TV: Was Adoption the Victim of Foul Play in Once Upon a Time’s Pilot?

I enjoyed the pilot of Once Upon a Time. I had some issues – Jennifer Morrison‘s gritty character, the best thing about it, clashed completely with everything else in its universe. The ‘fairy tale’ world was a bit hokey. Alright, a lot hokey. And one odd recurring theme was about adoption and, if you read between the lines, it gets a little ugly…

Both Jennifer Morrison‘s Emma Swann and her son were sent into the adoption system. Emma was dumped by a family at the age of three after they had ‘their own kid’, and her son Henry ended up growing up in a house where everything he could possibly want was provided to him, yet he is unloved by his adoptive mother and craves his birth mother.

While these elements have plenty of grounding in the mechanics of the plot, rather than extraneous hit jobs on the adoption system, it still does feel like, in the world of Once Upon a Time, adoption just plain doesn’t work. It feels like it rejects the relationship between the adoptive parent and their adopted child. And as the feelings of abandonment felt by Emma and Henry are dwelled on heavily, it feels like a major theme that doesn’t really belong in a show about fairytales.

This definitely doesn’t prevent the series from exploring these issues with greater complexity later. It does concern me, though, that it was such a prevalent theme within this first episode. Did you feel the pilot did adoptive families a disservice? Do you think the very clear fantastic circumstances (Emma was sent away by magic, Henry’s adoptive mother is literally an evil queen) negate what could be troublesome messages about the nature of adoption? Was it something you noticed, or something that slipped completely by you? And are you troubled by it, or is it something you’re not worried about?

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One response to “TV: Was Adoption the Victim of Foul Play in Once Upon a Time’s Pilot?

  1. dianemon October 25, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Yes, I am deeply troubled by the negative messages about the nature of adoption. Being an adoptive mother myself, I found the evil witch portrayal of the adoptive mother, the heroic portrayal of the birth mother, and the magical thinking of the child to be sources of concern. The fantastic circumstances of the story might help ME overlook the troublesome messages, but my two adopted sons ages 8 and 10 most likely don’t yet have the wisdom or perspective to sort this out. The first episode aired at 7 pm on Sunday, which seems like an appropriate family TV watching time. As the episode continued, I found myself cringing and becoming more and more horrified at the messages it might be sending to my boys. The creators of the show clearly have not considered what effect it might have on adoptive families.

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