It’s time for villains to get their happy endings.Regina
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, and Robert Carlyle.
By Once Upon a Time standards, “A Tale of Two Sisters” certainly lacks some of the “epic” quality that we have been gifted before. Season 2 began with a bang as wraiths attacked Storybrooke to try and kill Regina, while Season 3 saw our heroes travel to Neverland to try and Save Henry. Then again, both of those premieres had to tie up gripping cliffhangers from the previous season. While we were treated to a tantalising glimpse at Elsa bursting forth from containment, turning everything to frost as she walked, it certainly did not result in a climactic showdown this week.
Instead, this episode focusses quite heavily upon its new characters. A huge chunk of the episode is dedicated to setting up Elsa, in particular, and Anna, to a lesser extent, as characters in this world. It was a savvy move on the part of the writers to focus the storyline in Arendelle to concerning life after the events of the Frozen film. While it does rely upon the audience having prior knowledge of the film, it’s a fairly safe bet that those people who have watched Once Upon a Time have probably also watched Frozen or are, at least, vaguely familiar with it. It’s nice not to have that plot retold to the audience, as that would offer little of extra value.
Both Georgina Haig and Elizabeth Lail play Elsa and Anna superbly, and capture the same spirit of the characters from the movie. Their actions entirely make sense given what we already know about these two sisters, and it thoroughly works as an ongoing plot from Frozen. In fact, it’s eerily similar in inspiration to what would become part of the plot in Frozen II, which was Anna and Elsa’s parents seeking to understand where Elsa’s powers came from and possibly to eliminate them.
While the flashback to Arendelle is part of some necessary world building, it doesn’t actually offer too much of import to this episode. It’s handy that Elsa, Anna and Kristoff are all so likeable (and there’s no polarising, obnoxious living snowman bouncing around), otherwise it would be more of an annoyance than it ultimately is. The flashbacks don’t give the audience a sense of mystery, but rather vague confusion at how Elsa ended up contained in Rumple’s vault, and Anna’s pendant resides in Gold’s shop. While there’s an element of wanting to know what has happened to Anna in the intervening time, there’s no impending sense of danger or plight as yet.
The storyline in Storybrooke does lack somewhat of the high stakes that we, perhaps, have become used to, which is not necessarily a bad thing. A giant snow monster menacing the town for one episode is quite refreshing, and it’s actually quite fun to see Grumpy running around screaming his head off. Honestly, that man is such a drama queen. While that has meant that our heroes haven’t yet detected Elsa in their town, I’m confident that’s due to the writer’s overall vision for the storyline and keeping us waiting for that particular encounter. It’s also quite refreshing to have an episode focus more upon the emotions of our characters rather than a villain to fight against.
Most of the episode is dedicated to Regina and the fallout from Marian’s return from the past. Understandably, Regina is upset and angry, and it would be naive of the audience to expect her not to fall back into old habits. That she wanted to kill Marian is unsurprising, though it might have been nicer if the story had taken the love triangle in more of an unexpected direction. It might have been more captivating for Robin to unequivocally choose Regina over Marian, instead of dragging the plot line onwards. While the actions that Robin does make in this episode make complete sense, as he is a man of honour and code, it could have been more interesting to have Marian as a jealous villain trying to get revenge upon Regina, instead of Regina being on the outside.
Having said that, Regina realising the massive importance of the storybook is an intriguing plot line moving forwards. The storybook has always been a bit of a question mark. Nobody knows where it comes from or what powers it has, so for Regina to be seeking to rewrite that book – though slightly undoing some of the work that she has done at making herself the master of her destiny – is bound to give us some much-needed answers on this front. I did quite want the other characters to show a bit more vocal support towards Regina, however, while she asserts that she is a villain and they don’t get happy endings.
Rumple makes some moves to right the wrongs of the previous season, as he replaces Belle’s fake dagger with the real one. While this doesn’t entirely make up for things, it is somewhat of a start, even though Rumple seems to have happened upon something disturbing and magical in the house they are spending their honeymoon in. It resembles the Sorceror’s hat from Fantasia but quite what magical powers it will possess are anybody’s guess.
There were some nice allusions in the shooting. I was particularly fond of the shot of Regina and Emma separated by a door, just like in Frozen. I’m enjoying the concept of Emma desperately attempting to atone for her actions, and putting Regina in that position of being wronged. It’s a nice subversion and role reversal, and also quite nice for somebody else to care for Regina and be interested in her being happy. Rumple and Belle dancing to Beauty and the Beast was also lovely, and a delightful little reference to the film, even if Rumple continues to be just about the worst. On the downside, however, the graphic effects for Grand Pabbie to try to make him look aggressively similar to the cartoon version was really quite poorly done. Elsa’s magic, on the other hand, was quite successful.
“A Tale of Two Sisters” is a lovely, low-key start to Season 4. There’s enough to intrigue and draw you into the next episode, while keeping proceedings more light and fun – something which has sorely been missing from most of Season 3. The questions that the audience still have, about how Elsa ended up in Rumple’s vault, what has happened to Anna, where the storybook comes from and what exactly the Sorceror’s Hat is, are all compelling reasons to keep on watching to watch events unfold through the rest of the season.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.