Two-Sentence Summary When Emma discovers that Maleficent’s daughter is the same Lily she pushed away when she was a teenager, she embarks with Regina on a road trip to find her before they go to New York City to rescue Robin from Zelena. Along the way, surprises are around every corner—from Lily’s knowledge of her true identity to Robin’s rationale for not being able to leave Zelena behind.
Favorite Line “If you pull that trigger, you’ll be the one who destroyed your life this time.” (Regina, to Emma)
My Thoughts Sometimes an episode of a television show comes along that gives you everything you wanted as a fan. That was exactly what happened with “Lily.” The past couple of episodes of Once Upon a Time have felt bleak and sometimes frustrating, and I was growing tired of the characters believing that outside forces control our actions and decides our goodness or evil or happy endings for us. And then this episode came along with its brief but lovely doses of hope and warmth, reminding me that this show has always been about finding good moments amid hard times. Even more than that, though, I was so impressed with the way writers Andrew Chambliss and Dana Horgan managed to take an episode about a pair of girls fated to be connected and use it to tell a story about the power of choice.
“Lily” was an episode about free will. And the strong undercurrent of hope in this episode came from the way so many characters in it chose to be better than their darkness and help people. This was the first episode in a long time where it felt like all (or almost all) of the characters were actively working to make good choices instead of just accepting darkness, and that made for my favorite episode of the show in quite some time.
One character who didn’t seem eager to act like their best self at any point in the hour was its title character. I found myself slightly annoyed at the implication that Lily couldn’t do anything right because of reasons beyond her control. Accountability matters, and watching so many other characters take responsibility for their actions made me want to see the same from Lily. I’m still hoping her story with Emma ultimately unfolds with the discovery that choice and free will did play a role in their lives; how they turned out as people isn’t all because of a spell. We know Emma wasn’t perfectly good throughout her life, so I don’t think Lily had to be completely dark, either. Instead, Lily continued to choose darkness. Fate might have put her in situations that allowed darkness to thrive, but I’m hoping we learn she had the ability to still choose what to do in those situations. Otherwise, it would feel like a pretty big copout to say she isn’t accountable for her actions.
While I found myself a little irked by the implications of Lily’s story and what it says about accountability and choice, that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel for her as a young girl. I thought Nicole Muñoz did a great job of channeling Lily’s desperation and hopelessness in the flashbacks. And we all know from watching this show that hopelessness and loneliness are the keys to darkness taking root in a person’s soul. And it was that same sense of hopelessness we saw on young Emma’s face at the end of the episode. Just when I thought my heart couldn’t break for young Emma any more than it already has, Abby Ross finds a new way to make me want to cry. Her joy at having finally found a home and a family only made her grief over losing that family more painful to watch.
By the end of the episode’s flashbacks, it was hard to argue that Emma was a vessel of pure goodness and Lily was the personification of evil. They simply felt like two real, broken teenage girls who were much more complicated than those labels. (It reminded me of the moment in the episode when Emma told Regina that in the real world things aren’t as simple as “heroes” and “villains.”)
However, once Lily became aware of those labels, she seemed to buy in completely, which makes sense because they gave her an excuse for her inability to make good choices. I was genuinely shocked to see the Apprentice tell Lily about her true identity, essentially informing her that nothing she did was her fault. I understand that was his way of trying to make up for what he did in the past, but it still felt suspicious to me. There’s something fishy about him, and I’m not just saying that because I’m angry he told Lily the truth and let Emma suffer alone for another 15-ish years not knowing her true identity. In telling Lily the truth, he actually pushed deeper into darkness, as we saw with her creepy “revenge board” that outlined her plans to kill Snow and Charming.
After discovering she was always meant to be dark, Lily seemed to simply accept her fate and—much like Cruella did in last week’s episode—let the darkness in. In a way, she reminded me of what’s been going on with Rumplestiltskin this season. He seems to have given up all hope of ever being better than his dark heart, so he let the darkness win. His dark, decaying heart is a sign of the loss of his humanity and the evil taking over his entire being. However, this episode reminded us that he hasn’t lost all of his humanity yet. While he may still feel fated to be lost to the darkness (either by death or by doing whatever it takes to stay alive), there’s still a spark of light left in him. No one is all good or all evil, not even the Dark One. And in this episode, Rumplestiltskin was the most complex and interesting he’s been in a long time.
I was initially terrified when Rumplestiltskin sought out Will, but that story did not go the way I expected at all. It was kind of cool to see the two of them working together to get Belle’s heart back (which I guess Regina did take without her consent—it would have been nice to have that made a little clearer last week). Love has always helped these characters be their best selves, and if this was Rumplestiltskin’s last gasp of goodness before evil overtakes him, then it was a beautiful thing to see. He was honest, he was gentle, and he put Belle’s happiness above his own. It was a rare moment of Rumplestiltskin choosing to act with sincerity and love for a person instead of power. And Robert Carlyle played it with characteristic brilliance. While I still don’t know if I will ever be someone who advocates for Belle taking him back, I could understand why she looked longingly in his direction after he left. This was the man a part of her will always love and believe in—the man capable of moments of genuine goodness even when his heart is being overtaken by darkness. That’s what makes him such a compelling character—the flashes of humanity while he’s plotting something as horrible as corrupting Emma’s heart to save his own.
Rumplestiltskin putting Belle’s happiness above his own desires was something I’d wanted to see for weeks. Another long-awaited moment “Lily” gave us was Snow and Charming finally realizing they needed to apologize to Maleficent for what they did to her and her child. It had felt like a glaring omission for them to make promises to be better people to make up for what they did and to be so concerned with Emma forgiving them, when they never apologized to Maleficent. In that moment, they chose be better people by trying to directly make up for the pain they caused instead of hiding behind their “heroism.” Apologizing to someone can be an act of heroism in its own way—it requires courage, selflessness, and an open heart. And while I was proud of them for finally understanding the best way to atone was by actually going to the person they hurt most directly, it made sense for Maleficent to be less than enthused by their attempt. She was right; they need to apologize to Lily, too (which might be hard to do since Lily will probably try to kill them before they can apologize). I love that Maleficent has become another strong, protective mother to add to the long list of them on Once Upon a Time.
“Lily” was the episode in which Rumplestiltskin lost his final Queen of Darkness. Maleficent chose not to let herself be manipulated by him any longer. She knows what her happy ending is, and it made sense for her to go the woman tasked with bringing back happy endings to get it. Maleficent chose to trust Emma’s ability to do the right thing, and it made me happy to know her belief in Emma wasn’t in vain. Emma might have been tempted by darkness more intensely than ever in this episode, but she found the strength to turn away. And in doing so, she was able to prove Rumplestiltskin wrong in a way so few characters on this show have.
Jennifer Morrison did a wonderful job showing Emma’s internal conflict. Her moments of strength and self-assuredness became more powerful because she also showed us Emma’s moments of weakness and self-doubt. Desperation is a tricky thing to play, but Morrison made me feel Emma’s desperation to find Lily and then to keep Lily from hurting her family. Emma has so much love in her heart now, but Rumplestiltskin was banking on being able to use that love as a weapon, when Emma ultimately used as a source of strength.
When the last episode ended, I was so worried that Emma was going to buy into the idea that she’s fated for darkness and use that to close herself off from the people who care about her. Therefore, I was incredibly happy to see that she felt remorseful about what happened to Cruella but wasn’t going to let that remorse cross over into belief that she’s now an evil person. And I think much of her confidence came from the fact that she was surrounded by people who support her (her parents, Henry, Hook, and Regina).
In fact, the times in this episode when Emma came the closest to losing herself to darkness were the times when it seemed like she was explicitly blocking out Regina, letting herself choose to be alone with her thoughts, her anger, and her fear. Emma had every right to be afraid—and not just of what Lily would do to her parents if she got to Storybrooke. From the moment Emma discovered that Lily was the one her parents sent her darkness into, Emma began to fear that nothing in her life had ever been hers to choose. A part of her worried that everything about her had been manipulated by forces beyond her control, and that’s a surefire way to become hopeless, which leads to—pardon the Star Wars reference—the dark side. However, this episode didn’t end with Emma giving in to her darker impulses; it ended with her choosing, as Regina said, to push back against fate and choose to tell Rumplestiltskin, “No, this is who I am.”
What gave Emma the strength to push back against forces trying to turn her toward darkness, when so many other characters on this show have given in? Hook said it best: She has people to live for—people who love her, people who believe in her, and people who help her believe in her best self. She has her parents and her son, but in this episode, the two people whose roles in her life were highlighted were the two people who could relate the most strongly to Emma’s struggle against darkness: Hook and Regina.
Hook and Emma’s goodbye was a bright spot in a fairly dark episode, and I can’t help but feel that was intentional. I loved that Hook was honest with Emma when she asked him why he wasn’t able to resist the pull of darkness, and what he said was what we’ve known to be true about him for a long time: He didn’t feel like he had anything or anyone to live for except his vengeance. A lack of love can do dark things to a person’s spirit, and Hook is the prime example of that.
But Emma doesn’t have a lack of love in her life now. She has her parents and her son, as Hook stated. But Emma wasn’t about to let Hook doubt his place on that list anymore. It was such a huge sign of character growth for Emma that she was able to tell him he’s as important to her as her family is; he’s someone she wants to fight to be her best self for. And it’s important to note that Hook is the only person on that list not connected to Emma by blood. In an episode that dealt with the role fate has played in Emma’s relationships, Emma’s scene with Hook was a strong reminder that fate may have allowed them to cross paths, but they made the choice to open their hearts to each other. Hook made the choice to give up his darkness because Emma offered him hope for the first time in centuries, and now he’s choosing to offer that same hope to her.
Hook’s smile after Emma told him he’s one of her reasons for living was a thing of beauty. Colin O’Donoghue brought such unbridled happiness to that moment, and it was wonderful to see Morrison answer that with a soft smile after Hook told Emma she’s his reason, too. For the first time in what felt like way too long, Emma was able to smile and let herself enjoy a good moment with Hook—however brief it was. She could have chosen to put her walls back up with him in the face of the darkness surrounding her, but instead she chose to tell him how important her is to her; she chose to make him happy and to let him make her happy. That one moment was hopeful enough to keep me going through the rest of the dark episode, and it was hopeful enough to remind Emma that she has people who believe in her and want her to believe in herself. Without saying the exact words, I think we know at this point that Hook and Emma love each other. And that love is a source of strength for both of them.
Hook wasn’t the only character to use their personal connection to darkness and their belief in Emma to help her in this episode. Regina was perhaps Emma’s biggest source of support as she fought against her darkest impulses. While it was fun to watch them go on a road trip, that whole storyline was designed to get them to one place: a lonely roadside with Emma pointing a gun at Lily and Regina fighting for Emma to choose the path she wasn’t strong enough to take so many years before.
Morrison was great in that scene, but Lana Parrilla stole the show and made me cry with the sincerity in her voice as Regina talked Emma down. Once Upon a Time is a show primarily about women, and I loved that this moment was all about the power of female friendship. This was a moment of one woman who was manipulated by Rumplestiltskin not wanting to see another go down that path. But, more importantly, this was Regina specifically not wanting that path for Emma. These two women went from enemies to reluctant allies to friends, and the strength of that friendship lies in their deep understanding of and empathy for one another. And while Emma has always seemed like the more empathetic one (that’s just her nature), this was Regina’s turn to be a good friend for Emma while she was falling apart.
Regina knows the pain of feeling like your life is spiraling out of your control, but she was right: If Emma killed Lily, it wouldn’t be something she could just explain away as an act of fate. It would be a direct choice to embrace the darkness, to give up any hope she had in her own ability to push back against the people who’ve manipulated her all her life. And Regina knows Emma is stronger than that; she knows Emma is better than that. In giving Emma the support she never got as she started down the path to darkness, Regina made a choice to be better than who she was. And that choice by Regina helped Emma choose her own fate—at least for that moment. Throughout the episode, we were given so many examples of the importance of knowing someone has your back and believes in you. Ultimately, only Emma could put the gun down; only she could save her own heart from darkness. But she was able to find the strength to choose her own path because of the love and support of those who care about her, especially Regina.
Regina is going to need some love and support for herself soon, after discovering that Robin got Zelena pregnant. (Who else screamed—or groaned—when they found out?) While I’m not convinced Zelena is telling the truth, what matters in this case is the impact it will have on Regina. Will she let her hopelessness drive her back to the darkness (which we already saw hints of with her taking Belle’s heart out of desperation)? Now it’s Regina’s turn to once again feel like fate is keeping her from happiness, and I’m honestly not sure how she’ll respond to that.
This episode reaffirmed my belief that Emma and Regina can never be happy at the same time. Emma is in a better emotional place now. She seems to have chosen to continue to help others find their happy ending, which is why she held her hand out to Lily—something she couldn’t find it in herself to do as a girl. The darkness seems to be at bay for at least the immediate future. But she’s going to need that newfound strength and belief to help Regina. Emma and Regina have always been two sides of the same coin (even more than Emma and Lily), and that’s what makes their dynamic so captivating to watch.
“Lily” made me feel hopeful about where the rest of this season of Once Upon a Time is headed. And that’s all I can ask for from a late-April episode of one of my favorite shows on television.