Two-Sentence Summary As Emma and Regina try to find a way back to Storybrooke from the Wish Realm, they encounter various alternate-reality versions of familiar faces. Meanwhile, Charming and Killian team up back in Storybrooke to hunt down Gideon, as his parents try to work together to find a better fate for their son after he reveals his master plan.
Favorite Line “If you believe in something strongly enough, we all have the power to change our fate.” (August)
My Thoughts Once Upon a Time has always been about finding the power to write your own story, to believe that you can change your life for the better by taking the first step and believing good things are possible for you. That entire ethos was summed up all the way back in Season One by Emma Swan’s famous words:
People are gonna tell you who you are your whole life. You just gotta punch back and say, ‘No, this is who I am.’ You want people to look at you differently? Make them. You want to change things, you’re gonna have to go out there and change them yourself…
Part of my problem with this season so far has been that it’s felt like Emma has forgotten her own words at times, buying into the idea of being fated to die protecting her family instead of believing that she has the ability to punch back and change things—change her fate. So imagine my delight when this episode focused on the idea of choosing your own fate and creating your own story right from the very start. As such, it felt like a true return to form for Once Upon a Time.
Any episode that starts with an Emma flashback is bound to be a good one, and this one started with a moment that filled in one of the most prominent gaps in Emma’s story so far: how she got her last name. I think most of us assumed that her last name came from the foster family that sent her back when she was three years old, but it actually feels far more appropriate that she chose her own last name. Even as a little girl (played perfectly by Mckenna Grace, who embodies so many of Jennifer Morrison’s mannerisms and line readings—especially from the show’s first season—that once again I found myself asking what kind of magic is happening in the casting department), Emma fought to create her own identity; she just needed some help creating the right one. She ran away from a bad situation, but young August helped her see that running away wasn’t the only option. She could choose to believe that things would get better.
And so she did. She got off the streets, gave herself a name, and allowed herself to hope that she could become her new namesake—a swan. And although August made a good point about believing you can become a swan making you a swan, I think young Emma was even closer to figuring out the story’s true essence and the heart of her own story: The ugly duckling was always a swan; it just took a while for it to grow into what it was born to be. The same could be said of Emma. She was always a princess, a warrior, a daughter, a Savior; it just took a while for her to find her place in the world and discover her true self. It also took believing that she could be something more than she had been for her to truly embrace the best version of herself—for the ugly duckling to become the swan.
(Side note: Part of me loved that August helped Emma find a little bit of hope, but part of me was mad that he left her again after she got off the streets. His habit of coming in and out of her life—watching her from afar and interfering only at certain times—makes it hard for me to fully forgive him for not allowing Emma to grow up with at least some semblance of family around her.)
The theme of belief ran throughout every storyline in this episode. In the early Storybrooke scenes, Charming needed someone to believe in him as he struggled with his guilt over Emma’s disappearance, and he found that in Killian. Without Snow (and also without Emma), Charming has a tendency to spiral into darker places, so I’m interested to see Killian act as a kind of grounding force for him at a time when he needs it most. Killian isn’t afraid to tell Charming when he thinks he’s doing something potentially dangerous (like letting Belle try to get through to Gideon instead of just trying to stop him), but he’s also someone who believes in Charming as a leader and a father, which Charming needs desperately without the rest of his family around. Their dynamic has always been one of my favorites because I think Josh Dallas and Colin O’Donoghue work incredibly well together, so it was nice to see that on display again.
Speaking of good scene partners, I enjoyed the Emma and August interactions in the Wish Realm and was reminded of how well Jennifer Morrison and Eion Bailey work together. They’ve created a lovely familial feeling between their characters, and it came across well in this episode. I enjoyed seeing Emma help August believe in himself after he spent so long in Season One trying to get her to believe; it was a nice role reversal and showed how far Emma has come since she’s now the one offering hope and belief to others. That’s the essence of being the Savior—that ability to spread hope and to help others find happiness in a way only Emma can because of her personal experiences and the lessons she’s learned. I know there are other Saviors and that the mythology of the Savior has changed over time, but I will always see Emma as someone special because of her empathy and her ability to encourage others to find happiness and fulfillment, which is exactly what she showed when convincing August to believe in himself using the same advice he gave to her in the real world so many years before.
Emma didn’t just help August believe that he could change his fate in the Wish Realm; she helped Regina, too. For as much as I would have loved for Emma and Killian to have taken this journey together (How hilarious was O’Donoghue’s Wish Realm Hook, by the way? I loved how thoroughly committed he was to the ridiculousness, and it reminded me that sometimes this show can be silly and fun; not everything about it has to be serious and deep.), it felt right for it to be Emma and Regina. These two women have been tied to each other’s fate before Emma was even born, but now they’re not tied together as enemies; they’re tied together as friends and as a women who have both struggled to believe they can have a happy ending. And Emma used her personal experiences and deep reserves of empathy once again to help Regina believe that she could change her fate—that she could hold on to happiness instead of always losing it.
Regina went on an emotional rollercoaster in this episode, and I loved every twist and turn. Lana Parrilla brought so much softness and hesitation to this version of her character, which was a lovely change of pace from the over-the-top Evil Queen shenanigans we saw for most of the first half of the season. It broke my heart to see her truly believe that Robin was better off without her. However, she came to see over the course of her time spent with Robin that a life without love had left him cold and lonely, which she understood all too well. Finding each other in this realm ignited something hopeful and good in both characters, and I couldn’t stop smiling at the way Parrilla and Sean Maguire played their interactions; they have such wonderful chemistry, and it was a true joy to see them together again onscreen. We’ve gotten to see so many couples on this show fall in love in different ways in different realms, and this was another lovely version of Robin and Regina’s story—two broken hearts finding a flicker of happiness and hope with each other after suffering too much loss.
Ultimately, it was Emma who convinced Regina to hold on to that hope even when it seemed impossible. She helped Regina believe that she doesn’t have to be fated to be lonely and miserable; as her mother once said, believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing. Emma knows better than anyone that death doesn’t have to stop True Love; she walked into the Underworld and her True Love was eventually returned to her, so of course she would encourage Regina to at least try to bring Robin back.
Like his feather, Robin represents hope for Regina—hope that she can be happy for the right reasons, like love and family instead of vengeance and destruction. And because this is a show about hope, it always felt wrong for that hope to have been snatched away from Regina in such a cold and cruel way when Robin died. Robin’s death was brutal and bleak, and it made a lot of people question the show’s message of hope and happy endings. So Robin’s return felt like a much-needed reminder that this is a show where believing in good things is rewarded. Regina believed in her own ability to change her fate, and Robin believed in her enough to go with her—and they were both rewarded with his return (albeit, in a somewhat different form) to Storybrooke.
I’m not sure how this is going to play out, and I’m sure it will come with a price because magic always does. (I’m also not sure how all three of them got through the wardrobe—I thought it could only take two.) But for now, I’m choosing to be happy for Regina and happy for fans of her and Robin’s relationship (myself included). Things always felt a little off without Robin, and, although I know this isn’t the same Robin, it’s going to be nice to have him back for whatever amount of time we have him.
When Robin, Regina, and Emma returned to Storybrooke, they found themselves immediately thrust into the middle of a battle they had no idea would be coming so soon. As Emma walked down the darkened main street, I was surprised by how quickly the show was going to have her face Gideon. (I couldn’t have been the only one to notice, though, that Emma was wearing a coat in the scene and a tank top in her vision, so I’m assuming this won’t be their only fight.) Ultimately, though, this moment was less about her facing Gideon and more about her facing her own demons. The fight scene was well choreographed, but the most important part wasn’t the swords clashing; it was the battle going on inside Emma to fight against what she had been told would be her fate. It was time for her to punch back and remind everyone that she gets to decide how her story ends. Her fate is in her hands, and those hands might have been shaking, but they were still powerful enough to punch back against those who want to tell her what her fate is.
Emma was right; she is fated to die—a basic fact of life is that it eventually ends. But that doesn’t mean she has to roll over and let death come for her just because someone told her it had to happen a certain way. With that perfectly delivered, “Not today,” Emma took back her fate, reclaimed her story, and chose to fight for her own destiny instead of one dictated by other forces. Emma Swan is a fighter, and I was so happy to see her fight for herself in addition to fighting for her loved ones. She is worth fighting for; she is worth protecting, and sometimes it’s good to be reminded that fighting for yourself can be just as important and noble as fighting for others.
Fighting Gideon represented Emma fighting her fate for more than just that reason. Gideon is who Emma could have become had she let the trauma she suffered as a child darken her heart. It’s not a coincidence that Gideon returned to Storybrooke at 28 years old after his mother gave him up to give him his best chance; it was just like Emma entering the town back in Season One. Just like Snow and Charming, Belle believed she was doing what she had to do to protect her baby, but that baby grew up in a world of cruelty and mistreatment instead. I’m sure Gideon suffered horrors at the hands of the Black Fairy, but Emma’s life was no picnic, either. (I know Morrison has often said she’s played Emma as having suffered some forms of abuse during her time in the foster system.) Emma, however, still retained just enough hope to wish on that blue star birthday candle. I can’t imagine Gideon having any hope left in him at this point.
What is most fascinating about Gideon, though, is his motivation for killing Emma. It’s the very embodiment of the concept of villains believing they’re the heroes of their stories. He believes he needs to kill Emma to become the Savior of the realm being terrorized by the Black Fairy, which is a fascinating “ends justify the means” debate that made him truly feel like his father’s son. However, I have approximately 9 trillion questions about how that would work. Is “Savior” a role you inherit by killing a previous Savior? I thought it was something Emma was because she was a product of True Love who was written into the Dark Curse as the one who would break it. This season has challenged that idea on a lot of levels, so I’m left feeling completely unsure of what makes someone a Savior and what that job actually entails, which I’m not sure is something I should be feeling about a major piece of the show’s mythology halfway through its sixth season.
Ultimately, though, what matters to me isn’t the exact definition of a “Savior;” it’s the story of the woman who has held that title since the show’s pilot. Plot matters much less to me than characters, so what I loved about “Tougher Than the Rest” is that it reminded me of how much I care about these characters—how deeply I want Regina to be happy, how much I missed Robin, how good it feels to see Emma, Henry, and Killian hug, and how inspired I am by Emma’s journey and her quest to define herself on her own terms—from her name to her ability to be her own Savior.
• When we first met Hook back in Season Two, I said he had a little bit of Jack Sparrow in him, so it was nice to see that brought to the forefront in O’Donoghue’s portrayal of Wish Realm Hook.
• For as sweet as Charming’s bedside speech and forehead kiss to Snow were, I’m really starting to get annoyed by this curse. Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin are so magical together, and having them separated as scene partners for so long feels cruel. Also, why did the forehead kiss not count as a True Love’s Kiss?
• I thought this episode was shot beautifully. The Enchanted Forest scenes were gorgeous, and all the nighttime Storybrooke stuff was perfectly foreboding.
• I’m completely torn on the topic of Rumplestiltskin and Belle teaming up to help Gideon. On one hand, I want Belle to stay as far away from him as humanly possible and get angry at the mere thought of them getting back together, but on the other hand, I love Robert Carlyle and Emilie de Ravin as scene partners. I also love the idea of Rumplestiltskin and Belle vs. Snow and Charming in this epic battle of protecting their children.
• Carlyle really brought his A-game to this episode. (But when does he not?) The scene in which he slapped Gideon gave me chills.
• I want to reiterate one more time how happy I was to start this half-season off on a mostly optimistic note. Once Upon a Time is a show many people turn to for hope and happiness, and it’s nice when the show actually delivers on those fronts.
I enjoyed this episode more than I expected. 6A started out okay, but soon it got too all over the place for my taste. We had the Evil Queen (who got tiresome pretty quickly), Aladdin and Jasmine, Rumple and Belle’s baby storyline and, by the time the midseason finale came along, the Wish Realm and a baby aging 28 years overnight. I thought OUAT was taking it too far, frankly. The long hiatus only reinforced those feelings.
This episode, however, was a nice surprise. I liked that they threw the EQ asside, at least for now, and wrapped up the Wish Realm. Besides, like you explained beautifully, it focused on the main themes of Once Upon a Time: hope, belief, writing your own fate. It was also a relief for me to watch Emma punching back, at last. Now I’m more hopeful about the direction of the show.
Good to see you back.
i admit i liked it more then the winter finale. I just feel like this wish realm was just put it to last minuate kinda thing to have Robin come back. Who i admit i am not to fond of as character and actor sadly. I just do not feel much around this character neither Regina who i think has gone downhill with the split story.
I loved seeing Baby Swan, and i really wish the show this half season is back to the protagonist Emma Swan, and her arc and so on.
I admit i liked how Emma got her name and what it meant, but half of me wishes August was not involved, yes due to his hand in Emma going to prison and abandonments. I think the show also wrote August abit better person in the Wish Realm then he is in the real world. Also did anyone feel like August has this airy presence about him where something does not feel right with him and is shifty, i dont fully trust him wholly especially in the last scene where Emma comes to see him.
Also how come Charming kissing Snow#s forehead did not bring a TLK? Is romantic love suppose to on the lips for TLK? I did kinda miss Snow in the episode, you know just being there with the group. I always feel when one is missing from the group of Charming, Snow, Emma, Hook, Henry and Regina.
Half of me loved Old Hook, half of me felt like we should of see Hook being the one helping Emma and taking that position in the Wish Realm but i have to remember this is some twisted wish version that Evil queen hijacked when she made the wish in behalf of Emma so i kinda understood what we saw with him. Big Kudos to Colin for the funny and endearing Old Hook. It was excellent. Such a great actor in every version. I like how out of everyone he is the one who gets to FIND Emma, he did even thought his reasons were wanting the reward lol. You could tell Jen was laughing during these scenes.
Also i dont know whether to feel for Gideon or not, this is man-child who is after Emma and wanting to kill her. And his reasons just seemed like when his father first became the Dark One as he killed the one to become a DO, he wanted the power and wasnt it to do something good with it in the Orge wars but then he was full on savage and killing spree? (i vaguely remember this). It just feel like Gideon as the same excuse became something to kill that something. Like you i do not want Rumbelle back together after all that has happened but it seems like its on the path that it might be…
I enjoyed the scenes with Charming and Hook, and also the men with Belle.
I loved seeing Emma hugging Henry and Hook together and the comment about drinking water. Her two true loves awww.
You are not alone in feeling like August seems shady, even in his “reformed” state, but I think it may be due to the actor’s tendency to lay things on a bit thick. We have no idea what wish-realm Emma and August’s relationship was, but something about it felt overly friendly. But any shadiness he might project is nowhere near blue fairy level.
Speaking of Blue, way to epic fail once again with Gideon. He turned out real great.
Glad you picked it up about August overall.
I did for a second did think August was laying it abit thick when he hugged Emma in the wish AU, but the i had to remember August knew her as this timid and shy singing princess in her Wish version, so i think he must of treated her like a doll and big bro kinda thing. Friendship for sure… there was no other hint. (I find it alittle eww because we saw a young teen boy of 14 met a young child of 7 – so anyone shipping that it, very icky kinda thing lol).
Gideon’s reason just remind of Rumple#s cowardice and wanting to be DO basically.
Great review as ever. I’m so glad you like McKenna Grace as much as I do. If they decide to retcon another season with a young girl who is somehow related to the Charmings they better hire her!!
This was a really nice episode back. Emma’s journey is what grounds the story for me, and I think that is why the mid-season finale felt so off – Emma wasnt OUR Emma. But it was so great to have our Emma back in this one, along with getting a great piece of her backstory too. The fact that Emma consciously chose the surname ‘Swan’ for herself is a development I never knew I wanted. I love it because it was Emma choosing hope. Emma lived a pretty tough life up until we meet her in the pilot, but I love the idea that the name, and the hope tied to it, followed her through it all.
It was great to see Robin again. I think they actually gave him more to do in this episode than he had his entire last season on the show. It will be interesting to see how Zelena takes this development…hey Robin, here’s your kid Robin! I am just thankful that Roland is nowhere around to be traumatized by this mess.
Speaking of Zelena, I did not miss her or the Evil Queen at all. If next week one of the characters were to mention off hand that Zelena and the Evil Queen went off to Oz with baby Robin to live as a family never to be seen again, I wouldnt be sad about it.
I couldnt help but laugh at wish-realm Hook. I have to say, as close as the performance came to being a little TOO Jack Sparrow, if I think back to past!Hook during their time travel adventure, wish-realm Hook is kinda exactly who I would have expected that Hook to grow into. And while it might have been fun to see Emma and wish-realm Hook have a more meaningful connection, I enjoyed the fact that this story stayed firmly focused on Emma. This was a story about Emma needing to believe in her own worth and power, not a story about reforming a brooding/miserable version of Killian who isnt even real. (but seriously, how great was it that the first words out of real Killian’s mouth when Emma comes back is “you’re amazing”? Not “I was so worried about you” or “Im glad your back”. Or even “I love you”. Nope, he goes straight for selfless empowering compliment)
I am pretty forgiving of child/teenage August. He was a kid himself and shouldnt have been given the responsibility of watching Emma. I was glad to learn that he was still keeping an eye on her from afar as a teen. I have much less sympathy for adult August, but I have learned that its fruitless to keep grudges on this show if the characters no longer do. Emma doesnt really hold grudges.
I have no idea where they are going with this whole Gideon/Savior thing. That seemed like a really bizarre motivation for killing Emma. And Gideon needs to lose the cape because I just kinda wanted to laugh has he stormed around Storybrooke in that billowing cape. He looked like he was stomping off to his room in the clocktower to listen to some Dashboard Confessional. I will say though, I liked the parallel with the clocktower (which I didnt even notice until you mentioned the age similarity) – In the pilot Emma comes to town and the clock starts ticking, here we have Gideon blowing it to bits. That cant be a good sign…
Ah, its so good to have the show and your reviews back! I hope we have some good stories this half season!
I am now having waaaay too much fun with the idea of Emo-Gideon storming off to his room . . . I’m curious, too, about his motivations — specifically, why does he think this will work? — where did he get the idea? (Did he watch too much “Highlander”? — there can be only ONE!) I’m suspicious that the idea was planted by the Black Fairy.
I hadn’t even thought about what will happen when Robin is confronted with the remnant’s of his alter’s life: Zelena and the little green bean. That could be all kinds of fun awkward.
I kept wondering when Regina was going to tell wish!Robin about his children. I had already mostly forgotten about Zelena but I think I remembered that Robin has 2 kids he should probably know about.
I’d be quite happy if the show decided to send the Evil Queen and Zelena off somewhere and never mention them again.
I enjoyed this episode! You have a talent for picking up things that I don’t catch in a first watch. I have to say that despite August abandoning Emma as a baby, I can’t help but love their friendship and I really like their brother/sister-like relationship.
I’m glad we’re getting to see a different side to Robin’s story. I always felt that there was more that could have been done with the character and with his romance with Regina. This time around, I think they have more in common. They’ve both lost love and have lived for themselves ever since. I’m interested to see where this goes.
And, I can’t deny that Old Hook was probably my favorite alternate character. Colin really seemed to have fun with it and that really came through. He continues to impress me!
Lovely job on this, sweets. Like you, I’m glad that we seem to be getting a return to more optimism, belief, and fighting for the future. It’s not enough just to believe something. You have to believe enough to act on it — and we see Emma (young and current) believing enough to do just that.
I firmly believe that the OUAT budget is primarily spent on a time machine. This is how they cast the younger versions of the characters. The casting is eerily good, and kudos to all the young actors they get who consistently make us (ok, me) believe that a time machine is possible. (I checked Bailee Madison on IMDB when I first saw her as Snow. She was so like Goodwin, I really thought they were related.)
I had never given a great deal of thought to how Emma ended up with the last name of Swan. Long-time readers will know my fascination with and tendency to get VERY EXCITED about names and the power of names, so I loved the fact that Emma chose Swan. That is just all kinds of awesome. That this early we see her choose: this is who I will be. We see her choose to act on a belief that she is and will be a swan.
Oh and add me to the annoyed at August list. Yes, that’s sweet, you helped her. NOW BE TRULY HELPFUL AND STICK AROUND. Is it any wonder she loves Killian who is always there for her? Everyone else just pops in and out at their convenience. Yes, I do realize I’m probably being unnecessarily harsh on a teenager . . . but he could have made an effort when he was an adult. I’ll stop grumbling and just focus on that great group hug at the end. 🙂
I’m also curious about Gideon’s idea of taking Emma’s Savior powers. Is this really how this works or is this a lie he’s been fed by the Black Fairy in order to get rid of Emma? (Think about it — this is Rumple’s mum. She’s got to have mad manipulation skills. I am really looking forward to Jaime Murray/Robert Carlyle scenes.) Or is this even what he really wants? Or why? Soooo many questions . . .
— I’m also ambivalent on the Belle-Rumple togetherness. Just what is Rumple up to?
— Am I the only one who got distracted (in a good way) by Belle’s 1920’s look at the well?
— The Father-Son theme seemed a little heavy-handed.
— I’m also curious about where they’re going with Robin. I did feel his “wiped from existence” was unnecessarily harsh — even if it was a lie from Hades, it was harsh.
— More Captain Charming, please. “I’m with you, mate.” Love the camaraderie.
Points where I may have laughed a bit too much:
— Old Hook. That was just brilliant. He was obviously having way too much fun playing an older, paunchy pirate who still thinks he’s irresistible to women.
— Water? What, for drinking?
— Robin’s reaction to giving money to the poor.
I think you are going to get your captain charming wish in the next ep!!
I laughed at the “What for drinking?” line and then got really concerned for Killian and his general health if drinking water is not a normal thing he does, lol.
I also loved the tiny scene with Killian and Belle. Killian’s “to stop him or to AID him?” question was one I was definitely asking myself. I love that these two have respect and trust enough in each other to have an exchange like that. Really I just love Killian as a scene partner with every character on this show.
Honestly, at the beginning of the ep I was thinking “if Belle doesn’t tell someone about Gideon……” but then she told Captain Charming, so at least I wasn’t stuck being angry at her. I like her more away from Rumple. I hated seeing her being manipulated and willing to overlook bad things about the people she loves.
Nice to be back here chatting about Once. It feels like it’s been forever. I kind of almost forgot that we do this.
I enjoyed the episode and I’m interested to see where they’re going to take the return of sort-of-Robin. I laughed at the water for drinking joke and loved Killian’s “you’re amazing” reaction to Emma’s return. I didn’t actually realize that the teenager was August so I didn’t have as strong an annoyed reaction as I might have – I guess he did help her. I’m wary (and weary?) of Belle and Rumple and the whole Gideon storyline. The rules of magic are very convenient – the tree can only take 2 for plot reasons, and now it can take 3 for plot reasons, or maybe it can take unlimited people. Who knows? Eh, it’s magic. whatever. The TLK thing – I’ve seen some people theorize that intention is the reason why a forehead kiss can be a curse breaker sometimes but not every time. Like, Charming has to wish Snow awake when he kisses her. Magic. whatever.
Hoping this half season has lots of fun interactions, preferably with our true love (and bromance) couples on screen together quite a bit (fix the darn Snowing sleeping curse already!), and hopefully the things that don’t quite make sense will come together nicely.
So glad that you didn’t forget about us. 🙂
The tree thing didn’t bother me too much . . . I assumed that it had something to do with being in the wish-realm.
Like you, I”m also hoping for fun interactions (yes, with the True Loves, bromances) and end that pesky LadyHawke curse.
Oh, and the name? I guess I have read way too much fanfic because I could have sworn when I was watching that the show had forgotten how Emma got her last name. But it turns out that foster parents story was just fanon. I like both readings of the Ugly Duckling-Swan story too. Maybe Emma needed the change your fate version (especially before she knew the truth of her life), but the more normal “you were a swan all along” version is totally appropriate to Emma’s story.
The time in the wish realm felt too long. I understand Regina needed to figure stuff out but other parts of the wish realm still fell flat for me. Colin’s portrayal as old Hook was very funny. There had to be a lot of outtakes of that scene.
I still can’t give August a pass. He slips in and out of Emma’s life and does nothing to really help her.
I am very happy that Emma took charge of her fate and kicked Gideon’s butt. I always thought that she would prevail.
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