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A Fantasy Live Action TV series aired on ABC.

The Fairy Tales we know - or think we know - are real. The Evil Queen from the Snow White story takes her revenge on Snow and her Prince Charming by cursing the kingdom on their wedding day. The only way to break the curse is to transport Snow's unborn child to our world, where she will return 28 years later to save the residents of the Fairy Tale World.

After said 28 years, we meet Emma Swan, a Bail Bondswoman (she prefers Bondsperson) who just so happens to be a Living Lie Detector. We also meet a little boy named Henry, who introduces himself as her son. He persuades her to leave Boston and take him home to Storybrooke, Maine, on the way telling her that his book of fairy tale stories is full of things that really happened. Emma, unconvinced, returns him to his adoptive mother, the Mayor.

The narrative gets switched back and forth between the past that takes place in Fairy Tale world and the present that takes place in Storybrooke, and the truth is soon revealed: the Evil Queen won, and the citizens of the Fairy Tale World now suffer Laser-Guided Amnesia in Storybrooke. Emma - who is revealed to be the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming - is the only hope they have of restoring their happy endings and setting the Fairy Tale world right.


This series contains examples of: Edit

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Regina is strongly implied to be emotionally abusive in her lack of concern and involvement with Henry beyond trying to one-up Emma. The actress seems to disagree on this, stating she loves Henry.
      • Even if Regina loves Henry, she can still be abusive to him. Another example of her abuse is her trying to gaslight him, going as far as to threaten his therapist.
      • There's strong evidence in the series that Regina loves Henry in her own way and concrete examples of her emotional abuse toward him (ie. putting him through therapy to safeguard her curse, neglecting him, etc.) Love and abuse are not mutually exclusive. That's one of the most confusing and difficult facets of parental emotional abuse.
    • Jiminy's family in the Enchanted Forest were this to him, always manipulating his desire to stop thieving to keep him at it.
    • Regina's mother in the Enchanted Forest was this to her when she was younger.
  • Action Girl:
    • Both Snow White and Emma have hints of this.
      • In Snow White's case, this goes from 'hints' to outright awesome scenes of badassery as her story progresses, especially when she leads a small army in a full-on invasion of King George's castle in her efforts to save Charming.
    • Gretel is this, in a more literal definition of "girl". She's the brains and brawn, compared to Hansel.
  • Adaptational Badass:
    • Forest dweller and survivor Snow White certainly qualifies.
    • Also, Prince Charming. In the original story, he was, well, a charming prince. Here, he is a great swordsman and archer.
    • Little Red Riding Hood is a werewolf who learns to use her powers to her own advantage.
  • Adult Fear:
    • The biological mother of your adopted child seeking you out and winning his affections from you. Mitigated in the show proper by the adoptive mother Regina being borderline abusive and the biological mother Emma trying to distance herself (although Henry pushes the issue).
    • War resulting in the kingdom lowering the minimum age of soldiers. Followed up with the army coming in and taking your child, regardless of gender or parental opinion, the moment they meet age requirements.
    • Being trapped somewhere and unable to return home to your child, who doesn't even remember that she is your child.
    • Through a moment of weakness, becoming separated from your child for a long time, possibly forever.
    • Sending your child away somewhere unknown, in an effort to protect them from a dangerous threat, knowing it's likely you won't see them again potentially ever.
    • Your child in a coma, not knowing what you can do to save him, and walking in to find out he's been declared dead
  • Aerith and Bob: The Fairy Tale world has names like Snow White, Maleficent and Rumpelstiltskin alongside Henry, Abigail and Ella.
  • All Men Are Rapists: inverted in that the Evil Queen/Regina, technically rapes the Huntsman/Graham every time they go to bed together. Especially apparent in episode 7, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, after she steals his heart and tells her guards "Take him to my bedchambers..." along with some suggestive flashbacks
  • All Myths Are True: At least all fairy tales are. Though it's a very loose definition of fairy tale. Classical Mythology seems to be fair game too.
  • Almost Kiss:
    • Snow and Charming at their wedding in the pilot.
    • Between Mary Margaret and David in Episode 5.
    • Between Mary Margaret and David again (as well as their Fairy Tale world alter egos) twice in Episode 10. They finally seal it at the end of the episode.
  • Amnesiac Lover: Snow, after taking Rumpelstiltskin's cure. She eventually regains her memories.
  • Anachronic Order:
    • The scenes in Storybrooke are in order, but the flashbacks to the Fairy Tale world are not in any particular order--they serve to fill in the background of whichever Storybrooke resident is in the limelight that episode.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • Jiminy was given a potion from Rumpelstiltskin that turned Geppetto's parents into dolls, seemingly forever.
    • Gaston is turned into a rose by Rumpelstiltskin and is then clipped by Belle.
    • This is how sleeping curses work in this universe: the victim appears to be dead, but they are trapped in an endless sleep filled with "nightmares formed from their own regrets."
  • ...And Show It to You: Regina (and her past life) has a real thing for people's hearts.
    • This, like so much else, runs in the family. Regina's mother did this to her fiancé, which is the main thing that caused her to turn out the way she did.
  • And Starring: Robert Carlyle.
  • Animal Motifs: In the pilot, we see a swan on Henry's night light and on the room key Emma receives from Granny. Particularly poignant given Snow White's affinity with birds and her Storybrooke-version's speech about the loyalty of birds.
  • Anti-Magic: The field surrounding Storybrooke is so strong that most people can't even see magic when it appears (as in August's leg). Not only that, but it reverses all transformations to their original form and nullifies magical artifacts.
  • Arc Words:
    • "All magic comes with a price", or some variation thereof.
    • Also, "I will always find you."
  • Armor Is Useless
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Kathryn slaps Mary Margaret after she finds out about the latter's affair with David.
  • Arranged Marriage:
    • The Prince was on his way to honor one for political reasons when he met Snow White. Naturally, he doesn't go through with it. It's also discovered in the episode "Whatever Happened to Frederick" that this was an unwanted arranged marriage for the prince's would-be bride Abigail as well.
    • Belle's engagement to Gaston was this.
    • Regina's mother set things up between Regina and Snow White's father.
  • Arrow Cam: Used in the third episode when Prince Charming fires a bow.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: According to ABC's website, Rumpelstiltskin is "cruel, vicious, manipulative and calls everyone 'dearie.'”
  • Art Shift: The style of the illustrations in Henry's book from late season one is very different from their style in early season one. Possibly because of August's tampering with the pages when the book was lost mid-season.
  • Artistic License Chemistry: Gold is actually very soft. A golden sword would be useless and easily bend. Rule of Cool applies.
  • Audible Sharpness: The Prince's sword and the Huntsman's dagger.
  • Axe Crazy: Nature Hero Snow tries to lure a bluebird close so she can smash it, shortly after taking the potion. She then tries to kill the queen, taking a soldier's armor in the process. Not to mention all the things she's done to the dwarves.
  • Backup Twin/There Is Another: The Prince Charming we currently know turns out to be this for his twin brother who had been adopted by the king.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: Harmlessly so in Doc. Lampshaded in "Dreamy".

 Dreamy: Maybe I should have Doc look at me.

Bossy: You're gonna trust a doctor who got his medical degree from a pickaxe?

  • Back for the Finale: In the first season, the Huntsman and Maleficent appear in the Fairy Tale world and Belle appears in Storybrooke.
  • Badass Family: The original Prince James was a badass. His twin brother Charming went from shepherd to dragonslayer in days. Snow was an Action Girl as seen in the third episode. Emma shows off her badassitude in her first five minutes. And Henry is pretty badass too, in a "very precocious child" way.
  • Barehanded Blade Block: Rumplestilskin, of all characters. Against Prince Charming. And he does the two-fingered version.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold seems to be running one on everyone. He seems to be behind the actions of both the good and bad characters.
      • When Emma was running against Sidney for the position of town sheriff, Gold pulls one in order to get Emma to win, by first setting fire to the city hall where Emma would pull Regina out of the fire, making her a town hero and thus winning the public's sympathy. However, when Emma discovers that it was Gold who set the fire, she refused to win the election in this manner, but especially so that she could set a better example for Henry. So at the debate, she outed Gold and pretty much said the latter. Astonishingly enough, Gold was counting on Emma to stand up to him, since the town is more afraid of him than they are of the Mayor Regina. And so, Emma won the seat--but at what price?
      • He has pulled another as of the season finale. He hid his concentrated True Love potion inside of Maleficent as a dragon, knowing that the evil queen would bring her along to Storybrooke after the curse. He then convinces Emma that it is the key to saving Henry (it wasn't, fortunately). He ends up simply taking the potion from her to meet his own ends: bringing magic into the world. The end results of this gambit are unclear.
    • The Evil Queen also pulls off several gambits.
      • When she met the Genie and he fell in love with her, she feigned depression in order to make him willing to do anything to make her happy. Then she writes about him in her diary, which she knows her husband reads. She makes the Genie think she is going to "free" herself from the King's palace by committing suicide via a two-headed Agrabahn viper, but the Genie instead tells her that he'll use them to kill the King. Shortly after the deed is done, she tells him that the guards are already looking for him because the viper comes from his country and that he must leave the kingdom forever. At this point he realizes that she was only using him to kill the king.
      • As Regina, she also arranges things to get her hands on Mr. Gold's most prized possession, banking on his willingness to do anything to get it back. It's a chipped cup, the sole memento he has from his lost love Belle (Rumpelstiltskin was the Beast). She offers to trade it back in exchange for the confirmation that he still remembers everything about his fairytale self. She's right on both counts.
      • It seems that the Queen and Rumpelstiltskin are working together to pull a multi-gambit off to convict Mary Margaret of murder. The first gambit in their scheme (get Mary Margaret to escape) failed when Mary Margaret was kidnapped by Jefferson and Emma rescued her.
      • Rumpelstiltskin may not have actually been invested in getting Mary convicted, as he did very little to ensure that Mary actually did leave town like he was supposed to. More likely he was just playing Regina, as he is almost certainly acting as The Chessmaster in this series.
    • It seems to run in the family. Cora ran one on Regina in "The Stable Boy": she spooked Snow's horse with magic, leading Regina to save Snow, whom she told about Daniel; then she gained Snow's trust, convinced her to tell her about Daniel, then murdered Daniel. And somehow still Regina doesn't blame Cora.
  • Battle Couple: Charming is a badass with a broadsword. Snow White used to rob carriages and led a raid on a castle.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • Emma confesses that when she lit the candle on the lonely birthday cupcake she bought herself, she wished not to be alone on her birthday. Henry showed up at her door. Subverted in that while she did not initially want to be found by Henry, she quickly grows attached to him.
    • Ella discovers this herself. She took Rumpelstiltskin's deal because he killed her Fairy Godmother, expecting he would want his share of the riches from her new life as princess. But what he really wanted was her first born.
    • To ease her broken heart over hearing that Prince Charming's Arranged Marriage to Abigail will happen in two day's time, Snow White gets a cure from Rumpelstiltskin that will make her forget that she ever loved him. She nearly uses it, but Grumpy and the rest of the dwarves persuade her not to use it yet. But just when Prince Charming leaves his wedding to find her, Snow has already taken the potion.
    • Snow White's father tries to circumvent the inevitable backfiring of wishes granted by the Genie by setting the latter free. Because of this, the Genie meets the Queen, falls in love with her and is convinced to kill the king in order to "save" her. Turns out she never loved him in the first place. Then the Genie uses his last wish to remain at the Evil Queen's side forever. For this, he is trapped inside the mirror.
    • In general, the genie mentions that he has granted 1001 wishes and 1001 times seen it end badly.
  • Bedmate Reveal: Regina and the Sheriff, although this is shown after she leaves his apartment. Then revealed in-universe to Emma when she catches him sneaking out of Regina's house.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Mayor Regina (the Evil Queen) and Mr. Gold (Rumpelstiltskin).
  • The Big Bad Wolf: Snow and Red track it down in Episode 15. The two come to the conclusion that Red's boyfriend Peter is the wolf. This is later proven false as it is revealed that Red is the wolf.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: David and Mary Margaret in Episode 10.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The town of Storybrooke, as hinted by Regina in an early episode. It should be, if it holds the denizens of a whole other world. Hinted at in "Hat Trick" since Jefferson's telescopes can see suspiciously far such as into Emma's office despite being at the edge of the woods.
  • Black Magic: The Dark Curse is said to be the darkest kind there is.
  • Blatant Lies: The Queen telling Rumpelstiltskin that Belle killed herself.
  • Blessed with Suck: Jefferson can actually remember the other world. But not only is he more than slightly mad, his real daughter is with some other father and doesn't even know him.
  • Blood Magic: The Dark Curse needing a heart of a loved one to work.
  • Bloodless Carnage:
    • Blood isn't entirely absent from the show but given the hack and slash way Prince Charming fights (Especially against those without armor) there should be a heck of a lot more blood and maiming present in his fights than there is.
    • In season one episode 21, Grumpy pulls a perfectly clean pickaxe out of a guards back during Snow's raid on the castle to rescue Charming.
    • Averted with the death of Prince James.
    • Averted hard with the wolf slaughters.
  • Book Ends: The Dark Curse begins and ends with Regina losing someone named Henry.
    • The clock tower is stuck on 8:15 when Emma arrives in town, and stops at 8:15 again in the very last shot of the finale after magic has returned to Storybrooke.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Rumpel describing Belle's duties around the castle. She'll have to serve him his meals, keep the place clean, bring him straw when he's spinning at his wheel and skin the children he hunts into pelts.
  • Break His Heart to Save Him:
    • King George threatens Snow to do this to Charming or he'll kill him.
    • Grumpy does this to Nova after being convinced by the Blue Fairy that they should not be together.
  • Break the Haughty: Regina suffers this, again and again. But it finally seems to be sinking in, when she realizes her actions have doomed Henry. For once, she doesn't attempt to pass blame and teams up with Emma in an effort to make it right. Her tearful plea for Henry to realize she loves him before fleeing is heartwrenching.
  • Bridal Carry: Rumpelstiltskin unwittingly saves Belle in this fashion when she falls off of a ladder.
  • Bright Castle: the site of Snow White and Prince Charming's wedding in the first episode, and occasionally seen in flashbacks since then.
  • Brought Down to Normal: What the Dark Curse did to anyone who had magic or wasn't human or both. The Evil Queen lost her ability to make magic, Rumpelstiltskin went back to being human (his old limp and all), the fairies are all powerless nuns and the Magic Mirror is no longer stuck in a mirror. Also, Red Riding Hood is no longer a werewolf, nor is Granny. Conversely, the Mad Hatter remembers the fairy tale world because that would make him more miserable.
    • Pinocchio is slowing being brought back down to normal, as he has been slowly turning back into a puppet since Emma decided to stay in Storybrooke. Pinocchio remembers because he escaped before the curse was cast. Emma would remember since she came through the same way, but since she was an infant she has nothing to remember about the fairytale world.
  • Call Forward: In "Red-Handed", during a flash back to the fairy tale world we see Snow White trying to come up with different aliases for herself while she’s an outlaw. She spits out Frosty, Margaret and Mary, in that order.
  • Canon Welding: All of the fairy tales are melded together into a single universe that share aspects of each others stories:
    • The poison apple given to Snow White was made using the same curse Maleficent used on Sleeping Beauty.
    • Cinderella takes the place of the miller's daughter by promising Rumpelstiltskin her firstborn child. And given that her surname is Mills and she is said to have made deals in the past to get power, Regina's mother might share the part in the Rumpelstiltskin story too.
    • King Midas doesn't turn his daughter into gold. Instead, he tries to marry her off to Prince Charming. He does however accidentally turn his future son-in-law into gold.
    • The Genie becoming the Queen's Magic Mirror.
    • Instead of giving of her freedom to save her father, Belle does it to save her town from the Ogre Wars. And Rumpelstiltskin takes the place of the Beast.
    • Wonderland is accessible from the Enchanted Forest by way of a magic hat.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: The subtitles for hulu.com has many of the words like Truth (and oddly, some seemingly arbitrary words like Office, which later turn out to be meaningful) capitalized. Though, maybe it's just hulu.
  • Cat Fight: In "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter", Regina and Emma finally stop being passive aggressive and go at it in an all out fist fight, forcing the Sheriff to break it up.
  • Catch Phrase: Rumpelstiltskin's "Magic always comes at a price."
  • Caught in the Rain: In Episode 10, Mary Margaret and David get caught in the rain, take shelter in a cabin and Almost Kiss. They kiss for real at the end of the episode.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Archie's umbrella in Episode 5.
    • The poisoned apple shows up several times.
    • Rumplestilskin's potion of true love.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Frederick is mentioned in passing in "The Shepherd". He is later revealed to be Abigail's true love seven episodes later. Similarly, his Storybrooke counterpart bumps into Kathryn several scenes before the audience discovers who he is.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Prince Charming's skill in shepherding animals comes in handy when he lures the dragon into a trap.
    • Ruby's skills at finding things through instinct makes sense when we learn she's The Big Bad Wolf.
  • Chewing the Scenery: The Evil Queen absolutely devours the scenery. Regina the mayor on the other hand is far more reserved.
  • The Chooser of the One: Henry as the one to deliver Emma's Call to Adventure.
  • Convenient Coma: Prince Charming/Prince James/Shepherd aka John Doe/David Nolan.
    • Henry is now in one after eating Regina's apple turnovers.
  • The Chosen One: Emma is destined to save those in Storybrooke according to Henry's stories.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Rumpelstiltskin turns Gaston into a rose. He gives it to Belle... who trims the stem before putting it in a vase.
  • Composite Character:
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: Regina, after Emma pulls her out of the fire.
  • Conspicuous CGI: The viper snakes in Episode 11.
  • Continuity Nod: Plenty.
  • Couch Gag: A different fairytale creature, character or item appears in each episode's title card.
    • Subverted in "The Return", where the item is August riding through the woods on his motorbike. To be fair, he still is the central figure of that episode. Plus, we found he's Pinocchio a few episodes later so it counts after the fact.
    • As for the season finale... the ominous cloud that features is a reference to both how the finale shows how the end of FTW joins in with the start of Storybrooke... and how Rumpel just brought magic to Storybrooke or so it would seem.
  • Crap Saccharine World: Storybrooke. When Emma first enters, it seems like a nice normal town and everyone appears content. But nobody can actually leave and people are forced to stay suspended in time and must play the roles that were assigned them, never truly moving forward in their lives. What keeps this from being an outright Crapsack World is that the entire town is oblivious.
  • Creepy Doll: Unfortunately, this is how Geppetto's parents are currently spending their time.
  • Cry for the Devil: Regina may be real piece of work, but you can definitely see why she's become this way, and there is some real potential to feel sympathy there. Then she usually ruins it.
    • Snow actually does feel sorry for her after finding out the truth about her lover, as they used to be friends... but then Regina makes her eat a poisoned apple.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: Rumplestiltskin vs. Price Charming in the season 1 finale.
  • Cutesy Name Town: Storybrooke, Maine.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: Played with. Emma tells Henry to go home so she can track down Ashley before it's too late. Henry obediently goes. But he literally pops up a few minutes later in the back seat of Emma's Volkswagen and sensibly points out she'd waste too much time taking him home and let Ashley's head start get longer.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Invoked by name during the sheriff election. Regina dug up Emma's past, including juvie records that were supposed to be sealed and smeared them across the front page.
  • A Day in the Limelight
  • Dead Guy, Junior: Henry was named after the Evil Queen's father.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Emma, with a heavy dose of Stepford Snarker.
    • Snow White in her Fairy Tale past had her moments.
    • Charming also had his moments in the Fairy Tale world.
    • Mr. Gold is the main supplier of this trope. Some of his gems:

 "You're a smart woman, Your Majesty. Figure it out."

"...please" is snarking in that he remembers when Regina assumed he wouldn't.

Regina: Are you really going up against me?

Mr. Gold: Not directly.

Emma: Gold? You in here?

Mr. Gold: Well, it is my shop.

"Not if I catch him first."

  • Dead Baby Comedy: While Rumpelstiltskin was telling Belle what she would have to do for him, he also told her she would have to skin the children he hunted. That one was apparently a quip.
    • Grumpy telling Red Riding hood she has a little "someone" on her chin.
  • Deal with the Devil: Making a deal with Rumpelstiltskin will usually be such a deal.
  • Decon Recon Switch: The fairy-tale portion of the show often gives classic fairy-tale characters very dark origins and somewhat more realistic treatments, to explain the rather simplistic or extreme behavior found in our storybook version of the fables. However, many of these characters also undergo significant Character Development to become something that matches the uplifting spirit of their stories, if not the letter. The first episode of the series establishes the Foregone Conclusion that many fairy-tale characters have reached their happy endings and are otherwise content with their lives, despite their gritty retellings.
  • Department of Child Disservices: Emma has very bitter feelings about her time in the foster care system, even telling Mary Margaret that all foster parents are just after "a meal ticket" and don't care about the kids. It's also implied to be a horrible fate for Nicholas and Ava (Hansel and Gretel), even worse than leaving them to fend for themselves.
    • August (Pinocchio) and Emma were also subject to an Orphanage of Fear. When given a choice to run away, August chooses his freedom and abandons Emma to her fate in the hell hole of "the system".
  • Destructive Romance: Discussed in Episode 13 between Mary Margaret and David after David told Kathryn that he was leaving her, but didn't tell her that he was involved with Mary in order to spare her feelings. Instead, Regina spills this the Kathryn, leading her to confront Mary in public and revealing the affair to the whole town.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?: The usually very closed off Emma shows she very much can feel when she finally opens up to Graham.
  • Disappeared Dad:
    • Prince Charming to Emma, due to the plan to save her from the curse.
    • Prince Thomas might count with him being kidnapped by forces unknown while Ella is still pregnant. Averted with his Storybrooke counterpart when he decided to do the right thing in the end and come back to Ashley despite his father's wishes.
    • Henry's bio dad could also count. To be fair, he may not even know that Henry exists; Emma mentions in the Pilot that she never told him she got pregnant and gave the kid up for adoption.
    • Hansel and Gretel's father. The same goes for their Storybrooke counterparts, Nicholas and Ava. However, they end up reunited with him in Storybrooke.
    • Grace's father never returns from his trip because he is trapped in Wonderland and becomes the Mad Hatter.
  • Distressed Damsel and Distressed Dude: It's pretty even handed so far despite the source material.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: After Snow White's personality is radically altered by the anti-Love Potion that Rumpelstiltskin sold her, Jiminy Cricket and the Seven Dwarves stage an intervention.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: The sheriff tries a joke about how Emma broke the town sign.
  • Don't Split Us Up: Ava (Gretel) begs this of Emma.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: Invoked in "The Shepherd", when Sheriff Graham offers Emma (who has just become his deputy) a box of donuts to persuade her to work a late shift. As he presents them, he quips that some cliches are true.
  • Doomed by Canon: Stealthy, the eighth dwarf.
  • Double Standard: After David and Mary Margaret's affair is revealed, the town mainly shuns Mary Margaret while David only gets anger from Kathyrn and Mary Margaret. Partly justified since David has much less interaction with the rest of the town while Mary Margaret had been known as a saint up until that point.
  • Double Standard Rape (Female on Male): Subtly inching toward being played straight in-universe; it remains to be seen if anyone will actually express anger over or even acknowledge what Regina did to Graham (up until the curse breaking in the finale, the in-universe glossing over of the situation has been justified by the fact that a ten-year-old is the only person (semi)-aware of it.)
    • Played very, very straight with a shockingly large portion of the fandom. Please keep working on how you're "not sure" if ripping someone's heart out, using it to inflict intense pain and to threaten death if that person resists, regularly throwing them around through superior magical strength, then brainwashing them into believing that the relationship is consensual for twenty-eight years "qualifies" as rape. I'll be all ears. If a man had done the above to a woman, it would have been a major Moral Event Horizon which solidified his Complete Monster status. Yet the show--and to a much greater extent Regina's fans--continue to depict her with varying degrees of sympathy. But at least the canon depicts her evil acts as evil instead of excusing them.
  • Dramatic Deadpan: Snow in "Heart of Darkness".

 Grumpy: Where are you going?

Snow: To kill the Queen.

  • Dude, She/He's Like, In a Coma!
  • Easy Amnesia: The entire town. An Evil Queen Did It.
  • Eccentric Townsfolk: Averted. The residents of Storybrooke, if taken out of context, are not all that notable despite being fairy tale characters.
  • Emergency Impersonation: Seemingly the case for James.
  • Enthralling Siren: One appears in "What Happened to Frederick" and attempts to seduce Prince Charming under the guise of Snow White.
  • Enemy Mine: Emma and Regina, in order to save Henry.
  • Equivalent Exchange: According to Rumpelstiltskin, all magic comes at a price.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The witch, Maleficent, considers the Dark Curse to be too evil and traded the Evil Queen for it specifically so no one could use it.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Many in the Fairy Tale world. The Evil Queen, The Magic Mirror, The Huntsman, The Woodcutter, etc.
  • An Evil Queen Did It
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good:
    • Regina and Mr. Gold. Regina plays it straight, while Gold actually forms a Batman Gambit with his inversion:
    • Mr. Gold wants Emma elected Sheriff. So, he sets fire to Regina's office while Emma's there to rescue her, thus making her a hero. And when she exposes his plot to prove a point to Henry about good over evil, it plays into his hands again and actually ensures her election. The citizens fear Regina, but they're terrified of Mr. Gold.
    • Regina, on the other hand, has to change the game. Her Plan was successful only after she used Mr. Glass as a poisonous influence to push Emma to play by Regina's rules. Anytime Emma makes the right choice, she has an advantage against Regina.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Seems to be going on between Regina/Evil Queen and Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin. Played with in that the current status quo precludes outright confrontation, since Regina's the one who worked the Dark Curse on everybody, but Gold worked out a deal that makes him practically untouchable and filthy stinking rich.
    • Regina is under the impression that the Queen of Hearts is out to get her.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Mayor Regina arranges a conversation with Emma to make peace, then leads the latter to talk about how crazy Henry is, knowing that Henry will be showing up to overhear the conversation.
  • Exact Words: Regina wanted Gold to make something tragic to happen to Kathryn. Unfortunately for Regina, Gold thinks abduction is tragic. Plus, he's not really on her side anyway...
  • Excessive Evil Eyeshadow: The Evil Queen, in the Fairy Tale realm; more understated on Regina.
  • External Retcon/Fractured Fairy Tale: The stories often did not play out as traditionally told.
  • Fable Remake: People familiar with Henry's so-called "delusions" assume they take this form, as he casts normal people into fairy-tale roles from his book.
  • Faceless Goons:
    • Most of the Queen's forces wear black full face masks.
    • The Queen of Hearts’s soldiers in Wonderland literally have no faces. Also counts as a Visual Pun since they're not face cards.
  • Fairy Tales: Naturally, given the theme of the show.
  • Fake Memories: The Dark Curse not only gave everyone in Storybrooke Identity Amnesia, but a "real world" background that never truly happened though they think it did. Averted with Regina and Mr. Gold, since the former enacted the curse and the latter created it. Also averted with August, since he escaped the curse by going through the wardrobe with Emma. Unfortunately played straight with Jefferson, who also does not suffer from amnesia; he remembers both a life in Storybrooke and the fairy tale world, and it drives him nearly mad.
  • Fan Service with a Smile/Ms. Fanservice/She's Got Legs: Ruby (Red Riding Hood) in her waitress "uniform".
  • Fate Worse Than Death: How Regina describes a sleeping curse, and by extension the poison apple.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Snow White and Red Riding Hood.
  • First Episode Spoiler: Emma is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming.
  • Flat What: Shepherd's mother on hearing that Prince "James" will be forced to marry Midas' daughter.
  • Flynning: Strangely averted. Despite the lack of blood in the sword fights, there's not a whole lot of clanking of swords just for the hell of it. The Prince fights in a hack and slash manner you'd expect from someone trained in broadsword.
  • Force Field: Storybrooke has one. "Bad things happen" to anyone who tries to leave the town (except Henry and Emma). Henry believes it's just Emma and handwaves how he can leave the town saying that since he's only 10 he would have no other choice but to eventually return.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The real Prince James: "Next time make sure I'm dead." Oops.
    • A quick one but in "Snow Falls" Graham says that the woods are "his world." Emma appears confused by this, but the audience sees why in "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter".
    • In Episode 4, Mr. Gold mentions to Emma that no one wants to see Ashley's baby born in jail. Episode 9 reveals that this is what happened to Henry.
    • The unicorn mobile from Episode 1 and Episode 6, the dolls that turn out to be Geppetto's parents from Episode 5, and the windmill from Episode 6 can first be seen in Mr. Gold's shop in Episode 4 before they're all properly used in the plot.
  • Freudian Excuse: Rumpelstiltskin's taking babies makes sense when you learn about Baelfire.
    • The Evil Queen has one too. In a big way.
  • Garden of Evil: The Queen of Hearts' hedge maze.
  • Genre Blind:
    • Ella. It appears that she doesn't know the outcome of Rumpelstiltskin's story. But she becomes Genre Savvy when the princes reveal the trap for Rumpelstiltskin, as she just knows it's going to backfire.
    • Regina/The Evil Queen. She clearly doesn't understand what kind of story she's in. She's the Manipulative Bastard equivalent of Unskilled but Strong; she mostly just plows through her obstacles with a combination of magic and hate.
  • God Save Us From the Queen:
    • And how, although she seems to have lost most (or all) of her ruling power before Snow White's wedding in the pilot.
      • Probably because unless that kingdom uses some rather odd succession rules, Snow (the only known child of the King) is in fact the rightful Queen after her father's death.
    • "Hat Trick" shows that The Queen of Hearts is up to her old tricks.
  • Gold-Silver-Copper Standard: Is in use in the Fairy Tale Land, as seen in "Hat Trick". The different coins don’t even have names; they’re called 'silvers' and 'coppers'.
  • Gonna Need More Trope: Inverted when Charming is tasked to hide a a giant egg containing bottled true love within "the belly of a beast".

 Charming: Where is the beast that reigns over this castle?

Maleficent: That would be me.

Charming: I'm gonna need a smaller egg.

  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars:
    • Charming has a very visible and significant scar on the right side of his chin.
    • Jefferson has a very noticeable one on his neck he covers with scarves.
  • Guile Hero: Henry shows some inclination toward following his adopted mother's manipulative tendencies.
  • Half Truth: When Granny tells Red that her red cloak keeps the Big Bad Wolf away/protects Red from the Big Bad Wolf, it is this. It does keep the wolf away... because it's enchanted to prevent Red from turning into the Big Bad Wolf.
  • Happily Adopted:
    • This seemed to be the case with Charming's twin.
    • The Huntsman, despite the fact that his adoptive family was a little different.
    • Subverted with Regina and Henry. While a cursory glance would show her as a stern, but loving mom who provides material and medical care for a trouble-making, mentally disturbed little boy, the facade is flaking off like cheap paint and keeps getting worse.
  • Happily Married:
    • Snow and Charming in the backstory, before the whole curse thing.
    • Ella and Prince Thomas, until Thomas disappears (seemingly abducted by unknown forces) anyway. Their Storybrooke counterparts end up getting engaged in Episode 12.
  • Happiness in Slavery: The Dwarves seem to be this as they churn out fairy dust. Aside from someone like Dreamy/Grumpy.
  • Hazel Eyes: Snow White, her daughter Emma and grandson Henry share them.
  • Healing Spring: While not the explicit purpose, Lake Nostros can act this way and does towards Frederick.
  • Heart Trauma: The Evil Queen, as Henry puts it, has a thing about cutting out hearts. She does it fatally to her own father then non-fatally to The Huntsman/Graham. Later, as Regina, she uses the heart to murder him.
    • It seems like she has a Freudian Excuse for this particular fixation, since her mother used it on her boyfriend which she was still decent.
  • Heel Face Mole: Sidney in Episode 11.
  • The Heroine's Birthday: This is almost the first thing we learn about Emma on her Internet date. And her birthday wish turns out to be a catalyst to the events that bring her to Storybrooke.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Defied.

  Emma: To hell with this! (Drops the sword and pulls out her sidearm)

    • Which is ineffective. She eventually uses the sword to kill Malificent.
  • Heroic Suicide: Snow White with the apple when Regina promised that she would trade Charming's life for Snow's. And Henry prevents Emma from eating a poisoned pastry by gobbling it and succumbing to the effects.
  • Hidden Depths: Abigail, Prince Charming's fiancee in the Fairy Tale world, is introduced as a vapid, spoiled brat, but she actually has her own secret army and is more than willing to help Charming find Snow White since she doesn't want to marry him either.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Regina complaining about the Queen of Hearts’ lack of subtlety.
  • Hollywood New England: In Vancouver.
  • Hot Chick with a Sword: Emma takes up her father's sword in order to battle Dragon!Maleficent.
  • Hot Witch: So far, every witch in the series except Miss Ginger has been attractive. Physically, anyway.
  • Identity Amnesia: Everyone with the exception of Emma, Henry, Regina, Gold, Jefferson and August. Graham was cured from this after kissing Emma...just before he died.
    • At the end of season one the curse is broken, and the Identity Amnesia is removed.
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes: Some scenes in Storybrooke or the Fairy Tale realm focus on one specific element, closes in the focus, and when the shot pulls back, the location has changed from one to the other.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: "The home of the blind witch. That doesn't sound good."
  • If I Can't Have You: Regina murders Graham once he rejects her for Emma.
  • Inn Between the Worlds: There is a room connecting the Fairy Tale realm with Wonderland and, hinted at, along with other various worlds or universes, including Earth.
  • I Know Your True Name:
    • Rumpelstiltskin is very particular about knowing people's names. It is stated in the pilot that if he knows your name, he will have power over you.
    • By knowing the Dark One's true name, it can be summoned and killed, should you have its dagger.
    • It even kinda-sorta applies in Storybrooke. Regina needs to know if Mr. Gold remembers he's Rumpelstiltskin. He does.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Snow White's allies after she takes Rumpel's potion and the resulting memory loss turns her to the dark side.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Several times, mostly from Emma.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Kathryn, eventually, towards David and Mary Margaret. Regina does not agree.
  • I Will Find You: Charming's MO whenever it concerns Snow.
  • Impairment Shot: We see the view of the dark henchman and the wardrobe tilt and go out of focus as Prince Charming closes his eyes after being mortally wounded in the Pilot.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills:
    • Charming's ridiculously good aim taking out the Queen's henchman with a bow and arrow in "Snow Falls".
    • Graham hits the bullseye three times in a row while playing darts in Storybrooke. He claims that he never misses.
  • In-Series Nickname: Snow's nickname of "Charming" for "James".
  • Ironic Echo: Many of the Storybrooke characters echo lines from their fantasy counterparts.
    • Giving a baby their best chance.
    • "You have no idea what I'm capable of."
    • "I will always find you", said by Prince Charming to Snow White, in the Pilot and "Snow Falls" (two very different contexts); also Mary Margaret in the pilot: "If you love them and they love you, they will always find you."
    • Prince Charming to Baby Emma: "Find us"--later, grown up Emma: "Finding people is what I do."
    • In Episode 4, Mr. Gold calls Emma "charming"--aka her father's nickname. He called David the same thing in Episode 6.
    • "Didn't see that coming, did you?" both said by Charming to two very different animals.
    • Pretty much everything that happens to Rumpelstiltskin in Episode 8, including The Dark One telling his "Magic always comes at a price."
    • Two phrases in Episode 16, both uttered twice. "I'm just invested in your future." Said by Rumpel/Gold to Mary Margaret/Snow both times, and "Evil isn't born, it's made." (By two different villains.)
    • A visual version of this for a spoken line. You know how Regina messed with the Queen of Hearts earlier? Well, look at where Emma is aiming in Regina's dream. "Off with her head."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Regina (Mr. Gold is actually not this, if the "Skin Deep" episode is any guide, he's more an example of Loners Are Freaks). Every now and then she shows a side of her that's more sympathetic, such as when her son falls down the well or when she's saved from the fire. And then she ruins it either the same episode, or an episode later by doing something completely harsh. For example, it seems like she finally warmed up to Emma being there, when she confessed that Mr. Gold set her up, and after saving her from the fire. But it turns out that she just wants her there in order to go after people she doesn't like, telling her to "do her job" (and arrest innocent people).
  • Kick the Dog: Regina's speech to Emma at the end of the pilot is absurdly cruel.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch:
    • Rumpelstiltskin's first evil act was to slaughter the soldiers who humiliated him in front of his son and were going to conscript said son into the army.
    • In "Skin Deep", Mr. Gold behaves as a rather unsympathetic Loan Shark toward Moe French and later on savagely beats him for stealing something of value to him. This is somewhat understandable because in the fairy tale world, French is Belle's father and supposedly put her in an insane asylum where she was mistreated until she committed suicide in despair. Of course, this turns out to have been Blatant Lies, but Rumplestiltskin has no way of knowing that.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Cinderella's fairy godmother.
  • Knight in Shining Armour: Prince Charming rushing to Snow White in the opening of the pilot.
  • Lady in Red:
    • In Emma Swan's first scene she wears a sexy red dress to a blind date that turns out to be her trap to catch an escaped bailjumper.
    • Red Riding Hood's counterpart Ruby.
  • Large Ham: The enchanted forest versions of the Evil Queen and Rumpelstiltskin.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In "Skin Deep".

 Evil Queen: Oh no, I wouldn't ask a woman to kiss the man who held her captive. What kind of message is that?

  • Legacy Character: The Big Bad Wolf, of all characters.
  • Leitmotif: The Evil Queen, Snow White, Charming (who has an especially awesome one), and the Official Couple Snow/Charming all have their own music themes.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Somewhat in Fairytale Land, at least for some of the more iconic characters. For instance, Belle shows up in a bar in "Dreamy" wearing the same finery she had when in her father's and the Beast's castles.
  • Living Emotional Crutch:Daniel, young Regina's lover to Regina. After, he dies, she is ready to be married off and looks like she is dead inside. If Regina didn't discover that Snow was partly responsible for Daniel's death, Regina possible would have stayed dead inside.
  • Local Hangout: Granny's diner.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Henry and Emma. Emma and her parents, Prince Charming and Snow White. Charming and his twin.
  • The Lost Lenore/The Mourning After: This is how Snow White's father feels about his first wife.
  • Longest Pregnancy Ever: Ella's 28-year pregnancy. Justified in the fact that time having stopped in Storybrooke is a major plot point. Ella was pregnant when the curse hit, so logically, she would have been stuck like that until Emma arrived. (And when Emma does arrive, she's finally able to give birth.)
  • Love At First Sight
  • Love Hurts:
    • Dozens of times between Charming/David and Snow/Mary Margaret. Those two in both worlds run into emotional/physical roadblock after roadblock on the way to getting together. They're pretty battered and bruised at this point.
    • Emma suffers from this when she discovers Graham has been sleeping with Regina.
    • Rumpelstiltskin, of all people, ends up with this after he learns what happened to Belle after he made her leave his mansion (under the incorrect idea that she was working for the Evil Queen).
    • Having to forsake his love for the fairy Nova turned Dreamy the Dwarf into the Grumpy Dwarf we know today.
  • Love Makes You Evil:
    • Sidney/the Magic Mirror became evil because of his love for the Evil Queen.
    • Rumpelstiltskin, for a slightly broader definition of "love" that includes parental love.
    • Regina’s trying to frame Mary Margaret by implicating this.
    • Regina herself turned evil after the death of her true love, something for which she blames Snow.
  • Love Potion: The only potion Rumpelstiltskin has been unable to make. Until he combines a strand of hair from Snow White and Prince Charming.
  • Love Redeems: Played with in the case of Rumpelstiltskin. It's implied love could have saved him, but he rejected it. Because giving up his powers would have required him to give up on ever seeing Baelfire again; see Love Makes You Evil above.
  • Love Triangle:
    • A sort of lopsided one appears in Episode 7 between Emma, Graham and Regina. It ends with Graham's death by Regina's hand.
    • Then there's Snow White and Prince Charming loving each other despite the latter's Arranged Marriage to Abigail, as well as their Storybrooke counterparts: Mary Margaret, David and his wife Kathryn. The former love triangle is resolved with Charming leaving his wedding for Snow.
  • Madness Mantra: From the Mad Hatter naturally. His last flashback scene involves him saying "Get it to work!" over and over again as he's making hats. The camera pans out as it reveals the thousands of hats he's made in the hopeless effort to try to get back home to his daughter, thus revealing how he got his name and how he ended up being a permanent character in Wonderland.
  • The Magic Goes Away: One of the key points of the Dark Curse is that it transported to entire Fairy Tale World into a world without magic (ours). This has the side-effect of reversing any magical transformations that residents underwent in their world. Archie is no longer a cricket, and Mr. Gold no longer sports the green and scaly skin of the Dark One. August (Pinocchio) was able to avoid this by transporting in the wardrobe with Emma, but when she decides to stay in Storybrooke 28 years later, he begins to revert to his wooden form.
  • Male Gaze: Dr. Whale gets busted checking out Ruby during his date with Mary Margaret.
  • Manly Tears:
    • King George at the death of his son.
    • Lots of these from the Huntsman.
    • Mr. Gold, that mean old bastard, breaks down terribly when he's apologizing to the man he thinks is his grown son: "I'm so sorry, Bae." His eyes well up with tears when he first sees Belle, who he had thought was dead, in the finale and when he finally holds her, he's weeping.
    • Rumpelstiltskin keeps his composure at first when the evil queen tells him Belle has killed herself after returning to her father, but when the queen leaves him alone he realizes the scale of his betrayal and starts to openly sob.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Rumpelstiltskin in his real-world form, Mr. Gold.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Almost all of the characters who die in the show are male: Henry (Regina's father), the real Prince James, Graham, Stealthy, King Leopold, Peter, Daniel...
    • Maleficent dies in the season finale, but the trope is still valid. She (and Cinderella's Fairy Godmother) are thus far the only notable female deaths.
  • Meet Cute: Snow White and the Prince meet when she robs him, he knocks her off a horse and right when he realizes that the thief is a woman, she brains him with a rock giving him a scar he has to this day. She also nicknamed him Prince Charming and it stuck.
  • Memento MacGuffin: The chipped cup for Rumpelstiltskin, which doubles as a Tragic Keepsake.
  • Might as Well Not Be in Prison At All: Rumpelstiltskin continues to pull the strings from inside his magical prison.
  • The Millstone: Hansel.
  • Missing Mom:
    • Snow White to Emma when Snow goes into labor early and is forced to send Emma away on her own in order to save her from the curse.
    • In "reality": Emma is the one who was missing and now is found. The Mayor is the one who is present in all the ways but love.
  • Moment Killer: Kathryn has a remarkable talent for this, constantly disrupting romantic moments between Mary Margaret and David.
  • Monster Sob Story: Pretty much all the recurring ones.
  • The Multiverse: "Hat Trick" confirms that one exists in this show. So far the universes that have been seen or hinted at on-screen are:
    • The Fairy Tale Land
    • The "Real World" where Storybrooke is at.
    • Wonderland
    • The Land of Oz (The door to it can be seen inside the Hatter's Magic Hat and there's an illustration of a Winged Monkey in The Book)
  • Mundane Utility: Snow uses her special relationship with animals to deliver messages.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse:
    • The Genie kills Snow White's father to free the Queen from her loveless marriage.
    • David and then Mary Margaret come under suspicion of this.
  • Mythology Gag: A lot of references to the Disney versions of the fairy tales, including the name of Maleficent (the Thirteenth Fairy was unnamed in the story and named Carabosse in the ballet; it was the Disney movie that named her Maleficent) and the use of the city of Agrabah.
  • Neck Snap: How Rumpelstiltskin kills the knight who humiliated him. With one hand. By palming their head.
  • Never Found the Body: Kathryn though the heart was found. In "The Stable Boy" it's clear that the DNA results on the heart were tampered with because Kathryn is found alive.
    • Unless Regina already has her heart.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Snow White told the Evil Queen's mother about her secret affair with the stable boy. The mother ended up killing the stable boy, beginning Regina's Start of Darkness, which indirectly contributed to every evil thing the Queen did. And there are a lot.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain:
    • In the pilot, if Regina had simply expressed gratitude toward Emma for bringing Henry back (twice), Emma probably would have gone back to Boston and assured herself that at least Henry was living with a stern but fair and loving mother.
    • More generally, it seems to be a recurring pattern for Regina to say something to put Emma down, only for this to make her dig in her heels instead.
    • It's also a recurring pattern that she'll say "stay away from..." whoever someone's destined romantic match is and they'll tend to want to get together for spite. It happened a bit with present-day Snow and she said it again to Emma with regard to Graham in "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter".
    • Regina basically brings about her own downfall in the last two episodes of the season. The apple turnover she baked for Emma is eaten by Henry instead, nearly killing him. This leads to Emma finally believing in the curse and eventually to everybody recovering their past memories.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Oddly enough, of all the people to have nightmares, it's the one who deserves it most (Regina). Her nightmare shows her with serious guilt, or at least fear of losing her child and having a lynch mob come after her. If not for her despicable nature, this would almost be a Pet the Dog moment. Almost.
  • No Arc in Archery: Charming's arrow work in "Snow Falls".
  • No Name Given:
    • Prince Charming, zigzagged with his Fairy Tale identity but eventually subverted with his Storybrooke one. For a while we only know the Prince as Charming but in Episode 3 he reveals to Snow White that his name is James. Turns out that's not his true name either! His twin's name was Prince James and Charming is merely taking on the alias because of an Emergency Impersonation situation he got roped into. For now his real identity is simply called Shepherd. In Storybrooke, Charming's counterpart was a John Doe in a coma and even after he woke up he had no idea who he was. His "wife" Kathryn then shows up to reveal that his identity is David Nolan, officially.
    • The Stranger introducing himself by refusing to tell Emma his name. He eventually gives his name as August Booth although he does remember his Fairy Tale identity, Pinocchio.
  • Not So Different:
    • Mr. Gold being able to manipulate Emma in Episode 8 because he can see a "desperate soul."
    • Snow and Grumpy bond over their "lost" loves.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: With his kingdom on the line, this was King George's method of forcing Shepherd to play the part of James for the rest of his days. He threatened to destroy Shepherd's mother and anything else Shepherd held dear if he did not comply.
  • Oh Crap: Regina, upon realizing that the Curse has been broken. The Blue Fairy calmly informs her that she'd better find somewhere to hide.
    • The expression on Emma's face when she sees the dragon.
  • Oh My Gods: Verbatim, in Fairy Tale Land.
  • Older Than They Look: Anyone not named Emma and Henry by nature of the curse or their fairy tale nature. For instance, Mary Margaret/Snow White looks about as old as Emma... who is her daughter. Meanwhile, Regina also looks as old as Emma and, being the Evil Queen, she's older than Snow White.
    • In fact, though all three actresses were born in the same order as their characters, Lana Parrilla (Regine/Queen) is less than 2 years older than Jennifer Morrison (Emma).
  • Once Upon a Time
  • The One That Got Away: Belle to Rumpelstiltskin.
  • One-Gender Race:
    • Dwarves are one of these--all male, they hatch from eggs fully formed. With clothing.
    • Fairies are also apparently all female. In Storybrooke, they are nuns.
  • 108: The address of Henry and his mother. Appropriate, as she's one of the Big Bad.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • Maleficent appears for exactly one scene with the Evil Queen and has yet to even appear in Storybrooke, but there is already a massive fan outcry to see more of her.
    • The Caterpillar and the Queen of Hearts. The only thing stopping all of Wonderland from being this is that the other Wonderland denizens shown are the soldiers and the Queen's servant, and they show up in two scenes.
  • Opening Narration: In the pilot, the premise of the show was laid out in screens of text that appeared before the action proper began.
  • Operation Blank: Henry codenames the fight against the Evil Queen "Operation Cobra", so she'll never guess what it is.
  • Orbital Kiss: David and Mary Margaret in Episode 10.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Where Emma and Pinocchio ended up when they first came to Earth.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Emma's baby blanket.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Played straight or even exaggerated, since dwarves are born fully grown and conscious after hatching from eggs and are single-mindedly devoted to mining.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: "The Shepherd".
  • Our Trolls Are Different: "Snow Falls".
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: "Red-Handed". Red turns out to be the werewolf, making this another case of External Retcon.
  • Papa Wolf:
    • The Prince doesn't get a lot of time with his new baby, but in the few minutes they get together he manages to take down an army of mooks with only one arm free and transport Emma to safety.
    • Rumpelstiltskin could also be considered this to a degree, considering he was willing to go to any lengths necessary to try and keep his son from having to go to war.
    • A literal and inverted example with the Big Bad Wolves. Granny got lucky with the one she meets as a child because it had already eaten her father and brothers. Said wolf was Red's grandfather.
    • Gepetto blackmailed the Blue Fairy to ensure Pinocchio's safety.
  • Parental Abandonment: Happens frequently, though it's usually forced abandonment.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Mr. Gold has a few, such as when he insists on giving Emma a pair of radios to use with Henry, since "We have so little time with our children."
      • Also a retroactive one in the fairy-tale world: Rumpelstilskin is a little subdued when talking to the Shepherd and his mother, and doesn't really do any of his usual antics. When we see his backstory, we find out that this is because the situation is very similar to the one he went through with his own son, so he can empathize.
      • In "Skin Deep", he has several with Belle in their "lighter" moments, including keeping the chipped tea cup she broke.
    • Regina has a few: Her concern when her son is trapped in the well, many of her flashback moments (not so much Pet the Dog, but you can't help but feel sorry for how she got so messed up, including how the person she had to sacrifice to use the curse was her own father), and that Nightmare Sequence. Not that it helps most viewers in feeling sympathy for her.
  • Picture-Perfect Presentation: Either the illustrations in Henry's book become active scenes, or active scenes freeze into the illustrations in Henry's book.
  • The Power of Love: A law of magic in the fariytale world is that "true love's kiss can break any curse." This is such a prominent aspect that Charming and Abigail both deem it a viable solution to Frederick's situation (and it could have worked if his lips weren't blocked by his helmet).
    • In the season ender Emma's farewell kiss to Henry not only revives him, but triggers a World-Healing Wave
  • Product Placement: Henry is shown quite often reading Marvel Comics. ABC and Marvel are both owned by Disney.
  • Punny Name/Meaningful Name/Theme Naming: All the Storybrooke (pun for "storybook") residents have names that hearken to who they were in their Fairy Tale lives.
    • Archie Hopper, Henry's shrink, is really Jiminy Cricket.
      • Archie's dalmatian is named Pongo.
    • Mr. Gold, the evil landlord, is really Rumpelstiltskin, who spun straw into gold for the miller's daughter.
    • The Mayor, Regina[1] Mills[2], Henry's mother, is really the Evil Queen. This one wasn't whipped up by the Curse, she was named Regina as the queen too.
    • Ms. Blanchard[3], Henry's teacher, is really Snow White.
    • Doc, from Snow White's story, is acting as her obstetrician.
    • Prince James' counterpart is named David Nolan, meaning "beloved champion". David is also the name of a famous shepherd in The Bible who becomes king by slaying the giant Goliath and James means "he who supplants", foretelling his background as a Backup Twin.
    • Ruby is actually Little Red Riding Hood.
    • Ashley Boyd in Storybrooke is actually Cinderella[4]
    • Sidney Glass, the local newspaper editor and Yes-Man to the mayor, used to be the Queen's Magic Mirror.
      • ...And his newspaper is actually called The Mirror.
    • Abigail means "father rejoice" or "father's joy" in Hebrew which was exactly how her father, Midas, describes her in The Shepherd. Abigail is also the same name as King David's wife from The Bible.
    • The Mad Hatter being named "Jefferson" is probably a Shout-Out to Jefferson Airplane and their notorious Alice in Wonderland based single 'White Rabbit'.
  • Quick Nip:
    • Grumpy in the pilot while on guard duty.
    • Rumpelstiltskin seems to store a hip flask in his sleeve.
  • Quirky Town: Averted. All (at least most) of the townsfolk are amnesiac fairy tale characters, but are somehow not overly eccentric or adorable.
  • Relationship Reset Button: When Snow takes a potion to forget her love for Charming, Charming is forced to have her fall in love with him all over again.
  • Rescue Romance:
    • Snow White and Prince Charming go through this quite a number of times in the Fairy Tale world and Storybrooke. Early on in Storybrooke, Mary Margaret attempts to ward off David's affections by suggesting that his feelings for her are merely due to this.
    • Henry suggests that the connection between Emma and Graham stems from the fact that the Huntsman spared Snow White's life, allowing Emma to exist.
  • Revenge: The curse that gets the plot going (and very nearly everything that happens in the fairy-tale world before that) is part of the Evil Queen's plot to get back at Snow White for telling the then-not-evil Regina's most-decidedly-evil (and manipulative) mother about Regina's affair with the stable boy--which resulted in Regina losing her true love, being forced into a loveless marriage and being precipitated into her Start of Darkness. And Snow is still blissfully unaware that she did anything wrong.
  • Romance on the Set: Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas have started dating.
  • Runaway Train: Basically what the horse was that Snow was on as a child that introduced her to Regina.
  • Scars Are Forever:
    • A rare good version with Charming's chin scar. It's his little memento of the day he first met Snow.
    • Granny also has some due to her encounter with the Big Bad Wolf.
    • Storybrooke's Jefferson has one around his neck that serves as a memento of his decapitation at the hands of the Queen of Hearts.
  • Separated At Birth Casting: Ginnifer Goodwin from Big Love and Jennifer Morrison from House, two actresses who for years people have said shared a resemblance and have often been confused with each other, are now playing mother and daughter. Bailee Madison, the actress who played young Snow White in "The Stable Boy", also has a VERY strong resemblance to Ginnifer Goodwin.
  • The Sheriff:
    • Storybrooke's first sheriff seemed to be the mayor/queen's right hand man.
    • And after Graham's death at the hands of Regina, Regina tries to appoint a feckless and unfit Glass as the new sheriff, but Emma forces an election and Gold's Batman Gambit results in Emma winning the job.
  • Signs of Disrepair: The "Toll Bridge" sign in "Snow Falls" has a red "R" scrawled on it between the "T" and "O".
  • Single Tear : Just about everyone has a go at this.
  • Something They Would Never Say: After convincing Mr. Gold that he's Baelfire, August uncovers the dagger and tries to use it to control him as The Dark One. Mr. Gold instantly knows he's been fooled, since Baelfire intentionally came to our world because it contained no magic, and therefore the dagger would be powerless.
  • Spanner in the Works:
    • Emma's simply being in Storybrooke is slowly but surely changing everything in the town.
    • King George considers Snow White as this in his plans to merge his and Midas' kingdoms.
  • Start of Darkness: "Desperate Souls" for Rumpelstiltskin. "The Stable Boy" for Regina. In Regina's case, you can actually identify the line where she chooses the dark path (accompanied by her Leitmotif).

 Regina: I should have let her die on that horse.

  • Stealth Pun: The book's title "Once Upon a Time".
  • Stopped Clock: The one in Storybrooke's town square tower. It starts again right after Emma follows through on her promise to stay in town for a week to "humor" Henry.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Used literally in "7:15 A.M."
  • Sympathetic Murder Backstory: The show tries to portray the Evil Queen this way when she has to sacrifice that which she loves most for her Curse. She tried her beloved and prized stallion; that didn't work. It turned out to be her father, after whom she named the boy she adopted.
  • Taken for Granite: Frederick accidentally fell on Midas' hand while defending him and was turned to gold as a result.
    • August is suffering a slower, nastier case of this as his body turns back to wood.
  • That Man Is Dead: David claiming that who ever chose to marry his wife Kathryn no longer exists.
  • The Dark Side Will Make You Forget:
    • Subverted Trope with Rumpelstiltskin when he jokes to Belle that he forgot his past (it turns out he remembers it quite well). And inverted with Snow White. After she takes the memory loss potion, she almost turns evil. In the "real" world, it's also inverted. The two wicked characters, Regina and Rumpelstiltskin are the only ones who recall exactly who they were.
    • Save for Jefferson--although he has gotten more than a tad sadistic over the years.
  • The Power of Love: A major plot point, it's said to be able to break any curse.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Subverted. Charming threw his sword unerringly, but the queen dematerialized in a puff of smoke! Played straight with Emma vs. Maleficent's dragon form. Somewhat justified in that it's a Shout-Out to how she was defeated in the Disney movie that she got her name from.
  • Title Drop: The name of Henry's fairy tale exposition book is Once Upon a Time.
  • Tonight Someone Kisses/Tonight Someone Dies: "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter".
  • Too Dumb to Live: Hansel.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Though the townsfolk aren't actually in on the secret. (Except for Regina and Mr. Gold.)
  • Trigger Phrase: Regina has to do whatever Mr. Gold asks her to, as long as he says "please." Unusual in that she's perfectly aware of this, but she was hoping that he wasn't.
  • True Love's Kiss: Pretty much a law of the fairy tale world. True love's kiss is outright stated to be able to break any curse.
    • At the beginning of the pilot, this is how Charming revives Snow White from her enchanted sleep. At the end of the episode, as the curse is taking effect, Snow finds Charming bleeding to death on the ground and tries the same thing... but it doesn't work (probably because death isn't a curse).
      • Regina attempts this with Daniel after the latter gets his heart ripped out by Regina's mother. Much like the above example, true love's kiss does not work.
    • In a later episode, when the Storybrooke version of Charming has nearly drowned in the river, Mary Margaret starts giving him CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable. Emphasis on starts; she pretty much just kisses him, which revives him very quickly.
    • The kiss between Graham and Emma, whether it was true love or not, resulted in Graham regaining his Fairy Tale world memories.
    • Almost shared between Belle and Rumpelstiltskin, but subverted by Rumpel's unwillingness to give up his power as the Dark One.
    • Abigail is unable to revive her beloved Frederick in this fashion, as he was turned to gold after saving King Midas and his helmet conceals his face.
    • Double Subverted in "Heart of Darkness." Snow won't be cured for once because she doesn't want to love or remember Charming. But when he says he's willing to die for her, she kisses him and is cured.
    • Played straight in the Season 1 finale. Emma's kiss on the comatose Henry's forehead not only revives him, but restores the townsfolk's memories.
  • Twitter: The hashtag #onceuponatime was right beside the corner icon for station identification.
  • Unusual Euphemism: When Snow White is disarming herself before going to a parlay with the Queen, Grumpy urges her to "Keep the little knife between your tuffets."
  • The Unfair Sex: Inverted. When David and Mary Margaret's affair is discovered, SHE gets the cold shoulder from the town, but his part in it is pretty much ignored.
  • The Un-Reveal: Zig Zagged in "The Return", where is revealed that August is Rumpelstitskin's son...and then revealed that he actually isn't.
  • Valentine's Day Episodes: "Skin Deep". It aired shortly before and was set during Valentine's Day and involved a couple breaking up, True Love's Kiss not working and a psychotic breakdown.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Combined with Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick in "Skin Deep". Charming/David runs into Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold at the general store. David's there for Valentines Cards. Mr. Gold's there for some rope and duct tape to tie a guy up with.
  • Watching Troy Burn: Regina tearing down the wooden play structure, Emma's and Henry's secret base for Operation Cobra.
  • Wham! Episode:
    • "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter". Regina remembers everything and has access to at least some of her magic, which she uses to kill Graham.
    • "Skin Deep". Mr. Gold remembers everything too and now Regina knows it.
    • "The Stable Boy". The source of Regina's grudge against Snow White: After Regina saved Snow's life, Snow naively disclosed Regina's relationship with the eponymous stable boy, resulting in said stable boy's murder and Regina's forced marriage to Snow's father. What's more, Kathryn is alive!
    • "A Land Without Magic" the townsfolk have their memories restored, Jefferson releases Belle and leads her back to Mr. Gold, and Mr. Gold sends magic into Storybrooke.
  • Wham! Line: Goes with the above, of course.

 Regina: Tell me your name.

Mr. Gold: ... Rumpelstiltskin.

    • And more of an in-universe one (since the audience saw it coming) in the Mad Hatter episode.

 Emma: You kidnapped my friend.

Jefferson: I'm saving her life.

Emma: From what?

Jefferson: From the curse.

Emma: (in a small voice)... What curse?

  • What the Hell, Hero?: Kathryn gives one of these to Mary Margaret over her affair with David. The rest of the town shares her sentiments.
    • Mary Margaret gives one of these to Emma over Emma's attempt to run away, throwing all her lectures about fighting back in her face.
  • Wistful Amnesia: Just about everyone in Storybrooke.
  • World Half Full: The Fairy Tale realm. It has enchantment and beauty galore, but what little we've seen of it hasn't been good. King George was flat broke and blackmails the Shepherd to keep up the act of being Prince James. The "real" Prince slaughtered a prisoner without an eye-blink as part of a blood sport. Dragon attacks plague the countryside. The Ogre Wars have been going on for 50 years or more. Rumpelstiltskin cuts deals with impunity, even when he's locked up. And the Evil Queen's bluff to Rumpelstiltskin that Belle was put in an insane asylum where she was 'purged' with flails, whips, and fire to the point of suicide is considered a realistic enough occurrence for him to believe it. What makes the Fairy Tale realm preferable to Storybrooke is mainly that the bad guys had finally been defeated in the Fairy Tale realm, but in Storybrooke they are in charge again - and, of course, that the lives that people lived in the Fairy Tale realm were real and possible to change, whereas in Storybrooke they are caught in a static, fabricated existence where they can never reach any happy ending.
  • World-Healing Wave Emma triggers one by her good-bye kiss to Henry, shattering the curse holding the town.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The knight who viciously backhands Snow when she tries to make her way to a captured Charming in Heart of Darkness.
  • Xanatos Gambit: While most of Gold's plots are of the Batman variety, his plan to break the curse is pure Xanatos. Best case scenario, Emma sticks around and breaks the curse. But he also put in a failsafe: If she dies, the curse is broken. Sooner or later, it will break.
  • X Meets Y: Fables meets American Gothic.
  • You ALL Share My Story: Many of the Fairy Tales overlap, or tie into one another. Snow White's arc ties into Little Red Riding Hood's. Hansel and Gretel are used by the Wicked Queen to get the infamous apple. King Midas's daughter was set up with Prince Charming for an Arranged Marriage, etc.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: How Rumpelstiltskin got his powers.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Emma's "date" in the pilot.
    • In Episode 5, Emma hints that she had been involved with a married man.
    • David's and Mary Margaret's affair from Episode 10 onward. It's complicated because in the Fairy Tale world, they are married, but in Storybrooke, they've forgotten and David ends up "married" to someone else.
    • The Queen and the Genie (while the former is married to Snow White's father). The Genie solves this by Murdering the Hypotenuse. Of course, it turns out the Queen was never in love with him.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Played very straight, except it's the prince. Snow White and her allies storm King George's castle to rescue Charming, only to find out that Regina has already whisked him away to her own castle, leaving behind a full-length mirror in his cell to project his image and allow him and Snow to share a moment of mutual anguish.
  • You're Not My Mother:
    • Henry says this at least once to Regina.
    • When the Queen makes reference to the Huntsman's parents who abandoned him in the woods, the Huntsman replies, "Those were not my parents. They merely gave birth to me."

Notes

  1. Latin (and other Romance languages) for "queen"
  2. her mother Cora was the daughter of a miller
  3. "blanche" is French for "white"
  4. who is called Ashputtel ("Aschenputtel") by The Brothers Grimm.