Once Upon Season 4 1st Half (Episodes 1-12) Review

Once Upon Season 4 1st Half (Episodes 1-12) Review

Disney tries to capitalize on its popular and incredibly profitable “Frozen” franchise for the first half of Once Upon a Time’s season 4. It seemed like a good idea since Once Upon a Time has done a brilliant job of reimagining fairy tale stories and retelling them to fit within their universe. Unfortunately, the combination of the two successful franchises is subpar. In past seasons, the show has done an excellent job introducing new characters and stories that build on to the existing storylines. In the first half of this season, it tries to do it in reverse by telling and elaborating on the story of Frozen then trying to fit Once Upon a Time within that universe. Frozen is a bigger franchise than even Once Upon a Time so it is no surprise that the show is forced to go into this direction. While it leads to a solid live action version and sequel to Frozen, the Once Upon a Time storylines that develop out of the Frozen plot are poor and has a terrible ending. Another example of the show poorly forced in a popular character this season is the inclusion of Will Scarlet from the spin-off, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. He is the most popular character from that short-lived, canceled series. He is a very entertaining character. However, he only has minor roles in the main Once Upon a Time universe and I am confused how he fits in. Nevertheless, the first half of season 4 inherits excellent plot lines from the previous seasons that still deliver despite the failure to properly integrate Frozen. One of those interesting plot lines is the budding romance between Emma Swan and Captain Killian “Hook” Jones. However, the most fascinating storylines are those of reformed villains, Rumpelstilskin/Mr. Gold and the Evil Queen/Regina Mills. They both struggle with the demons of their past. While they have shown positive strides, the specter of their pasts loom over them. In the first half of this season, I really enjoy the different directions those characters go and the consequences their actions cause. As a result, it salvages the fall season.

When Elsa appears from an urn that Emma brings back from Rumpelstiskin’s (Rumpel) vault to Storybrooke at the end of Season 3, it signals Frozen as a theme for the first half of Season 4. As a result, I watched the film before the beginning of the current season. My brother described Frozen as the current generation’s Lion King. While I think it is overrated especially compared to other Disney classics, it a decent children’s movie with some surprisingly adult themes. There are key points from the movie that need to be understood before watching the season. First, Elsa and Anna are princesses from Arendelle. Elsa is the elder sister and heir to the throne. At a very young age, they are very close and inseparable. However, Elsa has magical powers that manifest. She has the ability to manipulate cold and ice. Of course, it is the reason the film is called Frozen. Unfortunately, she accidentally hurts Anna with her powers. Their parents seek the help of magical creatures known as the Rock Trolls in order to save Anna. Moreover, they instruct the Rock Trolls to take the memories of the incident from Anna to spare her the trauma. Due to guilt, Elsa secludes herself from Anna in order to protect her sister. Since Anna has no memory of Elsa’s power, she does not understand and is hurt by the fact that her sister has seemingly abandoned her. Nevertheless, Anna remains naïve, outgoing, and hopelessly optimistic. Tragically, their parents die at sea and cannot guide the sisters during the events of the film. Eventually, Elsa comes of age and inherits rule of Arendelle. As a result, she can no longer live in seclusion and must appear in public for her coronation.

As Elsa prepares to re-enter the world, she also ends her seclusion from Anna and the sisters immediately renew their bond. Anna also meets Hans, a prince of the Southern Isles. Due to her naivety, she falls foolishly in love immediately. On the other hand, it appears he feels the same. At this point, it seems like another simple, silly love at first sight story by Disney. However, it delivers an unexpected twist. In reality, Hans has no interest in Anna. He has twelve older brothers so he will never ascend to power in the Southern Isles. As a result, he only courts Anna because he will be closer to the throne as royalty of Arendelle. Immediately after meeting, he proposes and Anna accepts. Elsa forbids it since it is obviously ridiculous. Due to the strain in the sisters’ relationship, they argue. It causes Elsa to unleash her power uncontrollably and freeze the kingdom. Accordingly, she flees and Anna pursues. In Anna’s journey, she meets iceman Kristoff and his reindeer Sven. They have a contentious relationship at first but they grow to respect and adore each other. The contrast between Anna’s relationships with Hans and Kristoff are a good parallel for real life. The love at first sight with Hans is unrealistic and dangerous. In other words, only fools rush in. Her relationship with Kristoff is more practical. They did not even like each other at first. However, they get to know each other and work at a friendship that eventually becomes more. Normally, anything worth accomplishing is worth working for in life.

When Anna finds Elsa in an ice fortress, Elsa accidentally freezes her again which is a curse that requires an “act of true love” to break. As a result, Kristoff races to bring Anna home to Arendelle so Hans can give her a kiss. Unfortunately, Hans is scheming to usurp the throne from the sisters with the Duke of Weselton, commonly and intentionally mispronounced as “Weasel Town”. When Anna pleads for Hans to help, he leaves her to die. Moreover, she plans to pin the murder on Elsa. Since the kingdom are already frightened by Elsa’s powers, it only takes a slight push to turn them completely against her. With the sisters out of the way, Hans can ascend to power and win the game of thrones. Of course, it is a Disney movie. Accordingly, the sisters rally to stop Hans. In addition, Elsa attempts to sacrifice herself to save Anna. Consequently, it is an “act of love” that breaks the curse. More importantly, Elsa learns that love (specifically the love for her sister) is the key to controlling her powers. It is a very important fact that is utilized by Once Upon a Time.

The show does a solid job casting the characters of Frozen. Elizabeth Lail is an excellent Anna. She does well portraying Anna as naïve, optimistic, and headstrong. She delivers a cute personality and is pretty. Scott Michael Foster is a good complement to Anna as her fiancé, Kristoff. Both characters are exactly how I would imagine them in appearance and demeanor. Georgina Haig is an adequate Elsa. Haig is a little older than I picture Elsa. Part of the reason is the fact that the character in the film is a cartoon and naturally looks younger. In addition, Elsa is in her early twenties in the movie while Haig is in her late 20s. It is not a bad performance but not a memorable one either. The first episodes of the season sets up the story and rehashes a lot of the key moments of the film as summarized above. Of course, they tie in the Frozen characters into the Once Upon a Time storylines and its characters. The premise of the two universes colliding is centered on an expanded backstory about the mission Anna and Elsa’s parents were on before they died at sea. When Anna reads her mother’s diary, it is revealed that their parents were on the way to Mishaven (the Enchanted Forest) to find a way to rid or contain Elsa’s power. As a result, Elsa feels guilt for their death. At this time, Anna is also preparing for her wedding. However, she loves her sister and decides to delay her wedding in order to travel to the Enchanted Forest to discover the truth. The twist on the death of their parents is one element of the Frozen half of the season that I did enjoy. It kept me interested because I wanted to know what occurred. Unfortunately, the answers do not deliver.

Without a doubt, the first episodes of the season need to link Once Upon a Time to Frozen. The story lines are decent but not great. Anna is the key connection between the two universes due to her mission to the Enchanted Forest. First, she encounters David before he becomes Prince Charming. While Charming is brave and courageous inthe present, he is not born this way. It is interesting to see him as a hesitant pacifist when Anna encounters him. At this point, he is living on the family farm with his mother. They pay protection money and live in fear of a warlord, Bo Beep. Of course, this dark version of Little Bo Peep is comical. Nevertheless, the key takeaway is David’s cowardice and his refusal to act. Although Anna is a sweet, pure hearted girl; even she understands that there are times when one needs to fight. She makes the great point that each person should hope to live and not just survive. Slowly but surely, she helps David work up his courage to stand up to Bo Peep. Since she learned how to use a sword by her guards in Arendelle, she passes those skills to David. In the end, she provides David all the tools he needs to defeat Bo Peep and be the hero he is today. It is a good story because even the bravest or most successful people will doubt themselves at some point. It is only when they are tested the most that they find out if they have the courage and will to succeed. As a result, it is interesting to see the moment when David found his bravery.

The best tie occurs in when Anna meets Rumpelstilskin at the end of her travels in the Enchanted Forest. Anna’s happy go lucky, innocent personality and Rumpel’s playful yet undeniably sadistic demeanor is a very entertaining combination. However, Rumpel is a dynamic villain who will work great with most characters. Nevertheless, their encounter is a critical event during the season. It brings into play the Sorcerer’s Hat, from Fantasia. In the Once Upon a Time universe, the hat is powerful enough to end Rumpel’s dependence on his dagger. However, he is unable to take it since he does not have a pure heart. For this reason, he needs someone like Anna to retrieve it for him. Although the Sorcerer does not make an appearance this half of the season, his apprentice fills an important role. He protects the hat from Rumpel. Consequently, Rumpel manipulates Anna into unwillingly turning the apprentice into a mouse so Rumpel could steal the hat. On the other hand, it is funny when she is tricks him and steals his dagger. She commands him to return her back to Arendelle, never hurt her or anyone she loves, and change the apprentice back into a human. She is also smart enough to take the hat with her so Rumpel cannot misuse it for evil. Of course, Rumpel does not go away and the hat will remain important.

When Elsa arrives at the end of Season 3, I initially assumed that she would be the villain for the first half of this season. After watching Frozen before the beginning of the season, it is clear that Elsa could not be the villain despite the early episodes when the people of Storybrooke assume she is. Unlike Peter Pan, the series could not turn her into a villain because it would not adequately integrate the Frozen franchise. As a result, the show introduces Ingrid/ Snow Queen. She is a mysterious figure that entered Storybrooke without anyone’s knowledge. Unlike the other residents, she was already in the real world before the Dark Curse was cast. Progressively, her story is revealed. Specifically, she has unique links to Elsa and Emma that help tie the Frozen and Once Upon a Time storylines. The part I like is that she is Elsa’s aunt. It actually makes sense since they have similar ice powers. Elsa’s mother, Gerda, also had a second sister, Helga. Together, the three sisters had an unbreakable bond and love. Even though Ingrid’s ice powers horrifyingly manifest, her sisters stand by her. They seek and find Rumpelstiltskin for help. In exchange for ribbons that the sisters wear to symbolize their love, Rumpel gives them gloves that will contain Ingrid’s powers. They are the same gloves that Elsa wears in Frozen. It provides an explanation of how her parents’ obtained them. In the event gloves are not enough, he also gives them an urn that can trap Ingrid. It is the same urn that Elsa escapes from at the end of Season 3. Eventually, Ingrid accidentally uses her powers to freeze and kill Helga. Naturally, Gerda is horrified. Unfortunately, she uses the urn to imprison a heartbroken Ingrid. Ingrid has the pain of killing one sister and being abandoned by the other. Furthermore, Gerda takes the additional step in instructing the Rock Trolls to use their magic to erase her sisters’ memories from the people of Arendelle. For these reasons, Ingrid’s story is a sad one that is also empathetic.

However, the leap in transforming a heartbroken Ingrid into a twisted villain is not believable.  When Elsa first appears in Storybrooke, Ingrid lurks in the shadows and uses her powers to frame Elsa so the town distrusts her. The schemes include inflicting Robin Hood’s wife, Marian, with an ice curse that will eventually kill her when it reaches her heart. Moreover, she also manipulates Emma into losing control of her newfound powers. Ingrid wants to separate Emma from the rest of her family. Similar to Ingrid’s experiences, she wants Emma to believe that her loved ones fear her powers and will never accept her. As we also learn, Ingrid tried and failed the same ploy with Elsa in the past. As we know from Frozen, Prince Hans tries to usurp power from the sisters. The storyline continues in Once Upon a Time. He returns with his twelve brothers and a magical urn that can trap Elsa since she is the only person who stands in the way of them conquering Arendelle. Unbeknownst to him, Ingrid is already in the urn and he releases her when he tries to use it. Immediately, Ingrid freezes him. At first, Elsa enjoys the idea of having an aunt she can relate to regarding her powers. However, Ingrid schemes to drive a wedge between Elsa and Anna. She believes Anna is exactly like her mother who is also Ingrid’s sister, Gerda. As a result, she wants Elsa to believe she cannot trust Anna. However, Elsa’s bond with Anna is unbreakable despite Ingrid’s attempts. Similarly, Ingrid is unable to destroy the bond between Emma and her loved ones. Despite some soul searching by Emma when she tries to control her powers, she reaffirms that her family will always love her and accept her for who she is.

Despite Ingrid’s failure, it does not stop her from trying and upping the ante. In her attempt to turn Elsa against Anna, she resorts to using the curse of Shattered Sight on Anna. The story of the curse is told in the ancient Norse legend, the Trolden Glass. The Norse kind had a beautiful daughter. He had a mirror constructed for her birthday so she could see how beautiful he saw her. However, she dies before her birthday. Instead of the mirror reflecting her beauty, it reflected his pain and sorrow. As such, he harnessed dark magic and cursed the kingdom so his people would see the worse in each other and destroy each other. This legend is a very good story. The concept of the curse and its application is horrifying. When Ingrid uses the curse on Anna, it forces her to hate Elsa and threaten her sister with the magical urn. Nevertheless, Elsa knows something is wrong with her sister and refuses to freeze her despite Ingrid’s goading. As a result, Elsa allows Anna to trap her. Ingrid is furious at the outcome as she had not intended for Elsa to be trapped. In her anger, she freezes Anna and the entire kingdom. Moreover, she uses magic to take away some of Elsa’s memories. It is the reason Elsa enters Storybrooke with no recollection of the events and hopelessly searching for Anna. In addition, Ingrid takes the Sorcerer’s Hat from Anna when she returns with it from the Enchanted Forest. In response, Rumpel steals the urn containing Elsa and keeps it in his vault until Ingrid is ready to trade for it with the hat. Before Ingrid can get the hat to make the swap, the Sorcerer’s apprentice offers her a deal. Ingrid’s happy ending is recreating the love of her sisters. As a result, she wants to replace them with two magical sisters. Naturally, Elsa is one of them. In exchange for the hat, the Sorcerer offers to name the third sister. It is Emma but she is not born yet. For this reason, Ingrid is sent ahead of time into the real world to wait for Emma. As such, these events tie out all the loose ends that lead to the characters in Frozen entering the realm of Once Upon a Time. It explains why the urn containing Elsa is still in Rumpel’s vault at the end of season 3 and how Ingird is already in the real world before the Dark Curse.

It is understandable that Ingrid wants to resurrect the love and bond she had with her sisters. It even makes sense that she wants two magical sisters since they would not fear her powers. However, I do not see the jump from this desire to the need to murder an entire town so that only she, Elsa, and Emma are left. I do not follow the logic. Killing everyone else would only seem to create more distrust with Elsa and Emma. Moreover, it would probably also cause them to hate her since she would have been responsible for killing everyone they love. Ingrid already has a natural bond with Elsa since she is her aunt. An additional bond can be made with Emma if they joined forces for good. Ingrid’s story makes a lot more sense if she is a hero. However, the nonsensical progression of her story is a casualty of trying to force Frozen and Once Upon a Time together. The writers needed a villain to tie them together and they use one that does not work very well. Elizabeth Mitchell is a beautiful woman who portrays Ingrid. I remember her from the Santa Clause trilogy as Mrs. Claus. However, she is not given a good character to work with in Ingrid. Ultimately, the Snow Queen is lame. The conclusion to her story arcs are terrible and I will touch upon them later.

The show also imports the most popular character from its spinoff, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (“OUAT Wonderland”), by introducing Will Scarlet/ Knave of Hearts. He is a fun character with a heartbreaking story during OUAT Wonderland. He is played very well by Michael Socha. In the pilot episode of the spinoff, Will is actually residing in Storybrooke before the White Rabbit tracks him down to help Alice save her true love in Wonderland. As a result, he has always been the link between the two series. In OUAT Wonderland, the Red Queen/ Anastasia and Jafar are the main antagonists. However, Anastasia is Will’s true love. Although she still loves him, she traded him for power and wealth. She became a queen and evil. However, Will’s love is the main factor in her redemption. Ultimately, she helps the heroes defeat Jafar. While Alice gets her happy ending and marries her true love, Will and Anastasia also get their happy ending as they are together. As a result, it is still a mystery how that continuity fits into the main Once Upon a Time storyline. It is uncertain if the events of OUAT Wonderland occurs before or after his story in the main story arc. Instead, he is simply dumped into the series with no explanation or reconciliation with the spinoff. Similar to the Frozen series, it appears he is just put in to capitalize on a popular character with no regard to whether he actually fits.

Will’s role is only minor in the first half of the season. In OUAT Wonderland, we learn that he was once a part of Robin Hood’s Merry Men. However, his time was short since he deceived the group and went rogue on a heist at Maleficent’s castle and stole for himself. As a result, he disappoints Robin Hood and is forced to leave the Merry Men. Due to their past, Will’s primarily interacts with Robin in this half of the season. Although Will is generally an unwilling participant, Robin asks and receives advice from him in regards to his relationship with Regina and the complication caused with the return of his wife, Marian. Moreover, Will aids Robin in his quest to help Regina alter her fate and find her happy ending. The conversations between the two characters are relatively entertaining since Robin’s serious, torn demeanor due to his complicated love life contrasts with Will’s laissez fair, sarcastic attitude.

In addition, Will’s tendency to have sticky fingers also rears its head and gets him in trouble with the Charmings, especially since David and Emma are the sheriffs. However, he actually plays an important role in Mary Margaret/ Snow White’s story this season. As we know, she never had the chance to raise Emma due to the Dark Curse. Naturally, she is extremely clingy and overprotective about her newborn son, Neal. It becomes an unhealthy situation since she is so consumed by her paranoia that she is unable to live fully. After Emma arrests Will for breaking into the library and he escapes prison, Snow uses her tracking abilities to find Will. Upon confronting him, she assumes that David allowed Will to escape on purpose in order to “get her back in the game”. Since she thinks it is a ruse, she uses her powers as mayor to pardon him. Ironically, he actually did escape from prison. Although Will is a part of some key moments, he does not serve a critical role at this point and there has been no attempt to explain how his story from OUAT Wonderland fits in. I need to see both issues addressed before I conclude whether he is unnecessarily forced into the main Once Upon a Time series. On other hand, I feel OUAT Wonderland’s Alice (Sophie Lowe) is the best character from that series. She is a strong, phenomenal female character. While I do not want see a full role for her in Once Upon a Time, I would hope she makes an appearance in the future.

In the end, the best storylines remain the existing ones that enter this season. The relationship between Emma and Killian/Hook continues to be a fascinating aspect of the show. They are compatible because they are opposites that complement each other. Emma is a little stiff. She has been unwilling to let her guard down and allow herself to fully feel for Killian. On the other hand, Killian is a suave charmer that has been slowly but surely wooing Emma. While she constantly worries about the threats that face the town, he understands that there will always be danger but a person still needs to be able to relax and enjoy moments of happiness they are afforded. He delivers a line this season that describes their relationship perfectly: “You [Emma] know how to chase a monster. I know how to plan a night out”. Another issue that Emma faces this season is the pain she brought Regina by ruining her happy ending with Robin Hood when she inadvertently brought his wife back through time at the end of last season. As a result, she feels guilty and cannot enjoy being happy with Killian since she robbed Regina of the same. Nevertheless, his persistence prevails and they finally begin dating.

Since Killian wants his first date with Emma to be perfect, he makes a deal with Rumpel to return his severed hand. Rumpel is partly coerced because Killian threatens his marriage with the specter unveiling Rumpel’s lies to Belle. However, Rumpel warns him that the hand could turn him back into the villain he used to be. The scars in our lives usually represent a story. In some instances, they symbolize mistakes we made in our lives and the lessons we learned from them. For Killian, his hook reminds him of the selfish pirate he once was. However, it is also a reminder that he has changed into a good man. For this reason, I like how Rumpel’s warning fits in with this idea. Despite the risk, Hook opts to have his hand reattached. Afterwards, he feels his behavior changing. When Will Scarlet inadvertently and briefly interrupts the date by knocking wine onto Emma, Killian aggressively threatens him. His actions make him look at his hand and worry about the ominous words from Rumpel. As the night progresses, he continues to distress as he believes his behavior is reverting back to who he was.  Eventually, he runs into a drunken Will and assaults him. It is the breaking point. Since he knows he needs to be a good man to be with Emma, he asks Rumpel to replace his hand with the hook again.

Not surprisingly, the hand does not magically turn Killian back into a villain. Rumpel’s words were a psychological trick. In addition, Killian is entrapped by the Dark One. He is forced to do his bidding since Rumpe threatens to reveal his questionable actions to Emma. I enjoy this twist because I agree with it. If a person truly changes, a single event does not cause them to spiral back. Mostly, it is mental. Superstition is a good example of this effect. Some people have good luck charms, whether it is an item or routine. In reality, those superstitions have no direct effect on any outcomes. However, the psychological effects are very tangible. Killian’s actions demonstrate this idea very well. He truly has changed for the better but allows Rumpel to get inside his head and convince him otherwise. In addition, the leverage that Rumpel now has on Killian is significant. The price is very high. It certainly complicates his relationship with Emma. For entertainment purposes, it also makes it more interesting.

In addition to the relationship with Killian, Emma deals with an intriguing story arc. Throughout the series, Emma has been seen as the savior. She has even begun to tap into her powers with Regina’s help. However, power and magic may not necessarily always be a good thing. What happens if she loses control of her abilities and becomes a danger to her friends and family? She has always had their love and support. Would it change? Ingrid lived a similar life. She thought she had an unbreakable bond with her sisters. Even when her powers first manifested, they supported her. However, Gerda turns on her after seeing the horror of Ingrid inadvertently killing their sister. For this reason, Ingrid believes the same fate awaits Emma. She wants Emma to realize it and join her since she understands and will accept Emma’s powers. Through Ingrid’s manipulation, Emma loses control of her magic which frightens her parents. As a result, Emma hides in seclusion in the forest while she tries to regain control. However, the tipping point occurs when Henry tracks her down in an attempt to help her and she accidentally hurts him with her magic. Naturally, she is very upset and wants to ensure she never hurts her son or another loved one again. For this reason, she makes the decision to go to Mr. Gold and ask him to get rid of her powers.

Presenting Emma as a potential danger is very interesting. I did not expect this twist at all. She has always been lukewarm in accepting her role as the savior. Moreover, she has never been the greatest enthusiast about her powers. As a result, it is no wonder that she would be quick to get rid of them when they become problem. Surprisingly, even her parents are initially fine with the decision since it will neutralize Emma as a danger. When Regina overhears the conversation, she is shocked by their response. She talks some sense into them by explaining that they should be adamantly against their daughter getting rid of the very thing that makes her special. Nevertheless, Emma must come to the same realization on her own. The character that helps her with it is Elsa. When Elsa arrives in Storybrooke, she frantically tries to find Anna since she needs her sister to help contain her powers. She even goes as far as creating an ice wall around Storybrooke and threatening to freeze it unless the town brings Anna to her. However, Emma guides Elsa through her fears and they become friends. As such, it is nice to see things come full circle when Elsa returns the favor. Before Emma enters a room as instructed by Gold, Elsa pleads with her to reconsider: “It is not only Anna’s love or Henry’s that can save us. They accept us for who we are and that’s important but it’s not enough. It is on us too. You have to love yourself Emma, the good and the bad. The only way to truly be in control of your powers is to embrace them. Because this… this is who you are.” Those lines are some of the best in the season. While we always strive to gain the acceptance of others, it is just as important for us to accept all aspects of ourselves. I love that Emma needs to arrive at this conclusion before she can control her powers.

Of course, the best part of the series remains the stories of its original villains, Rumpelstilskin/Mr. Gold and the Evil Queen/Regina Mills, and their paths towards redemption. I also enjoy them going in two different directions in their struggles to reform into heroes. For Rumpel, evil is a disease. The source of his great power is his dagger. Unfortunately, the price is the corruption of his soul. Although he still has some degree of free will and self-control, the dagger has significant influence over him and pushes him towards evil tendencies. He is like a recovering drug addict. Even a minor slip of evil can cause him to relapse into the Dark One. Due to Zelena’s role in killing his son last season, he could not be a better man. Unfortunately, he begins to slide back on the slippery scope when he kills her out of revenge. Moreover, he fakes a loving gesture to Belle when he gives her a fake dagger. As a result, it covers up the murder since he has Belle as an alibi because she would not command him to kill. Although they have a touching moment when they wed at the end of last season, there is ominous foreshadowing that his lies will eventually surface and destroy his marriage.

Nevertheless, the season begins with slight hope that Rumpel’s reversion to evil may be a one off event. He visits his son Neal’s grave and immediately admits regrets for his actions. He attempts to make amends by switching the fake dagger with the real dagger for Belle. In addition, Belle and he move into an unclaimed home in Storybrooke and try to enjoy their Honeymoon. There is a great moment in the house when Belle and Rumpel share a dance as husband and wife with “Tale as Old as Time” [song from the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack] playing in the background. Unfortunately, the moments of bliss are fleeting. When he finds a mysterious locket and opens it, he realizes it is the Sorcerer’s Hat that he lost to Anna and the Snow Queen many years ago. As we find out, the hat has the power to end Rumpel’s dependency on the dagger. In other words, he will be able to retain his magic without it and can even enter the real world with his power. As a result, he could conquer the entire world where he would otherwise have no power. The murder of Zelena began his devolution as a hero. His insatiable lust for power is tempted by the power of the hat. His addiction proves too strong and he descends back into being the Dark One.

As Rumpel regresses towards evil, he progressively loses a sense of what is right and wrong. As a matter of fact, he begins to rationalize to himself that he can have it all: Belle’s love and his power. Of course, he can only have one since the love of Belle is in complete contrast of his evil intentions. Nevertheless, he gets himself deeper and deeper in his schemes and lies. Moreover, he uses leverage he has on Killian in order to force him to be complicit in the plans. First, they find the Sorcerer’s apprentice in Storybrooke and suck him into the hat. As Rumpel explains, the hat requires the essence of magical beings to power it. When Emma asked Rumpel to take away her powers so she can no longer harm her loved ones, he set up a trap so that she would also be sucked into the hat. Of course, Elsa saved Emma from that fate. Afterwards, Killian mocks Rumpel for failing. However, Rumpel informs him that his end game of terminating his dependence on the dagger also requires the heart of someone that knew him before he became the Dark One. Since Killian is the only person still alive that matches that criteria, Rumpel gleefully rips Killian’s heart out. It also serves the dual purpose of ensuring that Killian cannot disobey any of Rumpel’s plans. Naturally, Rumpel is sly in hiding all of these actions from Belle who still believes he is a completely changed man.

When the town becomes aware of the Snow Queen, Rumpel is forced to lie by stating he has never encountered her. Afterwards, he meets her in secret to let her know he is ready to make her a deal whenever she is ready. He also lies when he claims he has no knowledge of Anna. Ironically, Belle also fibs about not knowing Anna.   During the ogre wars, Belle’s mother sacrificed herself in order to save her daughter. Belle tragically witnessed the death. For this reason, her father goes to the Rock Trolls in order to remove that traumatic event from Belle’s recollections. Eventually, Belle becomes curious and ventures to the Rock Trolls to ask for her memories back. On this journey, she meets and befriends Anna who takes her to the Grand Pabbie of the Rock Trolls. He pulls a magical stone out of Belle’s head that contain her lost memories. During Anna and Belle’s return journey, they are on a cliff and the Snow Queen causes a storm. It results in Anna and the stone containing Belle’s memories hanging over the cliff. Belle has the choice to save her friend or the stone. Unfortunately, she prioritizes the stone. Nevertheless, the Snow Queen saves but disappears with Anna. Naturally, Belle is heartbroken about making the wrong decision because she is pure of heart. The guilt and shame of her choice causes her to hide her secret when Elsa arrives in Storybrooke looking for information about Anna. Of course, Belle eventually admits her faults and tries her best to make amends. It is the natural progression for any person with good character. Her contrition and redemption highlights the difference in response that Rumpel has for his lies. Although he initially feels guilt and wants to make amends, his total lack of remorse for his actions afterwards demonstrates his reversion back to a villain.

My favorite character in the series is Regina. Like Rumpel, she is a reformed villain. While he succumbs to his lust for power and habitual evil ways, Regina continues her progression from villain to anti-hero to hero. The similar past yet different paths forwards for these two characters is fascinating. I also like that the series does not develop Regina’s character in a straight line from villain to hero. She also has to confront and overcome the demons of her past. Unlike Rumpel, she makes an honest effort to conquer them. Naturally, Regina is devastated when Emma brings Marian, Robin’s wife, back through time to Storybrooke. For Regina, she has already had love ripped from her tragically. She expects things to go wrong. As a result, it is no wonder that she does not take the turn of events well. Robin does tries to talk to Regina about the complicated situation. He notes that he took a vow to his wife and must honor it. However, he also notes that Regina is not a monster. He left his dark past behind him and he hopes that she does too. Despite his pleas, it is difficult for Regina to ignore her evil tendencies when faced with an unthinkable sorrow. She suffers slight relapse when she traps Sydney inside her magical mirror again. She commands him to take her to the past to the moment she could have killed Marian as the Evil Queen so she can go ahead and do it. When she is taken to that moment, Marian is seen scolding the Queen from the past for being evil since she has no family nor people to love. Those words strike a chord with Regina. First, they are true. Next, it reminds her that the Evil Queen is no longer who she wants to be. I enjoy that Regina is confronted by her inner demons and needs to resist the temptation to revert back to them.

While resisting evil is a critical step in no longer being a villain, inaction is not enough to be a hero. For this reason, I like the further development of Regina to demonstrate that she has truly changed and is now a hero. When Elsa first arrives, she unleashes a large snow monster similar to the one in Frozen. It rampages through Storybrooke and Marian gets caught in its path. While Regina could have easily allowed Marian to perish, she actually steps in to destroy the monster and save Marian. When the Snow Queen uses an ice curse that will eventually freeze Marian’s heart and kill her, Regina is relentless and uses extraordinary measures to save her. In the end, Regina takes out Marian’s heart so the curse cannot get to it until a cure is found. Regina’s actions not only proves she is not a monster. They reinforce that she has transformed into a hero. Allowing Marian to die in either situation would have fixed her problems. It would take Marian out of the picture and free Robin to love Regina without guilt. In addition, no one could have blamed Regina since it would not be directly due to any action she took. Of course, the Evil Queen would have been selfish and not thought twice about allowing Marian to die or killing her. Nevertheless, it is not the right thing to do. A good person will do the right thing even when no one is watching and are tested by the greatest temptations. Through her actions, Regina proves she is a good person again. Additionally, she builds genuine friendships with Emma and Snow White during this season. As we know, she blames a young Snow for the death of her first love, Daniel. She allowed that hate to grow until it destroyed her soul and turned her into the Evil Queen. Now, Snow’s daughter Emma has done something similar to her. However, history does not repeat itself. She has grown as a person and has the love and faith of her adopted son Henry. Although her initial response is to resent Emma for her actions, she eventually realizes the intent was not to hurt her. As a result, being presented with the same situation but choosing the correct path this time is crucial in completing Regina’s transformation into a hero.

Another element of Regina’s story I love is the idea of free will. In fairy tales, heroes always win and villains always lose. If this rule is followed through, Regina is a villain so she can never have a happy ending. One of the brilliant aspects of the Once Upon a Time Series is the premise of merging the fairy tale stories with the real world. Consequently, nothing is black or white. The characters are more complex than just being only a hero or only a villain. Accordingly, Regina realizes that she may be able to change her fate by finding the author of Henry’s magical book. When she tells Henry the idea, he thinks it is a great one and codenames it “Operation Mongoose”. When Emma is later looped in, she also agrees it is brillant and commits to it. As the savior, she was tasked with bringing back everyone’s happy endings. In her opinion, Regina is included and her job is not done until she brings Regina her happy ending. While the search for the author will be important, I enjoy the emphasis of the story on free will. When Regina begins to lose hope about Operation Mongoose, she has a great conversation with Mary Margaret. During it, Mary tells Regina that “You are not all evil and I am not all good. Things are not that simple. Your story’s gone poorly because you’ve made bad choices but now you’re making good ones. It may not happen as quickly as you want. But if you stay the course, your happiness will come”.

Afterwards, Robin also finds an interesting page in the library when he is looking for clues about the author. The page displays an alternate reality. Instead of lacking the courage to enter the bar to meet Robin when Tinkerbell used magic to bring Regina to her true love; Regina finds the will to enter the bar and falls in love with Robin. The page shows them embracing and kissing. He believes it appeared for a reason. He interprets the situation as hope for Regina: “It means that your fate could have gone many different ways. It means you’re not doomed to suffer. There is a bright future around every turn even if you miss one.” These thoughts from Mary Margaret and Robin reflects my views on predetermined fate and free will. Of course, there are many variables we cannot control. For example, we are born with certain physical and mental capabilities that we cannot change. We also do not have total control over what other individuals do. Incredibly, improbable events also occur that can affect us fortunately or unfortunately (e.g. being at the right place at the right time or being in the wrong place at the wrong time). We will fail and bad things will happen to us. A pessimistic attitude is not the best way to live. If you look for things to go wrong and accept that they do, you doom yourself to failure with a self-fulfilling prophecy. Regina has experienced unimaginable heartbreak. In the past, she expected her life to go wrong at the first sign of trouble. She gave up and did not give herself the best chance at a happy ending. Tragedies and failures will occur in our lives. They are a test of our character and will. When these events occur, we must stay positive and remain steadfast so we can look for “a bright future around every turn even if you miss one”. A positive attitude gives us our best opportunity to get the most out of our individual potential and life. Consequently, Regina should get her happy ending if she stays hopeful and continues to make the right choices.

The conclusion to the first half is mixed. Similar to the rest of the season, the parts related to Frozen and the Ingrid/Snow Queen are disappointing while the parts regarding Rumpelstiltskin and Regina are great. Since Ingrid needs her sisters’ ribbons that were traded to Rumpel, she makes a deal for them in exchange for the information he needs to use the sorcerer’s hat. Later, he also convinces her to agree to allow him, Belle, and Henry to leave the town and escape her plot to use the curse of Shattered Sight. The curse will cause everyone in the town to see the worse in each other and destroy each other. Ingrid, Elsa, and Emma will be the only ones remaining since they will be unaffected. The magic of the ribbons are only activated when each sister accepts who they are, which includes their powers. Elsa comes to the realization during her time in Storybrooke. When she also helps Emma understand the same, the ribbons bind them with Ingrid. It amplifies their powers. In addition, it prevents them from using their magic against each other. As a result, Emma and Elsa cannot use their powers on Ingrid to stop her. Once Ingrid’s abilities are enhanced by the ribbons, she is able to cast the curse. Nevertheless, the heroes devise a plan with the Blue Fairy/Mother Superior and her fairies for a counterspell. It requires an individual who is now immune to the curse: Anna. For this reason, they can either find her or use an item of hers. Elsa has Anna’s necklace and plans to use a locator spell to find her.

However, there may not be enough time to find Anna. Consequently, a difficult decision must be made whether to risk the lives of an entire town to find one person. Of course, an objective person will choose the certainty of saving a town against only an opportunity to find one person. In the words of the wise Spock, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” As such, David, Mary Margaret, and Emma agree to destroy the necklace. Naturally, even a miniscule chance for Elsa to find Anna is enough for her to risk everything. She pretends to agree with the decision, switches the necklace, and flees to use a locator spell to find her sister. Eventually, Elsa finds Anna and Kristoff with the aid of a wishing star. Unfortunately, Rumpel commands Killian to suck the fairies into the Sorcerer’s hat to give it enough power for his scheme. As a result, there are no fairies to cast the counterspell when the heroes return with Anna. Afterwards, they prepare for the curse by chaining themselves down so they cannot hurt each other. For example, David and Mary Margaret lock themselves in separate cells in the prison. Regina also knows how dangerous she will be to the group since the curse will surely turn her back into the Evil Queen. She takes extreme measures by sealing herself magically in her vault. The concept of the curse is brilliant since it is horrifying. As we know, David and Mary Margaret/Prince Charming and Snow White has been the prime example of true love in the series.  Moreover, true love has been strong enough to overcome all curses. For this reason, they are cautiously optimistic and reassure each other that their love will be stronger than yet another curse. Nevertheless, the curse still overwhelms it as David and Mary hate each other and want to rip each other apart as soon as the curse infects them. This outcome replicates itself throughout the town.

The most entertaining fight occurs between Mary Margaret and Regina. While they become true friends during the season, their contentious past is undeniable and obvious. Although Regina locks herself in her vault, Emma and Elsa break her out. The ribbons prevent them from using their magic against Ingrid. Since the ribbons are born out of amplified love, Emma hypothesizes that they will need equally amplified hate to break the bond. Even though the curse has already renewed Regina’s hate for Emma, Emma takes it to whole other level by taunting Regina with the idea that she knew who Marian was and brought her back to Storybrooke just to ruin Regina’s happy ending. In addition, Emma adds that she is with Killian so Regina can see the happiness she will never have. Of course, those words cause Regina to be completely incensed and release a hate filled fireball that destroys the bond of the ribbons. As the Evil Queen, her primary target is Snow White. She goes to the prison and engages in a sword and catfight with Mary Margaret. It is a really entertaining, funny bout as they spar and rehash their long history. After the curse is broken, the two women immediately burst out in laughter at the thought of wanting to kill each other and Regina’s ridiculous outfit as the Evil Queen.

On the other hand, the conclusion to Ingrid’s story is very disappointing. Although Emma and Elsa rush to stop her, Anna finds the solution from a message in a bottle. At the beginning of the season, the show gives us a glimpse of Elsa and Anna’s parents in their final moments before they are killed at sea during a torrential storm. On the ship, their mother, Gerda, scrambles to write a message and place it in a bottle hoping that her daughters will find it one day. While the message arriving to them at the perfect moment is farfetched, there is magic in the show so I can live with it. In the letter, Gerda admits her regret for trapping Ingrid in the urn. She also states her love for her sister. She provides instructions to the urn. She also notes that the memory of both her sisters deserve to be returned to the people of Arendelle so they can be honored. When Ingrid reads the letter, she has the love of her biological sisters again. Moreover, she realizes the horror of the evil that she released on the town and sacrifices herself to end the curse. I did not like this ending at all. Ingrid wastes a lifetime resenting Gerda for fearing her powers and abandoning her. She spends the season executing a very complicated plan then immediately stops it because of one letter. For me, her inclusion in the series becomes pointless with this conclusion to her story. To be fair, the live action version of Frozen and the extension of the storylines from the movie are solid. The show ends Elsa and Anna’s story when they return to Arendelle to free it from Hans and his brothers who have conquered it in Elsa’s absence. Moreover, there is an excellent scene with the sisters embracing before Anna’s wedding while she is in a beautiful wedding dress. Again, I have no issue with the development of storylines directly from the movie. However, the Frozen storylines just do not gel well with the Once Upon a Time storylines. The poor use of the Snow Queen to try to link them is the prime example of how it does not work.

Even though the Frozen and Once Upon a Time marriage is disappointing, the development of Regina and Rumpel’s storylines are excellent. After the death of the Snow Queen, her magic wears off. As such, Regina returns Marian’s heart and it appears the curse is completely gone. In addition, Marian approaches Regina and states that she understands that it has been a lifetime for Robin since he was married to her even if it is like yesterday for her due to time travel. She wants to be chosen. More importantly, she wants Robin to choose between her and Regina with his heart and not out of obligation. Although it is a difficult decision, Robin decides to be with Regina. Naturally, Regina’s life is never that simple. Although the Snow Queen is gone, small remnants of her magic remain and Marian is again afflicted by the ice curse. Regina makes the selfless decision to suggest that Marian needs to leave Storybrooke and enter the world without magic since the curse cannot exist without it. In addition, she knows that Robin and his son need to go with her so she will not be alone and helpless in a strange world. Due to the magical barrier that the Snow Queen created, they will also not be able to return. Again, her actions reiterate that she is a hero.

As Regina sits in a car by the town line before saying goodbye to Robin, she and Rumpel have a surprisingly heartfelt conversation. The characters share an intertwined past as villains. They suffered painstaking personal losses and inflicted much more to other people. They have also been thwarted endlessly by the heroes. More importantly, they have struggled with the challenges of redemption and finding their happy ending. However, Rumpel has fallen from grace again while Regina has clearly changed for the better. As a result, he cannot fathom why Regina relinquished multiple opportunities to allow Marian die and take her happy ending. He elaborates that “Being good doesn’t mean good things will happen. But if you don’t think villains can get happy endings, just watch me take one. There’s no author of my fate… no story book with my destiny. I’ve been a villain a thousand times over and yet I’m about to get everything I desire. As unbelievable as it sounds, I want the same for you.” Their conversation is great since they are in a unique position where they can empathize with each other’s situation. Moreover, it is interesting to see Rumpel genuinely care for someone he has mentored since he rarely cares for anyone other than himself and his family. However, it also highlights the different paths they have taken. Their fates will continue to be an intriguing commentary on right and wrong, heroes and villains, and whether heroes always prevail and villains always lose.

After the Snow Queen’s plot is foiled, Rumpel knows he needs to get Anna and Elsa back home to Arendelle as soon as possible so that Anna does not disclose the truth about their past. Anna could alert the heroes onto his secret scheme. Of course, Rumpel narrowly misses out on his goal. As Elsa and Anna are about to enter a portal to get home, Anna inquires about Mr. Gold since she has heard a lot about his helpfulness to the group. When the heroes tell her that he was Rumpel in the Enchanted Forest, she exposes Rumpel and the heroes realize they were played. By the time the heroes get to Rumpel, he already has the fully powered hat and is about to crush Killian’s heart in order to rid his dependence on the dagger. Naturally, he comes close to winning but has his victory taken away. Beforehand, Belle found a magical gauntlet in Gold’s shop that reveals an individual’s weakness. It is an item from their shared past. Gold originally stole it from Camelot. Eventually, Belle gets curious and uses the gauntlet to find Gold’s weakness. To her disappointment, it leads her to his dagger instead of her. As a result, she uses the dagger to stop Gold since he still must obey whoever is in possession of it. Belle prevents Rumpel from killing Killian and commands him to bring them to the town line so they can speak in private.

Belle’s conversation with Rumple at the town line is one of the most memorable moments in the season. Emile de Ravin delivers a heartbreaking, powerful performance as she pours out her feelings to Rumpel: “You would never give up power for me. You’ve never have. You never will. You told me that gauntlet could lead you to someone’s weakness… to the thing they love the most. Well, you know where it led me Rumple? To the real dagger. Your true love is your power.” Belle has always believed in the good man that still exists deep within Rumpel. That hope and her love brought him back. She naively and hopelessly believed that she would be enough for him. Unfortunately, she realizes she is wrong: “I wanted to be chosen. I tried to be everything for you Rumple but I wasn’t. I lost my way trying to help you find yourself. Not anymore.” Her anguish emphasizes the tragedy of Rumpel’s relapse back to a villain. Despite all his evil deeds, he achieved his redemption and happy ending with Belle. Sadly, his lust for power betrays him again. He loses his happy ending because of his choices and not because he is a villain who is predetermined for misery. He did it to himself. Moreover, Belle has lost all hope for Rumpel. Despite his pleas for mercy and promise that he can change again, she forces him over the town line where he will no longer have any magic. He finds himself alone and powerless in the real world.

The stories of Regina and Rumpel continue to be phenomenal. It will be interesting to see how their decisions will end up for them in the future. I also think the show does a decent job providing a live action sequel to Frozen. Unfortunately, the two universes do not mix well and I have mixed feelings about this half of the season.

Pat Wong

About Pat Wong

Patrick is a contributor for Rookerville. He is an avid sports fan. Before joining Rookerville, he was part of a defunct New York Yankees message board, NYYankeefans, where he was its top poster and was inducted in its Hall of Fame for his contributions. Patrick is also a passionate fan of movies. He has enjoyed reading movie reviews over the years and is excited about the opportunity to review movies. Patrick is also a passionate foodie. He is Yelp Elite for three years in a row and shares his great finds in New York and his travels.


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