Title Save Henry
Two-Sentence Summary As Operation Henry works to retrieve Henry’s heart from Peter Pan’s body and finally leave Neverland, flashbacks reveal why and how Regina adopted Henry. Although it appears the group will safely leave the torturous island once and for all (and with all the Lost Boys joining them onboard the Jolly Roger), it turns out Pan isn’t quite done with his games.
Regina: I need a child, Gold, and I need your help.
Gold: Well, I’m flattered—but uninterested.
My Thoughts Things are moving fast now as the first half of this season of Once Upon a Time draws to a close, but, for a show with such fascinating relationships to explore and such great actors to showcase, I’m not sure it’s a good thing that the pace seems to have accelerated exponentially in the last few weeks. I know there were some out there who were bored by the lack of progress in the earlier episodes of this season, but I loved them. I don’t watch this show for the action; I watch it for the characters. And, while “Save Henry” did provide some strong character moments, it had to fit so much into one episode that I felt some important emotional beats for characters not named Regina were missed.
Don’t get me wrong; I loved seeing Lana Parrilla get to unleash all of her acting powers once again after being more or less stuck as the sassy side commentator for the majority of this Neverland arc. I’m always left awestruck at the way Parrilla makes me feel for a character I should hate. Regina has done so many horrible things, and she’s done many of them to the family I care about most on this show (that would be the Charmings). But I’ll be damned if Parrilla doesn’t manage to tug at my heartstrings more often than I would ever expect. There’s such a fierce vulnerability and desperation for love that runs underneath her performance at all times, and that vulnerability is what keeps me caring about Regina despite everything she’s done. Yes, she’s a monster on many levels, but she’s also still—somewhere under all the menacing malice she uses as her armor—the very broken woman who was abused by her mother and manipulated by Rumplestiltskin into embracing the darkest parts of herself just to become a pawn in his quest to get back to his son.
I’m incredibly conflicted on how to view Regina, and sometimes I wonder if the writers get conflicted, too. In this episode, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to view her as worthy of redemption of irredeemable. I was surprised that she said she didn’t regret any of the evil things she’d done, and I’m not sure it was a good kind of surprised. In the moment, I cheered for her and thought it was such a strong moment of victory for Henry and against Pan, but upon further review, it’s hard for me to sympathize with a character who has caused people—even her own son—so much pain and regrets none of it.
I had the same feelings of conflicted frustration when she told Emma that she only had Henry while Emma had a lot of people who love her. Regina is alone because she pushed away (or killed/attempted to kill) anyone who wanted to let themselves into her heart. Yes, her love for Henry is a huge factor in why I think she is a complex and ultimately redeemable character, but to make it sound like Emma has been basking in love for years while Regina has been kept from any kind of love besides Henry’s through anyone’s fault other than her own is absurd. Regina is the very reason Emma had to endure such a lonely, loveless existence. It was an strong moment to show how much Regina loves her son (and it was acted brilliantly by Parrilla), but it did nothing other than make me love Emma even more for her respect for Regina and Henry’s relationship (while still asserting that Henry is indeed their son—not just Regina’s). Both of those scenes took Regina back to that delusional place she resided in for a lot of Season Two, which made me sad because I really liked the “Regina becoming self-aware” storyline that had been building this season.
Despite my reservations about Regina, I will never be able to deny that she is brought to life by an actress who is a force to be reckoned with. Parrilla was able to use every tool in her well-stocked arsenal in “Save Henry.” She was sharp-tongued (calling Neal “that person” was a perfect way to show her indifference towards him). She was gleefully evil. She was panicked. She was determined. She was awkward. She was lost. She was paranoid. She was warm. And she was loving. To play such a range of emotions within one episode is a tall order, but to play them all perfectly is just another day at the office for Parrilla. In the flashbacks, watching her grow from a lonely woman to a struggling new parent to a mother who loves her child fiercely was a joy for anyone who is a fan of strong acting.
I loved watching Parrilla get to interact with some of my favorite scene partners for her in the flashbacks. Regina’s relationship with Archie has always fascinated me because she seems willing to open up to him in a way she refuses to do with anyone else, and I love watching Parrilla and Raphael Sbarge share screen time. I also loved the no-nonsense, sarcastic interactions between Regina and Dr. Whale. It’s always nice to see David Anders back on Once Upon a Time. Finally, I will always adore watching Parrilla work opposite Robert Carlyle. From their moments in the dungeon before the curse hit to their tense standoff in Gold’s shop, all of their scenes crackled with the intensity I’ve come to expect from these two actors. They elevate each other’s performances, and it’s so much fun to watch them play. This was especially true for Carlyle in the dungeon flashback; seeing him in full “Rumple mode” again made me remember what a genius this man really is.
Did the adoption storyline feel somewhat anticlimactic after waiting so long to be told? Yes. But was it still a story that needed to be told? Yes. And just because I was expecting something more magical from the story of how Henry came to be Regina’s, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun watching what we were given. The twist with the Darlings was very smart, and I did enjoy the fact that Regina wasn’t a natural mother right away. Parrilla did such a great job of physically showing her awkwardness around Henry; it could have been funny, but in her able hands, it was heartbreaking.
The best part of the story with Regina and Henry was the way it ended. I found it strange that Regina discovered Emma’s identity, but the handling of that reveal was done very well and proved to be a very smart comparison to some other parent/child relationships on this show. Regina had a choice: she could give in to her fear and continue to seek power in her quest for revenge, or she could choose to love her son without anything holding her back. She chose to let go of her fear and need for power in order to do the best thing for Henry, which is something we haven’t seen very often on this show. Putting aside whatever else she may have done or may do, Regina loves her son. That doesn’t make her a hero, but it certainly makes her less of a villain. It makes her a woman capable of choosing love over fear and power, which is an explicit parallel to other characters on the show who were initially incapable of making that choice.
At the end of the day, this was an episode for the Evil Regals, the Regina lovers, and even for those of us who just like to sit back and marvel at Parrilla’s amazing acting. But, while I respect those fans who love Regina above all others (and their ability to recognize a great actress when they see one), Regina isn’t my favorite character. Emma is, and it made me sad to see her relegated to a background role in the story she’s led for this entire season. Even more than the surprisingly bland adoption story, Emma taking a backseat to Regina in the final stage of saving Henry felt like a letdown. I respect the decision to give Regina her moment to be a fierce mama bear after a season of having Emma almost exclusively wear that title, but I wanted this to feel more like a team effort than a victory for Regina. I understand this was Regina’s episode, and I understand that Regina was Henry’s only mother for 11 years. But this season has spoiled me as an Emma fan; I wanted more of her in action, more of her emotions about Henry, and more of her leadership skills put on display.
This was an episode that worked best for me in its smallest, character-driven moments. I cried when Regina kissed baby Henry for the first time. I couldn’t stop smiling when Snow got to hold her grandson without even knowing who he was. (Seriously, though, I dare you not to get a few happy tears in your eyes watching mom-to-be Ginnifer Goodwin look down at that little baby with so much warmth and love.) I felt my heart grow three sizes when Emma told the Lost Boys she was once a lost girl, too, but she found a lot of people who love her (her parents, Neal, and Hook). Emma’s journey from a lost girl to a loved girl found an even greater purpose in this episode, and I was floored by how beautifully and vulnerably Jennifer Morrison played Emma’s kinship with that smallest Lost Boy.
And I loved every single character interaction on the deck of the Jolly Roger. It was music to my ears to hear Neal finally call Rumplestiltskin “Papa” again, and I loved his genuine warmth towards his own son, too. Those three characters have such an interesting story of fathers, sons, and forgiveness to tell, and I can’t wait for it to keep playing out. Everything Josh Dallas did was once again wonderful—from his continued placement of his hand on the back of Emma’s head when they hug (such a protective gesture) to the way he delivered his lines about being proud of Emma with just the right amount of sincerity to show that he respects her as a leader and an adult but still loves her as his daughter, too. It’s interesting to me that Charming seems to be much better at relating to Emma and understanding her than Snow. And I just have to once again applaud Colin O’Donoghue for melting my heart with his genuine smile when Henry was revived and his enthusiastic offering of his captain’s quarters for his “guest of honor.”
In an episode that was all about how Regina’s love for Henry is her saving grace, Hook’s instant affection for the boy was important because it reinforced the idea that caring for someone can become more important than the need for revenge. In this season’s premiere, Hook referred to Rumplestiltskin as his guest of honor, but now that title is reserved for Henry. It shows how much this man has changed in his time back in Neverland. What began as an attempt to move past the dark shroud of hatred and bitterness still covering his life became a journey that taught him how to love again. Henry—a symbol of hope, light, and love—is his guest of honor now. Searching for Henry brought meaning back to Hook’s life after 300 years of living only for himself. So his warmth towards the boy was about so much more than just loving Henry as Emma’s son. It was about caring for someone more important than his own interests and being glad to do so.
Speaking of Hook being glad to do something for someone else, did anybody else love the latest “As you wish” reference in this episode? I love that this line is becoming a recurring one for Hook and Emma—and not just because of its Princess Bride connotations. In this episode, Hook delivered that line with the respect of a lieutenant towards his leader, and that’s important for Emma to hear. He will do what she wishes, which is rare for a woman whose wishes have gone unheeded for most of her life.
And now we come to this episode’s very fun conclusion. I did not see the body-swapping twist coming, but I’m so happy it did. I thought everything with Pan wrapped up way too neatly, so this was a great way to keep the conflict alive while getting out of Neverland. And I’m excited for what this means for the actors. I’m looking forward to seeing Jared Gilmore try his hand at something much more sinister than hopeful Henry. Most of all, though, I’m eager to see what the brilliant Robbie Kay does with Henry’s character. Anything that keeps this actor on my TV screen for as long as possible is a good thing in my book.
“Save Henry” may have felt a bit rushed (I wanted so much more from those Jolly Roger family scenes) and a bit anticlimactic at times, but its conclusion was climactic enough to keep me on the edge of my seat until next Sunday.