Before I get started on this week’s post, I wanted to take a moment to offer my condolences to the family and friends of a fellow Oncer who passed away over the weekend. Adri, you are loved and you will be missed.
Title The Price
Two-Sentence Summary As flashbacks to Camelot reveal that Regina pretended to be the Savior for Emma’s safety, Emma in all her Dark One glory puts the full pressure of being the Savior on Regina in Storybrooke. This involves coming up with a plan to save Robin from being taken to the underworld after Regina asked Emma to save his life using her new dark magic in Camelot.
Favorite Line “I spent over a century trying to kill the bloody Crocodile. I can spend at least that long trying to save the woman I love.” (Hook)
My Thoughts “All magic comes with a price.” This is one of the founding principles of Once Upon a Time. But like all good fairytales, this theme is actually about so much more than magic. All actions have consequences. All choices have ramifications. And the question becomes, what price can we live with?
There’s a defining line on Once Upon a Time between the heroes and the villains in terms of how they handle people who make choices that hurt them. The heroes choose to forgive and to move on. Villains revel in doling out punishment, in making people pay for their choices. There’s a reason “All magic comes with a price” is attributed to Rumplestiltskin at his darkest. And whether it was Regina’s desire to ruin Snow’s life after Snow told the secret that got Daniel killed, or Hook’s quest to seek vengeance for Milah’s death (which led to him trying to kill Belle), we’ve seen time and again that darkness often manifests itself in a desire to hurt those who hurt you. We even saw that last season with Emma, who turned her back on her parents as a way to punish them after learning that they transferred her darkness onto Lily before the girls were born.
Thematic continuity is a beautiful thing, so I’ve loved that Emma’s version of the Dark One is an extension of the darkness we saw in her when she learned her parents’ secret last season. Emma is the most empathetic character on Once Upon a Time; at her best, she understands the reasons people made the choices they did, and she doesn’t hold those choices against them. But at her darkest, Emma wants to make the people who’ve let her down pay. There’s a righteous anger to this version of Emma that’s fascinating. And that righteous anger is allowing those who love her to confront their own missteps and become better versions of themselves in the process, as they work to rectify the mistakes they made in the past—even if they can’t remember exactly what those mistakes were.
“The Price” was heavily focused on Regina paying the price for many choices she made—both in Camelot and long before it. Regina has come a long way, but she’s still learning and working to be better than who she was. It’s not something that happens overnight, and this episode showed that she still has a long way to go in some areas, especially where wielding power is concerned. I understood why Regina claimed to be the Savior, and I even understood why she used the dagger to keep Emma from telling Arthur her true identity. Regina was protecting Emma; she knew the attention of the kingdom and especially the king would be on the Savior, so she was giving Emma the space and privacy to battle the darkness without their prying eyes. She was also keeping Emma from having to use her magic, which could cause her to spiral deeper into the darkness (and reveal her as “the demon” Arthur is after).
While I understood Regina’s reasons, that doesn’t mean I didn’t agree with Emma when she told Regina never to use the dagger to control her again. And then Regina did. More than once. In the same scene. Maybe I just care too much about Emma’s agency, but that rubbed me the wrong way. And maybe it was supposed to. Seeing Regina gleefully controlling Emma’s words made me incredibly uncomfortable, but I think that was done to show the seductive nature of power. As we saw later on in the episode, the siren song of power is almost impossible to resist, and it must be even harder for someone whose heart was once as dark as Regina’s was.
Even though Regina made me uncomfortable in that scene, Emma still chose to take the high road at that point—thanking her for protecting her instead of staying angry. Because that’s what heroes do; they let go and choose to focus on the good in people. However, in Storybrooke, Emma isn’t that person anymore. She isn’t choosing to let go; she’s choosing to hold on to her anger. And it’s clear that she’s angry with Regina for claiming to be the Savior at the expense of her agency.
Regina made a choice to claim to be the Savior, which Emma preyed on in Storybrooke, but that wasn’t the only choice she paid for in this episode. The ball started out cute, but it ultimately led to Regina’s part coming back to haunt her in a major way.
While I’m not sure I completely believe Regina never learned to dance in all her years as a queen, it did lead to a great scene between her, Snow, and Charming that further emphasized the heroic nature of moving on from past hurt and helping others, instead of holding their misdeeds over their heads forever. Snow and Charming have every right to still be mad at Regina for what she did to them during her time as the Evil Queen. But they’ve chosen to focus on who Regina is trying to be now instead of who she once was. And that means helping her embrace her best self—whether than means giving her dancing lessons or helping her choose an appropriate dress. (Side note: I would watch an entire show featuring Snow and Charming dishing out fashion advice, if only to watch Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas make critical facial expressions for an hour.)
I liked the juxtaposition between Snow choosing to focus on who Regina is instead of who she was and her choosing to focus on who Emma is instead of who she could be. While we saw Snow ready to use the dagger last week to save Emma from who she could become, we saw no trace of that fear in her scene with her daughter this week. Instead, we saw a mother finally getting to help her daughter get ready for a ball. Snow and Emma both paid the price for Snow letting Emma go as a baby, and that price was never getting to have moments like this as Emma grew up. So it was beautiful to see them finally have a classic mother-daughter moment and to see them both so happy and moved to finally get to share something so special together. Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison are great at capturing that mother-daughter dynamic between their characters, and it was nice to see them show it off again.
The majority of the ball was a classic Once Upon a Time moment of light and happiness to balance out the rest of the episode’s dark tone. It was fun to see Henry with his first little crush. It was adorable to watch Regina and Robin dancing in a world of their own and laughing when they clearly lost the steps. And it was beautiful to see Emma and Hook having a moment of fairytale romance in the middle of the chaos both inside and outside her. I’ve always loved the fact that Hook can make Emma happy even in the most stressful times of her life, and the shots of them at the ball reflected that fact. There was no darkness between them there—just light and love (as reflected in Emma’s gorgeous white dress and their cute banter that was a callback to their first date, another moment of light amid darkness for them).
That didn’t last for long, of course, because Regina had another price to pay, and that came in the form of Percival, a Knight of the Round Table whose village was destroyed by Regina. For as happy as I am to see Regina being embraced by those who care about her for the good person she’s becoming, it felt right to have a moment of acknowledgment that she did do terrible things as the Evil Queen, and there would still be people looking to make her pay for those things.
However, as is usually the case on this show, Regina didn’t pay directly; she paid through pain coming to someone she loves. Watching her desperately try to save Robin after he was stabbed was heartbreaking, and Lana Parrilla did a great job of making Regina’s desperation palpable, which allowed me to understand why she would pressure Emma to use her magic to save him after working so hard to keep Emma from needing to use her magic earlier.
Although Emma was using her magic for a good reason, it still came with a price. And that price was slipping closer to the darkness. It broke my heart to see Rumplestiltskin return as the manifestation of the darkness, but it was important to see everyone react to Emma talking to herself—because it made it clear to all of them how much of a struggle this is for her. And once Emma used her magic to heal Robin, I was moved beyond anything I expected to see her immediately turn to kiss Hook with what looked like everything in her. Morrison made me believe that Emma saw Hook in that moment as her lifeline, her one pinpoint of light to cling to as the darkness crept back in. It was established in the last episode that Hook’s love gives Emma some respite from the voice in her head, and it was so clear in that moment how much Emma needed to believe his love could stop the darkness.
However, not even Hook’s love could completely stop the progress of the darkness in Emma, and it’s because a small part of her chose not to let it stop progressing. It was clear immediately after Emma saved Robin that she was afraid; that’s why she kissed Hook so intensely. She was afraid of that part of herself that liked wielding so much power—even if it was to save someone instead of to hurt them. So she kissed Hook as an attempt to stop the rising darkness that was scaring her; she thought he could be the True Love that would chase the darkness away. But the problem was that—deep down—she already didn’t want to be saved. The seeds of darkness were already taking root, and as Rumplestiltskin pointed out in her mind afterward, True Love’s Kiss can’t work unless you choose to let it work.
When Emma saved Robin, she told Rumplestiltskin that she would pay the price—because that’s who she is; Emma has sacrificed so much for the happiness of others. And despite Rumplestiltskin telling her otherwise, she did pay a price for her choice to use her magic, and the price was taking another step on the path to losing her self in exchange for Robin’s life.
However, there was still a more direct price to pay for Robin’s life, and Emma was more than happy to help collect it as the Dark One in Storybrooke. This version of Emma keeps score, which is such a departure from who we knew her to be. And watching her toy with Regina was compelling, because you could feel her pouring all her resentment into those interactions—resentment with Regina for being the reason Emma had to sacrifice so much for her whole life, resentment that Regina took the credit for being the Savior that was rightfully Emma’s credit to take, and resentment that Regina forced Emma’s hand and brought her one step closer to the darkness by asking her to save Robin. Being the Savior has always weighed heavily on Emma, and you could see her taking pleasure in throwing all those responsibilities on Regina now, basically telling her, ‘If you wanted to be the Savior so much, then be the Savior and sacrifice yourself for someone else—just like I did.’
And that’s exactly what Regina did. It was so cool to see the Fury, the ferry, and other pieces of underworld mythology worked into this story, and those elements worked together to make the episode’s climactic scene feel incredibly intense. Regina chose love over everything in that moment—including her own life. But her bravery and the depth of her love for Robin inspired Snow, Charming, and Leroy to have faith that they could join with her and stop the Fury. It was a very nice Guardians of the Galaxy reference, but it was also so much more. It was a reminder that it will take more than just one person to protect and save Storybrooke; it will take everyone working together and believing in each other. It will also take everyone being able to do what Regina did and atone for their missteps in Camelot—even if they might not know what they are yet. Villains blame and punish; heroes atone and forgive. That theme was as clear as day in this episode.
Everyone is paying the price for what happened to Emma in Camelot, and that includes Emma. Once again, I can’t praise Morrison enough for her work as Emma in her Dark One form. Her voice and her facial expressions were chilling; gone is the empathy that made Emma who she was. It’s been replaced by a cold emptiness, a calculated kind of control that contrasted so well with her scenes in Camelot. Emma has chosen this path now; she’s walking the walk and talking the talk, but it still feels like she isn’t enjoying it it the way Rumplestiltskin did. And that lack of glee played a big part in her story as the episode went on.
Once Upon a Time started with Emma wishing not to be alone, and we watched that wish come true over four seasons. But by choosing to embrace the darkness, Emma lost it all again. Her price for becoming the Dark One was going back to a lonely life.
It was devastating to see Emma’s face light up when she first talked to Henry. He’s her True Love, and I think she assumed he’d still want to be close to her even in this form. However, Henry pulled his hand back from her, showing that he might still love the Emma underneath the darkness, but he can’t love the Dark One the same way. That’s not his mom.
Emma is going to miss so much because of her choice to full embrace her dark side. She’s not going to be there for Henry’s first crush (which was absolutely adorable and a wonderful glimmer of simple joy during a dark hour—especially them finding each other again in the present, a “Charming Family” staple of falling in love). The Dark One might still be able to love, but part of the price of that curse is the fact that it taints all your relationships because you lose the ability to love in a healthy way.
That twisted kind of love was shown in Emma’s interactions with Hook in Storybrooke. As the Dark One, Emma takes what she wants, and Morrison made it clear that Emma wants her pirate. There was such delicious chemistry between her and Colin O’Donoghue in the scene in Emma’s new house, but that scene was about so much more than just the seductive power of darkness. It was about highlighting another price of becoming the Dark One, and I think it was a price Emma wasn’t expecting to have to pay.
Hook trying True Love’s Kiss on Emma again (after he tried it unsuccessfully in Season Three’s “Going Home”) was so sad because we knew it couldn’t work. Emma had chosen the darkness; she gave in to its power and wasn’t willing to give it up for anything—not even all the love and devotion promised in that great kiss. She might still want him, and a part of her still loves him. But it’s not enough. For one split second, Morrison showed Hook breaking through the darkness, her face softening just as it did when she saw Henry. But she also showed with just one blink and a readjusted smile that Emma chose to hold on to the darkness, even in the face of his love.
Hook could have easily decided to give in to her seduction. As we saw throughout the episode, the allure of darkness is strong, especially for someone who once walked a dark path. And I think Emma was banking on that dark path being a way for her to connect with Hook on a different level. Between the rum and the mentions of him being a pirate, it was clear Emma wanted who he was and not who he is now. Because the man Hook is now is strong enough to walk away from the darkness. He believes in the good left in Emma, and he also believes in the good left in himself. He knows what Emma deserves, and it’s not the pirate he was. It’s the honorable man he has chosen to be now. And that honorable man would rather fight for Emma than disappear into the darkness with her.
Hook’s steadfast ability to fight for Emma was a constant in this episode, and it’s going to be interesting to see that battle continue as his interactions with the Dark One in her continue. He has a price to pay for choosing to love the Dark One, too, and that price is the chance that he might lose himself in the process of helping her find herself again. That’s what Belle said happened to her with Rumplestiltskin in Season Four’s “Heroes and Villains.” Watching Belle share that hard-earned experience with Hook in this episode was beautiful; it reminded me that Belle is a true hero because she could move on from the pain Hook caused her to help him in his lowest moments. Those two characters are forever bonded now by their shared pain of loving a Dark One, and I’m excited to watch their friendship continue.
I admired Hook for standing his ground and walking away from Emma when it became clear that she wasn’t capable of loving him in a healthy way for either himself or herself at this point. There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that this character will never stop fighting for her to get back to a healthier place. There’s a reason why they made Emma’s romantic partner a man known for his devotion, a character defined by the quote “A man unwilling to fight for what he wants deserves what he gets.” And with two failed attempts by him at True Love’s Kiss and two failed attempts by both of them in this episode, I think there’s a possibility of the Rule of Three coming into play with a successful attempt later on, with Emma choosing to let go of her power and believe that the love between her and Hook will give her strength she needs to save herself.
The cracks in Emma’s Dark One identity were already showing by the end of the episode. Once again, Morrison knocked it out of the park in the final minutes of “The Price.” I was captivated by her body language in the scene outside of Granny’s. I loved the way she leaned toward the building—toward the light coming from the people she loves. There’s a part of her that doesn’t want to keep paying this price—living with this loneliness—in exchange for her power; you could feel it in every step she took near Granny’s and in every beat of that moment with her and the dagger back at her house. That’s why Rumplestiltskin came back—because the light was finding its was through her darkness; her desire for love was again becoming stronger than her desire for power.
But the darkness is strong, and it wants to get stronger. That’s why Rumplestiltskin was tempting Emma with pulling out Excalibur (How did it get there, by the way?) in order to eliminate her last weaknesses. However, knowing this show and its message of hope, it was clear that the things he mentioned as being weaknesses—family, friends, and love that never gives up—will ultimately be the things that make Emma strong enough to choose to save herself.
This episode left us with a lot of questions: Why did Arthur and the rest of the Camelot crew end up in Storybrooke? Are there things that even Emma doesn’t remember (it seemed like there were things she couldn’t—not just didn’t want to—tell Hook at her house)? Did Merlin cast the curse and not Emma (the whole “tree thing” makes me think yes)? And what is the price for pulling Excalibur from the stone (because all magic comes with a price)? But instead of focusing on the questions, I’m left focusing on the spark of hope that can’t be snuffed out by the darkness—the hope that the bonds of family, friendship, and love will help a lost girl find herself again.