Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Fans of the hit TV show Lost certainly agree. This groundbreaking ABC drama stretched the minds of its creators, writers, and viewers with ambitious, character-driven storylines told through flashbacks, flash-forwards, and even forays into side worlds. Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz relied on their experience writing Lost when they created Once Upon A Time (OUAT), with tributes to their former show in almost every episode. But these Easter eggs are more than just Apollo bars and recurrences of 815. Both shows fundamentally share the same beating heart — the same core. For OUAT, that analogy is rather literal.
Both Lost and OUAT’s antagonists were flawed individuals tortured by their pasts and parents. Regina’s transformation stemmed from her mother Cora’s manipulations while Sawyer witnessed the murder/suicide of his parents. Rumple’s father abandoned and then later had Rumple forcibly removed from Neverland. Ben, Rumple and Regina killed their fathers. The Man in Black stabbed his overbearing adopted mother after she murdered the villagers of his camp and destroyed his only way off the island. But villains weren’t the only victims of poor parenting. Jiminy’s parents forced him to cheat and steal as a child; Kate killed her abusive alcoholic father; and John Locke became paralyzed when his father pushed him out an eight-story window. Although Rumple’s father, Malcolm, showed his heartlessness in becoming Peter Pan, John Locke’s father Anthony Cooper still reigns supreme as Worst Father Ever.
Considering Lost’s cast of horrible parents, the island issued an edict to its residents: things are bad enough without you producing a mini-version of yourselves to make things worse. Perhaps the island shared Jacob and the Man in Black’s adopted mother’s view that humanity is inherently corrupt. Whatever its beliefs, the island survived by merging light leaders with dark to keep each other in check: Jacob with the Man in Black, and, by the show’s end, Hurley with Ben. It allowed characters redemption, but often at an exorbitant price: their lives.
Magic has its price, as the characters on Once Upon A Time can attest. The message isn’t that humanity is corrupt, but that it is corruptible (especially through magic and power) and redeemable as hope pervades even the darkest fairy tales. Eddy and Adam continued Lost’s theme of poor parenting in OUAT’s first season, this time through dire decisions made with the best intentions, as Gepetto sent Pinocchio and Snow and Charming sent Emma to break the curse that was about to befall them. Even with a second chance at parenting, Snow and Charming blindly trusted Zelena to help deliver Baby #2, failing to sense her true motives. Charming’s fears were justified and he was able to quell them, but at the cost of losing to Zelena his sword, a totem of his courage. Could this be his swan song?
Swans are a force of a nature in both shows. The Swan Station on Lost, a steely exterior that periodically released electromagnetic energy as needed to save the world and its inhabitants, could also describe OUAT’s Emma as she releases her magic only at critical moments. Like OUAT’s Emma, Lost featured a blonde haired, blue eyed young girl of the same name who is separated from her parents. OUAT’s Emma laments her exhausting and never-ending position as savior that prohibits her from leading a normal life, as if she herself has to punch in the numbers every 108 minutes. Just as the Swan Station connected John and Desmond at their most desperate hour, Emma connected Rumple with Neal, Neal with Henry, Henry with Regina and his newfound grandparents, and even Ashley with her prince Sean when they needed faith the most.
The balance between faith and science is a recurring theme, as Jack and Locke are described respectively in the Lost episode entitled “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” while OUAT created the magical Enchanted Forest and Dr. Frankenstein’s black-and-white world of science as differing realms. Lost and OUAT emphasize the importance of belief, as Jack and Emma experience a similar path to it. Faith is a force that pushes the Swan Station’s buttons and gives fairies magic, but too much faith without proof is detrimental. Peter Pan swindled Henry into giving up his heart. Greg and Tamara believed wholeheartedly in the anti-magic cause; following orders without question led to their downfall, much like the people on Lost’s freighter. Even the venerable Jacob was blindly faithful to a fault. His backstory revealed extreme naiveté and an inability to lie, reminding one of Dark Helmet’s quote from Spaceballs: “Evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”
Evil’s cunning relies on good’s gullibility, as characters such as Cora, the Shadow and the Smoke Monster changed form to deceive others (including viewers) for their own nefarious means. To rephrase Drive Shaft’s only hit song, “You are everybody!” these characters often told the ones they were trying to trick what they wanted to hear to increase camaraderie and believability. But this cunning provides little advantage, as several suffered the same gut-wrenching fate regardless of affiliation: Cora, Snow, Emma, Rumple, Neal, Claire, Danielle and Michael were all separated from their first-borns in one way or another. Both shows share the same message: Misery doesn’t discriminate.
Lost’s Island vs. Neverland
Michael’s search for first-born Walt is much like Emma’s search for first-born Henry as they scoured a mysterious island featuring strange powers. While the Others kidnapped Walt for being special, Pan and his Lost Boys kidnapped Henry for the same reason. And like the Others, Pan moved his camp so it would be harder to find.
Both islands shared topological traits: a mountain, cave, beach, jungle — and a heart holding the source of transformation. In OUAT, this heart was Skull Rock, where Pan’s magic was restored, while Lost’s island magic resided in a cave that turned the Man in Black into the Smoke Monster. Lost’s island also contained a well that could access electromagnetic energy, much like Storybrooke’s well can access magic.
Lost and OUAT access magic through superb acting, and the actors who appeared on both shows play characters that share similarities. Whether as Claire or Belle, Emilie de Ravin lost her mind after relationships with flawed bad boys — one addicted to drugs, the other to power. Both men died sacrificing themselves, although Rumple returned to life. Pivotal moments in these relationships revolved around food, whether it was eating imaginary peanut butter or sipping a chipped cup of tea. Continuing the food theme, Jorge Garcia’s Anton the friendly giant oversaw the beans much as Hurley did with the island’s food supply. Whether as Charles Widmore or King George, Alan Dale wreaked havoc to achieve wealth and power. Whether as Zelena or Charlotte Lewis, Rebecca Mader coped with separation from a parent, which ultimately affected her decision-making.
Similarities between Lost and OUAT characters exist as well. Hook’s brother Liam shared the same name as Charlie’s. Pan is comparable to the Smoke Monster. Both originated as other people who cheated at games — Pan as Malcolm playing three-card monty, the Smoke Monster as the Man in Black playing Senet. Their transformation into Pan and the Smoke Monster ultimately tied them to their islands forever. The big difference between the two, however, is that Malcolm’s transformation into Pan was desired, while the Man in Black’s into the Smoke Monster was not. Both initiated a slow, elaborate plan manipulating others so they could either stay on or leave their islands. Eventually their enemies robbed them of their immortality and killed them.
Even vintage Volkswagens are characters in their own right, as VW's Type 2 minibuses/vans transported DHARMA workers and castaways where they were needed, while VW's Type 1 (aka "the Beetle") brought Emma to her destiny in Storybrooke.
Rumple is a lot like Ben. The power-hungry men with questionable morals and small physiques committed patricide, made a name for themselves in their own worlds and were highly protective of their children, who ultimately died in front of them as their enemies planned. Although the whereabouts of Rumple’s mother are unknown, she is possibly dead like Ben’s.
Hook shares similarities with Desmond. The men with Celtic accents drank to drown their sorrows and were in the military before captaining boats they later lost and fought to retrieve. Before becoming main character allies, both debuted in Season 2 as main character enemies, as Desmond held Kate and Locke at gunpoint while Hook sought revenge against Rumple. Both long to be with the blonde haired, blue-eyed women they love. Hook left Storybrooke to retrieve Emma and retained his memory during this last curse when main characters could not. Desmond traveled off the island to be with Penny and recalled his life in the flash sideways world, eventually helping others remember their own lives. Like Desmond, perhaps Hook will help his show’s characters in regaining their memories.
Hypothesizing The End
While searching Neverland for her son in OUAT’s “Nasty Habits”, Emma says, “If there's one thing I've learned it's that you never break in somewhere unless you know the way out.”
The writers could be talking about their shows as well. Lost's finale mirrored its premiere, with Jack closing his eye at the series’ end just as he had opened it at the series’ beginning. If OUAT follows the same path, perhaps we’ll see the Evil Queen in Snow’s position, finally having the happy ending that always eluded her. Regina’s happy ending is not as a violent ruler and Henry’s sole mother, but as a respected mayor, Roland’s stepmother (finally getting the stepmother role right!), and Robin’s soulmate. The script could repeat the following final words of Lost’s, with Regina’s name replacing Jack’s:
Regina has done what she came to this place to do. She has found her purpose.
She has found love, and been loved. She has finally found a way to love herself.
The same scenario could work for other OUAT characters, including Rumple and Emma. They must fight their fears of vulnerability to experience true happiness and love. Despite past events that have jaded them, their definition of family can become whatever they make of it; their power to stop destructive cycles doesn’t come from magic, but from within.
Both Lost and OUAT shocked audiences by revealing characters as blood relatives, such as Jack with Claire, Rumple and Neal with Henry, Regina with Zelena. But family is where the heart is, and in OUAT’s case, that is literal.
A happy ending in Lost and OUAT is about being accepted and embraced whether in Eloise’s church or in Regina’s Storybrooke.
To paraphrase Jack, when everyone can live together, no one will ever die alone.