‘Once Upon A Time’ Review: Break the Cycle


The latest episode of Once Upon A Time gave us another glimpse into Emma’s heartbreaking childhood and some minor insight into what the Snow Queen is planning (to the surprise of no one who has ever watched this show, the two are connected). “Breaking Glass” touched on the familiar themes of friendship, forgiveness and loneliness which led to beautiful character interactions and moments of growth for Emma and Elsa.

But the episode failed to advance the main plot in any important ways and that made it frustrating to watch after the four fast-pace episodes that preceded it this season. We know now that the Snow Queen wants her family back (Elsa or Emma or both?) and that’s it. Considering that’s something the audience guessed when she first interacted with Emma, it felt like a letdown. When are we going to learn why? Doling out crumbs is bad enough when it comes to Will’s very minor subplot, but when we’re talking about the main villain of the arc and we’re hitting the halfway point without any new information – that’s disappointing and a little worrisome.

I’m not saying this was a bad episode or a waste of time. I enjoy quiet moments and seeing my favorite characters grow and shed some of their demons and baggage. But this episode didn’t have the same magic (pun intended) that the rest of the season has displayed and that might be because so many of the scenes were literally characters running in circles and coming up empty.

Let’s talk about the flashback to the same teenage Emma we were introduced to in last season’s finale, the lost girl who stood outside the foster home and wondered if she’d ever find a home. After running away from said foster home, Emma meets a girl named Lily in the grocery store and they bond over being alone and promise to be friends forever, no matter what. That promise goes out the window when Emma learns Lily actually has a family and she’d lied. Emma walked away, even as Lily begged her not to, but teenage Emma couldn’t get past the hurt and betrayal.

While teenage Emma made the choice to walk away and build her walls higher, present day Emma is doing her best to learn from her mistakes. She’s opened herself up to her parents and Henry and Hook (more on him later) and in this episode, Emma wanted to try and repair some of the damage to her relationship with Regina. Unfortunately, Regina preferred to cling to her anger and insults and had no interest in forgiving Emma or working together because she preferred to sulk in her sadness and solitude. But Emma (with a push from Elsa) refused to give up and went to talk to Regina again, pointing out that she thought they could be friends and that truly took Regina by surprise and thawed some of her anger.

x05Here’s the thing with these scenes: I love Regina. I hate that she’s heartbroken and that she feels so alone and I understand why her sarcasm and sass are her go-to weapons because she doesn’t trust anyone to get close to her without hurting her. That makes my heart hurt for her and I just want to hug her. Her genuine disbelief that Emma considered them friends is the essence of her character – she never thinks anyone is truly on her side and she assumes she’s always going to be alone because that’s how things have always been and that is something she has in common with Emma. I like that Emma recognizes that loneliness inside Regina and wants to help her see that it doesn’t have to define her life just like Emma’s family and Hook have helped her see she doesn’t need to hide behind her walls.

But the execution of the scenes bothered me. Regina’s ranting at Emma in this episode was over the top. We saw this anger in the season premiere. We saw the sass the last time the two women crossed paths in 4×03. Was it really necessary to have most of their scenes in this episode revolving around Regina sniping at Emma and Emma sitting back and taking it because she felt guilty? As a fan of both of these ladies (with an admitted bias for Regina), I spent more time wincing and rolling my eyes and wishing Emma would just walk away instead of letting Regina continue to berate her. Let’s not forget Emma’s entire life sucked because Regina cast a curse that forced Snow and Charming to send their newborn through a portal – yet we don’t see Emma ranting at Regina every chance she gets.

Most of this episode made it seem like Regina hasn’t grown at all from that woman who once blamed a child for all of her problems and vowed to destroy her and that’s not fair because she has grown – we’ve seen it. We’ve seen it in the way she dealt with Zelena’s threats last season, in the way she saved Marian from the snow monster and the way she didn’t hesitate to help when Robin asked her to save Marian and the way she’s putting his happiness above hers. That’s the Regina we need to see more of, not this ranting, angry, bitter Regina who hits the same notes every time she shares a scene with Emma (also, can we talk about her being surprised Sidney betrayed her? Of course he did! Regina, you’ve screwed the man over one too many times and he found an out and took it).

Eventually, Regina did take Emma’s olive branch and I hope this one sticks. Here’s the thing: I don’t think these two women should be friends. I know it sounds harsh and goes against the show’s theme of hope and forgiveness, but I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s one thing to let go of baggage and anger – that needs to happen, mainly on Regina’s side since Emma has already done so. But I don’t need them to have coffee dates or talk about boys. I need them to be mature so they can parent their son together and make his life easier and they should work together and pool their magic to keep the town and their loved ones safe when there’s a new threat. That’s all I want from this relationship – cordial coexistence.

While Regina’s growth is difficult to spot at times, Emma’s continues to shine beautifully. After reaching out to Regina, Emma headed back to the sheriff’s station and her time with Lily and the decision she made to walk away was still on her mind. Hook found her and offered her a drink and then asked her what was wrong. This is nothing new for them – he’s been reading her moods since they climbed the beanstalk in season two. But now Emma doesn’t resist as hard when he asks her to let him in – she showed him the box of her childhood things and when he asked to look inside so he could get to know another part of her, she agreed.

This was a huge step for Emma – she let another one of the walls surrounding her heart crumble away and allowed him to see her painful past, not only the mementos she kept in the box, but the emotions the memories brought to the surface. As always, Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue demonstrated how perfectly in sync they are as she kept her face controlled, letting the audience see Emma trying to hold everything in while he gave her a gentle smile and carefully and respectfully looked at what she’d kept. His patience allowed her to let her guard down and Morrison relaxed just enough of the tension she carried in her shoulders for viewers to see how much Emma trusted him in that moment.

Emma found her video camera (and naturally it was keyed up to the Emma and Lily part) and explained to Hook that she’d been thinking about her friend and hadn’t watched it since they made the video. Again, he understood this was a big deal for her to share this and let him in and he took her hand and let her set the pace. Emma accepted the comfort he offered and snuggled closer as they watched the footage – it was a beautiful, quiet moment between two people who have always been able to communicate without words.

And then the reveal: the footage flipped back to a foster home Emma didn’t remember and there was the Snow Queen. So she knew a teenaged Emma and erased her memories, along with Elsa’s and adult Emma’s since there was a picture of Emma and the Snow Queen in the ice cream shop that she had no recollection of – the question is why? Why does the Snow Queen make herself known and then take it all away? The easiest guess is that she wants magic – Emma’s magic, Elsa’s magic and we know she took some of Regina’s magic when she stole the mirror and used the shards in her bigger mirror (side note: I know the original Snow Queen fairy tale involves mirror shards so I’m assuming that’s going to play into things here, but maybe the writers will put their own spin on it?).

Speaking of Elsa, before we wrap up, I want to touch on her scenes. The Snow Queen tricked her into thinking Anna was in the forest and Elsa ran after her, building an ice bridge to get to her sister only to end up trapped. The Snow Queen wanted to use Elsa’s fears against her, but Elsa proved to be stronger. She freed herself and then she joined Emma and Regina in the fight against the Snow Queen. Even though her scenes were short, I really loved seeing Elsa come into her own and find her inner strength. Now can we please find out where Anna is…?

Now it’s your turn. Did you enjoy the episode? Are you frustrated by the lack of reveals or do you enjoy the pacing? Do you think Emma and Regina should be friends? Did you like the Snow and Will subplot? What do you think the Snow Queen is planning? Hit the comments below and share your thoughts, feelings and theories with us!

Mandy Treccia
Mandy Treccia has served as TVSource Magazine’s Executive Editor since 2016, formerly as Editorial Director from 2012-2016. She is an avid TV watcher and card carrying fan girl prone to sudden bursts of emotion, ranging from extreme excitement to blind rage during her favorite shows and has on more than once occasion considered having a paper bag on hand to get her through some tough TV moments. Her taste in TV tends to rival that of a thirteen-year-old girl, but she’s okay with that.

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  1. It wasn’t a great episode, mostly because of the Regina stuff. The Regina/Emma interactions were truly unpleasant to watch. I’ve had it with Regina being so hateful and always blaming everyone else for her unhappiness, and I HATED seeing Emma just take the abuse. It frankly disgusted me. Emma had NOTHING to apologize for, and I’m upset the show presented it as if she did. You’re 100% correct, they should NOT be friends. It’s totally unrealistic after everything Regina has done to Emma and her family. Regardless of how much Regina has or hasn’t changed, some things you just can’t and realistically shouldn’t get past — such as Emma witnessing Regina burning her mother alive, as only one example. They should be cordial for Henry’s sake, but not actual friends. Regina doesn’t understand what a friend truly is.

  2. Sadly I didn’t enjoy this episode much :(
    I am a huge Emma and Killian fan and even their two wonderful scenes together could not console me for the fact that so much did not seem to make sense for me.
    Regina – though she is not my favorite character I have certainly come to like her but this season has made it a bit harder for me. The whole Operation Mongoose arc is a bit dofficult for me to swallow because again, Regina is looking to shift blame instead of accepting responsibility and realizing that her actions have consequences.
    But what she said to Emma – that Emma destroyed her life and Emma quietly taking it made me truly miserable. I felt like I fell through the looking glass and everything that happened since S1 – Regina casting a curse that literally destroyed Emma’s life (growing up as an orphan) and that of her parents – hadn’t actually happened. How on earth has Regina always had Emma’s back? I appreciate Regina giving EMma good memories for her year with Henry but other than that, how is an “always” warranted?
    I always believed that Adam and Eddy would always stay true to their story and never allow fans or any other loud voices to make them sway…however, what I saw in 4×05 just did not make sense story and character wise and I am so so sad because of that.

  3. For the second week in a row, the episode fell a bit flat and the pacing was more than a bit off. I didn’t think I’d miss having any of the Arendelle backstory, but I actually did miss seeing Anna this episode. There’s only so much they can cram into it. I liked having a glimpse into Emma’s life pre-Neal, and I can see how she’d regret not contacting Lily again, since Emma is big on second chances.

    As for Regina and Emma becoming friends, I don’t see why they can’t be, eventually. But the writers having Regina regress into that amount of hostility seemed odd. And it also seems that every time one of the “villains” shows a bit of growth, the writers seem to hammer it over the viewers’ heads that they haven’t changed *too* much. Rumple, Hook, Regina… two steps forward, one step back. I have hope for all of them, though. One thing that seems constant with all three of them, and at least with Zelena and now the Snow Queen, is that they want love and another crack at being happy since it hasn’t gone so well for them in the past. So I suppose that’s constant with the theme of the show, love, forgiveness… second chances.

    Snow and Will… I long for badass (but ever-looking for the good in others) Snow to come back, but I don’t know where she’s going to find the time for those types of adventures. I can’t see her straying too far from baby Neal regardless of how much fun she had with Will, so I don’t know what part she’s going to have to play in the Snow Queen’s (eventual?) downfall.

  4. Sadly this felt like a filler episode probably because the only plot development (if you can call it that) was at the end. I agree that Regina was over the top. I would have preferred Emma to stand her ground but that wasn’t the episode was about. To me, although they promoted it as an Emma/Regina centric episode, it was more about Emma and her growth as a person. It’s wonderful thing to watch and I stuck with it purely because of that. Snow and Will were good comedic relief and if Elsa hadn’t coaxed Emma to try again with Regina I don’t think she would’ve bothered and if I’m honest that would have been fine with me. Like the reviewer, I don’t need these two characters to be friends particularly, they just need tofind a way to get along and they were doing that before the finale last season which was fine. If they can get back to that, I’ll be happy – just no more ‘woe is me’ from Regina now please. She’s got it off her chest, we know she’s not happy, now she has to find a way to deal with it and move on. As for the Hook/Emma scene’s both at the beginning and the end – they really showed how these two are growing more comfortable and trusting in their relationship. I know there’s going to be angst ahead due to the whole Rumple business but Emma’s made it quite clear that you don’t give up on people if they mess up and I’m sure this will apply to Hook when his dealings with Rumple all comes to light. This season is all about not giving up on the people you love and Josh even stated in an interview that that includes Emma with Hook so looking forward to how the rest of the episodes play out.

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