Tiana Is Too Awesome for Once Upon a Time

By now, I've made my feelings about this season of Once Upon a Time pretty clear. Frankly, the show should have ended last season. Tonight's episode introduced its first incarnation of one of my favorite princesses, Tiana, so now I'd like to share a few more thoughts. Ever since The Princess and the Frog was released in 2009, Tiana has been incredibly inspirational to me. She taught me that living like a princess does not mean simply expecting things to work out on their own. If you want something, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get there. Tiana stood out from the Disney Princesses in many ways. She was the first black princess, the first American princess, and the first princess from the 20th century. There are so many things that make her awesome. That's why the first image that was released of her in Once Upon a Time, looking all gussied up in her gown and tiara just like any other generic princess was somewhat disheartening. Thankfully, first impressions are often entirely wrong.

In tonight's episode, "The Garden of Forking Paths," which, by the way, is a terrible title, Tiana's origins were not explicitly stated. We know that she was the leader of a rebel force against Cinderella's wicked stepmother, but she never said at any point that she was a princess. Yes, she looked like a princess at the ball, tiara and all, but so did Cinderella. Tiana's initial appearance in Once Upon a Time may have been a reference to the Mardi Gras ball in the movie when she wore Charlotte's dress and crown, causing Naveen to wrongly assume that she was an actual princess. I was pleased with the prospect that she probably was not born royal because that would have gone against everything her character represents. Whether or not this series will address her ties to Prince Naveen and the story of "The Frog Prince" remains a mystery. As of right now, the only thing that we know about her is that she's a rebel with a cause.

Is it plausible for Tiana to lead a resistance group if she was born in an alternate reality? Absolutely. In The Princess and the Frog, she is an entrepreneur. Once she finally gains her restaurant, she immediately takes on a leadership role, hiring servers, coordinating schedules, customizing the menus, and designing the restaurant's layout. She is a natural-born leader, which makes her perfect to take on such a role in Once Upon a Time's new season. Tiana is clever and calculating with a heart of gold. She recognizes Cinderella's fighting prowess instantly as well as the usefulness having Regina's magic on her side. However, she has the misfortune of being stuck in a half-baked plot. Though her role is completely believable, the resistance group she is leading is not. It's never explained why Cinderella's stepmother poses such a threat to the kingdom that an underground resistance force needed to pop up against her and the prince or what the prince has to do with any of this at all. Maybe if the writers stopped trying to make everything revolve around Cinderella and Henry for just one minute, it would be clear what Tiana is fighting for.  Unfortunately for us, they don't, and it's not.

I mentioned during last week's episode that I liked the modern-day "cursed" version of Tiana. She was business savvy, logical, and level-headed. She also seemed like a great friend to Jacinda because they compliment each other's flaws very well. Their friendship in the modern-day Hyperion Heights felt natural, unlike the flashbacks from tonight's episode, which were forced down our throats. Without even knowing Cinderella, Tiana somehow knew that Lady Tremaine had killed her father and turned her into a servant in her own home. How? Maybe she was stalking her. We may never know. The stalking theory would explain how she managed to save Cinderella from the palace guards in the nick of time even though she had no way of knowing where she was going since only Cinderella and Henry knew the spot where they were supposed to meet. It was way too convenient and made no sense.

Tiana is a fantastic character and role model. Mekia Cox did a great job of portraying her as a friend to Cinderella and the leader of the resistance. However, her story took a backseat to Cinderella's snooze-worthy romance with Henry and Lady Tremaine's supposedly wicked intentions. Being trapped in an awful plot took its toll on Tiana's story, stripping her of a past and possibly an engaging future as well. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if someone turned her into a frog for five minutes just to prove a point and ended her story right then and there. It's really a shame because it's clear that no matter what universe she gets stuck in, Tiana will always be awesome. In this case, she was just too awesome for the show she was on.


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