Title The Snow Queen
Two-Sentence Summary Emma’s interrogation of Ingrid turns personal when her former foster mother taps into her deepest fears and oldest scars in order to isolate her from her family, which happens when her magic begins to spiral out of control. In flashbacks to Ingrid’s past, we see where she developed her belief that even loved ones can grow afraid of people with magic they don’t understand.
Favorite Line “When you see the good in someone, you don’t give up on them—especially if they don’t see it themselves.” (Will)
My Thoughts For being a person who tries to focus on the positives and who loves TV shows that allow people to be happy more often than not, I really do love angst when it’s done well. Nothing gets my heart pumping and my brain working like a heavy, emotionally-draining hour of television. The key is the purpose behind the angst; I hate it when it’s done purely for shock or to throw a wrench into a character’s happiness. However, when it’s done properly, a heartbreaking storyline can actually make me feel hopeful as a viewer, because where there is angst, there is often emotional payoff to follow. And where there is angst, there is also great acting. “The Snow Queen” was an example of angst done properly. It may have broken my heart to watch it all unfold, but I know it has a purpose, and it’s going to lead to great things for these characters and has already led to great things for all the actors involved.
So much of this season has focused on the theme of perception and self-definition: How do we see ourselves? How do others see us? Can we really change people’s perception of us, and, more importantly can we really change how we see ourselves? Is love strong enough to help us see the best we can be and to fight to be that best self? Every single one of those questions was touched on in “The Snow Queen.” Snow may have been wrong about a lot of things in this episode, but she was right when she said that—at this point—Ingrid doesn’t need her magic mirror to wreak havoc. So many of these characters are facing their own worst fears and inner demons without even looking into it, and it’s all because of the two master manipulators at the heart of my favorite villainous dynamic since the days of Mayor Mills and Mr. Gold in Season One: Ingrid and Rumplestiltskin.
I find Ingrid and Rumplestiltskin’s interactions endlessly fascinating for many reasons, and this episode only added to my sense of awe whenever they share a scene. First of all, I want Elizabeth Mitchell and Robert Carlyle to share as many scenes together as humanly possible. They are two actors who elevate everyone around them, so to watch them work together, elevating each other’s performances, is a true sight to behold. Theirs is a different dynamic than any other character has ever had with Rumplestiltskin, and we saw from the flashbacks that this was true from their first meeting. It was interesting that Rumplestiltskin told Ingrid that she really didn’t need the devices to control her magic as long as she had her sisters. I found it a rare moment of truth for a character who is usually a master manipulator who tries everything in his power to make deals rather than discourage them. However, maybe he already knew that she would still do anything to get something to control her magic. Also, did anyone catch him asking her if she wanted to stay and take lessons from him? I found it telling that she was the first female villain on the show to turn him down.
From that moment of Ingrid turning him down for lessons, it became clear that she didn’t view him the same way Regina, Cora, and Zelena did. Rumplestiltskin’s power wasn’t something she admired, feared, or was attracted to. He didn’t have control over her—he never did. At first, one could argue it was because she had love in her life, but even now she still doesn’t seem to fear him or think he’s more powerful than she is, even with the sorcerer’s hat. And that’s what makes their scenes in the present so interesting. This isn’t a former pupil, lover, or family member interacting with him. This is a woman who isn’t afraid to try to manipulate him, too, and she can do it without the dagger. Ingrid has a gift for seeing people and for tapping into dark parts of themselves to get them to do what she wants, and I have a feeling she might be doing the same thing to Rumplestiltskin, but more on that will come later.
Ingrid’s backstory was an example of great acting elevating a storyline where many people had predicted the outcome long before it aired. From the moment we heard about Ingrid’s two sisters, it was easy to speculate that she hurt Helga and was put into the urn by Gerda. However, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the emotional impact of this flashback. From its first moments, I was riveted. Kudos to the Once Upon a Time casting department once again for casting another eerily perfect young counterpart to a character we know as an adult. It was heartbreaking to see Ingrid believe the words of the man who tried to harm her sisters. As Hook told Emma last week, wounds from our youth tend to linger, and Ingrid being called a monster stayed with her for the rest of her life. Her magic saved her sisters, but she still viewed it as a curse rather than a blessing.
I love that Once Upon a Time is honoring the relationships between sisters the way Frozen did throughout this arc. It was beautiful to see Ingrid’s sisters supporting her instead of treating her like she was an outcast. But self-loathing is a theme Once Upon a Time comes back to often, and it was clear that Ingrid hated this part of herself that made her so different from her sisters. All she wanted was to be normal—to be the queen and the sister she felt she was supposed to be. But she couldn’t see that her sisters didn’t need her to be some arbitrary definition of normal; they loved her for everything she was—even the magical parts of her.
That’s what made the flashback’s final scene so heartbreaking. I found myself so pleasantly surprised that Helga immediately believed Ingrid over the Duke. (I think that may have been my favorite Frozen cameo yet.) But it fits with the theme of Frozen that the love between sisters is just as important (if not more important) than any romantic feelings. However, my happiness was short-lived, and I found myself completely heartbroken as Ingrid watched Helga’s frozen form crumple in her arms. Mitchell is one of the best and most heartbreaking criers in the business, and once again she reduced me to a crying mess right along with her. She genuinely didn’t mean to hurt anyone, least of all her beloved sister. And that made Gerda’s reaction all the more devastating. Fear makes people act first and think later; it makes them turn on the people they love in a split second. And in that split second, Ingrid lost all faith in the ability for people without magic to love people with it. In Ingrid’s mind, Gerda stopped being her sister the moment she stopped trying to understand her. And without that love, support, and understanding, Ingrid became the monster she’d feared becoming for almost her whole life.
The scenes in the past were riveting, perhaps the show’s best flashback since its first season. Every moment made sense for who this character became and what her endgame ultimately is. And every moment was acted with nothing short of brilliance. Each detail formed a wonderful connective tissue between the past and the present—from Ingrid’s desire for people to see the worst in themselves (because she had to face that after killing Helga) to the mystery behind Elsa’s powers (the price Gerda had to pay for erasing all of the kingdom’s memories) and the reason Elsa’s gloves work as well as they do (they’re magical, given to Ingrid by Rumplestiltskin).
Ingrid’s gentle kindness in the flashbacks contrasted so well with her demeanor in the present. Mitchell is a master of nuance, and she made such a clear but subtle distinction between Ingrid being truly loving towards her family in the past and pretending to care about Emma in the present. Her softness was so beautiful in the flashbacks and so disturbing in the Storybrooke scenes. From the moment Emma captured her, she played everything so cool (pun intended) that it was painfully obvious that she wanted to get caught in order to start her manipulation of Emma in earnest. And once those manipulations began, this episode went from good to great.
Ingrid is the living embodiment of her mirror. What was so painful about Ingrid’s manipulation of Emma was that, like Belle standing in front of the mirror in the previous episode, everything that was said had a kernel of truth in it. That’s why the scene at the beginning of the episode between Snow and Emma was so important and so tough to watch. Emma’s magic is closely tied to her emotions, so it made perfect sense for it to manifest itself when she was obviously thinking about all that she’d missed out on both as a child and later as a mother who gave up her child. I understand Snow’s initial reaction to Emma’s magic affecting Neal’s bottle; I really do. She’s protective of Neal; the show wouldn’t have spent so much time on that idea for it not to matter in this scene. But just because it made sense for her character doesn’t mean I liked watching it happen. Snow and Emma’s relationship has been fraught with missteps since the curse was broken, and so much of it came from Snow trying too hard. In this episode, though, the problems stemmed from her not trying hard enough to understand her daughter and to show her the kind of love she needs. It’s a tough balancing act for Snow, but even I have to say she failed spectacularly in this episode.
I think part of the reason that little moment with the bottle hurt so much was because of how Jennifer Morrison played it. You could see her trying so hard not to show how much it hurt, trying so hard to act like it didn’t bother her to have her mother look at her like there was something wrong with her. You could see in her eyes the effort it was taking her not to freak out and panic, and it made her ultimate loss of control so believable because we saw it building from the very beginning of the episode.
That tension inside of Emma was such an important part of the interrogation between her and the Snow Queen. That whole sequence was like a master class in acting delivered by two actresses who were born to play these roles, two actresses who can convey so much emotion with just their eyes, their body language, or just the smallest change in their tone of voice.
This was Emma’s moment in front of the mirror—the manifestation of her worst fears about the way people see her, the way she sees herself, and the inability of love to be stronger than those damaging perceptions. I could go on and on about this scene, but I will stick to just my favorite moments. The moment Ingrid brought up baby Neal was devastating because it tapped into every single one of Emma’s fears about being replaced by her family because she wasn’t what they wanted. Mitchell’s delivery of the line about Neal being born normal was flawless because you could tell she knew what damage it would cause. She used their shared past to tap into things about her that no one else would be able to capitalize on, namely the family that gave Emma back when she was three because they had their own child.
Morrison’s reaction to Mitchell’s line delivery was just as flawless. When she said, “They love me,” you could see her trying to push down all of the fears that were rushing back. Morrison delivered that line in such a way that you could feel Emma trying to convince not just Ingrid but herself of her family’s love. There was anger in her eyes but a deep sadness, too, and it was because Ingrid had touched on such a primal fear for Emma—the fear of not being wanted for who she is, the fear of being replaced by a child that her parents actually wanted, the fear of being too much for a family to deal with. All of those things were self-perceptions Emma had finally started letting go of, until Ingrid came along knowing exactly what buttons to push to inflict the most pain.
When Emma lost control at the end of the interrogation, I was enamored with Ingrid’s reaction. She was so disturbingly happy to see Emma out of control because she knew her plan was working. Watching her tell Emma that this destructive force she’d become was who she really was hurt to watch, but it was so compelling. I had to wonder if the ice Ingrid cut Emma with had something to do with her powers going so completely out of control (because nothing on this show is done without intent), but ultimately what mattered wasn’t what set Emma’s powers off but how she reacted to it and how others reacted to it. Her shame and fear when she looked at her hands said it all; she doesn’t want to be a monster.
If all of that sounds familiar, it was supposed to. Ingrid’s manipulations towards Emma were incredibly similar to Rumplestiltskin’s manipulations towards Hook in “The Apprentice” (in some cases almost word-for-word). Both Ingrid and Rumplestiltskin claimed to simply be showing Emma and Hook who they truly are, when what they were really doing was trying to cause self-doubt and making them fear themselves in order to get what they wanted from them. I think this important parallel is going to play a major role in Emma’s arc in the next episode. Ingrid made her feel like no one but people with magic could ever understand her, but she and Hook have understood each other from the very beginning, and they have this new level of shared experience now (as long as he tells her about what happened to him). Hook being the only person with Emma on the other side of the downed light pole seemed to be a visual symbol of his ability understand her and stand beside her in a way no one else can, but that’s what made it even more painful to see her run away from his outstretched hand. When Ingrid reached out to Gerda, her sister wouldn’t touch her because she was too afraid, but, in this case, Hook was the one reaching out to Emma, who was too scared of herself to do anything but run away.
It was painfully realistic to see that one parent’s disapproval is all it takes to erase any other signs of love in their child’s mind. When Emma accidentally hurt David, the only one to react in a negative way was Snow, but that was all that mattered. In that one instant, with Snow admonishing her, all of the control and composure Emma had in that scene with baby Neal was gone. She couldn’t act like it didn’t hurt anymore; all she could do was look like a little girl whose worst fears were coming true. Morrison did such a good job of balancing Emma’s very adult sense of guilt and shame with something painfully childlike in her eyes. There’s nothing more painful than disappointing a parent, especially a parent you’ve wanted to have a relationship with for so long. And while both Charming and Hook seemed more concerned for Emma than anything else, all that mattered in that moment was Snow’s disappointment and fear of who Ingrid told Emma she really is. Emma was clearly terrified, and that reaction from Snow was the very last thing she needed to hear.
Running away is second nature for Emma, but now she’s doing it to protect others from getting hurt instead of protecting herself. It was so painful to think of Charming and Hook looking everywhere for Emma, who was hiding from them because she thought they were better off without her. And that’s what made me so angry with Snow trying to lump David in with her, saying they both failed as parents. This failure was all Snow’s. She’s not very good at dealing with a guilty conscience (she either ignores it, uses it to overcompensate, or tries to kill herself), so I hope she gets a chance to apologize to her daughter soon and tell her how much she loves her for who she is—magic and all. Snow has being putting her foot in her mouth with Emma ever since the Echo Caves, and it’s time we finally saw a scene where she says the right thing where her daughter is concerned and chooses to help her daughter find comfort and happiness instead of focusing on her new baby or her husband, and I have to believe this episode happened the way it did to set up a moment like that.
That’s what I’m hoping comes out of this arc more than anything—plenty of moments where Emma is reminded of how much the people in her life love her for exactly who she is. All magic comes with a price, and I feel like Emma has been paying the price for hers for a long time. This episode addressed that so wonderfully both in terms of people fearing her and in terms of her feeling like she is only looked at as the savior instead of as Emma. I am so hopeful that this comes with the beautiful payoff that I think it will have, with Emma feeling what Ingrid tragically lost and what Elsa had with Anna—a sense of being loved for everything she is.
I think Emma’s parents are obviously going to play a role in that, and Henry will, too. However, I think Hook is going to be the key to Emma getting her magic back under control. Elsa has often mentioned Anna’s presence helps her control her powers, and I think Hook is going to end up being that person for Emma. I also think Ingrid believes this and is going to try to take him out of the picture because of that. That’s what I think that last scene between her and Rumplestiltskin was all about. Nothing would light his face with glee like hurting Hook, so I have to believe that’s who Ingrid was talking about. However, I don’t see how Hook could be important to Rumplestiltskin’s overall needs, but I do see how eliminating him would be exactly what Ingrid needs to get Emma to feel completely alone and out of control. (Just like taking Anna from Elsa.) Therefore, I think she’s playing Rumplestiltskin, or maybe I just really hope she is.
As far as other stories in the episode, I’m withholding any judgment on the Robin/Regina moment until I see the reaction/fallout next week. I think it was another example of the theme of how we perceive ourselves, with Robin no longer choosing to see himself as living by the code he once lived by. I also think it fit with the theme of how we perceive others, with Robin seeing Regina as someone worth fighting for. (Whatever theme it reflected, it sure was one heck of a kiss. Those two certainly have chemistry.) I was also happy to see Will and Robin interact, and Will absolutely broke my heart with his speech about love. (Again I ask, What happened to Anastasia?!)
This episode ended in a way that was made for speculation, so feel free to share theories or hopes/wishes/fears for the next episode and beyond in the comments. I have a feeling Hook and the rest of Emma’s family will help her get her magic under control by the end of the next episode, but I also think that will just make Ingrid angry, causing her to enact her Shattered Sight curse in a last-ditch effort to isolate Emma and Elsa. (Shauna brought up a great theory—Are the yellow ribbons able to keep the three women from being affected by the curse?) I have no idea how Rumplestiltskin going after Hook would play into this, or what would happen to break the Shattered Sight curse, but having so much to speculate about is endlessly exciting. I know I say this every week, but is it next Sunday yet? This show just keeps getting better and better.