Warning: Spoiler Alert
It’s nice when the thing you’ve been wanting comes through for you.
I suppose that, in a show about fairy tales, I shouldn’t be so surprised I’m so thrilled with the season four premiere of Once Upon A Time. But I’m ecstatic, not just in the storylines, but in this show’s deft ability to make you feel like you’re getting a happy ending even when everything is confusing and troubling and unclear. And, well, it wouldn’t be much of a story if everything were easy, now would it?
Mercifully, we began the episode in the thick of a scene from Frozen, and if I’m not mistaken the release of the pent-up Frozen/Once Upon A Time storyline hype could be seen from space. Much to my personal relief, the storyline instantly became a bit meatier and substantive—the opening sequence recalled the stormy seas tossing around the King and Queen of Arrendale’s ship like a toy in the bath. It’s the same violent storm it was in the movie that will presumably wreck the ship and take their lives, only now we see their mother desperately trying to get a last message to her daughters. The next scene is five years later, with Queen Elsa and Princess Anna laying flowers at their parents graves. It doesn’t appear that they received any message from their late parents, though. Their death still seems mysterious and impossibly vague.
But all isn’t completely unhappy. In this Arendelle, Anna is getting married, and Elsa is actually happy about it! Turns out, despite his more, ahem, rugged qualities, Kristof’s set to marry Princess Anna. Elsa has extended her blessing (presumably a bit blinded by relief that Anna was no longer interested in Hans or any of his politically ambitious brothers), and surprises Anna with their mother’s wedding gown, and a snowflake pendant to wear on her wedding day. (Orphan sister gives other orphan sister mother’s wedding gown. It doesn’t get much more fairytale drama than that, folks. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not gonna try.) While Anna is trying on the dress in the turret attic where Elsa surprised her, Elsa finds a diary belonging to her mother. A diary that, of course, just happens to have a vaguely worded passage about the journey that was their doom. They might have told their daughters they were on a diplomatic mission, but the diary reveals that the trip was regarding Elsa and her incredibly strong powers.
True to the regal-yet-somehow-also-uncertain Elsa we know from Frozen, she’s consumed with guilt and horrified by this revelation. Anna, also familiar in her enthusiastic, fearless-if-not-somewhat-reckless self, attempts to diffuse her sister’s worries, even taking her to see her future in-laws, the rock trolls. I was kind of concerned that we wouldn’t get rock trolls in this mashup, but there they were, with their goofy, earnest demeanor and pleasantly distracting humors. Grandpoppy Troll was his mystic self as well, examining the diary and offering clues to where the sisters’ parents had traveled. It seems that they were attempting to reach a land of magic called Misthaven. Of course, Anna wants to chase after them (regardless of the fact that her wedding is the next day). Elsa, of course, forbids it. And, as we find out in our delightful introduction to Kristoff in the conversation he has with Elsa later on, Anna, of course, departs anyway.
But, of course, none of this tells us why Elsa was in an urn in Rumplestiltskin’s vault, why she reanimated on Zelena’s time portal, or what she’s going to do once she realizes she’s in Storybrooke.
Elsa’s introduction to Storybrooke comes as she’s walking on the road into town and nearly gets taken out by the Dwarves’ van as they head home from Prince Neal’s christening party (who let Sleepy drive? And people should really not walk on the road in the dark in this town). Elsa’s powers still seem driven mostly by fear, as she freezes the van in a blast of ice by simply cowering and bracing for impact. The dwarves picked a good time to leave that party, though, because things got pretty ugly when Robin Hood (and everyone else at the party) tried to introduce Maid Marian to Regina. I appreciate the unshakable fairytale optimism of the citizens of the Enchanted Forest, although someone maybe should have had a second thought about that introduction, considering that Regina is the one who sentenced Maid Marian to death, and because Regina kind of has a thing going on with Robin Hood. Marian, presumably overwhelmed by being saved from execution, traveling through time, and being reunited with her husband and son, has a bit of a meltdown and begins shouting about all the terrible things Regina has done. At this point, Regina seems overwhelmed herself, and abruptly leaves. Is she returning home to accept another ruined romance’s fate? Is she plotting revenge against Emma for spoiling her happiness again? Or maybe she just wants to get Maid Marian out-of-the-way…
Robin Hood pays her a visit the next morning, and in a conversation that I sincerely hoped would end differently, he affirms Regina’s worthiness and goodness, admits that he’s made his mistakes in the past, and then tells her that he must honor the “till death do us part” part of his marriage vows. Regina tearfully accepts his explanation. Upon finding herself alone again, she has the most beautiful, dramatic, soap-opera-brokenhearted-lover meltdown, complete with eyeliner-smearing and broken glass. Yeah, I just said broken glass. She broke a mirror, actually. A mirror! Hey, you know who we haven’t seen since he took the fall for Regina’s attempted murder of Katherine way back in season one?
Yup. Sidney Glass, aka the Magic Mirror, aka the Genie in the Lamp, is back, which makes my Giancarlo Esposito loving heart sing! He’s promptly extracted from the psychiatric ward he’d been locked up in, and it appears he’s eager that he’s back at his mistress’ beck and call. And what a beck and call it is. Regina confides her plot to go back in time and kill Marian, which will then leave her free to pursue a future with Robin Hood. She casts Sidney back into the mirror to recall exactly why she’d sentenced Marian to death to begin with. We’re treated to The Evil Queen at her merciless, leather-clad best, scoffing in the face of Marian’s pleas for mercy. Desperate and enraged by Regina’s ruthlessness, Marian mocks Regina’s cold heart and taunts her for her inability to love. The scene fades, and we find Regina welling up with tears again. Is she terrified of her former self? Or is the Light Magic she was able to use to defeat Zelena changing her heart after all? (I did not shout “Stay strong, Regina! You’re a badass all on your own! Rise above!” at my television, but I wanted to.)
She has some time to think on it, though. See, Elsa’s still leaving a slug-like frost trail around Storybrooke, which Emma and Hook are following, because once Grumpy and the other Dwarves came to from their accident, they ran into town in hysterics about a new sorcerer in town (and yes that is a run-on to end all run-ons but this is Once Upon a Time we’re talking about here and if there’s one thing this show isn’t short on, it’s plot points. So. Pressing on.) Emma and Hook manage to track the trail into a conveniently placed warehouse, where Elsa cowers in a corner. Fearing her pursuers, she creates an abominable snowman-monster to attack them. The monster begins to wreak havoc on Storybrooke while the citizens run and flail in panic. That would sound ridiculous, except it’s Once Upon a Time so instead it’s a clever, light-hearted bit of relief in an otherwise emotionally intense episode.
And even though everything up to this point has been intense, we haven’t even talked about Rumpelstiltskin and Belle, and it has taken every ounce of self-control I have to not simply submit “OH MY GOD DID YOU SEE RUMPLE AT THE CEMETERY TALKING TO BAELFIRE’S GRAVE AND THEN THERE WAS A DANCE AND THEY ARE THE MOST ADORABLE COUPLE THAT HAS EVER EXISTED” as my entire post for this episode. Rumple’s ugly-cry-inducing goodbye to Baelfire included a heartbreaking story about a man who tried to protect his son in a time of war, as well as his confession about the dagger-switch, and a pledge to live his life with Belle in a way that would honor Baelfire’s sacrifice.
Presumably that also involves following Belle to a giant, empty house (that she found while out hiking one day) to begin their honeymoon. Because, in a tiny town of witches and sorcery and mystical creatures and magic, a mansion in the middle of the woods with no one living in it isn’t suspicious at all, and instead is probably just waiting for someone who wants to live in it. Okay, so that plot point is a little wobbly but I love these two together so much that I decided to overlook it, mostly because their first dance as husband and wife distracted me. Full Beauty and the Beast style, complete with a gold gown, blue jacket, and Tale as Old as Time playing in the background. Can you blame me for glossing over a silly plot point? Of course you can, because I’m sure you know I was sobbing like a schoolgirl and couldn’t pay too much attention to the television anyway. Besides, as he was taking his first look around, Rumple appeared to recognize the celestial pattern on a stack of coasters. Later, he waved his dagger over it (the one he swore he wouldn’t use anymore…) and managed to conjure a sorcerer’s hat that looks suspiciously like the one Mickey wore in Fantasia. So, really, there’s enough going on with the house for now, I suppose.
But what about the abominable snowman? Well, of course it manages to engage Hook, Emma, Marian, and Robin Hood in a battle in the woods outside town. Things aren’t going well, and Marian is about to become snowflakes, when Regina appears and saves her.
REGINA SAVES MARIAN. HER BOYFRIEND’S WIFE. THE WOMAN SHE HAD PLANNED ON MURDERING. GIRL HASN’T BROKEN BAD QUITE YET.
Regina wants little to do with a victory celebration. Instead, she returns home and begins plotting again. See, she figures, it doesn’t seem to matter if she saves someone or condemns them, because in Henry’s book, the villains don’t get happy endings. It’s that stupid book! That book that appeared mysteriously in Mary Margaret’s classroom, that inspired Henry to find Emma to return to Storybrooke and break the curse. Regina knows what she needs to do. She needs to find the author of this book and get some answers.
But Emma and Hook? Well, those two want some sort of celebration. Maybe it has less to do with defeating a magical creature and more to do with Hook’s dreamy green eyes. As much as Emma seems tempted to start a relationship with Hook, she’s always been guarded and cautious, and is still visibly reeling from being reunited with Neal and then losing him again so quickly. Hook is a patient man, though, and soap opera love isn’t afraid of the long game.
Phew! All that in 42 minutes! (I would make some comment about how that’s more action and plot development than some series get in an entire season but I am trying to not talk smack, despite my personal disappointment with other shows.) It looks like we’re in for another twenty-one episodes of gorgeous love affairs and heartbreaking plot twists. I must confess, I haven’t watched a network television drama in quite some time and I’m not sure if my heart can take the week-to-week suspense. Maybe I can talk Regina in to holding on to it for me? That’s not a bad idea, right?
The Story Continues Next Sunday At 8:00pm On ABC