I do a lot of Lessons from Anime on this blog, because I watch a lot of anime. However, funny enough, I don’t watch a ton of American TV. I never watched much TV growing up and I never got into the habit. I certainly have my few shows, Game of Thrones, Avatar the Last Airbender and So You Think You Can Dance included. But they are few and far between.
And then there’s Once Upon a Time.
Once Upon a Time is, I think, a great example of why I don’t watch a lot of American television. Because this show has been going on for so long with so many plot threads and characters that the writers don’t know what to do anymore. They just don’t. Writing gets lazy, character arcs get screwed and the show just gets old as viewers start to realize that the creators have no more tricks in the bag.
Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t animes that go on for an eternity. See Naruto, Bleach and Once Piece for that. But many animes do not. Most of my favorite animes are 13 or 26 episodes and many of them have a satisfying ending.
And that’s the key word: Endings. The shows that I like have an end goal when they begin. When they have an end goal, it’s much easier to establish characters and bring their arcs to a satisfying conclusion. It’s easier to write a tight plot that keeps the viewer’s interest. It’s easier to end the show without jumping the shark.
The reason I can watch Game of Thrones is that there has always been an end goal, and books to follow, so that the characters keep to their arcs and don’t fall flat. Of course, depending on your opinion, some characters may be better than others, but at least they all have an arc.
Once Upon a Time just… feels like it’s never going to end. But it could have. The end of season 3 could have wrapped things up if you just cut a few plot twists at the very end. It brought most of the arcs to a satisfying conclusion and it hadn’t overloaded itself with so many characters that half of them were left waiting in the wings with nothing to do.
Like, what were Henry and the Charmings even doing in the Frozen extravaganza of the first half of Season 4? Assumidly sitting off to the side somwhere like:
But what happened? The studio probably said “audiences love the show! So keep airing it! Air it until it dies”. Sometimes I’m almost glad for shows that get canceled because at least they were good until the end!
What resulted was the absolute destruction of Rumpelstiltskin’s arc, Henry’s ultimate uselessness and most of the characters falling off the face of the map in favor of Frozen characters and other newbies that the show didn’t need.
Unless the show can pull something out of its hat, I’m going to pretend that only the first three seasons exist. But I think Once Upon a Time’s hat is just about empty.
I don’t understand fans who want a show they like to go on forever. Wouldn’t you rather look back on an amazing whole show than a show that got terrible somewhere in the fourth season? Wouldn’t you rather the story reach a satisfying conclusion? I love endings. I love how bitter sweet they are. But most of all, I love how poignant they can be.
A good ending can make me love a show. No ending? And I’m just left unsatisfied.