Title Lady of the Lake
Two-Sentence Summary In flashbacks to the Fairytale Land that was, King George places an infertility curse on Snow White, and his men mortally wound Prince Charming’s mother with an arrow to the chest, leading to a private wedding officiated by Lancelot (formerly of the Round Table) and a parent making the ultimate sacrifice for her child and the woman he loves. In the present, the bonds of family continue to be strengthened, as Charming and Henry, Jefferson and Grace, and Snow and Emma face emotional turning points in their relationships.
Emma: I’m not used to someone putting me first.
Snow: Well get used to it.
My Thoughts This was—by far—my favorite episode of this season. One of the things I love most about Once Upon a Time is that everyone seems to have a different reason for watching/loving it. Some people love Regina the most. Some people watch for Rumplestiltskin and Belle. Some people live for the twists, and others watch for the romance. As for me, I watch it for every relationship within the “Charming family”: Henry, Emma, Snow and Charming. When those four characters and their interactions take center stage both in the present plot and the fairytale flashbacks, it is almost a guarantee that it will be one of my favorite episodes. This was no exception.
First, let’s talk about the events in Storybrooke. I’m really enjoying watching Charming learn how to be a parent (or in this case a grandparent) with Henry, including watching the struggles of taking responsibility for a very headstrong little boy. Josh Dallas has an amazing paternal chemistry with Jared Gilmore; he makes you believe the warmth and the instantaneous love Charming feels for Henry in gestures as simple but as important as kneeling or bending down to talk to him on his level whenever they have a big conversation. Their sword-fighting scene warmed my heart in the way only this show can, with a sentimentality that could have come across as cheesy but instead comes across as genuine because of the believability of the actors.
Another moment that warmed my heart was the reunion between Jefferson and his daughter. I’d been waiting for that moment since “Hat Trick” last season, and it did not disappoint. Sebastian Stan absolutely blew me away with the vulnerability he showed in this episode, both in his scene with Henry and in this reunion. He says so much with just his facial expressions, and that exquisite nonverbal acting was exactly what was needed to give his hug with Grace the gravitas necessary to make it a standout moment in an episode full of powerful scenes. Like every actor on this show, Stan excels at making you feel every ounce of what his character is feeling—to the point where you stop marveling at the acting and simply go along on the character’s journey.
Speaking of actors who make you feel every emotion, let’s start discussing the perfection that was Ginnifer Goodwin’s performance last night, shall we? Yes, the Fairytale Land flashbacks were kind of a moot point since we know that Snow ended up having a baby (and we could also assume Charming’s mother was dead since she was never mentioned in the pilot episode nor seen in Storybrooke). However, I didn’t care at all about the predictability of his mother giving up her chance at being healed to give Charming and Snow a chance at having a family, and that was because it brought out incredible performances from two actors who should be contractually obligated to share the screen at least once per episode (Dallas and Goodwin).
The real emotional weight in these flashbacks came not from Snow’s infertility but from the depth with which she and Charming wanted to have a family, the sacrifices made for that family to be possible, and the tragedy of the fact that this family never really got to exist. My heart broke when Charming’s mother talked about his dream to be a husband and father—not because Snow was unable in that moment to give him that but because that dream would ultimately be stolen from him by the curse. This show uses dramatic irony better than any other on television, and that was the case again in this episode. Our knowledge of the fact that they never were able to be a true family with the child they were both so excited to someday have made these flashbacks incredibly bittersweet, keeping the happiness from becoming too saccharine.
But despite the bittersweet nature of their scenes when looked at with knowledge of the curse, the joy between Snow and Charming was so palpable it was as if you could feel it radiating off the screen. Dallas and Goodwin have a chemistry that is deeper, brighter, and more genuine than any other on television right now (which is aided by their real-life romance, I’m sure). Whenever that chemistry is unleashed, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. I loved that they were given a private wedding before the very public ceremony that took place in the pilot episode. The love between Snow and Charming is something private and intimate, something just for them in the midst of their very public lives. I’m so happy the writers acknowledged that because this wedding allowed for the kind of intimate joy that we couldn’t see in the pilot because of the curse being cast.
I also have to take a moment to talk about the beauty of Goodwin and Dallas’s performances in the scene where Snow finds out that she’s no longer cursed. Goodwin is the master of tears of happiness, and they way her eyes shone when Snow told Charming that someday they were going to be parents definitely made me reach for the tissues. That, coupled with Dallas’s smile as he kissed her, made me truly feel how much the curse took from these characters. Emma was a child that was wanted so deeply by her parents, but she was never able to see that. And Charming and Snow would have surrounded her with so much love, but that chance was stolen from them. This storyline may have been a little predictable, but it was so important on an emotional level for each of the characters involved. It deepened the relationship between Snow and Charming, and it gave us a glimpse at the kind of parents they would have been, which was both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
The flashbacks also gave us a wonderful new addition in Lancelot. I won’t say much about him besides saying that I want more. I want his backstory. I want to know if he interacts with Snow and Charming again between this episode and the casting of the curse. I want to know what happened to the woman he loved (Guinevere?). Basically, I just want more of this smile on my screen sometime soon because a warrior with a noble heart and a romantic side is always going to win me over.
(Side note: He is not dead. I’m predicting this now. There is no way they would introduce such a great character with so much potential only to kill him offscreen. This may be the rambling of an overly-attached fangirl, but I really hope this is not the last we saw of Lancelot.)
And now it’s time for the plot that made me both laugh and cry the hardest this week. I really liked seeing Emma out of her element in Fairytale Land. She may be the savior, but we all know she’s far from perfect. She makes the wrong choices, and I like that she’s allowed to make mistakes and has been allowed to make mistakes since the pilot episode. I also like that she has to get used to the fact that her mom isn’t meek Mary Margaret; she’s warrior princess Snow White. Seeing Snow back to her fierce true self was one of my favorite things about this episode, and I loved seeing both she and Emma struggle to work through the power-shift in their dynamic now that they’re on Snow’s turf.
One of the best things about the way the writers on this show write their female characters is that they are allowed to be both tough-as-nails and emotionally vulnerable. That dichotomy was displayed to perfection in the scene between Emma and Snow in the nursery. I’m not sure Goodwin or Jennifer Morrison has ever been better in their time on this show. Morrison’s delivery of Emma’s speech was pitch-perfect. You could see the lost little girl inside of her finally coming to terms with what her parents had to do. In sacrificing her own chance be with Henry again in order to ensure his safety from Cora, she finally understood what Snow and Charming did to keep her safe. I loved the fact that this moment of acceptance took place in what should have been her home as both women process what they’d lost but also what they now have the chance to build with each other. Snow brushing Emma’s tears away and Emma laughing it off were such perfect little touches, adding to the raw, real feeling of this moment that has been over a season in the making.
Nothing in this episode, though, felt as raw or as real as Snow’s last look at the nursery. Goodwin’s face was a portrait of loss so profound it bordered on grief, and after the emotional journey of this episode we as an audience were able to truly feel how much she lost. Like all of the most moving moments on this show, it felt earned and not emotionally exploitive. The small flash to the image of the bright nursery in Snow’s vision of what should have been, before fading back to the ruins of the life she had once imagined for her family, was a brilliant touch.
In the end, this episode did very little to move the actual plot along, but I couldn’t care less. Once Upon a Time is at its best when it’s aiming for the heart instead of the head, and this episode was a direct hit to my heart in the best possible way.