TV Shows

Mental Illness and Lesbian Love in Once Upon a Time

In media, mental illness and romance pair just as well as strawberries and beans…a disjointed mixture that just ends up stinking.

Too frequently, people with mental illnesses are depicted as either 1) incapable of having healthy, positive and affirming relationships or 2) tantalizing their partners with the beauty of their pain. Make that love story involve two women and you have the perfect recipe for a thriller that results in a lot of awkward sex followed by unnecessary death. (The movie Chloe with Amanda Seyfried ring any bells?)

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No, Amanda, it doesn’t.

This terrible representation of mentally ill people in love is why the relationship between Alice and Robin (also known as Tilly and Margot) on ABC’s Once Upon a Time is such a breath of fresh air. For those not familiar with the show, Once reimagines classic fairytales by bringing them into modern contexts. For instance, Tilly, the quirky daughter of the town’s detective, is actually Alice from Alice in Wonderland/Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while Margot, the world traveling bohemian, is Robin Hood.

Prior to falling victim to a curse that forced them to forget their true identities, Alice and Robin were deeply in love. I’m talking literal wifey status. (Just look at how domestically adorable they were)

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Watching them rekindle their forgotten love, as Tilly and Margot, has been my favorite part of this season. Their love story is depicted as genuine, honest and pure. Unlike the show’s prior attempts at portraying a same-sex relationship, which just came across as rushed and sloppy, Alice’s and Robin’s love is given the consideration it deserves.

However, their relationship isn’t all heart shaped beignets and intensely lingering eye contact. It’s complicated, it’s messy and it’s real. Alice, like her namesake’s character in the Disney classic, struggles with some unspecified form of mental illness.  This makes her feel isolated and frequently unable to trust her own mind.

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As someone who struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), I couldn’t relate more to Alice’s feelings. I’ve had OCD as long as I can remember. In fact, some of my earliest memories consist of me repeatedly doing the sign of the cross until it felt “right” (…can you tell I was raised Catholic?) or absolutely losing my mind if someone disturbed the pillows I spent 20 minutes arranging. However, I was only officially diagnosed about two and a half years ago.

When you have a mental health issue, it sometimes forces you to act in ways that make absolutely no sense to other people. Why did I have to walk in a half circle, touch the door knob and then double back before I finally went into my house? Why did I have to constantly check my heart rate after the most minimal movement to ensure it’s “okay”?

It’s incredibly difficult to turn to a perfect stranger and say, “I’m so sorry, I have OCD so I have to do these ten rituals before I can get to what you asked me to do. Could you wait?” It’s always been easier for me to just come up with excuses to avoid admitting the truth. This has made forming romantic relationships ridiculously dramatic and, like Alice, I felt entirely alone.

For this reason, watching Robin lovingly interact with Alice after she had an episode during the “The Guardian” (7×18) brought me to tears. The pair was on a date, exploring the town and enjoying quality time together, when Alice suddenly begins hearing voices. Frustrated at their appearance, Alice hits herself in the head.

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TV Shows

4 Lesbian Storylines Debuting in 2018

If you’ve watched any of my YouTube videos, then it’ll be no surprise that I’m utterly obsessed with fictional lesbians. Emily and Alison. Stef and Lena. Karolina and Nico. Tamsin and Bo. I’m the captain of so many queer ships that I’m thinking of investing in a fleet. And yes, I’ll admit it, I’m THAT girl. I will literally watch anything  (even this trash) if someone tells me a bisexual, queer or lesbian woman makes an appearance. For instance, I’m terrified of psychological thrillers but that didn’t stop my 20-year-old self from buying a ticket to see Black Swan. Sure, I didn’t sleep for weeks but hey that 45 second lesbian scene was worth the trauma!

(On a practical note, if the government ever needs lesbians for anything, just promise us queer content. We’ll all follow, no questions asked.) 

However,  with all the chants of “new year, new me” still faintly circulating the internet, I’ve decided to look toward the future! So, here are four lesbian characters who are either debuting or becoming more prominent in 2018.

1) Alice/Tilly, Once Upon a Time [March 2]

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Once Upon a time is no stranger to gay storylines. They teased a relationship tumblr_o5uiroygvU1tp0b8fo4_400between Mulan and Aurora in 2013 and even showed an iconic lesbian kiss between Dorothy and Little Red Riding Hood in 2016. However, each of these storylines were short lived and left fans feeling disappointed and underrepresented. Despite the show-runners’ attempts to normalize a homosexual love story by making it just “a part of every day life” they completely missed the mark. Each plot is rushed and the episodes end up feeling like an ill conceived publicity stunt.  (I won’t even get into SwanQueen and the massive missed opportunities there.)

Luckily, with the introduction of openly lesbian character, Alice, Once finally seems to be getting it right. In the 4th episode of season 7 titled “Beauty”, Alice is revealed to be a lesbian who has had at least one relationship with another woman in the past.

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However, this casual admission is more than just throwing us gays another rainbow colored bone. According to Once producer and co-creator Eddy Kitsis, “an epic love story” awaits Alice in the back half of season 7.  After watching the winter finale, it’s pretty obvious that this profound romance involves Robin, the daughter of Robin Hood and the Wicked Witch of the West, Zelena.

Alice and RobinWithout giving away the plot, something happens in the final episode before hiatus (7×10) that forces Robin and Alice to lose their memories and live apart from each other . However, it’s obvious this separation  won’t last for much longer. Kitsis assures viewers that we’ll “see Alice and Robin in love, and for the second half of the season, we’re going to see how they met and how they got to that place. Of course… they don’t know each other. They don’t remember each other, and they don’t even realize they’re in love. So we’re going to see how they met in the fairytale side, and we’re going to root for them to find each other.”

I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to watch a plot unfold. This season of Once has been absolutely amazing in my opinion and I’m so excited that the writers are doing away with poorly constructed mini arcs about gay characters. Alice and Robin’s story is developing with patience, consideration and tact. It seems Once is finally giving us a true, enduring fairytale about lesbian love. How awesome is that?

(Also, just looking at how cute they are is enough to make anyone swoon. You’re welcome.)  

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