Since this is the end of this season of Once Upon a Time, I just wanted to thank all of you for reading these reviews every week and for sharing your thoughts so enthusiastically in the comments. It’s been a true pleasure reviewing this show this season, and no small part of that has come from those of you who read and comment on these posts.
Title Snow Drifts/There’s No Place Like Home (3.21/3.22)
Written By David H. Goodman & Robert Hull/Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
What Happens? After Hook inadvertently hints to Henry (and Regina by proxy) that Emma is thinking of going back to New York, Emma tells Hook that she runs away because she believes that home is a place you miss, and she’ll keep running until she finds a place she misses. She believes she can’t relate to her parents or to life in Storybrooke because, to her, they’re still fairytale characters, and she’ll never feel like the princess she was supposed to be.
As Emma and Hook talk, they notice a light coming from Zelena’s time portal, which was activated by her death, a death Rumplestiltskin fixes to look like a suicide. When Emma is sucked into the portal, Hook dives in after her. They land in the Enchanted Forest, and a wanted poster for Snow White (and a close encounter with the Evil Queen) reveals to them exactly where in the past they landed.
When Emma breaks a twig and accidentally disrupts her parents’ first meeting, she and Hook seek out Rumplestiltskin’s help to set things right. After a tense first meeting with the Dark One (since he and Hook were still mortal enemies at this point), he agrees to help them because Emma tells him they need to survive so he can get back to his son.
Emma and Hook realize that they need to get Snow to still steal Charming’s ring, since that was the key to their love story. To do that, Hook offers Snow passage on his ship in exchange for the ring (as Emma occupies Hook from the past). Snow decides to steal the ring during Charming and Abigail’s engagement party, which Hook and Emma crash in magical disguises (courtesy of Rumplestiltskin). As “Prince Charles and Princess Leia” dance, Snow breaks into the castle, only to be caught by Charming in a similar way to their original first meeting.
When it’s discovered that Snow lost the ring in her escape, things look bleak for Emma and Hook, but they look bleaker when Regina captures Emma for helping Snow White. As Emma bonds with a woman in her cell, Hook and Charming (with some help from his patented net trap) enlist Snow’s help to break into the castle to find her. Emma escapes by picking the locks as Neal taught her (which we’re shown through flashbacks), and she takes the unnamed woman with her. But as Hook and Charming reach them, the realize Snow left them to try to kill Regina, which she’s unable to do. Instead, they watch from afar in horror as Regina appears to burn Snow at the stake.
However, Emma’s existence proves Snow to still be alive, and they discover she used her dark fairy dust to turn herself into a bug and escape. Emma is elated to see her mother alive, but Snow seems unmoved by Emma’s reaction, since she’s simply Princess Leia to her mother. As Snow and Charming move on to other parts of their adventures, Emma is able to watch her parents fall in love.
When Emma and Hook return to Rumplestiltskin looking for a way home, they find he doesn’t have one for them; he only has a forgetting potion for himself. Instead, he locks them in his vault with a wand that can open the portal only with Emma’s magic, which she no longer has. But Emma’s encounter with her mother helped open her eyes to the fact that she misses her parents; she misses them in a way that she knows can only come from knowing they’re her home. Her desire to go home to Storybrooke reawakens her magic, allowing her to open the portal, which Hook takes the woman they saved through first. Rumplestilstkin won’t let Emma leave before she tells him what happens to Bae, and she’s forced to tell him of his death. But he chooses to let her go after she begs him to let his death not be in vain, and he takes the potion.
Back in Storyrbooke, Emma reunites with her parents, telling them she’s finally home (and calling them mom and dad). Later, she goes out to find Hook, ready to thank him for bringing her back from New York. When he reveals that he gave up the Jolly Roger for a way to get back to her, she finally lets herself believe in his love, and they kiss.
Happy endings seem to be prevalent in the episode’s final moments, with Rumplestiltskin marrying Belle (despite her not knowing what he really did to Zelena) and Regina happily kissing Robin. But the woman Emma and Hook brought back turns out to be Robin’s wife, Marian, leaving Regina heartbroken. As Regina tells Emma she hopes she didn’t bring anything else back, a look at the portal reveals that a stowaway from Rumplestiltskin’s vault made the journey too: Princess (or Queen) Elsa has arrived with her freezing powers at the ready.
Game-Changing Moment Emma had no idea how much she changed the game by deciding to do the honorable thing—the Charming Family thing—in bringing back the woman she shared a cell with in Regina’s dungeon. By bringing Marian back to Storybrooke, Emma unknowingly gave Regina a whole new set of conflicts—both internal and external—to be worked through next season. Regina was understandably angry in the moment, but how will she deal with her emotions going forward? It’s that question that will really keep me thinking all summer.
But of course, Emma also brought back someone else, and that’s the real game-changer on a plot level. Will Elsa freeze Storyrbooke? Will the group have to travel to Arendelle? Is she going to be a villain or something closer to her role in Frozen? No matter the answers to these questions, what’s certain is that the show is heading in a new direction once again, and that new direction is going to generate plenty of hiatus buzz.
Finale M.V.P. I remember, during one of her live-tweeting sessions earlier this season, Jennifer Morrison referred to these episodes as her favorites for Emma. And I have no doubt that they had to be some of her favorites as an actor as well. When Morrison gets to show the emotions that hide under Emma’s steely exterior, there’s no actor better at tugging at my heartstrings. Being in the Enchanted Forest with Hook, getting to watch how her parents fell in love, and seeing the world she could have grown up in seemed to give Emma a kind of emotional freedom we’ve never seen her display before. This finale demanded nothing but Morrison’s best, and she delivered.
The range she showed was incredible—from the joy of seeing her parents find each other and the pain of thinking she watched her mother die to the relief of coming home to her family and the hope of finding love with someone who won’t leave her. Morrison brought a comedic touch to many of Emma’s realistic reactions to life in the Enchanted Forest, and she brought a fun flirtatious energy to the hilarious “two Hooks” adventure. But where she really worked her magic was in the smallest moments of emotion: Emma’s heartbroken look when Snow didn’t care that she hugged her, her unforced tears of happiness at watching her parents truly begin their love story, her broken voice when she told Rumplestiltskin not to let Bae’s death be in vain, and her awestruck, hopeful look after Hook told her gave up his ship. There’s something so special about moments of genuine emotion, and Morrison is the master of that. Every single moment of emotional openness and growth for Emma in this episode—and there were so many—felt earned, and they felt believable.
Most Memorable Lines
Charming: This whole ordeal makes me wonder if there’s even such a thing as true love.
Hook: I once felt as you did, mate. All it took was meeting the right person, and everything changed.
Charming: Princess Leia?
Hook: Aye. I’d go to the end of the world for her—or time.
What Didn’t Work Most of the small qualms I have with this finale could be abated by how they’re handled next season, so take all of these with a grain of salt since I’m hopeful that the strong writing of this season will carry over into the next.
I’m worried about all of Regina’s development in the wake of Marian’s return. I know she won’t be returning to her most evil self (she still has Henry to think of, after all), and I did understand her reaction and was happy that she didn’t immediately vow to get revenge on Emma. It just hurt to see her hurting again after finally seeing her accept happiness, and it made it seem like her relationship with Robin was fast-tracked just to create this finale angst. Someday both Regina and Emma will be able to be happy at the same time, and I can’t wait to see it.
Also, I’m very confused on the particulars of Marian’s death in the original timeline. Did Robin not know anything about her death? It doesn’t make sense for him to believe it was his fault that she died when it was actually Regina’s (which of course would only cause more angst for them). I hope we get this straightened out next season because it feels like a weird disconnect between the truth and what Robin believes.
Speaking of weird disconnects between truth and belief, I wished I could have been happy to see Rumplestiltskin and Belle get married, but all I was left with was anger that he would marry her while deceiving her so thoroughly. It was actually hard to watch, and I’m glad the scene was more about all of the couples on the show and not just them because I would have had a hard time stomaching their wedding as a romantic event given the way he betrayed her trust. Here’s hoping she finds out soon into the next season, and it gives her a chance to really show some backbone with him.
I’m also trying to stay cautiously optimistic about the show taking on Frozen next season. It could feel like a marketing ploy for Disney, or it could turn out really well. I’m reserving judgment until I find out the casting and until I actually see what they do with it.
Finally, I’m still a little torn about naming the baby Neal. I wish Emma would have been consulted first given their complicated history, but it did provide for a nice moment to acknowledge Neal’s arc at the end of this season.
What Worked Before I started writing about Once Upon a Time, I was just a fan of this show—specifically a fan of Snow, Charming, and Emma. And as a fan, I’m not sure I could feel more satisfied with this finale than I do right now. There were so many things that I hoped for, thinking that surely not all of my wishes would be fulfilled. But the creators called this episode “wish fulfillment,” and they weren’t kidding. It was like a two-hour movie filled with fairytale fun, romance, and incredible acting. And it’s going to be an episode I return to time and again like a beloved fairytale.
Once Upon a Time has a truly underrated cast, and this episode reminded me of that in no small way. Lana Parrilla didn’t have a ton to do in this episode, but she made the most of what she was given. Regina’s arc reached its high point last week, so I knew sadness was coming for her. And the fact that we weren’t given Marian’s name until the end made me pretty certain of her identity from the moment she was in the cell with Emma. Once again, Parrilla made me feel so much sadness for Regina despite knowing that she was going to kill Marian in the past. Her barely-controlled devastation when she first sees Marian with Robin and Roland was brilliant. Of course Parrilla excels at Regina’s big moments of emotion, but it’s often in those smallest reactions that she breaks me the most. I didn’t want Regina to blame Emma, but it was all too much for her—this idea that both Emma and her mother broke her heart by acting without thinking of consequences. It was such a painfully beautiful parallel, and it made me want to cry for this woman who was finally able to love Robin with her whole heart—only to have it broken the same day.
In terms of other actors who make me feel sympathy for their characters despite the bad things they’ve done, it doesn’t get better than Robert Carlyle. In an episode that saw me furious with Rumplestiltskin for going through with his wedding to Belle despite deceiving her, I still managed to shed some tears because of him on more than one occasion. There’s something about the sadness behind his eyes when he’s in full Dark One makeup that gets to me like little else. When Emma told him he gets back to his son and he said “Bae?” with such soft hope, I marveled at the subtle touches of humanity he brings even when he’s mostly having fun being as campy and theatrical as possible. (How fun was it to see the Dark One in all his sparkly glory again?) And his final moments with Emma after the portal reopened were just brilliant. His desperation was so palpable, but so was his love. Taking the forgetting potion reminded me of Regina doing the same to be a better mother to Henry and of Neal not taking the memory potion in order to help Emma and Henry. Those parallels were beautiful, and it was such a rare moment of relinquishing control and power from a man who still has so much trouble giving those things up.
Although we were treated to some great Regina and Rumplestiltskin moments, this was Emma’s fairytale. This was her story, her journey, and her adventure. And it was handled perfectly. All of the angst, all of the believable backsliding into old patterns of running away and pushing people away—it all paid off. It was especially effective because we finally got more flashbacks to Emma’s youth that allowed us to see just how unfamiliar she is with the concept of “home.” Just like Regina’s development, Emma’s felt earned because we saw her come to it all on her own. We saw her choose to be her best self; we saw her choose happiness on multiple levels. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted for this character—for her to choose her own happy ending.
Emma and Hook’s time travel adventure was even more fun than I was expecting, if that was possible. And I think a lot of that came from how the show dealt with Snow and Charming during that adventure. This was a way for Emma to see her parents as real people falling in love, not two people already so blissfully in love that it’s hard to comprehend them ever struggling with their feelings like she does. I was nervous about how this episode would change “Snow Falls” (my favorite episode in the show’s history), so I was thrilled that my two favorite moments—the net scene and the ring scene—were left virtually untouched. Using the original clips was a smart move because there was something about Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin’s initial sparks that I’m not sure could ever be replicated—even by them. But they still had plenty of spark in their new scenes, too. My favorite might have been their moment in the present when they were first telling their story to baby Neal. Goodwin and Dallas have a gift for banter that doesn’t get used enough.
Despite the changes to the story, the important moments still happened—sometimes with fun little twists. There was still the “You’re a girl?” “Woman.” exchange, we still got the threatening first “I will find you,” and they still saved each other. But I think Snow ended up looking even more like a badass bandit than before, if that was possible. The ruse she used on the trolls was impressive, and it was so nice to see Bandit Snow back in all her glory. That’s my favorite incarnation of this character, and I loved seeing Goodwin get to have some fun with her again, too.
This adventure also allowed for the return of two of my favorite Once Upon a Time ladies: Princess Abigail and Red. It was nice to see both of them in the present and the past, too. I definitely cheered when Red became the wolf to help them into the castle. It reminded me how much I’ve missed her (and how much I hope to see her again next season).
While the characters from the past were fun to see in their natural habitats, this trip was about Emma interacting with that past. I’m so happy the writers didn’t overlook the potential for comedy in this plot. Whether she was trying to adjust her corset, seeing the Dark One for the first time, naming herself Princess Leia (I freaked out!), or trying to explain Marty McFly to Hook, Emma was at her fish-out-of-water best in this episode. And I’m not sure it gets more fun than the “Two Hooks, One Emma” scene. Morrison seemed to be having so much fun letting Emma’s flirtatious side come out to play, and it certainly showed. Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue were perfect in the moment when Emma starts loosening her corset. I’ve always believed that Emma likes the power Hook gives her in their relationship, and this was a whole new level of power over a very different Hook. Even in another time, he still would have fallen for her charms, and that added a lovely bit of romance to what was essentially a comedic interlude. Also, present Hook punching his past self was as much about catharsis as it was about comedy. Hook isn’t that person anymore; he doesn’t like who that person represents, and he doesn’t like that person getting close to Emma because Emma was the one who helped him move on from that part of himself.
Past Hook saw Emma as a nameless conquest, a ship passing in the night. Present Hook sees her as Emma, a lost girl who just needs to know she’s not alone. I loved that he was her partner throughout this journey. She may have been able to rescue herself, but Hook’s presence helped her see that she doesn’t have to do everything alone. He complimented her when she felt uncomfortable in her dresses. He was her first dance at her first ball, and he helped her see herself as the princess she really is. He held her when she thought he mother was dying, a huge moment for their relationship because it was Emma allowing herself to be completely vulnerable with someone, knowing he would be there to hold her up. He confided in her about his brother to help her mourn her mother’s death. And he wiped her tears when Snow was found alive, which may have been my favorite little moment in the whole episode because it was so intimate and open for both of them.
But the most important thing about Hook in this episode is that he chose to go into the portal after her. Emma is a woman who is used to being left behind. But Hook won’t ever leave her to fend for herself. As he told Charming in one of the episode’s greatest scenes, he’d follow her to the end of the world—or time. O’Donoghue’s inherent sincerity worked its magic yet again in that moment. It was a line romantic enough to rival anything Charming has ever said, especially considering Emma’s history of abandonment.
Although it was clear that Emma and Hook’s adventure in the Enchanted Forest opened her heart to him (I mean just look at all her smiles!), I loved that Emma’s decision to call Storybooke home came from her love for her parents, especially her mother. She got to watch her parents fall in love, and (like all of us watching Dallas and Goodwin on a weekly basis), she was moved to tears by their love story. She finally saw them as real people who worked for their love; she could relate to them, and she wanted to relate to them. But the real catalyst was her mother. Morrison was heartbreaking in the scene where she hugged Snow, only to realize she didn’t mean anything to her. It was Emma’s epiphany moment, realizing that she always kept her mother at a distance instead of holding her close when she could.
Emma and Snow’s relationship used to be one of the most beautiful things about the show, but that got lost somewhere along the way. So imagine my delight when Emma realized her home was with her mother because she wasn’t an orphan anymore; she was a girl who has a mother and misses her terribly. Snow (as Mary Margaret) was the first person to offer Emma a real home in Storyrbooke (in “Snow Falls,” coincidentally), so I loved that it was her mother that Emma associated with home more than anyone else. Parental love is such a strong force on this show, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it be the driving force in this episode’s climax, with Emma realizing that, like Dorothy, she always had the power to get home. She just needed someone to remind her of her power (Hook) and a reason to want to go home that was driven by pure love (her light magic’s power source). It’s still making me cry that the reason was her mother because it was such an earned moment of realization for this character and this show.
When Emma returned home and reunited with her parents, that’s when the tears really started for me. To see her call them “Mom and Dad” when they’re not in peril was a huge moment of growth—from orphan to beloved and loving daughter. Morrison played Emma’s joy and relief so beautifully, but what actually got to me the most in that scene was Goodwin’s reaction when Emma called Snow “Mom.” It was a look that subtly but powerfully changed from Is this really happening? to This is really happening, and it was stunning.
The whole episode in terms of Emma’s character growth revolved around Neal’s quote about home being something you miss when it’s gone. And I loved that Morrison allowed you to see the exact second it clicked for Emma that she missed Hook’s presence beside her. She found home with her parents, but a part of that sense of home was missing without Hook.
I was so happy that Emma came to that decision to seek out Hook all on her own. Morrison played Emma’s interactions with him in that final scene perfectly; her walls were finally down because she chose him. It was there in the soft way they teased each other about Hook remembering the barmaid and in the way Emma didn’t pull away when he said he’d have gone after her. It was there in the affectionate way she called him a hero. And it was there in the gentle way she thanked him (using his real name) for bringing her back when just an episode ago she was blaming him for it.
With her walls finally down, Hook was able to let his last walls down and tell her what he gave up to get back to her. I was thrilled that they chose to have Hook tell Emma what he did to get back to her because we got to see her reaction. And what a reaction it was. Morrison showed with one look a lifetime’s worth of feeling unwanted fading away because Hook just told her he gave up his home to bring her back to hers.
So Emma chose to kiss him, but this wasn’t anything like their first kiss. It was better. I liked that it was slow and soft because it showed a different kind of chemistry between Morrison and O’Donoghue that was even more potent. Morrison was able to show how much Emma was allowing herself to feel loved in that moment. Her smile when they pulled away was a thing of beauty because it was so unguarded. And then he followed her smile with his own, which was beautiful in its symbolism—always letting her take the lead. As someone who always wanted Emma to find happiness and love, those little smiles meant the world to me as a fan. And then she met him halfway for another kiss, proving that this time it’s not a one-time thing.
The ending with Elsa was fun because it was unexpected (I thought it would take a couple more seasons to get to Frozen), but that’s not what I’ll be remembering for the whole hiatus. Instead, I’ll be thinking about one lost girl’s journey home. When Once Upon a Time focuses on Emma Swan, it hardly ever misses the mark. This episode was just another reminder of that.
Questions to Discuss All Summer How is Elsa going to factor into this world? Who’s your dream cast for next season? How will Regina deal with this heartbreak? What will Robin do now that Marian is back?
Finale Grade A – . I’m a sucker for a good fairytale, and that’s exactly what this finale was. It was a showcase for my favorite character and a new look at one of my favorite episodes in this show’s history. I’m hopeful that my doubts about the way some things were set up will be solved by the start of next season, and more than ever I’m looking forward to what comes next, especially for Emma.