Monday, August 17, 2015

TV Show Review: Once Upon a Time - Season 4

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: The second half of the season
Cons: The Frozen arc
The Bottom Line:
Uneven season
Frozen arc falls flat but the
Second half redeems

“This Could Be the Worst Idea You’ve Ever Had – And You Hired the Wicked Witch as Your Nanny.”

Sooner or later, all shows hit a bump.  Even my favorite shows have episodes or seasons that make me wonder what the producers/writers/show runners were thinking.  That was certainly the case with the first half of season 4 of Once Upon a Time.  Fortunately, the show righted itself with the second half.

If you aren’t familiar with the show, it follows the saga of your favorite fairytale characters who are under a curse from Snow White’s Evil Queen.  They have landed in Storybrooke, Maine, a town in our world where magic always seems to continue making their lives very complicated.  Of course, there’s so much more to it than that, so I suggest you start from the beginning to fully follow the evolving relationships on the show.

Once again, the show had a split season, with half the episodes airing in an uninterrupted block in the fall and the second half running in the spring.  And again, we got two distinct arcs to the show.

The first half of the season kicks off with some of Disney’s newer characters visiting Storybrooke.  As teased in the third season finale, Elsa (guest star Georgina Haig) has arrived, and she is desperately searching the town for her sister Anna (guest star Elizabeth Lail).  She is also having trouble controlling her powers and creating some ice and snow across town.  Naturally, that draws the attention of our heroes, but it is Emma (Jennifer Morrison), also trying to understand and control her new magical powers, that bonds most with Elsa.  Unbeknownst to anyone, that is just the goal of a mysterious town resident (Elizabeth Mitchell), who has an agenda all her own.

So what went wrong with this part of the season?  Honestly, it plays out like badly written Frozen/Once Upon a Time fan fiction.  Most of our normal characters aren’t given much to do, and the focus is on the guest stars, many of whom are over enthusiastic in their acting.  What works for an animated film doesn’t work as well in real acting, I guess.  The whole thing just seemed off to me, and I know many longtime fans felt the same way.

Fortunately, the show recovered well for the second half of the season.  This finds a disgraced Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) teaming up with the guest starring Queens of Darkness – Ursula (Merrin Dungey), Cruella de Vil (Victoria Smurfit), and Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten), to get their happy endings from the mysterious author of Henry’s story book.  In the efforts to defeat them, Regina (Lana Parrilla) attempts to go under cover, but will this be too much for the reformed Evil Queen?

This arc brought the show back to its former glory with intrigue and twists worthy of the show.  Plus, while they gave us plenty of information on the guest villains, we still got plenty of character development for our main characters.  While I didn’t like all of it, for example the added back story for Mary Margaret/Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and David/Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) didn’t quite ring true, it made for compelling TV.  On the other hand, what they did with Cruella and how they worked her into the show was genius and worthy of some of the best takes on classic characters they’ve done.

Plus there were great continuing stories that bridged the entire season, like the love triangle between Regina, Robin Hood (Sean Maguire), and his returned wife Marian (Christie Laing).  Unfortunately, I’m still trying to figure out why they brought in Will Scarlett (Michael Socha), aka the Knave of Hearts, from Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.  He was pretty much wasted all season and they never really explained his presence in Storybrooke.

Despite what I said earlier, I wouldn’t say that any of the acting this season was truly bad.  Some of it was over the top, but it fit the characters the actors were trying to portray.  I just think the entire Frozen arc was ill advised and rushed to try to capitalize on the popularity of the movie.  The regular cast was fantastic and the guest stars also brought their characters to perfect life.  If the characters had flaws, it came from the writing.

The special effects suffered a bit.  They tried too hard to create entire environments filled with CGI, especially, again, in the first half of the season.  Many of those looked obviously fake.  Things got better later in the season, and they had wonderfully good effects too, like the Troll King in the first half.

This season consisted of 23 episodes, including a two hour event in each half season.  They are all included here in their native wide screen and full surround, and look and sound great.  Extras include a featurette on the Frozen arc as well as a backstage tour.  A third featurette focuses on some minor characters who have stayed in Storybrooke.  There are also bloopers, deleted scenes, and audio commentaries.  So far, it appears there is no difference in extras between the DVD and Blu-Ray set, but in the past, there has been an added featurette and commentary for the Blu-Ray version.

While the first half was only average, the second half redeemed season 4 of Once Upon a Time.  It’s not the best the show has to offer, but fans will be satisfied with the continuing adventures of their favorite characters reimagined.

Season 4 Episodes:
1. A Tale of Two Sisters
2. White Out
3. Rocky Road
4. The Apprentice
5. Breaking Glass
6. Family Business
7. The Snow Queen
8. Smash the Mirror Part 1
9. Smash the Mirror Part 2
10. Fall
11. Shattered Sight
12. Heroes and Villains
13. Darkness on the Edge of Town
14. Unforgiven
15. Enter the Dragon
16. Poor Unfortunate Soul
17. Best Laid Plans
18. Heart of Gold
19. Sympathy for the de Vil
20. Lily
21. Mother
22. Operation Mongoose Part 1
23. Operation Mongoose Part 2

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