Once Upon a Time Season 4 Review
The fourth season of Once Upon a Time is the weakest thus far due to its many big problems, but it still remains an immensely entertaining and fun show.
As in season three, it is split into two arcs with the first being ‘Frozen’ related and the second being about the Author and the three new villains. The first arc is based on the film ‘Frozen’ and yes, that is totally a marketing goal to cache in on the success of the property. But what I liked about it is that they stayed true to the original movie in spirit and characters, but still did not rehash it as the story takes place after the events of the movie. I really liked that approach. Elsa is very well realized here and Anna is a mixed bag. She is too heroic in my opinion and some of her spunk is lost in this adaptation with her humor being mediocre at times, but she’s still mildly funny from time to time and she is always adorable and has a great interaction with other characters. Georgina Haig and especially Elizabeth Lail are so stupendous in their roles and perfectly fit their characters. They became live-action Elsa and Anna and that was wonderful to witness.
Kristoff is a bit annoying here as his humor is also off-putting for the most part. But Ingrid I really liked as a new villain. She isn’t really a villain in the end, but I loved her struggle and although Once Upon a Time is concerned with family issues too much up to this point, her struggles and her more calm and subtle character is still different than usual and her conclusion is so heartbreaking and executed wonderfully and is the highlight of this first half of the season. Hans was really bad, but the backstory of the sisters is phenomenal and one of the highlights here. I liked Grand Pabbie as he is very well realized due to some improved special effects, but the mystery about their parents and their journey is so well realized and done in such a nice tone. But Arendelle is still small and did not present much storytelling possibilities and the way they tied each and every character is so sloppy and forced. Also, this half lasts for too much and is frankly boring at times with a couple of ridiculous and just plain silly scenes as well. It is sometimes engaging and intriguing plus the characters are well realized, but this is still a marketing ploy and the forced and slow nature of it robs it of its momentum.
The second half of the season is probably better due to its more entertaining stories and overall fun tone. It starts with a bang and ends on such an intriguing new path, but some of its middle parts were either obvious or rushed. I really loved how it started with Rumpel joining forces with the three witches. That team up was great and highly needed. Maleficent is good here and her problems are well realized and I liked that it brought the much needed development for Snow and Charming. They finally explained why they are always so obnoxiously positive and good which is great. It is fantastic when the creators of the show explain something while tying it well into the existing story, but unfortunately they rarely do that due to their sloppy and rushed storytelling and production of the episodes. And that is why for the most part the series is forced in connections and contrived, but this was one good exception. Ursula is unfortunately poor and the weakest link here. I disliked that they gave her Ariel’s story and treatment and the inclusion of Poseidon was disappointing. That is the most unfortunate development here, but was expected. They basically introduced these three new villains and all of them except Cruella are not evil at all and they got rid of them pretty quickly once they did their backstories. That was expected and so poorly done as the three were so good that I expected more from them and I dislike the modern tendency to make villains more like antiheroes and I miss pure villains.
Speaking of Cruella, she is fantastic as she is the only true villain and purely evil character. She is so much fun and so delightfully campy and theatrical while also being a fantastic recreation of the animated character. But the overall treatment of ‘101 Dalmatians’ was poor to me. Isaac as the Author is a disappointing character, but the apprentice is much better. I loved those ‘Fantasia‘ nods with the hat and the music plus Chernabog is very well put to use. The whole Marian subplot and triangle annoyed me and the fact that Emma and Regina are obviously behaving like a couple, but aren’t is frustrating. It is so unfortunate that the creators aren’t brave enough to go into that obvious direction.
I liked that they brought back August, Lily is an interesting but for now criminally underused character and Robin Hood is still not one of my favorites. Will Scarlet is pointless, but what they did with Belle is excellent and how she dealt with Rumpel and finally acted cleverly is fantastic and that was highly needed. Rumpelstiltskin is too much of a villain here in my opinion, but his character is still so strong as Robert Carlyle continues to bring it with his performance. Hook is unfortunately boring in this season as he became too good and too underused, but thankfully the Charmings got better and they got some needed development. Regina is wonderful and continues to be one of my favorite characters and I loved the fact that she is purely good now and that they didn’t bring her again to the dark side as that would have been annoying. Emma is also pretty good and the relationship between the two is so endearing and is the heart of this season.
The pacing continues to be all over the place whereas the effects improved a bit from earlier seasons. The dialogue is so weak in this season and that bothered me as the endless repeat of catchphrases and the use of the phrase happy endings is incredibly annoying. The acting continues to be OUAT’s strong point as well as some character development, but the script is problematic and too sappy and forced at times. The first arc is dragged whereas the second one is rushed. The finale was interesting and very entertaining in its silliness and I love when the show embraces its campiness and ridiculousness with a lot of humor and fun. I would love if the episodes were more like that. The endless theme of family is tired up to this point and the show is getting stuffed with too many new characters and convoluted storylines. They should go the simple route in the next season and I would like that much more.
But overall Once Upon a Time Season 4 is the weakest thus far with some forced and sappy connections, a tired family theme, a boring first half and rushed second half plus it has too many characters, but it also has many entertaining new stories and wonderfully developed and especially superbly cast characters with great performances and a great sense of fun present in some episodes. It has its many problems, but it’s still a solid and fun season.