This is it, guys and gals. This is our last Storybrooke Sound-Off for a while, but before we say “See ya real soon,” let’s talk about Heroes and Villains, the season four winter finale for Once Upon a Time. It’s the last installment of the program before it returns on March 1, and the final time in the series (in the foreseeable future, at least) that we’ll be spending time with Anna, Elsa, and the Frozen gang.
- The Snow Queen has been defeated, the Spell of Shattered Sight is gone, and, quite frankly, everything else in Storybrooke (with the exception of one action-packed sequence in the library) feels like a 45-minute extended epilogue rather than a mid-season finale. Loose ends are tied up with Anna and Elsa returning to Arendelle, Regina and Robin sorting out their feelings, and whatever the heck was going on with the sorcerer’s hat.
- Mr. Gold puts his plan in motion to rid himself of the dagger’s power. Once he does that, he can take Belle, leave Storybrooke for good, and pursue his plan of world domination (mwaahaha).
- In the Enchanted Forest flashbacks, Belle is kidnapped by three Disney villainesses who offer to trade her back to Rumplestiltskin in exchange for a gauntlet which reveals their enemies’ weaknesses.
Heroes and Villains totes a phenomenal title that had me intrigued when I first read it. Quite frankly, though, the episode somehow fails to be what it could be for two primary reasons: 1) As a mid-season finale, it is an anticlimactic letdown of what we have been trained to expect from Once farewells. 2) Even when looking at it as a stand-alone episode, with any finale expectations set aside, it is still disappointing, though slightly less so. The pacing of its biggest reveals (the three new villains) is horribly put within the story-line and was frustratingly spoiled in the media before the episode aired. Let’s examine these two aspects a bit closer.
An anticlimactic finale
Last week’s episode, Shattered Sight, had all the makings of a proper send-off for the Frozen story arc: A twist on characters’ personalities, a paradigm-shifting curse, emphasis on the entire cast, exciting revelations about mysteries kept secret all season long, and an emotional death of the Snow Queen, a wonderfully crafted “villain.” But there was still one episode left before the hiatus, so naturally we expected that this week would see even more elevated stakes. This episode last year was the time Mr. Gold sacrificed himself in order to kill Peter Pan while Emma and Henry left Storybrooke with their memories erased. Either that’s the level of tension that should have been present in Heroes and Villains, or Heroes and Villains as-is should have waited to be the first episode of the spring arc.
The cycle of finale-before-the-real-finale mirrors last spring’s conclusion for the Wicked Witch plotline. That antagonist was killed the penultimate episode of the season. The difference, though, was that all traces of the Wicked Witch were cleaned up in that penultimate episode, leaving the finale to be its own, clever, self-contained entity with a surprise at the end (Elsa) that no one expected. This time around, though, Heroes and Villains still hangs onto the Frozen crew in a muddled, halfhearted way (when they probably should have been wrapped up last week completely) and spoils its biggest surprise due to bad timing. Not only did ABC show previews hailing Maleficent, Cruella, and Ursula’s appearances, but also released preview images to the media, who, simply doing their job, shared them. Those could have been jaw-drop-worthy surprises equal to Elsa’s entrance in May, but by letting the cat (dalmatian?) out of the bag early, things are just left to conclude on their own accord without much interest on the viewers’ part (or at least that’s how I felt about it).
Not to mention the positioning of the villain trio within the episode is odd, too. They’re revealed halfway into it, leaving the final moments void of any shockers. We know exactly who Mr. Gold is trying to find when he enters the aquarium in the final scene because we just saw Ursula in the flashback. If we hadn’t had that flashback, or if the flashback’s reveal of the villains was placed as the final scene, the delivery could have been so much more.
All that to say: Frozen’s involvement in Once Upon a Time has been an exceptional experience to live through. It represents the pinnacle of Frozen‘s imprint on animation history. Therefore, concluding this era in the series with a few lines of dialogue is a disappointment. We really don’t get to see Anna and Elsa take back Arendelle from Hans? We really don’t get to see Anna and Kristoff’s wedding, which has been teased since the very first episode? Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m so personally attached to both Once and to Frozen (I mean, come on, this is Rotoscopers, do you remember Frozember?) that I expected more of a payoff than was warranted.
As a regular episode
Finale gripes aside, let’s take a look at the episode as simply the next part of the story. At long last, some sense is knocked into the relationships up in the air. Robin being forced to leave the town with Marian and Roland is the best solution for his involvement in Regina’s life. That whole subplot made me uneasy. Additionally: happy day, happy day, Belle stands up to Mr. Gold! I’m all for an illustration of unfiltered redemption, but Mr. Gold is so manipulative (and repeats his same mistakes time and time again) that each time he would mess up then come crawling back to Belle, only for her to say the same speech about how he can change, only for HIM to go right back and lie to her, has been a cycle of madness. You get it, Belle! Show him you mean business!
I must say: the hints for the villains (even if we already knew their identities) were smart. A sand dollar for Ursula, a dalmatian for Cruella, and the raven for Maleficent (who looks a lot like Jolieficent). I see you.
And I guess we’ll have to wait until (probably) May to find out who the author of Henry’s book is. I’m conflicted as to whether I commend the writers for allowing that to bridge the gap between the fall and spring stories, or whether the confusion within the sorcerer’s hat subplot would have just as well been better fitted for its own separate thing not entwined with any other happenings.
Finally, the Knave of Hearts. Ok, really. What the heck. Michael Socha as Will Scarlet is billed as a frontrunner of the series. Since season four’s first episode back in September, he has been a series regular, meaning, on paper, he is just as part of the main cast as Emma or Regina and the writers intend for his character to stick around for the entire series. This is unlike, say, Elsa or Robin Hood, whose appearances are listed as guests because their involvement is for an intentionally limited time. Yet he hasn’t been utilized hardly at all. I hope the writers have a clear direction in mind for him.
- The What-The-Heck Moment: I guess we had to expect one last Frozen quote. “What is that amazing smell? Mmmm… chocolate!” Ok, ok, it’s all right this last time.
- The Magic Moment: Mr. Gold’s talk with Regina in the car just before she said goodbye to Robin Hood was very sweet… if he actually meant it. But who knows, he frustrates me. If we’re going for legit Magic Moment, let’s say Henry showing Regina the blank books he found in the supposed-author’s house… and Emma wanting to join in. Say it with me: Awwww.
- The Woah Moment: Belle making a stand. Woah! Where has this beauty been all season? Her appearance in the library tower was my gasp of the night.
- To you, was this a satisfying farewell to Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff? Do you want to see more of them on the show in the future?
- Are you excited for Maleficent, Cruella, and Ursula? How do you hope their stories will unfold?
- What are your feelings toward Mr. Gold? Is he forgivable?
- WHAT HAPPENED TO SVEN?
- How does this season rank for you in comparison to others?
- Is it possible for villains to get happy endings?
It has been a pleasure discussing what we love about this inventive show each week here. You all have brought up some excellent topics in your conversations and allowed me to view Once Upon a Time with even more insight. Be on the lookout for a more formal review of the Frozen story arc as a whole in the near future. For one last time before our break: Sound off below!