Saturday, June 23, 2018

Once Upon a Time...

Way back in 2011, ABC aired a TV show that told the story of Emma Swan, a young woman who, facing another lonely birthday, is suddenly thrust face-to-face with a kid, Henry, who claims to be her son. It only gets weirder when he takes her to the teeny little town of Storybrooke, Maine, where, according to Henry, is the craziest stretch of imagination that Emma's ever heard:

Everyone is a fairytale character.

And Emma?

She's the daughter of Prince Charming and Snow White, of course.

Once Upon a Time took viewers on a wild ride, through several storylines over the years, from breaking the original curse, to Emma fighting the darkness within her before she dooms everyone. The show explores the little town of Storybrooke and all of the fairytale worlds, from the Enchanted Forest to the Underworld, meeting all sorts of fairytale (slash Disney) characters.

There's even a spin-off set in Wonderland, with a new cast of characters (which I honestly loved please tell I'm not alone in this). OUAT has a musical episode, in which everybody finds themselves unable to speak without bursting into song.

While the show has reached it's final Happily Ever After, it has a little bit of everything for everyone, basically. It gives beloved tales a twist from their original plots, and there's magic in abundance.

What's also in abundance is what OUAT can teach. It's a saga of hope, how light will always conquer, even when the darkness seems to be permanent. And, especially, how love of family is a magic more powerful than any evil, and how hope can bring even the darkest hearts to the light again.

Family is probably one of the biggest themes in this show. OUAT shows again and again how family, the ones you love and the ones who love you, are pretty much the real magic of the world. They're the ones who can help pull you out of the dark, and who will be there in the midst of trouble. Some of the strongest examples are the Charmings, Snow and David. They know better than most that love beats the dark, and family is your strongest line of defense.

Love of family is something that holds you together, like it does with the Charmings, or Emma and Henry, or Regina and Henry. Or maybe it's not your biological family, but the friends you make, like basically everybody in Storybrooke. Or the people who kind of take you under their wing as a mentor, or as their fellow brother or sister in arms, maybe like Regina and Emma (loosely, I know, but Regina helps Emma hone her magic).

It's a huge theme, that family is a piece of us that comes in all shapes and sizes and kinds, sometimes even in the most unlikely places. They're what help us when stuff gets dark and impossible, and make it possible.

Hope is another major theme. Hope that good will always win, even when it looks like evil has snuffed out even the most precious of light. Hope that even though you and the ones you love are apart, that you will meet again. Hope may be the driving theme of the show, and it's beautiful because it's true. Good will always win. Maybe not the battle, but it will win the war. The Charmings are literally the poster children of this. Snow White, while she's not perfect, very, very rarely gives up. She sees light where others don't. This is also where Henry probably gets his own eye for the light. He sees the good in people when even they don't, and he has hope enough for them too.

But another facet of hope is one of my most favorites, and it kind of piggybacks that last sentence. The hope that no one is ever truly lost. Regina (the Evil Queen) and Rumplestiltskin are the two major examples of this, and both of them have arcs here that are really cool. Regina's turn to the light comes sooner than Rumple's, but it's not a once and done thing. She struggles. She struggles with her temper, and how it can draw her back to the dark. She's grown up craving love and acceptance, and in a small way, even though she's repented, a part of her still struggles for it. But she fights back. She looks to the ones who love her: The Charmings (eventually, in their own way) and especially Henry, the light in her dark who was probably her saving grace. She sees Henry, and she remembers why she changed, and that she doesn't want to go back. She won't go back. Henry has hope that she can be good, and it's his hope that pushes her to be good.

Rumplestiltskin is another story. His descent into darkness is, in a sense, his way of covering for his weaknesses. He's a coward, but he uses magic to make himself tall and powerful, someone to be feared rather than someone who fears. He embraces his darkness, and in turn, it's given him a chain and collar.

His fight with the dark is an arc that stretches over the years, a back and forth battle that leaves a lot of people skeptical, lots even giving up on him. At one point, even his beloved turns away, her hope finally, after so much struggle, finally drying up (and trust me, with a woman like Belle, that takes an awful lot of hope to go through before even she stops). Belle is Rumple's saving grace, like Henry is to Regina. When she's around, he wants to do good, to make her proud. He works hard at helping the heroes.* He surprises others with the light that seems to dwell there.

*(in his own weasel-y way)

But when Belle's not there, the darkness yanks on that chain and collar, and it drags Rumple back. Into a place he's comfortable with, someplace he feels secure when Belle isn't there to anchor him in the light. He sometimes tries to fight it even then, but the dark is so deeply rooted, it's hard. It's dang hard.

It's true for us too. We're all fallen creatures. We sin, and sometimes we want to stay there.

Rumple's soul isn't truly lost. Despite all the wrong he's done, he's seen what the light looks like, what it feels like. And however enticing evil is, however it tries to disguise itself in the name of good, he's clever enough to see the true good. And he fights to reach it, even if he's drowning.

Rumplestiltskin, with all of his faults and crimes, wasn't so lost that he couldn't find his way back to the light again. He hit rock bottom, and sometimes managed to dig deeper. But even those darkest depth couldn't hide him. He was found and he was healed. And that's true for us, too. We're not so lost that God can't find us, even when we dig beyond rock bottom. We just need to be willing to look for the light of redemption.

Belle had hope for Rumple. It faltered once, but it was her hope that he could be good, that he could make something better of himself. She looked past his flaws and saw potential, and she held on until the chain and collar shattered. For good.

THAT is how strong hope is. Because even when a cup is chipped, it's not ruined forever. We just need to have hope that the people we love will come back. And, alternately, remember that even our own chips don't make us broken, not entirely.

OUAT teaches us to always have hope, even when things are dark and seem hopeless. It won't be this way forever, and the light WILL come back. We just need to have faith, and, especially when we need it, lean back on the people who love us, because their strength can help support us when ours might start to falter. It shows us that no one is ever truly lost to the dark, and that even the darkest of nights will end.

And Once Upon a Time shows us that time and time again, which just reinforces the truth of it: Hope, love, and family is the real magic. The magic that really counts.

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