it will involve Emma and Regina. But the show was always going to end with the denouement of their collective arc.

As for that other twosome, Belle and Rumple, they may have consciously uncoupled for now, but Rumple will either be dead or back with Belle by series end. The OUAT writers just don’t have it in them to add true romantic intrigue. Expect the Once team to be prepping their characters for “happy endings.” If you look at it this way, it’s hard to miss the symbolism of last week’s casting news.


In my opinion, Once Upon a Time is creatively stagnant for many reasons, but its tradition of keeping couples locked together in the same struggle for years has certainly been a contributing factor.

I may, however, be wrong! Some viewers may find OUAT’s coupledom refreshing and fun in comparison to other shows. I can only speak for myself on this, as beauty is so often in the eye of the beholder.


Alex is a lawyer and opinionated.

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