Title The Tower
Two-Sentence Summary In the Enchanted Forest during the lost year, Charming goes on a quest for a plant to cure his anxiety after Snow tells him they’re going to have another baby, but instead he discovers Rapunzel, held captive in her tower by her own fears. In Storybrooke, Zelena causes Charming to face his fears about fatherhood—possibly stealing his courage (or at least a symbol of it)—in the process, while our heroes finally discover that Rumplestiltskin is alive and apparently on the loose in the town.
Favorite Line “That’s the best part of a small town; everybody knows everybody. It’s like a big family.” (Regina)
My Thoughts If last week’s “Witch Hunt” was a reminder that Once Upon a Time could recapture some of the humor that had been missing for long stretches of the show’s recent past, then “The Tower” was a reminder that it could also recapture the show’s sense of mystery. I love character beats as much as (if not more than) the next person, but I also love smart, interesting plotting. And the fact that I couldn’t sleep last night because my mind kept turning over new theories about where this season is going makes me a very happy (and very exhausted) fan.
While there were moments in Neverland that were dark (both literally and thematically), nothing Once Upon a Time has done before was as thoroughly creepy as “The Tower.” When an episode begins with a doll with a spinning head, you know you’re in for something unsettling—and that was putting it mildly. Credit should be given to director Ralph Hemecker for setting a strong, disturbing tone through his camerawork. What I was most impressed with was the way he made a variety of scenes equally suspenseful: the intimately sadistic showdown between Rumplestiltskin and Zelena in his cell; the choppy, panic attack-esque tone of the nightroot-induced confrontations; and the “demon among us” feeling invoked by the way he shot the meeting between Zelena and the Charmings.
Hemecker showed a deft directorial touch from the episode’s opening moments. I loved the use of color in Charming’s nightmare—everything felt just a little too bright, a little too surreal. I had seen the promo for this episode and knew we’d be seeing Emma in a princess gown, but even knowing that couldn’t take away the pain of watching Charming live out the life he never got to experience with his daughter. The hauntingly beautiful piano version of the show’s true love theme certainly didn’t improve my emotional state.
Can we please take a moment to acknowledge how beautiful Jennifer Morrison looked in Emma’s princess gown? This show has had its fair share of gowns, but this one (complete with swan-like feathers) was by far my favorite. Morrison was excellent in this scene; she still felt like Emma, but there was a joy, an innocence, and an openness to her that could only exist in Charming’s vision of how her life would have gone if he hadn’t failed her. When she twirled in her gown and held out her hands to her father, my heart ached for Charming because his dream vision of Emma wasn’t really about balls or gowns; it was about seeing his daughter truly happy and free of the pain he feels responsible for. Josh Dallas does such a remarkable job of showing Charming’s love for his daughter. He and Morrison felt like a father and daughter dancing, and that’s no small feat to accomplish with two actors who are basically the same age (with Morrison actually being older).
Charming’s dream became a nightmare when Emma was pulled back through the wardrobe with a warning for Charming not to fail his next child. For so long, I’ve wanted the show to address Snow and Charming’s guilt over what happened to Emma. Of course they didn’t want her to grow up alone, but good intentions don’t change the fact that Emma grew up without her parents and had a brutally lonely life because of that. This episode finally addressed Charming’s anxieties not just about fatherhood in general but about his role in sending Emma through the wardrobe alone. His fears about fatherhood weren’t limited to nerves about never having been a father to a baby before; they were fears about being a failure as a father because he feels like he failed Emma. I actually wish this episode would have included a scene where those two characters talked about their relationship considering it was such a driving force in this episode. But I understand that not everything I want can fit into a network drama’s allotted runtime.
Charming first pulled out his hidden flask to numb the fear brought on by Snow telling him they’re having another baby. (Anybody else see the flask as Charming’s little way of keeping a part of his BFF Hook with him after the pirate rode away to find his ship?) He soon found a sounding board in Robin Hood, and I really enjoyed seeing these two men bond over fatherhood. With Hook gone, Charming needs a friend to confide in, and Robin gives him something all great relationships on Once Upon a Time are built on: understanding. Apparently, Dallas must make one hell of a scene partner because I love every relationship Charming is a part of on this show, including this budding friendship with Robin.
Robin’s mention of a plant that can erase fears put Charming on a quest, but I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in this part of the story. I liked Rapunzel well enough, but I felt like her story didn’t quite live up to the hype (especially if we never see her again). I was confused about her age, and that took me out of the story a little bit. Given the length of her hair, I would have guessed that she was in that tower for much longer than the time it seems she was there (judging by her parents still being alive and relatively young). But I also had questions about the timeline of the flashbacks as a whole—because unless Snow knew that she was pregnant immediately after it happened or she’s way past her due date in Storybrooke, there’s no way nine months had passed. (It should have been more like seven or eight, but I’m just being nitpicky).
Ultimately, I did like the twist of Rapunzel being the one holding herself hostage in her tower because of her fears. And I loved that Charming couldn’t be the one to save her; she had to save herself. That was a huge theme in this episode: We often hold ourselves back from fully experiencing life because we’re afraid, but no one else can save us from our fears; we have to face them on our own.
The most obvious parallel to Rapunzel’s story in the past was Charming’s story in both the past and the present. In the past, seeing Rapunzel confront her fears about not being worthy of ruling a kingdom helped Charming face his own fears about not being a worthy father to his new baby. I loved seeing him talk to Snow about his guilt about Emma (and Snow’s too-quick rationalizing away their part in Emma’s abandonment issues makes me think she’s in for her own journey to coming to terms with her guilt). Watching them acknowledge their worries about new parenthood while vowing to face the future as a united front reminded me that this couple is the centerpiece of the show’s “true loves” for a reason: Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin make me believe in their love like no other actors could.
In the present, Charming’s fears about fatherhood stayed under the surface a little better than in the past, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t visible. Dallas did a great job of showing by the tension in his body and the clipped tone in his voice that all the progress Charming made towards facing his anxieties was lost along with everything else from that forgotten year. When you think about the missing year in terms of character development like this, it becomes even more tragic. Any growth these characters experienced in that lost year won’t be remembered.
Zelena wanted Charming’s courage, but thankfully he still had his brains. I was happy that at least one of the Snow/Charming duo was concerned about a stranger becoming so closely tied to their lives. (Seriously, Snow? You were a successful bandit for crying out loud; have some street smarts here!) Also, kudos to Charming for calling Emma before facing down the hooded figure, which gave us that awesome shot of him holding both a sword and a cellphone.
In the end, Charming had to face himself just as Rapunzel did. Dallas was deliciously creepy as the manifestation of Charming’s fears—his voice is going to haunt me for a long time. But Charming destroyed him with the courage he got from seeing Emma racing to the scene in her yellow bug. His courage has always come from his love for his family. But what does Zelena want with that courage, symbolized by his sword hilt?
I’m assuming, as a nod to The Wizard of Oz, Zelena needs courage, brains, and a heart (or at least symbols of those things) for whatever her nefarious plan is. She has Charming’s courage, and I think she has Rumplestiltskin’s brain. I was more disturbed by their scene in the storm cellar than any other moment in this episode. Rebecca Mader was so chilling as Zelena shaved Rumplestiltskin with the Dark One’s dagger, symbolizing her power over him. She was getting so much pleasure from threatening him in such an intimate setting, and I loved it even as I was unsettled by it. Every actor on this show thrives in the presence of Robert Carlyle, and Mader is no exception.
The scene between those two characters made me want to know so much more. Who is Zelena’s father? What made Rumplestiltskin go mad (or is it all an act)? How did she get the dagger? And how badly am I going to cry when he and Belle are reunited (because Emilie de Ravin already broke my heart when Belle told Zelena that Rumplestiltskin was dead in this episode).
Like Charming and Rapunzel, Rumplestiltskin has always been a prisoner to his own fears. And now it appears that the dagger he once acquired as a means to gain power over those fears is holding him hostage. But somehow he escaped the cellar. Did he get out on his own, or did someone help him? Since the lock was broken from the outside, I’m guessing he had help. Was it Neal?
I’ve been really happy so far with the progress the team of Emma/Regina/Charming/Hook has made to uncover this mystery. These four characters are very much men and women of action. Also, focusing on these characters as the Wicked Witch mystery unfolds has led to some excellent character-driven moments within this group.
In the last episode, Regina was afraid to meet Henry because the pain might be too great. But “The Tower” gave us a beautiful moment between mother and unknowing son where she had to learn how to bond with him all over again. It was sweet watching Henry open up to Regina about liking Storybrooke and about his concerns for Emma. Part of me wonders if he feels drawn to Regina in the way Emma was drawn to Hook in New York. But that also could just be the genuinely warm chemistry Lana Parrilla and Jared Gilmore share in scenes where they can really display it. It made me happy to see that Henry just wants happiness for Emma and that he was open about this with Regina. There’s a maturity to Henry now that I really like, but every time he’s onscreen I get worried about the moment he finds out about the lies everyone is feeding him. This isn’t going to be able to last forever, and the seeds of that were planted in his talk with Regina.
Speaking of lies, what exactly did Hook do during his time without Emma in the Enchanted Forest, and why isn’t he telling her the whole story? I found it very interesting that Emma can tell that he’s withholding information, but she’s not forcing him to tell her. Something in her still trusts that he’s not keeping a secret that would hurt her, Henry, or their mission. My prediction is that he’s withholding information on how hard he fought to get back to her for the whole year (including possibly giving up his ship in the process) because he knows she’s still hurting from being woken from her “good dream.”
Like her father, Emma faced some of her most crippling fears in “The Tower.” Emma is afraid of vulnerability. But ever since Hook came to New York, Emma has been open with him about her feelings, and that continued in “The Tower.” She didn’t have to tell Hook about her broken heart; she could have just told him she considered the proposal (or shut Hook down completely as we’ve seen her do before). But Emma faced her fears of showing someone her true feelings and having them choose to walk away. Instead, Hook lets Emma walk away, something she doesn’t often have the power to do.
When Hook told Emma he was happy she got her heart broken, I could tell that he found no real joy in her pain. Colin O’Donoghue made that quite clear. He’s a talented enough actor to show a slight smile or a smirk if he was happy about it, but instead he looks like he’s gathering his courage before telling her sincerely, “If it can be broken, that means it still works.”
In one line, Hook summed up one of Once Upon a Time’s mission statements (and you knew it was an important moment because it got its own musical accompaniment—the same music playing when Hook and Emma kissed): It’s better to open your heart, even if there’s a chance of it breaking, than to close it off to ever feeling love. That’s why he was happy—not because Emma’s heart was broken but because she was brave enough to love again after closing herself off to it for so long. I saw that line as Hook wanting to give Emma hope because she gave him hope. He was reminding her that he understands what a broken heart feels like but also reassuring her that, though she feels pain now, she might one day feel love again. But the only way that can happen is for her to face her fears of getting hurt and allow herself to believe she can love again. It took me back to the scene in “New York City Serenade” where Snow told Regina that allowing yourself to feel, even if it’s painful, is the only way you will ever be able to experience happiness and love again.
Emma has always lived behind walls, but in this scene, Hook was trying to keep her from putting those walls back up. He was encouraging her to find the hope in a situation that might seem hopeless—because he was in her shoes for 300 years after Milah’s death. To allow your heart to still work after being hurt—to keep it open instead of shutting people out—takes a special kind of courage, and it’s a kind of courage Emma needs to find within herself. Hook doesn’t tell her he can fix her broken heart or even that it can be fixed at all. It’s Emma’s job to take her broken heart and do with it what she will; no one can face her fears of being hurt again except her. But Hook wants her to know that he’ll be there—even after she walks away from him—because there’s hope for Emma to be able to love again, and that means there’s hope for him. The chemistry between O’Donoghue and Morrison was at possibly its most electric ever in that scene. It made sense that Emma would walk away from such a charged moment for both parties after admitting that her heart was broken. But with chemistry like that, I have a feeling Emma won’t keep walking away much longer.
With all of this talk about Emma’s heart, broken hearts, and knowing you still can feel, I was left wondering who the Tin Man is going to be in this version of Oz. Yes, the promo for next week seems to hint that Neal might be the most likely candidate. But it could be another character. Could it be Snow and her (mostly) pure heart? Or Emma since her heart is the product of True Love? Or Hook since he’s been defined by his ability to love ever since we first met him? I love having questions like this to answer, but, even more, I love that these questions have ramifications for these characters and are closely tied to their arcs and relationships. That kind of melding of plot and characterization is what makes the best Once Upon a Time episodes.