A Tale of Two Sisters Review | Once Upon a Time Season 4 Premiere

It’s time for villains to get their happy endings.


Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, and Robert Carlyle.

Season 4
Episode 1: A Tale of Two Sisters

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.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Serena says:

    Regina certainly hasn’t earned her happy ending yet, and I agree that seeking out the author seems like she’s trying to find a shortcut. A few good deeds do not erase all the murders and other horrors she committed, so I don’t expect the others to contradict her when she admits to being a villain.

    And in no way should Emma have to feel sorry that she saved a woman from being executed by Regina. Yet according to how this episode is written, Emma is now expected to apologize for “hurting” Regina?!? What a twisted sense of morality from the writers! Regina should be begging Marion’s forgiveness, and thanking Emma for one less murder on her conscience.

    Regina has yet to acknowledge all of her past sins, and has made no effort to make amends to those she hurt. She seems to think she can just forget about those actions. But anyone who has suffered or lost a loved one at her hands is still dealing with that trauma. In fact, I still find it odd that our Sheriff Emma has never sought justice for the enslavement and murder of Graham, which happened in her jurisdiction while she was an officer of the law.

    I actually am finding it quite disturbing that the writers are pushing the philosophy that seeking justice is the same as revenge, and that “good guys” are supposed to allow themselves and others to be the victims of all sorts of atrocities and still forgive their assailants. Just how many peasants are they willing to sacrifice to allow villains multiple chances to “redeem” themselves? So far, quite a few…

    The writers are lucky that the actress playing Regina is so good that she manages to make her character likeable, in spite of the character’s self-centred viciousness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mark Goodwin says:

      I completely agree with the “good guys” concept. They seem to just invalidate any negative emotion for a “good guy”, that they should just let things go and not actually let it affect them. I think it’s so reductive. Yet, at the same time, we have to accept that they spin redemption tales for Hook and Regina, who have committed terrible acts! It’s especially frustrating when they get to the Emma turning dark ideas later in the season, and every single time she gets frustrated or annoyed, everyone is convinced that she’s a villain all of a sudden.


  2. Serena says:

    So now we can add “frustration and annoyance” to “fear and hatred” as the ways to the Dark Side? Even Jedi didn’t have to be that passively angelic! Somebody needs to smack the writers upside the head! I will definitely have more to say about this when I get to the episodes with Emma turning dark.

    Liked by 1 person

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