On October 23rd, 2011, Once Upon A Time premiered on ABC. It was a show about fairytale characters/Disney properties and what happens when they end up in our world. The show lasted for seven years, boasted one spin-off and an active fanbase.
TV Fanatic staff writers Laura Nowak, Becca Newton, former staff writer Sarah Little, and I discussed what we loved about the show, what we hated, what we shipped, and how we fangirl now that it's all over.
What made you watch Once Upon A Time going in? What expectations did you have of the show? Do you feel the show met those expectations?
Sarah: I started watching Once Upon a Time on Netflix while Once Upon A Time Season 2 was airing on ABC.
One of my best friends insisted that I watch it, and I had always wanted to because I love Disney and fairytales. I loved it from the premiere, so it met my expectations.
Laura: I started watching as soon as OUAT came out. I love fairytales, and Grimm was playing on NBC, so, in the beginning, I'd compare the fairytales, but OUAT turned out to be the only "real" fairytale-based show.
Becca: I didn't start watching until Once Upon A Time Season 3 because Ariel made her OUAT debut. The Little Mermaid is my favorite Disney movie.
Leora: I started watching because I love fairy tales and because my dad was into it. I didn't realize until much later that it was a Disney show and that it wasn't so much about fairy tales as it was about any Disney property.
Did you have a favorite character or ship early on? Did that change throughout the show's run or with hindsight? Why or why not?
Sarah: My favorite character, from the very beginning until the end, was Emma Swan. First of all, I absolutely love Jennifer Morrison.
Plus, I feel like she was a very relatable character, and it was a joy to watch her grow on screen. She was a badass who didn't like being vulnerable, so of course, I loved her.
As for my favorite ship, that was probably Snow and Charming. I just thought they were sweet, and their journey on Once Upon A Time Season 1 was quite the roller coaster.
Laura: I don't know if I had a favorite character right away. My favorite character throughout most of the series was Regina. Lana played her flawed and layered character so well.
I think my early ship was Snow and Charming. As Sarah said, their story on Once Upon A Time Season 1 was compelling. Unfortunately, after Once Upon A Time Season 2, they got boring. I still liked them, though.
Becca: I didn't have a favorite character right away. I think Belle became my favorite character out of sympathy for the many times she was screwed over.
Leora: I was intrigued by Rumple right away, and I found Henry so adorable! I loved them both more and more as the Once Upon A Time Season 1 progressed, and when they added Belle, she joined my roster of favorites.
As for ships, I was gone for Rumbelle after Once Upon A Time Season 1 Episode 12. That was the episode that sold me on the show. My feelings on them became more complicated over time, but they'll always hold a special place in my heart.
Were there any characters you wish the show had introduced that they never did? How about characters that could have been portrayed or utilized better?
Sarah: I think Rapunzel could have been utilized better, or just more because Tangled is one of my favorite Disney movies.
I didn't watch Once Upon a Time Season 7, so I don't know anything about that version of Rapunzel. And, of course, Hercules definitely could have been portrayed better.
Laura: I agree with Sarah that Hercules could have been utilized better.
I also would have liked to see more Ella and Ariel. They were supposed to be the bigger fairytales, and they were in maybe three episodes each.
Becca: I think one of OUAT's most significant flaws is how pretty much all the characters could have been utilized better. There were so many I wish had gotten more screen time and development.
Even those with the screen time weren't always used well -- thinking of Robin Hood here.
OUAT's portrayal of King Arthur probably angers me the most. I hated it and the whole Camelot arc.
Leora: Well said, Becca. As for Rapunzel, Once Upon A Time Season 7 did a better job with her, for sure.
Yes, to Robin, Ariel, and Ella as well. I mean, I loved the Ariel character, but I would have liked to have seen more of her. Also, I felt Ursula was pretty weak as far as villains go.
I think the biggest disappointment for me was Aurora, Philip, and Maleficent. Sleeping Beauty is my favorite fairy tale/Disney Princess, and we saw so little of them. We never even learned why Mal hated her in the first place!
Which Once twist was your favorite? Which one blew your brains out? Were there any other aspects of the show that you just couldn't deal with?
Sarah: My favorite twist on the show was probably that Peter Pan was Rumpelstiltskin's father. I remember the moment I watched that, and it blew my mind.
Laura: My favorite twist was that Zelena was Regina's sister. It was well-played and showed Regina's growth.
Becca: I'm with Sarah. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined Peter Pan as Rumpel's father.
Leora: The Peter Pan twist was good. I certainly didn't see it coming. I'm not a fan of the Zelena/Regina twist, honestly, but I respect your choice, Laura.
I think I'm going to have to go with Neal being Baelfire. I know many fans predicted it, but I still didn't believe it was true until it happened, and Once Upon A Time Season 2 Episode 14 is one of my favorites!
What are your OTPs, BROTPs, and NOTPS, and why? Did you find any of the couples healthy, or toxic, or boring, or unrealistic?
Sarah: My favorite ship was Snow and Charming and Emma and Neal.
My favorite BROTP was probably Snow and Red Riding Hood, which, unfortunately, we didn't see as much of past the first season.
Also, I really loved Emma and Charming's relationship. They constantly got me in my feels.
As for NOTPs, everyone will probably hate me, but I just couldn't get on board the Emma and Hook ship.
It's probably because I was so attached to Emma and Neal. But I also am just not a huge fan of hero/villain relationships.
Laura: My favorite ships were Regina and Robin and Rumple and Belle.
I adored Charming and Emma's relationship. They had something special. I also loved Regina and Henry's.
As for actual friendships, I liked Belle/Ruby, Emma/Regina, and Charming/Hook.
I don't think I had a NOTP on OUAT. I shipped almost every couple to varying degrees.
Becca: By the end, I became agnostic to all OUAT ships. They were what they were. As far as friendships, I consider Hook and Ariel friends, and I always liked their dynamic.
Leora: My favorite ship was Rumbelle, though they became somewhat toxic towards the end, sadly. My second favorite was RedScarlet, though that is from the spin-off.
I loved Emma and Mary Margaret's relationship on Once Upon A Time Season 1, as well as both Emma and Regina's relationship with Henry.
I loved the idea of Rumple and Hook as friends, and I was vindicated on Once Upon A Time Season 7 when that bromance happened.
Sarah, you are not alone. My first choice for Emma was Neal, and while I didn't hate her and Hook initially, they got on my nerves on Once Upon A Time Season 5.
What death(s) did you never get over? Were there any you cheered on?
Sarah: I never, ever got over Neal's death. That one broke me and was probably the moment I stopped loving the show. He was one of my favorite characters, and his death was so pointless. Neal only died because the writers wanted to shock the audience.
Also, Graham's death was quite premature and heartbreaking. But I do not believe there were any deaths I cheered on.
Laura: I never got over Robin's death. Regina finally got her second chance at happiness, and they killed him off, and she ended up alone.
I know OUAT tried to appease the fans by bringing another version of Robin back, but it wasn't the same. I almost quit watching after he died. I mainly stuck around Season 6 for Emma/Hook.
Becca: I agree about Neal and Robin's deaths. Both felt anticlimactic and a waste of the characters.
Leora: At the time, Neal's death didn't affect me nearly as much as it does, looking back. I agree that he shouldn't have died, and his loss greatly influenced the show.
Robin shouldn't have died either.
Though we didn't technically see it, I wasn't too pleased that Maid Marian was dead.
I didn't shed any tears for Pan, Hades, Jekyll, or Zelena (if only that one stuck).
How did you feel about the redemption arcs the characters went on? Did any of them stick out to you as enjoyable, well done, or plain awful?
Sarah: Regina's redemption arc was done well. I went from absolutely hating her to loving her within a couple of seasons.
As for the other two notable villains the writers tried to give redemption arcs, aka Rumple and Hook, I could never warm to their characters.
Laura: I agree with Sarah. Regina's redemption arc was the best. She was mainly redeemed over time, and you genuinely wanted happiness for her.
I never cared for Zelena's redemption. She'd hurt so many people, including Regina, and suddenly she was accepted.
Becca: Regina for the reasons Sarah and Laura already mentioned.
Leora: Laura, I'm so glad you said that about Zelena. I 100% agree! As for the rest, I did another article about redemption arcs on the show, so I'll just refer people there.
Who was the best villain?
Sarah: The best villain was probably Regina before she was redeemed. She had a terrific backstory and motivation for becoming a bad guy. You didn't want to root for her to win, but you also kind of did.
Laura: I agree about what Sarah said about Regina being the best villain.
Becca: I'm going to give it Cruella because of how far out there they went with her.
Leora: I like your answer best, Becca! Regina was a great character, but I like her better redeemed than as a villain.
I'd have to go with Pan. He was just so evil and manipulative and creepy, but also kind of charming. It doesn't make any logical sense that they defeated him.
Which tale did you enjoy the interpretation of the most, and which tale do you feel did a disservice to the source material?
Sarah: My favorite fairytale featured in Once Upon a Time was Peter Pan. I've always loved that story, so their take on it was interesting and different.
I loved how they put their own twist on it without taking away from the source material. The Neverland story was just very good altogether. I can't think of a fairytale that they used that I was mad about.
Laura: I didn't like the Neverland story. It was well-done, but I didn't enjoy it except that it was the beginning of Regina's redemption and Henry's backstory.
My favorite was probably Oz/Return to the Enchanted Forest. It was well-done, and it's the arc where Regina fell in love, and we saw how different she was from her evil sister.
I also disliked the Camelot arc, probably because I was such a huge Merlin fan, so OUAT's version of Arthur, Gwen, and Lancelot was so different.
Becca: For my favorite, I'll go with Peter Pan. I appreciated the Peter Pan as Rumple's father twist. Plus, Wendy and Baelfire's relationship was sad in a good way. Least favorite is the Camelot arc for reasons already mentioned.
Leora: I agree about Neverland. It was almost good enough to make me forgive Disney for that animated monstrosity of theirs. My only complaint was that it wasn't an entire season and left me with so many questions.
However, I also loved Little Red Riding Hood being the Big Bad Wolf.
Sorry Laura, but I have to disagree with you about Oz. We didn't really go to Oz, and Dorothy, Glinda, The Wizard, etc., were barely players.
We never even met the cowardly lion, and we only met the scarecrow for five minutes on Once Upon A Time Season 5.
I was okay with how they did the tin woodsman, but that also wasn't until Once Upon A Time Season 5, and by then, I'd come to expect less from the show.
The only character from Oz they utilized was The Wicked Witch, and while Rebecca Madder is a superb actress, I hated Zelena! The show would have been better off without her.
I agree about Camelot, and I've expressed my feelings on the missed opportunity of Sleeping Beauty. Still, I think the interpretation that pissed me off the most was the Underworld and Greek mythology. Again, click here.
Did you stick through until the end? Why or why not?
Sarah: Unfortunately, I stopped watching after Once Upon A Time Season 6. My favorite characters, Emma, Charming, and Snow, left the show, and the series just had not been the same for me after Neal died.
It strayed too far from what made it great on Once Upon A Time Season 1, and it was just unrecognizable.
Laura: I stopped regularly watching after Once Upon A Time Season 6. I watched some episodes in Once Upon A Time Season 7, usually the ones that centered around the original characters
Becca: I stopped watching towards the end of Once Upon A Time Season 6. I was getting tired of it.
Leora: I guess I'm the only one who stayed around for Once Upon A Time Season 7. I'm glad I did because Once Upon A Time Seasons 5 and 6 were just so bad, and Once Upon A Time Season 7 was so much better!
It wasn't as good as Once Upon A Time Seasons 1-3, though.
What would you have changed if you could have been in the writer's room and had some say on the direction the story went in?
Sarah: I definitely would not have killed Neal.
Laura: I wouldn't have killed Robin or brought the "real" Robin back. Regina deserved true love, and Lana and Sean were magical together.
Becca: So many things. Since I've brought up my distaste for the Camelot arc more than once already, that has to go on the top of the list.
Leora: I agree about Neal, for sure. So much might have been different if he hadn't died! I wouldn't have had Rumple keep backsliding. The others would have included him more.
The show was at its best when it focused on family. I would have steered the show more towards that and away from Emma's love life.
Thinking about it, I think I would go back farther than Neal's death. I would go back to bringing magic to Storybrooke. That was unnecessary.
Storybrooke became the new Enchanted Forest. It became less about fairy tale characters in the real world and more about fairy tale characters in a magical land that happens to have wifi.
I would want to see real-world problems. I wanted to see real people with no connection to fairy tales interacting with our heroes.
I could go on and on, but mostly it would be stuff I've seen in fanfiction fix-it fics, written better than I can write it, and making me realize how flawed the show truly was.
If anyone wants fic recommendations, drop me a line in the comments. There are so many talented people out there who did it better than canon. For example, Becca, have you read Ruins of Camelot by Robin4?
How did you feel about the rebooted Season 7?
Sarah: I didn't watch it, so I can't really have an opinion on it.
Laura: From what I saw, it was very different than the original. I did love Robin and Alice.
And I loved how they used Regina and Henry's relationship and their love to break the curse, and how it almost mirrored the scene in Once Upon A Time Season 3 Episode 19.
Becca: Same, I didn't watch it, so no opinion on it.
Leora: I loved Once Upon A Time Season 7! Yes, Laura, MadArcher was adorable! Glad they got a shout-out.
There were some issues for sure, but some of them came from the fact that they had been planning to have Jennifer Morrison, and when she left, they had to rework the story.
Then they were building up for a Season 8, and when they didn't get renewed, they had to tie up or abandon plotlines quickly.
Don't get me wrong, there are so many things I would change, but there were also many things I loved, more than in Once Upon A Time Seasons 5 and 6 combined, so I'm happy I watched.
It left a better taste in my mouth than if I had stopped after Once Upon A Time Season 6.
How did you feel about the Wonderland spin-off, Once Upon A Time In Wonderland? Did you watch it? Did you think they should have renewed it for a second season?
How do you think it compared to the original series? Should there have been more spin-offs?
Sarah: I remember liking the Wonderland spin-off! To be honest, I could not tell you any details about the plot, but I was sad when they canceled it. It had potential, for sure.
I'm not positive that spin-offs were the best thing for Once Upon a Time, though.
Laura: I loved the OUAT Wonderland spin-off. Will and Alice were one of my favorite friendships, and I adored Will and Anastasia.
Becca: I didn't watch the Wonderland spin-off. As for whether there should have been more spin-offs, I'm torn.
On the one hand, it would have given more development to underutilized characters. On the other hand, the main appeal of OUAT is the crossover aspect within the show itself. More spin-offs would have limited it.
Leora: Laura, once again, our tastes aline. Will and Ana were epic, and I'm delighted the show finally gave us a male-female bromance in Alice and Will.
I just did a rewatch since the show landed on Disney+ last year. Becca, I'd advise you to watch it. Sarah, I'd advise you to rewatch. Honestly, it's better than the main show.
Which character do you feel got screwed over the most? Why?
Sarah: I'm going to sound like a broken record here, but Neal got screwed over the most, in my opinion. He should not have died, and he should have been allowed to live a happy life after finding out he was a father.
Laura: I think Will got screwed over. They brought his character over from Wonderland; then, they barely had anything for him to do. I was so mad they never brought Anastasia over with him.
Beyond that, I think Regina got screwed over the most. Both of her love interests died, making her heartbroken.
Becca: Belle. One of the most infuriating moments for me was Emma blackmailing Rumple into helping her get Hook back from the underworld by not telling Belle he was a villain again.
And if I remember correctly, all the other heroes went along with it. Even her so-called friends screwed Belle over.
Leora: Those are all excellent answers, honestly, but Laura, I agree with you 100%. Will did get screwed over, as I said here.
Yes, the herocrites were totally okay with that, and no, they aren't Belle's friends. They had never been. Poor girl has no friends, which is part of the problem. Again, check out the link.
Sarah, yes, about Neal! I never did an article about it, but that's mostly because it is pretty self-evident.
Even if you don't ship him with Emma, his death was terrible writing. Rumple's quest to find his son was so central to everything, and then Bae was just gone.
I won't deny that Regina got dealt a lousy hand in her love life, and I would certainly have given her a different ending, but compared to Will, Belle, Rumple, and Neal, I think she came out on top.
How much impact did/does the show have on your life? Do you still rewatch, talk about it or interact with the fandom in any way?
Sarah: I think certain characters had a significant impact on my life, like Emma. She will always be one of my favorite fictional characters, and she always meant a lot to me.
I haven't rewatched it since it ended, but my best friend and I were discussing rewatching the first two and a half seasons.
Laura: OUAT has been one of my favorites. I haven't had time lately, but I used to make video tributes of the show. I still talk to many Outlaw Queen fans on social media.
Becca: I've talked about OUAT sometimes with friends, but that's about it. Since it ended, I've only watched the occasional episode.
Leora: Sarah, you totally should! Rewatching is so much fun. I love trying to get someone new into the show.
Laura, you make fan videos?!?! I'm going to need links. I love fan videos.
I've done a fair amount of rewatching, but more than that, I love talking about it and reading/writing fic.
I did just rewatch Wonderland.
Would you watch another Horowitz and Kitsis Fairy tale show, such as the upcoming Beauty and the Beast Prequel about Gaston and Lefou?
Sarah: I would probably try watching another Horowitz and Kitsis show, but I definitely would be wary. They've hurt me before, so they probably would again.
Laura: Maybe. I love Beauty and the Beast, but I also hate how much they're changing.
Becca: Probably not. Then again, it's usually the shows I swear I won't watch that I wind up watching.
Leora: Sarah, I couldn't have said it better myself.
How did you feel when the networks didn't pick up their new fairytale-themed show Epic? Had you been planning to watch it?
Sarah: I wasn't sad or relieved or anything. I was going to watch at least the first episode, but I wasn't heartbroken that ABC didn't pick up the show.
Laura: It didn't affect me much. I was going to check it out, but I'm not heartbroken it didn't get picked up.
Becca: Same, Laura, I wasn't heartbroken either.
Leora: I guess I'm the odd one out because I was disappointed.
As mad as I am at the writers, as much as they screwed everything up, I still really miss the show, and I was hopeful that they might have learned from some of their mistakes this time around.
Would you watch a reboot?
Sarah: I would watch the pilot episode and then decide if it was worth continuing or not.
Laura: Maybe. It depends on what it's about.
Becca: Maybe if another creative team handled it. I'd be more interested in a different version of OUAT than a reboot stylistically similar to the original.
Leora: You make a good point, Becca. I would want different writers too. I think I would watch it, hoping for it to solve the problems of the original.
How do you feel about how OUAT handled characters of color (by making them evil, killing them off, or both) and lgbtq+ characters (who we were given a one-and-done in S5, and finally a significant season-long love story in S7)?
Sarah: I think when I was watching it, I was just a young and dumb teenager who didn't really notice that. But those kinds of aspects to the story definitely catch my eye now.
It's frustrating that Once Upon a Time was not very inclusive or diverse, especially when it came to the surviving heroes of the story. Hopefully, the writers can see the errors of their ways and do better in the future.
It sounds like they were trying to for season 7, but I didn't watch it, so I can't say.
Laura: I guess I never really thought about it, except that Mulan and Jasmine got decent stories, and they weren't evil or killed off.
They hinted at Mulan being LGBTQ as early as Once Upon A Time Season 2. I think they did better in Once Upon A Time Season 7. Robin and Alice got a real story that we saw develop onscreen.
Becca: I think the question answers itself.
Leora: Sarah, I too didn't notice until later, when it was pointed out to me. It is a huge problem.
Alice and Robin were great, but many fans had already jumped ship like you, and many felt it was too little, too late.
Laura, I'll give you Jasmine, but many people were pissed about how Mulan was handled.
She never got a backstory. She disappeared with little explanation. She didn't get a happy ending. She was a supporting character in other minor characters' stories instead of a badass character in her own right.
At least she didn't die or turn evil, which cannot be said about Tamara, Lancelot, Sindey Glass, Jafar, Maid Marian, Merlin, Arthur, Guinevere Facilier, and Billy. There might be more.
It's not like there aren't white characters who died or were evil. That happened a lot too. But we also had white characters who were main characters and heroes with happy endings, which just didn't happen for people of color.
Again, I didn't notice until it was pointed out to me, but many people are very vocal about it online, as they should be.
I've also known people who found the portrayal of Rumple/Mr. Gold and Issac Heller to be antisemitic.
Do you believe that the show supports the idea of multiple true loves in one's lifetime?
Sarah: Perhaps. I know Regina had multiple true loves during her time on the show, and I think it's great that that was one of the series' messages.
Laura: I think so. As Sarah said, Regina had more than one true love, and it's a great message to send that it's okay to have more than one.
Becca: I think the show did a better job of showing other forms of love, like parent-child, can be true love.
Leora: Technically, none of Regina's love interests were ever confirmed as her true love because they never shared true love's kiss. The closest we get is Robin with the whole soulmate tattoo thing.
I'd like to believe that was one of the show's messages, though. And I agree with Becca about how they showed that romantic love isn't the only love that can be true.
The writers claim that Emma and Captain Hook were always intended as endgame. Do you believe that is true? Do you think they planned things that well from the beginning or made-up stuff more as they went along?
Sarah: Heck no. I genuinely believe that the only reason Emma and Hook ended up together was that the writers saw the fan response to their relationship and changed the course of the story.
It's pretty obvious to me that Emma was supposed to end up with Neal.
Laura: That's a hard one. I was torn until the Neverland arc in Once Upon A Time Season 3, and then I became full Emma and Hook.
The fans may have been part of it. They were present and public with their devotion, making fan videos and voicing their love of Emma and Hook on social media by that point, and I think that's when the tide turned.
Becca: Emma and Hook seemed fan-driven.
Leora: I mean, it's possible. I've heard that they wanted to bring in Captain Hook on Once Upon A Time Season 1, but couldn't get the rights yet, so maybe.
CaptainSwan fans have a list of parallels between CS and Snowing, which makes a good case. However, Swanfire fans have the same list, which also makes a compelling case.
From a story perspective, Swanfire being the planned endgame made more sense, and I firmly believe that the writers are lying liars who lie, so why not lie about this?
It's okay to change your mind, and sometimes fans influence a show, but I'd respect them more if they owned up to it. I guess we'll never know for sure.
What do you think was the point of the show?
Sarah: Once Upon a Time was all about hope, love, and family, and how those are the strongest forces in the world. And I think, for the most part, the series showed that.
Laura: I think OUAT is about finding your place in this world through your family, friends, and love.
Becca: To keep me entertained, and sometimes it succeeded. Okay, I'll be more serious. I think the point was to put fresh spins on familiar stories.
Leora: Those are all good answers, and all true.
I think it was very much about hope, redemption, and second chances. It was more about family in the early seasons, but later it focused more on Emma's love life, which is how we lost the plot.
Well, that's a wrap, folks! How are you celebrating the anniversary? What are your ships, favorites, and complaints about the show?
Let us know in the comments, and remember, believing in the possibility of a happy ending is a powerful thing.
Leora W is a staff writer for TV Fanatic..