Two-Sentence Summary When the Evil Queen gives Snow and Charming an ultimatum—give up their shared heart or force all of Storybrooke to suffer from the water of the River of Lost Souls—it allows several characters to think and talk about what True Love really means. In flashbacks, it’s revealed that the first sparks of True Love were ignited between Snow and Charming long before they even saw the other’s face.
Favorite Line “Knowing you believe in me means I’m not alone.” (Snow, to Charming)
My Thoughts For an episode titled “Heartless,” this had more heart than any other Once Upon a Time episode so far this season. It was another beautifully romantic chapter in the sweeping love story of Snow and Charming—the love story that first sold me on this show and the love story that will always hold a special spot in my heart. And as this episode allowed us to focus on the True Love between Snow and Charming, it also reminded us that their daughter is living out her own love story with a man whose belief in her echoes the belief that makes her parents’ love so strong.
Most of us who watch Once Upon a Time didn’t start watching it because we thought it would add more realism into our media-consuming lives. We started watching it because we needed an escape. We needed a fairytale. And sometimes it’s nice to watch episodes of this show that give us exactly that—the fairytale, the epic romance, the beacon of hope even when things seem to be at their worst. When life is hard (like in the final days before a presidential election that has everyone in America on edge), it’s nice to turn on the TV and watch something that makes you feel good. And even though “Heartless” ended with quite the heartbreaking twist, I still walked away from it feeling good, feeling uplifted, and feeling hopeful. This is why I watch Once Upon a Time and will continue to watch it as long as the TV gods keep it on the air.
“Heartless” was an episode about True Love, and, as such, it felt right that a quote about belief played such an important part in it. True Love and belief have always gone hand-in-hand on this show; to truly love someone, you need to believe in them, and you need to open your heart to let their belief in you help you grow stronger. Snow and Charming have always exemplified this idea—going so far as to believe in their love to the point of sharing a heart. But this episode showed that their belief in each other goes back even further than they knew.
If you would have told me before this episode that Snow and Charming had met before the events of “Snow Falls,” I would have thought such a plot twist would have felt too forced. However, the flashbacks in this episode were the best Snow/Charming flashbacks we’ve had in quite some time. I knew their paths were going to have to cross somehow in the flashbacks, but I never expected their meeting to make as much sense as it did or for it to move me as much as it did. It was a joy to watch this chapter in their story unfold, surprising and sincere in the way the best flashbacks from the show’s first season were.
Some people are simply always meant to be in the same story. Snow and Charming are the perfect example of that. Like magnets, they have always been pulled toward each other, even before they knew it was happening. I loved seeing them fight as a team for the first time, but what really solidified this as the perfect start to their love story was what happened after they defeated the bounty hunter together. Even without seeing each other—separated by a carriage door and Snow’s desire to protect Charming from knowing who she really was—their souls connected. They were able to give the other exactly what they needed when they needed it the most. Charming gave Snow hope that she could make a new life for herself; he helped her believe in her own strength and resourcefulness. And that gift that Charming gave Snow—the gift of belief—allowed Snow to tap into her very best self and give Charming the money he needed for his family’s farm. Not only do these two characters always find each other; they always support each other and are always willing to make sacrifices for each other. And from those things, the first seeds of True Love were planted.
I got goose bumps at the visual of Snow and Charming’s hands touching as the True Love sapling began to grow. I had a feeling that the sapling was directly tied to their love—especially after the flashes of their story they saw when they touched it. However, it was still beautiful to see it grow from that single, shared moment of connection, teamwork, and belief. And I thought it was a nice callback when Snow mentioned robbing carriages with the newfound confidence Charming gave her, because we all know that’s how their paths would cross again. It was a perfect moment of continuity, and it was yet another reminder that when people are meant to be together, they find each other. That’s what these two characters have done since that first meeting: They always find each other.
That belief and hope—the certainty that they will always find their way back to each other and back to the family that grew out of their True Love—is at the heart of Snow and Charming’s strength as individuals and as a team. For a while during this episode, it seemed that belief was faltering in the face of the Evil Queen’s threat, but when the time came for them to put their faith to the test, they were ready. The bond that had been strengthened on numerous adventures—from that first one before they even saw the other’s face to the one they took to find the sapling in this episode—gave them the courage to offer their hearts up to the Evil Queen to save the rest of the town, including their children. I was deeply moved by the total certainty in both characters that this would not be the end for them. That sincere faith in their love and in their family has existed from the pilot episode, and kudos to Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin for making me believe that faith from Day One.
Dallas and Goodwin were the emotional center of this episode, with their chemistry in the spotlight once again. What I love about the two of them is the stability they bring to this dynamic; the depth of their onscreen connection has been the one constant on a show where things change all the time. Everything about their dynamic feels like a real marriage—it’s strong, supportive, and filled with the kind of mutual affection that cannot be faked. They don’t need a lot of dialogue or big, flashy moments to sell you on the love between their characters; all they need to do is look at each other.
But when they’re given big moments, they run with it. This episode’s conclusion gave Dallas and Goodwin some of the meatiest material they’ve had to work with in ages. I found myself blinking back tears at the gorgeous parallel to the show’s pilot with Charming finding Snow in the glass coffin and kissing her to wake her up (with the added bonus of Charming driving his truck to find her this time instead of riding his horse). But, of course, it wasn’t going to be that easy. I thought it was pretty ingenious for the Evil Queen to cast the curse on their shared heart rather than on one of them (especially considering the fact that she hasn’t seemed like a credible threat until this episode). It was such a tragic twist that their True Love, which allowed them to split Snow’s heart, would become an obstacle rather than the way to break the curse.
However, is anyone else left wondering if Emma will be the one to break the curse on her parents? I know it might be too easy and it might be explained away in the next episode for some magical reason, but I don’t see why Emma’s love for her parents—and their love for her—wouldn’t be True Love at this point. All the signs pointed to Emma being the one to fix this—not because she’s the Savior, but because she’s their daughter. Even Snow and Charming singled her out in their statement to the Evil Queen about why they believed they would survive giving up their shared heart.
The most convincing argument for why Emma will be the one to save and reunite her parents, though, came from Emma’s own True Love: Killian Jones. His speech to Emma was one of the most beautiful monologues a character has had on this show in a long time, and it was delivered with typically perfect sincerity by Colin O’Donoghue, the master of the swoon-worthy speech. In fact, this moment reminded me of another heart-stopping O’Donoghue moment: Killian’s speech to Emma about winning her heart and never seeing her fail back in Never Land. Both moments were completely unexpected and were written perfectly—they both were gorgeously romantic in a general sense while also highlighting why this man is perfect specifically for Emma.
In this case, Killian’s speech reflected the episode’s core theme: When someone believes in you, you’re never alone. Emma’s shaking hands seem to appear every time she’s facing a crisis of belief—in this case, being unable to believe that she can help her parents. So the cure for those shaking hands was something Killian offers in spades: belief in Emma. Perhaps only Henry believes in Emma with the same certainty Killian does, so it makes sense that those two characters are her confirmed True Loves. And that’s why it matters that Killian used Henry’s book to help Emma believe in herself again: It was a way to connect his belief in her with Henry’s belief in her, which is represented by the book Henry first used to help her believe in her true identity. The book has always represented hope, and in this scene, Killian used it to give Emma hope when she needed it most.
I loved the realistic, natural way the scene unfolded, with Emma being skeptical and Killian playfully forcing her to listen to his story—and what a story he told. The way he connected the story of her parents always finding each other with them always finding her and then with her helping them find each other again was lovely. It was a testament not just to Snow and Charming’s love but also to Emma’s love for her parents and Killian’s love for her. Killian believes that Emma can do anything—not because she’s the Savior, but because she’s Emma. He reminded her that she is the Savior because of the True Love that led to her birth; love gave her magic, and love will be what gives her the strength to save her parents. But it’s more than just her parents’ love that makes Emma strong; it’s the love she now shares with Killian, the love that is so much like the love her parents share. It’s important to note that Emma and Killian’s story is also in Henry’s book; they are every bit the fairytale True Loves her parents are. And it’s that True Love that gives Emma the confidence she needs to find her strength again.
I loved the symbolism of Killian first holding and then kissing Emma’s hand that had been shaking. It was a classically romantic, fairytale gesture in an episode that was all about fairytale romance. But it was also so much more—it was symbolic of him loving the parts of her she finds unlovable, healing the parts of her that she sees as broken. The first spark of their True Love was ignited when he tried to heal her wounded hand on the top of the beanstalk in the Enchanted Forest, so it seemed fitting that he would once again lavish some much-needed attention on her hand when it was a source of concern for her.
Throughout Killian’s story, I loved watching Emma’s face. Jennifer Morrison played her reactions perfectly. There was the loveliest look of soft adoration on her face, as if it was hitting her all over again that someone loves her as much as Killian does. This moment saw Emma with all her walls completely down, allowing the man she loves to support and comfort her and allowing herself to believe him when he said she could do anything. That’s what True Love is all about—it’s the gentle reminder of who you are when you feel lost and the stable, unwavering belief that allows you to be your strongest self even when that seems impossible. Emma’s hand stopped shaking because she finally allowed someone to help her; she finally stopped believing she had to carry all of her fears and insecurities alone. Killian’s love and support made her stronger, and that strength is going to help her not only to reunite her parents but also to change her own fate.
Speaking of changing fates and believing in the best version of the person you love, I have to take a moment to say how impressed I’ve been with Belle this season and especially in this episode. I was so proud of her for confronting Rumplestiltskin about his desire to use the shears to change their child’s destiny and force him to love his father. This episode proved with both Snow and Charming and Emma and Killian that love cannot be forced; it must be earned through doing the right thing for the person you love. But Rumplestiltskin is so afraid of failing that he still continues to seek out magical solutions instead of simply putting in the work. As Belle said, that’s worse that just being purely evil. That’s being the coward he’s always been and seemingly always will be.
Belief is a key component of True Love, and it seems that Belle has finally stopped believing her husband will ever change. He doesn’t believe in himself, so why should she bear the burden of always having to believe in him more than he believes in himself? That was such an unhealthy dynamic for her, and I am so happy the writers have allowed her to stand on her own two feet and choose to prioritize a different True Love: the love she has for her son and the love he already has for her. Like a sapling, True Love can grow, but it can also die if it’s not given the proper care. And Rumplestiltskin has stopped giving his relationship with Belle proper care for a long time, which has all but killed the love they once shared. Not even Robert Carlyle’s heartbreaking portrayal of Rumplestiltskin’s fear made me feel any real sympathy for him at this point. All I want is for Belle to continue to show the strength impending motherhood has given her and for her to continue to work alongside the heroes, finding a new sense of support among people who truly want what’s best for her and her child.
I’m sure my lack of any real sympathy for Rumplestiltskin at this point comes from the fact that we keep seeing him make out with the Evil Queen. He can tell Belle all he wants that it means nothing, but how am I supposed to root for their reunion when he’s all over the Evil Queen? I have nothing to say or analyze about that particular storyline except two things:
1.) If we were always supposed to see the chemistry Regina was talking about, everyone involved missed the boat on that.
2.) Emma and Killian’s reactions perfectly mirrored my own.
Thankfully, “Heartless” gave us enough beautifully romantic moments that I didn’t have to dwell on that forced relationship. I’ll just continue to replay the scenes between Snow and Charming and Emma and Killian while trying to forget this Evil Queen/Rumplestiltskin thing is happening.
• Can Wilby please show up again? I knew I was going to love this episode when we first saw his adorable little face and perky ears.
• Is it just me, or is Josh Dallas looking extra handsome this season? (I think I say this every season, but it is true every season.)
• I’m glad the show actually addressed what would happen to Neal if Snow and Charming were killed. Sometimes it feels like they forget about the Little Snowflake (as I like to call him).
• I automatically cry every time Emma calls her parents “Mom” and “Dad” in the heartbreaking way she did in this episode right before they sacrificed themselves.
• Can Zelena please team up with the heroes now? I’m sick of her being stuck looking gorgeous on the sidelines with nothing to do but turn green. Now that Rumplestiltskin clearly wants to hurt her, I hope this means she gets more to do.