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Once Upon A Time - A Tale of Two Sisters - Review

I’m going to be brutally honest with you, dear readers. When I first saw Elsa emerge from her urn in last season’s finale, I was not on board with Frozen being integrated into the world of Once Upon a Time. I felt it was too soon for such a new Disney installment to be introduced and I feared that as popular a franchise as this would eclipse the stories and characters we had grown to love. The season four premiere proved me wrong. I found it to be well balanced; giving ample time for both the developing Frozen aspect, as well as the drama that is currently taxing our favorite Storybrooke denizens, though I found the Frozen bits a tad dry. As always, the casting was spot on for both Anna and Elsa and I am actually curious as to their ties to the Enchanted Forest and our heroes. And speaking of our heroes, despite the external drama of another new threat plaguing the town in Maine, I am most looking forward to the interpersonal conflicts hinted at throughout this episode, conflicts I am looking forward to seeing fleshed out.

This week’s episode begins as so many do, with a flashback to fairy tale days of yore. We see a ship being tossed among the waves, dangerously close to capsizing. Indeed, the travelers aboard the vessel know they don’t have much time as we see a woman furiously scribbling a message to be sent adrift in a bottle before resigning to her fate as the storm outside rages on. This is the Queen of Arendelle and she insists to her husband that the message is of the utmost importance, claiming “Anna and Elsa must know the truth” before the vessel is consumed by the waves. What truth this we do not know, for the scene changes to years later and a shot of the Frozen sisters clasping hands at their parents’ graves. Elsa comforts Anna and alludes a surprise she has in store for her sister’s impending wedding.

Quickly we jump to present day Storybrooke, where Elsa, freshly freed from her urn, seems very ill at ease entering the sleepy town in Maine. Her entrance is very reminiscent of last year’s promos featuring the Wicked Witch of the West, where the yellow brick road appeared in Zelena’s wake, only in Elsa’s case it’s a frosty trail of ice. You’d think Storybrooke would have developed an early warning system regarding strange women invading the town by now. I mean, aside from Grumpy’s town crier act.

Elsa is not used to the ways of the modern world and upon encountering Grumpy and Sleepy in their van, the latter of whom is of course asleep at the wheel (who let the narcoleptic dwarf drive?) she puts their ride on ice, freezing the van so it won’t collide with her. Most of Elsa’s powers in this episode seem to be driven by emotion and gut reaction. I’m interested in seeing how this will coincide with Emma’s magical powers and the savior’s learning to control them. Rumpelstilskin and Cora, neither the best role models, did emphasize that magic is emotion. Perhaps Emma and Elsa have things they can teach each other. I’m looking forward to these two potentially interacting in a positive way. Emma Swan needs adult friends who aren’t her parents, plain and simple.

Over at Granny’s Diner aka Drama Central, we pick up our story right where we left off at the end of season 3, with Regina reacting to Marian’s return from the dead. Or in this case, it’s more Marian reacting to Regina. Robin Hood’s wife is dumbstruck that everyone is so at ease in the presence of the Evil Queen and I enjoyed seeing our heroes stepping up and supporting Regina. They’ve seen how the Evil Queen has grown since she first hatched a plan to cast her dark curse and this support system is exactly what Regina was lacking in the first place, one of the things I feel that made it so easy for her to be as ruthless as she was. The million dollar question posed by Henry, the “will she, won’t she” regarding Regina returning to her evil ways, especially how far she’s come, is something I think this episode handles very well. We are seeing a season four Regina react to a season one problem. True, our queen maybe hatching a plan, but the way she now goes about gaining her happy ending is quite different than how she would have three seasons ago. I’m very glad to see that this character hasn’t back-peddled in her development when she so easily could have for the sake of drama.

In a flashback to Arendelle, Elsa reveals the surprise for her sister; she’s unearthed their mother’s wedding dress. As Anna tries it on, she natters away while Elsa indulges her. The heart of these two characters is their sisterly bond, which one can truly feel in the actresses’ portrayal. I especially enjoy Anna in all her scenes since the actress has nailed down the spunky attitude we saw in the Frozen film. Normally I would find such a character grating, but we get just enough of Anna that she remains endearing to the viewer. While Anna models the wedding dress, Elsa snoops around the attic and discovers her parents’ diary. Whatever she reads in it greatly upsets her, causing Elsa to blame herself for their parents’ death and leave the attic abruptly. A nice touch in this scene that we see throughout the episode is that when the snow queen feels anxiety, flurries appear around her. A nice visual cue to reinforce the bond between her emotions and her gift.

Meanwhile, in current day Storybrooke, more anxiety is afoot as our favorite imp with the limp, Rumpelstilskin, is visiting his son Baelfire’s grave. I love this scene; it’s moving to see Rumple recount a memory he has of his son during better times, a memory that has stayed with the Dark One for many years. I am very pleased that the writers still acknowledge Nealfire after his death. After all, he was the thing that set all of Rumple’s schemes into motion. The Dark One confesses to his son’s gravestone that he lied to his new bride Belle and still has control over the dagger that grants him his power. Rumpelstilskin asks for his son’s strength, the strength of a hero who selflessly gave his life, to make amends and truly give Belle the dagger. This is one thing from last season that left a bad taste in my mouth. As happy as I was that Belle and Rumple were married and as understanding as I was that Rumple needed to avenge his son, starting his marriage out on a lie regarding the dagger will have serious consequences and I need Once Upon a Time to show us how this couple will deal with them.

Over at Regina’s, Robin Hood comes to call on the queen. It is here that we see the code of honor by which the Prince of Thieves lives his life. Robin is genuinely in love with Regina, but he made a vow to Marian and cannot break that. Robin Hood is truly tortured here, you can hear it in his voice and see it in his expression. This man is in pain, forced to make an impossible choice. With this much conflict and chemistry, I highly doubt we will be seeing that last of Regina and Robin Hood together. And speaking of Regina, her majesty takes the news as well as one can, only magically shattering one mirror in her frustration. However, instead of seven years of bad luck, Regina get a brainwave. Inspired by her broken mirror, she calls on another one, rescuing Sidney Glass from his cell in the hospital basement. The Evil Queen needs help plotting something big. Just a note, it’s so nice to see season one characters back on the show. I understand that actors’ schedules are preposterously busy, so anytime someone from earlier episodes can come back it always fills me with glee.

Back to the newlywed Rumple and Belle, who are honeymooning in a house Belle found “on a morning hike”. She hasn’t a clue who lived in the manor and I personally think it a little odd that Mr. And Mrs. The Dark One have decided to claim it as their honeymoon love nest, but then again this is a show where school teachers talk to birds, so carry on. Rumpelstilskin takes an opportunity while Belle chatters on about the house they’ll squatting in to swap the false dagger for the real one. No harm, no foul in Rumple’s mind, though I do hope Belle eventually learns the truth, and I especially hope she learns it from Rumple himself. The Dark One also notices an odd trinket on one of the end tables, like a music box or something similar. Whatever the purpose of the object, Rumpelstilskin seems both familiar and distracted by it, so we know it must be powerful and dangerous. However, Belle cares nothing for haunted knick knacks, and drags Rumple to see the rest of the house.

And here comes a scene that made my Disney fan heart flutter as it’s quite the nod to an iconic scene from Beauty and the Beast. A few snaps of the fingers from Rumple (smooth as hell) and he and his bride have donned familiar costumes and share their first dance as husband and wife to a twinkly piano rendering of the animated Beauty and the Beast's theme. I loved it. This couple has been through quite a bit, with more conflict on the way, so it’s nice to see them have a moment of pure fairy tale sugary sweetness. Snow and Charming can’t hog it all!

Elsewhere in town, Henry is out for a walk with his family (so half the population of Storybrooke). Snow White discusses with her daughter not only her hopes that Regina doesn’t give into dark urges, but Emma’s budding relationship with Hook, for which Emma seems still a bit confused about. Even when Hook shows up and asks if the savior is avoiding him, Emma claims that there is a crisis afoot. I agree with the pirate, Emma, there is always something afoot in Storybrooke you need to work around that. This relationship between Emma and Hook has a long way to go in my mind. Emma Swan has protected herself for so long and now is finally beginning to trust in family and friends. Last season was very much about the savior accepting she was part of a community and one must wonder what happened in her past to make her so resistant and in disbelief of the idea. As Hook and Emma’s relationship grows, one of my wishes for this season is that Once Upon a Time gives us more of the savior’s back story. I know I’m not alone is wishing to see the events that shaped Emma into the strong, yet vulnerable woman she is today.

Before Emma and Hook can hash out any more of their relationship problems, the Storybrooke Mobile Gossip Hotline aka Grumpy comes running up to alert every one of the chilly predicament he found himself in last night. In trying to figure out who is responsible for putting the dwarves on ice, Emma notices one of Elsa’s frozen trails that follow in her wake. Before you can say “Doppler radar” the pair follow the frosty forensics and end up cornering the snow queen, who in her anxiety creates an icy giant to protect herself. One of the things I have to remark upon is the CGI effects that went into making everything frosty. While some of the ice seemed a bit cartoony, I absolutely loved the detail of the ice that composed Elsa’s monster subliming as he lumbered about Storybrooke’s more temperate climate. Also, the best part of this sequence is Emma’s facial expressions, hands down. She is just so over all these magical shenanigans and the resigned look of annoyance on her face when Grumpy cries out “Evil snowman! Run!!” makes me laugh every single time.

In a flashback, we see Elsa confess to Anna what she read in that hidden diary. Their parents didn’t perish on a diplomatic journey; they were on the search for something related to Elsa’s powers. The diary even goes to far as to detail the fear the queen and king of Arendelle had of their daughter’s gift. I think Elsa might be reading things out of context in that diary and it seems like Anna agrees with me as she brings up the fact that the sisters have no idea what her parents were up to on their journey. Anna suggests they seek the counsel of the trolls, one of my least favorite parts of the Frozen movie. The CGI here is decent, the troll did indeed look like the one found in the Disney film, but I am a sucker for practical effects and would have preferred an actor in makeup. Anyway, the troll can’t shed too much light on what Anna and Elsa’s parents were really up to, only that they were headed for a land known as “Mist Haven”. Anna is keen to go to this land and get some answers. Elsa, not so much. She reminds Anna that Hans is still skulking about, waiting to get his grubby gloved hands on their kingdom should they show weakness. Anna offers to go alone, saying she’s only be a short while, but Elsa throws it back in her sister’s face that that is what their dead parents said. Cold, Elsa, even for you.

Despite the warnings however, Anna sets off for Mist Haven. She has her fiancĂ©, Kristoff, delay Elsa long enough so Anna may begin her journey and get some answers. Kristoff is also there so that Elsa won’t be alone and seems to know a bit more about Mist Haven then the sisters, for he calls it by another name; the Enchanted Forest. I’m intrigued to see what became of Anna in the Enchanted Forest, as well as what all that business about the message in the bottle from the former king and queen of Arendelle was about. And who put Elsa in that urn? This Frozen storyline is growing on me, despite my earlier reservations.

Back in Storybrooke, while Frosty the Golem is lumbering around in the woods, Regina is in her vault, plotting away. She explains her desire to remove Marian from the current equation, which causes Sidney to eagerly recount her former murderous ways. I think all that alone time may have done a number on the Magic Mirror for he seems even more blindly devoted to Regina than before, to a creepy extent. Speaking of mirror, the Evil Queen poofs her henchman into his former prison so that he may better serve her needs. Regina needs to know the exact moment she encountered Marian in the past so as to better kill her foe.

But seeing her ruthless former self within her Magic Mirror causes Regina to reflect, so much so that when Marian is about to be squished by the irate snowman running amuck outside, Regina saves Marian’s life before poofing away to solitude. I genuinely thought the queen was going to give in to her evil urges and leave Marian to be snow bait, or at the very least let her be someone else’s problem. Remember, this used to be a woman who murdered her own father to achieve her goals, so to see her saving her current enemy is significant. Regina is moving around obstacles instead of obliterating the ones in her path.

One of my favorite shots of the episode comes soon after, where Emma tries to comfort Regina through a locked door. Obviously this is a parallel to a similar scene in Disney’s Frozen, but that doesn’t stop the shot from looking stunning. I always say, Regina and Emma are two sides of the same coin, they are both women in similar situations that made very different choices and I always enjoy seeing their conflict from both of their perspectives. And while I don’t think the Evil Queen needs to be coddled, I understand Emma’s persistence in trying to make amends with Regina. Emma has begun to really take her role as savior to heart and feels guilty that she has unintentionally done the opposite of what Henry brought her to do in Storybrooke in the first place and that’s ensure a happy ending for all.

The events of the day have inspired Regina to take the bull by the horns and find out who the author of Henry’s book is. She wishes to change The Book and finally get a happy ending, an approach much more interesting than simply spending eleven episodes plotting to kill Maid Marian. This is THE mystery for a lot of Once Upon a Time fans. The identity of The Book’s author is something that has been fervently speculated upon since season one and now we are finally inching towards some answers. I have my own theories, some of which involve her royal shadiness, the Blue Fairy, but I’m excited to say time will now tell. This may be the storyline I am most invested in.

Later, under the cover of night, Elsa, who had been fixated on a newspaper clipping of the newly wed Rumple and Belle, sneaks into the pawn shop and finds the same unique necklace Elsa gave Anna as a wedding gift years ago in the land of Arendelle. Only the necklace now appears to be partially melted. I wonder if Anna had an encounter with the Dark One on her adventures in the Enchanted Forest and if this has anything to do with why Elsa was put in her urn in the first place. We know Rumple kept the urn in a vault where only the most dangerous of magic lies, so what is the key to Elsa’s power and why is it seen to be the equivalent of an atomic bomb? Sure, she gets upset or scared and giant blood thirsty snowmen appear, but there has to be something more, something tied to the origin of Elsa’s power.

Across town, Rumpelstilskin is up to his own sneaking about. He, much to my personal annoyance, is in possession of the Dark One dagger while Belle sleeps. Using its magic,Rumple unlocks the small trinket box that caught his eye earlier. And what should unfold from inside, but a very familiar blue wizard hat. If you’ve ever heard of Mickey Mouse or dancing brooms, then you know that this is the iconic Sorcerer’s hat from Fantasia. I really love Once Upon a Time’s take on the stars normally festooned on the cap. Instead of cheesy fabric stars sew onto the sides, the Sorcerer’s hat looks as though it contains a mini-galaxy, swirling in a void barely contained by the head wear. It’s a very visually interesting and unique interpretation of a fantasy icon and I am pleased with Once Upon a Time’s interpretation of this. However, the real questions here are, whose hat is this and what does Rumple want with its power? We’ll just have to wait and speculate.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this episode, particularly since I felt the stronger story lines this week focused on our usual Storybrooke denizens and their personal struggles. While I no longer mind the addition of Frozen to this season, (I actually found the scene-stealing reindeer, Sven, to be quite amusing), I have to say one thing did bug me about these chilly characters’ portrayals. One of the most intriguing things about Once Upon a Time is how it takes a fairy tale we think we know and turns it on its head or gives it its own special flair. Like what we saw regarding the Sorcerer’s hat. I felt that with Frozen, I was just seeing a rehash of the characters from the film. The actors did a fine portrayal for these characters, but I’m still waiting for the OUaT spin on this particular tale because right now I’m slightly underwhelmed.

A running theme in this episode is a person’s perception of themselves. Throughout the episode, Regina, Rumple, and Elsa all are faced with the title of “monster”. A monster is something that deviates from a “normal” structure or behavior. Despite having strong familial support systems, these three all continue to see themselves as something wrong, something that needs to be changed. And all three have very unique ideas regarding how to do that. What these three could learn from each other and how they deal or embrace the moniker of “monster” is something I hope the season continues to explore. The grey area that Once Upon a Time thrives in, the challenge to the audience’s view on heroes and villains, the strive to understand motivation and circumstance with regard to a character’s actions, as always been one of my favorite aspects of this show.

I have high hopes for this season. I am extremely intrigued by what Rumpelstilskin currently has up his sleeve, as well as his relationship and commitment to Belle. The same goes for all Storybrooke relationships, romantic, familial, and platonic. I am willing to indulge in the Frozen storyline if it proves an interesting framework, a supplement, and a parallel to the character stories I’ve grown so invested in over these past years.

What did you think of "A Tale of Two Sisters"? Leave a comment below!

And tune in next week as Elsa puts the entire town of Storybrooke on ice in “White Out”!

About the Author – Ashley B
Ashley is as serious as a sleeping curse when she says television is her life. Professional event planner, avid movie viewer, convention enthusiast, and resident sass master, Ashley writes reviews for ABC's Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and Galavant, as well as Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. She looks forward each week to the weird and wonderful world her favorite television programs provide.
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