Review: Once Upon a Time 5.20

I enjoyed this episode immensely while still recognizing that it had flaws. It was great thematically (an area Once has always excelled in), but there were a few plot issues, an area the show struggles with occasionally. Sometimes plotting problems are excessive enough to affect my enjoyment of an episode, regardless of how strong it is in other areas, but luckily that wasn’t the case here.

This hour told the origin story of one of Emma’s touchstones, her red leather jacket, and how she came to build the armor it represented. She got the idea from Cleo, a bail bondswoman tasked with bringing her in, and their relationship, while rather short, filled in a few blanks in Emma’s life. In fact, it’s tragic brevity may have been exactly the reason it had such an impact on her. For one, it explained why Emma was so guarded when Henry approached her in the pilot. Cleo taught her not to be so emotional, to build a thicker skin, to look forward instead of back, traits that she clearly had when she first met her son. In the flashback, Emma’s desperate declaration that “straws are all I have” was the highpoint of her emotional vulnerability, something that she wasn’t able to build back up to until season two or three of the show, because that’s how thick her armor had become.

Emma further interpreted Cleo’s advice (perhaps incorrectly) as “don’t trust others as all”, so it made sense that she chose the same career, one built around the idea that if you can’t bring yourself to trust others, then why not manipulate the trust they have in you? It was fascinating to me how close Emma came to becoming Cleo exactly: same job, same armor, same kid situation, a situation that Emma did her best to rectify after Cleo’s death, showing that she had that Savior tendency long before she’d ever heard of Storybrooke.

Luckily, Emma’s armor came to mean something different than Cleo’s did, thanks to a lot of time spent with Henry, Hook, her parents, and all the people who love her. Hook’s role in that was a huge part of this episode, as the two endured yet another tragic goodbye. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: I have no idea how, but Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue somehow find a new emotional depth with each goodbye scene, making them increasingly devastating instead of repetitive. The buildup to that moment was wonderful as well, from Emma admitting that she sometimes forgets she doesn’t need her armor around Hook, to Hook calling her out on the way she can only admit her feelings when they’re facing death. That moment was exceptionally nuanced, as both couldn’t help but crack a grin as they acknowledged the imperfections in their relationship. However, despite those imperfections, what matters is that they chose each other, with Emma saving Hook to prove that their relationship is in fact true love. Expected? Sure. But unbelievably sweet regardless.

And then the goodbye, ay yi yi. Everything about it was achingly lovely: each insisting on the other’s future happiness, their tears, kissing through the bars, and then holding hands until the last possible moment. Sad as it was, I like the idea of Emma finally letting Hook go; a beautiful moment of understanding for her, one that I didn’t see as her giving up, but rather showing her strength. It also made sense, though, that she would have a moment of doubt before going through the portal, questioning whether or not she’d done everything she could. Deep down, she knew that she did and that, in a wonderfully full circle realization, her armor is no longer a barrier, but rather a reminder to protect those that she loves. That’s why she had to return to Storybrooke and help protect them from Hades, even though it meant leaving the love of her life behind.

Elsewhere in the episode, Hades played the heroes like a fiddle, something I was actually glad for. His redemption seemed way too quick, and it illustrated the heroes’ biggest collective flaw, which is that they’re way too quick to see the good in people. They’re not fools; they don’t trust immediately, but they do often believe that people have changed long before they should. I do have to give them the benefit of the doubt because their trust in him was tied up with Regina’s newfound trust of Zelena. After the events of last week, that’s a trust I completely understand, because Zelena’s redemption is believable and far more earned. The look she and Regina shared, as well as Regina giving her the baby, showed that Regina has complete faith in her sister and that Zelena is genuinely grateful to have earned that. I’m much more excited about a story of Zelena choosing between Hades and her sister than I am for one where Hades gets a free pass.

I liked seeing Henry prove himself as a hero yet again, reminding his mom and grandpa of their plan to save the souls of the Underworld and both of them trusting him to see it through. The ceremony of everyone coming to him for their pages was cool, at least until it was interrupted by Cruella. It was very in-character of her to have no interest in going home, instead hoping to stay behind and rule the Underworld. With her skill of commanding animals and desire for power, it made total creepy sense that she’d want to do the same with humans. Though, that aspect of the episode did feel a little half-baked; Henry had to leave his book behind because of the time crunch, which is maybe an indication that it should have been settled in an earlier episode.

Similarly, Peter Pan and Rumple’s power struggle felt unnecessary not only to this episode, but also this entire arc. It was never explained why Rumple needed Pandora’s Box for Belle (couldn’t he have carried her through the portal?), and the fake out with Robin’s heart/the River of Lost Souls was predictable (no one actually thought Rumple was going to let Pan waltz through the portal, did they?). The two ended up in a pretty similar place that they did when Pan died, making his Underworld appearance feel like a waste of time, especially in comparison to the huge impact of characters like Henry Sr. and Cora, whose presence helped Regina forgive herself and mend her relationship with Zelena.

The promo for next week was pretty intense, and I have a theory: the funeral shown is Hook’s, but the character who dies is someone else entirely. I also have a theory as to who that might be, but I’ll save it for the spoiler addicts…

What are your thoughts on this episode and Emma and Hook’s goodbye? Let me know in the comments!

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