‘Once Upon A Time’ Review: Now We’ve Got Problems


This season of Once Upon A Time has been severely lacking something essential. At first, I thought it was balance because so much screen time was being devoted to the Frozen characters (even though they are guest stars that will be gone in a few episodes). And while that has definitely been an issue, last night’s two-hour episode gave me the glass shattering (no pun intended) explanation for my disappointment with season four that’s been eluding me: up until now, nothing has made me feel like my heart’s being ripped from my chest.

Yes, I know that sounds crazy because why would anyone want to feel like dying after watching an episode of a TV show about fairy tale characters? But that’s what this show does. It toys with our emotions and it makes us feel things and it takes us to the point where all hope seems to be lost and then it turns it around and lets our heroes save the day and then we feel good again and it makes all the pain worth it. We want to see these characters suffer and get torn apart because that leads to the good moments – the hero moments, the true love moments, the family moments – the moments that have us cheering and fist pumping and basking in the happy tears that flow when good triumphs over evil.

Last night “Smash the Mirror” finally gave us those high stakes moments with a two hour episode that had enough space to allow the characters we’ve watched and loved and hated for three seasons to shine. There was still plenty for the guest stars to do thanks to the flashback, but present day was about Emma and Hook and Rumple and Regina and Snow and Charming and Henry. We got to see their motivations and self-doubt and the underlying love and hope that drives each of them (except Rumple who is driven by madness and thirst for power). And it made for (arguably) the best episode of the season so far.


Let’s talk about the flashbacks first. I know it might not seem like it given my frustrations as of late, but I do love Elsa and Anna and Kristoff. Their scenes always make me smile because the writers and actors have done such an amazing job bringing the wonderful characters from the movie to life. This week, Elsa and Anna teamed up to trap Ingrid in the urn again, but the crafty Snow Queen figured out their plan and used the spell of shattered sight on Anna. She proceeded to rant at Elsa for all the time she ignored her and made her feel like she did something wrong as a child and Elsa stood there and took it, promising she would always love her, even as Anna trapped her in the urn.

Since that wasn’t what the reaction the Snow Queen wanted, she immediately froze everything, including Anna and Kristoff, and planned to make a deal with Rumple to give him Mickey’s hat in exchange for the urn. But the sorcerer’s apprentice showed up with an alternate deal: give him the hat and the sorcerer will give her the name of the third sister. She just has to be patient. Ingrid accepted and the apprentice sent her into our world in 1982 to wait.

What was great about these scenes was they finally gave us answers about how the pieces fell into play the way they did. They also deepened the mystery of who this sorcerer is and how scary Mickey’s hat must be for him to willingly make a deal to give Ingrid what she wants in order to keep the hat away from Rumple.

Hope for Regina

Robin and Regina spent the night tangled up in each other and burnin’ it down (name that Taylor Swift song!). But in the morning light, they knew they couldn’t carry on this way because he’s married and Regina doesn’t believe she’s allowed to have a happy ending. Robin doesn’t agree with that and he grabbed his buddy Will to assist him in finding the author of the book, which he stole from Regina. The two returned to the scene of Will’s crime and searched library books for the answer while bonding over their love for not-so-evil queens (TELL US WHERE ANASTASIA IS, SHOW). Suddenly, a new page appeared in Robin’s knapsack – one showing him and Regina kissing in the pub as an alternate to page 23 (Regina running away from the pub).

While they were searching, Regina had been hanging with the Charming family and having a much needed chat with Snow, who reminded her that she’d been the other woman once too (so not the same thing, but I appreciate her being supportive so I’m not going to complain). Snow didn’t care for Regina’s lack of free will thinking and urged her to have hope. Regina scoffed because that’s what she does, but when Robin called and showed her the new page of the book, Regina really did start to believe that maybe her fate could change and was not written in stone (or a fairy tale book) after all.

As much as I love Robin and Regina and Snow and Regina, my favorite Regina scenes this week revolved around Henry. After Emma accidentally hurt him with her magic, Regina healed the wound on his neck and Henry expressed that he felt useless, Regina reminded him that he had the heart of the truest believer and he’d never be ordinary and it was because of him that they’d all come together. Then while trying to talk some sense into Snow and Charming over Emma’s magic, Regina admitted the thing she regretted the most was hurting Henry by making him think he was crazy when he stumbled onto the truth of the curse.

This was a huge moment of self-awareness for Regina and one that deserves to be celebrated. Regina has a habit of blaming everyone else for the things that happen to her and never regretting her own actions. Killing innocent people and destroying lives is obviously terrible, but it’s not as bad as the pain she inflicted on her own son, the person she loves most in the world. The fact that Regina knows that and said it out loud while trying to convince Snow and Charming not to make the same mistake shows just how far she’s come and it makes me proud.

Snow and Charming’s Heart to Heart

(Or is it just heart since they share one?) Snow and Charming have gotten the shaft more than any other characters this season so seeing them sit down to talk about their daughter was wonderful and long overdue. Charming believed letting go of her magic might be good for Emma if it’s what she wants, while Snow had her doubts that it was the right choice. Ultimately, they decided to let Emma make the call until Regina came in to point out why they needed to support her.

What I really liked about these scenes is that we rarely get to see Snow and Charming acknowledging they made mistakes. We know they feel guilty about putting Emma in the wardrobe and losing that time with their daughter, but they still believed they were doing it for the right reasons, same with going back to the Enchanted Forest without her and casting the second Dark Curse to find her and save everyone from Zelena. But this isn’t about saving a kingdom – it’s about their daughter not accepting who she is and thinking she needs to give away a piece of herself in order to keep other people safe. And that’s not what they want for her and once Regina helps them see that, they knew they needed to find Emma and make sure that she knew they loved her – magic and all.

Rumple sets out to destroy Emma and Hook

After she hurt Henry, Emma goes to Rumple to ask him to help her control her magic. He’s got a spell that will take it away for good and Emma’s just desperate enough to accept that option. She’s so desperate that she doesn’t see the giant knife Rumple is preparing to stick in her back, but first, he heads to the Snow Queen to double cross her. He uses the magic from the urn to trap her – now that she told him the missing ingredient, he’s ready to put Emma in the hat and complete the spell to free himself from the dagger and he’s not going to let her get in his way.

We’ll get back to why Rumple’s the worst, but let’s talk about Emma now. Even though she wants to make sure she doesn’t hurt anyone else, she’s still not sure getting rid of her magic is the right choice. When Ingrid appears to urge her not to trust Rumple, she stays strong in her decision, but the Snow Queen does give her doubts. The scene where she confronts Rumple is one of the best in the episode. She asks him what he would do and he tells her that he’d never go into that room. She’s the hero, not him; he’s addicted to the power and he doesn’t believe he’s the man Belle thinks he is. Emma thanks him and he leaves, but she still doesn’t go into the room – her gut is telling her that something is wrong.

Elsa arrives next and points out that the thing Emma is missing is love for herself. It doesn’t matter how much Henry (or Hook or her parents) believe in her if Emma doesn’t believe in herself. It’s a beautiful message and very similar to the one Hook gave her in the season three finale when she doubted her ability to get them back to the future or the one Henry gave her in season one when he believed that she had the power to break the curse and all she had to do was believe, not in magic, but in herself. Elsa held out her hand to Emma and trusted her with her life and Emma took her hand and embraced herself and her magic. It was a beautiful moment for Emma as was her reunion with Hook and her family. She’s stronger than ever now and she’s going to need that strength because everything around her is about to go to hell.

One of the stories that seemed to be dropped this season was Hook being indebted to Rumple after the blackmail went wrong. This episode finally picked up that thread again when Hook realized Emma must have made a deal with the Dark One to get rid of her magic. He rushed over to the pawn shop, furiously shouting for Rumple. He didn’t care about his deal or his own safety – all that mattered to him was saving Emma. Hook left Emma a long voicemail, detailing the mistakes he’d been keeping from her and he begged her not to trust Rumple and he hoped that she’d never forgive him because that meant she’d be safe. It was an absolutely heartbreaking reminder why this character is and always has been a hero – he doesn’t care what happens to him. All he wants is to keep Emma safe (We should all be so lucky to have someone love us that much).

Unfortunately, Rumple remains the worst. Not only did he do something with the voicemail (how did he know about it?), but he tethered Hook to a fence to keep him from stopping Emma (a gut wrenching parallel to the season two scene when he kept Hook from protecting Milah). He taunted him over losing Emma and he even brought Milah into it to remind Hook how much he enjoyed vengeance. But then Emma didn’t go through with it and Rumple lost out for about two seconds before he revealed that mystery final ingredient: the heart of someone who knew him before he became the Dark One. There’s literally only one person alive who fits that description and he pulled Hook’s (totally red and not in the slightest bit rotten or darkened) heart from his chest.

Hook told him to go ahead and crush it, but Rumple had another plan in mind. He wanted Hook to be his puppet so he could make his life miserable and then he would crush it. As horrifying as this prospect is (and it is – it hurts so much), Rumple’s arrogance is going to be his downfall. First, he believed he could trick Emma into the hat and that backfired. Now, instead of just adding the heart to the hat or whatever he needs to do, he wants to destroy Hook’s life for payback or amusement or whatever his insane reasons are and that’s going to come back to bite him. Emma already noticed that something was off about Hook and we learned from Regina last season that a person without a heart can still feel so Hook’s love for Emma and her family is not going to disappear just because that’s what Rumple wants. They’re going to figure it out and they will stop him and there will be consequences to trying to kill not one, but two heroes.

But Hook’s heart is not the only issue. Thanks to Emma embracing her magic, Ingrid got what she wanted – two magical ‘sisters’ who believe in their power. She sent them their yellow ribbons and tied all their powers together (or something) and that was what she needed to have enough power to cast the shattered sight spell over the whole town. Given what it did to Anna, the nicest person ever, what’s it going to do to an entire town of people who all have dark sides to go with their good ones? And will the ribbons protect Emma and Elsa from falling under it? I have so many questions and we have to wait two weeks (TWO WEEKS!) for the next episode.

I loved this episode. It made me angry, it made me sad, it made me happy, it made me proud – it made me feel things and I didn’t realize just how much I’d been missing that aspect of the show until last night. It doesn’t matter that I have a few issues with things that happened in the episode and I’m still not a fan of the Snow Queen story despite my endless love for Elizabeth Mitchell. There were highs and lows and now I am genuinely sad that we have to wait so long for the next episode. That’s how you do good TV.

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. My heart broke for Hook :(
    Emma needs to save him and fight for him and his heart

  2. I fully agree! All the episodes of ONCE should be 2 hours!!!

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