Title Breaking Glass
Two-Sentence Summary As Regina and Emma seek out the Snow Queen for different reasons, Emma attempts to mend their broken relationship, which Regina feels is damaged beyond repair. Flashbacks to Emma’s past as a runaway teenager show that Emma was once in Regina’s shoes, feeling alone and unable to forgive after feeling betrayed.
Favorite Line “Now she’ll be able to reach us on our drive, our hike, if we fall through a portal to Asgard—wherever we are.” (Charming)
My Thoughts Once Upon a Time is a show rooted in the idea that love is strength, and I’ve always appreciated that it isn’t afraid to show the other side of that statement, too: A life without love robs us of our strengths and keeps us from being our best selves. “Breaking Glass” reflected both sides of the “love is strength” idea in the tumultuous interactions between Emma and Regina throughout the episode, in the flashbacks to Emma’s lonely life as a runaway, and in even the smallest character beats throughout the episode.
At first glance, Snow and Charming’s little side plot may have felt like nothing more than a sweet little break from the heaviness of what Emma and Regina were dealing with. And yes, it was pretty darn adorable. (But when have Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin shared a scene and been anything other than perfect together?) But it also reflected the central theme of the episode: When you feel like someone is supporting you and loves you, you are more willing to move beyond your fears and be the best version of yourself.
Will is the example of what happens when you feel alone and lost—he’s a shell of the happy man we last saw in Wonderland with Anastasia, reverting to his worst traits. But Snow was stronger than we’ve seen her in a long time in this episode, even if she did pardon Will when she shouldn’t have. And what gave her the strength to find her groove after being afraid to leave her son? Knowing her husband loves her and wants her to be her best self, even if he didn’t actually set up Will’s escape. It’s what made their last scene so sweet. These are two people who have been through hell and back together, but they’ve survived it all because they know someone will always be there to lean on when things are hard, reminding them of the best they can be. And that’s why they’re this show’s shining example of True Love.
On the opposite side of the spectrum from Snow and Charming, we have Regina. You don’t have to like Regina’s behavior in this episode (Goodness knows I bristled at some of the stuff she said to Emma.), but it’s important to remember that she’s behaving in a way that is so true to her character and so true to the entire ethos of this show: When you feel alone, you forget your best self. And Regina feels completely alone at this point. The shots of her holding the picture of her and Robin were so important (Who are we supposed to think took that photo and Emma and Neal’s photo, by the way? That briefly took me out of both moments.) Lana Parrilla plays heartbreak like she was born to show all the facets of that emotion, and even though I knew I should be frustrated with her for pushing Emma away and being so harsh with her, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her. Regina is in so much pain, and she needed to process and let out all of it before she could even begin to think about growing from this experience, and that’s what this episode was all about.
When we saw Regina lash out at Emma in the woods, we were seeing Regina at rock bottom. While Emma shouldn’t have to apologize for saving a life, Regina is allowed to still feel upset about what happened—she’s only human, and she’s still learning how to deal with heartbreak in a healthy way. For Regina, anger is a security blanket; it’s something she is afraid to let go of and has been ever since she learned that anger is power (from Rumplestiltskin nonetheless—don’t even get me started on my latent anger over how he manipulated young Regina). Her anger at Emma and her statement that she wasn’t going to forgive her because she didn’t want to were her way to cling to her past, to fall back into old patterns of behavior because that feels safe and easy. It’s the same as Emma wanting to run back to New York last season—it wasn’t pleasant to watch, but it served a purpose: to show how both of these women are flawed, human, and struggling to let go and let others in after having a taste of happiness and losing it.
Last season, we saw Regina learn to let go of her anger for a chance at love, but she only ended up getting hurt. So it makes sense that she would be reluctant to let go of her anger towards Emma. Regina lived an isolated life under Cora’s thumb; friendship is something she knows little about. It was hard for her to understand Emma’s genuine gesture of friendship and caring because it’s not how she was taught to act towards anyone. It was hard for her to believe Emma could really want to help her and not just assuage her own guilty conscience because Regina doesn’t have a lot of experience with kindness that doesn’t have an ulterior motive.
But that’s the beautiful thing about Emma; she was genuinely extending an offer of friendship to Regina because she understands Regina. She was once so consumed by loneliness and a lack of love that she wasn’t able to forgive, either. Emma’s empathy may be an even greater superpower than her lie-detecting abilities. She’s lived through so much—especially so many different kinds of pain—that she is almost bursting with empathy. Sometimes that leads to sticky situations, like freeing Marian, and sometimes that leads to beautiful moments of reaching out to people who thought no one could ever understand them, like she did with Regina in this episode.
The flashbacks in this episode were a really lovely way to compare who Emma was to who she is now. Kudos to the Once Upon a Time casting department for once again casting a young actor who perfectly matches the mannerisms and look of their adult counterpart. It broke my heart to see Emma and Lily so happy and open with each other, because knowing how lonely Emma was later, I knew it was going to end poorly. Emma has had such a sad history of being surrounded by people who weren’t who they said they were (Lily saying she didn’t have a family, Neal not telling her about his past, Walsh being a flying monkey, and now a certain forgotten foster mother, too), and it made sense for her as a character to react so strongly to Lily actually having a family. Even as a girl, we could see just how much of an impact not having a family’s love in her life had on Emma. It made her shut people out without any hope for a second chance, and it was heartbreaking to watch her coldly turn away from Lily and go off on her own once again.
In the present, though, we were able to see that Emma has grown so much from who she was then. However, Regina was so much like young Emma that Emma couldn’t help but keep trying with her because she saw a reflection of herself in Regina’s coldness. Emma is a member of the Charming Family, and they don’t give up on people, especially when those people seem to have given up on being their best self. Emma was right—she and Regina do understand each other on an important level. Emma hasn’t ever talked about what it was like when she got out of jail, but it had to be difficult to fight to build a better life for herself, and she has always related to Regina’s struggle in that way. And she and Regina both grew up feeling isolated (for different reasons), they both have magic, and they are both mothers to the same child. They’re connected on many levels, and I liked seeing Emma acknowledge that they can understand each other in ways no one else can—because it’s true.
When Emma went back to Regina’s vault, I loved how open she was. Not only is she able to accept love in her own life; she’s able to offer it to someone she knows needs a friend. And Regina’s face when Emma extended the hand of friendship to her was just a brilliant display of subtlety by Parrilla. The vulnerability she let slip through her facade was astounding. Regina never believed she could have a friend. She never believed someone could see her at her worst and still care about her. And that’s scary—to stop pushing everyone away and accept that someone can care about you because they see the good behind the hurt. Emma tried to give Regina hope that maybe she doesn’t have to be alone in working through her pain. And that’s a start. (And I think a bit of foreshadowing for what’s going to happen whenever Emma finds out about Hook’s situation with Rumplestiltskin—thank God that angst was put on the backburner in this episode.)
This was another episode that allowed us to sit back and marvel at how much Emma has grown, and it’s all because she has the stability she was missing in her youth and that Regina feels she is missing now—the stability brought on by knowing you have people who love you and support you. Emma has a true friend now in Elsa. (I liked them talking about her problems with Regina because it felt very honest and real.) And she has the thing that was missing from her life in the flashbacks—a family. It was heartbreaking to watch young Emma talk about how she was too old to ever have a couple look at her like she was their child, but it was also beautiful to think that she is able to experience that all the time now. She has parents who look at her like she’s their beautiful, impressive little girl, even though she’s as old as they are. And their love has helped her find a sense of home and confidence in herself she never had before.
“Breaking Glass” also emphasized another person whose support has helped Emma grow to become the best version of herself, and that’s Hook. I loved their smiles and adorable little kiss at the opening of the episode not just because it was the kind of sweet moment of happiness I’ve always wanted for Emma but because it set up the idea that Emma was able to reach out to Regina because she is able to draw strength from the love she has in her life.
The last scene of the episode was stunning in terms of Emma’s character growth, especially comparing her with Regina and with who she was as a child. Regina was still clinging to her past self, and Emma in the flashbacks was defined so painfully by her lonely past. But that last scene showed us a new Emma—a better, stronger Emma than ever before. She’s not using her past as a reason to stay closed off to others anymore, but she’s not pretending like her past didn’t happen, either. Just like Elsa had to let go of her fear in order to break her chains and Regina struggled to let go of her belief that no one could understand her, Emma had to let go of her fear of sharing her past with someone. And she did. And I’m still emotional about it.
That whole final scene was a really lovely callback to the moment I first really started to like the idea of Emma and Hook being together, when Hook asked who Emma was in Season Three’s “Lost Girl” and proceeded to say that perhaps he would like to know who she really is. Like that moment, this started with a shared flask and a question that could have been met with Emma putting her walls up again. But Emma has grown even from the woman we saw in “Lost Girl.” When Hook asked if he could have the honor of seeing the box that holds what’s left of her childhood, Emma didn’t shut him down. Instead, she handed him the box, symbolically placing her past—the things she’s hidden from everyone else (except the baby blanket she shared with Mary Margaret, which made me cry with its reappearance)—in his hands. That’s terrifying for anyone, but especially for someone whose past has caused them as much pain as Emma’s has. And I loved that Colin O’Donoghue played Hook as being 100% aware of the magnitude of this gesture. He and Jennifer Morrison did so much while saying so little in this final scene. There was such depth in that scene, a real sense of quiet understanding of how important this moment was. And I loved that both actors seemed to understand the gravitas and the intimacy needed to make it resonate the way it did.
There was a lovely little beat where Hook picked up Emma’s glasses and smiled, prompting Emma to smile softly in return. And Morrison used that moment to show Emma’s relief that she made the right choice to trust him with that box. He didn’t run away—not even after the photo of Neal. Her past didn’t scare him off; it made this pirate smile to see her offer him a treasure chest of insight into her beginnings. And I’m hopeful that her sharing all the parts of herself with him—even her painful past—helps him become open to sharing all of himself with her.
As Emma and Hook watched the video of her with Lily, I was struck by the simple idea that’s at the heart of Frozen: Love can thaw. What happened with Lily was just another heartbreak that made Emma grow colder and continue to shut people out. But in that beautiful moment of comfort and support—with Hook holding her hand and her not letting go as his arm went around her—we saw Emma finally learning to lean on someone when she’s feeling vulnerable, finally feeling safe to be her truest self with someone, putting both her past pain and her present vulnerability in the hands of someone she trusts. Having Hook to lean on when she would have otherwise felt alone has made Emma stronger, and it further highlighted to me the reasons why Emma was able to be so open to Regina while Regina was being so harsh to her. Love is strength, and Emma is stronger than ever because she has someone to hold her when things are difficult, and that’s something I have wanted for this character for so long. And it’s something Regina has lost, and I do hope she gets back someday.
That strength is going to be more necessary than ever as Emma deals with the bombshell dropped at the end of this episode. We all had a feeling the Snow Queen was one of Emma’s foster mothers, but that didn’t make the reveal any less fun. I’m absolutely fascinated by the Snow Queen, and so much of that has to do with Elizabeth Mitchell’s performance. She’s channeling something so—sorry for the pun—chilling. Her soft voice and smile are just so unsettling. She was perfectly cast for this role. Also, I know it’s a little detail, but I love the way her hand moves so elegantly as she’s doing her magic. I am also obsessed with her stunning gown (and endlessly amused that she is barefoot under it).
I’m so intrigued by the way this story seems to be working with both Frozen and the original Snow Queen fairytale—with the mirror and the shards of glass. Who will fall victim to it? Why did she try to get close to Emma when she was younger, how did she manage to get to this world, and what happened that led to her wiping Emma’s memories? And what does she want with Emma now?
All we know is that she wants a family, and I wonder if it’s a family made up of magical people because she felt alone and isolated because of her magic. This episode was a reminder of what a lack of love and a sense of being alone can do to people—it can turn them cold and keep them from being their best self. But I am not ready to start theorizing yet. Instead, I just want to remain in a place of complete excitement for what’s to come now that Emma is going to be dealing with this information. It’s certainly going to make an exciting season of growth for Emma even more exciting. And here I am, eagerly waiting for another Sunday night once again.