Ironic that I title this review “Love is Sacrifice,” when, more often than not, if asked, I would say that love is more than sacrifice. Love is facing life’s troubles together – love is not giving up. Love is hard and it’s complicated but it’s together.
And yet – in this episode – the best Once Upon A Time has done, not just this season, but quite possibly in a few seasons, the themes of love and sacrifice are too entwined (in a good way), not to reflect on what that message entails. From Snow and Charming sacrificing their happy life with Emma for the rest of the town, to Hook basically sacrificing his life to make sure Emma got the weapon she needed to defeat the Black Fairy, and later the Charmings, once again, sacrificing their happy ending so that Emma could reunite with HER true love, there was a whole lot of sacrifice and a whole lot of love in this episode.
But – and here’s the rub, it wasn’t the kind of sacrifice that entails running away from problems. These characters weren’t faced with a situation where they could have chosen to fight instead of sacrificing, no. These characters were faced with impossible choices and what they chose proved that the love they had for each other was more important than their own happiness, their own existence.
Is this the only possible way to show love? No. Is putting someone else’s needs above your own a sign of true love? Yes. Let there be no doubt (not that there was any in my mind) – Snow and Charming’s love for Emma is true love. Hook and Emma’s love is true love. Snow and Charming’s love for each other is true love.
And that’s what the show is all about.
Now, let’s discuss all the emotions of this terrific episode, titled “Awake.”
HE HAS HIS MOTHER IN HIM
Let’s start with Gideon – and by default, with Rumple and Belle. We found out last episode that Gideon was under the Black Fairy’s control, and yet, it wasn’t until this week that we got a clear signal that, deep down, he isn’t just along for the ride. He’s fighting. He’s doing his best to resist. He just needs some help.
Would it have made a difference if he couldn’t resist? Not really. Gideon is a victim here, no more, no less. Emma and company might not know this yet, but the most important person does – Rumplestiltskin. And, if his final confrontation with Mommy Dearest is to be believed, he’s going to do everything in his power to save his son.
Not that we expected anything else from him.
The only concerning, and yet completely in character thing, is that, in that final confrontation with the Black Fairy, Rumple kinda put all his cards on the table. He declared war and he vowed to get Gideon back, yes, but he also made clear that all the good in Gideon comes directly from Belle.
We’ve had our ups and downs, Rumple and I, mainly because the writing has been inconsistent at best with him, but in this episode, his fierce protectiveness and love makes him easy to relate to. He’s basically telling the Black Fairy that he’ll do everything – not just for Gideon, but for Belle, to give Belle back her son.
All of this is consistent with his character. Rumple’s biggest strength has always been his love for Belle – and when there’s been a battle to be fought, his love has never wavered. If he’s chosen power over love it’s been in the quiet moments, and even that, he’s done because he’s afraid that this exact moment would come and he’d be defenseless.
Does that absolve him from all his sins? No, of course it doesn’t. It doesn’t guarantee him a happy ending, either. Having a reason doesn’t absolve you of your actions, but it does provide some badly needed perspective as to why his character acts like he does. Sometimes, when he’s being, well… Rumple, it’s easy to forget what’s behind all his bravado. This episode brings it all back to the forefront.
And, to be honest, the Black Fairy might be scary, but I wouldn’t bet against a Rumple willing to do anything to protect his family. He might not get to be the one to destroy Mommy Dearest, but I have no doubt he’ll save his kid – and Belle. Even if I’m not sure if his destiny is to come out from this final battle alive. Love is sacrifice sometimes, after all.
ALWAYS BY YOUR SIDE
The first Captain Swan proposal was good. It was heartfelt. Both really wanted it. It wasn’t perfect, however, because there were secrets between them and when you make a commitment to start a life with someone, you should go into it with your heart open and no hidden baggage. That’s the foundation of love. It’s not just about passion, it’s about trust, respect and yes, commitment.
And that’s why, though I will still remember the first proposal fondly, I’m glad we got the second one. I’m glad we got this journey – even if I’m not glad we had to deal with that secret-keeping business again.
From Hook’s determination to get back to Emma, to get back home, to Emma’s hard-earned belief that yes, even if he wasn’t by her side, Hook would never stop fighting for her, to what feels like the umpteenth confirmation that Hook and Emma are true love, this path started out rocky, but it ended in a pretty awesome place.
With Hook kneeling in front of the woman he loves and promising, not just that love, but the thing she’s always wanted more than anything, a partner who’ll stick by her through the good and the bad. With Emma kneeling as well because she’s not meant to tower over him, or control him, she’s meant to be his partner. With the two of them coming together not because of obligation or destiny – but because they want to.
The love Captain Swan shares is – and has been, from the beginning of this journey, a love of two kindred souls, and also, a love of equals. A love of two people who had to grow a lot to get to this place, but two people who couldn’t have found this happy ending with anyone but each other. They are not just true love, they’re the definition of soulmates.
Long after this show is over, long after the actors have moved on to other roles, we’ll still be talking about this ship. And it’s not because it’s made up of two very attractive people (though it is) or because of the sizzling chemistry (though, wow), but because Emma and Hook make us believe that there’s a chance for us as well. That we can have issues, that we can stumble, that we can make the wrong choices sometimes, and in the end, we can still find our way to the light.
We can still be heroes. We can still be worthy of love. All we have to do is keep trying.
THE NATURE OF HEROISM
All I could think of, as I watched Snow and Charming stand in front of that door and choose the greater good over their own individual happiness was – being a hero is hard. Way too hard. I couldn’t be a hero.
In this regard, at least, I relate to Killian much more than the Charmings. When Killian is faced with making a choice for the greater good (with very little detail, might I add), he reneges, not because he doesn’t want to be a hero, or because he doesn’t care, but because he will always put Emma first.
Snow and Charming, with much more details, choose the town. They sacrifice not just their happiness, but Emma’s, because that is the right thing to do, and because they believe that Emma is destined to find them anyway. And in the end their sacrifice comes full circle and allows them to break out of the sleeping curse because all those people they sacrificed for years ago are willing to do the same for them.
(Make no mistake about it, though – if they’d seen Emma suffering, on the streets, alone and hungry – they would have jumped through the wardrobe first, asked questions later.)
There is, however, a measure of guilt to Snow and Charming’s choice. The town is cursed because of them, so, of course, it feels like the height of disloyalty to abandon everyone to a miserable life. Killian’s situation is not comparable – Tiger Lily talks of an unknown evil in unknown place and Killian’s first instinct is not self-sacrifice, but to think of Emma.
And yet Killian – like the Charmings, gets a chance to prove his heroism. The whole point of the shadow was to take him home, but when that seems impossible, Killian shifts gears. He doesn’t care if he lives or dies – he cares about Emma getting the one thing that could help her defeat the Black Fairy. And that’s heroism, just as much as what the Charmings did is.
Both actions tie to the main theme of the episode – which is that love is sacrifice. And yet, by the end, the theme is turned upside down. The sacrifices were made, and yet, this family found another way. The Charmings are both awake. Killian is back at Emma’s side. It’s now time to prove the other type of love – the one that means sticking together, even when the going gets tough.
I can’t wait.
FIGHTING FOR EACH OTHER
David’s words to Emma encapsulate not just his relationship with Snow, but the relationship that Emma is destined to have with Killian, one that parallels the original love story we fell in love with back in Season 1: “Even though I can’t be with her, I know that she’s fighting for me as hard as I’m fighting for her.”
Because that’s always been the thing about these two – always the Snow and Charming way. Not just finding each other, through everything, but fighting for each other, and always trusting that though they can’t see what the other is doing, that’s exactly what’s going on.
That’s why they’re the ideal – why the comparison to her parents puts Emma such at ease. If Charming sees something of himself, or something of the way he loves Snow in Hook, then Emma can breathe easy. And it’s clear David sees it – he’s seen it for a while, and he has no problem recognizing it because he’s still living it.
His fairy tale ending isn’t an ending; it’s a life with Snow. And though they haven’t seen each other in weeks, though the separation has, at times, looked like an insurmountable obstacle, David and Snow have always believed, not just in their family, but in each other.
Which is why, when Snow gives Emma the way to Hook, at the end of the episode, she’s speaking for both of them. She’s making a sacrifice, yes, but she’s also – in a way that they couldn’t earlier in life because then it meant taking the whole town with them, putting Emma first. And the beautiful thing is that Snow does not hesitate, because she knows, deep down, that David would not only approve, he’d make the same choice if he were the one awake.
And Emma – the same Emma who grew up without anyone ever putting her first, that Emma, just accepts it. Because Snow and Charming are her parents. They’re not just two people who put her in a wardrobe to save her, or the people who contributed biological material to make her; they’re really and truly her parents. She loves them, and she understands that they love her. She accepts it.
True love, right there. From girl left on the side of the road to this – an engaged woman with a loving family, one who’s going to defeat the Black Fairy, and who’s certainly not going to do it alone.
THINGS THAT DO NOT MAKE SENSE, A LIST
Short list, and with good reason – this was a superb episode. Even in a great episode, though, Once sometimes requires a little suspension of disbelief, like …
- Did Snow/David ever take into consideration Baby Charming (Ha, if I ever slip and use his name you can call me out on it) when they were doing …anything? Who was going to take care of him?
- Why was the Black Fairy able to get to Storybrooke before Emma was dead? How do you just slip through a portal?
- How does Snow remember the first time they awoke from the curse? How does David, for that matter? And why is he acting like he knows one second and doesn’t know the next?
- Why didn’t we ask the Evil Queen to, you know, take away the curse, BEFORE WE GAVE HER A HAPPY ENDING?
OTHER THINGS TO NOTE
- I know (or imagine) running for your life through the woods is no easy feat – but there’s a joke about Hook kissing the floor for a reason.
- Aka, stop making all your characters fall in stupid ways, Once Upon A Time.
- Confidence is sexy – case in point: Hook being 100% sure he could take on all the Lost Boys.
- Being the Author is supposed to be helpful! Why does Henry have to get possessed and write gibberish?
- Charming’s single-mindedness had me tearing up more than once. He just wants to save his daughter.
- “It’s not like it’s the first curse we’ve ever woken up from.” Or the second.
- Everyone was really grumpy in the First Dark Curse. Did they spend 28 years like that? Was every day the same? Did Regina just get a perverse enjoyment out of watching everyone be miserable?
- Answer’s probably yes.
- If Regina was extra evil during the First Dark Curse why was there only one of those magical flowers? What’s the standard for evil?
- Though, whatever the standard is, the Black Fairy wins. By a lot.
- I didn’t cry at Charming and Snow’s reunion, what are you talking about? I held it together.
- I did cry at the proposal at the end. And when the Charmings woke up. And…
- Regina, you should have known that you would have put a fail-safe in the curse.
- It sure took Snow and Charming some time to think of Emma when they woke up.
- If you thought your in-laws were bad, think about it like this: At least they’re not Belle’s.
- “When you join me, it will be because you want to.” – Weird callback to an old Emma/Hook conversation.
- I’m just going to forget how similar this sounded, because blegh.
- “The family we were always meant to be”? You should have gone for another tactic, Black Fairy. That one’s unbelievable to the power of 100.
- Why was Rumple even helpful the first time around? He should have known it wasn’t time – Emma was meant to break the curse.
- “You expect for me to believe Killian Jones fell in love” – Just another reminder of how far he’s come.
- The bravado is still there, though. 20-1 requires a plan of some sort, but he’s all like – they ain’t getting in my way. Emma needs me.
- Killian complaining about the Lost Boys bedtimes just makes me want to see him as the father of a teenage girl.
- Why did you have scissors in your pocket, Mary Margaret? Why?
- “No mother should have to watch their child die.” Is very ironic coming from you, Black Fairy.
- Once Upon A Time could rightly be called An Abundance of Guilt.
- Everyone’s got a guilt complex.
- The scene with the Charmings looking at little Emma was everything I didn’t know I wanted.
- I need the AU where they go through the door and Emma still becomes the savior.
- “We took so much from you, we can’t take him too. Not before the Final Battle.”
- This scene reminded me of that S2 episode where Emma and Snow are trapped in the Enchanted Forest and Emma burns the wardrobe so Cora can’t get to Storybrooke, only for Snow to tell her she understands, she was putting Henry first.
- This is Snow putting Emma first.
- I’m okay, I just have something in my eye, like a tree or a branch or something.
- Was Hook ever tied to the tree or was he just resigned?
- Because, if he was, he got away FAST. And without his hook, too.
- I’m glad Hook apologized first thing.
- I disagree that Emma didn’t make it easy for him to tell the truth – that was about his demons, not hers.
- Regina and Henry were like, we’re just gonna be right here, pretending to give you space but actually totally ogling the proposal, thank you very much.
- If I had to pick an MVP for this episode it would be Regina Mills. The one that hated Snow White so much she enacted the first dark curse and now cares so much about this family that she delivers speeches to convince people to sacrifice themselves for Snow White and Prince Charming.
- This is the best version of Regina, right here.
- Hook’s like, I’m gonna drink first, not because of guilt, but because of honor.
- Diluting the curse means these people are going to need more than the regular 8 hours of sleep, right?
- Just once I’d love it if Regina or Emma were like: Why don’t you stay out of the crazy dangerous stuff, Henry?
- Everyone fell on the floor, but Regina made it so she’d end up in the chair. Hilarious. And so Regina.
- Charming – you’re just so …Charming. I hope they never do a Snow White live-action remake, because there’s only one Charming in my head.
- Why is Rumple showing his cards to the Black Fairy? That’s very …unlike Rumple. Plus, it just makes sense that she’d take it out on Gideon, which Rumple doesn’t want. So, is there a double deception at play here?
- I sure hope so. This is my favorite Rumple.
- He was basically like Mic Drop + Bye Felicia.
NEXT, ON ONCE UPON A TIME
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.