In the present, Elsa erects a wall of ice around the town; in the past, David has long hair.

By Hillary Busis
April 30, 2015 at 08:32 PM EDT
Jack Rowand/ABC
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http://youtu.be/rog8ou-ZepE

So yeah: Once is reeallly doubling down on the whole Frozen thing, huh? If you crunched a chunk of ice every time the cold stuff was mentioned by name in tonight’s episode, chances are you’d be missing a tooth or two by the time the hour drew to a close. We spent so much time in Elsa’s plaster stalagmite forest—I’m sorry, her totally rad ice cave—that there was barely a moment to spare for either Regina or Rumpelstiltskin. Both Once stalwarts got just one scene apiece (well, two for Rump, if you count his past self clutching his crystal ball and giggling); neither of those scenes did anything to advance the villains’ big season 4 arcs.

Instead, there was lots of Elsa, and Anna, and repetition of three core themes: 1. you shouldn’t build walls (emotional or icily literal) to keep people out, 2. impossible battles are the battles most worth fighting (think Anna learned this from General Custer, who will appear on the show sometime after OUAT starts mining the Hall of Presidents for material?), and 3. surviving isn’t the same thing as really living, man. (That last bit must be courtesy of uncredited OUAT consulting producer Matthew McConaughey.)

True, Once is no stranger to this sort of heavy-handed moralizing. In fact, it’s actually one of the reasons so many of us were won over by the show in the first place—its moral compass, wide-eyed optimism, and big, beating heart combined make Once a charming throwback when it’s at its best. That said, the themes were laid on about as thick as that plaster tonight—which is disappointing mostly because “White Out” was written by TV vet Jane Espenson, the Buffy alum who’s been behind some of Once‘s finest episodes (“Desperate Souls,” “The Miller’s Daughter”). Although she also wrote the Frankenstein episode. So.

We must, however, give Espenson credit for bringing to life one of Once‘s most delightfully weird creations: Little Bo Peep, the warlord who lives down the lane. She speaks in a wicked cockney drawl, like Adele accepting a Golden Globe. She’s dressed like Scarlett O’Hara wearing the curtains, only crazier. She uses her shepherd’s crook to “brand” people who owe her money, thereby making them unwilling members of her “flock.” She’s played by Robin Weigert, perhaps best known (among dads, anyway) for playing Calamity Jane on Deadwood. And Weigert, clearly, is having a total blast in her role, which goes a long way toward selling this particular brand of insanity.

NEXT: This chick never loses her sheep

Lil’ Bo Creep is a major player in the night’s flashback sequences, which concern what happens once Anna enters the Enchanted Forest. She’s got a specific destination in mind: a certain cabin containing an old pal of Kristoff’s who may be able to help her. And who should answer the door but… Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You! Whoa; was not expecting ABC to plumb the depths of this particular well!

Wait, strike that: It’s just David on his mother’s humble farm in his pre-Prince Charming days, sporting a lustrous mane. Maybe his hair grew out when Kristoff chopped his off. That must be how those two know each other; they’re magic hair-bros. Anyhow, Anna’s just looking for a place to stay the night. She’s not planning to befriend David; she’s not even planning to tell him her real name. (She elects instead to go by “Joan,” a choice which seems like a shoutout to Buffy fans. Edit: And/or, as commenters have pointed out, it’s a shoutout to Anna saying “Hang in there, Joan” in “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”)

But as often happens on this show, Anna soon finds herself drawn all up into a stranger’s business when Bo Peep comes sauntering by to shake down David and his poor mother. It’s a sort of “you must pay the rent/but I can’t pay the rent!”-type situation, except in this case, the role of Evil Landlord is played by Little Bo Peep.

In the face of all those menacing petticoats, David is prepared to fold like a rec room chair. Ever-spunky Anna, though, encourages him to fight the Peepers that be—and even offers him lessons in swordsmanship so that he can get the job done right. This whole crossover friendship story has a whiff of Belle/Mulan about it. (Which reminds me: Where has Mulan been?! Besides, you know, the obvious.)

You might think that a few hours of instruction and pep talks from a chick in braids might not be enough to prepare a shepherd to face a warlordess and her army of tricorn hat-clad goons. You would, however, be wrong; when Bo Peep reappears, David of course gets the best of her. (Well, not before she manages to “brand” Anna—which, as you’ll see later, actually turns out to be most helpful.) Anna leaves the farm having set her new pal on the path to becoming the Charming man he’s meant to be—and having acquired the name of a certain powerful sorcerer, the one man in the Enchanted Forest who may be able to help her find what her parents died looking for. Hint: His name rhymes with “Schmumpelguiltzfin.”

NEXT: Cool party, Elsa

But what became of Anna after she went off to see the wizard? We don’t know yet—and neither does Elsa. Which is why, in present-day Storybrooke, she declares about 12 times that she won’t rest until she finds her sister, then decides to turn the town into a giant snow globe. The queen’s basic plan:

1. Trap Storybrooke behind massive ice wall.

2. ???

3. Profit!

Seriously, girl: You’re not going to find your missing sister if your first move after erecting an ice wall is to hide in said ice wall.

Turns out, though, that Elsa’s instincts aren’t off base. The Ice Dome accidentally cuts off Storybrooke’s power, drawing Emma, Charming, and Hook to the outskirts of town. Emma’s Savior Senses are tingling. She gingerly enters the ice fortress, then becomes the first Storybrookeite to meet the town’s latest arrival. Emma, this is Elsa. She’s a moody blonde with unpredictable but awesome magical powers and issues with her parents, the king and queen. Elsa, this is Emma. She’s… well, let’s just say you two are going to get along famously.

Or they would, if Hook and Charming didn’t come storming in after Emma. They frighten the easily-startled Elsa, who is seriously more skittish than a horse around Frau Blucher. Before you can say “lucrative tie-in,” the queen has caused an avalanche, which further separates Emma—already emotionally closed-off from her father and would-be boyfriend, do you get it, do you get it—from the pirate and the king.

Elsa tries to pull an “I meant to do that,” saying that she’ll get rid of all the ice when her sister is returned to her. But as Emma soon realizes, the avalanche, like the snow monster before it, was an accidental manifestation of the powers Elsa still doesn’t have under control. (Which, I guess, is the one way in which OUAT is really deviating from Frozen.)

Unfortunately, Elsa’s good intentions aren’t enough to keep Emma safe from freezing to death—which starts to happen shortly after she’s fully encased in the Fortress of Solitude. Elsa, though, is fine. Why? All together now: The cold has “never bothered me.” Upon hearing this line, you’re either squealing with delight or rolling your eyes; it’s a handy litmus test to explain how you probably feel about the Frozen story line as a whole.

NEXT: The IceWoman Cometh

So, how do Elsa and Emma get out of this chilly pickle? For once, it’s actually because Charming did something right. From the way Elsa’s talking about Anna, David can deduce that she’s describing the girl he once knew as Joan. Which means that he also knows how to find Anna—via Bo Peep’s magic staff. (Bo Peep, in one of the show’s better gags, happens to be alive and well in Storybrooke, working at a butcher shop called the Chop Shop. Ha!) Knowing that Charming has a homing device on Anna gives Elsa the strength she needs to melt a hole in the ice wall, just before Emma becomes a Saviorsicle.

The bad news: The crook can’t pinpoint Anna’s exact location. The good news: It can, however, locate her heartbeat, meaning that at least Elsa knows her sister is still alive. Hooray! It’s enough to make her want to take down the ice wall—but for some reason, even though Elsa’s got everything under control now, she’s unable to make the barrier disappear.

Why? Oh, just because all along, there’s been another Snow Queen lurking around town—one who works (appropriately) at the local ice cream joint. And has hair just like Elsa’s. And is played by Elizabeth Mitchell. Brrrr.

Breadcrumbs

–It seems too obvious even to bother laying out, but: We’re all thinking that Elsa was actually adopted and that Elizabeth Mitchell’s Snow Queen is her real mother, right?

–In the episode’s c-plot, Snow White uses her motherly know-how to get Storybrooke’s generator up and running again. Okay! Also, according to Grumpy’s decree, she is now the mayor of Storybrooke. Sure!

–And in the d-plot, Henry gets through to Regina. Expect that to pay further dividends in later episodes, once the Frozen stuff cools off.

–So Charming knows about Arendelle—and even has a friend from there—yet he’s never heard of Elsa or her powers?

–”I found [the necklace] in the store filled with things.” “I love sandwiches!” Some great specificity there, Elsa and Anna.

–David: “When I was 6 years old, I woke up hearing my father and mother go at it.” Uhhhhh… “They fought a lot.” Okay, phew.

–Drinking and driving: Even in fairy land, it’s not a great idea.

–Granny’s best out of context quote: “I’ve got a fridge full of iffy clams.”

–Hey Emma: If you’re literally freezing to death, maybe it’d be a good idea to zip up your jacket?

–Best worst line of the night: “Emma is trapped under ice by some woman with ice magic!”

–Next week on Once, according to the announcer: “Frost bites when a frozen curse is cast, and a snow queen rises with twice the ice—and zero nice.” Just gonna leave this here again:

http://youtu.be/SRH-Ywpz1_I

Follow me on Twitter: @hillibusterr

Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.
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