Imagine you’re driving at night and you see a man in the middle of the road. You notice the man is preparing to chuck a fiery orb at a Renaissance fair pirate. This obviously freaks you out; there’s some swerving involved and the next thing you know you have Captain Hook on the hood of your car and you’re being rushed to the hospital where your life will be left in the hands of a drunken Dr. Frankenstein while out in the waiting area, Prince Charming, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, The Big Bad Wolf and Grumpy debate the pros and cons of letting you bleed out on the table. Welcome to Storybrooke, folks!
The introduction of Greg Mendel, Storybrooke’s first non-magical visitor, in “The Outsider” was a reminder that Storybrooke is kind of terrible. The fairytale hamlet looks idyllic from the outside, but within it holds an unhealthy mix of seething animosity, overly simplistic moral codes and an alarming number of citizens who always have pitchforks and torches at the ready. Remember last season when Mary Margaret was shunned for having an “affair” with David? Or, more recently, how easy it was for Ruby’s friends to turn on her when Billy the ex-mouse turned up dead? Greg’s arrival sparked a similar panic among our core heroes, who actually debated the possibility of letting Greg die for the sake of keeping the town’s secret safe.
All of these scenes have felt reactionary and over-the-top, but perhaps they also serve to illustrate just how different the residents of Storybrooke are from “normal” people and how ill-equipped they are to function in the real world, with or without memories of their homeland. They come from a very structured world where nothing is more powerful than true love, good triumphs over evil in the end and hero’s journeys are just a fact of life. The real world is messy. Love isn’t always enough, people resist being easily classified as heroes or villains and questing is usually reserved for complicated, but wholly inconsequential online games.
Through the use of flashbacks Once Upon A Time has attempted to show us that the fairytale world is complicated in its own way, but it still lacks the wonderful, heartbreaking oomph of reality. That is exactly why Greg’s arrival is so exciting for the series (and potentially traumatic for Greg). For all we know, Greg will reveal himself to be Luke Skywalker–hey, he has the right ringtone for it–by the end of the season, but for now let’s operate under the assumption that he is a regular schmo, who may or may not have had a bit of foreknowledge about the Disney-flavored nightmare he crashed into. If he is the average person he appears to be, then Greg represents reality bleeding into the isolated bubble our characters reside in, just as Rumpelstiltskin and Emma’s jaunt into the real world will likely mark the beginning of magic seeping beyond Storybrooke’s borders.
OUAT has suffered from being too claustrophobic in the past, but season two has been steadily expanding the world of the series. It began when the season premiere opened on the streets of New York and the progress continued in “The Outsider” when the residents of Storybrooke were forced to stop worrying about magical threats for once and focus on potential human ones. Magical or not, Greg is already upsetting the status quo in Storybrooke.
On the flipside, Greg’s arrival also means we get to see Storybrooke through the eyes of a true outsider. Emma is the original stranger in a strange land, but she arrived in town when most of the residents were still in the dark about their true nature, and she has always been deeply connected to the magical world, whether she knew it or not. Greg, on the other hand, is a complete newcomer and because he’s from our world, he’s unpredictable. How would you react to stumbling upon a town with real magic that was populated by Disney princesses moonlighting as librarians and elementary schoolteachers? Would you exploit it? Immerse yourself in it? Run away without looking back?
No matter how Greg reacts, life in Storybrooke is about to get real.
How do you feel about Greg’s arrival and OUAT expanding its storytelling beyond the fairytale world and Storybrooke? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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