Once Upon a Time season premiere recap: 'A Tale of Two Sisters'
Brrr—it's cold in here as Once begins its fourth season, featuring the gang from Frozen.
(With apologies to Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez:)
Do you want to watch some TV?
Once is back, let’s take a look
We’ve been missing Rumpelstiltskin’s flair
And Emma’s magic hair,
(Though all we really want is Hook)
So wait, is Regina good now?
Or is she not?
Just one way for us to knooowww…
Do you wanna watch some TV?
It really does have to be TV
(Go away, Henry.)
To Storybrooke we go.
Welcome back to the wonderful world of Disney—that is, season 4 of Once Upon a Time. If you’ve been hiding under a bridge since May—and/or if your DVR accidentally cut off the bonkers final 30 seconds of season 3’s finale—you may have been surprised to see a few familiar braids pop up on tonight’s premiere.
That’s right: Storybrooke has officially Frozen over. Characters imported from Disney’s latest animated hit—Elsa, Anna, and, to a lesser extent, a short-haired Kristoff—got nearly as much screen time tonight as Once stalwarts like Emma and Snow White. (In some cases—hey, remember when Henry was Once‘s fulcrum?—they got a whole lot more.) And the relative plot stinginess of the premiere’s Frozen flashbacks, which set up some big questions without answering any of them, indicates that we’ll be taking several more trips to Arendelle circa “a long time ago” before Once‘s half-season Frozen arc is through.
So should fans expect season 4A’s flashbacks to focus solely on the snowy sisters? I could actually be into this idea, if only because three 22-episode seasons have wrung the flashback well fairly dry, at least for the show’s major characters. (Note that when Once‘s Grandmother Willow show Lost had reached this point in its own run, it’d already moved on to flash-forwards.) I can also, however, understand if some viewers grow to resent the amount of attention being paid to Once‘s latest visitors, given how new a property Frozen is—especially when compared to, say, Snow White. I also worry that the show may be too reluctant to give Frozen the full Once treatment—twisty, kinda dark—for fear of alienating the movie’s bazillions of young, fervent fans.
Of course, all of this hand-wringing is premature, given that OUAT‘s adventure in Frozen fan fiction has just begun. So let’s start out properly by examining what we learned from E&A’s first set of flashbacks.
NEXT: Two sisters, both alike in hairstyle
After a short prologue starring Anna and Elsa’s poor, doomed mother and father, Once picks up pretty much right where Frozen left off. Motor-mouthed Anna is preparing for her wedding to hunky Kristoff; serene Elsa has her powers under control and is, presumably, ruling her queendom with a fair and frosty hand. (Oh, and Olaf either melted or never existed. Which is probably a good thing, considering Once‘s CGI track record.)
The plot gets moving when E learns that her dearly departed parents didn’t actually die while on a diplomatic mission; their ship sank while en route to a land that held the secret of controlling Elsa’s magic. As a helpful troll (voiced by John Rhys-Davies, a.k.a. Gimli! Hope getting these roles isn’t giving him a complex) explains, they were really headed to a place that the people of Arendelle call “Mist Haven.” You may know it by another name: Steampunk Universal Horror Gothic Monsterland.
Psych! It is, of course, the Enchanted Forest, land of 10,000 kings but no kingdoms with names. Should we place bets on how long it takes before Elsa and Anna learn that they’re actually Regina’s nieces, or Snow White’s second cousins twice removed, or Rumpel’s fairy godmother’s twin sister’s piano teacher’s husband’s uncle’s childhood best friends?
Now that the Braid Twins have learned the truth about what happened to their parents, Anna is determined to find out what they were searching for when they died. But Elsa—say it with me now—wants her sister to let it go. The journey will be dangerous! Leaving the kingdom is like inviting Evil Hans and his 12 Evil Brothers to invade! And hey, isn’t Anna’s wedding, like, tomorrow? No dice; despite Elsa’s trepidation, headstrong Anna decides to set off to the Land of Charmings anyway. We won’t know for awhile what happens once she gets there—but we do know that sometime afterwards, Elsa a) will have an encounter with Rumpelstiltskin that b) ends with her trapped within his Vault of Dangerous Things.
Flash-forward to the present day, when Elsa has finally escaped her prison—only to find herself even farther from home. The confident body language of the figure we saw emerge from that barn last season seemed to imply that Once‘s take on Arendelle’s Snow Queen would be a villainess. But now that we’re seeing Elsa from the front (because, you know, in May the character hadn’t yet been cast), she’s looking a lot more panicked and vulnerable. Nice neck acting, Georgina Haig.
It’s not long before Elsa has her first encounter with the citizens of Storybrooke—and with a strange, magical Real World contraption known as the automobile. (Quick, someone make a supercut of characters who think it’s the past being shocked and terrified by cars.) Long story short, she nearly transforms Grumpy and Sleepy into dwarfsicles. Knowing how much Storybrookeites love forming big, unruly mobs, this presumably will not end well.
NEXT: It’s the hardest thing Robin’s ever had to do
It’ll take some time before Elsa encounters our real heroes (i.e. the Magical Breakfast Club, Emma, Regina, Snow, Charming, and Hook. Plus Rumpel, who I guess would have to be Principal Vernon, if we’re sticking with this analogy. Whatever, leddadoh). Which is fine, since most of the club’s members are already occupied with their own assorted drama.
Rumpelstiltskin is wracked with guilt over deceiving his new bride, Belle, who still thinks she has the true Dark One’s Dagger. Despite their apparent happy ending, Emma’s having trouble truly opening her heart to Hook. And then there’s Regina, who has finally made the full transition to Complicated Heroine after three seasons of gradual growth—only to find herself right where she started, thanks to the unwelcome reappearance of Robin Hood’s first Twue Wuv, Maid Marian.
The outlaw’s onetime (and future?) wife is horrified enough to discover that everyone in town has apparently forgiven the Queen for her trespasses—and she’s absolutely livid when she learns that Robin and Regina have been snuggling in front of fireplaces with enormous platters of cured meat. It’s enough to erase years of character development—especially after Robin lets her know that though his feelings for her are real, his hands are tied and his heart’s not free. See, he made a vow to stay with Marian ’til death—and as there’s no time-travel escape clause, he has to honor that commitment. Boom, clap—that’s the sound of Regina’s heart, and also a mirror, breaking.
And so we’ve come to this: Regina venturing deep into the looney bin below the hospital, where she’s been holding
stars of failed NBC dramas Sidney Glass, a.k.a. the Magic Mirror, prisoner this whole time. Looks like someone’s trying to get the old Evil Band back together. How does that saying go—one step forward, way too many steps back?
Regina’s slide into season 1-style villainy takes a brief pause when Grumpy starts running around town screaming that Storybrooke is under attack, all because he had to spend one night on ice. Some people pay good money for that experience, Grumps. A terrified Elsa—who’s still managed to stay mostly hidden from view, somehow—responds by conjuring up a familiar-looking snow beast. They’re really putting all their Frozen cards on the table at once, huh? It stomps around town, snarling like the Cave of Wonders and, as Emma notices, only attacking when it feels threatened. But though it’s not naturally aggressive, it seems fairly indestructible; even Emma’s ill-defined magic powers are no match for it.
NEXT: A head-scratcher of a scheme, plus the year’s first Breadcrumbs
There’s a brief, worrisome moment when it seems as though the creature will decimate the Merry Men, starting with their auxiliary Merry Woman—until Regina apparates in and firebombs the beast into nothing but a bunch of harmless snowballs. (See, Emma? This is what magic looks like.) The move impresses Marian, who’s starting to realize that perhaps Regina isn’t such a monster after all. Neat! Shades of gray! Perhaps it was wrong to worry about this story line.
Except, wait, this is what happens next: Originally, Regina’s cockamamie plan to win back Robin Hood was to go back in time and kill Marian before Emma could save her. (Which, you must admit, has a certain elegance, as far as evil schemes go.) Now, after saving Marian, she changes her tune. “This book is why I’m suffering, not Marian,” she tells a re-Mirror-ified Sidney, referring to Henry’s old storybook—which apparently can never cast a villain in a new light, even after she’s redeemed herself. “We must find out who wrote this cursed tome, and then force them to give me what I deserve. It’s time to change the book.”
–Remember Elsa? After, I guess, just chilling (ha ha ha) in her hiding place for half a day, she sneaks out and follows her nose to Rumpel’s pawn shop, where she finds the snowflake necklace she gave Anna the day that the younger princess set off for the Enchanted Forest. So at last, we have a motive for Present-Day Elsa: She’s searching for her long-lost sister. Maybe when they reunite, they’ll sing this song.
–Oh, and as for Rumpelstiltskin: His story line is fairly tangential to the episode’s main plot, since he and Belle have stolen away (to a mansion that appeared in Storybrooke “after the last curse,” because that’s a thing that happens) for their honeymoon—although like Regina’s plot, it’s also themed around new beginnings and redemption. All you really need to know: Rump signifies that he’s truly ready to turn over a new leaf when he makes good on his pledge to switch the fake dagger with the real one, then indicates that old habits may die hard when he surreptitiously conjures up the sorcerer’s hat from Fantasia. Well, okay then!
–Speaking of, what’s our verdict on Rumpel and Belle reenacting Belle and the Beast’s famous ballroom scene? Personally, I found it a little too fan-servicey—and more than a little bit on the nose.
–Once has featured some truly breathtaking costumes in the past, which is why Elsa’s itchy-looking polyester “ice gown” is such a travesty. It’s like she nicked it from a high school production of Into the Woods.
–Elizabeth Mitchell: What’s her role in all this? All we know so far is that the former Lost star will show up at some point this season as “the Snow Queen”—a chilly monarch much less sympathetic than Elsa. (Also on tap sometime in the near future: Michael Socha as the Knave of Hearts, imported from Once‘s dead Wonderland spin-off.)
–Anna, probably delighting fans: “Elsa, [Kristoff] knows what to wear. It’s not like he grew up in a barn. Fine, yes, he lived in one for a while—but he grew up with trolls!”
–Did anyone else try to read Anna and Elsa’s parents’ diary when a page flashed onscreen? Because on my screener, at least, it just looked like complete gibberish. Like, collections of letters that didn’t form words.
–Between Regina and Emma’s confrontation, Regina and Robin’s confrontation, Rumpelstiltskin at Nealfire’s grave, and all that Frozen exposition, tonight’s premiere was unusually talky.
–Storybrooke’s unnamed residents spend 30 percent of their time shouting angrily in town hall meetings and the other 70 percent running through the streets screaming.
–Way to crouch in the dirt in your dead mother’s wedding dress, Anna.
–”Mirror Mirror on the wall, show me who I want to kill most of all.” Oof.
–One cute moment between Emma and Hook: “You want to go home and see what’s on Netflix?” “I don’t know what that is, but sure.”
–Another Frozen Easter Egg: That shot of Emma on one side of the door and Regina on the other is very “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”
–Seriously though, what does the dang storybook have to do with anything?
Follow me on Twitter: @hillibusterr
Once Upon a Time
Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.