Two-Sentence Summary Ursula and Cruella’s arrival in Storybrooke forces Regina, Hook, Snow, and Charming to confront past moments of darkness. Flashbacks to the Enchanted Forest reveal that an encounter with the Queens of Darkness led to Snow and Charming becoming aware of Emma’s potential for darkness, a potential that’s keeping them from revealing this secret to their daughter as well as one more: They were responsible for Maleficent losing her child.
Emma: I’m going to choose to see the best in you.
Hook: And I with you.
My Thoughts If “Unforgiven” had a subtitle title, it would be: “Secrets, secrets are no fun. Secrets, secrets hurt someone.” It seemed like everyone was keeping secrets or being asked to keep secrets in this episode, and it was all at Emma’s expense. However, this episode ended with one of those secrets at least partially revealed (Hook coming clean about the fact that he and Ursula have an ugly past that he isn’t quite ready to share) but another (Emma’s dark potential and its connection to the loss of Maleficent’s child) being guarded more closely than ever by Snow and Charming—and now Regina, too.
If last week’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town” was about self-awareness, then “Unforgiven” was about whether or not the way we see ourselves matches the way others see us. In some instances, this episode showed examples of people doing things to change the way others saw them for the better. There were also examples of people doing drastic things to keep others from seeing hidden darkness. And in the episode’s most powerful moments, it gave us pairs of characters who accept each other for every part of who they are and could be.
The “Operation Mongoose” storyline seemed to feature all three of those examples. Regina started the episode telling Cruella and Ursula to never bring up her dark deeds in front of Henry. However, Henry knows Regina was the Evil Queen; he knows her darkness, but he’s chosen instead to believe in her potential for goodness. Everyone needs someone in their lives who believes in the best they can be, and Henry has been that for Regina for quite some time now.
Because of the support of Henry (and also Emma), Regina has been able to take the belief others have in her best self and start turning it into her own belief in her best self. So even when she has a setback, like she did with her outburst at Pinocchio and Geppetto, it’s not a reason for her to lose faith in herself and her potential for goodness. In fact, it becomes a moment for increased self-awareness and real growth.
Regina’s apology to Geppetto was one of the best scenes in the episode. Lana Parrilla brought such vulnerability and honesty to that moment, and it made me see how hard this is for Regina, which made it all the more relatable. Growth is hard. Choosing to be better than who you once were is hard. It’s not all forward progress and moments of pride—not if it’s genuine. And this show is presenting Regina’s story in a way that’s as real and messy as it gets, and that’s why it’s so good.
Regina’s struggle to choose to be better that her past is incredibly inspiring. In this episode, it showed us that even if you have a bad day or a relapse or a step backward on the journey of growth, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost. You have the ability to choose to acknowledge your step backward and choose to then take two steps forward. And that’s exactly what Regina did. She apologized and admitted that she won’t ever find true happiness acting the way she did—like her worst self. The amount of growth shown in that one moment was astounding, and it led to something that has made me more hopeful about Operation Mongoose than I’ve been yet.
Regina’s choice to be her best self and apologize to Geppetto led to him giving her August’s backpack. Not only did the backpack end up providing a very vague clue about the Author, it showed that Geppetto was able to see Regina as someone worthy of a happy ending. It showed hope and belief that people could have known Regina at her worst but could now choose to see her at her best not because of an Author but because of her actions and choices. And that’s what I’ve been hoping for all along out of this storyline: that Regina comes to learn she has the power to change how others see her by her choices. The book is a record of her past—she’s the author of her future.
Regina’s ability to choose to be better than her dark past is surely going to be put to the test now that she’s going undercover with the Queens of Darkness. But I’m really looking forward to seeing her face this test and hopefully come out of it stronger than ever—and with a good sense of the people she can rely on to help her be her best self. And if it means more time with this trio of fierce lady villains, then I am all for it. I did not expect to love the Queens of Darkness so intensely already, but here I am. They bring a fun new energy to the show (I loved Cruella’s line about her necklace being made of blood diamonds.), but what I appreciate more than anything is that they’re another example of strong relationships between women on Once Upon a Time. From Cruella and Ursula being genuinely happy to see Maleficent again to Cruella’s comforting hand on Ursula’s back as they walked past Hook, this episode presented these women as a kind of supportive sisterhood. It may be a dark sisterhood, but it still seems to be an example of strong bonds of female friendship, which I always think we need more of on television.
What’s especially interesting about Regina’s undercover trip to the dark side is that she’s being put up to it by Snow in order to help Snow cover up her own darkness. That last scene between the two women was fascinating because they’re this show’s shining example of deep, complicated relationships between women, and it just got even more complicated. These two women know each other’s full selves—from their brightest potential to the darkest spots on their hearts. Having Snow ask Regina to keep a secret for her when she couldn’t do the same for Regina in her youth was such a powerful moment, and I loved the emotion Ginnifer Goodwin brought to it.
I wonder if Regina will eventually tell Snow’s secret to Emma because she believes Emma deserves to know. It would be a nice moment of symmetry after Snow told Regina’s secret all those years ago. I also thought it was fascinating to see Snow tell Regina that she and Charming were the reasons Maleficent lost her baby. Motherhood is such a central part of this show, and Regina was the reason Snow lost her first baby for 28 years. All of the women involved in this secret—including Emma—are mothers, which allows all of them to relate to the idea of keeping secrets from your children for what you think is their own good.
It hurt me to watch Snow and Charming deliberately keep Emma in the dark throughout this episode, and it hurt even more to watch Emma shut down her instincts and lie-detecting superpower because she wanted to trust them. The secret about Maleficent’s baby is one I could see them keeping out of shame (much like Hook and whatever happened with Ursula), but it’s the secret about Emma’s identity that feels even darker. Emma grew up not knowing who she really was, and when someone she loved found out her true identity, not only did he not tell her, he left her. She spent 28 years literally having no awareness of her true self. And now her parents are still keeping information about her true identity from her because they fear her potential for darkness.
All of a sudden, Snow’s extreme fear of Emma’s out of control magic makes sense. All of a sudden, I understood why they seemed so eager for Emma to get rid of her magic and be “normal.” Because they’re afraid. Because it’s hard for them to live with the idea that Emma could one day choose darkness. But they need to get over that fear and come to see that everyone has the potential for light and darkness; it’s their choices that determine which comes to the surface. And by keeping secrets from Emma, it feels like they don’t have faith in their daughter’s ability to choose to be her best self and not her darkest. And in an episode that featured truly beautiful moments of people acknowledging the darkness in others but choosing to believe in them anyway, Snow and Charming’s fear of Emma’s potential dark side felt like a major sin. I know that it must be terrifying for parents to have no idea if their child is going to be a serial killer or a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but supportive parents believe their children will choose the right path and allow them to choose that path for themselves.
It’s going to be so painful to watch whenever Emma discovers Snow and Charming’s secrets—especially the one directly about her. It’s always a blow to discover your parents have done bad things in their pasts, which is exactly what the discovery of the secret about Maleficent’s baby would show Emma. However, it’s an even bigger blow to find out your parents have been keeping you from becoming fully self-aware because they’re afraid of who you could become. If ever there was something that could push Emma toward darkness, it’s finding out that she was once again robbed of her agency—this time by the two people she’s grown to trust perhaps more than anyone. It would be a sad kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that by attempting to keep Emma from becoming aware of the darkness inside her, Snow and Charming end up unleashing that darkness.
And if Emma’s potential for darkness is unleashed, who will help her find the light again? I can see Henry playing a role in that with his Heart of the Truest Believer, and I’m sure Regina will be there to help her see that potential for darkness and even steps into darkness don’t mean you have to turn back to that darkness forever. But my money is mainly on Hook doing everything he can to support her as she works through this knowledge of her worst self by reminding her that people believe in her best self—because that’s exactly what she did for him in this episode.
“Unforgiven” showcased Emma and Hook as a true power couple in the Once Upon a Time world. And it did so with the kind of grounded honesty and sincerity that makes scenes between Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue feel like moments from a real-world, relatable fairytale. What could have felt like a rehashing of the “Hook keeps information from Emma” plot we’ve seen twice before instead became something much deeper—an examination of the kind of patience, trust, and mutual support that the best relationships are built on.
This time, Hook’s inability to divulge information wasn’t because of a villainous plot or curse; it was character-driven rather than plot-driven. It was a chance for us to see the depths of his self-loathing and the difficulty he still has believing that someone could love him for everything he is—including the dark man he once was. And O’Donoghue played Hook’s sense of guilt and shame perfectly. His inability to believe that he deserved the kind of love Emma was offering was palpable and heartbreaking.
Sometimes love requires action, but sometimes it requires words. In this case, Emma needed to spell it out for Hook: She accepts him for who he is and won’t run away just because he has things in his past he’s not proud of. I loved that she came right out and told him that his past with Ursula didn’t matter; what did matter was lying to her about it. That kind of openness is still so new for Emma, but it’s exactly the kind of honesty a relationship needs in order to grow a strong foundation. And in telling Hook that she isn’t going to push him to tell her about his past, she’s giving him space and time to grow comfortable sharing his past with her, which is what he gave her throughout the beginning of their relationship.
That sense of balance was written into every moment of their last scene together in the sheriff’s station. Emma’s confidence in this scene was so lovely to see; Morrison did a great job of conveying the fact that Emma feels safe enough with Hook to open up to him completely and to help him feel safe enough to open up to her, too. One of my favorite moments in that scene was when Emma stated that people in her childhood let her down, to which Hook replied (with O’Donoghue’s trademark, swoon-worthy sincerity) that he has no intention of ever letting her down. While Hook’s immediate desire to reassure her of his devotion—even in the midst of his internal crisis—was lovely, the best part was Emma’s simple “I know” after he said it. Those two lines showed how much Emma has grown—from not being able to let herself believe his sincerity to believing he doesn’t want to let her down as if it’s the most basic fact in the world.
Emma believes in Hook, and she believes in the strength of what they’re building together. For a long time, Emma chose not to believe in anyone—including in her own ability to be happy. But she’s not that person anymore, and Hook helped her grow into her best self. So she’s going to do the same for him, and I love how characteristically stubborn Morrison played Emma in this scene. She simply wasn’t going to let him lose faith in himself and in their relationship. She saw him at his lowest point (shooting Belle), and she still chose him—because Emma knows more than anyone that who you were isn’t who you always have to be.
Emma Swan is finally making her own choices after having her agency taken from her throughout her life, and I was blown away by the beauty of her telling Hook that one of those choices is to see the best in him. That choice represents the kind of belief that true love is made of, and it’s that choice that will help Hook finally begin to believe in himself the way she believes in him—and the way he believes in her. Because this relationship is a two-way street. Just as Emma promised Hook she’d choose to see the best in him, he promised to see the best in her, too. I found his line to be particularly important given what we know about Emma’s potential for darkness. It certainly felt like foreshadowing for a time in the near future when Emma will need someone to remind her of her best self when she’s feeling the pull of darkness. Mutual support is such an important part of all healthy relationships, and that’s exactly what this scene established between Emma and Hook at a time when both characters need it more than ever.
Having someone believe in your best self—even when they know the dark things you’re capable of—was an important theme in “Unforgiven.” Henry’s belief in Regina has helped her believe in herself. Emma’s belief in Hook is doing the same for him. And Hook’s belief in Emma will help her through the dark times ahead. Because Snow and Charming’s secrets seem poised to explode at any moment, and Emma is going to need to know that she has people around her who believe in her best self’s ability to be stronger than her darkest self.
• Emma’s love for grilled cheese is one of my favorite little details about her. Maybe it’s because I also intensely love that wonderful comfort food.
• Is Rumplestiltskin using a cloaking spell to walk around Storybrooke, or are the residents of Storybrooke just not paying attention to who’s roaming their streets?
• Belle and Will’s romance seemed to happen rather quickly, but I think I could find myself very easily invested in them. It has some strong potential, and I’m willing to see how it develops before making any further judgments.
• No show does a good “dialogue-backed” montage like Once Upon a Time—first with the wedding vows montage in the Season Three finale and now with this episode’s montage set to Snow’s speech to Regina about faith.
• Cruella’s nicknames for everyone need to be a running joke this season in the vein of Sawyer’s nicknames on Lost.