Upcoming films like The School for Good and Evil and Descendants: The Pocketwatch prove that audiences’ love of fairytales is still incredibly strong. Perhaps the best example of adapting and playing with these classic tales is Once Upon A Time, which established heroes and villains, building them all more complicated backstories than fans are used to seeing. Once Upon A Time did an amazing job navigating and complicating some of Disney’s greatest hits and the Grimm Brothers’ most famous characters.
However, as the show went on, it had a tendency to rush the new realms and characters it introduced. While it did create one spin-off, Once Upon A Time in Wonderland, the show was so disconnected from the original that it struggled to gain viewers. Looking back, it’s easy to see paths that could have been followed to create engaging spin-offs that would have continued on long past the original show’s end, particularly by focusing on characters that fans already had come to love.
The last season of Once Upon A Time returned to the idea of the Wish Realm, a version of the Enchanted Forest where Emma never became the Savior. It had been first introduced in season 6 but was then expanded upon as a world of its own, with a fully sentient population.
This was an intriguing idea but was, unfortunately, part of a season that had too many interesting ideas to execute properly. Assuming the cast was still interested, this could have been an interesting mini-series, where the actors got to play the same characters, but with very different relationships to the world around them.
The Dark One was introduced season 1, but its lore didn’t come until season 5. After drinking from the Holy Grail, Merlin became immortal and received magical abilities. His lover, Nimue, also drank from the cup, using her own abilities for revenge. Thus was born the Dark One, whose power was a curse, not a blessing.
This was actually a really interesting premise, but it got lost in one of the more muddled seasons the show had. Between Nimue and Zoso (Rumplestiltskin’s predecessor), fans know nothing about who the Dark Ones were and what they did. It would have been fascinating to see a spin-off with a season or more per Dark One that showed the powerful line Rumplestiltskin eventually became part of.
The concept of Once Upon A Time started with fairy tales being true, but it very quickly introduced Victor Frankenstein, a character with a defined author. This was a bit of a jarring introduction, as it suggested that potentially any fictional character could have their own realm.
However, the show did little with the Land Without Color and didn’t introduce another strictly literary figure until Jekyll and Hyde were introduced in season five. It would have been interesting to see what other products of traditional horror lived in the Land Without Color, as they could have attempted the magic of OUAT in the horror genre.
The idea that darkness had to be stripped from Emma to make her a better Savior was fascinating, requiring horrifying acts by the show’s greatest heroes. But then it was dropped as the showrunners chased new ideas. In fact, Lily and Maleficent were reduced to an off-hand joke in the finale.
This came after a really interesting arc about what it would mean to be crafted as the “Anti-Savior,” and would have been really interesting to see play out. After reuniting, perhaps Maleficent and Lily could have gone somewhere to bond and face adventures of their own. Characters destined for darkness make fascinating protagonists, and it could have been great to see Emma’s story end while her other half’s story was just beginning.
While Zelena had interesting arcs and plenty of growth throughout Once, the same can’t be said for her home realm. Characters like Glinda, Dorothy, and the Tin Man were introduced, but they weren’t given the depth that citizens of the Enchanted Forest had.
Once Upon A Time in Wonderland had the right idea, but it chose the wrong Land. Oz deserved better exploration, and it would have been easy to do given the number of books L. Frank Baum wrote. There were so many characters that could have been introduced and played with, but all fans got was Zelena, who was neither born in Oz nor really spent much of her adult life there.
Fans learn in season 5 that the Realms seem to all be ruled over by some version of the Greek pantheon, and go to the same afterlife when they die. Taking the core characters to the Underworld meant they could confront their pasts, which was a great way to see whether or not they had really grown.
However, an interesting spin-off could have focused on those left behind. The version of the Underworld the fans got to see functioned as a sort of limbo, where souls take on various jobs and find a way to keep going, occasionally under the manipulation of Hades. It would have been great to see a show that focused on that land, allowing actors who had small parts in the original series to shine as they found their way through a world after death.
Baelfire was the heart of the show for the first two and a half seasons, as Rumplestiltskin’s son and Henry’s father, but he was abruptly killed off and forgotten right as his story was getting good.
Maybe that was needed for the show to move forward for as long as it eventually did, but it would have been nice to see what Baelfire was doing in the hundreds of years he spent away from his father, both in the real world and Neverland. Prequel shows are all the rage now, but it could have done a lot for the show had they stuck to a character they spent so long building up to.
Ruby was one of the best side characters in Once Upon A Time, especially with how big of a difference there was between her cursed and true personas. However, Megan Ory was cast in Intelligence near the end of season 2, so the writers had to drop her plot lines.
When Intelligence was canceled, however, they never really found a way to bring her back, except for the one-off LGBTQ+ plot in season 5. She would have been the perfect character to launch a spin-off, though, because she was well-established and still had a lot of room to grow. From her explorations with wolf packs and cultures to her romantic prospects, the possibilities were limitless.
Fans were sure this group would have their own spin-off, but instead, Mulan and Aurora’s adventures happened largely off-screen. After their assistance in season 2, the two princesses set off to restore Phillip’s soul. The next time they were seen, the deed had been done, and Mulan’s place on the show grew smaller each season.
A spin-off would have been a great choice at this point because the writers had spent half of a season building up to it. They had a quest to complete, and the trio could’ve been an excellent example of a true love trio, given Mulan’s feelings for both Aurora and Phillip. It could’ve been the fairytale equivalent of The Vampire Diaries, which surely would have found an audience.
While the ratings for the final season of Once Upon A Time were disappointing, they had the right idea—just the wrong execution. The story didn’t work as the final season of the show, because it wasn’t Emma’s story anymore. But Henry’s future, navigating magic and non-magic worlds, was a great idea.
Finish the original show with Henry opening the door to Lucy, who says “I’m your daughter.” Then create a different show, like The Vampire Diaries spin-off Legacies, that follows Henry’s own adventures. If it hadn’t been tasked with wrapping up arcs for the original characters while doing completely different things at the same time, Henry’s story really could have been something great.
NEXT: 10 Once Upon A Time Filler Episodes That Are Still Great