Title New York City Serenade
Two-Sentence Summary After getting her memories back, Emma must leave behind the life she thought was real to journey with Hook and a still-in-the-dark Henry back to Storybrooke, which has been re-created by a mysterious curse that has also wiped a year’s worth of memories from all of the town’s inhabitants. Though the residents of the town aren’t sure who brought them back there, all signs point to the Wicked Witch, who has taken over Regina’s castle in the Enchanted Forest and sent one of her flying monkeys to take some of Regina’s blood and later pose as Emma’s boyfriend in New York City.
Emma: You could be a crazy person, or a liar, or both.
Hook: I prefer dashing rapscallion…Scoundrel?
Emma: Give me one good reason not to punch you in the face.
My Thoughts After what felt at times like the longest midseason hiatus imaginable, Once Upon a Time returned last night with a new energy that has me excited for how this half of Season Three is going to play out. In a similar way to “The Heart of the Truest Believer,” “New York City Serenade” did an excellent job of highlighting what appear to be the important arcs of Season 3B: the mystery of the new curse, the Wicked Witch versus the Evil Queen, Henry and his missing memories, the quest to find out what really happened to Rumplestiltskin, and Emma’s struggle to find normalcy and happiness in her life as the savior.
The biggest theme of this episode was the idea of finding a home. Just as “The Heart of the Truest Believer” set up the Neverland arc’s major theme of belief, “New York City Serenade” raised the question of what home means for each of the major characters.
And what does home mean for a woman who’s never really had one? Yes, Emma built a home with Henry in New York, but that was a home with a false foundation. It seems that, for Emma, home is less about a place than it is about a feeling, and I think the same can be said for all of these characters. Home is where you feel safe, stable, and loved. Emma has been searching her whole life to find that, and I think this episode showed that she may never find it in any one place—because, for these characters, home is often found in another person.
This universal search for a place to call home brought characters together in fresh ways in “New York City Serenade.” Even characters we’ve seen interact many times before worked together with a new energy. Maybe some of that was due to the writing being a little brighter and lighter than it has been for quite some time. But I think a lot of the credit should go to the actors. There was a genuine sense of comfort, confidence, and understanding between all of them in this episode. Nothing felt forced, and that was important for an episode that was heavily dependent on the chemistry between certain actors to make various plot points believable.
Part of me wished this episode could have been two hours long because I wanted even more from the Enchanted Forest scenes. But I know we’ll get our fill of them over this half of the season. There were just so many great dynamics at play, and I wanted more time to explore them all. I loved that everything felt slightly off about the first couple of scenes, especially the interactions with Aurora and Philip (who are totally working for the witch, right?). There wasn’t an automatically happy reaction for the Storybrooke residents upon returning. Ginnifer Goodwin’s delivery of “We’re back,” said in two words a volume of emotions; this is no perfectly happy ending for any of them.
I was surprised by how quickly Snow and Charming accepted that Emma and Henry were lost forever, but that doesn’t mean it was out of character for either of them. They’re the leaders, and if they lost themselves in their grief, they would let down all the people counting on them to help get them to safety. And they both still carry around so much guilt concerning Emma (especially Snow). Maybe it’s easier for them to think she’s happy without them and to try to move on, as they suggested Neal do.
Michael Raymond-James played Neal with a sense of quiet desperation hiding behind his resigned façade, and I have to wonder if his line about enacting a curse to get back to his loved ones is some kind of foreshadowing (or just a sign that he still has a lot of his father in him). I’m looking forward to more of Neal’s interactions with Belle, too. There was a nice sense of familial warmth between them.
Another Enchanted Forest dynamic I enjoyed was the one between Charming and Hook. Josh Dallas did an excellent job playing Charming’s reactions to Hook’s departure. These two characters are mirror images of the other—driven by love, lost without the women who make them their best selves. And I think Charming has understood that since Neverland. His expression as Hook left to find his ship (and passage back to Emma?) was one of understanding, one of hope.
An important relationship that benefitted from a real sense of understanding between the characters was Regina and Snow’s. Their interactions were my favorite scenes in the episode. These two women have such a complicated relationship, but they’re still two women who were first bonded by trust and genuine affection. And they’re the only two characters in the Enchanted Forest who are experiencing the same loss. Both are mothers who had to give up their children, and I love that Snow didn’t let Regina wallow in her self-pity or believe she was alone in her grief. There was a real strength to Snow in this episode that I have missed.
Snow knows what it’s like to make yourself not feel anything to avoid the pain of loss. She is speaking to Regina from experience on more than just one level. And, in doing so, she voiced a huge theme on Once Upon a Time: It might cause you pain to have an open heart, but it’s better than closing yourself off to love because you’ve been hurt. Allowing yourself to feel—accepting vulnerability—is a brave thing, and Snow knows that. To see Regina accept that—to see her accept the hope that she could be happy again—was a huge moment of character growth. And to follow it up with her referring to “our castle” actually made me cry. It floors me to think about how far this character has come, and it makes me excited to think about what’s in store for her future.
If this episode is any indication, what’s in store for Regina’s future is a whole lot of heated banter with Robin Hood. Their first meeting was fun, full of attraction and antagonism, which is a winning combination in my book. Robin brought out Regina’s sass in such a natural way, and any relationship that allows Regina to be feisty with someone who gives it right back to her is one I can see myself getting behind, even though I still want to know more about Robin (besides the fact that “he smells like forest”). And if it gives us more adorable wingwoman Snow, even better.
The instant sparks of chemistry between Lana Parrilla and Sean Maguire really made those first Regina/Robin moments work. It’s that same kind of chemistry that drove the plot in the NYC-based half of this episode. In order for anyone to find Emma drinking Hook’s potion believable, you would have to find their connection believable. Thankfully, Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue aren’t struggling to generate chemistry. Their dynamic actually felt more natural than ever before.
Morrison really sold the fact that something in Emma connected with something in this leather-clad stranger. I always think Morrison is great at playing the sarcastic skeptic, and I was a huge fan of the way Hook and Emma’s early interactions in this episode paralleled Emma and Henry’s interactions in the pilot (down to the way both told Emma to use her superpower, thus making them the only two characters to believe in Emma’s superpower as much as she believes in it). Another callback I enjoyed was Emma once again chaining up the unsuspecting pirate because she’s concerned about trusting him, just as she did in Season Two’s “Tallahassee.”
Despite all her protestations, Emma kept coming back to this self-proclaimed scoundrel. (Anyone else take that as a deliberate Han Solo reference, or do I just watch The Empire Strikes Back way too often?) Neal’s apartment, Henry’s camera—these were strong pieces of evidence, but what made Emma really believe Hook was her gut. Unlike in “Tallahassee,” Emma ultimately bailed Hook out of jail because she decided to trust her instincts when it came to him.
That’s why all the stuff with Emma, Walsh, and Henry was so important in this episode—despite Walsh actually being a flying monkey. (I still can’t think about that without getting disturbed.) In encouraging Emma to open her heart to Walsh, Henry was unknowingly encouraging his mother to open her heart to believing Hook. I loved Henry and Emma’s relationship in this episode because all Henry wanted was his mother’s happiness, and that allowed Emma to follow her gut. Both Hook and Henry encouraged her to trust herself. And when she did, she knew what had to be done.
Emma chose to take a leap of faith, which is no small feat for this woman. She had the choice to leave Hook in jail; she had the choice to refuse the potion. But she chose to find out the truth for herself; she chose to believe.
Emma didn’t want to give up her good life, but Hook wanted to remind her that maybe the life she was about to remember wasn’t all bad. His line about her loving someone in the life she lost was beautiful, and it was a nice callback to “Going Home,” in which Emma’s “Good” seemed to encourage Hook to believe his affections weren’t wholly unrequited. Morrison played Emma’s reaction to that perfectly—there was some fear in her eyes, but there was a surprising bit of hope there, too. Emma wants to be able to love; she doesn’t want to lose that part of herself. So when Hook implied that she might still be able to love—and to love this person she already feels herself drawn to—it gave her a sense of hope that not all the good things from her life would be lost.
The moments after Emma drank the potion were subtle but effective. Morrison did a good job of showing that Emma was both surprised that someone came back for her and not surprised at all by who it was that found her. And Hook’s response was just cheeky enough to be perfectly in-character. In fact, I loved that Hook had his swagger and his sense of humor back in this episode.
Sharing a drink like old times after Emma’s memories were restored, there was a real sense of understanding and openness between Emma and Hook. This was the scene where I felt Morrison and O’Donoghue were at their best together. When Hook told Emma there was nothing left for him in the Enchanted Forest, all Morrison needed to do was change her facial expression slightly to show us that Emma understood that Hook was lost without her. And when Hook told Emma that he came back to save her, O’Donoghue delivered that line without any real sense of romance. It was a fact. But it was a fact Emma has never heard in her life—someone is capable of making her their top priority. Emma was defined by her role as the savior from before her birth; it’s her job to bring back happy endings. But Hook wanted to save her from a life she didn’t choose—a life of false memories. His job in this episode was to give the savior her own chance at a real happy ending.
However, Emma was conflicted over just how happy her happy ending could be now that her memories were restored. I loved Morrison’s delivery of Emma’s confession about waking up from a good dream because we’ve never seen Emma so open and unguarded without it being forced out of her (at least not since Mary Margaret was still her friend). We got to see how happy Emma was with Henry and how wonderfully open their relationship was, so it made it all the more painful for us to watch Emma struggle with the idea of their life changing so dramatically—and without Henry knowing why. Emma let Hook see her vulnerabilities, and that’s something new for this relationship. More than anything, I liked that this episode let Emma and Hook’s relationship deepen as friends, confidants, and partners without making it all about the romance and attraction.
I found myself pleasantly surprised by the easy humor in many of the NYC scenes—from Hook and Henry bantering over his clothes to Hook’s distaste for bologna. That ease made Emma and Hook feel like a team, especially as they both prepared to face whatever had happened to Storybrooke. I loved the little moment when he touched Emma’s hair with his hook because it spoke to a new level of comfort between them. And that comfort was made even more obvious when Emma told him to watch Henry as she went to find her parents. The fact that she trusts him with the thing she loves most is no small detail.
Emma doesn’t have a lot of people she trusts, and this episode added another to this list: Walsh. I saw the flying monkey twist coming, but I didn’t expect that scene to be so brutal. However, I loved getting to see the steel in Emma’s eyes as she prepared to return to Storybrooke. Watching her put on that red leather jacket again was such an iconic moment, the knight putting her armor back on to get ready for another battle.
But before any battles could be fought, Emma needed to come home—in every sense of the word. I held my breath as she knocked on the door to the apartment. More than Snow, I needed it to be Charming who first saw his daughter again. Both Morrison and Dallas have always sold this relationship with everything in them, and they did it again here. I could feel their initial fear that the other didn’t remember, but I could also feel the overwhelming relief when they realized they were together again. And Emma’s reunion with her mother was just as warm as I’d hoped—gone for the moment was the tension that had been building between them during the Neverland arc. (Also, how cute was Goodwin in her adorable maternity dress?)
Emma found her family again—just as Hook found Emma. That’s what love does in the world of Once Upon a Time; it leads you home. Yes, there are a thousand questions to answer this season. Why does the Wicked Witch hate Regina (and why did she send Walsh after Emma)? Will Henry get his memories back? Is Rumplestiltskin really dead? What happened during everyone’s lost year in the Enchanted Forest? But my central question is this: Has Emma Swan finally found a place to call home?