Title Page 23
Two-Sentence Summary Regina faces off against the Evil Queen as flashbacks reveal the moment Regina realized the extent of her own self-hatred. Meanwhile, Killian battles his own past demons as they rise up to threaten his relationship with Emma.
Favorite Line “You are a part of me, and I’m a part of you—whether you like it or not. And now I love myself, which means so should you.” (Regina, to the Evil Queen)
My Thoughts Once Upon a Time is—at its very core—a love story. And what has always made it stand out is that it’s a love story that acknowledges that romantic love is just one kind of love; it’s not the only kind of love. In fact, Once Upon a Time has often shown that the most important kind of love—the kind that can change villains into heroes and lost girls into saviors—is the love we have for ourselves. True growth, happiness, and hope are only found when we are able to look at ourselves in the mirror and love the person looking back—the whole, messy, flawed person. Until that happens, a true happy ending can never be possible, because how can you be truly happy if you’re not happy with yourself?
There are no better characters to bring this theme to life than Regina and Killian, so I was thrilled to see their stories so thematically intertwined in “Page 23.” At the very beginning of Season Three, those two characters had a conversation about whether or not happiness could ever be possible for people like them—people who did terrible things but are working every day to be better than their pasts—and ever since then, I have enjoyed watching their parallel stories of redemption, hope, and self-forgiveness unfold. Those stories haven’t always been easy to watch, but they have provided much of the narrative depth in these later seasons of Once Upon a Time. And they served as the emotional core of “Page 23,” which seems fitting since the titular page was meant to be a symbol of the possibility of a happy ending for a former villain.
This was an episode that probably didn’t need a flashback (How many times do we have to revisit this period in the past?), but at least it tied in beautifully with the theme of self-hatred standing in the way of happiness. I think we could all see it coming that the person Regina hated the most wasn’t Snow White but herself, yet it was still a powerful moment to see her staring at her reflection in the broken glass. Lana Parrilla did commendable work in this episode playing three different versions of the same role, and that moment—with Regina gazing upon her broken self in the broken glass—was among the most emotional of the hour. Regina hated herself so deeply that she cut herself off from anything that could have made her truly happy—namely, a second chance at love with Robin Hood. She self-sabotaged because she felt unworthy of happiness, choosing instead to continue down a dark path because she felt that was the path she deserved to be on.
That same sense of self-loathing was a defining part of Killian’s story for so long, too. He spent centuries hating himself and falling deeper and deeper into darkness because of that self-hatred. In fact, it has been even harder for Killian to let go of that self-loathing than it has been for Regina, which almost surely comes from the fact that he spent many more years doing many more things that made him hate himself. And like Regina in the flashbacks, Killian’s self-hatred caused him to sabotage his own happiness because he felt unworthy of it.
As Captain Nemo told Killian, guilt can be corrosive to the soul, and it is certainly corrosive to relationships. A healthy amount of remorse for negative actions is a good thing, but Killian is a man of extremes. Instead of working through his guilt and self-loathing with the support of Emma, he pulled away from her, which hurt not just him but also Emma. And when faced with the choice between coming clean and working on his guilt without telling Emma, he chose a third option: erasing his memory of killing Charming’s father. He wanted to take the easy way out much like Regina did when she separated herself from her Evil Queen half—the magical shortcut (How did he get his memories into the dream catcher without magic anyway?)—and we all know that’s never the hero’s way.
That’s what Emma objected to when she found him about to destroy his memory and launched into one of the most painfully vulnerable and honest fights in the show’s history, thanks to Colin O’Donoghue and Jennifer Morrison’s stunning performances. She knows her family has forgiven people for far worse than what Killian did; what hurt her was that he shut her out and would rather destroy his memories than be honest with her about himself. Both parties have kept secrets from each other too many times, and Morrison made me feel Emma’s frustration with both herself and with Killian for falling into the same pattern too often because they spent a lifetime being afraid to be vulnerable. But Emma seems to have learned from her mistakes and has reached a place of genuine vulnerability with Killian, and it hurt her to feel as if she trusted him with her whole self—every fear, weakness, dark deed, and past mistake—only to see that he didn’t trust her with his whole self.
Emma felt that Killian didn’t have faith in her and her family, but in actuality, he didn’t have faith in himself. He didn’t believe he could ever see himself as worthy of happiness and love knowing that he killed Charming’s father. It didn’t matter how many times Emma told him she loved him no matter what he did in his past or reassured him that he would be forgiven; he didn’t believe it, and belief means everything in this world. He believed in Emma but didn’t believe in himself, and that’s not enough. He needed to accept that his darkest self is a part of him that he can’t erase by burning his memories of the darkness, but he also needed to accept that his darkest self is just a part of him—not the whole of who he is. The show has always brought Killian’s past back to haunt him in painful ways (mainly because O’Donoghue is just so good at brooding), but I think this was the final test for Killian: He needed to allow himself to believe he is worthy of Emma’s love and support—to learn to love himself despite facing this terrible reminder of who he was (and who he still is because we are the sum of everything we’ve done). And by the end of this episode, it seemed he had reached a place where he was ready to stop wallowing in his guilt and shame and start embracing his happy ending.
Of course, the person who helped Killian come to that place was the queen of hope herself: Snow White. I loved seeing those two characters interact one-on-one because Snow is exactly who Killian needed in that moment of self-doubt, struggling with whether or not to leave Storybrooke because of his self-loathing. (We’ll just ignore the fact that Killian probably should know that—no matter how upset Emma may have seemed—one of her biggest fears is abandonment, so him leaving without saying goodbye would have destroyed her.) Between the gorgeous snowfall and the heartfelt warmth in Ginnifer Goodwin’s performance, that was one of the loveliest scenes in the episode. Snow telling Killian about even the Evil Queen finding happiness hit home with him because “Love can save even the darkest souls; you just have to believe it.”
That’s the entire ethos of both Regina’s journey and Killian’s. Their self-loathing closed themselves off to believing anything could save them and make them truly happy for so long that sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s possible now. But Snow reminded Killian that it is possible, and, like most characters do with Snow’s words of support and belief, he took them to heart. He was ready to go home to Emma, to finally let himself believe he deserved the love and forgiveness she and her family offer, and to start believing even he could have a happy ending. However, because the writers love Emma/Killian angst, Gideon interrupted his plan to go back to her. This will undoubtedly test Emma’s own ability to believe that someone with a past like hers could have a happy ending (The way she dejectedly leaned her forehead against the window when he didn’t come home broke my heart.), but when he comes back, both characters will finally be in a place where they are ready to start their future together with nothing left to hold them back. This means I am definitely expecting a second—and much better—proposal scene sometime soon.
For as happy as I was to see Killian and Snow talk, all I wanted from this episode was a conversation between Killian and Regina. I have always thought that both characters could benefit from a friendship, but the show has avoided that for reasons I still don’t totally understand. In this episode in particular, Regina could have offered Killian some great advice about self-acceptance, forgiveness, and the rocky road to achieving both.
Regina’s story—more than any other—has been a story of self-acceptance. She has had great romantic loves, but she has stated more than once (including in this episode) that her happy ending isn’t about romance. It’s about finding a place to belong. She found that in Storybrooke with the people who have become her family, but “Page 23” allowed her to finally see that she can also find acceptance just by looking in the mirror, which is something she never would have imagined possible before.
I loved the symbolic nature of Regina fighting the Evil Queen alone. While the idea of leaning on a support system was an important part of this episode, no one can fight your darkest self for you (which reminded me in a powerful way of Emma’s one-on-one struggle with Nimue last season). Only you can look in the mirror and decide to love every part of the person you see staring back at you. And when Regina was faced with the chance to finally destroy her darkest self, she instead chose to do what she couldn’t when she looked in the mirror all those years ago: She chose to love herself—including her worst self.
For so long, all I wanted was for Regina to acknowledge that her worst self isn’t some separate entity but is instead a part of her that she must accept in order to become her best self. She did exactly that in this episode, choosing to acknowledge both the best and worst parts of herself by melding hearts with the Evil Queen instead of crushing the dark heart. That darkness is part of her, and choosing to accept that instead of destroying it was a huge step forward for her character. It’s easy to love yourself when you only think about the good you’ve done and treat the bad things like they belong to another person; it’s much harder to love yourself and believe in yourself when you accept that you are a sum of every good and bad choice you’ve made, every moment of love and hate, every strength and weakness. Regina did the hard thing in this episode, and I could not have been happier to watch it unfold.
Ultimately, I would have loved for the Evil Queen part to be reabsorbed back into Regina, but by the end of the episode, I saw that the writers were using this story as a way to save the Regina/Robin relationship to some degree. So even though I was confused by the Evil Queen going to the Wish Realm to get her fresh start (Wasn’t there already an Evil Queen there? What’s going to happen to her in a world where everyone wants her dead?), I put those questions aside to focus on the beauty of this second chance. The Evil Queen finally apologized to Snow White, which was a stunning moment (made all the more stunning by Goodwin’s tearful reaction). We got the beautiful shot of Regina hugging her worst self, accepting everything she was, is, and could be. And somewhere, in some universe, Regina and Robin got a second chance at love because she took all the love she had been given—all the hope and belief she needed—and walked through the tavern door this time. It was a lovely way to wrap up both the Evil Queen plot and the Robin/Regina story—bringing everything full circle and showing that great things can happen when you let love guide your actions instead of hate.
“Page 23” was a story about hope, second chances, and the power that comes when you move from a place of self-hatred into a place of self-love. In short, it was the kind of empowering story that has always made Once Upon a Time special, and it made for one of my favorite episodes of the season.
• I’m sure this was just done to drag out the drama, but was anyone else annoyed that not even the Evil Queen could find a way to break the curse on Charming and Snow?
• In between having my heart broken by Emma, I was able to appreciate how beautiful both her braid and her white shirt were in this episode. It was a great look.
• It was nice to get a reminder again that Henry is the author and can actually contribute to the efforts to help in town crises. It was just nice to see Henry in general after a couple of weeks without him.
• I’m so happy Killian had Nemo to talk to in this episode. He needed a friend not connected to the Charming Family in some way to confide in, and Nemo seemed to really care about him.
• It’s sad to think that Killian is so haunted by the idea of who he once was that not even being brought back to life by Zeus can convince him that he’s worthy of a happy ending.
• I could watch the scene with Emma showing off her ring all day. I loved everyone’s giddy reaction (including Emma’s), but my favorite was Regina’s sincere happiness for her despite losing her own love. It was the perfect reminder of how far she’s come from “I shall destroy your happiness…”