Season 3 of Once Upon a Time had its two hour finale on Sunday (yes, I'll include spoilers), and we also have confirmation that there will be a fourth season. Because the first season had such a direct problem and solution that came to its conclusion from the pilot to the finale, I sometimes feel that the second season was struggling to find its footing. There's always a question of how much to serialize a show and how much to keep plot lines isolated into individual episodes. I think Season 3 found an interesting approach to the question.
Season 3 was divided into two sections; the first focused on Peter Pan and Neverland, and the second focused on Zelena. There are other mini plot lines and other characters whose stories are told within these greater focuses, but still everything is contained within the broader ideas. In general, this format worked well. It allowed us to explore the characters of Peter Pan and Zelena more than we ever explored Aurora and Mulan in Season 2; even Hook and Cora were only characterized in scattered pieces rather than all throughout. I could have done with a little less Snow White & David focus; I don't feel like there is much more to explore with their characters or stories, so I'm tending to get tired of them. But it is good that there aren't so many characters coming in and out so quickly as there were in Season 1.
And now to the finale. Of course, we all know that Snow White had to be pregnant because Ginnifer Goodwin was, and so in the finale they are attempting to cover up the fact that the actress hasn't had her baby yet while the character has. The use of camera angles, props, and doubles worked for some of that disguising. But then they decided to use it as an opportunity, or perhaps excuse, to go the time travel route. This is an angle that Once has never explored, and while they didn't have an altogether unique approach to time travel, it was still fun because it was new to this show. Using old clips from the earlier seasons allowed them to have Snow White in the episode more than they otherwise could have and also let the audience relieve those old moments. Somehow Hook and Emma made for an entertaining pair of time travelers to watch.
I was thinking about shows where characters get married, and people later say that the shows went downhill from there and they should have kept the characters separate because it's better to watch them wanting to be together. I don't always agree with such comments, but it's true that something like a marriage can completely change the dynamics of a show. Basically (though not technically), this episode gave Once its first marriage. Rumplestiltskin and Belle, the most complicated couple of all--but also one of the most steadfast. So it is very interesting what the writers did here. After all the trouble that Rumbelle have had, it would be a shame to end all the interesting characterization by simply having them live happily ever after; you can do that at the very end, but not before. So at the same time as he proposes and as they get married, there is also a very intentional plot line of him lying to her and to everyone. Rumplestiltskin the deceiver and manipulator can't so easily be changed. It would seem there is some conflict coming once Belle finds out--as she most certainly will at some point.
And then there is that final glimpse that the episode introduced at the end. That was Frozen. It's Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz/Wicked, and then Frozen. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, given how well Frozen has been doing and how much Disney wants to spread Frozen's success everywhere. It's exciting. But how will Elsa come in? What is she doing in a bottle (or urn, I suppose it's called), and what kind of interaction will she have with the people in Storybrooke? It's possible that Rumplestiltskin trapped her in the urn, at the request of her people, after she became a threat; in that case, she would want to get back at him for that. But that's simplistic. Even if all that's the case, there would have to be more going on than that. Will her sister be in it? What other characters? Will there be as bare of a backstory as there was for Zelena, or will it be more layered in the way Peter Pan was?
The questions must wait, but one thing is sure: the show may have found its ground, that is, the way to keep reinventing itself so that it can keep continuing.