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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Once Upon A Time: “A Tale Of Two Sisters”

Illustration for article titled iOnce Upon A Time/i: “A Tale Of Two Sisters”
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Let me start right off by stating: I am a Frozen fan. My kids were just about the perfect age to see it when it came out, and I was grateful for a plot that favored girl power and sisterhood over romantic love. I even didn’t mind that song the first few hundreds of thousands of times I heard it, although my family all prefers Olaf’s rendition of “In Summer.” Anything Olaf, really.

So you’d think I would be psyched for OUAT’s Frozen-centric season, but I’m not, and here’s why: Unlike other seasons, which took us to places like Wonderland and Neverland and Oz, Arendelle does not have a massive, mythic past to draw from. There are no crocodiles with clocks in their stomachs, or literary silver slippers (to contrast with cinematic ruby ones), or tiny bottles that say “drink me.” Instead, basically, there is one movie. A massive, record-breaking blockbuster, to be sure, but a single screen outing does not produce a relatively rich mythology from which to pull. (Yes, I know Frozen is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, but there are only faint resemblances to the story overall. Although I suspect OUAT will have to go back and explore the original tale a bit more.) It’s not that ABC hasn’t drawn from the well of its Disney overlords before: Ariel’s appearances last season were much more in the Disney Little Mermaid camp than HCA’s, but she was a minor character. If the season four premiere (and all the promos for it) is any indication, this season will be Frozen-centric, and story supply is already running low. They already blew up the evil snowman, for God’s sake (although I guess Elsa could just conjure up another one).


At least the Arendelle casting is spot-on, with Georgina Haig perfectly depicting what a human Elsa would look like (although animated Anna was somehow more delightfully goofy than goofy-annoying, which is probably more of a flaw in the way the character is being written than newcomer Elizabeth Lail’s fault). Kristoff (Greek’s Scott Michael Foster) needs to grow his hair out again, but his inability to come up with a good cover story for Anna was pretty funny, and the reindeer is practically the greatest actor on the entire show: I honestly I don’t think I enjoyed anyone tonight as much as Sven. But the only mysteries related to this plot are the secret the sisters’ parents wrote down in the message in a bottle, and what happens to Anna when she gets to Enchanted Forest. These are just not as compelling as evil Peter Pan turning out to be Rumple’s father, or Zelena’s flying monkey regime trying to snag Snow’s unborn baby (speaking of, is it possible that Elsa and Anna won’t be related to anyone else in Storybrooke? Could that actually happen?). All we can reasonably predict here is that Storybrooke is going to get cold. Extremely cold, surrounded by ice. I already live in the polar vortex; I don’t need to see it depicted onscreen.

In case the numerous instances of the word weren’t enough to clue you in, this week’s theme is “monsters”: Regina’s is, so far, still internal; Elsa’s is so external that it rages away from her and terrorizes the entire town. The reemergence of Marian has caused Regina’s nasty side to reemerge as Henry (and all of us) have feared: which appears to be a fairly cyclical choice, although Giancarlo Esposito is always welcome as the mirror. Then Regina saves Marian from the snow monster instead of letting her be crushed, which thankfully adds some depth to the plot progression: An Evil Queen retread would be really tired, and it’s more interesting to see how Regina continues to wrestle with her light and dark sides. Apparently the summer break made the show writers sad about not being able to say “happy endings” for a while, so they throw it into Regina’s dialogue their usual egregious amount, with Regina demanding equal happy ending opportunities for all characters, heroes and villains alike. Her desire to go to the source and find the author of the Storybrooke book, though, holds some interesting promise for the new season, as it’s a path the show hasn’t explored before. Will Hans Christian Anderson himself get dragged into this, along with the Grimm brothers?


You’ll never guess who else is wrestling with his dark side: Rumple and Belle are unfortunately cast aside on their honeymoon (okay, I guess they deserve a honeymoon), but as soon as Belle starts giggling about this mysterious abandoned house they discovered, you know things aren’t going to end up well, despite the Beauty And The Beast dance. Rumplestiltskin may whine to his dead son all he wants about how he wants to be a good person, but then why is he still drawing power from the Dark One’s Dagger? Now he’s conjured a powerful artifact from the Disney realm: the sorcerer hat from Fantasia (with a nice musical nod from the movie). At this point we can only hope that it won’t look too silly on him.

The Charmings were thankfully left to a minimum (with barely a few asides, including Charming pondering if they actually should have named the baby Baelfire instead of Neal. I agree, Baelfire is a much cooler name). Hook and Emma, after gleefully making out in the season finale, are back to will-they/won’t-they again for no logical reason I can point to: Guilt about Regina? Grief for Neal? She actually tells him to “be patient’ when he’s already waited for over a year now: The reasons for Hook to keep sticking around seem to float farther away every week.


As do ours: Unfortunately, I don’t see much momentum for the Frozen season; it just appears to be an attempt at an audience grab to capitalize on the most profitable animated movie ever made. Which I guess makes sense from the show’s viewpoint, but this first episode indicates that integrating these characters into the labyrinth of OUAT’s Storybrooke will be one hell of a stretch. Let’s see what Anna gets up to in the Enchanted Forest.

Stray observations:

  • “Evil snowman! Run!”
  • Is Emma’s exasperated “Really?” supposed to be some sort of catchphrase now?
  • Am also not a fan of Emma’s “conjuring magic” stance: She looks like she’s battling some smelly invisible monster.
  • I’m far from a CGI expert, but I was impressed with the appearances of the stone troll (apparently took up so much effort from the staff that only one could appear, but still, excellent effort) and the snow monster.
  • As you may have read, A.V. Club will not be reviewing OUAT weekly this year. Depending on how things go in Arendelle, I may drop in for a few periodic reviews. But again I want to reiterate how much I have enjoyed writing about this show for this site. For all my frustrations with OUAT, it was always fun to explore its various mythologies and symbolism: I miss the days when we could point a dog named Pongo or a puppet in Gold’s shop and wonder how these classic tales were going to be introduced into Storybrooke. Or when it depicted legends from a different angle, like Red actually being the wolf. But the show’s tendency to belabor its themes like “happy endings” and “best chances” and its ability to draw plots out into infinity (Neverland: never forget) kept it in “a few steps forward, then a few back” for me. I thought the season-three closer was an awesome example of what the show could accomplish: nods to both Star Wars and Back To The Future in a nicely encapsulated time-travel two-parter. Maybe that’s why I’m disappointed with this opener after that kind of momentum, as it’s possible that this Frozen saga could last longer than the harshest winter.

    Still, I will miss writing about OUAT, and I will especially miss all of your insightful comments every week, which added so much to the enjoyment of the show overall. Thanks again for reading.

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