‘Once Upon a Time’ Review: Surviving Isn’t Living

Jack Rowand/ABC

(Little) Bo Peep was a warlord. Princess Anna taught Prince Charming how to sword fight. Prince Charming and Captain Hook teamed up to rescue Emma from Queen Elsa’s accidental ice castle. Snow White got tips from the (former) Evil Queen on how to use a generator. You literally cannot make this stuff up unless of course you’re the Once Upon a Time writers – and we love them so much for bringing this show to life each and every week because how can you not fall in love with these characters and all of the crazy scenarios?

White Out” improved on last week’s fun season premiere by bringing balance back to the show. We still got to see plenty of Elsa and Anna, but this time, they were interacting with our favorite characters and propelling their storylines forward. That made all the difference (at least for me). The season’s theme of never giving up on people you love was repeated throughout the episode in both words and actions, but this episode had an even bigger message on the difference between surviving and living.

I’m not one to generalize, but I think the vast majority of people can relate to going through the motions of life: sleep, work, eat, fun, sleep, lather, rinse, repeat…we tell ourselves that we just have to get through the day, the week, the month, etc., but that’s just surviving – it’s not really living. That’s how we found some of our characters in this episode. Past David kept his head down and didn’t want to make waves, Snow was so exhausted from taking care of the baby that she was afraid to try and take on more responsibilities and Regina shut herself away from the world, including Henry, because she’s too heartbroken to face anyone.

And this is where the message of not giving up comes into play. Let’s start with Snow. Elsa’s ice wall knocked over some power lines and Grumpy, Happy and Granny showed up on her doorstep to demand that she fix it. Since Snow cast the latest curse, they decided that made her mayor. She didn’t really know what to do (and a deleted scene visit to Regina wasn’t much help). Snow lost her cool (pun intended) and yelled at the trio to buy a flashlight since they lived their entire lives without electricity (I’m still laughing at this). Alone with a hungry baby, Snow realized the generator needed fuel and fixed it.

This story was a little (a lot) silly and it felt like filler, but I really enjoyed it because it’s about time Snow snapped back. Season three Snow was so passive and she’d lost that fire that made her a fighter and a bandit and I’ve really missed that side of her. I hope her acceptance of the mayor job is just the first sign that we’re going to get the Snow of earlier seasons back.

ouat-402-white-out-02Speaking of earlier, let’s dive into the flashback. Anna arrived in the Enchanted Forest and knocked on David’s door at the shepherd farm (where he rocked some long, wavy hair). It turns out David and Kristoff are friends (backstory, please!), but Anna didn’t want to tell him too much about her secret mission for safety purposes. She just needed a place to stay. David agreed, but then Bo Peep showed up to harass David and his mother for money and threatened to take their farm and his horse if she didn’t get it in the morning. Again, Bo Peep is a warlord. Never forget.

Anna was less than impressed and encouraged David to fight back. But it turns out that he was a bit of a coward because his father had been a drunk and he finally fought to get sober, only to throw it away and then drive his cart off a cliff after a night in the tavern (don’t drink and drive anything). The horse belonged to David’s father and was a reminder that fighting wasn’t worth it (terrible message). Again, Anna remained unimpressed and urged David to learn to sword fight because surviving isn’t living. He still didn’t have any confidence and then Bo Peep (the warlord) made the mistake of kidnapping Anna and that gave David a reason to act.

Needless to say, David won the battle and rescued Anna. These scenes were all super fun and not just because of his hilarious hair. Sometimes we all need a push in life and that’s what Anna did for David. My favorite part was when Ruth thanked her for changing him and Anna stressed that she didn’t – he’s always been this way. That’s another great message from this episode. Anna didn’t make David a warrior – she just helped him find the strength inside of himself that was lying dormant.

Back to present day Storybrooke – Elsa erected an ice wall around the town to keep people from leaving (it’s not her fault she doesn’t know they can’t). Emma, Charming and Hook went to check it out and Hook felt bad because he didn’t bring champagne for their second date (the ice monster was the first). While Emma went to investigate the wall close up, Charming wanted to have a chat about Hook’s intentions toward his daughter. Hook made it crystal clear that he didn’t see her as a conquest and what happened between them was every bit as much up to Emma as it was to him (I’ll just be over here swooning over his perfection. He might not think he has a place in the modern world, but he’s a million times more forward thinking when it comes to women’s rights than a lot of men). Charming seemed to understand because he gave him a bro nod and that was that.

Emma stepped into the ice wall and introduced herself to Elsa, who clutched Anna’s necklace and demanded to know where she was. Emma tried to keep her calm, but Hook’s hook and David’s gun scared her so Elsa panicked and more ice sprang up, trapping the two ladies inside. Emma used the walkie-talkie to let David know what was happening (and Hook immediately grabbed it because he was so desperate to hear Emma’s voice and know that she was all right). Elsa threatened to freeze everyone in town if they didn’t find Anna, but Emma quickly realized that she didn’t have control over her powers and her threat was actually a warning.

When the show first announced the Frozen characters were coming to Storybrooke, the possibility of an Emma/Elsa friendship was the thing that excited me most. The two are a lot alike and I’m so pleased the show is already diving into that connection. Emma explained her powers and how she can’t control them. Elsa tried her best to keep Emma awake and talking and she explained that Anna helps her control them (again, Emma usually has someone she loves by her side when she uses hers: Hook, Henry, her parents – or she’s using them to save one of their lives. Probably not a coincidence given that she’s the product of true love and that’s where her power is rooted).

Meanwhile, Charming and Hook went to see Gold for help, but he proved useless since his magic would destroy Emma as well as the wall. But Belle showed Charming a picture of the necklace and he realized who Anna was. He paid a visit to (former warlord) Bo Peep’s butcher shop and she threatened him with a meat cleaver, but Hook was there to stop her. She refused to help and Charming held her still while Hook retrieved her magic shepherd crook from the back room (Teamwork, FTW!). But they were running out of time – Elsa radioed to let them know Emma was turning blue and freezing to death.

They returned to the ice wall and Hook tried again to chip away the ice with his hook (props as always to Colin O’Donoghue for his facial expressions during these scenes. As David radioed Elsa to encourage her to take down the wall, Hook’s terror at losing the woman he loves was written all over his face. Dialogue wasn’t necessary for the audience to feel just how scared he was and it was heartbreaking to watch). Charming calmed Elsa down and slipped in Anna’s line about living versus surviving, which was exactly what Elsa needed to kick start her control. She managed to put a hole in the wall so Hook and Charming could pull them out. Once Emma was safely in Hook’s arms (and Captain Swan fans everywhere were dying over the best hug to ever happen on television), Charming helped Elsa out of the ice and promised to help her find Anna.

Once they were back at the loft and Emma was huddled under blankets (still wrapped in Hook’s arms), Charming used (former warlord) Bo Peep’s staff to locate Anna. At first nothing happened, but then a heartbeat echoed, which proved Anna was alive. Snow returned and Charming introduced Elsa and explained that they were going to help her find her sister because the family never gives up (and the wide shot to include Hook and Emma was perfect because he fits seamlessly into their family – he spent the entire episode refusing to give up and before that, he spent an entire season encouraging Emma not to give up, first in the search for Henry and then while fighting the Wicked Witch. Again, he might not see himself as the hero type, but that’s exactly who he is and why he belongs with this family).

Henry also took the message to heart and went to see Regina the next morning. She didn’t open the door at first, but he insisted that he was not giving up on her and he missed his room (did that line crack anyone else up? Just me?). Regina opened the door and hugged her son and what I loved most about this moment was how far they’ve come. Regina is usually isolated because everyone is mad at her, but this time, she didn’t do anything wrong – she’s just heartbroken. And Henry loves her and doesn’t want her to go through that alone and that’s a beautiful thing (never give up).

The episode still had one last treat (again, pun intended) in store for us. While Elsa reiterated to Emma that she was the only one who had the ice powers, but couldn’t seem to bring the wall down, the scene shifted to the ice cream parlor. Grumpy asked the proprietor (Elizabeth Mitchell) if she lost a lot of inventory during the power outage and she said she didn’t lose anything – she said she’s just lucky. He left the store and she proceeded to turn everything to ice (and I basically jumped up and down because I love Elizabeth Mitchell and I’m so excited that she’s on this show).

Now, tell us what you think! Did you enjoy the episode? Are you looking forward to seeing where the arc goes? Where’s Anna? Where’s Kristoff? What’s up with the Snow Queen? Will Snow be able to keep up with two full-time jobs? How many people actually live in the Charming family loft now (Maybe that’s the real reason Henry misses his room – he just wants a few minutes of peace and quiet)?

Mandy Treccia
Mandy Treccia has served as TVSource Magazine’s Executive Editor since 2016, formerly as Editorial Director from 2012-2016. She is an avid TV watcher and card carrying fan girl prone to sudden bursts of emotion, ranging from extreme excitement to blind rage during her favorite shows and has on more than once occasion considered having a paper bag on hand to get her through some tough TV moments. Her taste in TV tends to rival that of a thirteen-year-old girl, but she’s okay with that.

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1 Comment

  1. What a lovely review!! Loved every single word. Thank you very much.

    I loved what you pointed out about Emma’s magic only being available to her when someone she loves is close by or in danger. Very well observed.

    The episode. Wow. It was truly brilliant. I still can’t believe it was real and not just a dream…mainly because I am so completely and utterly in love with Emma and Killian (You have a funny habit of including Hook after thoughts in brackest – please don’t. He’s such a vital part of Once Upon A Time and its beautiful message. He deserves bracket-less sentences ;))

    But before I swoon over Emma and Killian: I liked meeting David in his pre-hero days (how do Kristoff and David know each other?) and how Anna helped him become the man he was all along was beautiful. Mama mayor was wonderful!! I laughed so hard. I missed that side of Snow very much myself.

    I majorly enjoyed all the Captain Charming moments, aka Killian and David working together and the way the whole “what are your intentions in re Emma” was handled. I was hoping for a reference back to their campfire scene in 3×22 where David gave Killian aka Prince Charles his blessing – but it was still nice because of the way Killian handled it. I was hoping David would have noticed on his own –
    after everything Killian has done – that the latter doesn’t consider Emma as a conquest but apparetly David needed explicit telling.

    Whereas Emma and Killian are all about actions – and less about words. I loved each and every single
    second of those two, espeically together. Colin O’Donoghue did such an amazing job conveying Killian’s anguish at the thought of losing Emma. He has lost so much already, I don’t think he could bear losing the person he loves so deeply and who taught him to hope again. When Emma jumped into HIS arms and not her dad’s, I can’t quite describe how happy I felt – and then when she cradled his
    head and they both held on to each other for dear life, it was definitely one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on TV. Definitely the most moving hug there ever was on TV. And I’ve seen quite a bit of
    it… the fact that Emma was the one to interlace their hands when they were back in Mary Margeret’s apartment was another moment that had me thinking “this must be a dream.” It says so much about how far Emma has come and how Killian has managed to get her walls tumbling due to his endless
    love and support. Showing her through actions rather than words that he’s in it for the long haul. That his love for her is true and it and he aren’t going anywhere. I love how Emma seems to have heeded both her father’s and Killian’s words to live the good moments, even amidst a major crisis.

    For once a TV show doesn’t tease the audience with an eternal “will-they-won’t-they” but boldly tells the story of two damaged and broken people who have the potential to heal each other in this real yet magical way.
    And how wonderful was it that the motto of season 4A was showcased throughout the whole episode. “Never give up on the people you love.” It felt so right that David pointing out just that at the end of the episode was accompanied by images of him and Snow but also Killian and Emma (they’re a family) and Henry – who didn’t give up on Regina either. This is everything that makes Once this incredible tv show that so many love this much.

    Afterthought: It was truly perfect how an episode that feautired physical walls all around Storybrooke was all about the crumbling of metaphorical walls. Especially Emma’s. I could not be happier about that.

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