Monday, September 29, 2014

There's Beauty and There's Danger Here

Recap/Review of Once Upon A Time, Episode 4.01 "A Tale of Two Sisters" - Spoilers!

I was kind of on the fence of whether I wanted to do actual reviews of Once Upon a Time like I do some of my other favorite shows - mostly because my reaction to Once often falls somewhere between "OMG - THEY DID NOT!" and frantic fangirl keysmashing on Tumblr. And I tend to ramble on where Once is concerned (that's an understatement...) But... I figured if I can't do that frantic fangirling on my own blog, then where can I do it? Plus, Tumblr seems to be the place where I just agree with the stuff that I agree with and ignore the crap that I don't. And that leaves little room for my own reactions and interpretations. So, we're going to see how this goes.

Before I really get into the meat of my review, I've got to talk Frozen a little bit. I've made little secret about how much I adore Frozen. Not since the Disney movies of my youth (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King - just to name the main ones) have I been this excited about any Disney movie. That's not to say things like Tangled and The Princess and the Frog haven't been good. But Frozen - man, that one made me think about the story. I was thinking about it for days afterward! It was one of those things that me think that, yeah hundreds and thousands of people have seen it and loved it, but it felt like it was made just for me. Especially Elsa. I was just so drawn to her story and her challenges and I wanted to know more about her (which, I've also been honest about the fact that I feel like the movie didn't give enough time over to her personal backstory - even though Elsa's problems are what start the story of the movie going forward). Hell, I even wrote a little drabbly fanfiction about Elsa after I came home from the movie! As time went on and I got thinking more - maybe Elsa's internal fight with herself is a little too dark for a Disney animated movie. Which is a shame, because there is some great storytelling potential here.

Then Once Upon a Time came out with the idea of putting Frozen in their universe. And I was all "Well OF COURSE they'd do that!" Because if there's one thing that Once excels at (okay, there are several things, but we'll get there), it's giving all these classic fairy tale characters depth. And while the Frozen story already had a great deal of depth - there was so much room for more. But Once already had a great springboard to start from with this story, so why not do it?

I talked about this in my last Doctor Who review - some of my favorite storytelling involves taking madcap fantastical stories about aliens and wizards and fairies and pirates and making those characters feel like they could be real people. I suppose it's a no-brainer (at least, it ought to be), but that's the kind of stuff I simply adore. And it's what Once does so well

And with this being a season premiere, there was a LOT that this episode had to accomplish. Fans have spent four months wondering and theorizing what was going to happen next - there's the question of how Frozen fits in so you have to account for that. But also - what about the regular main characters? (hold onto that thought for a minute). It felt like this episode had to be all things to all people - and maybe possibly bring in an audience that before now had only a passing interest in the show - maybe if there wasn't anything else on. Tall order for one episode.

So... how did they do? Speaking as a fan (and if there are any first-timers who want to comment, feel free to do so) - I think they did a damn good job!

First off - the burning question everyone wants to know (heh - "burning") - How did they do with translating Frozen into the Once-verse? In a word - Spot-on (okay, that might actually be two words). And it starts at the very beginning. With a scene that, quite honestly, I didn't know I wanted until I actually saw it. With Elsa and Anna's parents on the ship in the storm that killed them. Setting up a plot thread that (we later find out) is going to go through the entire story arc - the queen is frantically trying to send a message in hopes that it'll get back to Arendelle, telling the girls why they left in the first place. Given what happens later on, I could probably spend and entire blog post screaming WHY DIDN'T YOU DO THAT BEFORE YOU LEFT??? at these two (look, I know they love their daughters and want them to be happy and stuff - but sometimes, I question their parenting choices. And I realize I'm saying this speaking as not being a parent in any way, but whatever). And there's one shot that actually shocked me - the moment when the ship actually goes down looks EXACTLY like the shot in the animated movie. And this wasn't the first time that happened - because the next scene is Arendelle five years later and Anna and Elsa are visiting their parents' gravestones. Which also look just like they did in the movie. And the costumes look just like the did in the movie. And the casting - holy cow - the casting! I mean, you're never going to make real life people look like animated characters. But as a real life interpretation of animated characters? Um - yeah. Georgina Haig and Elizabeth Lail. Elsa and Anna. They got it. Perfectly spot-on (I'm going to be using that a lot, aren't I?)

Well - as much as the marketing has advertised it, this isn't the Frozen show. And we need to see the scene that we've all been anxious to see since May - the fallout from Hook and Emma's Back to the Future homage (still my favorite thing ever, by the way). Emma saved Maid Marian when she should have been killed by Regina in the Enchanted Forest, Regina is now dating Robin Hood except now Robin's heretofore dead wife is no longer dead - and, yeah, this is a sticky situation for all involved (even those involved only tangentially). And, honestly, I could probably write an entire blog post about this single 2-3 minute scene. I mean, people were worried that Regina was suddenly going to revert back to Evil Queen Out For Revenge - Henry (dear Henry) even voiced his own worries about that. Emma tries to apologize for what her actions did to Regina - but NOT for saving someone's life (that's an important distinction to make). Marian (understandably) is confused as hell about why everyone is treating Regina like a friend - or at least an ally - and yelling about how Regina is this terrible monster and how can Robin be involved with Regina.

And Regina - oh boy - there is one small moment that encapsulates Regina's mindset just perfectly. It's when Marian is calling Regina a monster - Regina takes a tiny step forward and her hand moves as though she's going to perform some incineration spell. Her face is twisted in anger and you actually think for a moment that she's going to do it. But then... she steps back. And she doesn't give in to that temptation to fry Marian on the spot. And that one tiny moment, I think, sets the tone for the kind of Regina we're going to get this season. She's not the vengeful Evil Queen anymore. She is certainly no less powerful or cunning - but the anger that fuels her power has been softened by the experiences she's had in being a good guy. She's learned how to love - she's learned how to love her son, she's learned how to love Robin, she's even learned how to care about the people she once hated (that heart-to-heart she and Mary Margaret had in Season 3 about Cora - yeah, that made an impact. Don't try to tell me it didn't). Good grief - she used light magic to beat Zelena when by all accounts there was no way that she could ever do that! And as the episode progresses, you really see that this is a different side of Regina. She's still so much the same character, but she is in a place that she's never been. And she's going to react to this situation in a very unique way (as least, compared to how she's done in the past).

(Wow. Not even ten minutes in. Told you this would be long and involved).

What other fallout do we have to deal with? (I'm saving the best for last - since the episode did that too). Rumple and Belle are on their honeymoon - but before they can get started, they take a short detour to Neal's grave. If you think about it, Rumple never got to pay his respects after his son's death (which is really heartbreaking) - but that gives us a chance for this very tender scene. But it's not just yet another chance for Once to kill us with feels. Because one of the Big Questions the finale left us with is - Rumple gave Belle a fake dagger and what's going to happen when she finds out about that? Well, turns out that Rumple only switched the daggers in order to avenge Neal's death. Which... doesn't make his actions any less problematic. But the fact that he wants to give the real one back and the fact that he intended to hang onto it only for that one thing... yeah, it's still a problem. But not as bad as we initially thought it was (still a problem - I will never say that it's not!) So, when they get to this ~*~mysterious mansion~*~ out in the forest that no one seems to live in (but it's fully furnished and looks rather well-cared for - hmmmm... okay, we'll go with it for now) - Rumple switches back the daggers when Belle is temporarily time-locked (okay, fine - this is life with the Dark One. We're just going to have to get used to it). After sparing a moment to look at this mysterious ornate and obviously magical object sitting on an end table - Belle and Rumple get their first dance as a married couple. In the most nostalgic and beautiful scene that Once has given us (and how many of those has this show had?) - we get a straight-up tribute to the famous ballroom scene from Beauty and the Beast. For no other reason than they could do it. Costumes, music, everything! And, lemme tell you, seven-year-old me was giggling with joy at that (oh hell, twenty-nine-year-old me was giggling with joy at that - it's one of the best Disney moments ever! If you can do something like that - why wouldn't you??)

And, finally, we come to the fallout from that other huge thing that happened at the end of Season 3. Yes, friends - the episode FINALLY gets around to checking in on how the good ship Captain Swan is faring. And... okay, yeah - it's not the typical Happily Ever After that we're used to seeing (and, really, if you look back at Snow and Charming during Season 1 - it took them a while to get there too. Now, they're the most stable couple on the show! So - don't worry about it). Emma is, understandably, not doing well with the idea that she ruined Regina's life with Robin. Plus, she's not really sure how to do a romantic relationship. But she can do the Savior of Storybrooke thing - so that's where she's going to bury herself until she figures out what exactly what this whole thing with Hook is. Thing is... she clearly wants to try to figure it out by herself. And Hook, being the tenacious and determined guy he is (especially where Emma is concerned) - yeah, there ain't no way that's going to happen. And he's right behind her - just like he was all of last season - to remind her that he's definitely not going to leave her to do any of this alone. And if there are any quiet moments to be had in the meantime - well, take them while they're there. It's almost a direct repeat of the scene last year after the team got back from Neverland and Charming tells Emma that she can't just live her life looking for the next fight - that she has to take advantage of the good moments and live in them because what else are you even fighting for? (and even in this, Hook and Charming are in accord. And you can't help but love that).

Sure enough - the town crier, Grumpy, comes running in to alert the Savior that there's a new threat to Storybrooke. Emma's back in Savior Mode - and Hook's right there with her (*fangirl squee*) - following this strange trail of ice that's just randomly wandering through the town. Because Elsa - who Hook inadvertently let out of Rumple's vault (so, Emma's not the only one that brought back an unexpected visitor - wonder how long it'll take them to figure that out) - has been taking in her new surroundings and she is scared out of her mind. And what happens when Elsa gets scared? She reacts with her magic. She's already frozen Grumpy and Sleepy's truck out on the road, there's an ice trail following her around (and I love the attention to detail about that - even in the background when it's somewhat out of focus behind Elsa, you can see this shiny strip of where the ice is supposed to be). And, mirroring what happened in Arendelle when Elsa's powers were revealed, Utter Chaos ensues in Storybrooke. Emma and Hook follow the ice trail to a fenced-off vacant lot (at least, that's what I thought it was) (and here I must pause to fangirl flail over those two pretty much working in tandem together because - YES I AM HERE FOR THAT!) - they look around a little bit, trying to figure out who's back there. And Elsa, hiding behind a pile of random stuff, creates a giant snow monster akin to Marshmallow from the movie. And here - I was cheering out loud. You know the love that most people have for Olaf? That's the kind of love I have for Marshmallow (I would buy plushies of Marshmallow if I knew where to get them). And when set reports started coming out from filming that there was a scene with a snow monster in Storybrooke, I wanted it so much to be Marshmallow. And yup - it was Marshmallow! Who looked amazing in CGI - and you all know how much (or little, actually) I care about CGI in anything. But I really loved it here!

Speaking of CGI - Grand Pabbie back in Arendelle. Oh wow - just - yes! They actually did it! they made the animated Rock Troll character look like the character from the movie and it still fit in with the rest of the visuals. And having John Rhys-Davies and the voice of Grand Pabbie does not hurt in the slightest (oh no indeed!) But that brings me to why Grand Pabbie is here at all - Anna and Elsa, it turns out, discover that there might be more to their parents' voyage that killed them. They might have found something to do with Elsa's magic and a way to help her cope with it (and why they didn't tell her BEFORE they left... ugh. Seriously - HISHE had the right of it with these two. Once has a long way to go toward redeeming them in my eyes. Which they may still do - not counting anything out at this point). So, the day before Anna and Kristoff's wedding - Anna treks out (in her mother's wedding dress - oh Anna, what are we going to do with you?) to the Rock Trolls to ask Grand Pabbie what he knows about their parents' journey. All Pabbie knows, sadly, is that they were heading out to a place called Mist Haven (all right - new fairy tale locations! Except it's not new - it's actually the Enchanted Forest. Well... fine then). Anna gets it in her head that she just has to go to Mist Haven to find out what this is all about. On her own. Without anybody's help. ON THE DAY BEFORE HER WEDDING!!

Though that probably isn't as bad as
Anna wearing her wedding dress out in the forest
(gif source)
Elsa gets the truth of Anna's plans out of Kristoff, but by that time, Anna's long gone. And Kristoff, bless him, he's so awkward and loving and earnest in his affections toward Anna that he happily stays behind because Anna doesn't want Elsa to be alone while Anna's gone (even though Anna has a lot of problems in her logic - leaving the day before her wedding?? I ask you...) But that's just like Anna from the movie - doing things that don't make a whole lot of sense to everyone else, but because it means her sister's happiness - yeah, she's off and running!

Back in Storybrooke, Marshmallow's headed out to the forest and Emma, Hook, and Charming are after the creature as well. They've already figured out that the creature only attacks if it's threatened (perfect extension of Elsa, of course). Thing is - nobody has any way to calm the creature down. All anyone can do is attack it. Emma even tries her magic and that doesn't work. Marshmallow knocks everyone out and they are down for the count.

Except Marian. And Regina. Who kind of materialized out of the forest like the badass queen she is. After having spent a good deal of the episode plotting with Sidney Glass - her old magic mirror/propaganda peddler in Storybrooke who is clearly still enamored of his old flame (oh man, this isn't going to bring all that back is it? Hopefully Regina's look of distaste as Sidney's suggested methods for dealing with Marian means that it's not), Regina seems to have decided that it would be better if she was seen being kind of Marian, rather than antagonistic. Especially since Robin, who clearly still loves Regina, also still feels an obligation to be faithful to his not-dead-wife (that sounds like she's a zombie. Once Upon a Time, everyone) - and can Regina be anything less than honorable in this situation? So - rather than let Marshmallow stomp Marian flat, Regina steps in and destroys the snow monster (RIP Marshmallow) and saves everyone. Emma tries to go after Regina, just to talk and try to explain things, but Regina poofs out of there.

And here we go, Captain Swan fans - because this is what we've been teased for all these long months! That Emma has a long way to go until she can truly feel like she deserves a happy relationship, even though, yes, this is something she wants. But she's just not quite sure how to go about having it (she's had plenty of experience with unhappy relationships, though). And while we're used to seeing her push away the people who care about her - including Hook - it's so refreshing to see Emma reach out and be honest with how she feels (with a little coaxing, but that's all right. Right?). Emma's the one who initiates the really soft, tender kiss (though she did initiate the one at the end of last season, come to think of it) before she asks Hook to "be patient" and leaves to go take care of something. And if there's anything that Killian Jones knows how to do, it's be patient (you have to feel for the guy - at some point, his patience is going to run out. But maybe it's that 300 years in Neverland that does something - heck, I don't know!) Anyway - it's a sweet and short little scene - but it definitely promises at great things (and likely painful things, let's be honest here) to come for my favorite ship. And I would be lying if I said I hadn't watched that one scene at the end at least four or five times (probably up to ten by the time I finally post this).

The heartwrenching continues. Because if we still weren't convinced that Once Upon a Time parallels with Frozen - we get the moment where Emma goes to see Regina at the mayor's office. Regina is curled up against the door, not letting anyone in - Emma is on the other side, promising that, as the Savior, she is going to bring back everyone's happy endings. Including Regina's. This, paired with the final flashback scene of Arendelle with Elsa and Kristoff watching Anna's ship sail away to Mist Haven (the Enchanted Forest - to-may-toe, to-mah-toe) - and the promised theme of "Never giving up on the ones you love," I'm pretty sure we've got the running theme of Season 4 down pretty well.

Also - Regina wants to find the writer of Henry's fairy tale book. Because she believes that because she's a villain in the book, she's always going to be the villain and she's never going to have a happy ending (which kind of begs the question - we've got three anti-villains in Once: the Evil Queen, Rumplestiltskin, and Captain Hook. All three have shown both heroic and villainous tendencies, all three are working toward happy endings to one degree or another - does that mean that Regina wants to chuck all that out the window? I mean, I know she's hurting... but if anything - and I mean anything - derails Hook and Emma right now, I'm going to go apeshit on somebody. But perhaps that's another discussion for another day). So, Regina - she wants to find the person who wrote the book that, she thinks, forces her to lose out on her happiness - that she is simply a static character without any agency or autonomy of her own. When, honestly, nothing could be further from the truth! (look, I know Regina's hurting right now. I'm hurting for her too. And at least she's backed off the the of screwing around with time travel. I mean, we saw how much of a bad idea that was).

(Though the question of who wrote the book is a really cool one - something I thought we'd never see. At least, not at this point in the story. But let's go with it).

Just for one more mystery (that may or may not be connected to the book) - the scene cuts to Rumple at the mansion in the middle of the night checking out that odd little trinket box he was so interested in earlier. He steals back the dagger (all for a good cause, right Rumple?) and activates the box to reveal - a pretty good live-action rendition of the wizard's hat from The Sorcerer's Apprentice as seen in Fantasia.

Well, if you ever wondered how they'd work Mickey Mouse into Once Upon a Time...
To close out, Elsa's discovered that Rumplestiltskin is in this strange new place she's found herself in (wedding announcements on the front page? Eh, it's Mr. Gold. He still owns the town, I guess) and he tracks him down to the pawn shop. That, wonder of wonders, also has Anna's necklace that Elsa gave her. Which could mean several things - Anna got swept up in the Curse (first or second - doesn't really matter), she's being kept prisoner by Rumple, or... something else I haven't thought of yet. And, judging by the "Next Week" promo - yeah, Elsa's going to be more than a little pissed. She already didn't take too kindly to being called a monster (granted, that was Grumpy's big mouth - and he was talking about Marshmallow) - and now she thinks someone's got her beloved baby sister captured? Gold, you get your dagger-swapping backside

Other Things I Liked -  (as if this wasn't long enough)

- "Maybe we should have named him Baelfire." Too late Charming, you already got your graduation certificate in the mail.

- I didn't talk a whole lot about it, but Robin coming to talk to Regina - very obviously torn up about what's happened. And... maybe we're getting a Robin Hood episode this season? *crosses fingers and toes*

- Give the reindeer playing Sven a Emmy - his reactions were perfectly hilarious!

- Of all the dwarves to make the designated driver, the one notorious for falling asleep at random times would NOT be my first choice (but that's just me).

- New Drinking Game - Take a drink every time Hook and/or Emma roll their eyes at something stupid someone else does (even if it's directed at the other).

- Elsa's snow flurries that appeared when she was scared or upset. Nice touch.

- Henry wasn't in the episode much (there was a lot to cover, kid!) But I love that he hung back to call Regina when she wasn't answering Emma's calls. Wonder if he ever got through...

- The entire Netflix scene. Hook - you're a lovesick dork and I love you for it!

And before I totally lose my audience (bless you for sticking around this long) here's the "Next Week" promo (I'm not going to make it) -

I'm off to see if Fantasia's on Netflix. It's been forever since I've seen it...

('s not. Well, fine then...)

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