Two-Sentence Summary As Regina’s plan to break the sleeping curse on Snow and Charming backfires, weakening both their hearts and forcing them to confront the idea that Emma might have to face the final battle alone, flashbacks reveal a time in which they chose to leave Emma alone to allow her to fulfill her destiny and save everyone. Meanwhile, Killian tries to find a way to reach Emma with the help of Tiger Lily.
Favorite Line “Swan, I know you face an uncertain future, but there is one thing I want you to be certain of: that I will always—always—be by your side. So Emma Swan, what do you say? Will you marry me?” (Killian)
My Thoughts It’s no secret that Once Upon a Time makes me cry a lot. I cry during happy moments and heartbreaking ones, romantic scenes and family-focused ones. But I’m not sure I’ve ever cried as often as I did during “Awake”—or as intensely. After six seasons and countless emotional journeys, this show still managed to knock me off my feet with feelings, and it did so by focusing on the reasons I first fell in love with this show (Snow and Charming’s relationship with each other and their relationship with their daughter) and the reason I devoted years of my life to writing about it (Emma and Killian’s relationship). At the end of the day, I have been and will always be a Charming Family fangirl and I will always love writing about Emma Swan more than perhaps any other fictional character ever created. So “Awake” felt tailor-made to both break my heart and fill it with hope by once again putting the parts of this show that have always meant the most to me in the spotlight.
“Awake” was an episode about the sacrifices we make, which made it heartbreaking, but it was also an episode about those moments in life when we don’t have to sacrifice—when karma works in our favor and people who deserve to be happy get to be happy, which made it hopeful. And all of that was told through the lens of Emma and her relationship with her parents and her pirate—relationships that make up the very fabric of Once Upon a Time.
Emma Swan’s happiness has often been sacrificed at the altar of the greater good. Moments after she was born, she was separated from her family because of a role she didn’t choose for herself, and from that moment on, she found herself alone time after time because of her destiny. That’s always been one of the most heartbreaking aspects of Emma’s story: She was destined to bring back happy endings, but it has so often felt as if her own happy ending was out of reach because of that destiny.
At the beginning of this episode, Emma was struggling with that recurring sense of loneliness and isolation that has seemed as much her destiny as her title of Savior. With one of her parents cursed to always be asleep and the man she loves cursed to remain in another realm, it seemed as if she would be walking into a climactic final battle against the forces of evil without her full support system by her side. By bringing her hand tremors back, we saw just how much Emma needs her loved ones and how afraid she is to take on this challenge by herself. She spent so many years being alone, but now that she’s accepted that she can draw strength from the love around her, it’s terrifying for her to think of being without that love when she needs it most.
Love was at the center of every part of “Awake.” As Charming reminded Emma, love is what has given him the strength to keep going without Snow by his side. He has faith that she is fighting for him just as intensely as he is fighting for her. And this episode was a lovely reminder that Killian and Emma have always followed in her parents’ footsteps in that way—even when separated by realms, he will never stop fighting to get home to her. I loved the moment when his shadow brought her the wand she is going to need in the final battle, gently touching her face after doing so, because it was a reminder to both Emma and the audience that Killian is Emma’s partner no matter how far apart they are. Curses, realms, and even death itself can’t stop him from doing everything in his power—including separating himself from his shadow—to help her and to remind her that she’s loved.
Sometimes the reminder that you’re loved is all you need to find your best self and your fighting spirit. It certainly worked for Snow and Charming in this episode. I liked the symbolism of the pixie flower being used to reunite True Loves—something good growing in response to evil, light magic sprouting up because it knows it will be needed to fight the darkness. And for Snow and Charming, that flower served as a sign that even when Snow didn’t remember her husband, she somehow still knew he needed her—even if it was just to bring him a flower to brighten his dark, lonely days.
I loved the scenes in cursed Storybrooke—from Lana Parrilla getting to bring out her best Mayor Mills attitude again to the nostalgia of seeing Charming in that hospital bed—but the very best thing about those scenes was watching Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin revisit that period in their characters’ lives, reminding me of how beautiful their journey has been since the show began to where they are in their lives now—a marriage and two babies later. Those two actors bring their bright, beautiful chemistry to every scene between their characters—no matter how small—but seeing them take center stage again in “Awake” reminded me of just how special they are together. The moments after their hands touched and Snow’s belief in Charming’s love broke the curse were some of the best in the episode. I have loved many “Snowing” kisses over the last six seasons, but that intense, passionate reunion may be my new favorite. It had a spark that gave me goosebumps and, when coupled with their gorgeous musical theme, made me cry.
Getting to see Snow and Charming reunited and kissing all over this version of Storybrooke was great, but even more than being an episode about their relationship with each other, this was an episode about their relationship with their daughter. And so much of the emotional weight of that part of this episode came from Dallas, who can still break my heart with a single look. The sincerity he brings to every emotional moment on this show is what made me fall in love with Once Upon a Time when I first saw the pilot more than five years ago (I was sold from the moment he said “What’s 28 years when you have eternal love?”), and his ability to make me truly believe Charming’s love for his wife and daughter (Sorry, baby Neal, I’m just going to ignore you like the show seems to do now.) has always grounded this fairytale show in something genuine and real. For example, the moment Snow recognized Charming in the flashbacks and he said, “There you are,” I think I actually managed to swoon and sob at the same time because of the overwhelming affection Dallas put into those three tiny words.
But where Dallas really tugged at my heartstrings was in showing Charming’s desire to protect the little girl he almost died saving. His defensive stance in Gold’s shop was perfect, but it was the way he looked when he first saw 10-year-old Emma that left me an emotional wreck on my couch. Again, with the smallest amount of words (This time it was “She’s beautiful.”), Dallas managed to convey so much. The radiant, all-consuming love in his expression was breathtaking. But that love suddenly turned to heartbreak when Snow stopped him from stepping through the portal. And that moment was when this storyline went from heartwarming to absolutely devastating.
Snow making the decision to stay away from Emma because of her destiny—because the townspeople deserved a Savior who would break their curse—was a nice callback to the pilot, when she was the one to make the call to send Emma through the wardrobe alone because Charming didn’t want to. Although Charming and Snow are partners in battle and in leadership, the fight against the Evil Queen was always more of Snow’s fight than his, and the people they were meant to protect were her subjects before they were his. So she has always had more of a pull toward sacrificing her own happiness—and her daughter’s—for the greater good, and that makes perfect sense. But that doesn’t make it easier to watch, especially knowing what Emma was going through—a kind of loneliness and pain her parents would never have guessed at from that scene of her sitting and reading on the bed. (What would their reactions have been if, instead, they would have seen her homeless on the street or being abused by a foster family?)
Snow made the call to sacrifice not just her happiness but also Emma’s to someday ensure that everyone could have a happy ending. I was happy that Charming pointed out that Emma would also have to pay for Snow’s choice—this wasn’t just denying them their daughter; it was denying Emma her parents. Snow’s faith was ultimately rewarded, but knowing the hard times Emma was still going to suffer through because of Snow’s choice and Charming’s choice to go along with it, it was tough to see what Snow was doing as the right thing. In the end, though, I think we were supposed to understand that there was no easy choice for Snow and Charming to make—that’s what made Dallas and Goodwin’s heartbreakingly realistic tears in that scene so powerful. People were going to get hurt either way, but they made what they believed was the hero’s choice in that moment—the greater good over anything else.
In the present, Snow was given another choice, but this time, she chose Emma over everything else. She chose to give Emma the pixie flower magic she needed to reunite with Killian instead of using it to break the sleeping curse on herself and Charming. Snow felt such guilt over the choice she made to leave Emma to her destiny all those years ago; that came across so clearly in Goodwin’s performance, but this time, she could fall into the sleeping curse knowing she wasn’t leaving her daughter alone; she was reuniting her with someone who needed Emma just as much as she needed him. And when Snow said she knew Emma would find a way to break the curse, I believed it just as surely as I believed her in the past when she said she knew Emma would find them. Snow has always had faith in her daughter, and that faith allowed her to help Emma save her True Love and find the happy ending she’s so long been denied.
And with that pixie flower dust in hand, Emma took one huge, realm-hopping step toward securing that happy ending. She (very quickly—almost laughably so) rescued Killian from Neverland and brought him home where he belongs. And with the two of them finally in the same realm again, they could fix what had gone so terribly wrong a few episodes before. Killian apologized to Emma not only for keeping secrets but for even remotely considering leaving her with the kind of sincerity that makes Colin O’Donoghue the only man who could ever rival Dallas in that department. And then Emma eased his guilty conscience and took some responsibility for their fight herself, making me wonder why we had to go through so many episodes of unnecessary angst to get to this point when it could have all been fixed so easily.
But any thoughts of the angst that came before disappeared when Killian told Emma he had something he needed to do before another portal dragged him away. When he said he wanted to do it right this time, I immediately started crying because I knew we were going to get the romantic, sincere, deeply personal proposal we were denied the first time. And the writers and O’Donoghue certainly didn’t disappoint. Every word was perfectly chosen and delivered from the moment he called her “Swan,” harkening back to the beginning of their love story in a way that made this longtime “shipper” melt.
And then Killian Jones said the words that have made him the only choice for Emma from the start: “I will always be by your side.” In an episode that reminded us that Emma was often left without people by her side in uncertain times, this promise felt even more powerful. Emma felt her destiny as the Savior and her destiny as a Lost Girl—abandoned time and again for the greater good—were inseparable…until she met Killian. He has proven to her that as long as she chooses to let him, he will fight beside her and will always choose her and her happiness over everything—including the greater good.
Killian’s defining characteristic is his devotion, and that is what has always made him perfect for Emma. So to have that sense of devotion—that burning desire to make sure she never feels like she has to face anything alone—at the center of his proposal was perfect. Emma has often believed that she must shoulder the burden of being the Savior by herself, but by promising to be beside her no matter what the future holds, Killian is offering another set of shoulders to help her carry that burden, another set of hands to help when hers are shaking with the weight of her fear and self-doubt. His belief that the future doesn’t have to be certain for them to start building it together is everything she needs as she prepares to fight the final battle. He’s not offering her platitudes or promises he can’t keep about everything turning out okay; he’s not giving her false hope. Instead, he’s giving her a promise he knows he can keep. He’s a survivor—much like the pixie flower Emma and Snow recovered—because he needs to be. While that line about the flower certainly referred to Emma surviving despite being on her own for so long, I think it also perfectly described the man she’s going to marry. He survived for more than 200 years because he needed to; he survived to fulfill his own destiny—not as the Savior, but as the man who was going to love her.
I was already a sobbing mess before Killian got down on one knee, but then he asked her “What do you say?” the same way he did before asking her to take a leap of faith and drink the memory potion in “New York City Serenade” (one of my all-time favorite episodes), and my crying only got worse. The pure, open expression of adoration on O’Donoghue’s face as Killian asked Emma to marry him was stunning, and I loved that it was met with such sweet, sincere emotion from Jennifer Morrison, who played Emma’s reaction with such lovely certainty and joyful acceptance that she can be loved with this kind of devotion, that she can let herself finally believe she won’t be abandoned. I especially loved the detail of her meeting him by going down on her knees, too—forever equals. The overwhelming love, joy, and hope in that moment is what this show is all about. It’s enough to make you believe that there is someone out there for everyone, someone who will love you the way you deserve to be loved. When this show makes me believe in the idea of soul mates with all my heart, it’s at its very best.
That sense of hope and happiness stayed with me through the end of the episode, when Snow and Charming finally woke up. At first, I was confused by the logistics of the “everyone is a little bit cursed” method and slightly frustrated that no one ever let Emma even try waking up her parents, but I ended up loving the symbolism of everyone choosing to take a risk for the two people who sacrificed their happiness for them more than once. It also served as a way for the residents of Storybrooke to put Emma’s needs (having her parents by her side for the final battle) first. It reminded me of It’s a Wonderful Life in a way, with the whole town coming together to help people who have given so much to them.
The power of community is its own kind of True Love, and Emma is going to need that power as she faces her toughest challenge yet. But this episode left me with such a strong feeling of hope for her and for her future. Being the Savior has often been a lonely role, but now Emma has a fiancé, her family, and an entire town standing beside her. With love and light on her side, I don’t see any way she can lose.
• I’m struggling with feeling emotionally invested in the Black Fairy as Emma’s final nemesis. Jaime Murray is still doing a fantastic job in this role, but to have this character swoop in at the last second to be the “Big Bad” of the whole series feels a little forced. I was more intrigued by the idea of Rumplestiltskin choosing to fight alongside his mother, which would make the stakes feel more personal, but part of me was happy he found out that she stole Gideon’s heart. I have had a strong feeling that Rumplestiltskin may end up sacrificing himself to defeat his mother like he did his father for a while now, and this only intensified that feeling.
• Snow using her bow and arrow to defend her daughter will always make me cheer, just like Charming telling Snow “I will always find you” will always make me melt and Goodwin crying whenever Snow and Charming have to say goodbye will always make me sob.
• I loved the way this episode brought in Tiger Lily as another fierce female ally for Killian, even if it did seem a little strange that she knew all about the Savior and what magic she’d need to win the final battle. It was a little too convenient, but at this point, magical deus ex machina moments are happening so frequently that I’m starting to care much less than I used to about plot devices.
• I know it’s a silly detail, but the fact that the cup everyone drank from to break the sleeping curse was empty was so evident it was almost comical.
• It was nice to see Emma and Killian reunited in Neverland—where their first kiss happened and where Killian promised to win her heart—even if it was only for a moment.
• Charming and Killian’s reunion was beautiful in its own way. I was happy to see Charming ready to move beyond it because it means all that angst is truly over.
• Consider this a SPOILER for those who like to avoid them: Who else is ready to just skip the next couple of weeks and get straight to the musical wedding extravaganza? Emma Swan deserves a true fairytale wedding, and I’m so happy to know that’s exactly what she’ll be getting.