Title Selfless, Brave and True
Two-Sentence Summary While attempting to work through her guilt over Cora’s death and the newly-discovered “dark spot” on her heart, Snow finds a wooden August hiding outside Storybrooke. Flashbacks show us how August’s selfish, hedonistic lifestyle led to his turning back into wood, and they reveal a connection between August and Neal’s fiancée Tamara, who is far more evil (and far less interested in Neal) than she appears.
Favorite Line “And I know it better than anyone.” (Charming, talking about Snow’s heart)
My Thoughts This episode proved something that I hope the Once Upon a Time writers take to heart, if not for this season than hopefully for the seasons to come: This show works when it focuses on emotional beats between characters we have come to care about over the course of the show. It doesn’t work when it becomes too plot-heavy or asks us to care about the motivations of characters we barely know. The best moments of this episode focused on characters we as an audience have deep emotional ties to, but those moments were so few and far between that it’s hard to count this episode among the show’s better efforts.
Overall, I didn’t hate this episode with the passion that many in the fandom seem to be feeling today. However, my biggest issue with this episode is my issue with this season as a whole, and it’s getting harder and harder for me to ignore. There are simply too many characters already to justify introducing new ones into the cast. There are so many loose ends for existing characters that need to be tied up, so many unanswered questions that I have, such as: Did Kathryn and Frederick ever find each other? Will Red and Victor ever pursue a relationship? What are Mulan and Aurora doing right now? Where’s Cinderella, and how’s motherhood treating her? What is Jefferson up to?
I understand that some of these questions have to remain unanswered because of casting/scheduling conflicts, but it bothers me that moments of development for characters we already care about are being pushed aside in favor of introducing more and more characters who, frankly, I just don’t care about.
I was drawn to Once Upon a Time because of the Charming Family: Snow, David, Emma, and Henry. Last season, there were so many beautiful moments between these characters, but this season—when there should be even more reason for them to have meaningful, emotional conversations—their relationships are watered down for the sake of the increasingly complex plot. I know that this is a personal preference, but I don’t watch this show for the plot twists; I watch it for the relationships. And this episode left me feeling disappointed with some missed opportunities: When are Emma and Charming going to have a real father/daughter-type scene? Will Charming ever find out that either he or Snow could have gone through the wardrobe with Emma? Will Emma ever find out that her mother tried to commit suicide by begging Regina to rip out her heart?
Instead of answering theses questions, the episode chose to focus on raising new questions about a character that I can’t bring myself to care about, at least not yet. I understand making Tamara evil in order to set up an Emma/Neal romance in the future, but I’ve always hated that trope (see Lauren Reed in Season 3 of Alias). Initially, I was ready to be drawn into her story (my first prediction was that she was Tinkerbell), but her character was a little too one-note for my liking. For a show that does complex villains as good as any I’ve watched, I just wasn’t feeling the writing for Tamara’s character. I think Sonequa Martin-Green did a solid job with what she was given (her “evil stare” was both chilling and gorgeous), but after Cora was just killed I was ready to take a break from the villains for a while.
It didn’t help that Tamara’s story took over a big part of August’s story. I wanted more character moments for August in this episode (especially because Eion Bailey is a fantastic actor and great in this role), but instead he seemed like almost a plot device for the introduction of Tamara as the new “Big Bad.” I wanted more of August—talking with Neal and Emma about his part in her jail time, redeeming himself not by standing up to Tamara but by doing right by Emma because that’s the relationship I care about. But sadly, we’ll never seen any of that. We’ll never get the big confrontation between Bailey and Jennifer Morrison that I’ve been dreaming of since “Tallahassee.”
Because they turned August back into a child. UGH. UGH. A million times UGH. I understand that casting issues made it impossible to keep Bailey on the show, but this felt like such a cop-out. I know it’s better than dying, but to have 28 years of life experience and memories ripped from you is a pretty sad fate. But, in the same breath, it almost feels like he got off too easily because after everything he did he gets a completely clean slate, while Snow is still suffering the guilt and condemnation from one moment of darkness. And it’s especially awful for Emma, who will never have all the answers about her life now and who lost a confidant (and perhaps a potential love interest in the eyes of certain members of the Once Upon a Time fandom).
August’s character fascinated me. He was asked to do so much as a child, and I wanted to see more of how that burden weighed on him. I wanted a more emotionally intense road to redemption. But shoving an entire character arc into one episode while also setting the stage for a new villain made August’s story shallower than I was hoping it would be.
On the whole, this episode felt entirely too plot-heavy. Too much happened in too short an amount of time for the majority of it to resonate on any kind of emotional level. Plus, there were just too many things taking me out of the episode:
• Why does David still call Snow “Mary Margaret”? That one bothers me more than any other Fairytale Land/Storybrooke name issues. You married Snow, David, not Mary Margaret.
• On a related note, why is Snow the only one who seems to have retained a huge portion of her cursed identity? David Nolan has disappeared entirely. Ruby exists in name only. But Snow has been missing a huge part of her spark and strength for the majority of this season (since she returned with Emma from the Enchanted Forest). This character is so much more passive than Snow ever was before, and I’d buy it if the other characters acted like their cursed selves more, but that seems to be reserved most dramatically for Snow. I think it bothered me so much in this episode because that passive “I can’t slap anyone—that’s not me!” attitude was contrasted with that awesome scene of Snow shooting arrows and listening to Joan Jett like the badass we all know she is.
• A magical Taser? Really? That’s what’s going to take down major character? A Taser?
• August’s death scene was really poorly written in terms of the actual dialogue. I love cheese just as much as the next person, but Emma talking about him dying in vain was too much.
• Why is Snow slapping Gepetto supposed to be a sign of some great evil inside her? That was a perfectly normal and justifiable reaction to finding out that the man standing in front of you lied to your face and is the reason your daughter grew up an orphan and had such a horrible life. Snow, it’s okay to get angry. And Emma, you should be a little angrier. Yes, Morrison’s face when Gepetto confessed was heartbreaking (the woman can do so much with one look), but it felt out-of-character for Emma to be so quick to forgive the man who effectively ruined her life. It was almost like they needed to make Snow look bad, so they made Emma look uncharacteristically moralistic by comparison.
Ultimately, the saving graces for this episode were the two final scenes between the members of the Charming Family. Morrison and Jared Gilmore have always had incredible parent/child chemistry, and I’ve missed that for the majority of this season. I was so happy to see Henry forgive Emma because their relationship has been part of what’s felt so “off” for me about these last few episodes. This was the true love that broke the curse, and, without it, the show has suffered, in my opinion. It was good to have it back.
Finally, the scene between Snow and Charming was everything I’d been hoping for since this whole “Dark Snow” storyline began. All I wanted was for someone to show Snow that just because Regina said she was going to become evil doesn’t mean that’s the truth. It may have been true for Regina, but Snow isn’t Regina. And that’s because she has people who love her.
Charming is such a beautiful character. (If you think he’s “boring,” then I have nothing to say to you—except I’d take this “boring” man over all of the other men on this show in a heartbeat.) He’ll always find Snow, even when she thinks she’s lost herself. Because Charming is a man of faith, and that faith has always been rooted in his faith in his wife. And that’s what Snow needs as she struggles with what she’s done—someone to have faith in her, to love her for exactly who she is, to focus on the parts of her heart that aren’t dark rather than the one part that is. What she needed was her husband, the man who knows heart better than anyone (and how perfectly earnest was Josh Dallas’s delivery of that line?).
Yes, only Snow can save herself from becoming lost to the darkness inside of her—the darkness we all have inside us. But she doesn’t have to save herself alone. Redemption doesn’t have to be a solitary journey. True love—a true marriage—is about having someone to stand beside you in good times and in bad, to remind you of your best self when you believe it to be lost forever. True love is solid, stable—a point of light and hope in the darkest moments of our lives. And that’s what this scene showed more poignantly than any other.
Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin were absolutely breathtaking in this scene. They made me truly feel the depth of love between these two characters. These two actors bring out the best in each other in the same way that their characters bring out the best in each other. As scene partners, they’re very much equals; you can tell he draws strength from her emotional honesty as an actress, and you can tell he’s her rock in these tough scenes. The Snow/Charming marriage will always be my favorite thing about Once Upon a Time, and it’s because of these actors and scenes like this one.
I’m skeptical about where the show is heading at this point, but I’m willing to reserve judgment until these storylines and characters have more time to develop. If the “Dark Snow” story I was so judgmental about gave us such a poignant and perfect Snow/Charming scene, then maybe all this Tamara stuff will create something beautiful, too.