Before we begin, I know that Ella is known as Ashley in Storybrooke, but to avoid confusion, I’m just going to refer to her as Ella throughout.
Title The Other Shoe
Two-Sentence Summary When Cinderella discovers that her stepmother and stepsister have found their way to Storybrooke, she has some things to make right after ruining her stepsister’s chance at happiness in the past. As Emma tries to help her, she learns that you have to allow yourself to be happy in the present—even when the future is uncertain.
Favorite Line “I know everything in life is uncertain. Sometimes you have to walk out the door and hope there’s no bus.” (Emma)
My Thoughts “The Other Shoe” was one of my favorite episodes of Once Upon a Time in years. It was funny, it was romantic, it featured new twists on a classic fairytale, it dealt with universal themes in a magical setting, it put the spotlight on the family dynamics that warm everyone’s hearts, and it featured a bunch of women being strong in a myriad of important ways. In short, it felt like the classic Season One episodes that made me fall in love with this show—with the added bonus of focusing on the character development of Emma Swan and all the beautiful ways she has grown since that first season, while highlighting the compelling inner conflict that shows how much she can still grow.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that such a phenomenal episode was written by one of the most universally adored Once Upon a Time writers: Jane Espenson (with Jerome Schwartz). Espenson has an unparalleled sense of who these characters are now, where they’ve come from, and what real relationships between fairytale characters would look and sound like. Her gift for natural dialogue and sincere emotions in the middle of this crazy fairytale world has always made her episodes stand out. Also, she has a great sense of humor; it felt completely right for a Jane Espenson episode to feature Cinderella wearing pale blue Converse and holding a shotgun, as well as Grumpy complaining about doing all the work while Dopey gets his advanced degree. (Side note: Does Storybrooke have a college, or is Dopey taking online classes? Inquiring minds need to know.)
Espenson is also great at crafting thematically cohesive episodes, and this was another excellent one. In the case of “The Other Shoe,” nearly every storyline seemed to revolve around the idea of happiness—what it looks like, how to hold on to it, and what we do when we’re afraid that we’ll lose it. As such, it was an aptly titled episode, as many of the characters were struggling with the idea of waiting for “the other shoe” to drop.
I’ve written about this concept before as it relates to Emma (and to me, by extension), so this theme is very close to my heart. It’s something I think everyone struggles with at times in their lives—believing that your happiness won’t get taken from you. It certainly is at the heart of Regina’s story; she’s now living in fear not just of losing what little happiness she still has in the form of her relationships with the Charmings and her son, but also of losing her sense of happiness with herself and how far she has come from her time as the Evil Queen. Regina’s happy ending is feeling at home in the world, and in last week’s episode, her worst self essentially told her that she was going to watch her destroy her own happiness by showing her that she’ll never be at home among the heroes.
However, instead of giving up and letting pessimism win, Regina enlisted Dr. Jekyll to help her try to come up with a way to defeat the Evil Queen (though, once again, I’m sure this is all going to end with Regina needing to accept that she can’t just kill a part of herself—she needs to accept that part of herself and live with it). And, of course, who was there to help her when she needed to believe good could still defeat evil? The king and queen of positivity: Snow and Charming.
But even Snow and Charming were struggling with their trademark sense of optimism in this episode. I love the realism of Snow being tired of fighting; throughout the show’s run we’ve seen that there have been many times when she’s grown weary of feeling like her destiny is to have brief flashes of happiness interrupted by battles and separations. But instead of waiting for the fighting to end, Snow began planning her future in the middle of the latest crisis. Snow may have moments when she doubts if her life will ever be normal (I loved that part of her misses her cursed life, because that felt honest and relatable. Who wouldn’t miss 28 years of not having to fight every villain that comes along?), but she never doubts that she can do her part to ensure that even in the most abnormal situations she can be happy.
What would make Snow happy? Teaching. There was something so perfect about her admission that teaching is something that brought her joy and something she wants to do again. She may be a warrior princess, but that’s not all she is. She is a wife and mother and a teacher, and I will always appreciate that this show created a character who gets to show all those sides of her personality—and that it found an actress in Ginnifer Goodwin who is so good at making every facet of this character believable.
Goodwin’s talent was on full display in her final scene with Josh Dallas in this episode. What drew me to Snow and Charming from the pilot was the natural, effortless chemistry between those two actors, and that has only grown stronger as they have grown together as spouses and parents off screen. You can feel their dedication to playing Snow and Charming as a real married couple and not just characters from a fairytale, and sometimes being a real couple means disagreeing about what their future looks like.
I was initially incredibly happy that Charming was open with Snow about seeking out the story behind the coin he was given as a key to his father’s past. However, I knew from the moment Snow started to tell him to turn away from the path that would lead to vengeance that Charming was going to lie to her and continue to go down that dark path. Goodwin delivered Snow’s plea with such earnestness that it broke my heart. (The Single Tear of Charming Family Feelings made its grand return in this episode to make me cry once again.) She knows that true happiness is not achieved through dwelling on the past or fearing the future; it is about living in the present and building the best life you can with what you have right now. She wants her husband to believe that their marriage and their children are enough to make him happy and satisfied, but the call of avenging a lost loved one has always been too strong for characters on this show to resist. When Charming chose not to burn the information like he told Snow he was going to do, I groaned. Hiding the truth from those you love never works out well, but at least we know where Emma gets it from now. (Though I suppose we’ve known that since Charming kept his secret about dying back in Never Land—like father like daughter, for better or worse.)
This was a great episode for Snow and Charming, giving Dallas and Goodwin some strong material to work with in the present storyline as well as just enough of them in the flashbacks to make me smile. I loved the nod to the confusion over whether or not there are two Prince Charmings in Disney lore, but what I loved even more was seeing Snow use her tracking skills in the flashbacks. It was such a great reminder that Emma gets those skills from her mother.
Although Snow and Charming appeared in the flashbacks, they weren’t the focus of them, which was a nice change of pace. I like learning new things about the show’s beloved regular characters, but sometimes it’s good to get a break from the stories we’ve grown overly familiar with and explore other fairytales. And this episode took the familiar story of Cinderella (which was expanded in Season One’s “The Price of Gold”) and filled in the missing gaps in a creative way.
The best flashbacks on Once Upon a Time relate to the present story on both a plot level and a thematic level. In this case, the main plot of the present story involved Ella dealing with the fallout of her stepmother and stepsister entering Storybrooke, but it was the subtle way the flashbacks wove in this season’s most important themes that truly impressed me. When Ella first danced with the prince at the ball, it was everything that the start of a happy ending should be, but then she saw the prince give her stepsister Clorinda a rose. Things only got worse when her stepmother—who didn’t even know her true identity—told her that the prince would never choose her. In that moment, Ella stopped believing she could have the kind of happiness that seemed to be within her reach. She let someone else tell her that her destiny was to lose this chance at happiness, and she believed them, instead of believing in her own ability to be happy and loved. So she ran away and planned to travel to the Land of Untold Stories, where she could hide from the fact that she seemed destined to remain unhappy forever. However, when Clorinda returned from the ball, she revealed that Ella’s chance at happiness wasn’t ruined. Clorinda was actually in love with the prince’s footman, and the two of them were planning to run away together.
However, Ella still did not fully trust that she could have a happy ending just by believing in the love between her and her prince. She thought she needed proof that she was special, so she saw her glass slipper as her key to her happy ending. When her stepmother threatened to break it, that was enough to get her to reveal her sister’s secret, proving once again that desperation makes these characters do damaging things to those they love. But then her stepmother earned the “wicked” part of her name by breaking the shoe anyway, which still managed to genuinely upset me even though I should have seen it coming.
When Ella’s stepmother ruined Clorinda’s chance at happiness by dragging her away from the man she loved and into the Land of Untold Stories, it reminded me of Cora’s willingness to do anything to keep Regina from marrying Daniel. For villains on this show, their idea of a happy ending doesn’t involve love; it involves power and control. So instead of choosing to let their children be happy even if it means the future might not look like they carefully planned it to look, they try to dictate their children’s happy endings.
But Ella wasn’t going to let her stepmother destroy Clorinda’s happiness again after finding out they were in Storybrooke. She wanted to save the day, but she went about it the wrong way. By shunning everyone’s help and trying to do everything alone, she left herself vulnerable to being hurt. I don’t think it was a coincidence that Ella being stabbed by her stepmother (which genuinely shocked me in a way I wasn’t sure this show could still do) looked almost exactly like Emma being stabbed by the hooded creature in her dream. Ever since Season One, there have been many parallels drawn between Emma and Ella, and this episode drew several more, the most prominent being Ella’s dangerous attempt to fight without backup because she felt she had to do this on her own.
Emma is continuing to try to deal with her visions and her tremors on her own (except for her sessions with Archie, which she appears to have grown comfortable with, given the adorable way she dropped onto his couch), and that doesn’t seem to be working at all. Like Ella, she believes this is her burden to bear and hers alone, but that is only going to make her more susceptible to being hurt. And bearing that burden alone means existing in a constant state of fear on her own, which is no way to live.
Like Ella after she saw Clorinda and the prince at the ball, Emma has come to believe that she was right to always be waiting for the other shoe to drop because now it finally has. She believes that she is destined to lose the happiness she has found and would rather put her life on pause than try to fight to hold on to the happiness she has found. As she told Archie, she is finally happy, and that is what is making this all so hard. It was written all over Jennifer Morrison’s painfully expressive face as she watched Killian interact with Ella’s daughter. It was clear in that moment that Emma was watching what a natural Killian was with that little girl (How adorable was Colin O’Donoghue in that scene, by the way?) and imagining the future they could have built together—with Henry by her side and a little blonde daughter by Killian’s—if she didn’t believe she was dying. Emma has come so far; she wants a future with her True Love, and she wants a family with him. But she believes it’s less painful to stop working toward that future if it’s only going to get taken away before they can live it out.
But Archie gave Emma some great advice—advice I try to follow in my own life when I’m feeling anxious. You can’t stop living just because you’re afraid of the future. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean you stop making plans or living your life just because the future is uncertain. Instead, you have to believe that life is meant to be lived; happiness is meant to be enjoyed. It’s not something that only comes at the end of the story; it’s something that makes the journey to end worthwhile.
Emma is the kind of person who likes to put life on pause until things feel perfect, but that’s not how life works. As Snow proved in this episode, sometimes you have to create your own normal in the middle of the craziness; you have to choose to be happy even when that happiness seems fleeting.
And what does happiness look like for Emma? It looks like helping people alongside Henry and Killian, working together as their own kind of family unit. I loved the warm affection in Emma’s reaction to Killian and Henry’s very cute sword-fighting lesson. (Seriously, was there some kind of “Killian with kids” quota this episode needed to fill? Because it was almost too much for my heart to handle.) That is what Emma is both so happy to have and so afraid to lose—her two True Loves.
But Emma hasn’t lost them yet. In fact, they were both by her side when she needed them the most—when her magic failed her after Ashley had been stabbed. Killian had her back and was there to comfort her when it was all over, but it was Henry—her Truest Believer and first True Love—who gave her the support she needed to believe she could fight through the tremors and the fear they represent in order to heal Ashley. That moment was so important because it showed that the key to Emma overcoming the tremors is belief. Henry didn’t pressure her to use her magic; he simply reminded her that he believed in her. And that support and belief was enough to help her believe in herself and her own power. Fear and pressure are what is causing the tremors; belief and support are what will make them go away for good. But that will only come when Emma is open with her loved ones about what is happening to her.
Although Emma hasn’t told anyone but Archie about her visions yet, this episode ended with her in a much better and stronger place—and much closer to letting those she loves help her. Emma’s fears were keeping her from asking Killian to move into the house he picked out for them (and I think it was wonderfully in-character that he didn’t pressure her to ask him, even if that did mean living on a cot on the Jolly Roger with a snoring Belle). Doing so meant starting down the path toward a future Emma believed she could never have. But, as she watched Killian stare at Ella’s happy family with real longing, Emma knew Archie was right; she couldn’t deny them both happiness in the present just because the future was uncertain. They both deserved better. So she finally asked him to move in with her, to have his black leather jackets take up permanent residence alongside her red ones, which was a truly adorable way for her to ask; Morrison was excellent in that scene, and O’Donoghue radiated joy.
As they kissed after taking that next step in their relationship, I was reminded of the kiss they shared outside of Granny’s when they first began their relationship. Both kisses were moments of hope, promises to embrace the joy of the present even if Emma was scared of the future. No one is guaranteed a happy ending; you have to create your own. And this was a moment in which Emma Swan held on to her happiness with both hands instead of running away from it. She still has a long way to go toward believing she can have the happiness she clearly wants—especially because she still hasn’t told Killian about her fears and visions—but this is a start. For one moment, Emma allowed herself to move forward instead of staying in the same place out of a sense of hopelessness. Love is stronger than fear, and if Emma keeps choosing love like she did in this episode, I have no doubt that she will find the strength to believe that she can have not just a happy ending, but an entire life filled with happiness.
• I was so happy to see David Anders return at the end of the episode as Dr. Whale, and I want to thank this show for giving me the Dr. Jekyll/Dr. Frankenstein crossover I never knew I always wanted.
• It was great to see Mekenna Melvin as Clorinda in this episode. I loved her as Alex on Chuck. I also loved her gown and cape in the scene where she told Ella about her plan to run away; Eduardo Castro has been doing some great work this season.
• This episode was very focused on fatherhood—from Charming thinking about both his father and his son to Killian bonding with Henry and interacting with Ella’s little girl as Emma watched. It also included that bittersweet moment of Rumplestiltskin reading poetry to his unborn son via tape recording. I wouldn’t mind hearing Robert Carlyle’s beautiful voice read beautiful words in every episode; it’s another powerful way to get me to start believing in the relationship between Belle and Rumplestiltskin again.
• I loved seeing Killian and Henry remind Emma that it’s not her magic that makes her special. Emma was bringing people’s happy endings back long before she learned she had magical abilities, so it was nice to see the two people who are always in her corner reminding her that she is not defined by her magic at a time when she felt like losing her magic meant losing herself.
• Is it bad that I think Hyde and the Evil Queen have great chemistry?
• I felt a surge of pride when Emma told the Evil Queen that she owns the fact that she gave Henry up for adoption. That’s the key to not letting others’ definitions of you control you—owning the decisions you made. Emma has never denied who she was in her past, and that’s always been one of my favorite things about her. (It’s also why she and Killian are such a perfect match.)
• Now that Emma and Killian are officially living together, I would like to request some cute “domestic” scenes to balance out all the angst of last season and all the drama that is sure to come once Emma’s secret comes out.