There’s a lot to unpack in this week’s special two-hour episode of Once Upon a Time. We’re in the home stretch, as this week sets the stage for the remaining three (yes, only three!) episodes of this half of the season. Let’s get started!
- In Arendelle, a long time ago, the Snow Queen is trying to pull a jinkies, but those meddling kids Anna and Elsa see right through her.
- In Storybrooke, present day, Emma seeks a way to rid herself of magic, which has become uncontrollable and dangerous to those she loves.
With two hours, there’s a ton of story jam-packed into Smash the Mirror. With that extra wiggle room, the writers have ample time to explore the several storylines that are happening simultaneously in a way that feels fluid rather than forced. It is clear that last week’s breather was the calm before the storm (A SNOW STORM AM I RIGHT), and the purpose of Smash the Mirror is to lay the foundation for the big Frozen finale that will encompass the next few episodes. Instead of that one-touch check-in on every plot point, the two-hour timeframe allows each part of the whole to be integrated fully. Arendelle, Emma, Robin Hood, the sorcerer, the book… everything is present.
That being said, things still get extremely confusing right from the get-go. I don’t know how Netflix binge-watchers do it. Particularly with Mr. Gold and the progression of who has the sorcerer’s hat and why they have it (not helped by the back-and-forth between flashbacks and present day), it gets puzzling. We know Mr. Gold wants Emma to smite the Snow Queen, but is there any other reason? He says her magic is powerful and will fuel the hat, but is that it, and if so why hasn’t he done this sooner? Is the hat completely unrelated to the plan to rid himself of the dagger’s power, or is it connected? It is this sense of intricacy that on one hand gives this series depth, but on the other makes it sometimes more complicated than necessary.
The other half of this depth equation is one of the show’s better hallmarks, and that is depth of character development. This week we get quite a handful of pre-game monologues from major characters. After about the first two dozen (I kid), they ordinarily would be annoying, but in the context of a two-hour special designed to take us deeper, they are the tentpoles for the episode’s narrative and give us a firm grasp of what each character stands for. In Regina’s opening up to Mary Margaret (a wonderful moment), we see that self-examination that has rocked Regina’s core since the very beginning. In Mr. Gold’s persuasion to Emma to be the “hero” and neglect her magic, we see his manipulative villainy in full force. (Soapbox: Rumple, we can never sympathize with you when you do things like this. Forgiveness from Belle is permission to be a jerk then come back to her crying? Ehhh.) In Elsa’s counterargument for Emma to embrace her magic, we see her past experience and embrace of love (in essence, the influence of Frozen summed up perfectly in dialogue) fuel her current role to help others. There’s some really great script-writing going on here.
In the middle of all these, let’s keep track of the big things we learn, of which there are many:
- Hook’s heart is part of the requirements to rid Mr. Gold of the power of the dagger (can’t you just see that as a Hollywood franchise film subtitle… Once Upon a Time: Power of the Dagger, this film is not yet rated kachow). This is what the Snow Queen whispered in Mr. Gold’s ear at the conclusion of last week’s episode. He needs the heart of someone he knew before he became the Dark One, and Hook is the only person who meets that standard.
- Just as the Snow Queen has been telling Elsa all along, Anna really did put Elsa in the urn that she was trapped in before she awoke in Storybrooke. But it was only because the Snow Queen put Anna under the Spell of Shattered Sight, turning her against those she loves most.
- Anna is frozen, thanks to Ingrid. My guess is that this is where the Arendelle flashbacks (or, at least, this aspect of them) conclude. We’re caught up to speed. We’ve seen everything, and Elsa hasn’t seen Anna since Anna put her in the urn (and obviously doesn’t remember anything having to do with Ingrid).
- There could be an alternate version of Henry’s book that gives villains happy endings. After a pep talk with Snow White about how fortunate sometimes magically finds its way to those with hope, Robin Hood finds a lone page that depicts an alternate version of Regina’s story. This time, instead of running away from Robin when Tinker Bell showed her he was destined to be her true love, she enters the tavern and meets.
- The Snow Queen’s plan to turn the town against each other can now go full speed ahead. Now that she, Elsa, and Emma have all embraced their powers for what they are, everything is all set for the Spell of Shattered Sight, which good ‘ole Queenie casts over Storybrooke just as the episode concludes.
I could be wrong in this, but I believe this is the first time we’ve seen Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff all together. It’s a very cool moment, and their chemistry prompts fantasizing of what a Frozen 2 could be like if a sequel ever surfaces. This whole Snow Queen, unknown layer of the past thing would, I think, serve as a suitable follow-up. In these scenes, we get our perennial movie tie-in as, when the Snow Queen has Elsa’s urn in her hand, Kristoff pleas to “let her go!” Uggghhhh ok. Oppositely, as overly hyper as her performance sometimes is (when Rumplestiltskin called her mouthy HA), it is this week that Anna’s eagerness finally pays off with some great dialogue. Her little asides to herself are legitimately lolz-worthy, including her playing out how she will pronounce the word “surprise” when she plans to double-cross Ingrid and when she notes that, since Hans is inside and his body has a skeleton, Ingrid literally has a skeleton in her closet. Hang in there, Joan.
To be applauded is the ups and downs of the story to take us places we don’t expect it to go. I fully anticipated Emma going into the hat (or Elsa sacrificing herself by going instead), and the remaining episodes being about trying to get her back. That would have been safe, repetitive territory. Instead, we have everyone at a relatively happy equilibrium with themselves: Emma with her family now that her magic is under control, Regina and Robin embracing their romance (which idk about what whatevs)… all is calming down and, with the exception of Anna still being missing, there is kind of a happy ending. Which is just the right moment for everything to be turned upside-down, and that’s exactly what the mysterious Spell of Shattered Sight will do.
One gripe: major plothole completely averted with a simple cop-out. As Ingrid steps through the doorway, the sorcerer’s apprentice tells her she will emerge in another land, at a point in time when her third sister can be found. Another point in time? Is this for real? Seems a little far-fetched and convenient to the existing storylines already in place. All these Arendelle flashbacks take place long before Regina’s curse that brought everyone to Storybooke, as evidenced by Anna meeting David when he was still a shepherd, not yet a prince. Yet when Ingrid steps through the door, she steps out in our world, circa 1982, just before the curse was set in motion, just before Emma’s birth. Time-jumping Snow Queen? That’s a bit much.
- The What-The-Heck Moment: Fireworks. Really, Emma?
- The Magic Moment: Those aforementioned monologues really drive things home, especially the heart-to-heart between Mary Margaret and Regina. It’s a touching moment in the relationship between both of these characters, especially since we’ve spent relatively little time with them this season.
- The Woah Moment: The other version of the book. Oohhhhh snap.
- Did you like the two-hour format of this episode, or did you find it too much to handle?
- Who is this dang sorcerer?
- In terms of villains we’ve seen on this show, how does the Snow Queen rank for you? Is she likable?
- How long do you think it takes Ingrid to clean the wet leaves off of her cape after she goes for a walk?
- How will the Spell of Shattered Sight impact our beloved friends of Storybrooke?