Title A Curious Thing
Two-Sentence Summary Henry’s storybook proves to be the key to getting his memories back, just in time for Zelena to threaten his life because of Hook’s choice not to kiss Emma, but Emma’s light magic proves to be stronger than Zelena’s once again, as does Regina’s love for her son, which breaks the curse placed on the memories of Storybrooke’s residents. With their memories returned, Snow and Charming remember that Snow cast the curse in order to return to Emma by sacrificing Charming’s heart, but Snow’s faith in their love proved strong enough to enable them to share a heart and bring her husband back to life.
Charming: Why do women keep their shoeboxes?
Snow: Because after true love, there is no more powerful magic than footwear. It has to be protected.
My Thoughts I love Once Upon a Time. It can be ridiculous, illogical, and a bit too plot-driven at times (all of which can be criticisms of “A Curious Thing”). But its heart—pun totally intended—is always in the right place. This is a show that is first and foremost about love. In an increasingly cynical world, I’m so happy to be a fan of a show that isn’t afraid to say that love has a power unlike any other force imaginable. That’s what “A Curious Thing” was all about—love’s ability to make the impossible possible. From Snow and Charming to Regina and Henry, this episode was a reiteration of the show’s foundational principle: Love is strength.
Just like last week’s character development and subtle dark humor were a dead giveaway that “Bleeding Through” was at least partly a Jane Espenson-written episode, “A Curious Thing” had Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz’s trademarks all over it. It made sense that the show’s creators would take the helm in an episode that harkened back so strongly to the first season of the show. And it made sense that they would write an episode that was so firmly devoted to the show’s central themes of love, belief, and family—and the collision of fairytales and harsh reality in the character of Emma Swan.
The episode began with an excellent—and, let’s be honest, hot—way to ease into the intense thematic developments to come. After seeing the way Regina and Robin’s relationship played out before the curse was cast, I was a little disappointed that they ended up not being drawn together because of a romance between them in the lost year. It seemed the attraction was definitely there, but I actually think Regina having her heart was a huge hindrance to that relationship developing. Regina’s heart has known so much loss, pain, and darkness. Removing it has allowed her to move on from the pain she has carried in her heart since Daniel died. It allowed her to feel with her soul instead, and we know from Tinker Bell’s words that Robin is Regina’s soul mate. Not having her heart seemed to help Regina’s soul find its mate without the fear she still held in her heart about finding a second chance at happiness.
Because that’s what Regina and Robin are to one another—a second chance to love, a second chance to be happy. And Regina was so wonderfully happy in this first scene. Lana Parrilla has a thousand-watt smile, and I loved seeing it used without restraint at multiple times in this episode. Regina held on to bitterness, grief, and hatred for so long that it gives me endless joy to see her truly taking this chance to be happy. Watching Regina kiss Robin with a beautiful smile on her face reminded me that Once Upon a Time is so good at showing this basic truth: Love should bring out the best in a person.
Regina and Robin’s relationship development was very closely related to what Regina witnessed between Snow and Charming in the flashback portions of this episode. And I don’t just mean the obvious foreshadowing in Robin’s line about Regina using his heart to feel. I think witnessing true love at its most true had a profound impact on Regina. With or without her memories, it was clear that this was no longer something she sneered at, but something she actually believed in.
Believing in the power of true love was the central theme of the episode’s flashbacks. It began with Belle’s insistence that she try to get through to Rumplestiltskin, despite his mad state. (As a side note: How brilliant was Robert Carlyle in his brief moments in this episode? No one can do compellingly crazy like he can.) His true love was the only one who could find him within the madness of his own mind, and I thought it was beautiful that her faith was rewarded with a moment of clarity from Rumplestiltskin about Glinda.
I was a bit disappointed with Glinda being basically an information source rather than a character who felt real, but I’m going to assume that will change with next week’s “Kansas.” I did like the nod to Wicked’s take on the two witches being friends, and I can’t believe I didn’t make the connection between that obnoxious green necklace and Zelena’s powers. But besides those two fun tidbits, all Glinda did was tell us what we all inferred from Zelena’s curse on Hook: Only Emma and her light magic—born of and strengthened by love—can defeat Zelena. The best part of the trip to see Glinda was Regina’s frustration with Charming and Snow picking flowers and her indignation over not being able to go through the door. This episode featured some of Regina’s most impressive sass to date (including her retort to Robin: “Where you come from, people bathe in the river and use pinecones for money.”)
As it became clearer that the heroes (I still love that I get to include Regina in that group now, by the way) needed to find a way back to Emma, it also became clearer that Zelena wasn’t the one who cast the curse that sent them back. I’ll admit to being completely stunned when Charming volunteered to be sacrificed. But by showing Zelena’s powers on a grand and personal level at the start of this episode—with her turning Aurora and Phillip into flying monkeys—it became clear that something equally grand and personal needed to be done to try to defeat her.
Before I get to the beauty of the scene where Charming’s heart is crushed and the curse is enacted, I have to admit that there were some plot holes in the way the curse was cast this time around. It seemed like the same curse from the pilot, but I don’t understand why memory loss wasn’t a factor until Zelena hijacked the curse. Is this a case where, like it was with Pan, the Dark Curse can be changed to fit the wishes of the one casting it? Also, why was there no mention of Snow having a hole in her heart that can never be filled after casting the curse, since it was such a big deal when Regina cast it? I can theorize that it may be different if the curse is cast with good intentions, such as love and protection, but until I know for sure, I’m just guessing. It’s more than a little annoying that the laws of magic are often unclear on this show.
When push came to shove, though, I wasn’t thinking about the rules of magic or past curses during any part of that scene between Snow, Charming, and Regina. All I was thinking about was trying not to cry. The way one scene managed to capture the essence of Snow and Charming’s love as well as the essence of Regina’s character growth was breathtaking. It was a showcase for three of Once Upon a Time’s best actors to do what they do best—take a plot that should be cheesy and elevate it to something genuinely moving.
Snow and Charming are my favorite couple on Once Upon a Time. They’re the reason I got hooked on this show. And it’s all because Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin make me believe every single moment of their love story. They make fairytale love feel like it’s something tangible. Charming’s faith in Snow and their love has always been one of the most guaranteed “sob inducers” for me on this show. So when he told Snow that their love would live on in their child, I could barely handle all of the emotions I was feeling. (I’m sure the fact that Dallas and Goodwin are having their own child played strongly into how genuine those lines felt—or at least into how deeply they moved me.)
Goodwin and Dallas—especially Dallas—have a remarkable way of taking dialogue that could sound sappy and instead making it sound believable. And I thought both of them were the best they’ve been in a long time (maybe since Season One) in this scene. The single tear Goodwin shed when they talked about their child got to me the most. And then came perhaps the most heartbreakingly romantic lines this show has ever featured:
Snow: I loved you from the first moment I saw you.
Charming: And I’ll love you until my last.
This moment was so beautiful but so painful because I believed it. I believe their love story like I believe in no other one on television. So when Snow crushed his heart, I also believed that their love would save them. And of course it did.
Parrilla played Regina’s reactions to Snow and Charming so wonderfully. She was genuinely moved by their love, a love she once sought to destroy. And it became her job to try to save it by dividing Snow’s heart into two pieces. The trust Snow showed in not just her love for her husband but in Regina was a sign of just how far these characters have come from where they were when the first curse was cast.
The identical blocking between this scene and its sister scene in the pilot showed two things: the constancy of Snow and Charming’s love and the growth in Regina’s character. Snow put her heart in Regina’s hand, and Regina didn’t crush it like she would have so many times before. Instead, she gave half of it to Charming to save him, and she succeeded. On any other show, the idea of splitting a heart between two bodies would be absurd (and maybe for some it still is on this show), but Once Upon a Time can do seemingly absurd things without making me crazy as long as I feel emotionally invested. And I haven’t felt that emotionally invested in Snow and Charming in a long time. This moment was a huge victory for true love at a time when things looked their bleakest, and I think Regina took a part of that hope with her back to Storybrooke—even if she didn’t remember it.
Believing in love—and in the people you love—was a driving force in the Storybrooke portion of this episode as well. I thought it was interesting that we saw Emma in full skeptic mode once again in the beginning of “A Curious Thing.” I’m very torn on Emma still wanting to take Henry back to New York City. On one hand, I understand her wanting no part of the savior’s life anymore. It does seem that people only come to find her when they want curses broken (which I know isn’t entirely fair to Snow and Charming in this episode, but their actions could be construed in that way). And it is certainly a more dangerous life for Henry. But it’s also a decision that’s hard to enjoy watching her stick to. Her desire to leave her family behind makes sense for a woman who lived for 28 years having no concept of family. But it wasn’t fair to Henry to secretly hope he didn’t get his memories back. Emma had a right to want to protect Henry, but Henry had a right to be mad at her for keeping information from him. (Sounds like a certain situation between Emma and Hook as well, doesn’t it?)
The return of Henry’s storybook was something I’d been waiting for since it disappeared in “Going Home.” I loved that it factored so prominently into getting his memories back because it’s really his story, the story of his crazy family tree. It was also very interesting to discover that it only appears to people who want to believe and want to help others believe, such as Snow. Her heroic sense of belief brought her husband back from the dead, and it was crucial to her grandson regaining his memories.
The reversal of Henry and Emma’s roles from the Season One finale was also something I’d been waiting a long time for. In that finale, Emma learned to believe in magic through her belief in her son. And in “A Curious Thing,” Henry believed again because he believed in his mother. True love is true belief in another person, and never has that been made clearer on this show. I loved the way Jennifer Morrison played Emma’s reactions to Henry getting his memories back. Her love for her son and her desire to see him truly happy (not happy with false memories) ended up outweighing her desire to leave this life behind when Zelena was defeated. Her genuine happiness to have all of her son back was palpable, even if it was tempered with the understanding that they could never go back to New York now.
Henry and Regina’s reunion was worth all of the heartbreak that came before it—that’s how you do emotional payoff, TV writers. Parrilla’s smile when he first called her mom was a thing of true beauty. And I loved that this scene used both of Henry’s mothers and the strength of their love for their son—and his love for them—to work magic. Henry’s faith in Emma helped him believe. Emma’s love for Henry helped free him from Zelena (with a burning spell straight out of the first Harry Potter book). And Regina and Henry’s love broke the curse on the memories of the Storybrooke residents.
I was thrilled that Regina got to break Zelena’s curse. It seems Emma is the one who will ultimately defeat her, but I wanted Regina to get at least one big win against her half-sister. This entire season, we’ve watched Regina earn this moment of true love with her son; we watched her become a woman who can love enough to break a curse even without her heart. The fact that Henry was both Regina and Emma’s first canonically-confirmed true love speaks to the powerful way this show values motherhood as well as the continued parallels between these two women.
Emma’s reaction to Regina telling Henry she was never letting him go again was a masterful bit of nuanced acting by Morrison. For as happy as Emma can be that Henry is back to being himself (and I’m sure part of her is happy for Regina and her parents too), her choice of going back to New York is effectively gone now. Henry would never leave all of the people who care about him (including the “awesome” Robin Hood)—no matter how good their life in New York may have been. Henry was Emma’s reason to come back to her family, and I think he’ll play a big role in her accepting that these people are her real home. That’s what Operation Cobra was all about—taking down villains but also getting Emma to believe.
In an episode where belief came easily for many characters, it felt harder than ever for Emma. I’ll admit to growing a bit tired of the constant rehashing of how good her life was in New York (because it was built on a false reality), but I know that it has to be done to make her ultimate desire to stay with the people who love her more dramatic. Emma isn’t a fairytale character. She didn’t grow up in a world where true love and belief in magic were real concepts; she grew up in a world where love and belief led to nothing but pain and abandonment for 28 years. So at a time when Regina, Snow, and Charming’s faith in love seemed stronger than ever, Emma’s hit its lowest point in a long time.
Emma looks for reasons to put her walls up; that’s her first reaction to any situation. And she latched on to Hook’s actions as a reason to close herself off to him again. Was Hook trying to do the right thing by taking Henry away so Zelena couldn’t harm him? Yes. But Emma still has a right to be mad at him. In fact, I would have been more upset had she brushed it off as no big deal because that’s not who her character is. Hook is driven by a need to protect the people he loves, which now includes Henry. But he still took away Emma’s choice when it came to protecting her son, and it could have gotten Henry killed. Emma is a woman who is used to having people take away her agency, and, as much as I love Hook, I was proud of Emma for calling him out for his actions.
It was rash of Emma to say she couldn’t trust Hook anymore (and I’m not sure she even believes it), but I think it was a reflex from a woman whose first instinct is to not trust anyone. And as for Charming and Snow’s distrust of Hook, I was slightly disappointed that they jumped to such bad conclusions about him, but the last thing they knew of him was that he wanted to go off and be a pirate again. Yes, he did a lot of good in his time with them, but not long before that he was a man they knew only as someone who switched sides depending on whatever was best for him. And let’s face it; we all know this continued Hook angst is just a way to set up a big payoff in future episodes. I predict he’ll do something sacrificial to earn their trust back and to help Emma finally come to terms with what she feels for him. That curse on his lips was written to be broken, after all.
There’s much more to Hook’s story still to be told, but it’s a story for another day, another episode. We still don’t know how he got back to Emma, but we do know now who sent him the message and the potion—and that was a twist I never saw coming. To have Neal break free of his father’s body to perform such a brave and selfless act was everything I’d ever wanted for that character. When Neal got the message that the curse was broken (the message he’d asked for so he knew when to come find Emma), he ignored it. But I love that he trusted Hook enough to know that he wouldn’t ignore this message. So much character growth was shown by that one, short flashback. It said so much about Neal’s complicated relationship with Hook, as well as his belief in both Emma’s ability to defeat Zelena and Hook’s ability to cross realms to get back to the woman he loves. It was a truly heroic act grounded by the kind of belief that made this whole episode feel cohesive and compelling.