Season 4 of Once Upon a Time was one of the best of the series so far filled with many poignant moments, fine character development, humor and heart. I have reviewed each episode at length including a Season 4 year in review for The Nerd Machine which you can read here: http://www.thenerdmachine.com/once-upon-a-time-season-4-in-review/ So, I will not go into that much detail about the season, though with my penchant for discussing this show at length, that still may be debatable. I will say that I loved the season as a whole, but that overall I enjoyed the first half of the season more with the delightful addition of the Frozen characters, a chilling villain in the Snow Queen, and pieces of Emma’s childhood finally working their way into the show’s interweaving puzzle of storylines. These moments from her past were beautifully paralleled with her present day development as she began to fully open up her heart to Killian and learned to accept herself as she is. Although at times the Frozen flashbacks took up a bit too much screen time, the characters were endlessly likable and blended perfectly with our main characters, giving us new insights and development that was absolutely wonderful, most especially seeing how David learned how to be his brave and heroic self, and that pure hearted Belle could make a mistake but finally learn to stand up for herself after growing wise to Rumple’s betrayal. We also saw the beautiful relationship between Killian and Emma blossom and that he would do anything to protect and show Emma love, even when he was without his heart. Although the resolutions on 4A were a bit rushed, overall the first half concluded with moments that were powerful and emotionally satisfying.
Favorite episodes of 4A: White Out, The Apprentice, Fall, Smash the Mirror, Rocky Road.
Of course, just because I enjoyed 4A overall better than 4B, that does not mean that then second half was not fantastic. It had some wonderful moments and developments that I truly loved. The Queens of Darkness were absolutely fabulous, each one layered and complex with plots twists I did not see coming. Snow and Charming were brought back into the forefront delving into moments from their past where they made a grave mistake and vowed to be better people because of it. This put a great strain on their relationship with Emma, which allowed for some much needed exploration of family dynamics, gave their characters a fallibility which I greatly appreciate, and displayed how past mistakes do not have to define us forever. We can find redemption and work to be the best versions of ourselves. Henry also got the chance to be the like the heroes he’s always read about (and the new author of the Storybook), while Regina finally learned you create your own happy ending. It cannot be given to you, it must be earned and come from within. Her revelation that her happy ending is that she finally feels at home in the world- a world that of course includes Robin and Henry- was a beautiful sign of growth. As for Killian’s continued growth, his season long struggle of insecurities doubting his own worth, and wanting to be a hero and failing in his eyes, came full circle. He remained Emma’s steadfast source of support and love while darkness threatened to overtake her and she was estranged somewhat from Snow and David. He helped guide her toward forgiving her parents, and told Emma in an incredibly touching moment of vulnerability that she is his happy ending. And when their world was turned upside down and he was written as meek coward, his true self came through and he made the ultimate heroic sacrifice to allow Emma and Henry to succeed. As for our beloved heroine Emma Swan, her exquisite journey of self acceptance, the temptation of darkness, learning to forgive, believe in hope, and opening her heart completely were all beautifully showcased and brought to life poignantly by Jennifer Morrison. In the topsy turvy alternate universe from the finale, Emma told her parents that they taught her to be heroic and hopeful, and she tells Regina that love is a part of all happiness, imploring her to tell Robin how she feels before it’s too late, for in this world it was too late for Emma. She just watched the man she love die, never once telling him how she felt. The woman who had walls a mile high, who was plagued with loneliness and cynicism sand o used to being left alone and let down, has come so far and it was a miraculous to watch. Throughout all her struggles something remained strong and unwavering- the love between her and Killian that blossomed throughout the entire season. So when everything is set right and Emma finds Killian alive and well her joy is immeasurable. And yet fear still stops her from saying those three words because, as Jennifer Morison said, she loves him so much she is afraid saying it out loud could make it all disappear. If only she knew the darkness that about to be unleashed. It was unsurprising that Emma would be heroic and become the new “Dark One” to save Regina and indeed everyone in Storybrooke, from being killed by the darkness, but she displayed a newfound sense of hope as she asked her parents to save her, believing in them completely. And when the moment between her and Killian came and she knew she could not hold back those words any longer, she finally told him she loved him, with tears in her eyes and holding his hand over the heart he swore to protect. Her eyes never leave his before the darkness envelops her and she disappears from sight, setting up what is sure to be an epically romantic and powerful Season 5.
Favorite Episodes of 4B: Poor Unfortunate Soul, Operation Mongoose, Unforgiven, Sympathy for the DeVil
Favorite Overall Moment: A heartfelt confession and a single tear- this exquisitely written and performed moment was perfect in every way:
Emma: If you’re afraid of losing you’re happing ending, that means you found it. What is it?
Killian: Don’t you know, Emma? It’s you.
The packaging for the Blu-Ray set is excellent and consistent with the previous seasons with the exception of a lenticular cover, which is a real shame. My favorite of these will always be the Season 2 set with the transition between Emma and the Jolly Roger. Here is a closer look at all of the packaging:
As you can see the photos included are well balanced between season arcs and characters. The photos on the discs are out of date, combining images from both Season 2 and 3 photo shoots (we desperately need a new one), but they at least give them a blue hue reflecting the Frozen imagery from the season. I particularly like the large image of Emma dressed like a warrior in the episode guide insert which most definitely reflects her fighting against those threatening her for the entire season. The description for the season is also a delight from saying the Snow Queen’s obsession with Emma and Elsa is chilling (nice pun), to the way it accounts the villians’ plans to rewrite history: by “turning the Savior’s newly blissful heart pitch black.” This season we’ve see, Emma happier than we ever have, especially in terms of love. I would definitely say her heart is indeed blissful.
Also note- the debate, for the most part, about how many episodes are on Season 4 can finally be laid to rest. There are 23 rather than the standard 22, with Smash the Mirror parts 1 and 2 indeed counting as two separate episodes. At first I thought this was a mistake and was one of those who insisted that there were only 22 eps, but based on new information we can discern that was incorrect. According to series creators Adam Horowtiz and Edward Kitsis, the first half of Season 5 will include 10 episodes, and that episode 11 (the Spring premiere) will be the 100th episode of the series. The stickler for details that I am, I counted the episodes and I can safely say that Season 4 has 23 episodes. Although the numbering of episodes is still sometimes confusing, we can finally put this confusion to rest.
Like the previous seasons, each disc features the blue forest with the Once Upon a Time logo, each one with images relevant to episodes on each disc.
Disc 1: (A Tale of Two Sisters, White Out, Rocky Road, The Apprentice, Breaking Glass) Features snowfall, the ice wall and bridge made by Elsa, and the walking broomstick animated by Rumple walks in an out of frame. This is definitely the best disc in terms of episodes in a row!
Disc 2: (Family Business, The Snow Queen, Smash the Mirror Part 1 & 2, Fall) Features snowfall once again, the ice cream truck from Any Given Sundae, and the kite that belonged to Ingrid, Helga, and Gerda flies in and out of frame.
Disc 3: (Shattered Sight, Heroes and Villains, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Unforgiven, Enter the Dragon ) Features snow again but it flurries more furiously into a storm and flies into the portal door to Arendelle before it shuts closed. Emma’s bug and Maleficent in dragon form are also featured.
Disc 4: (Poor Unfortunate Soul, Best Laid Plans, Heart of Gold, Sympathy for the De Vil, Lily) The snow is replaced by the forest fireflies and ambiance we’ve seen on every season set so far, Dalmatian puppies run and bark repeatedly across the screen, while the Emerald City from Oz fades in an out in the background.
Disc 5: (Mother, Operation Mongoose Part 1 & 2) This is perhaps the prettiest one with the forest fireflies , Lily in dragon form, and the Rapunzel-esque tower that Emma was trapped in, the light in the window diming between pale yellow and bright orange.
One vast improvement for previous Blu-Ray sets is that Season 4 features a “Play All” option to play all the episodes on each disc in a row with one simple click, eliminating the ridiculous and tedious “Season Play” from the past 3 sets which required you creating an account, going to that option, hitting the back button and then selecting the episode. This should be easy and now it is.
This Season set has some fantastic and a large amount of bonus material. There are 16 deleted scenes (6 of which are Blu-Ray exclusives), a hilarious and long Blooper reel, 3 featurettes, and 5 audio commentaries (1 being exclusive to the Blu-Ray set).
“Time Will Tell”- One of the best of the bunch, Henry asks Mr. Gold to take his memories of Regina away, hurt that she is shutting him out. A rare moment of honesty, wisdom and genuine concern, Gold gives Henry sage advice in this scene that is well acted and thoughtful. It is a shame this was cut.
“Friends Forever?”- This is an extended sequence from “Breaking Glass” featuring young Emma and Lily, and Lily’s father who calls Emma a “pathetic street rat.” It is sad to watch but that lines reminds me of Aladdin.
“Just Like Everyone Else”- In this sweet scene Elsa and Snow discuss Emma and how Elsa can relate to what Emma is going through in wanting to get rid of her magic, while Snow relates that parents often makes mistakes. This was a lovely, quiet moment and it would have been nice if this was included and some of the Arendelle flashbacks shortened.
“Chasing Happy Endings”- Here Regina is sad and sulking and Henry tells her perhaps she should not wallow and wants to cheer her up by bringing back Operation Mongoose. This was nice but repetitive and unnecessary and understandably cut.
“Laundry and Tea Cakes”- Featuring Belle and Rumple in the Enchanted forest, with Belle telling him no amount of trinkets such as the gauntlet from Camelot can fill the hole in his heart. This is another repetitive scene and I am actually glad this wasn’t included because when it comes to flashbacks there should start to offer new dynamics and we have seen this multiple times. The best part was the unfinished effects and seeing the boom microphone in the scene!
“Magic Cake”- This cute scene features the Frozen folks marveling at a Twinkie. I loved the inclusion of the long running joke that they never seem to go bad as well as the mention of Anton by Emma. Apparently they are still growing magic beans in Storybrooke but it is just a slow process. This is good to know if a portal is needed in the future.
“Camp Site”- This very short and understandably deleted scene features Snow and Charming with the Queens of Darkness making camp for the night, Cruella humorously saying they will take the nice tent.
“Good Boy”- Cruella patronizing a kidnapped Henry asking him for his cell phone was very short and not needed.
“Things Can Change”- A lot happened in this scene and I wish it was included in the episode Mother. Some of those flashbacks were slow and could have been condensed so this scene could have been included. Here we see Regina making sure Zelena is not out of her sight, Robin having hope things can work out, Charming reminding her they are technically family (he is her step son in-law), Emma warning Lily not to harm her parents, and sweet Captain Swan closeness those familiar with spoiler photos from this episode were sad to see deleted.
“The Lonely Author”- A very short scene that was not needed between the Author and Gold. I did like the reference to Jack Benny, however, a clue as to the backstory and era the author comes from.
“The Babysitter” (BR exclusive)- The best part of this scene was Belle and Charming trying to figure out if they were now family since she has married Rumple. The family tree really is crazy. As Snow is scared to leave her son we see Belle perfectly calm baby Neal and it was very sweet. Emilie De Ravin looks so natural with a baby in her arms and I got LOST/Claire flashbacks.
“The Ice Cream Lady”(BR exclusive)- There is a great dynamic between Ingrid and Regina in this scene, a chilling demeanor and keen undermining versus the sharp tongue of both Queens was a highlight.
“No Deal”(BR exclusive)- In the scene Regina is her darkest, Evil Queen self and Rumple is the Dark One as they spar in an entertaining scene that reminds us why these two actors works so well together. Regina taunts Rumple that he cares about Belle and tells him Love is weakness, while Rumple balks saying he owns her.
“A Cow Named Nan” (BR exclusive)- August tells Regina a fable about a famer’s and a cow named Nan as a warning that if she continues to work with the villains, Robin may not want to be with her anymore. Nobody can narrate a story quite like Eion Bailey. I would love to hear him reading stories from the Storybook.
“Empty Chairs at Empty Diners”(BR exclusive)- I like the Les Miserables reference with this title here, and this short scene shows Henry alone in Storybrooke trying to drive off in Emma’s bug.
“We Can Fix it!” (BR exclusive)- My favorite of the deleted scenes this sweet moment is an extended scene of Henry rescuing Emma from the tower in Operation Mongoose Part 2, telling her his plan and that he found her with the aid of Hook. I loved Emma’s concern for Hook’s fate and Henry’s intuition that he must prepare her for his changed personality. Since this is deleted I hope more similar dynamics are prominent in Season 5.
Defrosting Frozen (9:46): I really enjoyed this featurette as series cast and creators all discuss what is was liking bringing such a new and popular set of characters to the Once Upon a Time world. Those who loved these characters and the Frozen arc will probably enjoy this the most, but they discuss the story as a whole as well. It was particularly nice to hear them discuss the similarities between the Frozen and Once characters, specifically Emma and Elsa, and how this was the first time Emma has found a true friend and comrade with someone who can understand and relate to the magical side of her. We are reminded how well they were able to blend these characters into the framework of the story, including their take on the Snow Queen and the themes from Frozen. Highlights include the Snow Queen’s portrayer, the delightful Elizabeth Mitchell, giving us a peek into her characters’ ice cream shop, and her discussing that everyone she talked to about getting the part were more interested in knowing what Colin O’Donoghue was like in person. I mean who can blame them? I also really appreciated when they spoke of Anna’s character (played to perfection by Elizabeth Lail), and how important it was to all to maintain her quirks and tendency to prattle on, but not be perceived as dumb. She may talk in excess, but she is smart and clever. The Frozen storyline may be over, but the indelible impression these colorful characters made remains and I sincerely hope to see them all again in the future.
Behind the Magic Tour (9:58): The best and undoubtedly my favorite bonus feature on the set was this hilarious and extensive tour of the sets and stages for the series, hosted by resident cutie pie couple on and off screen Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas. And the two have to keep “finding” each other along the way as they travel from stage to stage. Did you know that there is an entire replica set of the Storybrooke town they film at in Steveston, Vancouver British Colombia Canada? In the real town, the outsides are facades or real establishments while what we see inside are the sets. The show us Granny’s Diner, Mr. Gold’s Pawn Shop and Regina’s Mayor Office, as well as Mary Margaret’s apartment. Not only do we get to see little details that sometimes are not seen on screen, but the adorable back and forth between Ginny and Josh can’t help but make you smile. Highlights include, Ginny waving around the Dark One dagger while Josh amusingly dodges it, Ginny informing us that as a child Josh wanted to be a cashier because he thought they got to keep all the money, Josh getting a job at Granny’s because “he has to something doing the hiatus, and Ginny finding Josh asleep in the bed at the apartment where he says they “make tacos”, an inside joke that the actors have clearly picked up on. I literally could not stop laughing at that one. It was always great to see the bathroom in Mary Margaret’s apartment because as she says the show has been on 4 seasons and there has never been one scene in that bathroom. Although, I would have loved to have seen a few more sets like The Jolly Roger and the Sheriff Station, I thoroughly loved this funny and informative tour.
Three Who Stayed (5:23): A short and quite funny little film made specifically for the DVD/Blu-Ray and screened at Comic Con, this features 3 Storybrooke residents who decided to stay in Storybrooke after the ice wall came down despites the dangers the town is always in: the accountant for the Dark One, Aurora and Philip’s babysitter, and a dry cleaner. This is very clever and tongue in cheek in the same vein as the Writer’s Room film from last season. Pay close attention to the end credits as they are very interesting fairy tale like names. For example, Crafts Services is provided by Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard!
The Fairest Bloopers of them All (4:56): On a show such as this there is bound to be an abundance of hilarious outtakes and these are pretty darn hilarious as the actors are stumbling through lines, cracking jokes, and all in all having fun. These are a perfect example why we adore this cast so much- they don’t take themselves too seriously. As far as my favorites: Jennifer laughing at Colin’s shoulder during what is meant to be a kissing scene, Josh kissing Colin goodbye to which Colin says “Oh he’s so dreamy,” Josh doing a Southern accent, Robert unable to keep from laughing as he is blasted with wind while the sorcerer’s box is amusingly moved by wires bemusing, “Classically trained actor,” Sean telling someone on the phone to take a cab, maybe try Uber, and Sean and Michael skipping down the yellow brick road and forgetting it only goes so far and running right into the wall!
Audio Commentaries: As we have seen every year, every single audio commentary is informative as well as entertaining, and these are no exception, each told from varying perspectives and well balanced in terms of what characters are highlighted in said episode. I may have personally chosen a few different episodes in place of “Family Business” or “Mother,” for example, “Fall” or “White Out,” but I did enjoy these. Though I really wish and am surprised there is not one by series creators on the finale “Operation Mongoose,” especially since every other season set had a commentary on the finale. I would have loved to hear them discuss the epic, game changing episode, but alas it is not the case. Here are the ones that are included.
“A Tale of Two Sisters” with Jennifer Morrison, Adam, Horowitz, and Edward Kitsis: The three most eloquent and insightful people when it comes to understanding and explaining all of the characters and storylines on Once Upon a Time are these three individuals. They gave us lots of great tidbits for this episode but others as well. Spoiler alert: Eddy and Jen spoil Cruella Devil’s fate!! I enjoyed hearing how Elsa may not be bothered by the cold, but Georgina was always freezing, Jennifer had to work around Georgina’s Elsa dress as if it was its own character, how editor Mark Goldman ended up being the voice of Sven, and that they knew that wanted to mirror the famous door scene from Frozen with Elsa and Anna with Emma and Regina, emphasizing how they wanted to show how they’re becoming friends and forming a sisterly type of bond. They also discussed the scene from Smash the Mirror where Emma was really angry and smashed her hand against the table. She went for it every time, and after so many takes had to ice her hand. They revealed that after the season is over she definitely has many war wounds of bruises, scrapes, and sprains. This is one committed actress and it makes me adore her even more.
– I love, love, loved, them discussing Captain Swan and the chemistry between Jennifer and Colin in the sweet “Be Patient” scene:
Eddy: “When you two are together it’s absolutely a writer favorite and a fan favorite.”
Jennifer: “Aww! We have such a good time working together. It’s one of those things where it’s so rare that, um, you just have that kind of ease with a co-worker when you need to have chemistry and you then can just be with someone and be like ‘Oh, okay. We don’t have to try to fake this.’”
– It was also so sweet hearing how despite being comfortable in her jeans and leather jackets, how much she loved finally being able to wear the fairy tale costumes because she is such a girly girl at heart. And as I kid she had a wagon of costumes she would take to her friend’s house where they would make up characters. This is especially special to me because it’s as if playing Emma Swan, a character that is a new creation, was truly meant to be.
“Family Business” with Andrew Chambliss and Kalinda Vazquez: Every commentary is great because they come from different perspectives, this one being a writer’s one and two writers who have been here since the beginning and have collaborate multiple times, each with wonderful results. It was very interesting hearing Chambliss discuss Rumple’s character his motivation, his true feelings and reflected my own and I am sure many others’ views on him. It was both honest and gripping to listen to. Like their commentary from last year for Lost Girl, I also appreciate that they always want to give Hook’s character importance, but sometimes it is not the right place for it. In that episode they originally intended to have Emma Lost girl speech be between her and Hook, but they changed it to her and her mother, which is indeed the more appropriate choice. But it was lovely knowing that even at that point they recognize the connection between Emma and Hook and that she could confide and open up to him significantly.
– Relating to the above, this time around they wrote and filmed a scene where Hook tells Emma about being abandoned as a child as she discovers the Snow Queen has old mementos of hers from foster care. In order to comfort her he shared a painful part of his past. Although I would have loved to have seen this scene, Chambliss said even though it was cut, they want to include something to this effect one day and this will provide a jumping off point:
Adam Horowitz was also kind enough to share the script from this deleted scene:
“Poor Unfortunate Soul” with Colin O’Donoghue and Steve Pearlman: Colin is always a treat on commentaries with his humbleness and sense of humor, and I really enjoyed hearing from Pearlman, who is a both an executive producer on the show and directed the episode- his first time doing so. The two had a nice rapport as they discussed everything from what each scene was like to shoot technically to general and really funny reacting to what is happening on screen. I loved hearing Colin say he was acting like a complete fangirl over guest star Ernie Hudson because Ghostbusters was his favorite movie as a kid, that doors should always be kicked open, how it’s not fair that Hook is the only one without magic, and that he is officially the person Joanna Garcia has ever slapped. Him and Pearlman were especially funny when discussing that Ursula’s tentacles were not really there, and that when he returns with Poseidon he needed to go in before him because it’s more dramatic.
Steve: “I thought the tentacles were really there.”
Colin: “No they weren’t. That’s acting, darling.”
– Pearlman wondered if Hook would ever get over Milah as they watched the scene between him and Ursula in the past:
Colin: “This was all before he met Emma.”
Steve: “This is true.”
– Colin loved the scene between him and Michael Socha with the shrunken Jolly Roger as well as when he used his Hook as a key to a safe on said ship.
– And while watching the “Emma is Hook’s happy ending” scene, the two were particularly entertaining:
Steve: “I’d say this is a pretty good scene.”
Colin: “Ooh, ooh … what’s his happy ending?” (Don’t you know Emma? It’s you.) Gasp “What?”
If you didn’t already adore Colin and think he is a precious human being, you will after this commentary.
“Sympathy for the DeVil” with David H. Goodman and Jerome Schwartz (BR exclusive): One of the most unique episodes of the season was given another interesting commentary from a writers’ perspective. They relayed interesting things from the writing process and enjoyment into writing a character that is so black and white like Cruella, going against what the show has always said: “Evil isn’t born, it’s made.” But in Cruella’s case, it was.
Favorite Insight: Goodman’s horror that his son thought Cruella was a good guy because she had a car. Children have interesting logic sometimes can’t they.
“Mother” with Jane Espenson and Lana Parrilla: The last commentary on the set was very enjoyable because I adore Jane Espenson as a writer and it was nice hearing them give insights not only into Regina’s character but all the others. It was sweet to hear Lana talking about how difficult it is to be so mean to Tony Perez who plays her father because he is such a lovely man, as well as how great it is to work with Barbara Hershey. The penultimate scene where Regina drinks the potion was crucial and Lana said she wanted to play the scene as if Regina really physically felt the gravity of what she had just done.
Favorite Insights: Hearing both Lana and Jane say how much they love seeing the development of the Captain Swan relationship was lovely and Jane explained how great is it to slowly develop their story. I completely agree.
Season 4 was an incredible season and the Blu-Ray set reflects that with amazing extras that were some of the best we’ve ever seen. I highly recommend purchasing this set. It can bring hours of joy and magic into your life.
Season 4 is now available in stores. But from Amazon right HERE !!