Two-Sentence Summary As Emma and Hook climb a beanstalk to retrieve a magical compass that could be the key to getting back to Storybrooke, we learn about Emma’s past as a thief, how she ended up in jail, and how it all connects to the mystery of Henry’s father. Meanwhile, Aurora and Henry are both plagued by eerily similar nightmares brought on by their time under the effects of the sleeping curse.
Emma: Don’t think I’m taking my eyes off you for a second.
Hook: I would despair if you did.
My Thoughts I had been waiting for this episode since I saw the pilot, eagerly anticipating the time when we got to take a closer look at one of the most interesting and important stories Once Upon a Time will ever tell: the story of how Emma came to have Henry at 18 years old while in jail. This episode answered so many important questions about Emma, while raising a surprising number of them as well.
My one major gripe with this episode was the really poor quality of the special effects in terms of the giant and his lair. I can usually ignore the bad effects because I’m so engrossed in the story, but these were distractingly bad. I think I was especially bothered because they distracted me from Jorge Garcia’s guest role as the giant, which was something I was really looking forward to.
However, the chemistry between Emma and Captain Hook was almost blinding enough to make me forget the bad green-screen work around them. Jennifer Morrison has incredible chemistry with any actor she’s paired with on this show, and her sparks with Colin O’Donoghue rival hers with Sebastian Stan (my personal favorite match for her in terms of chemistry, and probably hers, too). I’m really enjoying the lovable roughish side of Hook; he’s a delicious mixture of the traditional Disney villain and Jack Sparrow, with the eyeliner, love for rum, and buckets full of flirtatious charm. The scene with him tying the bandage on her hand was all kind of wonderful, and their entire dynamic throughout the episode (with them both challenging each other) had me seeing some immense potential in a possible Hook/Emma pairing.
The most interesting part of the Hook/Emma partnership in this episode, though, was the way it worked to show Emma’s development as a character when viewed in conjunction with the flashbacks. When she left Hook handcuffed in the giant’s lair, it showed that she’d learned her lesson about trusting bad boys, no matter how attractive they may seem. There was a hardness to Emma in that moment that really spoke to how much hurt she still carries with her from Neal’s believed betrayal; her resolve was both sad and empowering, and I give Morrison a lot of credit for being able to pull that dichotomy off convincingly.
Morrison had to bring her A-game as an actress to make this episode work on both a plot level and an emotional one, and she did that and more. It wasn’t until this episode ended that I really found a full appreciation for what she’s done with Emma as a character throughout the course of the show so far. She’s given Emma such a believable hardness and jaded view on the world and on relationships in particular that it was almost like a shock to my system to see her so young, happy, and in love in these flashbacks. Morrison may not have looked 17, but she certainly convinced me through her performance. Her smiles, her relaxed body language, her expressive tone of voice, and the brightness in her eyes were all so different from any way we’ve ever seen Emma before. There was something so relaxed, open, and youthfully reckless in Morrison’s performance, and the way it contrasted with the detached and cautious way she plays adult Emma proves that Morrison is an acting force capable of holding her own against any of the talented members of this cast (if last season’s finale didn’t already prove that to you).
Once Upon a Time has always used dramatic irony in a wonderfully affecting way. Last season, it was used to get the maximum emotional resonance from moments between Emma and Mary Margaret because we knew that they were family even though they had no idea. In this episode, the writers once again used dramatic irony to put tears in my eyes, but this time it was seeing Emma so happy and hopeful while knowing what she didn’t know yet: She was going to end up with all of that hope lost, giving birth to a son in a jail cell and losing the love she’d found. The way Morrison’s eyes lit up when Emma says the word “home” to Neal absolutely broke my heart because I knew that Emma had been searching for a real home for her entire life, but, once again, she was going to have that taken from her.
And the way it was taken from her was nothing I ever could have seen coming. When Neal was getting chased, I told my sister that I thought it might be August, and when I found out I was right, I actually started clapping—that’s how good a twist I thought it was. I love that August is such a complex character; I understand him and his motives and find myself furious with him at the same time. He has a bigger role than just making sure Emma is happy, but did she really have to go to jail and lose the man she loved just to discover her destiny? There’s something refreshing about August being an incredibly flawed character. He tried to do the right thing, but that right thing came with some horrible consequences for a young woman who had no idea that her life was being manipulated.
The parallel between Regina and Emma both being manipulated by men can’t be accidental. It’s interesting to see how it led to both of them becoming darker, colder people—their entire demeanors changing because they lost the men they loved in order to become unknowing pawns in other people’s games. The last scene of Emma in the jail cell with the positive pregnancy test was so powerful because the light that we saw in Emma throughout the flashbacks was gone; the lack of emotion on her face was breathtaking in the saddest of ways. And it’s even sadder to think that she’s wrong; Neal did love her.
That brings me to the biggest question in this episode: What could possibly have been in that box to make Neal believe August about Emma’s destiny and the curse? Was Neal from Fairytale Land, and the box held the book or some sort of reference to his identity? I’m holding on to two theories right now: 1.) Neal is Bae, Rumplestiltskin’s son, and the box featured a drawing of the Dark One’s dagger or 2.) Neal is Peter Pan, and the box featured something from Neverland or just his story in the book. There could also be a melding of these theories in which Bae is Peter Pan. Either way, I loved this question being raised because it has emotional stakes. The answer means something not just to us as an audience but to these characters as well. There has to be a compelling reason for Bae believing August enough to abandon Emma despite his love for her, and I want to know what that is more for the emotional payoff than the plot payoff.
The other question this episode raised that has huge emotional stakes was: What’s the importance of Henry and Aurora sharing the same dream? I feel like this is going to be a way for the two groups of characters to communicate between worlds, but I’m still wondering how it’s going to work. Even without the interesting plot speculation surrounding the dreams, the scenes featuring the nightmares were wonderfully acted by all involved. I like that Aurora finally has a purpose, and I loved the way Jared Gilmore played Henry’s fear so convincingly.
More than anything, though, I loved what these scenes did for the Snow White/Prince Charming relationship without them even sharing the screen. Ginnifer Goodwin’s delivery of Snow’s story about Charming helping her through the nightmares (which she definitely still has) was beautiful. Her face was the perfect portrait of love and longing. It was finally clear to me how deeply she misses her husband, the one person this incredibly strong princess could be vulnerable in front of. I loved the mirroring of words, vocal tone, and body language in both Snow and Charming’s reactions to Aurora and Henry—they clearly have experienced these nightmares a painful number of times before. I hope the writers decide to give us a flashback to Snow having a nightmare just because I know Goodwin and Josh Dallas will knock that scene out of the park.
Seeing Charming and especially Snow so nurturing and parental towards Henry and Aurora once again reminded me of how much the curse stole from their entire family. These are two people who would have made wonderful parents, and this episode showed how receptive Emma would have been to their love when she was younger. I was so happy to see the moment between Snow and Emma at the end of the episode (especially Emma initiating the hug); Goodwin and Morrison bring out such great things from each other as actresses. They make me believe their mother-daughter relationship despite the whole “same age” thing, and that takes some great acting.
“Tallahassee” furthered my belief that any episode focusing on the Charming Family is automatically going to be one of my favorites. Emma is one of my favorite characters on this show, and that opinion was only strengthened with learning about her past. I can’t wait for more of her story to be told, I can’t wait for Neal to get to Storybrooke and find out about his son, and I can’t wait for next week’s Red-centric episode. This season is really hitting its stride right now, and I couldn’t be happier.