- Series Title: Once Upon a Time
- Season: 4
- Episodes: 23
- Discs: 5
- Network: ABC
- Cast: Jennifer Morrison, Ginnifer Goodwin, Lana Parilla, Josh Dallas, Jared Gilmore, Robert Carlyle, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Sean McGuire, Georgina Haig, Elizabeth Lail, Elizabeth Mitchell, Kristen Bauer von Straten, Victoria Smurfit, Merrin Dungey
- Format: Widescreen, Color, DVD
The fourth season of Once Upon a Time, like season 3, is again split into two halves. The first part of the season is based on Disney’s Frozen, and the second half is more like what the first two seasons of the show were like – it brings in three well-known Disney villains, the Queens of Evil, and has them working with Mr. Gold to “find their happy endings” by finding “the Author” to write those happy endings for them.
I have not seen Frozen, though I’m familiar with the song “Let It Go” and its parodies. However, I really enjoyed the “Frozen” section of Season 4. The actors playing Elsa and Anna had incredible chemistry. And the Snow Queen was also excellent. The interesting thing about the Snow Queen is that she really isn’t evil – she’s extremely manipulative, and she’s quick to jump on anything negative anyone says or does to her, but really, her story is that of a classic misunderstanding. Ingrid is afraid of her powers, but she’s also afraid of how people, even her family and kingdom will react to her powers. Because of this – she takes everything in a negative way. For example, she sees her sisters off to the ball, but refuses to go herself, because she fears rejection from the kingdom. She forgets her sister, especially the older one urging her to go anyway. This older sister is pursued by the Duke of Weaselton. Weaselton then makes moves on Ingrid, and threatens to reveal her secret. But when her sister shows up, she believes Ingrid – and attempts to banish the slimy duke. The duke then threatens both the sister and Ingrid. Rather than being happy that her sister believes her and believes in her, things get heated (so to speak) and Ingrid attacks Weaselton. The sister steps in the way out of instinct to protect the duke, and Ingrid freezes her – then the ice shatters, killing her. At this point, Gerda, Anna and Elsa’s mother (to be) shows up – sees her sister dead, and for all intents and purposes sees Ingrid over the body with the murder weapon – Gerda jumps to conclusions, and traps Ingrid in the urn. But we actually find this out at the end of the Frozen section which runs 12 episodes. Ingrid’s issue is she, somewhat rightfully so, feels utterly betrayed by her sister – so she, without good reason, assumes that Anna will betray Elsa the same way.
Meanwhile, Anna and Elsa actually have a very good relationship, and Anna accepts Elsa including her powers. And the actors playing Anna and Elsa had great chemistry. If they weren’t playing sisters, you’d think they were together. Watching the two, especially in the flashbacks, then at the end of the Frozen section of the story, when Anna is found in Storybrooke, is a joy. Anna is also engaged to Kristoff, who’s simply adorable. He’s cute, and funny, and he let’s Anna take charge.
The flashbacks to Arendale, and Anna’s quest to Misthaven (the Enchanted Forest) were also very well filmed, as were the sections in Storybrooke. I’ve always liked just how good Once Upon a Time looks and most of Season 4 is no exception – the mist in the forests of Storybrooke or the Enchanted Forest just looks so good, as do the rays of sunlight filtering through the mist.
In the end, the Snow Queen decides to get her revenge by controlling her “magical sisters” (Emma and Elsa) with magical ribbons that Ingrid had shared with her real sisters in Arendale. She also casts the Spell of Shattered Sight which awakens everyone’s darkest impulses and turns them all against each other. The Spell is one of the scarest curses we’ve seen on Once Upon a Time, but it’s realized only with the characters saying very nasty things to each other, and some scuffles in the street. In the end, though, to break the spell, Emma, Elsa, and Anna convince the Snow Queen to sacrifice herself to end the curse – which works. It’s Anna who finds the information needed to break the Snow Queen, finding a letter in a bottle from Gerda, her mother, in which Gerda has decided she made a mistake, and Ingrid must be released from her urn and the forgetting spell cast by the rock trolls reversed. However, since Gerda and her husband never returned to Arendale because their ship was sunk in a storm – Gerda was never able to return to set Ingrid free.
What the Frozen section also did, however, was it integrated well with the second half of the season. The last episode of the Frozen section actually is a transition to the second section with the “Queens of Evil” (or Heroes and Villains, which is the theme of the entire season). In the Frozen section, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice’s hat – a magical portal that can absorb magic – appears several times, and although it’s use seems self-contained, it’s not. The Hat even appears in the finale of the season. Also, in the Frozen section, we see a flashback to Emma’s past – which we think is there to show us that she knew Ingrid – Ingrid was one of her foster mothers, someone who became so close to her that Ingrid wanted to adopt Emma. But what you also see in those flashbacks is Emma meeting a girl called Lily – and Lily will turn out to be very important to the second half of the story – in many, many ways, the catalyst of the second half of the story. So, in Season 4, the season feels much more like a cohesive season – not two completely different half-seasons, like season three with Peter Pan at the beginning and Wicked second.
In the second half of the story – the “villains” are in search of their happy endings. Regina, one of my favorite characters, is now “good” really – she’s Henry’s mother, she’s friends with Emma, and she gets on with Mary Margaret and David. Regina is strong, smart, and a sharp dresser to boot, which I love. Regina becomes convinced that to really have her happy ending she must find the Author of the Storybook and ask him to write her a happy ending. And what she’s lost is Robin Hood. – Regina falling for Robin was one of the best things about Season 3 (well, that and Evil Peter Pan) – but just as Robin and Regina are getting together in Storybrooke, Emma returns to the present with Marion – Robin’s wife. Robin then tells Regina he can’t break his marriage vow, and he has to stay true to his wife.
Marion becomes the first and only victim of freezing sickness – and it becomes Regina’s duty to try to save her. Yep – Regina has to save her lover’s wife, so her lover can go back to his wife, and she won’t be happy. It’s to Regina’s credit, and her much more heroic status, that she actually agrees to this with no tricks up her sleeve and no force being used against her to get her to “do the right thing”. Marion is unconscious for most of the Frozen section, Regina and Robin do have an affair, and Robin keeps doing things like telling Regina he loves her but he can’t leave his wife. (Seriously, has the man never heard of divorce?) Robin even admits he no longer loves Marion. At the end of the section, Marion recovers, but then collapses again. But rather than dying and solving everyone’s problem – Regina realizes that the only thing that will cure Marion’s sickness to to send her away from Storybrooke where she will no longer be touched by magic. Robin takes his son, Roland, and leaves for New York with Marion. It’s a sad moment for Regina, but it doesn’t turn her evil.
Regina then goes undercover with the other Queens of Evil to find out their plans. And again to Regina’s credit – she reports everything back to Mary Margaret, David, and/or Emma. And again, she’s not dragged back into darkness.
But, not all is over with Marion. It turns out, she’s not Marion at all – she’s Zelena – the Wicked Witch, and Regina’s sister – who had killed Marion and taken her place years ago. This would be fine, but Zelena is also pregnant with Robin’s child. Or claims she is. I didn’t like the Wicked section of Season 3 because I just wasn’t convinced by Zelena’s backstory, and I just didn’t like seeing her again. Plus it seemed too convenient that it was Zelena, disguised as Marion, that Emma brought back from the past, and that the minute Regina finds that out – Zelena also reveals she’s pregnant with Robin’s baby. Really?
Maleficent’s story was excellent, and a prime example of what Once Upon a Time does well – which is to show us that everyone is the hero of their own story – and from the point of view of an “evil” character things might look different. And, her story is the story of a wronged mother. I haven’t see Angelina Jole’s Maleficent film, so I don’t know if that’s where the plot came from, or if it was original to Once Upon a Time – I’d like to think it was original, because then it’s more impressive. Snow White and Prince Charming are manipulated by a peddler (whom we later discover is the Author, but more about that later) into a quest in the Enchanted Forest with Maleficent, Cruella, and Ursula to find the tree of knowledge. They do, but are unable to ask their question because Snow is pregnant. That her child might have the “potential for evil” freaks out Snow White (because she’s apparently never heard of “nature verses nuture”) and she ends up talking Charming into seeing a Wizard (actually the Apprentice) who then tells her there’s a spell which will remove all evil from Snow’s unborn child. To cast the spell, they need a vessel. So Snow White and Prince Charming go and steal Maleficent’s dragon’s egg – not entirely realizing that it’s her child. And that the reason she burned down the forest was to make a nest for her child (Maleficent being, well, a were-dragon, a human who can turn into a dragon, but also must reproduce in dragon form). Snow and Charming take the egg, bring it to the Apprentice, get him to cast the spell – and are surprised when the darkness not only goes into the egg, but it breaks, revealing a human-looking baby, who then falls through a portal. Taking away her dark impulses is what gives Emma her strong light magic – and possibly her “real world” superpower of being able to tell when people are lying.
As the story is told, Mary Margaret and David are keeping what they did to Maleficent from Emma and the town – they reveal their mistake to Regina, in part to get her to spy on the “Queens of Evil”.
We also get Ursula’s origin story – and ironically she’s the only one to get her happy ending as Killian (Hook) not only gives her, her voice back – but helps her to reconcile with her father.
Cruella’s origin story, and her relationship with the Author is also explained, but very quickly and in a single episode – so it just didn’t seem to work. At first, Cruella seems to be the victim of a cold and cruel mother. Later, it seems Cruella is a psychopath who had killed three of her mother’s husbands, including her own father, and who uses her superpower of controlling animals given to her by the Author to kill her mother using her own dogs, and then kill the dogs to make a coat (fortunately off screen). Cruella is also killed by Emma Swan to protect Henry whom she had kidnapped. But killing Cruella doesn’t make Emma dark. And in a sense, since Cruella is a psychopath she can’t be redeemed (and she seems to have no goal for happiness either) so dying is, for her, the best path, really.
Mr. Gold also returns to Storybrooke, let in by the “Queens of Evil” after being banished by Belle for lying to her, primarily about the dagger, but about other things too. Mr. Gold represents chaos much of the time. Once he’s no longer Rumplestilskin, and falls in love with Belle, he often doesn’t do outright evil – but he’s not on the side of good either. His return to Storybrooke isn’t really motivated by love for Belle, though there’s a scene or two where we see that – Gold is motivated by self-preservation. He’s dying, his heart is turning completely black from all the evil he’s done, and he also knows that once all the flicker of life has left his heart, the dark one will be free. Gold really wants to prevent that. So from that perspective, Gold’s actions with the Hat, and bringing in the three villains, and trying to find the author to re-write his story, even his actions towards Belle make sense.
In the search for The Author (called by Henry and Regina “Operation: Mongoose”) the characters follow several leads. One leads them to Pinocchio, who, as he’s become a child, doesn’t remember anything. Gold & company bring him back to being an adult, August, who tells Henry, Emma, Mary Margaret, and David, that “the Author” isn’t a person – it’s a job description, there have been many authors recording stories. The one they want is trapped in the book. Our heroes then learn from the Apprentice, that one author went bad – manipulating the stories. For example, he was the peddler that changed Snow and David’s path so they ended-up stealing Maleficent’s child. The Sorcerer and his Apprentice get very upset at this and trap the Author in the book.
In the finale, while Mary Margaret, David, Emma, Hook, and Henry figure out the last clues – the Author (Isaac) is with Gold, who’s collapsed in his shop, writing the story Gold wants – “Heroes and Villains”. Everyone is headed to Gold’s shop when poof. Henry wakes up, alone, and everyone in Storybrooke is gone. Henry heads to the local gas station/diner outside Storybrooke, finds Lily, who’s no help, but also find the “Heroes and Villains” book and from there goes to the film premiere where the author is speaking and signing copies of his book. Henry confronts the Author and they both end-up in “Heroes and Villains” – where the heroes lose and the villains win. There Henry, with help from Emma (now a Cassandra figure – doomed to remember everything from before the Author, Isaac, changed everything but to have no one believe her), and ultimately, from the alternate reality, Regina, who’s a bandit on the run from Snow White the Evil Queen. Regina’s sacrifice and literally her blood allow Henry to change things back.
With another poof – everything is back to normal in Storybrooke. Regina and Hook, who had died in the alternate realm are alive. Everyone goes to Gold’s shop – and finds him dying. The hat is used to draw the evilness and the dark one from Gold and the dagger show’s no name at all. Gold still doesn’t look well, but we suspect he’ll recover. However, the hat cannot contain the evil and it escapes – heading straight for Regina. Emma sacrifices herself, becoming the new Dark One to save Regina and give her her happy ending with Robin.
Overall, I liked season 4 of Once Upon a Time, especially the Frozen section which had a real innocence to it compared to the back end of the season. But I couldn’t help but notice that all the Fairy Tale characters believe not only in The Book – but predestination. Every single one of them believes they are fated to be either good or evil – and they can’t change that fate. That even if they try to be “good” they will still end-up doing evil things, and as such they won’t be given their happy ending. This really does defy a certain logic. Regina is the loudest mouthpiece for the “because I was evil I can’t be happy” mantra – but she fails to see that Henry is her happiness. Mr. Gold, also, at a point in the previous season, marries Belle – which should be his happy ending. But his search for power, and determination to be “free of the dagger” breaks apart the one happy thing he has – his relationship with Belle, which was why I saw her banishing him to be one of the saddest scenes in the show. Still, Once Upon a Time works best when it takes characters like Maleficent, like The Evil Queen, and not only gives us an origin that explains their actions, but also makes us want to root for these characters and see them happy. We do see, for example, Lily (Lilith) reunited with Maleficent – and I hope they are in Season 5 as regular or at least semi-regular characters. And since I totally ship Emma/Hook, I hope that while dark, Emma doesn’t permanently harm him in the upcoming season.