Title Heroes and Villains
Two-Sentence Summary As Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff prepare to go back to Arendelle, Regina also has to say goodbye to Robin, as he crosses the town line with Marian, who is still affected by remnants of Ingrid’s curse. Rumplestiltskin has his own goodbye to Storybrooke (and Hook) planned, but his plot is foiled by Belle, who forces him over the town line and into an alliance with Ursula, Cruella de Vil, and Maleficent.
Favorite Line “Cruella! I thought I caught a whiff of desperation and gin.” (Rumplestiltskin)
My Thoughts “Heroes and Villains” was a jam-packed midseason finale with a lot to process—so much so that it took me a few hours and a lot of thinking to figure out what I truly felt about this episode. My immediate reaction was to say that I was pleased overall with the way the important plot points in this episode were resolved, but I was left somewhat emotionally unsatisfied. After a long time mulling the episode’s events over in my head, I’ve come to the conclusion that my immediate reaction was a result of setting expectations a little too high. Not every midseason finale can be “Going Home” in terms of its ability to tug at my heartstrings. Ultimately, “Heroes and Villains” did an admirable job weaving a cohesive story of what makes a person a hero—selflessness, courage, and fighting your darker impulses to choose to do the right thing, especially when it’s not easy. And, in the process, it gave me so many moments I’d been hoping for and character interactions I’d been waiting to see.
If I had any major complaints with this episode it was that I wished it could have been two hours instead of one. There was just so much going on that sometimes it felt like emotional beats got lost in the shuffle, and certain moments of plot explanation got lost, too. That’s just me being greedy, though, because what we got for characters like Rumplestiltskin, Belle, and Regina was so good that I wanted everyone to have those kinds of moments in this episode. As a big Charming Family fangirl, I would have liked to see Snow and Charming have a little more to do, but with a big cast, it’s hard to have episodes where every character gets their time in the spotlight. (And last week had so much good Snow/Charming stuff that I really shouldn’t complain.)
Part of me also wished for a little bit more time spent on Emma’s reactions to things after a half-season so firmly devoted to showing her growth. But there was so much good, important stuff that needed to be dealt with for other characters that I could understand why the focus of the episode couldn’t be on Emma. Besides, Season 4A was beyond good to me as an Emma Swan fan. I got more development than I could have ever hoped for, and the beauty of Emma’s story is that this episode ended with hope and happiness for her. So I know that means there’s plenty of development to come in 4B with her continuing to be in a place where she feels safe and hopeful to explore her own growth, emotions, and relationships.
Emma was one of the only people (along with her immediate family, Hook, and the Frozen gang) to end this episode in a good place emotionally. And, just like in “Breaking Glass,” I think Emma’s sense of hope and happiness that was reaffirmed at the end of this episode allowed her to be a good friend to Regina when Regina needed it the most. But unlike in “Breaking Glass,” Regina allowed herself to accept that offer of friendship this time.
I think we could all use a friend like Emma Swan, who knows that there’s a time for hope speeches but there’s also a time for shots. Both Regina and Emma had been through a lot in this episode. (I firmly believe Emma wasn’t just drinking with Regina for the latter’s sake—having to put your boyfriend’s heart back in his chest is definitely something that would warrant copious amounts of alcohol being consumed.) It was nice to see both of these women allowing themselves a moment of slowly developing friendship after a long, chaotic day.
“Heroes and Villains” was another episode that showed us how far Regina has come from who she was. Even something as small as accepting Emma’s gesture of friendship went a long way towards showing her trying to become a better person. But the process of becoming a better person isn’t easy, and Regina has learned that over and over again. In this episode alone, she went on a crazy rollercoaster of emotions, but the important thing was that—through all of those twists and turns—Regina kept actively choosing to do the right thing. She put Marian’s heart back in her chest, which was a pretty symbolic moment of heroism and goodness in an episode that also featured Rumplestiltskin getting ready to crush Hook’s heart to get his happy ending.
That selfless act of saving Marian led to one of the episode’s most beautiful scenes, where Marian sought Regina out to thank her and to say that she’s coming to terms with the possibility of Robin choosing Regina. In that moment, I felt overwhelmed with love for one of my favorite female characters since childhood (a recurring theme in this episode for me). This was the brave, strong, selfless Maid Marian I grew up adoring. She’s a woman who doesn’t want to be just the honorable choice; she doesn’t want to be chosen out of a misguided sense of duty. She wants to be loved. And she deserves to be loved. In an episode that focused on heroism as doing something selfless and believing in your own inner strength to do the right thing, Marian’s conversation with Regina was shown to be nothing less than heroic.
While it was beautiful to see Marian essentially give Robin and Regina their happiness, it seemed my instinct to always wait for the other shoe to drop with Regina’s happiness was sadly right once again. I found it a little too convenient that the moment Robin said he’d chosen Regina, Ingrid’s magic kicked back in with Marian. It felt forced just to give Regina a moment of hope before ripping it away again. However, it led to some of the most stunning moments of development for Regina so far this season. I can forgive a blatant plot device when it gives us something as good as Lana Parrilla’s acting in the town line scene.
The scene between Regina and Rumplestiltskin in the car at the town line was my favorite in the entire episode because it said so much about these two fascinating characters and their relationship. What this season has showed us is that Rumplestiltskin really delights in being the devil on someone’s shoulder, tempting them to give in to their darker impulses (which is a brilliant bit of psychology at play, since it’s clearly because he doesn’t want to be alone in being unable to overcome his own darkness). And that’s always been his role with Regina—from the time he manipulated her into crushing her first heart.
But this Regina isn’t the same woman. Just as Rumplestiltskin and Hook’s scenes have highlighted how much Hook has grown and changed for the better while Rumplestiltskin has stayed on his dark path, this scene contrasted Regina’s growing sense of heroism with Rumplestiltskin’s continued darkness. It was so easy for him to suggest to Regina that she kill Marian and claim her happy ending, but Regina said it best—that’s not who she is anymore. Parrilla did such a great job of showing that for one moment Regina thought about giving in to the temptation to just take her happy ending by killing Marian like he was telling her to do. But ultimately she knew that was wrong, and that’s what is helping her become a hero—that ability to look at her own darkness and turn away from it, that ability to see the easy way out and choose to do the hard thing instead because it’s the right thing to do. That takes courage, and that’s what makes her different from the man who was telling her to kill Marian.
I also thought it was perfect that, just like Hook, Regina could tell as soon as she was alone with Rumplestiltskin that he wasn’t the changed man everyone else thought he was. That’s why I’d been waiting with bated breath for a scene between these two characters—she can read him so well, and I knew she’d be onto him right away because of all the history between them. That sense of history and unique intimacy between them allowed Rumplestiltskin to open up to her about why he’s still on the path he’s on, and I have to say I was really proud of some of you NGN readers for calling it from the start: It all comes back to his resurrection. He died a hero’s death, but he came back as the Dark One once again—and he came back under the control of Zelena. It makes sense to think of that as the reason why he’s obsessing over power and wanting to be free of the dagger, even if it doesn’t excuse what he’s done towards that end, which he sees as his happy ending.
Regina wants love. Rumplestiltskin wants power. And wanting such different things has completely affected how they view happy endings. For Regina, it’s something given to you. For Rumplestiltskin, it’s something you take. I loved Rumplestiltskin’s lines about no one controlling his fate because they were so complex. On one hand, I believe that with my whole heart—we control our destiny; we have the power to change our stories. But on the other hand, I couldn’t believe I was agreeing with the Dark One. Neither Regina nor Rumplestiltskin seem to understand, though, that everyone can get a happy ending—but not by doing whatever it takes to get one. They have to be earned by the choices you make and the life you lead. And they’re not easy to find and hold onto; they can’t be achieved by taking the easy way out. In the end, Rumplestiltskin might truly want Regina to have happiness, but I think he can’t even comprehend her idea of happiness at this point because it’s not power; it’s love.
While Rumplestiltskin planned to get his happy ending through murder and manipulation, Regina essentially gave hers up because she refused to be that person anymore; she knew that would never be a true happy ending because she couldn’t live with herself if she killed Marian. That’s what made her goodbye to Robin at the town line so painful. She knew what she was saying goodbye to, but she also knew what had to be done. She couldn’t let him say he loved her because it would make it too hard, and the struggle to keep from giving in to her love for him was written all over Parrilla’s body language in such a moving way. Seeing Regina doing the right thing—the selfless thing—at the town line at the expense of her own happiness reminded me in a really lovely way of “Going Home.” Regina has been choosing to walk a hero’s path for a long time now, and it hasn’t always been easy. Watching her rip of the pages of the book—effectively ripping up her hopes for happiness—broke my heart. Who would have thought all the way back in Season One that I would be rooting so hard for the Evil Queen to get her happy ending?
The ending of the episode gave us a little glimpse into Regina’s storyline for next season, and it’s one I’m still torn about. I like the idea of the sorcerer and the author being one and the same (or at least connected somehow), but I’m still not sold on Operation Mongoose. I’m still hopeful that this storyline will end with Regina getting her happy ending because of the choices she’s made to be a better person—not because she begged the all-powerful author to change her story. And I’m hoping that having Emma join the team means that she’ll help Regina get her happy ending by helping her be her best self, not helping her force the author to change her story. It seemed like a very sudden bit of agreement from Emma, but it’s what needed to be done to move the plot for next season forward in a short amount of time. I’m sure I’ll warm up to Operation Mongoose eventually. If nothing else, it will help develop all the relationships in the Emma/Henry/Regina dynamic, which I am always up for seeing more often.
I’m hopeful that this Operation Mongoose storyline will lead to the development of a healthy, mutually supportive friendship for both Emma and Regina because I’m more than a little sad that we had to say goodbye to Emma’s only real (non-family, non-boyfriend) friend in this episode. I know that most of the Frozen story wrapped up beautifully last week, but I do have to admit that this was one of the parts of “Heroes and Villains” I thought felt the most rushed. Maybe it’s because I found the beginning a little jarring with the way it jumped right into the whole group dealing with the ice wall in about two seconds. I didn’t need to see Anna/Kristoff and Emma/Hook’s reunions after the Spell of Shattered Sight, but it did feel like this episode picked up in the middle of the action instead of having a real beginning. But maybe I’m the only one who found the pacing a bit off.
I did like the fact that Rumplestiltskin saw Anna as a threat, and I loved that he was right to fear her in the end. I’m going to miss a lot of things about the Frozen crew, but the thing I will miss the most is Elizabeth Lail’s Anna. From her saying that Mr. Gold sounded “super helpful” to her getting to help save the day by revealing him to be the liar he truly is, this episode was a nice reminder of how much I’ve come to love what this actress and this show did for one of my new favorite Disney princesses.
I also liked the way Hook could pick up on Rumplestiltskin’s fear of Anna immediately because—like Regina—he knows Rumplestiltskin’s tells. Their confrontation in the shop brought out the best in both Colin O’Donoghue and Robert Carlyle once again. For as happy as I am to have the angst of this storyline over, I’ll miss this dynamic more than words can say.
“Heroes and Villains” reminded us of a lot of things about Rumplestiltskin, but one of the first things it stated in the flashbacks is that he’s a man who deals in manipulation. It’s not just about power for him; it’s about psychologically destroying people along the way. And that came back in the present-day storyline with his subtle but very apparent enjoyment of using Hook’s heart to manipulate his interactions with Emma. Carlyle perfectly showed Rumplestiltskin’s comfort and ease with using someone to get what he wants (in this case, using Hook’s heart to get Anna out of Storybrooke). It was chilling, especially the moment when he had Hook call Emma “love.”
But for as good as Carlyle was in that moment, even he couldn’t top O’Donoghue’s performance. Watching Hook say Rumplestiltskin’s words was so painful because O’Donoghue showed using just his eyes how much he wanted to break free from this control and tell Emma the truth. And then when Emma realized something was wrong, you could see his eyes soften at the idea that she cared enough to notice. Jennifer Morrison also played that interaction perfectly. I loved the soft intimacy of her touching his face, trying to soothe him despite not knowing what was really going on. Emma doesn’t often get to be anyone’s source of comfort, and I loved that you could see on Hook’s face how much it meant to him to have her reach out to him like that.
It was that brief moment—that moment of Emma showing him she cared enough to know something was wrong and that she wanted to make it better—that allowed Hook to find the strength to break through Rumplestiltskin’s control and show Emma through his shaking hand on her arm that he was lying about being fine, despite not being able to say otherwise. In an episode filled with heroic acts, this was another one—a man fighting the darkness literally holding his heart to reach out the woman he loves. Love is strength, and the love slowly growing between Hook and Emma has grown strong enough to fight darkness in its own, quiet way.
I loved that brief moment of strength for Hook and realization for Emma, so I was disappointed that it led basically nowhere, both emotionally and on a plot level. I would have at least liked to see Emma be somewhat skeptical of the portal since she knew Hook was saying things under duress. But things had to keep moving at this point in the episode, and there were characters to bid farewell to, leaving no time for Emma to worry about Hook.
The most important goodbye, of course, was Elsa saying goodbye to Emma. Their hug was lovely, and I was so happy to see this friendship end on such a warm note. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel a little lacking. (Maybe I shouldn’t have watched Parks and Rec’s “Ann and Chris”—the pinnacle of friendship goodbye episodes—this weekend.) For as much as I loved Morrison’s teary, huge smile, I wanted to hear Emma say something about their friendship before Elsa left. I know Emma’s not good with words, but this friendship was so essential to her growth as a person that it seemed strange to have Elsa say all of the emotional stuff. In the end, though, I was happy with the conclusion to the wonderful Frozen arc. Anna and Kristoff are getting married, Anna punched Hans again, and the two sisters are back where they belong: home, hand-in-hand, and with lots of chocolate waiting for them to eat (one last perfect movie reference).
I thought that Anna’s words about Rumplestiltskin were going to lead to a big confrontation with him and Emma. And while I’m thrilled with who ultimately got to be the hero in the end, I did think that the resolution to what had become a pretty big storyline this season was a bit anticlimactic. The blocking for the scene was strange because Emma never once tried to run up the stairs (despite being able to), which seemed to take away a sense of urgency from the moment. I know that the whole purpose of this scene was Belle and Rumplestiltskin and not Emma and Hook, but it felt like there should have been a little more drama and emotion (even in the background) at the climax of such an important piece of the show over these last few weeks (Hook missing his heart). It all wrapped up very quickly—maybe a little too quickly for my liking.
However, everything with Hook’s heart turned out to be more about Rumplestiltskin than it was about Hook—it was about who’s changed and who hasn’t, who’s the man trying to be a hero and who’s the man who never tries to be more than a villain. Hook was the hero preyed on by the villain, the pirate saved by the princess. But it was an unexpected princess who saved him, and that made it even better. I cheered when Belle turned out to be his savior because of the strength and selflessness it took for her to save the man who once shot her and made her lose her memories. It was the first of many heroic acts she would commit in a very short time in this episode. The anger Emilie de Ravin brought out of this character was brilliant, and it all started with her controlled orders in that clock tower scene, leading to my favorite line delivery of hers in the episode: the empty way she said “We need to be alone for what comes next.”
I’m trying to find the words to describe how proud of Belle I was as she finally confronted her husband. This—Belle finding out the truth and standing up for herself—was all I really wanted from this episode, and it delivered. This Belle is the Belle I’ve loved since I was a little girl: brave and strong and self-aware. As much as it killed me to watch de Ravin deliver all of those lines with such anguish, it was beautiful. Belle’s speech was literally like going through a checklist of everything I needed her to say to him: that he will always choose power, that he never changed, and that she’s done devoting her life to someone who will never make her his first choice.
Despite this scene being about daggers and magical powers, it felt achingly real. It felt like a woman in a terrible marriage finally finding the courage to walk away. When she told him all she wanted was him but she knows now he’ll never choose her, my heart broke. But I was so proud of her for doing what needed to be done, not just for the greater good but for her own good. One of my favorite lines in the episode was, “I lost my way trying to help you find yourself.” It was such an honest statement and such a powerful one. No one should feel like they have to give up their sense of self to be in a relationship. No one should feel personally responsible for a loved one getting over their addictions (which is what Rumplestiltskin’s love for power is). When you end up in a marriage where you feel like you only know who you are in relation to what you do for your significant other, you need to walk away because that’s not healthy. The best relationships are ones that allow both parties to become their best selves, not ones where one party loses their sense of self to build the other up.
Watching Rumplestiltskin try to reason with Belle was so painful. Even with the possibility of losing her staring him in the face, he still wants his power more than anything. And when she commanded him to go over the town line, I felt every bit of his fear thanks to the power of Carlyle’s acting. No matter how much I hate what this character has done, I can never stop wanting him to stop being afraid and start trying to be a better person, even when I know it’s useless to want that. Carlyle gives him such humanity even in his lowest moments, and I couldn’t help it; I felt for him when his legs collapsed under him, returning him to the cowardly, lonely man with the limp he once was. That ability to make me feel for a character even as I longed for his comeuppance is the sign of a great actor.
I felt a complicated mixture of emotions as I dealt with my pride for Belle finding her voice (How perfect was it when she basically told him to shut up, by the way?) and my sadness over Rumplestiltskin being unable to choose her first even now. The resolution to that storyline was so heavy that part of me is glad we were spared any intense emotional fallout from Hook’s heart in the scene where Emma put it back. As I watched, I thought the moment was too brief, but then I realized that—unlike Rumplestiltskin and Belle and Regina and Robin—these two characters have the luxury of time, and they know it and are enjoying it.
I thought Emma shoving Hook’s heart back in his chest was perfect for her character. She’s definitely a “rip the Band-Aid off” kind of woman. But what was even more in-character was Hook’s reaction to getting his heart back. I loved that the first thing he did was kiss her with what I can only describe as his whole heart. O’Donoghue used that kiss to really show the difference now that Hook is able to love Emma once again without fear of leaving her and with his heart free to do as it chooses again. And Morrison played Emma’s reaction to that intense kiss so well—you could almost see her saying Now that’s more like it.
The second thing Hook did with his heart back in his chest was reassure Emma, to remind her (and himself) that he’s a survivor. The bright, hopeful looks on their faces showed that this was the perfect note to end their half-season arc on. It started with Emma running away from quiet moments, but it ended with them taking a quiet moment to themselves and basking in the joy of it. This wasn’t a moment for intense, dramatic emotions; they have plenty of time for those. Instead, this was a moment to celebrate the fact that they’re okay. After everything, he’s alive and she’s in his arms again, and that’s all they needed to focus on at that moment. That’s also why I am happy Emma didn’t confess her love for him and we didn’t see them taking their relationship to the next level physically. When those things happen, I want them to be moments they choose because they want to do them, not because they feel overwhelmed by near-death experiences. Emma has always moved forward emotionally in moments of distress, and I like that it seems to be different with Hook. She feels secure enough with him to believe she can take her time; they can take their time. They both have a renewed sense of hope that this will be a relationship that doesn’t end in loss; he’s still her survivor, after all. And that sense of hope was written all over both of their faces after that kiss.
While Emma and Hook’s slow-burn courtship is teaching many of us patience, I was so happy that this season we don’t have to be patient waiting for the new villains to be introduced in the 4B premiere. Meeting Cruella and Ursula and seeing Maleficent again was wonderful. They were so much fun in the flashbacks, with Victoria Smurfit standing out already as Cruella. She may smell like desperation and gin, but that seems like a winning combination to me in terms of entertainment potential. Watching her and the Dark One sass one another has me eager to see so much more of her in the next half-season.
And of course I’m excited for Merrin Dungey’s turn as Ursula. It’s about time she was back on my television in a villainous role. (I wonder if Ursula likes coffee ice cream?) Her final scene with Rumplestiltskin in the New York City aquarium hinted at quite the complicated, layered dynamic between these women and the Dark One. As sad as I still am to leave Elizabeth Mitchell’s Ingrid behind, these three Queen of Darkness have the potential to bring such a great energy to the show. If nothing else, it will add even more strong, complex female characters to a show already teeming with them, and that’s a reason to celebrate—even if we have to wait until March to see how it all unfolds.