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Once Upon a Time - The Snow Queen - Review

I have to say I enjoyed this latest Once Upon a Time outing. The episode didn’t knock my socks off on the whole nor did it shake me to my core, but it was extremely satisfying. It gave the audience some much needed back story for the titular Snow Queen, as well as not only presenting a game changer with Emma and her magic, but showing just how far ahead of everyone else the Snow Queen is . Once again, Elizabeth Mitchell steals the show, both in her flashback scenes as well as those in the interrogation room. The presence of Frozen was also very diminished in this episode; this is the Snow Queen and Emma’s tale through and through. What I think I liked the most about this season 4 entry was that it was subtle. Most of the storytelling was in the actions of the characters, not their words. The facial expressions and aside glances spoke volumes, painting a clear picture of the unfolding conflict.

This episode opens an a beautiful, bucolic scene with three sisters, no doubt Helga, Gerda, and the future Snow Queen Ingrid, frolicking through a meadow after a kite. It’s actually quite sad to see this scene since we know things will end horrible for the sisters. The kite they are chasing crashes into a tree and is spoiled except for the ribbons that make up the tail. While the three have a sisterly argument over who is entitled to the ribbons, the owner of the kite appears from behind the tree. I guess they’ve never heard of "stranger danger" in Arendelle for the man grabs the youngest sister, Gerda, and goes on about how he will be paid a royal ransom for the three. Ingrid goes to save her sibling and accidentally unleashes her ice powers on the nearby tree, cause part of it to freeze and squish the stranger. Though she saved her sisters, Ingrid commands them to stay back, terrified of her powers.

And this is the thing I love about these three. Helga and Gerda see no problem with the future Snow Queen, in fact they see her as their protector and stand by her side. Ingrid is still worried that the subjects of Arendelle will find out about her icy affliction, but her sisters comfort her and the trio make a pact with the ribbons. As long as they have them, they will be there for each other. I do love that the Snow Queen’s sisters are loyal without question, that they love their sister unconditionally. The only fault I can find with this scene is that it’s the only appearance we get of Brighton Sharbino. I haven’t had the chance to get into The Walking Dead (I know, television sin) but from what fans of the show have told me, this young actress excels at playing cold and sociopathic characters, traits I would have found interesting in the young Snow Queen.

Over in present day Storybrooke, Regina is still studying away in her vault, trying in vain to find a cure for the popsicle that is Maid Marian. I wish Regina had more to do this half of the season. I know that this storyline primarily focuses on Emma and her parallels with both Elsa and the Snow Queen, but we can only stand so many scenes of the Evil Queen pouring over dusty books. Anyway, Robin Hood appears in her doorway and Regina reminds her former love to stay away, that he should be trying to rekindle his love for his wife if he wants to save her. And here Robin gets one of my favorite lines of the episode, he tells Regina that his “mind was in the forest, but his heart took him here”. He can’t get the Evil Queen out of his head, even despite Regina’s firm stance, and Robin is seriously conflicted.

At the sheriff’s station, Emma and Elsa are going over a spell Belle uncovered in her research. That gal has a book for every occasion! This spell is something they can use to neutralize the Snow Queen’s frosty magic and capture her. Elsa draws from her own experiences in Arendelle and remarks that it must be hard for Emma, being the only one in her family with magic. However Emma assures the ice queen that no, Emma’s family doesn’t treat her different even though she has powers. Elsa admits that Emma is very lucky for this and you really see the pain this character has had to go through to acceptance and how that’s changed her. The pair practice the spell and it doesn’t seem to go quite right, but more fine tuning must be saved for later since Emma has been roped into babysitting and must pick up Baby Neal.

And here we get a wonderful scene of the Storybrooke Mommy and Me class. This is an example of what I love the most about Once Upon a Time: fairy tale characters in mundane situations. I mean, what’s not to love about Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty together at Gymboree? And can I say, I loved seeing Aurora again and in contemporary clothes too! Her bit of dialogue about the “devil box” aka the television was also amusing. I enjoy seeing new additions to Storybrooke adjusting to modern life. And, because I know it will come up in the comments, I personally don’t think there was a continuity error with Cinderella’s baby Alex because I don’t believe baby girls are required to wear pink.

Throughout the wrap up of the Mommy and Me classes, Emma just hangs in the doorway, rather aloof. It doesn’t help matters that Cinderella goes on to say that the class is for first time mothers, an implication towards Snow White’s motherhood of the savior that Emma takes as a personal slight against her. Even when Snow tries to mitigated the situation and soothe her daughter’s hurt feelings, Emma insists its ok, that it’s true her mother never got the chance to raise her. It’s obvious though that this conversation has Emma heated in more ways than one when we see the savior inadvertently use magic to cause the milk in the baby bottle she is holding to boil.

All of the fairy tale moms shy away at this, almost shielding their children, including Snow White which actually irritated me. I understand Snow is hyper protective of Baby Neal due to all she went through with Emma, but really this is a bit much. Lucky for Emma, she is spared any further awkwardness by a call from Charming, who found an icy trail of evidence pointing to the Snow Queen heading up to the library’s clock tower. Long time viewers will agree with me when I say, that monument just can’t catch a break, can it? Emma with Charming, Elsa, and Hook in tow manage to crash the Snow Queen’s party in the clock tower as Emma successfully uses the spell and binds their foe. I love that Elsa was so excited Emma pulled off the spell her first reaction was a hug. More and more I am hoping Elsa sticks around and continues to be a friend to the savior. The Snow Queen very off-handedly remarks that she’s been captured, but we all know it’s not that easy, right?

Flashback to Arendelle, where we see an older Gerda and Helga getting ready for a ball. It’s the King of Arendelle’s birthday, but his eldest daughter will not be in attendance. The Snow Queen wants to hide, fearful of what her powers may do, even when her sisters remain undyingly supportive and want their older sister to come party with them. The Snow Queen quickly changes the subject to a duke who will be in attendance; one who has eyes for sister Helga. The last thing the Snow Queen wants is the ruin this special day and urges her sisters to have fun for her. The trio clasp hands in solidarity, something we will see them do throughout the episode and as a testament to their bond we can see that they all are wearing the kite ribbons on their wrists.

So down at the royal shindig, Helga is introducing this duke fellow to her father. The guy is a bit of a bumbling fool, clearly meant to be the Duke of Wesselton (or Weaselton as I prefer) and if you hadn’t guessed by his appearance, his dance moves surely give him away. The duke is obviously a shady character if you are up to date on your Frozen lore, but I find myself not being irritated with his inclusion in the plot. As we will see later on, the duke definitely serves a purpose outside of just being another sly reference to the Disney movie. With the party in full swing, we see the Snow Queen has crept down to observe the merry making. She sees her sisters having a grand time, but the Snowflakes of Anxiety so common with Elsa begin to flutter around the queen. I guess this quirk must run in the family.

In present day Storybrooke, we are back at the sheriff’s station, where Emma and Elsa team up to interrogate the captive Snow Queen. Elsa demands to know where Anna is and the Snow Queen tells her she is grasping at straws, reminding her Disney counterpart of how Anna supposedly was the one to trap Elsa in the urn. The Snow Queen finds all the chinks in Elsa’s armor, telling the younger woman that Anna couldn’t handle the idea that her sister was different and gifted with this magic, which sends Elsa into full bad cop mode, getting right up in the Snow Queen’s face. Emma wisely (or maybe unwisely) sends her emotional friend out of the room, asking her to help the rest of our heroes in their efforts to deactivate the deadly mirror still in the clock tower.

And now it’s Emma’s turn to question the Snow Queen. The savior reminds her captive that she is certainly not interested in being the Snow Queen’s “sister-buddy”, though the queen plays the family card to its fullest and begins to get under Emma’s skin and in her head about their shared past. It would seem that the savior can see through this tactic, even when the Snow Queen assures Emma that she will eventually release her. It’s very clear that the Snow Queen is already in control of the situation, right down to the fact that it is she, not Emma, who steers their conversation. This makes the interrogation scenes all the more tense for it becomes a question of when the Snow Queen will strike, not if.

Emma asks about the Spell of Shattered Sight, telling the Snow Queen that they already know her plans, the only question now is why. Why has The Snow Queen been tracking Emma her whole life? That for me is the million dollar question, but the best we get from the Snow Queen is that she was protecting Emma. I find it interesting that the queen alludes to every family having its ups and downs. Clearly there is more to the story, but we won’t get it just yet as Emma is insistent she has a family and it’s not with the Snow Queen. However Her Royal Iciness counters Emma’s declaration with one of her own, that family is a bond stronger than genetics. Her family may love her, but ultimately they fear Emma and what she is capable of. The Snow Queen continues to push Emma’s buttons, inquiring if her family has ever seemed scared of her power (which we now know they have) and tells the savior that she too once believed that her family in Arendelle loved her despite her abilities.

While Emma and the Snow Queen verbally duke it out, Elsa has joined Hook and Charming at the clock tower in their efforts to figure out the secrets of the mirror. Belle arrives with more research and flies into a panic when she sees them gazing in the looking glass, believing they will fall under its spell as she had. However, no one has had the experience the librarian had with her darker side and our heroes realize that this mirror is a fake. It’s at this time the Snow Queen subtly waggles her fingers and causes the entrance to the sheriff’s station to freeze over, locking her and Emma in alone together. I think someone is giving Rumpelstilskin a run for their money when it comes to playing the long game.

Over at Granny’s, Robin Hood is at the Dartboard of Romantic Angst where we’ve seen so many characters before, though he is so distracted his aim leaves something to be desired. The Knave of Hearts enters the diner and he is the last person Robin wishes to see. The two end up sharing a drink as the Knave wishes to make amends. Robin brings up the Knave’s betrayal of the Merry Men in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland and we get a glimpse of what went sour between him and the Red Queen. The Knave simply states that “sometimes when you win you lose”. We don’t get a definitive answer as to what happened between the Knave of Hearts and the Red Queen and I really want to know exactly why he is in town now more than ever. I truly hope that the happy ending he earned at the end of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland remains intact.

Robin Hood, feeling nostalgic, tells the story of how he met Maid Marian, though this is really all for the sake of exposition. Robin stole Marian’s father’s horse for no reason and she pleaded with the thief for its return as it was the only thing of value that her family owned. Robin, feeling guilty, repaid her family with two of his own steeds and from that day on only robbed from the rich to give to the poor. Robin Hood credits Marian with making him the man he is today. The Knave admits that he once asked Maid Marian why she chose a bandit’s life to be with Robin and she said that “once you see the good in someone, you never give up”. She believed that once you found your True Love you fight for it every day. The Knave also adds a bit of his own wisdom into the mix, telling Robin that if you find someone you’d go so far as to change your entire life for, it’s always worth it. Clearly, Robin Hood has a lot to think about.

Still elsewhere in Storybrooke, Henry, looking very dapper in a suit and tie, has just finished sweeping up the pawn shop. Rumpelstilskin told his young apprentice that if he wants to carry on the family business, he must look that part and that means looking spiffy in a snappy suit. However, the Dark One is still only giving Henry menial tasks about the shop, certainly not letting his grandson near anything magical. You have to wonder if Rumple saw right through Henry’s ruse and knows his part time employment has to do with more than the family biz. As Henry goes to the back the polish the knick knacks, Charming and company arrive seeking Rumpelstilskin’s help. They’ve discovered the doors of the sheriff’s station to be frozen solid and need his magical help at unsticking them in order to lend Emma a hand. It’s not until his wife pleads with him to help that Rumple moves to action, something Hook quickly picks up on. When the pair are alone, the pirate points out that the Dark One has an agenda. Rumple seems unconcerned with the Snow Queen as opposed to the other numerous threats he has had to help conquer. The imp with the limp reminds Hook very evenly to mind his own business.

Flashback to Arendelle and we see the Snow Queen packing. She admits to her sisters that she snuck down to the party and believes she isn’t meant for the normal lives Helga and Gerda have. We actually see the Snow Queen get emotional at the idea that she might hurt someone with her powers. Gerda steps up and mentions she’s heard whispers of a powerful sorcerer who could help her sister with her problem. No prizes for guessing who she means. And so in the next scene we see the sisters three explaining the Snow Queen’s unique brand of magic to Rumpelstilskin. He cheekily offers her lessons, but the Snow Queen wisely turns him down. Then interestingly, Rumple asks why they are even bothering him when that have the power to quell the Snow Queen’s powers already, in the form of their sisterly True Love. This is an intriguing fact to bring up, especially when Rumpelstilskin shows interest in the ribbons on their wrists, the symbols of their bond that have gathered their own brand of magic.

The imp desires these ribbons as payment for what the insistent Snow Queen wishes. She believes her powers are too strong to be contained without drastic measures so Rumple takes the deal and offers the Snow Queen a pair of powder blue gloves, identical to the ones we see Elsa wear in Frozen. These gloves will only hide the Snow Queen’s powers, not stop them. If things get to heavy to handle, the Dark One offers the urn and explains how it will entrap the Snow Queen and keep others safe. Helga and Gerda’s glances to each other behind the Snow Queen’s back at the explanation of the urn already foreshadow the breakdown of their bond that began the moment the ribbons slipped off their wrists.

Back at the Storybrooke sheriff’s station, the Snow Queen is still working Emma over, reminding the savior of how unwanted she felt for 28 years, of how her family used her to break a curse. She needles Emma with the idea that she has too often been the savior of prophecy first and Snow White and Charming’s daughter second, that it only takes one mistake for those two to turn on her. The Snow Queen insists that she’s been where Emma is now, different and alone. And here is where she delivers her coup de grace. The Snow Queen tells Emma that her parents have chosen to have a new child to replace her and that they must be so grateful that Bouncing baby Neal is normal. If looks could kill, the Snow Queen would be incinerated by the force of the glare Emma Swan set upon her. A nerve, raw from recent events, has definitely been hit and the Snow Queen finally gets the reaction she has been looking for when she tells Emma her family could see her as a monster. Emma loses control and slams her fist on the table, causing a massive magical blast to punch a hole straight through the brick wall.

The Snow Queen is disgustingly pleased with herself, remarking that Emma’s overflowing power is beautiful before she shrugs off her shackles and poofs away. The expression on her face right before she disappears sells the idea that the Snow Queen is a maniac. Really though, this woman allowed herself to be captured and could have walked out to the sheriff’s station at any time, yet felt it necessary to push Emma far enough psychologically for the savior to break the dam on her powers. What a sociopath!

The cavalry arrives right as Emma is stumbling out of the gaping hole in the side of the building. The savior warns them to stay away, that she is not in control and only Elsa and Rumple seem to heed her warning. More sparks fly as Emma’s powers continue on their path of destruction, bringing down a lamp post in the process that just clips Charming. Still the danger is real and Snow White, not helping the situation at all, reacts angrily towards her daughter, confirming Emma’s fears. Snow seems to realize how out of line her reaction is, but the damage is done as Emma jumps into her yellow bug and flees the scene.

In the final, heartbreaking flashback of the night, we see the Snow Queen alone in a royal garden. She has those blue gloves with her, but before she can put them on, the Duke of Wesselton strides up. He has heard rumors of a third sister’s existence and finds the Snow Queen to be alluring and mysterious, so much so that he tries to force a kiss on her. Dude, no means no. The Snow Queen fights back and resorts to using an ice blast to launch the lecherous duke away. Helga arrives on the scene and at first we think she believes the duke’s story: the Snow Queen was the one who came on to him. However, Helga calls the duke out on being the weasel that he is. This made me so happy that to the very end Helga believed in her sister.

The duke, naturally, is less than thrilled that Helga saw through his lies and threatens to expose the royal secret even though Helga is firm that she will stay by her sister’s side. The duke uses the “M” word, calling the Snow Queen a monster and the queen reacts in fury, sending another ice blast his way. Only the coward has used sister Helga as a human shield, so it is she who gets the full brunt of the Snow Queen’s magic. Slowly, Helga dies in her sister’s arms, freezing over until she is a solid block and then shattering into hundreds of cubes. There’s no coming back from that one. I saw Helga’s death at the hands of her sister the Snow Queen coming but that’s ok. The pure emotion coming from the Snow Queen, her unchecked sobbing over what is left of her sister’s body, is beyond powerful. This is the most emotion we have ever seen this character display and she is broken because of it.

Unfortunately, Gerda choses this moment to enter the garden and is horrified at what her elder sister has done. It’s even worse to watch the normally stoic Snow Queen trying to choke out an apology or explanation between sobs. She begs Gerda not to be afraid, but for the first time Gerda will not take the Snow Queen’s hand and hammers home the final nail in the coffin by calling her sister a, you guessed it, monster. Gerda grabs the urn and traps the Snow Queen inside, picking up the discarded magic-hiding gloves. Well, at least we know why Elsa had them in the movie. Gerda, later on, seeks the council of the rock trolls, asking for a powerful memory potion, one that will make everyone in the realm forget both Helga and the Snow Queen ever existed. Grand Pabby warns Gerda that the truth has a way of coming out and that there will be a price, as there always is with magic. I assume this is what Gerda, the Queen of Arendelle, took the time to write down then cast off in a bottle during the season 4 premiere.

Back in Storybrooke, Regina is having more alone time in her vault. She’s been looking over The Book lately, particularly the pictures of all the happy fairy tale couples. She has tried to be positive, telling Henry earlier that day that she’ll just have to be ready for when another happy ending comes along and emphasizes her desire that she and Henry find the author of The Book. Robin Hood arrives down in the vault once again. He talks about how he has lived by a code, but today he cannot abide by it and whisks Regina up into a breathtaking kiss. It’s about time these two have made some progress, though I wonder what this will mean for Maid Marian, not just her defrosting but her marriage as well. I mean, it is technically adultery between these two at this point, but then again Snow White and Prince Charming started their Storybrooke relationship in much the same way back in season one.

Over at Casa de Charming, Snow White is putting Baby Neal down for a nap when Hook and her husband arrive back at the loft, out of luck at finding Emma. It appears the savior does not wish to be found. Elsa sagely remarks that she’s lived through this, the pain of seeing fear in her loved ones’ eyes. Snow talks about how she and Charming failed that day, that they don’t even need the Snow Queen’s enchanted mirror, they are turning on themselves without it. I am so glad that Snow acknowledged her behavior this episode and realizes she was in the wrong. I really didn’t care to see Snow look at Emma the way she did all episode.

And finally, over at the pawn shop, a rather pleased Snow Queen has come to call on Rumpelstilskin. The imp admits that he is impressed by Her Royal Iciness’s ability to turn Emma into a monster and that’s saying something considering Rumple mentored The Queen of Hearts, the Evil Queen, and the Wicked Witch of the West! The Snow Queen is finally ready to make a deal; she wants her ribbons back. She knows she has leverage over the Dark One now, she’s figured out his plan. Rumple wants to separate himself from the dagger and however he’s planning to do that with the sorcerer’s hat hinges on a missing part of his plan, a part the Snow Queen, who had the hat longer than Rumple, figured out. Rumpelstilskin plans to leave Storybrooke and wishes to do so without losing his power or Belle. In short, he wants everything. And the Snow Queen is willing to help him achieve that since she only has designs on the town in Maine. Everything she needs is right there in Storybrooke. So, the deal is struck and the Snow Queen leans in close and whispers the missing part of Rumpelstilskin’s plan in his ear. And whatever she says he needs to do is not only within his power, but seems it will give the Dark One great pleasure to carry out.

And there we have it, the secrets of “The Snow Queen”. Were your questions answered dear readers?

Like I said, this episode was subtle, but the pacing was fantastic. There really wasn’t a low point and despite jumping around between so many characters, every one of our favorites had a moment or two. Also, the lack of action, of running around fighting snow beasts or whatever, helped to make scenes like Emma’s magical outburst or the death of Helga really stand out. Those were my two favorite moments in this episode and the suddenness of these magical accidents is as jarring for us viewers as it would be for the other characters experiencing them. I will say, the use of the word “monster” was a bit overdone in this one. It seemed a touch heavy handed to me.

The thing I want to know the most about is Emma and the Snow Queen’s shared past, not just in foster care, but their first reunion back in season one in Storybrooke. The fact that the Snow Queen preys so easily on Emma’s fears can mean one of two things; either she just knows Emma that well from their time together or the Snow Queen’s mirror somehow helps her tune into these bad thoughts. I just want to know why the Snow Queen erased Emma’s memory and let her leave, how the queen came to Storybrooke, and she’s decided to make her move now. This is the greatest mystery of the season for me and I honestly don’t think we will get answers until the final episode of season 4a, not that I mind.

It makes perfect sense to me that Rumple does want to leave Storybrooke behind, to live a quiet provincial life with Belle. As we’ve seen in this episode and many before it, out heroes tend to run to him whenever anything magical needs to be done. This is very similar to what the Snow Queen told Emma, that her family sees her as the magical savior more than their daughter. Think about it, it’s more natural to hear Rumple be referred to as “The Dark One” than “Grandpa”. Rumple is searching for his happy ending without giving up any magical perks he picked up along the way. I wonder how the hat factors into this and what exactly the Snow Queen whispered in his ear. I wonder if she might have hinted that the key to his escape lies within someone’s heart, which will definitely put Rumple at odds with the rest of our protagonists.

Tune in next week for the special two hour Once Upon a Time extravaganza, “Smash the Mirror”!

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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