Once Upon a Time Season 3 Finale Review: Twice Upon a Cash Grab

By Lily Sparks

May 12, 2014

Once Upon a Time S03E21 & S03E22: "Snow Drifts" & "There's No Place Like Home"

It wasn’t until the closing moment of Once Upon a Time's Season 3 finale, when the show revealed that Disney intends to steer it into Frozen territory next season, that I truly felt the last bit of my hope for what this series could be evaporate out of my body like a puff of discontinued perfume. But guys, it's gone, it’s gone and it’s not coming back, because WTF a Frozen tie-in? I don’t want to sound impossibly speculative, but what if, a couple months from now, little kids are into the next big thing and NOT Frozen? Like the Jonas Cousins or Star Twins or Boob Quadruplets or whatever over-sexualized pre-teens du jour Disney is peddling come fall 2014? Does it make anyone else feel weird that Frozen’s ONLY cultural value is being (allegedly, according to unconfirmed rumor) the first (albeit heavily veiled) Disney fable about accepting gay loved ones, a topic that OUAT has seriously shilly-shallied on? Elsa rising from all that Blue Razzberry Jell-O at the end of this finale felt like such a cynical, calculated cash-in.

 As soon as Frozen got involved, OUAT moved from the realm of “adorably indulgent tale that possibly means something to someone, somewhere behind the scenes” to “the scripts are plotted out by algorithm via Disney marketing computers and shuttled by long pneumatic tubes to Vancouver.” My life, like your life, is finite—and for that reason it's precious, and I cannot in good conscience sit here and talk about OUAT like it’s a piece of pop-cultural art. That consideration belongs to things like My So Called Life and Twin Peaks, things with weird emotional hearts that bleed real blood. OUAT is a slick, shiny, finely tuned amusement-park ride, and I'm a fool for thinking otherwise. So let’s hit these ten talking points about the finale and go back to licking our wounds:

1. Why you have to burn a mom to death on Mother’s Day, Once Upon a Time? 

I know Snow used the dark fairy powder to turn herself into an inflammable ladybug, despite having her hands tied over her head, despite having only a fraction of a nanosecond between Regina’s fireball hitting the hay and the entire funeral pyre bursting into flames, but for at least as long as a commercial break on Mother’s Day, MILLIONS (okay, hundreds of thousands) of families nationwide believed they had just watched Snow White burn to death in front of her daughter.

Also, since Emma had magic all along, how did she not get upset enough to magically stop that from happening? HMMMM. 

Also also: Regina helped set the whole curse in motion for the joy of watching Snow White suffer without actually killing her. Yet in the finale, she could not kill Snow fast enough. She was like, "UNWRAP THE DURAFLAME LOGS—NO WAIT LEAVE THEM WRAPPED, THEY BURN FASTER!” This small change turned Regina into a much more bloodthirsty, sinister Evil Queen, and was a terribly sloppy retcon of Regina’s carefully balanced nature. Excuse me, that's a bit of an understatement. In fact, saying this whole episode was a sloppy retcon of Regina's well-earned redemption is like saying the Hindenburg had a sloppy landing.

Final also, cubed: Since Jiminy Cricket and Snow-as-an-Inflammable-Ladybug were able to summon the Blue Fairy, are fairies part insect?

2. Emma's breasts were uncredited featured extras this episode, rude

We spent a good five minutes when Emma first changed into Fairy Tale garb– and like every fan, this was a moment directly from my dreams– of Hook going “AH-OOOOGA!” and getting all cartoon wolf about her 4 inches of exposed sternum, until Emma was forced to throw her extensions over her décolletage the way one might throw a tarp over a dead body. Then later she broke out the girls to distract Past Hook from Future Hook commandeering his own ship. I have yet to see more male flesh on this show than Charming bearing his poison-riddled abs to Captain Hook six months ago. If there’s going to be good-natured sexual objectification as a plot point, you know what, sure! Sex is fun and often funny. But there better be some gender parity up in there, otherwise you’re making the little girls you claim to be writing Emma for feel actually very weird. 

3. Home is a feeling 

You know what, I like this message. I mean, all of OUAT’s messages are calculated to have inoffensive, universal appeal, so how could I not? But also I loved that Emma didn’t “get” how much she loved her parents until they no longer recognized her. Snow was like “Whoa, who are you?” and the reaction to her long hug was genuinely well done.

Still, if Emma has always been looking for a “feeling” of home, since Neal described it to her that time they broke into a rainy amusement park, it’s kind of crazy she does not give two shits where Henry’s concept of home is. Henry’s like “Hey let’s find an apartment, my other mom lives here, you know the one who raised me? Plus we get to be around the grandparents.” and Emma is like “Eh well, I’m still seeking that certain je ne sais quoi.”

4. Distracting body double stole the show

The combination of old footage, a boy in Snow’s costume, and Ginnifer Goodwin’s head with a giant cape wrapped around it fooled no one. I don't care, I actually love it when shows do their best to keep an actress employed despite the fact she has an actual life off-camera, but the mixing of old and new footage was, um, inexpert? Inexpert.

5. Emma is super into Hook now? 

Last week, Emma was furious at Hook for essentially attempting to kidnap Henry; by the end of this episode she was clinging to him like he was the last life raft on the Titanic. Part of it was because he explained he’d traded the Jolly Roger to come get her in NYC, which, sure—huge gesture! Fantastic! What a great dude! But just as a PSA to my younger ladies: If a guy does something nice for you, you are in no way obligated to reward him with physical or romantic affection. Unless you are carrying around a sign that says “Sex for money!!!” that’s not implicit in the social contract. In the immortal worlds of Destiny’s Child, “So what? You bought a pair of shoes / What now I guess you think I owe you?” Ya don’t.

6. This show will destroy Regina’s happiness, if it is the last thing It does

Emma faced zero consequences for her trip back into the past, except that she ruined Regina’s chances with Robin Hood by resurrecting his dead wife Maid Marion. I’m sorry Outlaw Queen is now a ghost ship, but aside from that scandal, what was with Regina’s immediate reset to FURIOUS because the guy she’d dated two times was no longer widowed? That made no sense. She didn’t become a loving, rational, redeemed family member just for some Robin Hood dick; her redemption arc started way back when she tried to give her life for Storybrooke. And when Emma finally got to see her in her fabulous fairy-tale outfits, Emma made some snide comment about her looking worse than when she wears her “sensible pantsuits”? Bitch, she’s been wearing zip-up couture bandage dresses the last half-season, where have you been? Sigh.

I don't even have the heart to point out that both of them explained to their beards that they're used to running away from the people they want to be with. Just overall: I don’t know what’s more painful, feeling gaslit all season about Swan Queen subtext or having it entirely excised, as it was in this episode. Something beautiful has been lost, something that with a little courage could have materially changed a lot of lives! Apparently that's not OUAT's problem, though, so moving on...

7. Rumple is such a dick, though

After using his betamax-erasing magic to fiddle with the security tapes, Rumple then stood there and listened to Belle have a panic attack about her fake dagger without batting an eyelash. Then, later, he and Belle got married in the dead of night in a clump of trees while dressed up like Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide from Guys and Dolls.

P.S. Archie officiated? Sure. Whatever, y’all actually atheists with a thing for gangster hats and scarves, I guess. I did like that Emma got to see Rumple in full, trilled-out, fingers-a-twiddle Rumpelstiltskin mode, if only because it was fun watching Jennifer Morrison try to keep a straight face across from Robert Carlyle with the fake teeth and lizard contacts in.

8. Uncle brother’s name

Snow: “We’re naming your brother after the man who impregnated you.” Emma: “Very cool, not to mention appropriate!” Rumpelstiltskin: “My son’s name was Baelfire, Bae for short, but, you know, whatever.” Grumpy: “Guys didn’t Aurora just have a baby too? Cuz remember that joke I was making, about how if it was born a day earlier it’d be a monkey, hahaha? Yeah I don’t care about her either. Is Phillip dead again guys? Guys, how many of you even leave Granny’s anymore? I sleep underneath the back booth now and take showers under the rain gutters. More cake? Sure!”

9. How long would you watch yourself make out with a person you wanted to get with? 

Because Hook did not last 27 seconds before popping himself in the head. I for one would be RIVETED!

10. Frozen Season 4?

So is Elsa the Big Bad for next season? Will she sing at us about her feelings, because as I understand it that’s pretty much all she did in the movie. Who will she be related to? Snow’s sister or something? Can you find it in your heart to care? Does the collapsing of the creative and retail fields into one large economic singularity scare you? Can companies manufacture our own goodwill toward them if their test-marketing is really on-point? Are the only cultural values we can all cheerfully agree on hollow and purposefully vague? “Let It Go”? What does “let it go” mean? How much money have you personally spent on Frozen-related products for loved ones and family? Would a picture of Baudelaire move product? What do you love? Who made it? Are you tired? Are you just so tired? 


... All of the above!

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  • arr25 Oct 17, 2014

    You know honestly, the Frozen tie-in didn't really bother me too much.
    I mean sure, they have like a backload of stories to depend on but if they want to be more contemporary, that's up to them.

    What truly pissed me off is once again, Regina's fate. Like, they spent the entire season trying to show how she has time and again saved all their asses, redeemed themselves, forgiven her sister and been accepted by all - only to have it all ruined all over again?

    Now let me ask: How come Rumple gets to have his happy ending when he clearly betrayed everyone and essentially caused the whole portal thing to open up and change it all? Regina was right in the previous episode when she was trying to stop Rumple from killing Zelena by reminding him of the countless people they've killed in their quest for power. But she's the only one who has tried to compensate for that and yet she again ends up with the short stick. Brilliant.
    For once I'm praying Tink's silly rendition of true love is enough to hold up for the next season.

  • Badforthefish Sep 13, 2014

    Boy I'm glad I watched this ep before reading this review or I wouldn't have had so much fun with it. I guess I just enjoyed the ride. I stopped any critical thinking from interfering with my "let's just enjoy the quirky fairy tale" default mode since S2.
    There is a Swan/Queen substext??? Seriously? I have missed that too? Or is it just this reviewer's fanfictiony wishful thinking? Because my Ship radar has been honed into a fine tool since Mulder and Scully chased their first UFO, but Swan/Regina, nope, didn't see that one. Snow/Regina on the other hand...

  • giraffee Jul 27, 2014

    Lily I'm very worried that you didn't write the article about OUAT at Comic Con! Don't be leaving us without your reviews next season!
    Did you see the vid about the writers coming up with the Frozen idea? I love that they can make fun of themselves :)

  • AwaiSSiawa Jul 24, 2014

    Why is going into Frozen territory such a bad thing; after all, isn't the Agents of SHIELD show doing exactly that?

  • phoenicianpictures Jul 20, 2014

    Haha! This article was so right and hilarious. I actually wrote 2 posts on my blog about how awful the second half of season 3 was and how they ruined EVERYTHING and didn't even blink. I want to hope, but I don't know if I can... *tear* links here:



  • Katerine_M Jun 06, 2014

    Regarding why I'm worried about the Frozen tie-in:

    OUAT has a history of taking stories that are actually allegories for fairly deep things that have nothing to do with romantic love, and turning them into simple rehashes of the same tale of romantic love. Rapunzel, for example. In most incarnations (including Disney's), Rapunzel is a story about overprotective parenting, adolescent rebellion, and growing up. OUAT's version: a woman afraid of marriage gets herself locked in a tower.

    I don't want to see Frozen get the same treatment. Frozen is kind of unique among Disney fairy-tales, in that it's not all about getting the Prince. In fact, that's not what it's about at all. Frozen is all about how we close ourselves off from the people we care about most (specifically, family), in order to protect them, and how that self-imposed isolation and fear can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies and just wind up hurting everybody.

    Elsa and Anna are both extraordinarily relatable characters, especially for anybody who's ever experienced clinical depression (I was actually crying quite a lot during the movie, including during "Let It Go," which is actually kind of a desperate song). And the story is also extraordinarily relatable, and surprisingly deep (even Olaf, the comic relief sidekick who loves to give people hugs, was created from Elsa, who also created the giant snow monster who keeps everybody away. Pretty heavy symbolism there).

    I don't want to see OUAT's "reinterpretation" of that story. At all. The story was perfect as it was.

  • HarryHoudini Aug 31, 2014

    I agree about Rapunzel and other stories in general. I also get what you're saying about Frozen being an anomaly because of its focus on family love vs. getting the prince (I'd argue that Beauty and the Beast actually did well in that respect too), but I have to say that comparing its plot with that of the original story actually makes me think less of Disney's ability to avoid romantic plots than Frozen might otherwise suggest. I mean, in the original story you have two children: one willing to sacrifice everything to save the other from a cold life without love. It's only Disney's version that has added a romantic side story for the Gerta character (Anna), and that side story is a love triangle no less. Comparing Frozen with other Disney movies: yes, it is less focused on romance and more on family and emotional isolation, but looking at it as an adaptation highlights the romantic make-over it received at the hands of Disney, imo.

    All that to say, I am not thrilled at all about Frozen, but I'm not thrilled because I don't think Disney's adaptation is any good. I'm hoping that whatever they do with it will emphasize those parts of the story (maybe, hope against hope, the original story) that were strongest: self-sacrifice and enduring loyalty and the power of a woman/girl (in the original story, mostly on her own) to undergo a difficult journey for a loved one.

  • Katerine_M Sep 03, 2014

    (Oh, and just a quick general PSA: there was no love triangle in Frozen. Unless you count Anna, Elsa, and Olaf, who barely qualify.

    One of the things that bothers me most about Twilight is that it's completely messed up everybody's definition of the term, "love triangle," so that people think that things that aren't love triangles are, and that things that are love triangles aren't. This has resulted in love triangles being given an undeserved bad name. Real love triangles are actually awesome.

    Not a love triangle:

    • Anna, Sven, and Hans in Frozen. In fact, they're barely even a rivalry.
    • Bella, Jacob, and Edward in Twilight. That's a rivalry.
    • Emma, Hook, and Neal might have been a love triangle, if they'd played up the relationship between Hook and Neal more and we'd actually felt it. But as it was, it felt like a rivalry.

    Some examples of actual love triangles (with three points and three sides, each side representing love, creating a unique tension that only happens in love triangles):
    • Peter, Walter, and Olivia from Fringe. This is actually my favorite current love triangle. Romantic love between Peter and Olivia, affection between Olivia and Walter, and filial love between Peter and Walter. This creates a beautiful tension in, say, the final scene of S2E15, that is a perfect example of the dynamic of a love triangle done right.
    • Luke, Leia, and Han. Close friendship between Luke and Han, affection between Luke and Leia, and romantic love between Leia and Han.
    • Harry, Ron, and Hermione from Harry Potter. Close friendships between Harry and Ron, and Harry and Hermione, and romantic love between Ron and Hermione.
    That's it. Sorry about the double, and about the PSA. This is one of those few things that bothers me so much, I feel I have to give this PSA at every available opportunity, until people stop using a term that actually describes something very beautiful and poignant, to describe something very boring.

  • Katerine_M Sep 03, 2014

    Er... "Anna, Sven, and Hans in Frozen. In fact, they're barely even a rivalry." Should read: "Anna, Kristoff, and Hans in Frozen. In fact, they're barely even a rivalry." [No, I wasn't talking about bestiality! I just blanked on Kristoff's name for a moment! :P ]

  • Katerine_M Sep 03, 2014

    I tend not to compare Disney movies, in general, to their original source material, because, especially if you're coming from the standpoint of the original being superior by virtue of it being "the original," you often miss out on the positive things Disney added. Also... well... [points to The Little Mermaid. And Tangled. And... any Disney movie adapted from an older fairy tale, actually]

    To me, the most powerful and meaningful parts of Frozen were all related to all the symbolism and themes surrounding the character of Elsa. Specifically, the themes of mutual loneliness, depression, self-imposed isolation, and the damage that can be done by well-meaning parents telling their children to, "conceal, don't feel." And then the power of love to conquer all that. These were all themes that spoke to me on a very personal level.

    I still can't listen to, "do you want to build a snowman?" without crying. I actually cried during "Let it go," which I saw as less triumphant and more desperate. I loved the contrast between Olaf, the loving snowman created by Elsa who just wants to give hugs, and Marshmallow, the gigantic frightening snowman created by Elsa who was created to keep people away. That's... pretty powerful symbolism right there, when you think about it, and in a kids' movie.

  • Katerine_M Sep 03, 2014

    (sorry about being repetitive, btw. I made the mistake of not rereading my original post before posting this reply, so I'd forgotten that I'd said... pretty much everything in the final paragraph... before). :}

  • NoorAhmed8193 Jun 06, 2014

    Of all my complaints about the season finale or the season in general, Elsa is not one of them, it's definitely a grab for money, but I was very surprised with the reveal that I have to give the show thumps up.
    Here is the thing, OUAT has absolutely no limits, the imaginative adding, mixing and changing of origin stories is the only good thing in the show (err, ok casting is good too) I love classics and I want to see them mixed up with new stories, it's simply amusing. just don't think too much about it..."let it go!"

  • helenal Jun 04, 2014

    We all knew that something bad will happen if Emma took that girl to the future.. DAMN YOU AND YOUR GOOD HEART EMMA, finally Regina found love, I have a bad feeling that the history will repeat, since Snow ruined her first love and Emma ruined her second.. ups, like mother like daughter :o

  • OuAt May 28, 2014

    It seems like some people don't understand why people are upset about Elsa. Here is my humble reason.

    I have noticed several people make the comment, "I haven't watched Frozen yet. I'll have to see it before S4 begins!" That is exactly why I see bringing Elsa in as a manipulative cash grab. You can say it's based on HCA's Ice Queen all you want, but she was dressed like Elsa and Once is using Disney's Frozen in their promo materials.

    People are going to go out and spend money on a Disney property in order to more fully grasp or enjoy (verbs many of us have given up on with this mess) their Sunday night TV show. By choosing to introduce a character that has never seen the inside of the Disney vault, they are hoping we will buy the newer story instead of relying on what we already know about older, more familiar characters.

    Out of the dozens of untapped characters they could introduce (or in lieu of doing something interesting with the already-tapped ones), they chose to introduce one that not everyone has seen yet. They are either hoping to hitch their wagon to the star of a popular movie (a lazy way to increase viewership rather than actually write a compelling show), or they aim to make people buy Frozen over the hiatus to familiarize themselves with this new character (manipulative, especially considering the fact that she'll likely be dead three episodes in).

    Just my take on it. I think they should axe Once and make a spinoff (with new writers) called Rumplestiltskin that films in Scotland so Bobby can be near his family.

  • Dracomom Jun 14, 2014

    Didn't you once propose "An hour of Robert Carlyle Doing Whatever the Hell he Wants"? I would so sign up for that show! And if Bobby has any deep-seated directorial ambitions, now could be the time. Just saying..

  • OuAt Jul 09, 2014

    Yes! They should let him out or give him complete creative control of this show. On the stipulation that he write a Rumple love scene into every episode.

  • Katerine_M Jun 06, 2014

    There are people who watch OUAT, who have not seen Frozen yet? Strange...

  • StrayPaladaen May 28, 2014

    I hope Elsa won't be main antagonist...

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