‘Once Upon A Time’ 6×20 Review: Love is Strength

I don’t know how to start this review, and I pride myself in always having words. Maybe not the right words, we all kind of lose those, but words in general have hardly ever failed me. And yet – for a moment there, after watching this episode, I was left momentarily speechless.

Because wow…that was everything I could have asked for and more.

For Emma, the heroine of the story, the woman whose journey has inspired us to be strong and yet be vulnerable, to love, to forgive, to sacrifice, and yes, to trust. The woman who, in this episode, finally gets a taste of that elusive happy ending her mother wished for her so many years ago.

“I wish we had what we needed to help Emma, to give her a chance at a happy ending.”

That’s how this story starts – with two people who loved each other so much that they believed their love was the most powerful magic of all wishing that their daughter could get a happy ending too. And the story comes full circle, with Emma walking down that aisle to her true love, and finding that, despite what we might have heard in the fairy tales of old, happily ever after is not the end, no – it’s only the beginning.




And the happy ending (beginning) is not just Emma’s, either. Snow and Charming’s story comes full circle, or, as they say, starts anew, thanks to Emma’s happy ending. It’s not that they’re not going to care or that they will stop seeing her; it’s that they trust that Emma doesn’t need them to secure her happy ending anymore. She’s found that. Now she just needs them to be Mom and Dad.

They’re free to find the happiness they were once denied – together.

Same goes for Regina – who might not have found a love story, but she found real, lasting family, and like Zelena, is finally at peace with herself.

The one exception to this appears to be Rumple – and by extension Belle, and Gideon. The latter two are affected by Rumple’s choice, though that doesn’t mean they can never be happy without him, of course not. It just means it’s going to be harder. But hey, this is not the end for them – this is the beginning. They’re not tied to Rumple’s choice.

And Rumple has chosen – he really and truly has. He’s the villain. The big bad. And even though this show has shown that villains do get happy endings – first they need the redemption – the thing Rumple has never wanted.

So, let’s go into choice, the song in Emma’s heart, the curse, the singing, and that beautiful, breathtaking wedding in “The Song in Your Heart.”

THE SONGS, RANKED

In general, the songs worked. Wait, no, that’s not what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say is – the songs were absolutely freaking amazing. This is, without a doubt, the best musical episode of TV since Buffy’s memorable ‘Once More With Feeling,’ and when all is said and done, the fact that this episode has a couple of uplifting love songs might be the thing that pushes it to the top of our playlist. We all want to belt out a happy love song every once in a while, don’t we? (And fine, a couple of wicked ones.)

Here’s my ranking of the songs – starting with what I enjoyed more, the only caveat being that I really and truly enjoyed them all – but hey, they still had to be ranked.

Emma’s Theme

This is not my favorite song of the bunch – A Happy Beginning is, but this one goes first because I have watched this episode about 7 or 50 times (who’s counting) and I have cried at Jennifer Morrison’s rendition of this song EVERY TIME. And if a song makes you feel so many things as this one did, it deserves top spot.

Best lines: Once I lived in darkness, out there on my own, left to brave the world alone/ Everything seemed hopeless, no chance to break free/Couldn’t hear the song inside of me.

All the years of running, no, not anymore/I know what I’m living for/I’m no longer searching, turns out all along/The answer was inside me… with a song.

A Happy Beginning

If we’re going just by the song, lyrics (and the choreography, and the smiling faces of everyone), this is my absolute favorite. The Emma/Killian duet is amazing, and the rest of the town, the people who love them, being there and sharing in their happy beginning doesn’t feel at all like it’s taking away from the happiness, but adding to it. Plus, what a catchy song! I found myself humming it for days after I watched the episode.

Best lines: There’s no storm we can’t outrun/We will always find the sun/Leave the past and all its scars/A happy beginning now is ours.

If we’re facing endless night/take my hand and join the fight/past the clouds we’ll find the stars/A happy beginning now is ours.

Revenge is Gonna Be Mine – TIE

The first song I learned – and the other one in this bunch that’s just catchy as hell. You just can’t stop singing it. Add that to the fact that Colin is one of the strongest singers in this cast, and that the choreography was pure Disney and there’s just a magic to this decidedly not happy song. I feel like singing it every time someone “wrongs” me. There’s something about belting out a revenge song that kinda makes you feel better.

Best Lines: Some say let it go/but I say hell no!

At last our tales will again intertwine

Revenge, revenge, revenge is gonna be mine

Wicked Always Wins -TIE

This song, which kinda got lost among all the amazing songs the first time I watched the episode, has become a favorite of mine. It’s just so delightfully…wicked, and it has so many good lines. Listening to it I’m transported to a Broadway musical  – to Wicked, even, and I kinda want Rebecca Mader to sing me, not to sleep, but to remind me that I can take on the world and win.

Best Lines: There isn’t any curse I could cast to match this feeling.

So I will fly into tomorrow, delighting in her sorrow, as a better day begins.

Oh, evil may be powerful, but wicked always wins.

Powerful Magic

Huge Disney movie flashbacks – from Snow’s musical awakening to Charming’s entrance – and yes, Charming, you DO sound good. This is a throwback to the fairy tales of our childhood, and just for that, I love it. It’s not higher on the list just because there are so many good songs, but it hasn’t been played any less than the others. In fact, I keep letting the whole soundtrack play without skipping any song – the best compliment I can pay the writers.

Best Lines: Cause love expressed through song is a weapon like the Queen has never seen.

There’s a powerful magic when two hearts are one/A powerful magic, bright as the sun/Goodness will triumph and evil’s undone, when you dare to heed love’s call/cause love is the most powerful magic of all.

Charmings vs. Evil Queen

This is a much more visual song than the others, because it gets hard to understand as they’re singing to each other. Watching the episode, however, it works perfectly, and it’s such a nice throwback to Season 1 and the Evil Queen vs. the Charmings dynamics. Plus – the combination of the EQ’s rock vibe and the Charming’s love song is just …pleasing to listen to. And also – who wouldn’t want a sing off? I know I would!

Love Doesn’t Stand A Chance

Lana gets to rock out and dance to choreography too, and though this song sounds much better in context – it ends up being catchy if you’re just listening to the soundtrack too, which is pretty much the norm for all the songs. The reason why it’s so low on my list is that, perhaps, my heart doesn’t want to rock out as much as it just likes the Broadway-type songs, but I’m sure this works perfectly for some people’s tastes.

Best Lines: Mirror, mirror could not be clearer/That love is a waste of time.

Down with love, down with hope/Don’t need blind faith to cope/Or inspiring songs in my heart/Got the magic I need for my darkest of deeds/ Love in times can entrance/But love doesn’t stand a chance.

The Queen Sings

It’s hard to separate this song from Regina’s solo – as it feels like one song, though if you listen closely the reason for the separation is obvious. This just sounds different. I’m more partial to this type of song than the rock type, but – the Evil Queen’s solo does have some great lines, so that gets the nod over this one.

Best lines: Oh, great, you’re singing too, this whole thing is deranged.

Okay, now that we’re done with the musical part (though I reserve the right to quote the songs at random intervals), let’s go for the deep stuff, starting with …

THE SONG IN YOUR HEART

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Raise your hand if you cried at Emma’s Theme. Yes, all with me? Okay – I feel better now.

Truth is, Emma’s Theme was the culmination of a 6 year journey, it was coming full circle, closure, if you will, and like that song that follows it clearly states, an ending for Emma that allows us a new beginning.

Does that mean this is truly the end of Emma’s story? No, not even close. It does, however, mean the writing is wrapping up this part of the journey for Emma. It means that the Emma who ran from her troubles, the Emma who doubted that her parents truly loved her the way they said they did, the Emma who thought she’d never find true love for herself, that Emma is now…the Emma who believes that, no matter what’s coming, they’ll win. Because they’re together.

And this is an important message. The song in your heart, the one that Emma couldn’t hear, is an obvious metaphor for all the good we carry inside of us, all the love and the kindness and the strength that we sometimes don’t believe is in us. And yet – Emma Swan, lost girl extraordinaire, found the song in her heart, so that means, we can also find what we need. You’re never too old to being anew, to look inside you, to face what scares you, to trust your heart.

It’s never too late to believe in yourself. It’s never too late to find your happy ending. That strength you’re looking for is inside you. It always has been.

We just gotta believe.

Story-wise, the song is also the representation of the love the Charmings (and even Hook and Regina, remember, all the songs were inside of Emma) have (or will have) for our savior. And that love – expressed through song, like Snow would say – is what allows Emma to face what she believes is the final battle, and in that final moment in the Mayor’s office, look at the Black Fairy with a face that says: Bring it on.

All the years of running, no, not anymore. I know what I’m living for. I’m not longer searching – turns out all along, the answer was inside me, with a song.”

LOVE IS SACRIFICE (PART DEUX)

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We’ve talked about this theme before – about the positive and negative connotations of it, and this episode brings it to the forefront once again, with Emma being willing to sacrifice everything for her family. This is not a new thing for Emma, but in a way, it comes to a head in this episode because Emma herself makes the comparison to who she was before – a runner, and who she is now, a savior.

Not that Emma ran from danger before, no, she ran from emotional attachments. Emma Swan has always been able to deal with dragons and curses. She’s always been ill equipped, however, to deal with feelings.

The thing about growing up by yourself and then finding your family, discovering that your family wanted you all along, is that – it’s not that easy to believe. And even when you believe it, it’s not that easy to shed 28 years of coping mechanisms, not that easy to become the person who suddenly relies on everyone else. Not that easy to love everyone the way they, perhaps, deserve to be loved, because you’re so used to protecting your heart first and foremost.

But that’s old Emma. This Emma is the one who’ll face the end of the world alone because she’d rather lose by herself that take anyone else with you. As she tells Killian: “If you come with me it only gives her a chance to hurt one more person I love and I can’t let her do that.” The only problem with that is that, it deprives Killian, Henry, the Charmings, Regina, the people who care about Emma, of the opportunity to help her.

Emma has gone from one extreme to another in the feelings department, and yet, deep down, it’s all part of the same journey. She had nothing to lose before, so she faced dragons. She has everything to lose now, so she faces dragons so others won’t have to. Because Emma Swan is a hero, first and foremost. And where before her strength was that she presumably couldn’t be broken more than she already was; now her strength is that she’s got people to catch her if she falls.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. When Emma talks to Henry, she’s still in the sacrificial state of mind. “If I fight and I lose I know you won’t have anyone, at least this way I know you’ll have the rest of our family,” she tells Henry, because she’s putting him first. Because Emma Swan never puts herself first.

She still doesn’t at the end – not completely, but the knowledge that she’s never been alone seems to be what propels her to the final understanding: Sacrificing yourself for the people who love you isn’t the answer, because the people who love you don’t want a sacrifice – they want you.

That’s what she’s basically saying as she sings to her parents, as she makes a beeline for Killian – the same man she’d kissed goodbye sweetly before. Emma Swan, the lost girl, finally seems to understand that though she’d be perfectly okay with dying if it meant everyone else could live, her family’s happy ending doesn’t work without her.

Love is sacrifice sometimes, yes. But love is also staying. Love is fighting together. Love is never giving up. Love is every day, and it’s hard…but in the end it’s worth it. And Emma Swan has that now. She has that, and she finally knows it.

YOU’RE NOT ALONE – YOU NEVER WERE

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“Even if she froze our family, you’re not alone,” Henry tells his mother in one of the many emotional Swan Believer moments we get this episode. And yet, this is something that Emma doesn’t get – not at that point, at least. The Black Fairy knows Emma’s weaknesses well, because, in a way, they’re the weaknesses of every orphan she’s ever stolen, and she knows exactly what buttons to push to make Emma feel like that little girl, abandoned and alone.

And yet – Emma is not alone, not anymore, and though she was alone for many years, she wasn’t alone in the way an unwanted kid was. The difference might seem meaningless, but it isn’t. Knowing you’re wanted, even if your parents had to give you up, means more than words can express.

Emma Swan knows all of this – intellectually – but a big part of her hasn’t internalized it, just as a big part of her doesn’t actually believe she can ever be someone who does anything other than run from her problems. This is evident in her conversation with Henry and in the real regret she shows at giving him up. And yet, Henry’s response to this is perfect. He doesn’t say it doesn’t matter – because it does, and he would never lie to his mother. He just says …you’ve changed, because she has. She’s not the person who ran from emotional attachments; she’s now the person who runs towards trouble to save the people she cares about.

Our savior credits Henry, insisting that she changed because he came into her life, and that is partly true, Henry was the catalyst, but Emma didn’t change because of Henry, she didn’t change because of her parents or Killian – she changed because of Emma. No one can make another person do anything. People can be there to support, to inspire, but in the end, you have to walk the path. You have to change.

And you have to get to the point Emma got to at the end of the episode yourself – the point where you realize that yes, your loved ones make you stronger, but you have inside you everything you need to face life’s troubles. In this case, Emma carried with her that song, that proof of love, and though, as I said before, intellectually, she knew she hadn’t really been abandoned, that’s the final thing she needed to really accept that, despite the fact that she survived 28 years on her own – she wasn’t truly alone.

Her parents – the people that love her – have been with her, always. And they will continue to be with her, even when she can’t see them, even if a curse separates them form a little while, even if she has to stand across from the Black Fairy without them. That’s the thing with love, it leaves a mark. One you can never, ever erase. And Emma Swan has been loved – is loved, so, so much that she’ll never truly be alone.

LOVE IS STRENGTH

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Which leads us to another theme of the episode – maybe the theme of the episode, of the season, of the show and of life (yes, I’m feeling very hyperbolic today, bear with me): Love is strength.

As I said before – Emma Swan’s strength used to be that she’d been broken so many times that she’d literally seen it all (or so she thought). Emma’s strength these days is that she loves so completely, so whole-heartedly, that she constantly puts others first, even when those people might not deserve it.

Snow’s wish, all those years ago, was for her daughter’s happiness – and yet, happiness is not fated, it’s not written in the stars. Happiness is a choice, and that’s why it took so long for Emma to get here, so long for her journey to advance to a point where she could choose that happiness for herself, she could believe she deserved it, she could believe that her parents, Henry and Hook would always be there for her, and that she would get to grow old with the love of her life.

This is probably the best part of the Captain Swan love story, for me, at least. Their love is not some predestined crap that neither of them can escape, no; instead it’s the story of two broken, lost souls who found hope and redemption in each other. They’re each other’s happy ending because they chose to be, and that’s the way the best love stories go.

Just in case there was any doubt, Emma makes it clear in her song, which is basically her declaration of intent, of love. She sings to Henry first – because Henry brought her home, but Henry has always been the easiest part of her life, the easiest love to reconcile. She sings to her parents second and states, categorically “I know what I’m living for,” as she holds onto the people who brought her into the world and made the biggest sacrifice ever to keep her safe. And then, she turns to Killian with the words “I’m no longer searching,” and that’s everything you need to know about Emma Swan, right there, in four words. She’s sure of his love. She’s sure of their love. And she’s stronger because of it.

Which leads us to the wedding – to Emma’s happy ending that was promised back in the Enchanted Forest when Snow made her wish, a happy ending that includes her family, yes – Henry as the best man, her parents walking her down the aisle, Regina, Zelena and the rest of the town watching, but most importantly, a family that centers around Killian Jones, the man she’s marrying.

That’s what happens when we marry – we choose to, in a way, not abandon one family, but to make our family bigger, to start a new family with the person we choose. We make that person part of our family, and this is especially true in Killian’s case, as he has no one but Emma, and now, her family, which is his by extension.

If the looks he throws the Charmings and Henry are any indication, Killian knows it. If the looks Emma throws Killian are any indication – she knows it too.

Jennifer and Colin make many subtle and brilliant acting choices in the wedding scene, from the way they look at each other while Emma is walking down the aisle, to the subtle nods to the rest of the family, to lingering on the rings, or the little nods and half-smiles as the vows are recited. There’s so much in what the two of them manage to emote about the ultimate happiness that this moment means for their characters, and it’s beautiful to see that they are as invested as we are, that they care as much as we do.

And that’s without even going into the vows – not too corny, not too flowery, just perfectly them. There’s a subtle nod to Killian being a pirate in his “You showed me that a heart full of love was the greatest treasure of all,” just as there’s a nod to Emma’s origins in her “Just because you learn that you come from true love doesn’t mean you believe that you’ll ever find it.”

But find it she has. Find it they have. And now they get to start a new chapter in their lives – together. From that meeting in the Enchanted forest, up a beanstalk, to Storybrooke, back in time, through problems and doubts, despite fears and mistakes…Emma and Hook’s happy ending is here, which means their happy beginning starts now.

HAPPY BEGINNING

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“You did it Swan, you got your happy ending.”

“That’s not what this is. It’s something else.”

“What then?”

“A happy beginning”

This is the best way to end (begin) this journey of Emma and Hook, celebrating the fact that, even though the fairy tales of our childhood might have promised that our favorite characters lived happily ever after, the end is never the end…it’s just a new beginning.

Emma and Hook still have a million adventures to go on together. They still need a Honeymoon (or, like, even a weekend of uninterrupted peace). They need to wake up together, look at each other and realize that this is the new status quo, that they never have to be alone again. They need to go grocery shopping, and clothes shopping and sailing with Henry as a family.

They need to babysit baby Charming, and maybe, in the future, think about making their own babies. They need to live and to love and to enjoy. And we need to see it.

Stories so often end here – on the wedding, on the happiness. When I was little, that always made me angry. It’s probably the reason I write. I would always tell my mom – but, what happens after happily ever after? I want to know!

And that’s the thing, we all do. We want more. We want to see what comes after the vows; we want to see the everyday things. We even want to see the obstacles, and how they deal with them – as an unit.

We don’t want this to be the end of the story. We really, really don’t.

THE CLIFFHANGER

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The episode ends with the curse engulfing the town and everyone holding onto their loved ones as they wait to see where it will take them. At any other point, this might have been an ominous end, but after the wedding, after a song that promises that there’s no storm they can’t outrun and they will always find the sun, it feels decidedly less so, especially because Emma’s words to close out the episode are categorical:

Doesn’t matter, wherever we end up, we’re gonna win.”

And just saying that should encapsulate everything Emma has gone through in the past six seasons, everything she’s learned, everything she is and everything she can do with her family by her side.

Emma Swan is the savior. She always was, but these days, she knows how to save the town and save herself. It all comes down to love.

Love is strength. And, like the song says: past the clouds we’ll find the stars…a happy beginning now is ours.

THINGS THAT DO NOT MAKE SENSE, A LIST

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  1. Wasn’t Belle asleep? How did she scour the back of Gold’s shop for that wedding dress?
  2. Where did the black fairy dust come from? If the Black Fairy always had it, why wait till now?
  3. Where did Emma find her wedding dress? It wasn’t one of the final two choices, both of those were short sleeved.
  4. How did they get everything ready so quickly? Did it involve some of Regina’s magic?
  5. How does the Black Fairy wake Rumple from his dream-shade sleep? Is her magic really that strong or does she have an antidote for absolutely everything handy?
  6. How did she know that she needed to come save him?
  7. For that matter, how does he know to go to Regina’s vault?
  8. Why does everyone look so surprised when the curse hits? The clock is visible, everyone knew it was coming at 6, it’s six. Everyone should have been like – okay, time. NO need to scream, Grumpy.
  9. Why is no one holding onto Henry when the curse hits?

OTHER THINGS TO NOTE

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  • Where is this talent show that Little Emma wants to enter? I don’t get the sense it’s at the group home. Though that’s not a very sophisticated flyer, so who knows?
  • Emma has a room for herself!
  • McKenna Grace can sing too. Is there anything she can’t do?
  • Kids are mean. This is not just a TV thing. Kids can be really, really mean.
  • The title card has an orchestra!
  • With all due respect to Snow – whose dress I actually like – I don’t think it’s anyone’s dream to wear their mother’s wedding dress. Though maybe that’s just me.
  • Snow/Emma bonding, however, is beautiful and perfect and what I’m here for.
  • Charming’s entrance is officially the way I will enter into rooms from now on.
  • I’m already singing out loud, so this will just add a bit of flair.
  • You DO sound good, Josh. You DO.
  • I love the little nods to the plot that the songs have, like “love can defeat curses, potions and beans.” It’s such a good marriage of what this show is and just – great songs.
  • There were many, many ways to screw up a musical episode. In fact, you could even say it was easier to screw up than to do it right, but Once Upon A Time did it right. They respected the story, wove it seamlessly with the plot AND brought on writers who knew what they were doing for the songs. If I had a hat, I’d take it off. As it is, imagine me bowing.
  • The impromptu bridal shower just proves Emma doesn’t have many friends.
  • Ruby should be there. Where’s Ruby? I miss Ruby.
  • “You’ve got to admit, she’s a got a flair for the dramatic” – Yes, Zelena, the Black Fairy does.
  • “Last time I checked she doesn’t get a vote.” I like it when Regina gets sassy in a non-evil way.
  • “I ruined your parents wedding, least I can do is make sure you get to enjoy yours,” is way more self-aware than Regina usually is, which is why it’s so poignant.
  • Emma’s blanket was made by Granny! I mean, I assume she made another one after Regina so cruelly ruined her work. Gasp, Regina. Knitting is not easy.
  • “Wishing they had something with a bit more…leather?” – Or, at least something that looked like it would fit, Charming.
  • Hook can still see right through Emma, just like the first day.
  • “I’m finally on the right path,” Hook sings, as he walks towards the Charmings.
  • “I simply did what was necessary to keep my family together” – Yeah, just keep telling yourself that, Rumple.
  • Ironic how everyone bends over backwards to protect your family and you couldn’t even move out of the way for anyone else.
  • “You think the Dark One sings?”
  • Emma’s face when she tells the Black Fairy “I’ll kill you” is vintage Season 4B Emma. Great acting there by Jennifer Morrison.
  • Henry reacts to Emma’s declaration that she’s going to sacrifice herself with a tad (and by that I mean a lot) more calm than I could have mustered in his position.
  • This is the least shady Blue has ever been.
  • Oh, convenient, a memory wipe. Original too.
  • Such a cleanly ripped out page…me thinks the book is trying tell you something, Henry.
  • I just love when Killian calls Emma “Swan.” It’s almost an endearment the way he says it.
  • Why is the book your wedding date, Henry?
  • The way Colin O’Donoghue holds his breath when Killian first catches a glimpse of Emma is my aesthetic.
  • BABY CHARMING LIVES! And he hasn’t grown!
  • Ginnifer Goodwin makes Snow look so damn happy. It’s like she’s gonna burst.
  • Killian looks back at Emma’s family – their family – before his vows.
  • He also looks at their clasped hands as Emma puts the ring on his face and there’s such contentment there. A+ acting.
  • Their SMILES before the kiss are everything.
  • If you can, in your rewatch, like the 50th time, when you can take your eyes off of Emma and Hook, look at Archie. His face is EVERYTHING.
  • The way Emma touches her husband’s face (HUSBAND) when she starts signing ‘A Happy Beginning’ will never not give me a thrill.
  • One handed lifts, especially when there’s a hook involved, look like the hardest thing ever.
  • There’s no storm we can’t outrun – a nod to Hook outrunning the second curse.
  • Also, Emma’s hand in Killian’s hook (holding it, actually holding it) is one of those trust things that just…how far they’ve come. And yes, I know they’re married now, but wow…how far they’ve come.
  • Where’s Violet?
  • If I knew the curse was coming at 6 I’d have a sword with me. Just saying.
  • It’s pretty fitting that the episode ends with Captain Swan embracing.

NEXT, ON ONCE UPON A TIME

Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.



Lizzie

Editor of Things, OUAT Know-it-all

Lawyer. Dreamer. Geek. Eternal optimist. Fangirl since the dawn of time. Hates the color yellow, olives and cigarettes. Has a recurring nightmare where she’s forced to choose between sports and books. Falls in love with fictional characters.

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