Photo: Jack Rowand/ABC
Once Upon a Time finished up its half-season journey to the land of Frozen last night with a wedding, a banishment, shots, and Ursula working at an aquarium. While the Anna/Elsa arc provided some cute moments (Anna’s constant nervous chatter, Elsa’s friendship with Emma), too often characters were ignored (Mulan and Aurora are like, totally raising that baby together, right?) in favor of endless Arendelle flashbacks. At times it felt cynical; why further develop fan favorites when you can drop a “Let It Go” reference and just give the people (children) what they want? But … it’s over now, and a new crop of Disney favorites is coming. So let’s reflect on what we had and hope against hope that the brilliance of Merrin Dungey as Ursula can outweigh how weird it is to introduce Cruella de Vil to the story (what powers can she have, anyway, being able to anger dogs?). Here’s a look at the highs and lows of Once so far this season.
Worst Translation of Frozen the Cartoon to Frozen Live-Action: The Rock Trolls and Sven (Tie)
The reindeer and the trolls just didn’t work in the Once world. Who really wants to see a reindeer reaction shot? And all the magic of the trolls is lost when they’re put next to real humans, doing their darndest to act like talking to rocks isn’t ridiculous.
Disney Character We Never Really Wanted to See on the Show: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
This whole story line was crazy confusing. Props to Once for completely trying something different, but the consequences of this story line never seemed compelling enough. Plus, isn’t seeing a CG walking broom the most annoying thing in the world? And how many times can we hear the phrase “cleave yourself from the dagger” before it starts to sound like gibberish?
Most Convenient Plot Device: The Snow Queen Being Able to Take Away People’s Memories
Oh, she’s been around Storybrooke and seems to have memories of the characters, but we’ve never heard of her before. Hmm … well, that’s because she can make people forget things. Sure, whatever, do what you want, Once. However, that did lead to …
Biggest “Surprise”: The Snow Queen Was One of Young Emma’s Foster Parents
This twist might have been easier to guess if timelines weren’t constantly being wiggled with on this show, but yes, the Snow Queen got plopped into the real world and eventually became a foster parent to Emma. In one of the season’s strongest flashbacks, the Snow Queen (just a lady at this point) helps Emma defeat a bully, the two spend a wonderful day together bonding, and the Snow Queen says she wants to adopt Emma. Sure, it all comes crashing down when the Snow Queen tries to trigger Emma’s magic by holding her in front of a moving car. Still, it’s always nice to see young Emma happy and not miserable and lonely.
Most Bummer Backstory: The Snow Queen’s Two Sisters
The Snow Queen’s magic was triggered by a creepy man trying to kidnap her two sisters when they were little. As an adult, she tries to remain hidden even though her sisters constantly assure her that they love her and want her to be happy. Later in the flashback, another creepy dude (The Duke of Weselton) hits on Ingrid, and when she rebuffs him with magic, he attempts to turn her sister Helga against her (Helga’s having none of it) and threatens to tell the whole of Arendelle her secret. Ingrid tries to stop him, but Helga steps in the way and gets turned to a bunch of ice pieces. Then her other sister Gerda, seeing Helga dead — well, seeing a bunch of ice cubes and deducing — traps Ingrid in an urn so her magic can’t hurt anybody else. Yeah, maybe anyone would have issues at this point.
Best Captain Swan Moment: “I Press the Emma Button and She Answers Usually,” Says Hook About Cell Phones
Yes, there was a whole episode devoted to their first official date, and there were a few swoon-worthy looks between the two and some good kisses. Still, it’s their goofy jokes about being normal and watching Netflix, and Hook’s constant excitement at hearing that Swan thinks they’re “together-together,” that really sold the couple.
Most Annoying Obstacle in the Way of Love: Gold Has Hook’s Heart
Last season, Zelena enchanted Hook so that his kiss would drain Emma of her powers; this season, Gold grabbed Hook’s heart and made him do his bidding. Basically, Hook is just the plaything of the villains. Even if he’s not a pirate anymore, it’d be great to see a little more fight in him.
Most-Ignored Obstacle in the Way of Love: A Wife (Marian)
Poor Marian: After being saved from death in the season-three finale (and again in the season-four premiere), she gets zapped by the Snow Queen and is stuck as a popsicle, while her husband makes eyes at Regina (and also, you know, does more than make eyes … shhhhh, don’t tell the kids).
Best Use of Frozen characters: Elsa and Anna Will Always Find Each Other
Although the Frozen plot could get a little tedious, Elsa and Anna’s undying love for each other was always heartwarming. Seeing them talk about weddings and chocolate felt like a nice addition to the movie, not necessarily just a retread of that plot. Plus, the scene of Anna and Kristoff almost drowning only to be saved by Elsa’s wish was incredibly emotionally satisfying (if convenient).
Weirdest 360: The Snow Queen Sacrifices Herself to Save Storybrooke
The only way to stop the Spell of Shattered Sight the Snow Queen has unleashed is for her to die. After learning that her sisters really did love her (which … didn’t she already know this, for the most part?), even till the end, the Snow Queen decides she has to “destroy” herself to save the town. Since this is a kid’s show, she just gets surrounded by mirror shards and then becomes snow … or something like that. Still, this scene is worth mentioning because there’s a peaceful shot of young Ingrid running in a field with her two sisters after she dies. And right before she dies, her last line is about joining her sisters. Is there a Heaven in the Once universe? Where do Once characters go after they die? (No, not just to Fifty Shades of Grey.)
Best Example of How Useless Charming Has Become: Charming Tries to Scale the Ice Wall, Instantly Gets Knocked to the Ground
Let the ladies handle this, darling.
Biggest Backslide: Rumpelstiltskin
The show couldn’t exist with only good guys and reformed bad guys, but man, was it depressing to watch Rumpel just completely slide into his old ways. Tricking Belle, making Hook kill all those fairies, scheming with the Snow Queen, he just really fell off the wagon. But that did lead to …
Most Necessary Moment: Belle Tells Rumpel to Take a Hike!
Belle finally realized that Rumpel always loved (and would love) power more than he loved her, so she commanded him, using his dagger, to leave town, which means he can never come back (at least for a few episodes … or part of an episode).
Best Redemption — or, Really, Continued Assurance That a Character Is Redeemed: Regina Helps Save Marian, Loses Robin Hood
At this point, viewers should know that Regina isn’t just going to backslide and become crazy and evil again. Probably. She’s saved the day time and time again. She’s obviously miserable letting Robin Hood go, but she’s a good guy now!
Most Meta Story Line: The Search for the Author of the Fairy-Tale Book
Hearing Regina complain about a writer not giving her a good story line often felt incredibly on the nose, especially this season. Lana Parrilla is one of the best actresses on the show, but she was increasingly relegated to the sidelines in favor of Frozen and Emma stories. Of course she wants a little face time with the author.
Best Swan Queen Moment: The Season Premiere and the Mid-Season Finale (Tie)
In the season premiere, the shot of Emma and Regina leaning on opposite sides of the door set Tumblr ablaze. Emma promised she’d help Regina find her happy ending, and while that got derailed a little with all this Frozen stuff, in last night’s episode, Henry and his two moms once again decided that they were going to find the author of the fairy-tale book and get Regina her happy ending. Sure, it’s not canon yet, but who know what the future holds?
Next up (well, in March 2015), the Queens of Darkness, Maleficent, Cruella, and Ursula come to get their happy endings. Hopefully it will all be campy fun and not a serious reflection on villain abandonment issues.