Once Upon a Time Review: Emma Returns in “A Pirate’s Life”

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I went into this episode expecting to feel disappointed once it was over, knowing that it was our last one with Emma, at least for the time being. While I had a few issues with this one, I actually feel more optimistic about this season now.  It gave me a better idea of what a standard episode will look like and also alleviated any concerns I had about Killian and Emma’s long-term happiness.

For me, the biggest problem with this episode was the amount it expected the audience to suspend their disbelief. That’s par for the course with this show, considering the fantasy elements and their habit of breaking previously established rules. However, they’re usually very good at keeping it real on a character level; the more unbelievable aspects of the show work because the characters and relationships feel so grounded.

Here, I didn’t totally buy everyone’s actions, from Emma suggesting that Henry and Wish Realm Hook team up to Regina choosing to stay behind. It’s not that they weren’t believable decisions, just that they happened very quickly. I felt similarly about Hook’s turnaround from leaving Killian for dead to feeling terrible about what he did. It was nice but very fast, which is another reason I was surprised that Emma wanted Henry to stick with him.

This episode also really made you cling to the idea of time moving differently in other realms because there’s no way that Emma and Regina would have let Henry grow up without seeing him once. I would have liked a little more clarity on how long it’s been since Emma and Killian’s wedding, or at least on how long it feels like it’s been for them.

Despite the speed of it, though, I don’t hate this new status quo. You have to give the writers props, really. It’s extremely rare for a show to continue past its natural endpoint without torpedoing the characters and relationships that the audience loves (cough, Castle, cough). Emma and Killian fans (including myself) can’t complain because they’re not only happy and together in Storybrooke, but expecting a baby to boot.

As a Regina fan, I’m pleasantly surprised that we’ll presumably get to see her in the forest flashback scenes, instead of just as Roni. She and Henry were really the only two characters who left last year’s finale not wholly satisfied, so it doesn’t feel like they’re blowing anything up by continuing their stories. Plus, there’s something kind of poetic about starting the next chapter of the show with Henry and Regina the only original characters playing themselves, similar to the way it was in the pilot.

This episode also lent some clarity to Rebecca Mader’s return; Zelena is another character who definitely has more story to tell. I also buy it because Regina’s her only family aside from Robin, and it makes total sense that she’d stick with her. I’m assuming there will be words about Regina up and leaving Storybrooke without telling her, though. I’ll also be curious to see how Rumple got mixed up in Hyperion Heights, but I’m assuming we’ll find out when Belle returns in a couple episodes.

Other thoughts on “A Pirate’s Life”:

We have to talk about Robert Carlyle in head to toe denim, too good!

Female friendship has always been a big part of this show, so I’m enjoying Sabine and Jacinda’s relationship a lot. Looks like we’ll get a taste of Cinderella and Tiana’s next week as well.

I can’t complain about how Emma and Hook’s story ended—let me say for a minute how absolutely lovely it is that two people who have been through so much wound up where they did—but I wish there had been slightly more Emma in this. Probably knowing it was her last episode made me greedy, but I would have loved to see her in a couple more scenes.

Why did Henry keep referring to Emma as “Emma”? She and Regina were always adorably just “mom” and “mom,” and Regina obviously would have known who he was talking about if he’d said “mom.”

I feel like Jennifer Morrison and Lana Parrilla got a taste of what Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas had to do with the “acting like a parent to someone your age” thing. Wonder if they called for tips…

What did you think of “A Pirate’s Life” and the Henry/Regina/Faux Hook teamup? Let me know in comments!

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Once Upon a Time Review: 6.21 and 6.22

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Hello, all! Before I dive into my review of the truly great Once finale, I’m going to do a couple thoughts on last week’s musical wedding extravaganza, as I didn’t get a chance to after it aired. You’ll also notice that this is an old-fashioned blog post instead of one of my Yahoo reviews, so it’ll be a little less structured than my usual offering.

“The Song in Your Heart” was an ambitious, joyously entertaining hour. My only real complaint was that most of the episode felt like two different episodes, with the juxtaposition of the musical merriment in the Enchanted Forest and the seriousness of what was happening in Storybrooke feeling a bit jarring at times. But honestly, it’s hard to complain about that when it came together so beautifully—with Emma finding the song in her heart—and when the contrast is part of what made that moment so powerful.

I thought the songs were great and paid homage to the show’s most important relationships and rivalries while also making an effort to show how those relationships have changed. I’ll write a bit about each of the songs below, but Zelena’s number, for example, showed how far she and Regina have come by recognizing how fraught their relationship used to be—and a brief aside here to say that the reconciliation of that relationship has been a lovely end-of-season surprise.

The other big component of the hour was, of course, the long-awaited CaptainSwan wedding, and I was completely satisfied on that front. I thought it was wonderful that their vows referenced both their individual character journeys as well as how the other helped them in that journey. I was particularly partial to Hook’s vows, mostly because the pirate references—love being the greatest treasure of all, his heart no longer belonging to his ship—were so romantic and specific to his character. The dip after they said their vows was adorable, and their unbridled happiness in that moment was so, so well-earned. I also weirdly liked that the wedding took place between battles with the Black Fairy; it was very in line with the characters’—and show’s—tendency not to wait for things to be perfect, but rather to make the most of their happiness when they had the chance.

Grading the Songs:

“Powerful Magic”: This was the perfect song to kick things off. It felt the most quintessentially Disney—bluebird included—and made the transition to song feel seamless instead of jarring. It certainly didn’t hurt that Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin leaned into the cheesy romanticness of it all.

“The Queen Sings/Love Doesn’t Stand a Chance”: I love that they gave the Evil Queen a real gritty rock ballad, complete with cleavage and over-gelled hair. This was also a great way to include the background characters, and bringing Sidney back was a fun treat.

“Revenge Is Gonna Be Mine”: I thought everyone did just fine with the singing, but Colin O’Donoghue definitely seemed the most naturally gifted. I feel like you have to give the pirate the bar song, and it was cool that he built his story verse by verse.

“Wicked Always Wins”: This was probably the least necessary to the overall story, but it was so delightful that I didn’t really care. I loved the visual of Zelena tearing through Oz completely oblivious to the Munchkins scattering around her.

“Charmings vs. Evil Queen”: On a pure entertainment level, this was a high point. Hopeful Charmings vs. Annoyed Regina is one of my favorite dynamics, and this took it to a whole other level.

“Emma’s Theme”: I love that this began with the song she sang as a kid and that it expressed her character journey so clearly while still being relatable, as all of the best musical ballads are. This was more emotional than any of the other numbers, and it grounded the episode nicely.

“A Happy Beginning”: This was probably my favorite. I’m a real sucker for group numbers, but this had other things going for it as well: arguably the catchiest song of the bunch, the chance for Hook and Emma to sing (and dance!) together, and the fact that it summed up the show’s theme of hope so perfectly.

Onto the finale…

I know this wasn’t the series finale, but I went in treating it like it was. I watched the pilot on Saturday night because I’m a TV nerd who lives for parallels, and I was definitely rewarded here. The writers knew this was the end for most of the characters even if it wasn’t for the series, and, thankfully, they leaned into the series finale feel. It was lovely and cyclical and pretty much exactly what you want as you say goodbye to a bunch of your favorite characters. Honestly, unless they do something crazy next season (like kill off one of those characters), I’m completely fine with thinking of this as the series finale. Whatever comes next is just gravy.

There were honestly too many series callbacks and pilot references to mention, so I’ll go with my favorites: Emma wearing the red leather jacket; her exchange with Henry about believing something making it true; Snow, Charming, and Co. returning to the location of their wedding; and the reverse True Love’s Kisses for both Snow and Charming and Henry and Emma. Not to mention Mayor Fiona bearing no small resemblance to season one’s Mayor Regina, sensible pantsuit included.

I enjoyed the setup of the final battle, with the vast majority of it waged internally. Not only did the battle for Emma’s belief provide another cool parallel to the pilot, it also showed how much Henry has grown since then, important, since this is probably the last we’ll see of him at this age. And, when Emma left town to go back to Boston, it offered a “what if?” look at how their pilot conversation at his castle could have gone if she had decided to leave.

I absolutely loved that Emma came back on her own, with just Henry’s hand-drawn storybook to encourage her. It proved exactly how far she’s come since the pilot and completed her character journey perfectly. I also thought this episode did a great job of paying homage to the two most important people in her life. As mentioned, she had tons of wonderful moments with Henry, but she and Hook also had a chance to shine, from her flicker of recognition upon spotting him in the storybook, to Hook’s lovely, heartbreaking speech by the beanstalk—“We fought for our love and we won.” Their eventual reunion also gave us the hilarious and appropriate “Some honeymoon!” line.

Another of my favorite relationships on this show is the bro-mance between Hook and Charming, so I was thrilled that they had another adventure together. There was a lot to love there, from the hilarity of them essentially reliving Emma and Hook’s first “date”—Hook’s choice companion to do that with, I’m sure— to the sweetness of Charming trusting Hook and calling him his son-in-law. I’m bummed that we won’t see much of married Hook and Emma onscreen, but they definitely made the most of the new family opportunities; Hook saying he had to get back to his wife made me swoon, and I died when he called Snow “Mommy.”

The beanstalk mission was also interesting because it showed the contrast in how Killian and Regina, another important person in Emma’s life, handle things. Regina immediately went to magic and was completely dismissive of anything else, while Killian favored a more “boots on the ground” approach. I’ve always thought that Regina and Hook make an interesting pair with their similarly villainous backstories, and I’m very curious to see how that relationship develops next season when they make up two-thirds of the returning cast.

I haven’t been shy about how much I love Regina and Emma’s friendship, but I went into this episode expecting that there might not be time for one last heart-to-heart between them. Luckily, they had one just before the Final Battle, in what may end up being one of my favorite scenes for them. It summed up their relationship beautifully, with Regina telling Emma that she taught her about hope by not giving up on her, and the two of them smiling at the thought of how much they used to hate each other. Theirs is another relationship that’s completely, and wonderfully, different from what it was in the pilot, and I’m so glad they paid homage to that.

Regina also had time with her evil alter ego in the Enchanted Forest, though we really can’t call her evil anymore. Upon seeing the Queen, I typed “this is a nice, but unnecessary appearance,” and then, of course, they went and made it necessary. The Queen’s sacrifice provided yet another great parallel to the pilot—I especially loved the shot of the magic cloud swirling around her the way it did after she cast the curse in that first episode—and it was wonderful that the woman who started it all sought to end it. I feel dumb even admitting this, but for a second I thought Regina was the one who had sacrificed herself. Our Regina called the Queen “Regina”, which was a nice moment of “I see you as a person, not an evil being,” but that, coupled with the nearly identical outfits, gave me pause.

Throughout the series, I’ve felt at best ambivalent about and at worse immensely frustrated with Rumple and Belle, both as individual characters and their relationship, so I wasn’t terribly surprised that I felt the same way about them in this episode. I will say that the moment Rumple killed his mother was very well done, from the “All magic comes with a price, and I’m not willing to pay it” line, to the slight tremble in his hand as he lowered the wand. At last, he gave up the chance for both immense power and to have Baelfire back, and I was glad that he both faced his alter ego and referenced his Savior destiny while doing so.

However, he gave up the chance for extra power, not the power he holds now, and he did so to save his own family, not anyone else’s. He’s still going to be on the show, so there’s a chance that complete redemption could come, but Belle won’t be there for it. She’ll never have that moment of him selflessly giving up his power and becoming the hero she so desperately wants him to be, and that definitely makes me sad for her. I’m not saying it wasn’t a huge step for his character, just that I don’t know that it was enough for him to fully earn the montage happy ending, complete with dancing Belle and returned infant Gideon. Contrast that with Regina, for example, who had an unexpectedly sweet moment with the dwarfs in that montage, but whose true love is dead, and who has made far more sacrifices to compensate for her past deeds than Rumple has.

It is pretty hard to complain about that montage though. In this TVLine interview, Adam Horowitz pointed out that it felt like the characters’ lives were continuing rather than ending, and I think that’s one of the main reasons I loved it. We had Charming on the farm and Snow teaching again, finally getting some well-deserved time off from being heroes. We had Emma adorably deputizing Hook, under no threat of being forced into separate worlds. As mentioned, we had the dwarfs sweet gesture to Regina, and her settling into the Mayor’s office again, this time with apples for eating, not poisoning. We had Emma and Regina sending Henry off to school, co-parents in every sense of the word.

We even got to see the realms restored, with Wish Realm Robin proposing to the Evil Queen in the way I’d always hoped our Robin would. And, of course, we had one last dinner at Granny’s. All told, no matter what happens with Henry and Lucy in the future, the montage made clear that, at the very least, these characters finished raising the kid they all loved so much and were very happy doing it. I’ll watch next season, and I hope I’ll like it. But I also would have been extremely satisfied if this had been the end for one of my favorite shows.

What did you guys think of “The Song in Your Heart” and “The Final Battle”? Are you planning on watching next season? Let me know in the comments!