“Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing.”
Those words spoken by Mary Margaret Blanchard in the pilot episode of Once Upon a Time serve as the show’s mission statement. In a world that seems to be growing colder and more hopeless each day and in a media landscape that seems to be increasingly focused on antiheroes and darkness, Once Upon a Time proudly stands as a rare beacon of hope. For 99 episodes, it’s shown us that love is strength, that belief in others and in yourself can create magic, and that we all have the power be better than who we once were.
Once Upon a Time has helped its legions of passionate fans—myself included—believe in the possibility of a happy ending for ourselves. That will be this show’s legacy when all is said and done: the feelings of hope and happiness it inspired in those who watched it. And to celebrate the show’s 100th episode, which airs tomorrow night, I wanted to honor that legacy of hope and happiness by taking a look back at the show’s most hopeful moments—from the early days of Season One all the way through Episode 99.
1. Charming wakes up (1.03: Snow Falls)
“I will always find you.” Snow and Charming’s entire story is based on the hope that they will always find each other, that—no matter what dark forces separate them—they will always make their way back to each other. Not even the Dark Curse and a coma could keep them from each other, as we saw in one of the show’s best episodes, “Snow Falls.” As Snow read to a comatose Charming the story of how they fell in love (despite Snow having no idea it was their story she was telling), he grabbed her hand, proving that their love was once again strong enough to break through curses and bring them back to life. It wasn’t an easy road for Snow and Charming after he woke up, but that moment was a spark of hope that spoke to the power of True Love to do the impossible.
2. Henry wakes up (1.22: A Land Without Magic)
Emma breaking the Dark Curse with her True Love for her son remains Once Upon a Time’s defining moment. Not only did it teach us that romantic love isn’t the only true kind of love; it also taught us that even in the darkest moments, hope is not lost if there is love. Emma saved Henry not by fighting a dragon but by allowing herself to finally admit how much she loved him. By opening her heart to love—even when it meant incredible pain—Emma was able to break the curse that was cast on Henry and the curse that was cast on all of Storybrooke. This is the moment I always come back to whenever things look bleak on Once Upon a Time. It serves as my reminder that where there is love, there is hope.
3. Killian turns his ship around (2.22: And Straight on ‘til Morning)
There’s nothing better than a good “Han Solo moment.” Things seemed pretty hopeless after Greg and Tamara took Henry though a portal and Killian took off with the last magic bean. However, the call to be a part of something bigger than himself awakened the pirate’s heroic side, and just when Emma needed him the most, his ship appeared on the horizon. This moment showed us that hope can be restored in the most unlikely ways by the most unlikely people, and it also showed us that it’s not too late to turn our lives around and choose to be better than we were before.
4. Killian finds Emma (3.11: Going Home)
“Going Home” was an emotional powerhouse of an episode, and its final minutes featured a series of heartbreaking goodbyes that left me sobbing on my couch. It needed to end with some kind of hope, and that’s exactly what happened when Killian showed up at Emma’s door in New York City. Even though Emma didn’t remember him and met his attempt at True Love’s Kiss with a knee to the groin, there was still something downright magical about the idea of a woman who’d been abandoned more than once having someone cross realms to come back for her. What could have been a depressing episode filled with farewells and loss ended instead with the “lost girl” being found and the hope that Emma would find her way back to her true self.
5. Snow and Charming share a heart (3.19: A Curious Thing)
There’s a difference between simply enjoying a love story and truly believing it, and from the first moment of the first episode of Once Upon a Time, Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin have made me believe Charming and Snow’s love for each other like I believe in no other love story on television. So when Snow believed she could save Charming by sharing her heart with him, of course I believed it, too. Snow is the living embodiment of this show’s sense of hope, so it made perfect sense that her hope wouldn’t be in vain. She believed her heart was strong enough to save her husband, and it was. Love is strength, and Snow and Charming have proved that it’s even stronger than death. This moment was so hopeful it even inspired Emma, who believes her love for Killian is strong enough to allow her to do the same thing her mother did to save her father. And that is what a great love story should do—bring hope to others that they, too, can find that kind of love in their own lives.
6. Killian and Emma kiss at Granny’s (3.22: There’s No Place Like Home)
This wasn’t Killian and Emma’s first kiss, but it was the first one that felt like the start of a real relationship. In this slow, gentle kiss, two people who’d stopped believing lasting romantic love was in the cards for them finally allowed themselves to believe again. This is still my favorite of their many kisses because of the hope it symbolized. It reminded me that there is hope out there for people who have loved and lost and might be afraid to love again—hope that there is someone out there who will help you find the courage to lower your walls and who will make you feel like you’re finally home.
7. Regina chooses her happy ending (4.20: Mother)
Hope can be found in the empowering idea that we create our own happy endings. We might not be able to control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we deal with it. Regina finally discovered that near the end of Season Four. She accepted that her happiness wasn’t dependent on the Author changing her story but on her own power to believe she could be happy with her life as it was. That opened Regina up to the hope that, although her life wasn’t perfect and would never be perfect, it could still be happy and filled with love.
8. Henry saves Regina (4.22: Operation Mongoose, Part 2)
The moment Henry picked up the magical pen, became the Author, and saved Regina (and everyone trapped in Rumplestiltskin’s alternate universe) was one of the most triumphant moments in the history of Once Upon a Time. It showed that all of us have the power to be heroes. Henry didn’t have magical powers, but that didn’t make him any less of a hero. Regina’s sacrifice saved him, and then he saved her. That moment reminded me of the Season One finale in such a beautiful way, with the love between mother and son being strong enough to save everyone. And it proved that what makes a person a hero isn’t the power they have but the belief they show. And I might be a bit biased, but the writer in me found it wonderfully hopeful to see that the pen really did end up being mightier than the sword.
9. “I am not nothing!” (5.07: Nimue)
Emma’s time as the Dark One provided a fascinating lens through which this show tackled the idea of finding hope in the darkest moments of our lives. And no scene in that arc was more powerful than the moment she finally pushed back against the voices of the Dark Ones in her head who told her she was nothing. Emma’s reply of “I am not nothing! I was never nothing!” was a moment of strength unlike anything shown on Once Upon a Time before. In that moment, Emma found the courage to believe she was more than what the negative voices in her head told her she was. And that gave hope to so many people who struggle with their own negative inner voices. We’re not nothing; there’s hope for us, no matter what the negative voices want us to believe. And that’s a lesson many of us will carry with us for the rest of our lives.
10. Killian breaks through the Dark One curse (5.11: Swan Song)
On the surface, it might seem as if there was nothing hopeful about Killian’s death. It was certainly heartbreaking, but it—like all things on Once Upon a Time—was not without hope. Even in the midst of the darkness that had been forced upon him, Killian found the strength to choose the kind of man he wanted to be—and that man was a hero who would give up his life to save the woman he loves and to destroy the darkness forever. Killian had spent centuries believing he was defined by his darkness, but in those final moments, he chose to define himself on his own terms and to believe he could be more than his demons. That message—that we can choose to be more than the demons and darkness that we think control us—is incredibly hopeful. And even though Killian’s heroic act led to his death, all hope was not lost. Like her parents, Emma has learned to hope that love can be stronger than death, and that hope is sending her into the Underworld to bring Killian back. And it’s clear that—no matter the dangers Emma and the rest of the heroes will face—hope will win out in the end. That’s the magic of Once Upon a Time.