Recap: ‘Once Upon a Time’ S4E1 “A Tale of Two Sisters”

As Disney’s main vehicle for rehashing nostalgic characters and stories in live action, Once Upon a Time returns to our screens in not as dramatic fashion as we could have expected given the cliffhanger of Season 3, but it was entirely predictable and what we expected. “A Tale of Two Sisters” is very much an expository first episode, introducing the Frozen characters to the show as well as providing the beginnings of the drama for at least the first half of the season mostly centering on Disney’s biggest box office success in years.



“A Tale of Two Sisters” tells the backstory of Elsa (Georgina Haig) and Ana (Elizabeth Lail), Disney’s golden girls of awards season. While Elsa wanders in the shadows of Storybrook, the episode cuts to the two girls directly after Frozen ends, and preparations for Ana’s wedding to Kristoff (Scott Michael Foster) are in full swing. Elsa pulls Ana into a secret room of their castle and shows her their mother’s wedding dress, which Elsa wishes Ana to wear. As the bubbly Ana puts on the dress, Elsa discovers their mother’s diary, explaining that the journey they died during was really on the way to a mysterious land, and that they left because of Elsa. Thinking her parent’s death is her doing, Elsa’s distraught feelings cause Ana to book passage on a ship heading to where their parents were headed: The Enchanted Forest.

As their story is told throughout the episode, we don’t discover where Ana is headed until the end, leading to the realization that Ana has probably been trapped in Storybrook with the rest of the Enchanted Forest’s inhabitants from the start. Our thoughts are confirmed when Elsa, upon seeing a photo announcing the wedding of Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) and Belle (Emilie de Ravin), heads to his pawn shop and retrieves a snowflake necklace she gifted to Ana. It’s the best way the producers could have introduced the money making Frozen into their live action world, and it will be interesting to see how well Georgina Haig and Elizabeth Lail add to the established cast.

Elsa Ana Kristoff

Meanwhile, in Storybrook, Regina (Lana Parilla) decides to turn evil – again – when Emma (Jennifer Morrison) brings Robin Hood’s wife, Marion into the Storybrook community. Despite Robin (Sean Maguire) letting Regina down gently, the jealousy and betrayal she feels at being entitled to a happy ending because of her dramatic turn away from evil fuels the fires for her to yet again become a source of crisis for the residents of Storybrook. She retrieves her long-forgotten Sidney Glass (Giancarlo Esposito) – her Magic Mirror – to help her kill Marion (Christie Laing), but Regina proves that her time as an antagonist rather than a pure villain has truly given her a conscience, and as Elsa unleashes a snow monster, Regina saves her romantic nemesis as the team fails to bring it down. Regina’s final vow of redemption as the episode ends is against the storybook she believes is the cause of her unhappiness; she will find the author and get the ending she feels she deserves.

Regina Robin Sidney

The rest of the episode is filled with Emma avoiding Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) while Belle and Rumplestiltskin celebrate their new married life. However, the Dark One confesses before the grave of his son Neal how he has tricked Belle into believing she has control of his dagger and vows to give it back to her now that Neal has been avenged. As a wedding surprise, Belle brings Rumple to an abandoned but beautiful house, and though they share a very cheesy Beauty and the Beast first dance, Rumple notes a curious box and comments on the owner’s taste. Later that night, Rumple goes to the box and waves his dagger over it, revealing a galaxy of stars that form the misty shape of a hat, highly reminiscent of Mickey’s from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Rumplestiltskin hat

Even with all the mystical additions from Rumple, and Regina’s quest for her happy ending, it is very clear that the first half of Once Upon a Time’s Season 4 will revolve around Elsa and Ana. The additional story pieces read like overarching dramatic paths for the season’s background storylines culminating in one or two episodes addressing them. The hat is a very interesting addition, possibly a storyline that will come to fruition towards the mid season break leading into the second half of Season 4.

For now, Frozen’s girls will take center stage as several questions are raised from the first piece of their backstory. There is suspicion raised that Elsa and Ana’s parents were heading to the Enchanted Forest to learn more about their daughter’s magic, and possibly, far reaching as this is, there would be implications that Elsa isn’t their daughter at all. It will be interesting to see how their story plays out.

The episode is exactly what we could expect from Once Upon a Time’s season opener, and despite the few incredibly cheesy scenes, the show knows clearly what it is and what it’s doing without attempting to be anything more than a cute, predictable family show.

3 Stars (3 / 5)

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(Photos copyright: Disney, ABC)

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