There’s one scene in each of my favorite TV shows that takes me from “I like this show” to “I’m all in.” Usually, this is a scene that makes me cry. When I find myself becoming emotionally invested in these characters to the point where I cry because of them, I know there’s no turning back.
In the case of Once Upon a Time, that scene is the moment in the pilot when Snow White and Prince Charming have to send their newborn daughter, Emma, into our world by herself in order to protect her from the Evil Queen’s curse.
The depth of emotion in this scene is so rare for a pilot, but it’s what we’ve come to expect from actors as talented as Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin. Goodwin is especially brilliant in this scene because she goes through so many different types of pain—the physical pain of labor, the pain of losing her daughter, the pain of knowing she might never see her husband again—and yet still remains a pillar of strength. This is the scene that made Snow my favorite Once Upon a Time character.
My emotions during this scene progress as the action does. I feel Snow’s pain as she struggles through labor (Goodwin does an incredible job with some very realistic screaming), but the tears don’t start until we get our first (and last) glimpse of that happy family together. I love the way the scene shifts so suddenly when Snow realizes Emma has to go into the wardrobe by herself. She’s so deadly serious in that moment, so desperate for her husband to see that Emma needs to be given her best chance. And when she kisses her daughter goodbye before doing the same to her husband, I find myself in awe of this character and her sense of parental love and sacrifice.
Snow gave up everything to make sure her daughter was saved from the curse. After Charming leaves and she finally lets her grief show, I can’t help but sob right along with her. There’s something so raw, so primal, and so real about Goodwin’s tears in that moment—it’s hard to watch, but the best emotional moments often are. In that moment, this character is no longer the poised Disney princess we all thought we knew; she is a brokenhearted mother who is forced to give up her baby, to make an unthinkable choice and simply hope that she’s doing the right thing.
And the tears don’t stop there. If you don’t find yourself getting a little emotional at the sight of Charming with his sword in one hand and his baby girl in the other, then you must have a heart of stone. Like Snow, this idea of Prince Charming as a father willing to do anything to see his daughter find safety elevates him from the stuff of fairytales to the stuff of real, human drama. When he uses his last bit of strength to make sure Emma got through the wardrobe, I cry because this incredible father is willing to literally give up his life to protect his child.
Once Upon a Time is a show filled with emotional moments, but none has ever hit me like this one did and continues to so long after I first saw it.