Sunday, October 5, 2014

Once Upon A Time 4x02 "White Out" (And Up Go the Walls)

"White Out"
Original Airdate: October 5, 2014

I've been guilty of putting up walls before with people. I blame it on the fact that I'm an introvert and that, to begin with, I find it more difficult to open myself up to others -- I like me because (for the most part) I understand me. One of the most terrifying things in the world is allowing others to see the real you -- the vulnerable you -- because there's a chance that they will see that person and run away. We like to present ourselves to others as neat, put-together little china dolls who hurt, but not that badly; who have their lives together and are always happy. But that's not the case. At all. Within each of us, we carry baggage: failed relationships, words left unspoken, words said in anger, family issues, emotional drama and mental anguish. The more we believe we are alone, the more we FEEL alone. As difficult as it is to admit, we need other people. We cannot run away from our problems forever, and we cannot shut ourselves away in fear either.

The characters in this week's Once Upon A Time episode learn a thing or two about walls and about the fear that constructs them, as well as the loneliness that accompanies those walls. While Elsa literally constructs a wall that prevents anyone from leaving or entering Storybrooke in the present, Charming and Anna meet in the past where the latter tries to convince our future hero to stand up to war lord Bo Peep. (That's a sentence I never thought I would type.) So let's talk about why walls are dangerous even when they appear in "White Out" -- the metaphorical ones AND the literal ones.


I love how Once Upon A Time is already setting up pretty clear Elsa/Emma parallels. Both women have been hurt, both are fearful of themselves and their powers because of who they've hurt in the past. And both put up walls to keep others out (Elsa more metaphorically than Emma). Elsa has always been driven by her love for Anna and when Anna isn't there to regulate her sister, the ice queen becomes too emotional, too unhinged, and does things like freeze an entire kingdom or construct an ice wall to prevent the residents of Storybrooke from entering or leaving the town. Elsa and Emma have different types of ways they construct walls: Elsa traps others, the way she feels trapped; Emma pushes people away the way she has been pushed away before. When you're building a snowman (sorry, I had to), what do you do in order to construct it? You push snow together until it forms mounds and then you stack those mounds and mold them into a shape.

In order to protect themselves the only way they've ever known how, Elsa and Emma push and push until they've constructed walls that don't just keep others from coming in, but also prevent themselves from leaving. People do this in order to prevent themselves from feeling pain. The problem, of course, is that... this isn't a solution. Walls don't heal you; walls isolate you. Walls may protect you, but they certainly don't heal you. And walls don't make you feel more protected, more loved, more whole -- they make you feel fear. Elsa has always been afraid of her powers because she's afraid of the damage she can do with them. She was taught that by her parents, remember? "Conceal, don't feel." Not so ironically, this is how Emma Swan has lived her entire life, too. She's constructed walls to keep others out -- her family, Hook, her own son -- because of everything that has happened to her in the past and everything he fears she will be capable of in the future. Emma has been damaged by love and by people, and she believes that if she just continues to bury her feelings and push others (like Hook) away, she will be safe. She will be okay.

Walls don't make friends and they don't create love, and people put them up because they're afraid -- mostly of themselves and their capabilities. In "White Out," Elsa accidentally traps both herself and Emma in a wall of ice because she's afraid and vulnerable and much like a scared animal lashes out against those she feels corner her, Elsa feels that she is doing what is best for herself. I think that Emma feels that way upon entering the wall to talk to Elsa, too. Since last week's premiere, we saw her push away Hook, claiming she needs space and time. And with every conversation, she adds another metaphorical brick to her already constructed wall. Neal died: brick. She almost lost her family: brick. She caused Regina's unhappiness: brick, brick, brick. Emma has always been a rather self-sabotaging character because to her, it is better to be isolated and hurting than to deconstruct the wall and risk someone seeing her for who she truly is. Behind walls, we feel a false sense of security. We feel like we are impenetrable, invincible, even. It's only when we truly examine ourselves that we realize we are neither of those things: we are trapped. Worse, we are trapped by our own devices.

Elsa and Emma have a conversation within the ice wall in which they form a bond over their mutual wall-building tendencies: Emma explains that she knows what it feels like to have something no one else has and not be able to understand or control it. Elsa tells Emma that Anna taught her how to regulate those feelings and powers. But these are two characters who both understand what it means to put up defenses. Moreover, they are the two characters on this series who intimately understand the loneliness that accompanies those walls and it's kind of beautiful to see how they're beginning to (pardon the pun) thaw toward each other and the people in their live. Elsa and Emma are not trusting characters by nature; they trust very few people in their lives. But what was lovely about "White Out" is that we were able to see them open up to others. Elsa softened toward Charming and Emma and the town of Storybrooke because of Anna.

Emma realized something fairly important in this episode: time isn't always a friend and walls separate herself from those she loves (... literally). As Emma slowly began to freeze, I think she knew that putting a wall between herself and Hook was not just futile, but also stupid. She nearly died within Elsa's ice wall and the moment she emerged from it (thanks to the whole "love will thaw" trick Elsa did which HELLO HOOK AND CHARMING, LEAD WITH THAT), she clung to Hook and continued to cling to him. It'd be easy to write this off as a "character A is in mortal peril and realizes she wants to be with character B after all" trope, but knowing Emma Swan and the theme of this episode, I think it was more than just that. I think Emma realized in that wall that what she was experiencing physically was also what was happening to her heart slowly, metaphorically. The longer she spent trying to push Hook away, the quicker she was beginning to freeze. You see, walls separate us from other people and walls isolate us. They trap us and slowly but surely, we retreat further and further within them. Slowly but surely, we freeze until there's a moment that we realize we're completely and utterly alone. And by then, we're too far gone and too weak to try and fight to bring the wall back down.

I loved that "White Out" gave us a physical manifestation of the walls and struggles that these characters face internally and I especially loved the Elsa/Emma parallels we were able to see because of it.

Snow White

When Elsa freezes the entire town, power is lost and everyone turns to Snow White/Mary Margaret in order to fix their problems because Regina is isolating herself (sense the theme?) within her home. There isn't much to say about the Snow storyline during "White Out" except for the fact that Snow was hilarious when she hit her wit's end with the townspeople. The normally put-together young woman and new mom came a bit unhinged and it was a delightful reminder that she's not just human and imperfect, but also determined and resourceful as she does manage to figure out how to get power back once everyone else leaves her alone.

Basically though, I'll just need to watch her outburst about a million more times because Ginnifer Goodwin was comedic GOLD in that moment.


I really liked the Charming/Anna Enchanted Forest story this week because it proved to be a perfect parallel to our A-story. Long story short: Kristoff knows David and Anna goes to visit, requesting that she stay in his barn. Anna is charming and babbling and decides to go by the name "Joan" because she's on a secret mission and is hilariously bad at those. There's only one problem in David's village: they live in constant fear of the war overlord, Bo Peep. (Again: you read that right. Can I please meet the writer who decided Little Bo Peep would become a war lord in OUAT?) David and his mother don't have the money Bo wants, which doesn't sit well with our villain. So she brands them -- they're her slaves, her sheep, and their lives are at stake unless they manage to get her what she owes them.

Anna, beautiful Anna, wants David to stand up to Bo and fight but the former is unconvinced about the plan and the idea of fighting a battle that he knows he will lose anyway. But he and Anna train and she becomes enraged that he just wants to give up the fight entirely. She calls him cowardly, which he is in that moment, and he explains the root of his cowardice and fear to her (his father vowed to fight for his marriage and his family against his alcohol addiction and in the end, he succumbed to it after nearly making his life work). Anna knows a thing or two about fear and she knows a thing or two about fighting and about love and about living, so she and he trade advice that literally alters the trajectory of David's life: "Survival isn't enough. You have to LIVE."

The eternal optimist, Anna, reminds David that surviving -- that paying Bo Peep the money and continuing to exist beneath her oppressive hand -- isn't the same as LIVING, and that he can change his path and destiny so long as he remembers that and the fact that he is not his father. David DOES remember this and he fights Bo and wins before sending Anna on her way. It was her unwillingness to give up on him that changed David from someone who was content to merely exist into someone who was bold enough to really LIVE. David eventually took that philosophy with him and instilled it into his family: the idea of giving up or losing hope never, after his encounter with Anna, became an option for him again.

Anna turned David into a hero and that, quite frankly, was wonderful to see.


Last week's premiere saw a lot of Regina, so it's no real surprise that this episode saw very little of her. However, it IS significant in light of the theme of "White Out" that we discuss her and the brief Regina/Henry story. Regina is the queen of pushing others away and this episode saw her pushing her own son away. While Henry brooded for presumably most of the episode, he realized at the end (thanks to a Charming speech in which he uttered: "We find people" -- a line that is undoubtedly on the family crest) that it doesn't matter, sometimes, if people push you away: once in a while if you really love someone, you will push back because they NEED you to push back.

So Henry pushes back and bangs on Regina's front door, stating that he will not give up fighting for her (everyone is fighting for Regina these days and it is wonderful), nor will he allow her to give up on herself. And -- at the end of his little speech -- Regina opens the door.

That's all it takes, really, to kick-start your growth and your healing process: one open door. One demolished brick. One melted block of ice. Love will thaw a frozen heart, after all. So let's start melting.

Additional magical moments:

  • My all-star of the week is Elizabeth Lail. A+ work from her in the David/Anna flashbacks -- she's got an impeccable way of balancing out Anna's quirks, her babbling, and also her determination and strength in a way that both mirrors Frozen but is also unique and totally hers. Brilliant job, lady!
  • Charming's wig makes him look like he should be in an 80s hair band.
  • "What do you suppose babies dream about?" "Bullfighting." "Laser tag."
  • "Ohhhhhhh look at the baby..." "Thanks!" "... is what I'd say if I could SEE the baby."
  • "Look at you becoming a 21st century man!"
  • Charming/Hook bonding was ACES this episode. I love that Hook reminded Charming that whatever his relationship with Emma is or isn't, it's up to her to decide. And though he cares a lot about her and teases her, he isn't pursuing her for the conquest of it -- he genuinely and truly loves her and would do anything to support her. SHE is the one who defines the terms of the relationship, and I think Charming respects Hook in the moment he tells him that. I really enjoy the fact that Hook hasn't lost his wit and charm but has really grown in his relationship with Emma because he's becoming vulnerable again.
  • "That's a little old-fashioned by my standards, and I still pay with dubloons."
  • "Aren't you cold? I'm freezing." "It never bothered me." I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, SHOW.
  • "I was wrong -- you really, REALLY like to give up."
  • "I was already down to one mother and I won't go lower than that."
  • "I love sandwiches!"
Thank you all for reading this week's review of Once Upon A Time. I'll see you back here next week, where we will  have a showdown with the new ice queen in town. Until then, folks! :)


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