And They Lived Heterosexually Ever After: Why I’m Not Recapping Once Upon A Time Anymore

There have been some inquiries as to where the Once Upon A Time recaps have gone. This post is meant to answer those inquiries and address something that I believe is of grave concern to our community, a terrible disease lurking in the bones of many a piece of media. Yes, my dear friends, I speak of queerbaiting.

Queerbaiting is the silent killer in our televisions. Please, make sure your favorite shows get tested early and often. In the first stages of queerbaiting, the disease is regularly mistaken for actual representation and the start of a romantic arc. Symptoms include lingering physical contact, intense gazes, vague but seemingly meaningful confessions and innuendo-filled dialogue. One of the most prevalent symptoms is referred to by the medical community as “eye sex,” with hundreds of cases on record. So far, the only cure for queerbaiting seems to be not engaging with the show itself, but the more time that passes, the deeper the investment and thus the more difficult the treatment.

nogay

All cute metaphors aside, the incident of Once Upon A Time goes far beyond your typical Rizzoli and Isles brand of queerbaiting. I think this scenario is actually worse in a much more toxic and nasty way. Taking your butchest female character, heavily implying that she’s into a girl without confirming it in the absolutest sense and then essentially erasing her from the script is not equal representation. On the contrary, it’s a big ol’ copout, kind of like saying that Once Upon A Time is racially diverse because of a few minor appearances, or Regina, a white-passing Latina whose heritage is never acknowledged, if it’s even meant to be an aspect of her character at all.

I’m the first to admit that I had a blast recapping this show because there are many things that are truly laughable about Once Upon A Time. Their dedication to the glorification of the traditional biological family is at times so creepy that it’s hysterically funny, and the writing has more inconsistencies than a coloring book based on The Children’s Bible. There’s so much fun to be had because there’s so much to poke fun at, but when I realize that laughing is sometimes the only way to tolerate the hot mess of bullshit spewing from this show, it’s pretty depressing. To take a step back and look at this show on the most macro level, you’ve got adoptive and single mother families portrayed as evil and always inferior to biological ties, “true love” is monogamous heterosexual virginity-taking marriage-bound love, and marriage is tied to heterosexual procreation. Again, that’s at the most macro level of analysis possible. Are there cooler things going on? Maybe if we project a little, sure. Could we possibly put on our homolicious rose-colored glasses and see queer temporality in the narrative or queer kinship structures in the way every single character is related to each other? If I had to write a Literary Analysis 101 paper on this show, I’d go crazy with all the queer theory I could infer from this tangled mess of a show. But the thing is that you and I both know that my gay feminist reading is not at all the intention of its creators and that what’s actually happening on the screen is a lot less friendly to an LGBTQ audience.

large version

The thing is, representation matters, and one of the worst things that this kind of narrative does is that it expects an LGBTQ audience to be satisfied with the bare minimum. When this bare minimum is not met with automatic praise and thanks, the audience is punished in any number of ways, from a producer’s social media snarkery to claims by the mainstream media that the darned homosexuals just aren’t grateful enough. Even the smallest amount of negative reaction is cited as reason enough to not bother with such a storyline in the future.

It’s sort of like showing up to Thanksgiving having said you’d bring green bean casserole, except you brought a single green bean on a paper plate. Even though this will obviously not feed any of the other guests and barely counts as a green bean casserole, you sneer at those who are protesting, telling them that they never specified what a green bean casserole is and besides that, they’re being whiny babies. You wave the single limp green bean in the air and tell them that it’s obvious they’ll never be happy, that they’re complaining for the sake of complaining and  that it’s no wonder they don’t get to eat quality green bean casserole because nobody wants to share green bean casserole with such an aggressive and unfriendly group. In other words, making a character bisexual only to immediately write them out of the show makes me feel like shoving a green bean up someone’s nose.

So nope, I’m not going to recap this show anymore. We have a strict policy on Autostraddle that we only recap television shows that feature canon queer characters, and Once Upon A Time no longer qualifies as such. Even if Mulan reappeared riding a pansexual unicorn with rainbow flags a-blazin’, I can’t imagine she’d be getting a very fair storyline. Aurora’s pregnant by and living with Prince Philip, the physical manifestation of “no homo.” Any queer romantic interest would have to be introduced as a new character, as every other character on the show is either in a heterosexual relationship, implied to soon be entering a heterosexual relationship or too young. Something tells me that Once Upon A Time has no intention of disrupting their pattern of making heteronormative baby-raisin’ the gold standard of living.

Agreed, Emma.

Agreed, Emma.

I’m not saying we can’t engage with problematic material. On the contrary, problematic material is sometimes hilariously entertaining to engage with when you see that its claims to foundations are actually mounds of cheese whiz. I love that fans have deliciously queered this deserving show with a heaping serving of femslash. It’s just that I can’t do the same, because it wouldn’t be true to the rules of our site, and it’s just not something I want to keep giving our precious queer media time to when it all it does is bite us in the backside.

I begged the editors to let me write about this show when Mulan had her moment because I thought Mulan would continue to be having moments. Each time I dragged myself through an increasingly terrible episode, I wondered why the whole reason I was recapping wasn’t there and if it was worth recapping at all. Should we as the queer media be giving our time and promotional space to works of media that participate in this kind of poor behavior? Fun as it was to mercilessly tear this show apart, the buck stops here. It really doesn’t deserve any more of our site’s attention because it certainly doesn’t deserve our gratitude. But that fanfiction, have mercy. You keep that fanfiction up, y’all.

Avatar of Kate

Hard-lovin' butch made of tears, sweat, and spit, in that order. Professional lonesome polecat. Kate is living proof that you can take the hillperson out of the mountains, but she's still probably going to run back to the mountains anyway. Kate prefers the trashy to the classy, and the tender to everything else. Full-time writer, part-time lover. Heart got so big and soggy that she had to cut off all her sleeves.

Kate has written 124 articles for us.

40 Comments

  1. Thumb up 12

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    “But that fanfiction, have mercy. You keep that fanfiction up, y’all.”

    A-fucking-men!!

    And thanks for explaining. I kept looking for your recaps, cuz they are always epically hilarious. But I completely understand and respect the policy. And your explanation is so damn true. And hilarious, as per usual.

    Please tell me you’ll be recapping Season 2 of OITNB, though? The world should not be punished with an utter lack of your recapping genius simply because Once is plagued by the disease of queerbaiting.

  2. Thumb up 8

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    You stopped re-capping, for pretty much the same reason I stopped watching. I kept waiting for something… And nothing. I gave up, and couldn’t take it anymore. Not to mention the fact that Emma and Regina have more chemistry than anyone else on the show, and yet… Nothing. Done with this show, and I totally get why you are too.

  3. Thumb up 18

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    Thank god you stopped recapping this show! The only reason why I was watching it was for your recaps.

    Now I can GET ON WITH MY LIFE!

    But, Kate…please…for all of us…please write something equally as entertaining. You can write about sand for all I care. You’ll make it magical. Your writing makes me have a giant internet crush on you. If I met you I’d fangirl. Hard.

  4. Thumb up 0

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    I’m curious if there’s any interest in adding Rebel Wilson’s sitcom Super Fun Night to AS’s show recap rotation. It has it’s problematic elements but had an interesting coming-out storyline for one of the main supporting characters at the end of the season.

  5. Thumb up 9

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    Yeah, I quit watching two weeks ago due to the lack of queer Mulan action plus Game of Thrones. That sad, limp green bean had me cracking up. You made a courageous attempt! Thank you for the laughs and for hanging in there for so long!

  6. Thumb up 6

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    Totally understand why you stopped and I agree with everything you said, but I’ll miss your recaps! You should start recapping something else!(the second season of Orphan Black starts this Saturday, they have a cool queer character, just saying)

  7. Thumb up 9

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    I’ll miss the recaps but I completely understand. Their idea of “representation” at this point is sad yet laughable; that goes for LGBTQ and POC. I’m enjoying this Oz arc but have promised myself that if things are still all “No homo” going into Season 4, I will break my addiction to Regina Mills over the hiatus. She’s the only reason I still watch, to be honest.

  8. Thumb up 9

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    On the matter of bio vs. adoptive superiority, you can add white supremacy to that. Regina (who is written biracial) has been demoted to 2nd behind two successes born inherently (magically) superior to her who are both also 100% white. Why not call her a mixed blood muggle and bash her for being less than?

    This show has gotten so bad, and they’re queer baiting with Regina and Emma. It is on purpose, because they know they can’t lose either Team Henry’s Moms or Swen fans. They won’t admit they’re never giving Regina back to Henry and gave her a love interest with a kid for a reason. I’m not watching another episode. It’s become the worst show I have ever forced myself to watch to see a breathtakingly talented actress rock (Lana). She can’t even make this seem not like complete crap anymore.

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      Wait, how is Regina written as biracial? Is Cora supposed to be not-white (Rose McGowan?) or her father who definitely looked white? But I agree it’s racially problematic on many levels. It’s mostly white, yet the creators seem to champion being “color blind”.

  9. Thumb up 5

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    You made it a lot further with this mess than I did. I will miss the recaps because they’re funny, but I’m glad you’re done. I really hate to imagine anyone that I don’t despise forcing themselves to sit through this show.

  10. Thumb up 9

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    I think, in part, this show is especially heartbreaking for LGBT folks because the way the relationship between Emma and Regina could have developed had so much potential to be a Shakespeare-worthy romance. Snow White seemingly ruins Regina’s life and her “savior daughter” repairs all of the damage? Anyway, we’ll certainly miss your reviews but damn well respect why you’re abandoning it. I suppose it’s time. We’ll miss ya.

  11. Thumb up 1

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    I’ve been trying to find the time to write specifically about shows that do this sort of thing – recapping episodes and breaking down exactly why what they’re doing is queerbaiting, and how that’s really uncool and borderline homophobic to try to pull in a gay audience without actually writing anything meaningful about gay characters.

    If only my job weren’t in the way all the time. :)

  12. Thumb up 5

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    “You wave the single limp green bean in the air and tell them that it’s obvious they’ll never be happy, that they’re complaining for the sake of complaining and that it’s no wonder they don’t get to eat quality green bean casserole because nobody wants to share green bean casserole with such an aggressive and unfriendly group.”

    If you step out your front door and listen carefully you can probably hear me laughing from here. More vegetable metaphors and IMMEDIATELY

  13. Thumb up 2

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    Am I apparently the only one who has never sensed any romantic tension between Emma and Regina? Like, never ever. Situationally I can see how you’d want it to be there, what with them sharing a son and all, but hard as I have tried, I’ve never seen any potential for a romance between them to begin with. Maybe it’s because everyone on the show is so bland and boring anyway (especially Emma, for a very long time) that there isn’t even a spark of any sort with which to fuel what tension may have kindled, but I really have never seen it.

    The situation with Mulan, now that is upsetting, that made me angry (not as angry as my mom commenting, ‘wow they made Mulan a -lesbian-??’), but I really can’t see getting upset over the drama brigade.

    But then I was really only watching for Robert Carlyle anyway xD

    • Thumb up 1

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      You are not alone. I never spotted anything between Regina and Emma either. Imho they had enough to deal with trying to figure out what to do with their son + being assholes to each other. So then I’m sitting here being like: Why are all these people so certain there was lesbian potential there? I don’t think the spark wasn’t there because there was bad acting, so much as the two characters never really had a queer bone in them. I think Emma and Regina have gotten better acting and better writing as the show went on, though.

      I haven’t decided what I think about the Mulan thing. Except that Mulan was cool, and she did her thing. Then she vanished to go do stuff in Camelot, I think? But I feel like sometimes romantic interest is one-sided and writers of any kind should be free to write one-sided romantic interest if they really want to. Then again, I haven’t watched that part for a while, so I don’t remember it entirely clearly either.

      But yes. Everything is for Robert Carlyle. You know that Rumpelstiltskin will never die. :D

  14. Thumb up 1

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    ‘more inconsistencies than a coloring book based on The Children’s Bible.’

    :(

    ‘Inconsistencies’ could be interpreted in various ways here- which, as a queer Christian, I may not necessarily even disagree with. However, I’ve got to say that as a queer Christian, there was space for that to hurt and it did.

    Moving on from that though- I respect your decision to stop recapping such a problematic show. Queerbaiting is an excellent term and you have some great thoughts shared here as always.

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      i think we can all agree that the bible, or at least the old testament alone, being a series of narratives linked together only be a barely constant thread, having multiple authors, and having been revised hundreds of times, is a work filled with lots of inconsistencies. this is the nature of the bible, even if you view it as the direct word of god. a children’s bible, as a much more condensed and usually “highlights only” version of the testaments, thus has even more extreme inconsistencies. saying that the bible has inconsistencies (just off the top of my head, in a way that most people would understand — the nature of god the father changing hugely between the old and new testament) doesn’t actually insult it as a work of faith. i think unless you interpret the bible in an entirely literal sense then you can accept that god can have inconsistencies, as humans have inconsistencies, and it’s the bible that said humans were made in god’s image.

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        I feel that regardless of any historical basis for calling the Bible, especially children’s Bibles inconsistent, it is still reasonable to feel hurt by a metaphor that calls out cherished religious memories like religious coloring books for the purpose of using it to ridicule the consistency of a show you clearly dislike.

        I in no way want to imply that you are wrong for saying that the Bible has inconsistencies and you have every right to discuss whether or not the old testament has been revised. But I feel it would be better to call things like that out in a respectful dialogue about that subject rather than to use your opinion of those consistency issues as an insult to a different work (comparing OUAT to a Children’s Bible as a clear insult to the show). In general, I feel like for sensitive topics that can be so important to people, its usually better to be respectful and conscious about how you state your opinion.

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        [tl;dr warning]

        Thank you Azra. I guess my thing is that if you’re going to include a statement that suggests there are flaws (or perceived flaws) in my sacred text, please do it in a way that gives me space or invitation to chat about this or at the very least truly understand what you meant. Ideally both would be amazing.

        You may not have intended it to come across as a ‘go’ at the Bible but reference in relation to this show you are not a fan of suggests your use of ‘inconsistency’ is meant negatively. It makes me feel uncomfortable and alienated to have this idea very briefly raised but not built upon. It felt like you didn’t build on it because you felt you didn’t need to/that everyone might blanket agree. (This all also makes me feel a tad more invisible as the Christian queer that I am. Gosh I love this site but I’m still very aware that even in the safest and most incredible and comfortable place for me on the entire internet, there are many people that may not accept or understand a huge part of where I’m coming from or my points of view. It’s lonely sometimes/often).

        To just tease out what I believe/to respond to your explanation:

        We can certainly agree that there are certain inconsistencies in the Bible, particularly if read at face-value but even beyond this.

        Talking about ‘inconsistency’ can raise interesting discussions about Biblical canon and who decided what was a part of the Bible and their authority to do this (God-given or not?). It can raise discussions about the influence of the historical and cultural context of the time on the initial writers of the Bible, and whether some perceived ‘inconsistency’ by us reading today relates to us simply not truly understanding what they really meant, in terms of narrative arcs and translations etc etc. Some seeming ‘facts’ aren’t facts (e.g. the consistent use of the significant number 40, which may not have literally meant 40; Noah’s Ark as fact rather than story).

        Discussions about consistency can also delve into the personal biases and humanly flaws of writers and whether this led to inconsistent themes – e.g of love – because some great writers also promoted awful things (e.g. Paul and slavery).

        And then we get to discuss whether something can be the Word of God if some of it is wrong! WHEW. SO much to discuss.

        I guess part of the questions at your statement might be:

        are you saying all Children’s Bibles inconsistent?

        Inconsistent in what? Literal facts?

        Do Children’s Bibles always purport to be based on facts? Is Noah’s Ark meant to be something that literally happened or is it simply a story to illustrate that God loves each of us individually so much that s/he would remake the entire world for just us? (Albeit with a ‘killing everyone’ element in there… but are we missing context or significance of that idea/part of the story if we read the story with 2014 eyes?) There are many views on this.

        Inconsistent in theme? The theme of a loving God? Now that’s a great discussion waiting to happen. But the invite to that discussion wasn’t clear here.

        OR are Children’s Bibles inconsistent in representation of what Jesus literally looked like? (Not so freaking white, for a start). A lot of the time Children’s Bibles ARE inconsistent/wrong in this, in my experience- which I strongly dislike. However *colouring books* based on the Children’s Bible might leave space for some excellent children to pick up a different pencil and be less racist…

        Anyhow. You don’t literally have to expand your case and answer the above questions, and I’m not expecting you to. I guess my point is that I was wholly unsure of quite what you meant, which added to my discomfort and ability to respond too. And once again, the ‘invite to discuss’ was unclear.

        And clearly I like to discuss. If I receive an invite in future, RSVP will be most likely be yes.

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          Okay promise I’ll stop but

          ‘i think unless you interpret the bible in an entirely literal sense then you can accept that god can have inconsistencies, as humans have inconsistencies, and it’s the bible that said humans were made in god’s image.’

          So many feels on this too!

          non-literal, ‘inconsistent’* Bible translation does not equal God = inconsistent, in my mind. Just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean that it’s a) a good translation and therefore even means how it reads (*cough* King James) and b) that God literally endorsed every single thing there.

          Therefore Bible is inconsistent could = people are ‘inconsistent’, you know?

          ALSO

          Does us being a reflection of God (a la that verse) mean also that God is a reflection of us? Sure, agreed. But does that mean God’s a reflection of all of us? Is God really shit because some people are?

          Not so sure about that.

          I think the extent to which ‘God is like us’ is what Jesus is all about. Was Jesus really shit? (If one believes he existed?) Personally I believe he was pretty damn good.

          *hard to tease this out because not sure what inconsistency meant to you here, but still

  15. Thumb up 1

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    Please, God, let there be another awful, awkward show that I hate with queer characters, because then I can read Kate’s recaps. I know, I’m a terrible person, but the literal tears of laughter I shed every time I read an OUAT recap really makes me not care that I am invoking my worst nightmare. But really, I think it is a GIVEN that there will be terrible queer representation on tv for many joyous, frustrating years to come (the new MTV show ‘Faking It’ looks promising?)

  16. Thumb up 0

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    I’m a hopeful puppy, and think it would be the most amazing turn of events ever if the writers were actually keeping Swanqueen under wraps for a big ass reveal. It would be pretty revolutionary for prime time TV. Of course, I’m fully aware this is very wishful thinking.

    Besides my guilty pleasure hopes and dreams, I completely agree with your reasoning for not recapping anymore, and the way Mulan was handled was really terrible.

  17. Thumb up 0

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    Well, this makes total sense. I have to say it, I’ve never felt more betrayed by a TV show, and I was right there when Joss killed Tara off. I started watching OUAT in the first season, when the story lines were centered around a few characters, and it seemed to be going in a really good direction, turning classic fairy tales on their heads, and showing all these strong, independent women just trying to relate to each other. The story between Emma and Regina showed such promise, and I don’t even mean the wonderfulness that would have been them getting romantically involved. I mean just watching these two completely opposite women get it together to raise their kid, who they both so obviously care about.

    However, season 2 started to go bad and it just went downhill from there. The characters increased exponentially and I don’t give a crap about any of them anymore. All the previously strong women seem to forget their entire lives and other objectives as soon as they see a man and realize they need true heterosexual love to survive and nothing else matters. And the few episodes of season 3 I watched felt like this was a story about these male fairy tale characters with some women thrown in the mix just so we can stare at them. It pisses me off because I’ve never come across characters with such potential for interesting story lines before, and we can clearly see that in the quality of fanfiction.

    I stopped watching and don’t ever intend to go back, unless Emma and Regina somehow end up together (so, never). And I support the decision to stop recapping and talking about it altoghether (fanfiction definitely not included in that, though).

  18. Thumb up 0

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    As much as I enjoyed and will miss those hilarious recaps, I don’t understand why Autostraddle keeps recapping absolutel crap (Glee? Really? The Real L Word? Seriously??) while completely ignoring shows with canonically gay characters. On the top of my head: Last Tango in Halifax. A British show with actual gay characters.

  19. Thumb up 3

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    I love Swanqueen as much as the next lesbian, but do you mean to tell me there are actually people out there who thought OUAT would make them a thing? Wow. I apologize for sounding like a gigantic ass hat but I had no idea how naive and delusional people really were about these two. Shipping is suppose to be fun. If you take it too seriously that is your own fault. Watch a show because you like it not because you hope against hope you’ll see two women hook up. This may be 2014, but queer women in the media are still generally disregarded and/or treated with little to no respect. I’d love to see that change, but I gave up hope years ago. I’ve stopped watching most shows on television that have gay women in them. I’m sick of seeing the same old, same old. I’ll stick to my fan fiction and let the TV writers have their time to screw everything up.

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      I think people are referring to Sleeping Warrior, which is Aurora/Mulan. The show did some serious queerbaiting with them, and then saw a chance to try to placate the LGBT fans by making Mulan canonically queer and then promptly having Auror get pregnant by Phillip and Mulan disappear.

  20. Thumb up 0

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    If it weren’t for Lana Parrilla, I would have stopped watching this show in the first season. (Like, from the first episode, wouldn’t the most compelling evidence for Henry’s theory that the town is frozen in time be that he’s the only kid going forward a grade each year??? And Cinderella’s been pregnant for 10 years!!) But I keep watching for Lana Parrilla’s perfect face. I haven’t been this trapped in a show since Naya Rivera made me keep watching Glee… what’s wrong with me -__-

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