Once Upon a Time, the popular fairytale-based show, returned Sunday night. Having teased its ‘Frozen’ cast all summer, our reception to episode one was appropriately…icy.
Season 3, which ended with the triumphant defeat of Zelina also introduced a set of new problems: the yet-unnoticed arrival of Elsa; a tragic love triangle between Regina, Robin Hood and Marian; and a white lie between newlyweds Rumpelstiltskin and Belle.
Aside from the opening flashback of Elsa & Anna’s parents on their doomed voyage, Sunday’s episode picks up right at these points. We have the confrontation between Marian and Regina which sparks a new mission for the Evil Queen, Elsa’s arrival, and a focus on Rumpel & Belle’s honeymoon, which features an endearing dance scene.
The time-frame for Elsa & Anna’s introduction is during Anna’s wedding preparations. In true OUAT fashion, the writers have been able to twist the lore so that Storybrooke/The Enchanted Forest are relevant. Does it work? It’s too early to tell, but the treatment of Elsa in Storybrooke so far is exactly like that of Frozen, and is boring.
Regina’s arc is more captivating. While it may have soap opera-like qualities (a love triangle! the mistress and the wife!), that is outweighed by the question of Regina’s choices. Brilliantly voiced by the other cast members concerns, we want to know if Regina will go back to her old ways. At first her steps seem calculated, but she falters when she saves Marian’s life. It’s a learning opportunity for the Queen, as she realizes that her enemy isn’t Marian, but some one more important and more powerful.
Lastly, we have Rumpelstiltskin grappling with his past decision to give Belle a fake of his blade. This is only temporary, as he switches it back. But that call for power comes back when Rumpel notices an odd shaped box with swirling stars on it–when he opens the box, a magic hat appears (which is an overt nod to Disney).
Here’s the thing: OUAT likes to play the sympathetic-villain card a lot. The cast already features Rumpelstiltskin and Regina, who make great sympathetic villains because they are complex, intriguing characters. Their failings and “evil nature” are greater than the good within them, but their good deeds don’t completely change their character. Both are working towards a happy ending, but will always choose power.
Elsa doesn’t make for an interesting villain. Some quick exposition would solve the problem of ‘a monster on the loose.’ The only relevance I can see Frozen being involved with the Storybrooke cast is for misdirection–similar to Season 2, when the outsider Owen wasn’t so much of a threat as was his boss. There are no real threats to the town, yet. But Regina’s hunt for the writer, and the appearance of that familiar sorcerer hat, could be the bigger issues.