Title Smash the Mirror
Two-Sentence Summary After Emma goes to Rumplestiltskin to get rid of her powers (not knowing he plans to have her sucked into the sorcerer’s hat), Hook and Elsa lead the charge to stop her, which leads to success for one of them and disaster for the other. Flashbacks reveal how Elsa ended up in the urn, which was a byproduct of Ingrid first casting the Shattered Sight curse on Anna, a curse she later let loose on all of Storybrooke.
Favorite Line “You have to love yourself, Emma, the good and the bad. The only way to ever truly be in control of your powers is to embrace them—because this, this is who you are.” (Elsa)
My Thoughts I think we all figured “Smash the Mirror” was going to be an emotional two hours of television, but I had no idea just how intense my reactions would be to what was going to happen. It’s amazing how—after years of watching not just this show but so many shows that featured every twist and turn in the book—Once Upon a Time still manages to surprise me in incredibly creative ways. I had so many predictions and theories about what was going to happen in this episode, and all but one (which was pretty obviously going to happen) turned out to be wrong. And I love that. I love that I don’t want to make predictions and theories for the rest of this half-season because, as this episode showed, the most fun I have as a viewer is watching all of the surprises this show can throw at me unfold.
“Smash the Mirror” did an excellent job of building on the major themes of this season in order to set the tone for the climactic final episodes before the midseason finale, which is aptly titled “Heroes and Villains.” This was an episode about heroism and villainy: how we define it, how we classify ourselves into those categories when life isn’t quite so black-and-white, and how we can change the way the world sees us and how we see ourselves by being brave. And in the world of Once Upon a Time true bravery comes from love, belief, and hope, which was never more clear than it was in this episode.
The flashbacks in this episode were absolutely perfect on both a plot level and an overall thematic level. Plot-wise, it was nice to see so many answers given and so many loose ends tied up in such a rewarding way. It didn’t feel like a checklist being worked through; it kept me emotionally invested and not just intellectually invested. And I think so much of that is because of this cast, whom I have come to love. It’s a mark of how wonderful they are that I get legitimately sad thinking about losing not just these characters at the end of this arc but also these actors. They add so much to this great ensemble, and I wish we could keep them forever.
Elizabeth Lail was once again a bright spot in a heavy episode, bringing the perfect amount of in-character comedic relief to what could have been an oppressively dark two hours. (Her variations on “Surprise!” and her relief at Elsa’s “ruse” were particular favorites of mine.) In addition to showing Anna’s goofy side, though, Lail once again impressed me with Anna’s warmth and strength. I absolutely loved every moment Anna and Elsa shared in this episode because I felt the sisterly chemistry between Lail and Georgina Haig better than ever before. I needed to feel that these sisters believed in one another so much that the climax of their storyline would feel truthful, and it worked. I believed that Anna loved Elsa so much that only the darkest of curses could make her turn on her, and I believed that Elsa loved Anna so much that she instinctively knew Anna would never hurt her of her own free will.
Anna’s love was beautiful in this episode, but it was Elsa’s that was nothing short of heroic. Love is sacrifice, and it’s also belief. Elsa believed in her sister enough to sacrifice herself instead of hurting her, knowing Anna wasn’t in her right mind. There have been many great acts of love on Once Upon a Time, but Elsa telling Anna she loved her as she was pulled into the urn was a truly powerful one because it’s the first we’ve ever seen on this show between sisters. It took the themes of Frozen and deepened them in the ways only this show can. And I can’t wait for these sisters to get their happy reunion.
The biggest thing standing in the way of any happy reunion, however, is Ingrid, whose scene with Anna in the dungeon was truly terrifying in the way only Elizabeth Mitchell can be, calm and cool while being as utterly evil as it gets. I loved all of the stuff with Ingrid and the apprentice, and I thought her appearance in our world was a great way to end the flashbacks. But the most telling part of her story was when she fully embraced being a “monster.” This season has been about how we perceive and define ourselves, and this episode focused on the idea that we all have darkness inside of us, but heroes choose to face that darkness and become more than it while villains become that darkness. Both Ingrid and Rumplestiltskin are two people who have apparently given up on the hope of becoming more than monsters—they both have chosen to let their darkness define them, and that’s what makes their power plays and interactions so delicious. They’re two characters without any sense of internal moral conflict anymore, and it’s fun to watch her go toe-to-toe with him. (Is it bad that I’d rather have Ingrid win this battle between them than Rumplestiltskin at this point? I mean, I’d like both of them to lose in the end, but it would be nice to see someone mess up his plans for a change.)
What’s fascinating about Rumplestiltskin’s perception of himself is its narrow-mindedness. He’s always seen himself as a villain, even when he was doing the heroic thing and sacrificing himself for the people he loved. Coming back from the dead seems to have only made that perception of himself darker; he died seeing himself as a villain, and he came back to life only to lose his son, effectively reinforcing his belief that villains don’t get happy endings. Instead of working like Regina to be a better person despite feeling robbed of his happy ending, he seems to have accepted that all he can be is a villain, so like Ingrid, he chooses to embrace being a monster instead of trying to earn a happy ending by being more than that simplistic view of himself. There’s a distinct kind of hopelessness in that mindset, and we all know that hope is the only way to find a happy ending.
Hope was at the center of Regina’s story in this episode, and I’m not sure I’ve ever liked her character more, which is saying something because I loved her arc at the end of last season. It’s fascinating to compare Regina and Rumplestiltskin—not in terms of who is the “worse” character or anything as petty as that, but to compare their approaches to fearing that they will always be seen as monsters. Instead of simply embracing that and returning back to her “evil” past self, Regina is actively trying to change how she is seen and how she sees herself. This episode balanced her hopes and doubts in a really beautiful way, as is usually the case in episodes with strong Regina/Snow interaction. Ginnifer Goodwin and Lana Parrilla bring something very natural and grounded out of each other as actresses, and I love the dynamic they’ve built between these two women with such a real sense of history between them.
This episode began with Regina in a compromising position—in more ways than one. I’m going to say it right now: That scene in the vault was all kinds of hot; Parrilla and Sean Maguire have excellent chemistry. But I also liked that Regina knew that—despite how right it seemed to feel—what happened couldn’t happen again. Robin is in a horrible situation, but he needs to make a choice. It’s not fair to Marian or Regina to keep things going the way they are. I wonder if that last kiss in the library was a sign that he’s ready to make that choice. It would be less problematic to watch if Marian wasn’t frozen and could actually be an active party in this choice that affects her life, too, but such is the way of this show and its imperfect ways of handling love triangles.
Regina’s story in this episode was less about her actual relationship with Robin than it was about what that relationship represents: hope. I loved that Snow was the most honest and real we’ve seen anyone be with Regina in terms of the storybook and getting a happy ending. She’s right; Regina was written as a villain because she made bad choices, but that doesn’t mean she’s doomed to be a villain forever. Nothing is that simple, and Snow knows that perhaps better than anyone. As she told Regina so beautifully, Snow is not all good, and Regina is not all evil. They’ve both made good choices and bad ones, and the key is to accept the bad choices but believe you can be more like the person who made the good choices. The key is to hope that happy endings are out there and to hope that you can be a person who is worthy of one. To choose hope after living without it is a brave act, and when Regina allowed herself to hope, it literally changed everything.
I’m fascinated by the idea of the book’s connection to hope. I still have no idea who wrote it or why it seems to write itself, and I didn’t care much about Robin and Will’s adventures. But I love the message that our stories can change for the better if we open ourselves up to hope, that there’s no predetermination for our lives based on whether or not people think we’re “good” or “evil.” Our choices determine our lives. And Regina is learning to make better choices, which is leading to more paths opening up for her towards a happy ending.
One of those better choices involved opening up to Snow and Charming about her regret over making Henry feel like he was crazy before Emma came to Storybrooke. I’d always wondered if the show was going to address this, and it did so in a really beautiful way that had real ramifications for not just Regina but also Snow and Charming. Regina’s scene with Henry was lovely because it was a mother encouraging her son to believe she loves him exactly as he is, which is what Emma was missing from her own mother. Therefore, it was nice to see Regina’s patented mixture of sass and sincerity convince Snow and Charming that they were wrong for not fighting for their daughter to love herself and feel loved by them for exactly who she is.
It bothered me to see Snow and Charming so quick to let Emma give up her magic, but it led to this perfect moment of Regina confronting her own darkness in terms of what she did to Henry in order to be a better person and help Snow and Charming to confront their own shortcomings as parents. I would have liked a little more interaction between Emma and her parents (Although Goodwin’s performance in Snow’s phone conversation with Emma was brilliant.), but for this episode, Regina was the only one who could connect with Snow and Charming because she knows what it’s like to feel like a failure as a parent. It was a moment I never knew I wanted to see until it was happening, and it was one of my favorite moments in the episode.
Another major theme of “Smash the Mirror,” as reflected in the Snow/Charming/Regina interactions, was that sometimes the people who help us the most on our journey towards being a better person aren’t always the people we expect, but they’re the people we need in that moment. I’m sure Regina didn’t think it would be Snow and her unfailing hope that would help her find a new path to a happy ending, and I’m sure Snow didn’t think Regina would be the one to help her be a better mother to Emma.
And then there was Emma herself. It broke my heart to see Emma hurt Henry at the beginning of the episode—and not just because watching a Emma’s horror as it all unfolded was tough to take. (Kudos to Jennifer Morrison for once again depicting Emma’s fear of herself perfectly without ever taking it over the top.) It was because both Henry and Emma genuinely hoped that he could be the one to help her control her magic. If your True Love can’t save you from yourself, then who can?
That question made up the heart of Emma’s story in this episode, and the resolution to it was absolutely stunning and incredibly important. Emma’s desperation to do whatever it took to keep Henry safe was such a stark contrast to who Regina once was and who Rumplestiltskin still is—Emma is a mother who is willing to give up her magic for her son. The flashbacks reminded us of the idea that love is sacrifice, and Emma’s story reinforced that beautifully.
However, Rumplestiltskin used that love and her desperation to manipulate her in a way I honestly didn’t see coming—at least not yet. I didn’t expect him to go this dark so soon, but when he threw that paper into the trash, it was clear he was going to try to put Emma into the hat, which was a new level of darkness—even for him. As Hook said later in the episode, Emma is his grandson’s mother, the woman his son loved. Trapping Emma in the hat effectively destroys any sense of Rumplestiltskin trying to honor Bae. But this episode was about Rumplestiltskin choosing to see himself as only a villain, believing he can only be defined by his darkness. So while it was tough to watch him descend so deeply into darkness, it made perfect sense.
While I didn’t expect to see Rumplestiltskin descend into darkness so soon, it was good to know at least one character knew better. I loved the way Colin O’Donoghue played Hook’s desperation in this episode. His tension in the loft and his first, strained voicemail to Emma were perfect, but where he really excelled was in the scene in Gold’s shop. I don’t know what it is about phone conversations in that shop, but they lead to some of this show’s most revealing and emotional moments.
As Hook pleaded with Emma into her voicemail, it became clear that this scene was another example of love being sacrifice, and it was also example of the heroism and bravery inherent in admitting your darkness and wanting to be more than it. In that heartfelt message, Hook admitted to everything he’d done in terms of his deals and dealings with Rumplestiltskin, telling Emma that he tried to be a better man but failed. The way his voice wavered and broke throughout that scene was devastating, and it reminded me that no one on this show plays guilt and desperation like O’Donoghue, which is important knowing the story he’s about to be a part of. And what hurt the most about that scene was knowing Hook believed he was sacrificing his relationship with Emma because her magic and her life were more important than his desire to have her love him. He did the brave thing and admitted his darkness, but he still struggles with believing he can move on from it. The thing is, he’s already moved on from it in so many ways, just by wanting to be a better person; he just needs someone to help him see that.
That person certainly isn’t going to be Rumplestiltskin, who was getting way too much enjoyment out of emotionally torturing him outside the house where Emma was debating whether or not to give up her magic. O’Donoghue and Robert Carlyle are such brilliant scene partners, and they were at their best here. When Rumplestiltskin told Hook he was going to make him watch Emma choose to effectively kill herself, I was shocked at the intimacy of that threat; it harkened back to Hook watching Rumplestiltskin kill Milah, rendered powerless to help her. And then he brought up Milah directly, using that heartbreak to taunt Hook with the idea that he would feel it again after Emma’s death.
Rumplestiltskin brought up Milah’s death with Hook as a way to try to prove to him once again that he hasn’t changed, that all he needed was an excuse to go back to the vengeance-driven man he once was. It’s fascinating to watch these two characters interact because Rumplestiltskin seems to project his own darkness onto Hook, which is simply untrue. Like Emma with Henry, Hook was ready to do whatever it took to keep her from getting hurt or killed, stating that he was willing to fight to death to keep her safe. His bravery (which once manifested itself as cockiness, and sometimes still does) is the perfect foil for Rumplestiltskin’s cowardice. And that bravery is never more apparent than when he’s choosing to fight for love.
That’s what made his heart so bright and red when Rumplestiltskin took it out—he’s not consumed with darkness anymore, even if he still fears it in himself. His heart isn’t dark. It’s bright, reflecting the fact that hearts can change; we’re not bound by the lives we once led or the people we once were. At his core, Hook has always been driven by the strength of his heart’s ability to love. And I thought Carlyle played Rumplestiltskin’s momentary surprise at the state of Hook’s heart perfectly.
Like Anna and Elsa, it was going to take more than manipulation to divide Hook and Emma; it was going to take some villain intervention and free-will stripping. There was something darkly poetic about Hook’s heart—the very thing that defines him—being stolen from him and used against him. But the end of this episode also showed that, even without his heart, he’s going to fight to love Emma the way he feels she deserves to be loved. Regina being able to feel from her soul and without her heart made sense, and I think the same can be said of Hook’s devotion; his ability to be devoted to loving one person has carried him through centuries and across realms. And that intense kiss proved that he’s not going to let the fact that his heart is gone keep him from making Emma feel loved. In fact, it’s only going to make his devotion to her stronger because he’s afraid of leaving her.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out because it seems that Emma already knows something is up with him. I don’t know how she’ll find out about his heart, but she will. And she’s finally in a place where she can both fight for his heart using her most powerful and controlled magic and fight for him to see the good in himself through his darkness, because that last moment of him grabbing the hat showed in a very painful way how much he hates himself for doing Rumplestiltskin’s bidding. O’Donoghue played that disgust perfectly, and, if nothing else, this story is going to give him even more great acting moments before it’s all done.
Hook getting his heart taken may have felt like added angst for the sake of angst, but it was really another case of one person being exactly what we need at a given moment in our lives. In this case, Emma needed to get to this exact point in order to be able to fight for him the way we’ve seen him fight for her. And by “this exact point,” I mean this point of magical power and self-acceptance. This episode allowed Emma to finally embrace every part of herself, and that’s something she can use to inspire Hook to do the same and to set her up as a brilliant foil for Rumplestiltskin, who still so incorrectly believes that people can only be good or evil, that heroes and villains can never escape those labels, and that love can never be enough to save a villain from themselves.
The scene between Rumplestiltskin and Emma in the house was brilliantly written and performed. Morrison and Carlyle don’t get to act opposite each other nearly enough. The way Rumplestiltskin was able to so effectively manipulate her by telling the total truth but in such a twisted manner was perfect. It truly showed the depths of his self-loathing, and Morrison allowed Emma to channel a little bit of her mother’s optimism into the scene while still being true to Emma’s inherent skepticism.
In the end, Emma was faced with a choice, and she chose to believe in her ability to save herself from her own darkness; she chose to believe in herself for all that she is, magic included. It was crucial to have Elsa be the one to help her love herself because, in keeping with one of this episode’s themes, sometimes there is only one person who can truly help you be your best self because only they can relate to you the way you need. Only Elsa has walked this path; only Elsa knows the struggle to accept yourself the way Emma needed to in order to be truly free. Only Elsa knows how to be brave the way Emma needed to be brave. It had to be Elsa, and I’m so happy it was. Female friendships deserve this kind of celebration. It’s often our female friends who are on the front lines with us in the battle against self-loathing, reminding us to love ourselves for exactly who we are.
Elsa may have inspired Emma, but, in her own words, “The only one who saves me is me.” Emma chose to love herself, no one else could make that choice for her. And it proved to be its own kind of True Love, calming her uncontrolled magic instantly. Loving yourself for exactly who you are—good and bad, light and dark—is such an important journey that we all have to go on in our lives in order to be the best version of ourselves. It may not have been the “romantic” option to have Hook outside and unable to help Emma, but it was the right option. In the world of Once Upon a Time, romantic love is simply one kind of love among many important kinds—the love between family members, friends, and the love we have for ourselves. Emma had to be her own savior in this moment because no one else can make you love yourself; you have to choose that on your own. It’s a deeply personal journey, and it’s one I’m so happy this show was brave enough to address in such a big episode.
There was so much that unfolded in these two hours: Curses were cast, hearts were taken, confessions were made, and kisses were shared. But at the end of it all, what I’ll remember is the way the savior saved herself, emerging from that house stronger than ever—in her magic and in her sense of self. That’s going to be tested by the Shattered Sight curse and Hook’s stolen heart, but this episode brought Emma to a place where she will be able to help people through these crises just like Elsa helped her. Because that’s what a hero does; they face their demons, and they use that to help others work through their own moments of doubt and darkness. And sometimes, the heroes who help us are the people we’d least expect but the people we need the most.