Title Going Home
Two-Sentence Summary Pan’s plan to once again cast the Dark Curse (this time with fatal consequences) on the residents of Storybrooke has powerful ramifications for every character, especially Rumplestiltskin, who must finally decide if the price of destroying his father is one he is willing to pay. Regina finds a way to destroy the curse, but it comes with its own price: The inhabitants of Storybrooke will all go back to the land they came from, except for Emma, who is allowed to stay with Henry, but both are left without any memories of their time in Storybrooke—a fate Hook plans to change upon arriving at Emma’s New York City apartment one year later.
Favorite Line “You’re not a villain; you’re my mom.” (Henry, to Regina)
My Thoughts Well I certainly didn’t see that coming. Rumplestiltskin dying (or “dying”—we can only hope), Emma and Henry losing their memories of Storybrooke, fake memories of a world where Emma never gave Henry up, Hook crossing realms to help Emma remember who she really is, the intensity of the emotional trauma I felt while watching— I didn’t see any of it coming. And I loved it.
Yes, the plot surprised me, but what really shocked me was just how visceral my emotional reaction was to what was happening onscreen. This episode had the feeling of a series finale, and that was for a reason. “Going Home” changed the game, and it did so in a brutally emotional fashion. When I say it reminded me at times of “Through the Looking Glass”—the finale of LOST’s third season—I mean that with the highest respect. It appears that Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis learned a lot from their time as LOST writers, not the least of which being how to craft a finale (even just a midseason one).
Perhaps the biggest thing I learned from LOST (and Alias before it) was that I’m not a person who needs all the answers when it comes to the TV shows I watch. I can deal with unanswered questions, confusing plot threads, and even the occasional inconsistency or plot hole if I’m emotionally engaged in an episode. I don’t need to feel 100% intellectually satisfied by an episode, but I do need to feel 100% emotionally invested. I care about a show’s characters infinitely more than any plot twists or big mysteries it can throw at me. That’s why I watch Once Upon a Time. I don’t care all that much about the rules of magic or the finer points of curses. I care about Emma, Henry, Snow, Charming, Regina, Rumplestiltskin, Neal, Hook, Belle, Tinker Bell, and all of the other characters I’ve come to love over the last two and a half seasons. I care about the people far more than the intricacies of the plot.
For as much as this episode will be defined by the emotions it evoked, there was a lot of plot packed in there, too—probably more than there needed to be. The flashbacks especially felt unnecessary for the most part: Charming and Snow’s was only really useful in dropping a hint that the Blue Fairy was somehow behind Henry’s storybook; Hook and Tink’s reinforced the idea that he’s become a changed man through loving Emma (and once again proved that Colin O’Donoghue is a walking chemistry experiment with every actor he shares a scene with); Henry and Mary Margaret’s brought the attention back to the storybook; Belle and Rumplestitlskin’s just made me sad in hindsight (and felt odd because it seemed to contradict “Skin Deep” in terms of Belle’s knowledge of Bae); and Emma’s was just a way to draw a parallel to the episode’s conclusion. They worked on an emotional level throughout, but I feel like one or more of them could have been cut to make things like the Charming Family farewell or Blue’s resurrection a little longer.
However, the multiple flashbacks led me to believe that this could have been the show’s way of saying goodbye to this method of storytelling. I think we’re going to get flashbacks to fill in the time jump, but I’m not sure we’re going to go back to pre-cursed times again.
The beginning of this episode felt a little bit like a checklist: Reveal the thing Pan loves most? Check. Explain how to stop the curse? Check. Destroy Pan’s shadow? Check. Find out what happened to Blue? Check. Get Tink her wings back? Check. Switch Henry and Pan back into their own bodies? Check and check.
While things moved along at a breakneck pace for the first half of the episode, there were certainly a smattering of exceptional moments in between the heavy plotting. I thought Jared Gilmore was excellent once again at playing Pan. The entire exchange where he took Felix’s heart was so gloriously evil. But my favorite moment in these early scenes belonged to Tink. Only Once Upon a Time could get me to say that a fairy getting her wings back moved me to tears. For a character we haven’t seen much of yet, I can’t help but love her. She’s got steel in her spine, spunk in her line delivery, and a story that’s all about believing in yourself. In fact, I was so thrilled for Tink that I basically glossed over Blue’s resurrection. Maybe if it would have been addressed like the crazy twist it was I would have cared more, but it was treated in kind of a mundane fashion by all the other characters, so I treated it the same way. (At least now I know why her death wasn’t a big deal last week.)
The emotional thrust of the episode really began once we got to Gold’s shop, starting with the moment Emma and Snow shared about her unicorn mobile. For the first time this season, I could feel the unforced love between mother and daughter, and I think a lot of that came from the fact that Snow wasn’t pushing, so Emma wasn’t pushing away. In fact, Emma’s line about liking the unicorns was such a beautiful way to show that she was—for at least that moment—receptive to her mother’s love. “Going Home” was an episode that centered around acceptance, and, for Emma, it was about accepting love from people she usually pushed away. Listening to her bond with her mother over their regrets about not being able to raise their children was beautiful but heartbreaking.
In what was quite possibly the exact opposite of a mother and daughter smiling over unicorns, Pan and Rumplestiltskin laid all their cards on the table in Gold’s shop, and the result was horrifying. If this episode really was Robbie Kay’s swan song, then I can’t imagine a better way for him to go out. His speech about his abhorrence of fatherhood was absolutely brutal and disgusting (Who calls their child a larva?). For once, we were given a villain who had no tearful backstory or eleventh-hour confession of parental love. All we saw before us was a twisted little sociopath, the only man in any realm who could turn the Dark One back into the man who used to cower in a corner. Robert Carlyle was excellent in the way he transformed from calm, controlled power to complete desperation and fear. But that scene belonged to Kay. To be as young as he is and to be able to deliver such a gut-wrenching monologue with perfect gravitas is no small feat. Never before has Pan been so worthy of Hook’s description of him as a “bloody demon.”
Pan freezing the townspeople before “monologuing” about who to kill first was a little over-the-top, but, to be honest, I cared more about what was going in Gold’s shop. At first, I was certain Rumplestiltskin was going to cut off his own hand to parallel what he did to Hook as well as his own self-mutilation to escape the Ogre War (but this time doing it out of bravery rather than cowardice). But I actually liked it better to see him confront his father without magic. If this is truly the end of Rumplestiltskin (and until I see a body I’m going to say it isn’t), then his character arc ended as it should have—with him doing the brave thing and sacrificing not only his magic but his very life for his son and his True Love. I’m still not 100% sure why he had to die in order to kill Pan, but this was a moment where plot implications and unanswered questions could not have been further from my mind. All that mattered was this man, whom we’ve watched struggle to fight his cowardice for hundreds of years, finally doing the hard thing for the sake of those he loves. I didn’t care about the details; all I cared about was this character and his final act of forgiveness towards a father who never stopped hating him, his final act of acceptance of his own fate, and his final act of love. All I cared about was his son being able to see it happen, and, really, all I cared about was Belle’s heartbreaking reaction. “Rumbelle” is not my favorite relationship on the show, but I’ll be damned if any single moment in this sad, sad episode was worse than watching her legs give way under the weight of her grief (while no one comforted her—Seriously, guys? No one?).
After that, the emotional sucker punches kept on coming, and they never let up. I loved the way Rumplestiltskin’s words about villains not getting a happy ending had a visible impact on Regina. In keeping with the theme of acceptance, Regina had to accept her responsibility in casting the original curse, and she had to pay the price for her actions. To see not only such self-awareness but such selflessness from Regina was beautiful; it was true character development that felt organic, believable, and earned. Regina’s selfish hatred allowed the curse to be cast, but her selfless love proved to be enough to save everyone. In her own way, Regina got to play the role of savior this time around, which reinforced the idea of Emma and Regina being two sides of the same coin.
Regina didn’t just have to give up Henry, though; both Emma and Henry had to give up everyone else. Jennifer Morrison completely sold Emma’s panic and desperation when she learned she and Henry wouldn’t be able to go back to the Enchanted Forest. For a woman who had been abandoned so many times, this final abandonment was almost too much for her to take.
The farewell scene at the town line had the distinct feel of a series finale, which meant—naturally—that I cried like a baby throughout the whole thing. It started when Emma hugged her parents, but nothing could have prepared me for how much Henry’s goodbye to Regina was going to hurt. She was once defined by her quest for revenge, but now she can be redefined by her selfless love for her son. Redemption has never felt more possible for this character, and I have never cared about, respected, and rooted for her more.
Emma and Henry saying goodbye to Neal was a moment filled with the pain of closure never secured and new memories never begun, but I loved that he’s not giving up on his family—especially his son. His faith in seeing them again felt genuine, and I liked that he was the first one to voice hope that someday Emma and Henry would come back to them.
And then there’s Hook. Is it just me, or does O’Donoghue now rival Josh Dallas in terms of getting the most romantic lines on the show? I think it’s because—like Dallas—he has a way of making everything he says seem improbably genuine. In my opinion, “There’s not a day that will go by that I won’t think of you,” is right up there with “What’s 28 years when you have eternal love?” as one of the show’s most swoon-worthy lines.
But the best part of Hook’s goodbye wasn’t even his line. It was Emma’s reaction. If this episode was all about acceptance, then this moment was about Emma finally accepting Hook’s love instead of putting her walls up again. When she said “Good” with such intensity in her eyes, she was finally allowing herself to let him love her. And she finally allowed herself to accept that she wanted him to love her. In doing so, she gave him hope; it’s written all over his face after she speaks. This was such a huge moment of character development for Emma, a woman who not long before had trouble accepting and acknowledging love from even her own parents.
The final two farewell moments were the most powerful, in my opinion. I was in awe of Morrison’s vulnerability in the moment when Snow said goodbye to Emma. When Snow first held Emma’s face like that in Season Two’s “Broken,” Emma was scared, unsure, and uncomfortable. But now, you could feel her desperation to have any of those moments back with the the mother she could never find the right footing with. In saying goodbye to Snow, Emma was saying goodbye to not only her mother, but her friend. She was about to lose her memories of ever being loved by her mother and also of ever having known Mary Margaret Blanchard, the woman who was her best friend and family even before they knew what they really were to one another. (I’m sorry, I have to take a moment to cry again.)
And then there was Emma’s last scene with Regina. The revelation that Emma and Henry would have no memory of Storybrooke absolutely destroyed me. But the sadness of that moment was coupled with the warmth I felt when Regina offered to give Emma happy memories of a good life with her son. (Does anyone think she gave Emma and Henry some of her own memories of his childhood to keep those memories alive in our world?) This final act of kindness was almost too beautiful for me to handle, and it was the most surprisingly believable way of redeeming Regina in my eyes.
As Emma and Henry drove away from Storybrooke, all I could do was sob. Part of me felt angry and cheated that two years of emotional attachment to these relationships was being destroyed (even though I know the memory loss won’t last). Part of me felt unbelievably happy that Emma was getting a fresh start with her son and a chance to raise him without the pressure of being the savior. And part of me felt incredibly sad that she had to lose all the other people she loved and who loved her in the process. The juxtaposition of the “new” flashback of Emma holding Henry was perfect; it may not have been “real,” but Emma believes it’s real. And believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing. This season began with Emma’s admission that she couldn’t be a mother, and it built to this moment of Emma accepting what she sees as her most important role—not the savior, but Henry’s mother. The flashback may be a false memory, but it’s a visual manifestation of Emma’s journey so far—from a lost and broken woman who believed she was incapable of being a mother to a woman whose acceptance of her role as mother changes everything.
The beautiful score and the gorgeous cinematography when the curse descended on Storybrooke as Emma and Henry drove away combined to create a scene of lasting emotional power the likes of which I haven’t seen since LOST. The lack of dialogue and the focus on Emma’s eyes in the rearview mirror (peaceful and happy as her new memories took hold) allowed me to focus on just how bittersweet this moment was for these two characters—who were able to hold on to each other but lose everything else, even though they no longer knew what they lost.
If that was the end of the episode, I think I would still be an emotional wreck today. (I mean, more of an emotional wreck than I already am.) Thankfully, we got that glorious final scene that began with a twist I should have seen coming but was so happy I didn’t—One Year Later. It made so much sense to do a time jump with Gilmore’s journey into puberty and Ginnifer Goodwin’s increasingly obvious pregnancy, but I’ll admit to being completely floored when I saw it. It was once again bittersweet to see Emma and Henry enjoying their new life together in New York City (the hot cocoa with cinnamon was a lovely detail), but that bittersweet feeling changed to pure excitement when someone knocked on Emma’s apartment door. And never have I been so happy to see Hook. (I actually kicked off the blanket I was wearing in a fit of celebration.)
There was so much to love about those final moments. Hook’s giddy “At last,” which reinforced the idea that not a day went by that he didn’t think of her (and we all know how much I’ve been waiting to see someone fight for Emma like she deserves to be fought for and to come back for her instead of abandoning her). His pathetically (but hilariously) misguided attempt at True Love’s kiss—I guess no one told him how it worked when Charming and Rumplestiltskin tried to kiss their respective loves when their memories were altered/erased. And the rush of hope Hook brought to the ending of what could have felt like an oppressively depressing hour. Hook’s presence represents the hope that Emma will find her way back to herself with his help, that the pain of the lost memories and separation from the people she and Henry love won’t last forever.
“Going Home” was an episode built on a theme of acceptance, and it seems that will be theme for the beginning of the second half of this season as well. Emma is going to have to accept her true self with Hook’s help (and Henry will have to do the same). She’s going to have to accept that she is both—a savior and a mother, a fairytale princess and a woman who grew up in a world without magic. She is a woman who was abandoned and a woman who is worth crossing realms to find. She is a woman shaped by loss but also by love, a woman who has a lot of bad memories that she will have to accept again but also a lot of wonderful ones she was living for a year without.
I’m excited to see how all of this is going to play out. I’m excited for a new look at the Enchanted Forest, for a chance for Regina to find love with Robin Hood, and for the introduction of the Wicked Witch of the West. But more than anything, I am excited to watch Hook help Emma find herself again because that’s the journey and the adventure I most want to see: Emma Swan’s journey towards accepting the truth about who she is and choosing to fight for her happy ending.
Is it March yet?