Tuesday, September 30, 2014

ABC's "Once Upon a Time": season 4 has started!

My favorite current TV show, ABC's "Once Upon a Time," has returned, and even though I've got "Scandal" and "How to Get Away With Murder" waiting on my TiVo, I couldn't wait on this one.


Where we left off at the end of season 3, the Storybrooke residents had defeated the evil witch Zelena from the Emerald City (of The Wizard of Oz), and then in the season finale, Emma Swan and Captain Hook ended up going back in time in the Enchanted Forest to ensure that her parents (Snow White and Prince Charming) would meet, in an homage to Back to the Future. Emma reset the storyline, but she couldn't resist saving a doomed prisoner in then-evil Queen Regina's dungeon. That prisoner, whom Emma brought back to Storybrooke, turned out to be Maid Marian. As in, Maid Marian, wife of Robin Hood - the same Robin Hood who was Regina's new paramour.

That's not good.

Even more ominous was the appearance, unseen by anyone in Storybrooke, of a female in a gown, whose steps left a frozen trail. . . .

The season 4 premiere opens with a ship in a dangerously turbulent storm. A woman runs down into the cabin to write a letter; a man comes down and asks her what she's doing. She concedes that they might not survive, but their daughters have to know "the truth." They put the letter into a glass bottle, which toss overboard just before a killer tidal wave wipes them out. It's a replay of the scene from Frozen!

The flashback part of the episode shows Elsa and younger sister Anna (played by an actress who looks a lot like a young Jennifer Garner) in Arendale, with Anna about to get married to Kristoff. Elsa finds her mother's journal and discovers that the parents left the realm because of her ice powers. Seeing how distraught Elsa has become (it's snowing around her!), Anna finds out from the trolls that their parents went to Misthaven, so she sets off for there.

In Storybrooke, we have the set-up of the storylines for what will presumably be the fall arc: Queen Regina's (re)turn to the dark side to get rid of Marian, with the assistance of the Magic Mirror (played by Giancarlo Esposito, newly freed from NBC's "Revolution," which was canceled after two season); Rumplestiltskin and Belle's honeymoon, which is perfect except for the fact that he is dealing with the fact that he lied to her about giving her the dagger that controls her (because he wanted to be free to exact his revenge against Zelena for killing his son Baelfire); and Emma and Hook's discovery of the ice trail left by Elsa, which leads them face-to-face with a snow golem.


* The CGI with the ice effects, trolls, and snow golem was all pretty good. I know there were critics of "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland's" visual effects as being too cartoony, but here, where the original source material was in fact a cartoon, it seemed fairly realistic.

* This show is so much like a good, old friend that I instantly felt the warmth from Emma, her son Henry, Snow and Charming. I really like the interaction between Emma and Henry in particular, and I still think that the season 3 mid-season finale would have been a perfect ending for the series (with Emma and Henry returning to New York, sans memory of Storybrooke).

* Lana Parilla continues to deliver a standout performance as Regina Mills. She's the Evil Queen, but she's trying to reform, and everything just conspires to deprive her of happiness. She gets a lot of sympathy in my household.

* I hate to say it but this show seems stronger when it's not focused on Snow White and Prince Charming. Or rather, on Mary-Margaret and David. Nothing against the actors, but at this point, their characters are among the least interesting on the show. It may be that the storyline is just played out for them. If this episode is any guide, the writers seem to be aware, as the long-term story arcs don't involve them much, other than as Henry's babysitters.

* Emma and Hook still have mad chemistry!

* If the Elsa storyline plays out the way it looks, she's not evil (after all, this looks like a continuation of the Frozen plot); she's just looking for her sister. I like it when shows imbue the antagonists with complex motives, something that I think Zelena was missing (though she was still deliciously evil).

* Ratings-wise, "Once Upon a Time" delivered a smashing 3.7, which is pretty stunning in this era. I can't imagine that it will stay that high, but considering that anything above 2.0 is good these days, it's an awfully strong showing. I guess Frozen really has a lot of appeal still.

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