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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  • 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.

  • 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...

  • silkkdiva1 May 27, 2014

    Finally, I am a BIG fan of Regina and Robin “This show will destroy Regina’s happiness, if it is the last thing It does” – I completely agree!!! Why oh why can’t they give Regina some peace?!? I don’t think after three episodes that Outlaw Queen was deeply in love but I thought the romance was promising and cute. And I LOVED that she was finally getting someone to keep her from being lonely (Henry notwithstanding). But, oh no, Emma had to go and bring someone back from the past which turns out to be someone who can ruin Regina’s happiness (not to mention, completely change the future…oh wait, that’s right it didn’t…see first point). And to those who say Marian is Robin’s true love…since when has that stopped OUAT??? I don’t recall seeing/reading about the Beast being a commoner turned sorcerer who doubles as Rumplestiltskin. Or maybe I missed that part of the back story. Plus Peter Pan was BAD…and the “Beast’s”/Rumplestiltskin’s father!! Not to mention, Mulan was a protector for Sleeping Beauty, Princess Aurora and later went to join Robin’s merry men. I’m just saying…they seemed ok with making stuff up as they go before so why shouldn’t Robin and Marian love story be a casualty. I won’t even go into the fact that Regina not seeing his face and it could be someone else is the coward’s way out after they started getting us invested in Outlaw Queen.

    Overall, my interest had somewhat waned during season 2 and early in this season (3). Once I caught up after this year’s mid-season break I was actually getting interested again but now am not sure if this will stick come fall. Hopefully, the writers have something good in store but at this point, I’m not too optimistic.

  • silkkdiva1 May 27, 2014

    I finally got around to watching the OUAT season finale. After watching, I thought to myself “I could have put this off longer…like until just before the season premiere in the fall”. It started off promising but kind of fizzled towards the end. It was kind of a let-down for a few reasons:

    First, I don’t get how all’s well that ends well seeing as how Emma and Hook CHANGED THE PAST. I mean, from what I know of time travel (which is mostly from my extensive movie-watching research) ANYTHING you change in the past can completely change the future. (Ever heard of the butterfly effect…) So, they were able to get Snow and Charming’s story back on track but what about all the other things they changed?? I was expecting them to come back to a completely different Storybrooke. Instead it was explained away with a few additional memories. I think a new Storybrooke would have been an interesting start to Season 4 (at least for me) instead of the old Bring a Villain Back from the Enchanted Forest shtick.

    Which brings me to my second point: I really don’t know why they are bringing Frozen to OUAT. I didn’t see the movie so I have no idea what happens with this character. This is why I was a little peeved that they would bring on a less established character when they still have so many other Disney/fairy tale people they could have introduced. One of the reasons I watch OUAT is because I never know what characters I know and love that will show up. I don’t know this Frozen/snow queen character at all so as of right now they’ve kind of lost me with this new turn of events.
    (to be continued...)

  • Dracomom Jun 14, 2014

    If there are ripple effects from Emma changing the past, which there probably ought to be, then I hope we see some of the bad decisions reversed. If I got to pick, I'd ask for Graham to come back, and maybe make a play for Red; August instead of Pinocchio; and Maleficient in her dragon form. It would even be interesting to see if "The Dragon" from August's Chinatown adventure is actually the lost friend Mulan was seeking...

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