Welcome back, fellow Oncers! I can’t wait to spend another season discussing all the fairytale fun and feelings with you, so don’t hesitate to jump in and start a conversation in the comments. Just remember, we like to keep things as positive and respectful as we can here at NGN!
Title The Savior
Two-Sentence Summary As Hyde and the others from the Land of Untold Stories arrive in Storybrooke, Emma struggles with side effects of being a Savior, including visions of her death. Meanwhile, Rumplestiltskin attempts to wake Belle, and Regina tries to work through her grief after losing Robin.
Favorite Line “I choose to believe that this story will have a better ending.” (Regina)
My Thoughts If Once Upon a Time has taught us anything, it’s this: We have the power to choose how our stories end. We have the power to push back against the forces that try to tell us what our story will be. And that power comes from belief—belief in our own strength, belief in those who love us and want to help us, and belief that light and love is stronger than fear and darkness.
In “The Savior,” that lesson—that the only way we can get a happy ending is by believing we can have a happy ending—was at the center of its three main storylines: Rumplestiltskin’s quest to wake Belle, Regina’s difficulty working through her grief, and Emma’s discovery of her decidedly unhappy fate.
Like most Once Upon a Time season premieres, this one spent a fair amount of time setting up conflicts for this season. However, it also featured a surprising number of emotional moments for a season premiere, especially for a show that tends to favor plot over prolonged character beats. The return to a Storybrooke setting certainly helped: Less world building means more time can be spent on the characters and relationships we already know and love. And it seems that this season is going to explore the benefits of characters actually dealing with what has happened to them in a healthy way, which is a wonderfully realistic approach to emotional health for a story about fairytale characters.
“The Savior” was a season premiere that was full of surprises, but perhaps the biggest surprise of all was that it managed to make me care about Rumplestiltskin and Belle again. When we first saw Rumplestiltskin pouring Morpheus’ sand over Belle, I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes. It seemed way too convenient for Hyde (who might be an even bigger deus ex machina than any of the actual gods we’ve had on this show) to have a solution for breaking a sleeping curse without using True Love’s Kiss. And then I was even more frustrated when I saw Belle’s dream and realized it wasn’t the red room that is supposed to be where all sleeping curse victims remain until the curse is broken. However, Morpheus soon told Rumplestiltskin that Belle’s dream state was temporary, and I was impressed that the show addressed what I thought was just a plot hole. And the sense of being pleasantly surprised didn’t stop there.
No matter what I think about what Belle and Rumplestiltskin have become, I will always have a soft spot for “Skin Deep.” It’s still one of my favorite episodes of Once Upon a Time, and I thought Belle’s dream was a creative way to revisit a beloved moment in the show’s history. And as soon as “Beauty and the Beast” started playing, I was a goner. I can wish Belle stayed as far away from Rumplestiltskin as possible (and most of the time I do wish that), but as soon as that song starts playing, I get goosebumps and want nothing more than to watch them dance together, living out the fairytale I have always wanted them to have.
But that fairytale is not for them to live out—at least not right now. Rumplestiltskin may have believed they could have their happy ending, but Belle didn’t believe it. And neither did their son. The reveal of Morpheus as a manifestation of Belle and Rumplestiltskin’s unborn child was cool and unexpected, and I was glad that Belle woke up because of her child’s love for her (especially because that’s always been such an important use of True Love’s Kiss on this show). But Belle didn’t need her son’s warning; she knew from the moment Rumplestiltskin kissed her that she couldn’t let herself believe in him anymore. Belief is such a valuable thing on this show, and Belle has stopped believing in her husband. As she said, he has given her so many empty promises, and that’s not a way to instill hope that you can change. I was so proud of her for walking away and choosing to put her own wellbeing (and the wellbeing of their child) first.
It seems that Rumplestiltskin’s happy ending is only going to come about when he can let himself believe in his own strength and the strength of his relationship with Belle and stop falling back on magic. In this vein, Morpheus served another important purpose beyond waking Belle up: He reminded Rumplestiltskin of the fact that his destiny seems to be to always lose his children because he chooses power instead. In this case, he lost his son before he was even born.
But Rumplestiltskin can still change his fate. He is in control of his destiny. He doesn’t have to lose those he loves; he doesn’t have to fail his sons over and over again. He just needs to believe that he can write a better ending for himself by choosing love instead of power. He’s not there yet, but this episode gave me hope for the first time in a long time that he could get there someday.
Perhaps the biggest reason I was left with hope for Rumplestiltskin was because this episode did such a great job of showing how far Regina has come. It’s going to be a rude awakening when she discovers that she didn’t destroy the Evil Queen (because we all know that she needs to learn that her worst self is still a part of her and that she has to accept both her darkness and her light), but I enjoyed the fact that she actually had time to breathe, work through her emotions, and grow in this season premiere. Without a direct threat looming over her, she was able to work on her own internal conflicts, and that’s all I ever want for these characters. And she worked on those conflicts with the help of the person who knows her best: Snow.
Who would have guessed when the pilot of this show first aired that five years later we’d be watching Snow and Regina hold hands on a park bench, and that their relationship would become one of the deepest and most beautiful on the show? Lana Parrilla and Ginnifer Goodwin bring such genuine warmth to their characters’ interactions now. They allow us to feel every ounce of the rich history between these two women and the complexity of their unique dynamic. Their scenes together are always standout moments, and this episode’s scenes were no exception.
Snow always encourages Regina to be open and honest about what she’s feeling, and honesty was a major theme in this episode. As such, Snow also helped Regina discover that she needed to be honest with Zelena. I loved the dynamic between the sisters in this episode. I was really looking forward to watching them live as roommates, but ultimately that would have been incredibly hard for Regina. Did Zelena directly kill Robin? No. But did her relationship with Hades ultimately lead to Robin’s death? Yes. That’s why I cringed when Zelena told Regina she lost someone, too, because that was not the time for Zelena to fall back on her need to compare herself to Regina. And I got irrationally mad when Zelena tried to blame Emma for Robin’s death, but it made me happy to see Regina finally admit (especially after last season’s finale) that she went to the Underworld willingly and doesn’t blame Emma for what happened. It still isn’t great that Regina immediately placed the blame for what happened to Robin on Zelena (but Regina has always been one to blame the wrong person for losing the man she loves), but it was good to see her be open about her pain.
Being open about what you’re going through and what you feel is the only way you can heal and grow into a better version of yourself. And by being open with the people around her about her grief, Regina could finally begin to deal with her loss in a healthy way. She moved from anger (with Zelena) to depression (with Henry) and finally to acceptance (with Snow), and she was able to do that because she talked about her feelings with honesty, even if they weren’t pretty. And that allowed the people who love her to help her.
I was especially moved by Regina’s talk with Henry. Once again, the Truest Believer came through when one of his mothers needed him. In this case, Henry believed that Robin wasn’t obliterated, as Hades said. (Side note: Hidden in that lovely mother-son moment was a reminder to NEVER trust the word of a villain, which is something Henry should tell his other mom, too.) He believed Robin’s soul was in a better place, and his belief was once again contagious. Jared Gilmore has become such a good young actor, and I love seeing him show how Henry’s belief has matured as he has grown up.
By sharing her struggle with her son, Regina was able to find what she needed most: hope. She had no way of knowing if Robin was actually able to move on to a better place, but she chose to believe it. And that belief gave her the strength she needs to write her own story. More than any other character, Regina has gone on a long and rocky journey (Operation Mongoose, anyone?) toward discovering that her fate is hers to control; no one decides it for her. And although she may seem to be destined to always lose, it moved me to tears to hear her choose to believe that she can write a different ending to her story—a happy ending. Parrilla delivered Regina’s final monologue with such honest emotion that I found myself holding my breath until it was done. It was a lovely piece of acting that highlighted a lovely piece of writing, which restated what I see as one of the core themes of Once Upon a Time: “Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing.”
Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers,” so it was especially poignant that Regina’s hope is what ultimately made Robin’s feather appear. However, while Regina was finding hope, it seemed Emma was losing it. Once again, I was struck by the idea of Regina and Emma as two sides of a coin—two characters whose stories balance the show; when one is up, the other must be down. And once again, I found myself wishing we could just toss the rules of drama aside for an episode and allow both women to be happy, hopeful, and growing into better versions of themselves at the same time. But I know that’s not how television works, so instead, I’ll choose to focus on the smart way the show paralleled Regina’s openness and emotional honesty with Emma’s decision to keep secrets and shut herself off from people who care about her when she needs them the most.
From the episode’s opening scenes, it became perfectly clear what Emma’s arc is going to be about this season: her struggle to be a Savior and live out her happy ending. The similarities between Aladdin and Emma could not have been clearer: two thieves who then became leaders and Saviors, burdened with the responsibility of having to fight battle after battle to secure other people’s happiness without ever securing their own.
For Emma in this episode, her duties as Savior started interrupting her happy ending immediately. But it was very happy while it lasted. I loved that this season started with some much-needed happiness for Emma and Killian before everything went downhill. Even if it lasted less than a minute, it was still nice to see those two characters smile, kiss, and enjoy their newfound True Love after last season’s parade of angst. It’s always fun to see Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue’s chemistry on display, and this opening scene surely hinted at good things to come for this pair once this next wave of angst is over (because you don’t start a scene like that unless you intend to finish it later on). And until then, I’ll just be replaying Emma’s adorable giggle when Killian said he liked her leather jacket (which I saw as symbolic of him loving her with her armor and her Savior responsibilities—both of which the jacket has symbolized). Sadly, though, the smiling and kissing and wandering hands couldn’t last for long. This is Storybrooke, after all, and it’s always going to need saving.
However, all that saving is already starting to take its toll on Emma. It made perfect sense that Emma would be having PTSD-like tremors and flashes given all she’s been through, and I’m excited to see this season tackle the physical and emotional strain that being a Savior has on a person. It’s about time people thought about how much pressure Emma must feel to be responsible for fighting for everyone’s happiness.
But people can’t think about it if Emma doesn’t tell them about what’s going on with her. It was hard to watch Emma revert back to the part of her that tries to handle everything on her own. It’s realistic to revert back to the way we’ve always handled things when we’re facing a crisis, but I would have loved for Emma to have been honest with someone (especially Killian because his concern for her was so sincere). Instead, she sought out Hyde, who continues to be as creepy as it gets. Villains are notoriously unreliable narrators (just ask Henry), yet Emma still believed him (Maybe she used her superpower?), following his red bird—Iago?—into the woods. All the while, I kept shaking my head, knowing that this plan was going to end horribly.
With Iago and the snake staff, I’m guessing we’re supposed to think the seer is Jafar in disguise and that he’s in league with Hyde for some reason. Whatever we’re supposed to think, it’s clear that Emma trusts the seer and her interpretation of her visions, which is that Emma is going to die fighting a battle alone against a hooded figure to protect her loved ones while they look on.
Let’s get this out of the way now: We know Emma isn’t going to die. This isn’t that kind of show. But the important thing is that we believe that Emma thinks she’s going to die. And Morrison sold Emma’s fear with a realism that genuinely upset me. It made me wonder what I would do in Emma’s situation, and honestly, I could see myself hiding the truth, too, especially given what Emma’s loved ones—especially Killian—have gone through in the recent past.
Did I yell at my TV when Emma lied to Killian? Of course. But I also have no fear about this being any more than a bump in the road for these two characters. This isn’t my first rodeo. Secrets are the backbone of relationship angst on TV dramas—no matter how much they annoy audiences. And characters revert back to their most frustrating selves at times on even the best shows; becoming a better person isn’t always a linear journey. All I ask is for there to be a believable reason behind these common contrivances, and in this case, I can see why Emma would hide her imminent death from Killian (and everyone else). Emma doesn’t want to cause him any pain, especially after she just got him back from the dead. She doesn’t want to be a burden. She’s still trying to protect everyone else. And she also doesn’t like asking for help; she’s most comfortable on her own. Emma’s walls may be down, but there’s always going to be a part of her that wants to retreat into herself when brief moments of happiness are followed by crushing disappointment and tragedy. When that’s the life you knew for 28 years, it’s hard to change and to let yourself believe that it’s okay to draw strength from others when you’re afraid.
But that’s exactly what Emma needs to believe now. In her vision, she was fighting the creature alone, and her family didn’t help her. I saw that as a clear symbol of Emma always fighting her own battles and never letting people help her until it’s too late. Only in allowing her loved ones to fight beside her and to fight for her will she be able to win. Aladdin couldn’t get a happy ending because people kept taking from him until there was nothing left to give. If Emma is open about what’s going on, she will be able to escape his fate because she has people around her who she can lean on when she has nothing left to give, people who don’t want to take anything from her and only want to help her.
Jafar told Aladdin that Saviors never get to live happily ever after. However, if this episode reminded me of anything, it’s that believing in the possibility of a happy ending is all you need to take charge of your story. Emma simply needs to believe that she can do what she told Cinderella to do back in Season One—punch back and change things for herself. She of all people should know that no one’s fate is set in stone; the man she loves came back from the Underworld after he died a tragic death. Her story may look as if it’s going to end in tragedy now, but she has the power to change it—no matter what the seer said. She just needs to believe she can. And the only way she can find the strength to believe is by being honest with those she loves and accepting their help. If Regina can do it, I have no doubt that Emma can, too.
Love is strength, and Emma needs that strength more than ever. But I’m certain she will eventually learn to stop hiding her struggles and let the people who love her help her become her strongest self. I believe in the possibility of a happy ending for Emma, and I can’t wait until she finds her way back to believing in it, too.
• The hair and makeup team brought their A-game to this episode. Parrilla, Morrison, Goodwin, and O’Donoghue were all sporting some excellent hairstyles.
• I will never get tired of seeing Snow really act like Snow again. From her scoffing at the “amateur” trap to her impassioned speech to the frightened people from the Land of Untold Stories, I loved seeing shades of Season One Snow on my screen, and Goodwin played those facets of the character perfectly.
• Another thing I will never get tired of: Killian’s intuition when something’ wrong with Emma and the beautiful profile shots of O’Donoghue that usually accompany this.
• Emma’s insistence that she wasn’t prejudiced against crickets but just didn’t want to go to therapy was a perfect “only on Once Upon a Time” moment.
• So who is Emma’s villain? Hyde? Jafar? The Evil Queen? Rumplestiltskin? Or herself in some kind of “Luke in the Empire Strikes Back cave” scenario?