TV Time: Once Upon a Time 5.20


Source: ABC/Jack Rowand

Title Firebird

Two-Sentence Summary After the heroes help Hades rescue Zelena, they’re free to return home—except for Killian, who ventures with Emma into the depths of the Underworld to retrieve the ambrosia needed to come back to life. During this quest, Emma is reminded of the reasons she first donned her armor as she works to save the man who helped her shed it.

Favorite Line “If I helped take off that armor, don’t put it back on just because you’re gonna lose me.” (Killian, to Emma)

My Thoughts Love is strength. Those three words represent the very foundation upon which Once Upon a Time was built. And there is no love stronger in this show’s universe than True Love. “Firebird” was an episode that put the spotlight directly on the concept of True Love and the wonders it can work. However, even though this episode was about True Love, that doesn’t mean it was a happy hour of television. Because love is strength, but sometimes it’s the strength we need to let go.

“Firebird” was primarily focused on True Love as it exists between Emma and Killian. The way their story played out in this episode was the stuff of tragic, epic romance, worthy of its status as a truly original fairytale. However, the care taken to bring Emma and Killian’s love to the level it reached in this episode shed some real light on the flaws in the Zelena/Hades romance, which reached a new pinnacle as well.

Within the first few minutes of “Firebird,” Zelena and Hades shared True Love’s Kiss, which felt somewhat anticlimactic. In fact, I giggled a little bit when Killian spoke about True Love being something rare, because Emma had just witnessed a display of True Love that same day. And by the end of the episode, I was frustrated that their kiss worked to restart Hades’ heart. Can True Love really exist for someone like Hades? One could argue that Hades did every evil thing he did in this episode for Zelena, which means that he does truly love her. However, he wasn’t honest with her about his plans, which seems to go against everything we know about True Love. While I think it was interesting to show that True Love didn’t automatically make Hades a better man, it felt inconsistent with the rest of the show’s relationships.

Maybe I’m just bitter because I wanted to believe that Hades could grow into a better version of himself, and maybe I’m worried that Zelena’s character growth will disappear in the face of having to choose between him and her sister. (Although I actually think she’ll pick Regina if it comes down to that choice.) It felt good to know that my wariness about everything involving Hades except his feelings for Zelena was correct, but that didn’t mean I liked watching it all play out. I’m happy that Hades’ change of heart in this episode felt shallow for a reason and not just because it was rushed storytelling, but now all I want to do is get Zelena as far away from him as possible and tell Killian and Robin they were right to be skeptical.

The one thing I liked about Hades’ story in “Firebird” was the symbolism of True Love restarting a heart. So many characters on this show have had their hearts brought back to life by finding True Love. Regina learned to love again by loving Henry. Killian opened his heart to love instead of anger because of Emma. Charming brought love back into Snow’s heart after she took the potion to forget him. And in an episode that showed us who Emma was before Henry found her, it’s important to remember that this whole story started because a little boy’s love for his mother restarted the heart she willingly shut down after years of pain. True Love wakes people up; it starts hearts that have stopped. And that’s such a gorgeous metaphor for the way love can bring life back to hearts that have remained dormant for far too long.

Hearts were a central motif in this episode, with Emma’s taking center stage for most of “Firebird.” We saw it on display both literally and figuratively, and her desire to protect her heart played a prominent role in both the episode’s present-day story and its flashbacks.

I’ll get this out of the way first before I dive further into the best parts of a great episode: These weren’t my favorite Emma-centric flashbacks. I didn’t connect with Cleo on an emotional level, and I didn’t feel the kinship between her and Emma like I wanted to. I also found it strange that Henry was never brought up during the flashbacks. I understand why Emma wouldn’t be open about that part of her life, but when Cleo mentioned giving up her daughter, it seemed like a strange moment for this show to become subtle and understated by not directly addressing the fact that Emma also gave up a child. So much of the flashbacks focused on Emma looking for a link to her own past, and it felt like something was missing without an acknowledgment of the fact that Emma was also a missing link in her own child’s life at that time.

While there were certain parts of the flashbacks that didn’t resonate as strongly as I would have liked, I did appreciate this look into a pivotal time in Emma’s life: the bridge between the thief we saw in “Tallahassee” and the bail bondsperson we saw in the show’s pilot. It goes without saying at this point that Jennifer Morrison brought a unique energy to this part of Emma’s journey; the nuances she’s given to this character never cease to amaze me. This Emma was tired from being on the run for so much of her life. She was desperate for answers about who she is and where she came from. When she told Cleo that she was grasping at straws because straws were all she had, I believed it, and—more importantly—I felt it. In the heartbreaking delivery of that one line, Morrison showed us exactly who Emma was at this point in her life: a woman who just wanted to believe that someone at some point had cared about her.

The Emma in these flashbacks was an Emma who felt things strongly, but Morrison made it clear that what this Emma felt wasn’t the healthy range of emotions she’s been learning to express ever since finding her son, her parents, and Killian. This version of Emma had a heart consumed by loss and not love, so she was driven by negative emotions and not positive ones. Therefore, when Cleo told her to find her armor and protect her heart, it made sense. This younger Emma didn’t have anyone but herself to protect her heart, so she had to do it herself. She didn’t have anyone around her to help her turn vulnerability into a strength, so it was safer for her to not be vulnerable at all.

Cleo’s death could have pushed Emma deeper into the arms of the negative emotions that had been controlling her life since she was young. However, before she died, Cleo also taught Emma the importance of letting go. Holding on too tightly causes pain, and sometimes the bravest thing you can do is let go.

Although Emma let Cleo go, she didn’t forget her. She honored her by following in her footsteps, becoming something more than a runaway thief. I loved the little nods to the pilot Jane Espenson sprinkled into her writing of these flashbacks, allowing us to see that so many of Emma’s bail bondsperson moves (and wardrobe pieces) were inspired by Cleo. (I especially loved Cleo’s slow walk through traffic to Emma’s booted car.)

Emma also honored Cleo by finding her daughter and giving her photos of the mother she’d never know. And it seemed fitting that after such a Savior-like moment, Emma would find the jacket that’s come to symbolize her role as Storybrooke’s Savior. Watching her put it on was like the moment in a superhero origin story when the hero puts their iconic costume on for the first time.

The symbolism of Emma’s jacket has changed over time, and I appreciated the show acknowledging that at the end of this episode. When Emma first put it on, my giddiness was mixed with a little bit of melancholy because the jacket represented Emma’s armor—her way of keeping others out and protecting herself against the feelings that so often led to destruction in her life. But I loved hearing her tell her father later on that her jacket has now come to symbolize the armor she wears to protect those she loves. She’s not alone anymore, and that means she doesn’t have to wear the jacket for the same reasons she used to. In fact, this episode did a beautiful job of drawing a parallel between the moment Emma first donned her armor and the moment she promised never to put it back on.

Even now—after finding her family, experiencing True Love with her son, and traveling to the Underworld to save the man she loves—Emma’s first instinct is to still hide behind her armor until the last moment. It’s a tough habit to break after years of shutting down emotions because “not feeling anything’s an attractive option when what you feel sucks.” It’s hard to let go of the desire to protect your heart by keeping others out.

But in “Firebird,” Emma’s heart was in her hands for much of the episode—a visual way to represent the fact that she was more vulnerable in this hour than we’ve ever seen her before. It started even before her journey into the depth of the Underworld with Killian, when she had Regina take out her heart and was prepared to share it with the man she loves. However sad that failed attempt might have felt, a part of me was glad it didn’t work because the logistics of that plan never made sense to me. Snow put half her heart in Charming’s actual body. Shouldn’t Emma have just done the same? I was pleased that the show addressed that Killian’s body wasn’t in a state to be revived by a new heart, because that made perfect sense to me. Besides, it would have felt too easy, and where’s the fun in that?

I loved that the episode in which these two characters solidified their True Love was written by the same person who wrote their first journey together, which was also for an object that would bring them home. Espenson has always written Emma and Killian’s relationship with a confident voice; there was no better choice for this monumental episode in their story.

Other couples on Once Upon a Time have shared True Love’s Kiss. But Emma and Killian are a different kind of fairytale couple. So they didn’t share True Love’s Kiss. They shared “True Love’s Choice” (or “True Love’s Tackle”).  And the way that choice reflected the most beautiful parts of Emma and Killian’s relationship was a bit of masterful storytelling.

First of all, I loved that Killian and Emma approached this moment as Killian and Emma. From Killian’s translation of the Greek writing and Emma’s very impressed reaction to the fact that they were both so sure of their love but so unsure of the idea of True Love, the dialogue was faithful to who we’ve always known these characters to be. These are two people who haven’t had a lot of experience with something like True Love, so it felt natural for them to be a little skeptical of it—no matter how deeply they believe in their love. But they encourage each other to take a leap of faith even when it seems crazy.

And then came the choice itself. It felt right that it would be Emma’s heart laid bare on that scale. This love story has always primarily been about Emma’s fears of laying her heart on the line and risking getting hurt. And because the metaphor had to be extended, of course Emma’s heart would be put through incredible pain after she put it in such a vulnerable position, and of course Killian would be shown suffering, too. Because both characters know that love can be painful. They knew that before choosing each other, and they know it even more acutely now.

But both characters also know that they would rather suffer themselves than see each other suffer. Killian would sacrifice himself to the fires of the Underworld if it means he can make sure Emma’s heart is safe. And Emma would leave her heart in a completely vulnerable, painful place if it means she can save him. Because True Love is about sacrifice. To Truly love someone is to love them with a bravery that places protecting them above protecting yourself. In that moment, Emma stopped protecting her heart and made the choice to risk feeling more pain in order to do the right thing for the man she loves. It was the physical manifestation of the emotional choice she’s made over and over again to let her heart be vulnerable in front of Killian because he’s worth that risk.

True Love is always a choice, but never has that concept been made more explicit. And it felt right that “True Love’s Choice” would be part of a love story that has so often been defined by Killian’s support of Emma’s agency. After Emma made her choice, the doorway that would only open for a heart filled with True Love opened, and I loved their reactions to finally seeing that they have the kind of True Love Emma’s parents have, the kind of romantic love neither thought would ever be in the cards for them. Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue played the moment with such awe and wonder that it gave me goose bumps.

Because this moment happened relatively early in the episode, I knew something was bound to go wrong, but even I couldn’t see how devastating it would be. Killian and Emma discovered that Hades had destroyed all the ambrosia—destroying Killian’s only way of coming back to life—and Emma discovered that Killian wasn’t even going to come back with her as far as he could. What followed those painful revelations was a transcendent scene that served as a kind of second confirmation of Emma and Killian’s True Love.

True Love is sacrificial. We saw that with Emma and her heart, but this moment hinged on Killian’s sacrifice. He knew that Emma would never leave if he let her stay in the Underworld with him, searching for a way to bring him back to life. The selfish choice would be to keep her with him, but Killian Jones is anything but selfish when it comes to Emma Swan. Instead, he knew her family needed her more than he did, and he knew she belonged with them in the land of living rather than with him among the dead. He was willing to give up his own happiness to do what was right for her, and love doesn’t get more True than that.

However, the beauty of the True Love on display in this moment was matched by the pain of witnessing another separation for these characters. Emma has lost too much, and it killed me to watch her come to terms with the fact that she was going to have to say goodbye to someone she loved again. It killed me to watch her believe she’d failed. And it killed me to see both her and Killian let go of the hope they finally found in each other.

There have been many painful moments in Once Upon a Time history, but there was something different about this one. Maybe it was the strange air of normalcy to it—there was no magic, no villain being defeated, no battle raging behind or around them. It was simply a man and a woman saying goodbye to each other with an intimacy that left me breathless from the moment Killian told Emma he wanted to say farewell in private. O’Donoghue and Morrison created something special in this scene by being brave enough to go to an intensely vulnerable place as actors and allowing us to feel as if we were in that chamber right next to them.

While watching this scene, I was struck by its contrast to their True Love confirmation. In the latter, Emma proved her love by saving Killian once again, which is something she’s been doing since the moment they met. But this time, she had to prove her love by letting him go. As Killian said, she should have done so in Camelot. This scene was her chance to finally right the wrong she committed by turning him into a Dark One, to finally honor his choice by letting him go instead of holding on so tightly that it hurt them both even more.

True Love is a selfless kind of love, and the things Emma and Killian asked of each other as they prepared to let each other go were the epitome of selflessness. Killian knows better than anyone what losing love can do to a person, and it was so painfully clear in that moment that he didn’t want to be another loss that left Emma afraid to live without her armor. So all he asked of Emma was that she honor his love for her by keeping her armor off, even when it would be so easy for her to put it back on after he’s gone. O’Donoghue’s delivery of that line was filled with the kind of sincerity only he possesses, the sincerity that made all of us fall in love with Killian Jones right along with Emma. It was the perfect dying wish for Killian; I couldn’t have imagined a more beautiful request or a more beautiful performance in that moment than what Espenson wrote and what O’Donoghue delivered.

And then there was Emma. Not only did she promise to honor the man she loved by continuing to live without her armor, she had a last request for him, too: She wanted him to move on. With that heartfelt wish expressed so earnestly by Morrison, Emma finally shed her last bit of armor. She went from being someone who selfishly denied Killian his dying wish in Camelot in order to keep him with her to someone who selflessly told him to move on and not wait for her to join him in the Underworld. Just as she did earlier in the episode, she put what was best for Killian above her own desire to protect her heart. And while there was no magical confirmation in that moment, there was no doubt in my mind that this was another act of True Love.

As I watched this goodbye scene unfold, it felt different from the other farewells we’ve watched Killian and Emma share. (Why do they have to say goodbye so often?) And that was because it was about the purity and the depth of the love between them as much as it was about the tragedy of their separation. It was so much more intimate and delicate than any other moment shared by these two characters, and it highlighted the fact that they weren’t wallowing in the sorrow of their parting but treasuring their last moments together. And that felt like a fitting way to honor the fact that their love has inspired both of them to become people who are no longer consumed by loss but are able to appreciate love when they have it.

I could spend days highlighting my favorite physical details of those last moments between them. It felt right that this was the most we’d ever seen Killian cry, and O’Donoghue made those tears feel so natural that it was hard to watch. Their last kiss was stunning, especially the final moments of it as Killian gently touched her hair and her jaw. That tiny gesture echoed the end of their kiss outside of Granny’s in “There’s No Place Like Home.” That was the first kiss that carried the promise of a future, while this was what they believe is their last kiss. Both kisses had an air of wanting to treasure the moment and treat the other with care, but for vastly different reasons.

Just when I thought the scene couldn’t get more painful, Killian continued to kiss Emma’s hand until he couldn’t anymore, which absolutely broke me. Following those kisses with the shot of their hands grasping for each other but no longer being able to hold on was almost too sad. They wanted to stay connected until the last possible moment, and he wanted to continue to make her feel loved until he physically couldn’t anymore. That’s their story in one series of moments: gentle love amid violent loss.

However, I can’t be the only one who’s certain this goodbye will not be their last. This is a show about hope and happy endings, and to deny Emma hers would go against everything it stands for. Killian always comes back for Emma—from turning his ship around at the end of Season Two to refusing to move on with Liam just a few episodes ago. They’ve found each other through curses and alternate universes, darkness and time travel. And I have no doubt that they will find each other once again, with their True Love proving to be stronger than Hades’ wrath and stronger than death itself.

Extra Thoughts:
• This episode also featured a failed attempt at True Love’s Kiss by Rumplestiltskin. I think even he knew it wouldn’t work, but it was still sad for Belle to see him try and fail.
• I didn’t want to say goodbye to Pan, but it was nice to see Rumplestiltskin finally outwit his father (and nice to know he didn’t actually use Robin’s heart). Also, as a shallow side note: Robbie Kay looked entirely too handsome in the coat he was wearing at the start of this episode.
• Who else wants to hug Robin forever? He had every right not to trust Zelena, and I wish Regina had been a little more sensitive of his feelings.
• This was a great episode for Henry, too. I loved that he wanted to use the rest of his time in the Underworld to help people move on. (His scene with Stealthy was really sweet.) And Jared Gilmore completely sold Henry’s reaction to learning that Killian couldn’t come back. It was subtle and realistic, which isn’t something you often see from teenage boys on television.
• Did anyone else clap at the reveal of the Blind Witch teaming up with Cruella? What an excellent twist using two character we’ve all come to enjoy so much during this Underworld arc.


20 thoughts on “TV Time: Once Upon a Time 5.20

  1. Awesome, awesome job on this, Katie. There was much “Preach, sister!” happening.

    Be forewarned folks, lots and lots of words. It was that kind of episode.

    So, my birthday was last week. I thought, “Oh, excellent! A Killian-Emma centric episode. How thoughtful of the writers.” Then I watched it. Not, cool, writers, not cool. That ending? Just about killed me. ESPECIALLY because Hades is now in Storybrooke. Grrrrr. I have a feeling I will like this one much better once I can put in the context of the entire arc.

    This is a show about hope; this is a show about hope; this is a show about hope. (Sorry, I just have to keep reminding myself of that.)

    Oh, Hades, Hades, Hades. I guess that answers my question about his ulterior motive and if he had one. (Like you, Katie, I’m glad that things felt off with Hades because they were off.) I wonder if it necessarily had to be TLK that re-started his heart or just love’s kiss? I’m fairly certain he said TLK, but he’s not the most reliable source . . . It did seem a little off to mention the scarcity of TLK when the Lord of Death just got his heart jump-started. Poor Zelena. I don’t see how this goes well for her. She either jumps in to be Bonnie to his Clyde or feels utterly betrayed and gives up hope on love.

    This is a show about hope; this is a show about hope; this is a show about hope.

    And Regina, while it’s nice that you have such faith in your sister, I don’t think it’s wise to extend that to the ruler of the Underworld. No wonder Robin’s head is spinning. Poor guy – he’s had absolutely NO time to process ANY of this. He just gets “Oh, by the way we’re now trusting the Wicked Witch and the Lord of Death” thrown at him. (Minor nitpick: Sean Maguire doesn’t really have the range of nuanced expressions we see from others.) Here’s hoping he gets Baby Pistachio back.

    This is a show about hope; this is a show about hope; this is a show about hope.

    No, I wasn’t really surprised when Rumple’s kiss did nothing for Belle. However, it was still rather sad. This is what he’s done to their love. The Pandora’s box method of transpo seems a might creepy, though. Rumple’s take-down of Pan was nice – although I’ll miss those two as scene partners – especially in the matching suits.

    In contrast to Rumple’s taking out of Pan, we have Henry who wants to fill his time with heroism. Henry, who has plan to help folks. Henry, who leaves the pages behind so that folks can continue to help themselves.

    This is a show about hope; this is a show about hope; this is a show about hope.

    Cleo – I liked Cleo, but her quick connection to Emma felt slightly off. (Not Hades level off, just a mild niggly off.) I feel like there was a piece of information I was missing that would explain that insta-connection better. For me, it was just so close to completely working. However, beyond that, I did love their interactions. I especially adored JMo’s amazement at how much info Cleo had access to. At her death, I thought, “Oh good grief, here’s something else Emma can feel guilty about.” I was happy to see Emma’s reaction was more a way of honoring Cleo – moving on, productively – than wallowing in guilt.

    This is a show about hope; this is a show about hope; this is a show about hope.

    Emma and Killian. (Yes, to everything you said, Katie.) All the feelz. ALL of them. I need some virtual hand-holding and chocolate after that episode. Those two do all the small moments so well. Her reaction to his translation skills. His amazement that she chose him. The hand-holding. THE HAND-HOLDING.

    This is a show about hope; this is a show about hope; this is a show about hope.

    Like you Katie, I don’t think this is the end for them. (This is a show about hope; this is a show about hope; this is a show about hope.) But seriously, OUAT writers, stop heaping Greek tragedy levels of pain on them. I will accept happy musical episode as a peace offering. It’s just painful that she went to the Underworld for him and then had to leave him behind. AND HADES GOT OUT.

    — Regina and Killian sniping at each other is always magnificent. C’mon Emma, let them go a few more rounds before you step in.
    — Ok, I may have laughed a little too hard at Stealthy and his issues with Bashful.
    — I want webisodes of the Blind Witch and Cruella running the Underworld.

    This is a show about hope; this is a show about hope; this is a show about hope.

  2. I watched this episode with 2 big handicaps – I was on prescription narcotics after my spinal surgery (I had only gotten home a few hours before and was feeling good that I wasn’t going to miss my show), and then the local news kept preempting my show with stupid reports about stupid May Day anarchist protests… so I missed a couple of big things (like Hades and Zelena) and got a wee bit lost along the way, and I haven’t quite found the energy to re-watch the episode yet.
    I was confused in the flashback sequence when Emma didn’t bring up giving up Henry too, to the point that I wasn’t completely clear when the flashbacks were taking place. I was pretty sure it was post-jail, but then that detail being omitted left me second guessing. That was an odd thing to leave out (especially because the average viewer is not as hyperfocused on detail and timelines as we fangirls are). Even just the smallest acknowledgment of Emma’s situation there would have worked.
    I wonder if we all still want the people in the River of Lost Souls to be saved now that Pan is in there…? That was really nicely done, Rumple. Nice twist 🙂
    At first I couldn’t tell if I felt strangely calm about this whole development with Emma and Killian’s True Love and then letting go because of my drugs, or because there was no way I thought Killian wouldn’t be saved. I wonder. Because the average viewer really should be in terror and agony right now, worried that Killian is gone forever, shouldn’t they? Of course I wouldn’t know if they actually are because I avoid mainstream fandom and commentary like the plague… But I wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned for Killian as the episode ended.
    Luckily I was lucid enough to enjoy True Love’s Tackle (Floor really does get around!) and their lovely smiles.
    I’ve stopped taking the hard drugs now, so hopefully after today I’ll get myself together enough to watch the whole episode properly.

    • Spinal surgery? I assume since you’re posting that everything went well.

      Yeah, I nearly always regret when I poke around the fandom in social media. Yikes, there are some . . . ummm . . . yeah, I’ll stop before I kill the positivity of NGN.

      I feel fairly confident that we’ll get Killian back. However, I could use a little hand-holding in that area, so I’m lovin’ your mellow “It’s all ok” vibe. I don’t care if it’s drug-induced. I’ll take it. 🙂

      • Yes, thank you, everything went well! I wasn’t even sure I’d be lucid enough to watch the episode, or even home from the hospital… I had to lie flat for 3 days after the surgery… 😦
        I’m so glad we have our own happy fandom bubbles where we can talk about our shows… if I had to talk to the muggles on Fb I would probably stop watching. ugh.
        I’ll happily share my drug induced reassurance and agree “this is a show about hope!” It’ll be OK 🙂

  3. Incredible post and analysis of this episode, Katie! I couldn’t agree with you more. I was in major tears myself over that goodbye scene between Emma and Killian – especially when he kept kissing her hand! And those final promises they extracted from each other. Basically, everything you said.

    On another subject, one comment you made that I definitely agree with is your doubt about true love’s kiss working for Zelena and Hades, especially since it no longer works for Rumple and Belle who have far more history together. Did the show establish that kiss had to be true love to restart Hades’ heart? Or just regular love? Because, as we’ve also seen with Cora, you can’t feel love fully without your heart.

    But that episode certainly broke mine with that goodbye, and I hope you’re right it’s not the end for Killian. The show wouldn’t be the same without him. Emma and Killian do make the most amazing couple for their realism and the sacrifices they’ve made for one another over and over again. Can’t believe how much that scene got to me.

    My theory, since we saw someone (“the heart of Storybrooke”) dies in next week’s episode, is that it’s Henry who dies, and as the author he somehow manages to bring both himself and Killian back in the finale. At least that’s my hope (not that Henry dies, but that Killian comes back by the end of the season!!!!)

    • As for the kiss, I wondered the same thing. I’m fairly certain Hades said true love, but he’s not exactly a reliable source.

  4. Katie, I really enjoyed your review. This was an uplifting and devastating episode for Killian and Emma. I have hope for them too, and I can’t see the show ending up with Emma losing her True Love forever. That being said, I hope Emma will see happier times. As beautiful as the actors make their characters’ goodbyes, I want to see them get a break from the heartbreak of loss and separation.

  5. Katie, thanks so much for this! It’s always so fun to read your reviews, especially after a super emotional episode like this one.

    Loved your thoughts on Zelena and Hades, and I am with you. I almost wonder if we are supposed to feel like that “True Love’s Kiss” was a bit cheap, in a way, given the lies between them, and especially when contrasted with all the Emma and Killian stuff which is always so grounded in real emotion and intimacy that is truly earned.

    When I watched, I was a bit disappointed in Pan’s demise. It felt like he was only there the last couple episodes as sort of a red herring, making us think that he, not Hades, might be the “Big Bad” of the Underworld story. He just served as a generic villain with his generic, selfish motives (which are consistent with what we’ve seen before, but not very interesting.) There was nothing particularly Peter Pan-like about him (not even a final interaction with Hook!) However, as you point out, it was nice to see Rumple get the better of him for good, and it reminds the audience that we still can’t help but root for Rumple sometimes.

    I actually liked the flashbacks a lot. Given how long this show has been running and how many flashbacks we have seen for these characters, we often get a lot of repetitive character beats. However, this one really worked, as you noted, providing a parallel to Emma’s current situation and filling in an important gap in her development prior to us meeting her in the pilot. In the flashback, she was acting desperate and reckless, causing collateral damage to Cleo in the process, and in the present, she had desperately and rashly gone to the Underworld to find Hook, resulting in her family’s entrapment. (Both her desperate quests were also failures – she gained no information on her family, and Hook remained dead.) She learned from both experiences, though, and as a result of each made the choice that was right for her at the time. Back then, she needed to calm down and get her life together, and she followed Cleo’s example (and honored her, as you articulated so well,) donning her armor. In the present, she was left with this incredibly beautiful legacy from Hook: that she wouldn’t put her armor back on to shut love out because of this failure, but that she would be even more inspired to be the hero she is in order to protect her family so as not to suffer this pain again. The decision in the flashback was vital her survival at the time, but as you noted, the final scene with Charming showed a person who could have a balanced, fulfilling life surrounded by people she loves. (Although I do wish the writers would ban the phrase “those I love” from all future scripts. Nobody talks like that!)

    All of the above, combined with that incredible goodbye scene with Hook (seriously, everything you said and more – one of the saddest and most romantic scenes I’ve seen in many years of TV viewing) would have almost made this a satisfying series finale episode for Emma, if that’s where we were in the show’s run, even if it wasn’t traditionally “happy.”

    The major negative for me in ‘Firebird’, and from ‘Sisters’ as well, was that I thought characters were acting out of character (basically, acting very stupid) in order to move the plot along. Last week, it was just too much for me to accept that Regina’s reconciliation with Zelena would extend to Hades – as much as Regina understands the power of forgiveness, this was too soon. It hurt to watch that continue here as his true evil was revealed, especially given what Robin is now going through. Also, the fact that they all failed to spot the key differences between Charming’s resurrection and their plan for Hook was pretty tough to accept. Didn’t Regina preserve Daniel’s body at the time of his death in the hopes of resurrecting him? Wouldn’t she have thought to do the same thing here, knowing that only a person’s soul was in the Underworld, and that Hook’s body was still in Storybooke? The fact that they never discussed any of this is pretty ridiculous and seemed like a cheap way to set up this twist.

    All in all though, this was an incredibly satisfying episode that will surely live on my DVR as long as my current cable box holds out. I am not sure Colin O’Donoghue has ever been better than he was in that goodbye scene, and if we don’t see Hook again, those were some pretty amazing final moments. I have hope though!!

  6. Katie, I always look forward to your reviews and was actually happy this one came later on in the week so I could relive the emotions of this episode…again. I am wondering if, since this season has be so greek mythology centered, we are going to get some sort of deus ex machina with Zeus tidying up the mess Hades has made. I have full faith that somehow – even if it is from an act of God – Killian will come back to Emma. I just hope it’s soon – my heart can’t take it anymore!

  7. Great review, as always 🙂 I actually just discovered NGN when someone linked to your review of 5×14 Devil’s Due (which was fantastic, and literally my most favorite review of an OUAT episode…ever, and made me want to hug Milah forever and send her into the light b/c out of everyone she has literally voiced the most sincere regret and … well that’s another essay I haven’t written). Since that review, I had been reading through your past seasons when I had time & I could write another essay based on how your reviews of S2-3 have enhanced my enjoyment of the show. And, while your take on some of my least favorite characters and pairings didn’t make me totally change my mind, they made me appreciate? accept? certain characters who I had long standing mental feuds with, which is amazing.
    BUT… this is about Firebird, so for now I thought it an apt first comment to be about one of the most emotional hours of Once I have experienced.
    The one thing that struck me most about this episode in the aftermath, hours after I was able to stop crying over Killian & Emma’s “goodbye” scene, was the mention of Orpheus and Eurydice. I thought this was SO SO SO important even based on my limited knowledge of Greek mythology, to have CS (even hinted at) being compared to the ‘only other couple to get out of the underworld and end up together.’ It was a great subtle foreshadowing and also a fairly good loose metaphor for what they have been through already, with Emma being more analogous to her male mythical counterpart Orpheus. Here’s why:
    For those who aren’t familiar, the very condensed version of the myth is that Orpheus falls in love with Eurydice and they were joyfully happy together, but only for a short time because at the height of their love (due to reasons that vary based on which version of the myth you read), there is a chase at some point and Eurydice steps in a pit of vipers and gets bitten, killing her instantly. Orpheus, who had previously been magically gifted by the Gods with the power of music, was so distraught that, through the power of his song, was allowed the chance to go to the underworld to retrieve his Love – with the stipulation that he not look back at her before they reached the Over-world. They both passed through Hades’ doors, but once Orpheus reached the Over-world, he thought it would be ok to look back b/c he heard her footsteps, but since Eurydice hadn’t reached the over-world yet, she was lost to the darkness & all he saw was her hand falling back under (can we just again picture Killian’s hand grasping at Emma’s in the elevator?? Okay, crying again). Orpheus was then so overwhelmed with grief that he begged to be killed to reunite with Eurydice, and the 12 Muses and … well, the myths vary here in WHY but in the end, Orpheus makes his sacrifice by having them kill him, and after all is said and done, he is joyfully reunited with Eurydice in the Elysian Fields, where they are happy forever together in their love and without worry that looking back would ever tear them apart again.
    Now I am no Greek scholar but does this not sound like CS’s journey, at least to the point where we are now and they are separated while one returns to the over-world? Add to the fact that in 5×20, they said that E&O were the only others to get out of the Underworld (vs. the actual myth that they basically ended up reuniting there, but together rather than apart), it seems that they are hinting that Emma and Killian are separated *for now* but will be reunited and to an even happier ‘ending’. This could have analogies to Emma’s armor being of, so the fear of emotional separation is gone, or that they end up reunited like Snowing is now, where their True Love is proven, that the journey TO love has passed, and now the obstacles they will face they will only face together. Or maybe all of the above?
    In any case, that was literally the most hopeful part of this episode because we all know OUAT has a tradition of taking stories and myths and turning them on their heads, so what better way to re-interpret the original Greek myth of Orpheus & Eurydice than to have the roles swapped and to have the “happily ever after” in Storybrooke, alive, vs the Elysian Fields, in an afterlife?
    I could be wrong, yes, but until I am proven otherwise, I choose to believe that CS is destined to be the retelling of this TL story. And it would make sense that one of them would have to go through an extra trial (which I am assuming Killian does next Sunday, b/c obv. he does return at some point, even though we don’t know how) but it would be so v.v. cool if it were something to do w Zeus and ultimately defeating Hades, yes??
    Wow that was longer than I thought for such a small comparison, but I guess this site inspires long comments. I may add thoughts on the rest of the episode and the rest of the actual OUAT characters but for now, just something to chew on. Maybe others have different takes on that reference?
    And thank you again for the wonderful full ep review!

    • Kristen, it’s so funny that you mention your feelings about “Devil’s Due.” I loved that episode, and it and Katie’s great review inspired me to comment here for the first time! Justice for Milah!!

      Thank you so much for sharing your awesome Orpheus and Eurydice insights and all the parallels to Emma and Hook’s story!! Seriously, if the image of his hand reaching up to grasp hers as the elevator ascended was meant to recall Eurydice’s reaching up from the underworld, big kudos to the writers! I would love it if they can continue to effectively draw this parallel all the way to a happy ending this season for CS, and I think you and Shauna are definitely on to something as far as a potential Hook and Zeus alliance.

    • Welcome to the long comment club!

      I think you’re right in seeing Emma and Killian — if not a direct retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice — a variation of it. You’ve pointed out some great parallels. The one thing that has always stuck with me about this myth is the fact that he looked back and lost her. I wasn’t aware of versions where they were reunited. I like this. I like happy endings.

  8. This is a beast of a review Katie, and I loved every word of it! I am glad you went for it and didnt cut it back.

    For being an Emma backstory episode, it was solid, but I didnt connect with it the way I have some of the others we have seen. That said, there were some great moments, and I do think this was an important step to move us to some really great stuff to close out the season.

    I am with you Katie, while it was hard to see Killian and Emma say goodbye to each other, it didn’t feel as tragic as the times before. It was sad, but in a cathartic in a way. They got to take their time and say the things they wanted to say to each other. I loved Killian’s need for a little privacy. No chance of a Charming barging in when they are trying to have an important moment. I personally love that she left him in the underworld. I mean it hurts, but I love it story wise. So much emphasis was placed on Emma’s selfish choice to not let Killian go in Camelot leading to a parade of bad choices. The idea that she would march down to the underworld and bring him back just didn’t feel like the right conclusion to this arc. But she has now righted that wrong, and now they can finally move past the dark swan conflict from 5A. Killian is still in the underworld, because he still has unfinished business. It’s not Emma keeping him there, it’s the vow he made to his brother – “I have to stay and help Emma defeat Hades”. I always thought that statement seemed a bit off at the time (mainly the temporary nature of it), but now it makes perfect sense. Even then it wasnt about getting more time with Emma, it was about making sure she and her family got home safely. Currently Hades is loose in Storybrooke, and Killian is not going to stop fighting to protect those he loves even from the Underworld.

    I have no idea is this will happen, but I love the idea of Zeus and Killian teaming up. I have to imagine Zeus is right pissed at the moment with Hades escape. Helping the big man seems like a pretty good way to earn a place back in the land of the living. Bonus if it involves releasing the spirits from the river of lost souls!

    Are we all feeling like the time card was wrong again? Flashback Emma felt WAY younger than 25/26. 2006 I could believe, 2009 seems wrong. I just can’t believe that her armor was only 2 years old by the time we meet her in the pilot. Emma in the flashbacks didn’t really have that defeated attitude we saw in the pilot. She was still actively searching. She had hope. She was helping others find their past. But I could see after years of searching that hope slowly fading away. 2 years just seems too quick. I am going to assume that this took place right after her few years in Tallahassee. That said, I didnt really mind that Emma not bringing up giving up Henry for adoption. Emma obviously connected to that part of Cleo’s history, but I feel like in this scenario she was connecting more to Cleo’s daughter. I saw this as a story about Emma as a child, searching for her parents, not as a mother who also gave up a child for adoption. I dont think those feelings surfaced until Henry showed up at her door. I did love seeing her find Cleo’s daughter and giving her some closure. That’s the savior Emma we have come to know and love. I also like that this established that even after Neal, she was someone who felt deeply and showed it outwardly. The armor was a conscious choice, a survival mechanism, but not in her original nature. It refutes the idea that Killian changed her from a strong controlled woman to a weaker emotional one – it shows that he helped her feel comfortable giving up that artificial layer she built up around herself.

    – I am pretty sure the blind witch coming out of nowhere to trap our heroes in the library was one of my all time favorite twists on this show. I sat up and actually yelled “hell yes!”. I have never been so happy to see our heroes temporarily thwarted.
    – I hope we see that Henry still has an author link to record what Killian is doing down in the underworld. He had it with Snow up in Storybrooke, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work the other way.
    – I love Cruella. James was her boy toy and she’s all about having a kick ass lady bff.
    – A part of me is having fun imagining that Killian does manage to find an ambrosia seed down in the underworld and now he is gardening down there nurturing the tree back to life. The hook would probably be good for weeding. Even more amusing would be Henry documenting Killian’s gardening activities. Killian would be really annoyed about that. “Yes, I watered twice a day and weeded as needed. Why do my horticulture skills fill three pages and there nothing in here about me teaming up with Zeus to defeat the god of the underworld?!”

    • Let me know when you create the Cruella fan club. (I assume there’s a Blind Witch option, too.) You know I’ll be there. 🙂

      Like you, I wasn’t bothered by the fact that Emma didn’t mention Henry. First, Emma’s still pretty closed off. That’s not a detail she’s going to share.

      I loved your perspective on Killian and Emma’s goodbye, time in the Underworld, etc. I’ve been waiting for so long to see Emma fight for him the way he has fought for her that the fact that he had to stay behind felt like she had been cheated — that her willingness to fight for him should have been rewarded. Perhaps, though, this isn’t about her fighting for him. Emma’s biggest fear is of loss. Over and over and over again she’s told him, “I can’t lose you.” This whole arc is really forcing her to face that fear . . . and see that she can survive it. He’s helped make her stronger . . . even in what feels like loss.

      Oh, and I love the thought of Killian fighting from the Underworld and that defeating Hades is his unfinished business. (Thanks for that idea — lovin it.) Having Henry document Killian’s gardening activities? Yes, please, yes.

  9. Awesome analysis as always. You have such a talent for in depth reviewing. I felt the strong emotion when watching this episode but I could not adequately explain why. You articulated it perfectly! Thanks for sharing your writing gift with us fangirls!

  10. I think what I really liked about this episode, is that you have Emma and Killian having a brief discussion about their love for each other before the “True Love” test starts. You just don’t get that kind of honest discussion between couples before their big “True Love” moment. It was very real and honest, and I really appreciate it and also, Emma, say, true love is worth a try.

    They have to try, and her saying that gotta say, it reminded me of Neal and how he said to Mulan that he took the easy way out and didn’t even try, for Emma. If you believe true love is worth it, and it’s something you will fight her, the least you can do is try. I think this show’s proven time and again, Emma and Killian are willing to take those risks for each other because they truly and deeply love each other. To me, the fact that Emma and Killian are willing to take risks for each other, speaks volumes about how true their love is for each other.

    Not gonna lie, I was hoping for a true love’s kiss but this, I think is better because it shows how real and true their love for each other is. We still have a few more episodes left, though, so anything is possible but I’m happy with what we got.

  11. To quote Taylor Swift “screaming, crying, perfect (emotional) storm”. That is literally this review in a nutshell. And I’m a mess all over again. Thanks, Katie. Thanks a lot. You just couldn’t write something okay for once? You had to aim for perfection and ruin us all!?

    I kept thinking of this line Monday at work after my review had already been posted, but I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Batman (The Dark Knight Rises) there’s a conversation where Batman says he doesn’t wear a mask to hide the fact that he’s Bruce Wayne, but rather to protect those he loves. And I love that Emma’s essentially Storybrooke’s “Batwoman” because even though we know her identity, her wardrobe is to protect those she cares for. It makes her stand out. And also, you wrote about that part with such grace and depth!

    I also have to agree with Hades, I wanted something more for him, but now I just desperately want him far, far away from Zelena. And I’m hoping that’s the case next week because while we’re certain he may love her, their love isn’t selfless. And I feel like the True Love’s kiss everyone else has shared has been more selfless.

    I agree about everything you said about Cleo. I didn’t feel that this was a strong connection but I wonder if that’s what played a role in making Emma as guarded as she was when we first met her in the Pilot. It was all about work and no attachments. So I wonder if that’s a result of what she’s seen during this time in her life.

    I don’t have much to say on theories and such because my mind is all worn out in that area, but I do need to gush about how BEAUTIFULLY AND PERFECTLY you talked about the goodbye. I can’t even choose which part I loved most about how you wrote about Emma and Killian. I mean, no words. Literally I’m trying to come up with some, but I cannot. So, if that doesn’t tell you, it’s absolutely perfect, I don’t know what will. This is one of the most gorgeous reviews you’ve ever written.

  12. Pingback: That’s When the Fun Begins: The Best of Captain Swan | Nerdy Girl Notes

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