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Once Upon a Time: A Storyteller’s Thoughts on Prince Charming

There are two worlds: one of fairytales, with Evil Queens, happy endings, and magic – the other a slightly more real place, where love is messy and people are muddling through. There are times where everyone wishes that life were a fairytale, that evil was easy to spot and defend against. Where love, though occasionally tumultuous, is epic and grand. The stuff of legends. In that world, people are heroes. Good triumphs. Obstacles are overcome. True love’s kiss is a panacea.

But the real world? It’s not that easy. Things are complicated. Nothing is black or white. Grey is worn like battle armor. And love, though beautiful and real, is never easy. In this world, mistakes happen. Words are swallowed. Love isn’t easily captured. Even when it’s true and you fight like hell. Even if you try. Sometimes, in this world, it is not enough. Pain happens. People get hurt. Tequila is consumed. Hearts get broken. Damage is done.

Shakespeare said, the course of true love ne’er did run smooth. To that, I’d add: sometimes, you careen off a waterfall, darlings. Sometimes, you drown in the consequences. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or rare it is. In the real world, we fumble around – because life isn’t easily parsed out. The heart certainly isn’t.

Consider, then, for a moment – a person living in both these worlds. Okay, a character. Yes, I’m referring to Prince Charming/David from ABC’s Once Upon a Time. (Basic premise: The Evil Queen put a curse on everyone in Fairytale Land, transporting them to the Storybrook in the Real World. No one can leave.) This show has quickly become my favorite, because it’s wonderfully written, full of layers, and the acting is so divine. I admire the whole production greatly, because nothing is what it seems – even when you think you understand. (A lesson for life, that.)

Take Prince Charming and Snow White – even in Fairytale Land, they’ve got it rough. They both nearly die. One nearly marries someone else. And in a desperate moment, Snow takes a magic draught that does an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Because of how the show began, we know, of course, that they end up together. But that knowledge doesn’t make watching their trials any easier.

In the Real World, there’s David and Mary Margaret (Charming and Snow). He wakes up from a coma. They fall in the best kind of crazy, stupid love. The kind that makes you forget yourself, and ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ cease being words. They’re just letters without meaning. David and Mary Margaret have the kind of passion that tears people apart. And it does, slowly, bit by bit. They love each other in such a palpable way; it almost doesn’t matter that he’s married to Kathryn who he feels suspiciously little for. It almost doesn’t matter, but it does. Week after week, they dance around, half in pleasure and half in pain. It might just be tv, but the portrayal is dead on. Ask anyone who has ever loved in the wrong direction. Small looks. Waiting in coffee shops. Little moments, gobbled up in order to get through the day. Because what you feel is a consuming, whirling passion born of the very best madness.

Eventually, David says he’s going to leave his wife; Mary Maragert can’t take the lies and sneaking around. She wants to be honest, because in love – that’s what you DO. You want to be able to hold hands in public, not sneak off into dark corners (although, to be fair, dark corners can be fun). While he’s explaining things to his wife, he hesitates in his confession. An expression of conflict and fear blanket his face. In that moment, you can feel him waver, waffling because the conversation is freakin’ HARD. How easy is it to tell someone that you love someone else? It’s not. In the real world that we live in, it takes balls of steel. But I digress. David takes the easy road and doesn’t tell her there’s someone else, despite the fact that he promised. The wife finds out, Mary Margaret finds out he lied – and things go very wrong, very fast. David and Mary Margaret break up, and she’s been labeled the town slut. (Okay, that was a little Pleasantville, but I get it.)

Here’s the thing: people who watch the show were OUTRAGED. They were aghast that Prince Charming would fail to do the right thing, that he’d choke like that. Because he’s Prince Freakin’ Charming. Except…he’s not. Not really. This the Real World Charming, aka David.

And David? He’s human. He’s flawed. He makes mistakes, like we all do. Who hasn’t punked out of a difficult confession, skirting around the bombshell of an admission? Who hasn’t, at some point, taken the easy road? No one can say they’ve NEVER done that, especially in a situation like that. It’s not like missing a phone call or a lunch date. It’s “honey, I’m so totally head over heels for someone else. I can’t see straight.”

The course of true love ne’er did run smooth. In the case of David and Mary Margaret, it is a run full of rapids and rough waters. From a storytelling perspective, it can’t be easy. If they just got together and things were awesome, we (as an audience) would probably get bored. The twists and turns, the ups and downs, the moments of shouting at the television (come on, I’m not the only one who does that) are what makes a great story worth it. It keeps the tale dynamic.

And, in all honesty, I think that David’s fumbling were so very human. Withholding that information from Kathryn wasn’t just a character doing something stupid; that was a real life moment, where things don’t go as planned and a person doesn’t do what he should. It also served to illustrate the difference between Fairytale Land and the Real World. Because while each character has retained basic traits, they’ve also lived two lives. And it’s our experiences who help make us who we are.

Sometimes, we chicken out. Sometimes, we don’t show up or step up. Sometimes, we’re all a little bit like David – even in the name of love, even for the sake of love. What he did (omitting the fact of Mary Margaret) was cowardly. But I also think he had good intentions; he was trying to spare her pain. She was, after all, leaving anyway. She seemed almost relieved to be able to go off on her own adventure. It was almost a kindness.

Yes, the decision blew up in David’s face. It resulted in a loss, one that is probably temporary. Because as an audience, we’re pulling for them to get together. (And if you’re not – what’s wrong with you? You probably have a concussion. Seek medical attention.) If Sam and Diane immediately got together on Cheers, it would’ve gone the way of Moonlighting. Anticipation makes a lot of things better; storytelling is one of them. The hard parts, the tough times, they allow the wonderful moments to dance and shine. If things were perfect, if everything happened as it should, the story would suffer. And this is a story, just like real life is sometimes a little bit like a fairytale. Like all stories, it all depends on how you look at things.

Above all else, one must honor the story.

  1. February 22, 2012 at 9:59 pm | #1

    I’m totally with you on everything you’ve stated here. Once Upon a Time is my new favorite show and I’m praying to the heavens and Harry Potter that it doesn’t get canceled before tying up all the loose ends. I also agree that it was perfect of David to mess up. To be completely honest, it’s the flawed princes that I always fell for. I’d take a Sleeping Beauty Prince Charming with a wacky sense of humor and kick-ass horse over a stoic Cinderella Prince Charming any day.

    • February 23, 2012 at 10:42 pm | #2

      Andrea, I’m fairly certain that the show is doing very well in the ratings. So, *fingers crossed*! Also, YES — flawed princes are the way to go. I’m definitely a fan of wacky humor, myself. :-) Thanks for reading and commenting, chica!

  2. fotreya
    February 22, 2012 at 10:06 pm | #3

    Perfect article.
    And yes, David is an interesting character and Josh Dallas works very well both sides of Charming.
    Kudos to him¡

    • February 23, 2012 at 10:40 pm | #4

      Thank you very much! And yes, I agree — Josh does an amazing job portraying the complexities of each character, so to speak. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. :-)

  3. Lilly
    February 22, 2012 at 10:35 pm | #5

    Beautifully said and yes while I am upset that David and Mary Margaret put themselves in this situation, part of life learning from your mistakes and I know that he will find the honorable man he truly is in time. I love this show, their characters are my favorites and though the twists and turns of their story is frustrating, maddening and heartbreaking, I am really looking forward to the day when they re-discover who they really are. That reunion will be off the charts GREAT!!!

  4. Marie
    February 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm | #6

    Great article. I can’t believe people are outraged about the whole adultery thing. David/PC is actually married to MM/Snow! Plus I’m sure there are all kinds of emotions involved in leaving a marriage (even if it’s fake) for one’s true love. And now add Abigail’s disappearance into the mix. It’s not the kind of thing that can be resolved neatly in a few episodes, certainly not with Regina’s constant meddling. I’m glad the writers are taking this show to a whole new level in so many ways and not mollifying viewers.

    • February 23, 2012 at 10:38 pm | #7

      Thank you, Marie! I found the reaction a bit surprising, too. Also, I think that resolves things too quickly wouldn’t do justice to the storyline. Taking it slow definitely works!

  5. Ana
    February 24, 2012 at 7:52 pm | #8

    Totally agree with you! Show is awesome and I am so proud and thankful for all the people that is involved with Once Upon A Time, I have been telling people who complain about David’s actions that he cant be Prince Charming in both worlds! although I am sad for him and Mary Margaret, I believe is part of the curse they are suffering the way they are, I guess it’s obvious, but I believe also that love can conquer all! :)
    My favorite show on TV right now

  6. Anonymous
    February 29, 2012 at 3:55 am | #9

    I totally agree with you Ali and Ana. Love is rarely easy and I love this show as many do. I’m with you that it has to be the curse. We want and need this show to last as long as it needs to to tell the stories it has to tell. I believe mary margaret said if love was easy we’d all have it. Oh Ali by the way, my life is full of waiting in a coffee shop for small looks and little moments, consumed by the very best madness.

    • February 29, 2012 at 7:32 am | #10

      Thank you so much for the lovely comment! Love is rarely easy and never simple (stealing from Oscar Wilde and tinkering with it, there). I really hope that the show lasts, because it’s not only fun — but it’s quality tv. And yes, I think you’re right — Mary Margaret did say something like that. She also said something about having to fight for love. As for me, waiting in coffee shops for small looks and little moments? It’s one of my favorite things. Thank you for such a wonderful comment — and welcome to the blog! I do hope you stick around. :-)

  1. March 5, 2012 at 3:00 am | #1

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