Once Upon a Time: 2014 Year in Review


By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

I have always believed that the greatest stories can make you both smile and bring you to tears. 2014 for Once Upon a Time, which encompassed the second half of season 3 and the first half of season 4, accomplished these feats in abundance. In its finest year, romance abounded, favorite characters continued to grow and evolve, new ones blended seamlessly into new and existing storylines. Two fantastic villains were both masterfully brought to life but could not have been more different, as well as the characters from the immensely popular film, Frozen, whose characterizations were beyond perfect. This year had some flaws: the fact that Rumple killed Zelena seems to have been forgotten, the storyline involving Killian’s heart being taken and restored was resolved far too quickly, and there was not enough Snow and David, true believer Henry, and new Storybrooke resident Will Scarlet in the first half of season 4. But these are minor flaws compared to the beautiful brilliance showcased in an array of wonderful moments, most especially Emma being forefront as pieces of her youth were revealed and she beginning to embrace so much including her magic, her parents, and a man who adores her. The beauty of Once is that amidst cynicism and despair, themes of hope, love, and redemption are showcased without ever feeling cloying or false. The context may be based in fantasy, but the emotions are ever relatable and exquisitely expressed.

One the most powerful themes this year was redemption. Characters struggled and tried to overcome their past demons, which often went hand in hand with other themes of love and sacrifice. Regina has come a long way most especially in her relationships with her adoptive son Henry and extended family of Snow and David. From sharing a True Love’s Kiss with Henry to hearing her admit her mistake in mistreating him during the first Storybrooke curse to seeing her laugh with the Charmings after the Spell of Shattered Sight was broken, this is not The Evil Queen we once saw. Perhaps the most striking moment was her conversation with Rumple as she realizes she must say goodbye to Robin so Marian can survive. Though painful, she sacrifices her own happiness because she no longer can live with taking away someone else’s life to obtain her own happy ending. Most significant is that this was in direct contrast to Rumple and his inherent lack of self-sacrifice. Love did not prove enough for him and his thirst to not only retain his power, but free himself from control of the dagger was his fatal flaw. He lied to his wife, manipulated and hurt Killian, and planned to both kill him and Emma all for his own gain, and consequently has now lost it all. When Belle banished him from Storybrooke, she was forced to face her own internal struggles, and devastating as it was, it gave her the chance to prove to herself that she could be what she hoped: heroic and strong. She saved not only Killian’s life and indeed all of Storybrooke, but she also saved herself. Love between Rumple and Belle is strong, but it will only prove to be true when Rumple can face his demons and overcome them. Rumple’s struggle was also in stark contrast to Killian’s struggles to be a better man and someone worthy of Emma’s love. Killian no longer wants to simply be the pirate Captain Hook who thinks only of himself. He has overcome his demons in many ways and gone through some major changes, including a much-needed wardrobe one. Even when he couldn’t see it in himself, he was heroic. His gave up his ship in order to bring Emma back to her home, sacrificing his own home in the process. When Emma was trapped in Elsa’s ice cave, his panic-stricken attempt to break through the ice with his hook was potent, as was his willingness to die fighting rather than let Rumple trap Emma forever. Long gone is the man whose sole purpose was revenge. Instead, we see someone who still makes mistakes and struggles with self-worth, but thinks of others above himself. It was certainly a mistake to make a deal with “The Dark One” and not be honest with Emma about it, but perhaps his most moving moment was his tearful confession on Emma’s voicemail. When he says he hopes she will never forgive him because that will mean she will have saved herself, Killian demonstrated a true sense of selflessness and sacrifice, willing to lose the love of the one person who means more to him than anything.

Love in all its forms was another powerful theme showcased this year, from familial to romantic love to learning to love oneself. From its joys to its sorrows, love was beautifully exemplified this year on Once. When Emma’s insecurities were mercilessly played upon by Ingrid and her magic went haywire, seeing her learn to truly love and accept herself was an extremely powerful moment. It was also wonderful to see that Regina and Robin had an undeniable connection before realizing that they were destined soulmates, as they showcased that a second chance at love is always possible. The unbreakable love between sisters was seen with Elsa and Anna, with their unwillingness to give up and lose faith in each other, as well as with Ingrid, Helga, and Gerda, whose love brought Ingrid back from the brink and gave her all she ever wanted. The familial love that shone the brightest this year was seeing the unconditional affection Snow and David have for their children. Being parents to a newborn for the first time, they did not want to miss a second of their baby boy’s first moments, and it was touching to see that even when cursed as their worst selves, they’re still unfailingly protective of their child. But the most joyful moments were Snow and David witnessing their daughter prepare for a first date like doting parents, Snow with a radiant smile, gleefully taking pictures, and David in over-protective dad mode. When we see that they waited up for Emma, anxious to hear the details of her evening, we are given a sweet and powerful moment of true, loving parents who want nothing more than their daughter’s happiness no matter who it’s with. It may have brought David to tears if he had seen the dream he had for his daughter of her dancing at her first ball become a reality as it did on Emma and Killian’s adventure to the past. Killian even told Emma that she was a natural dancer, just as David had in his dream. No one will probably ever be good enough for their daughter but seeing David and Snow recognize the changes in this relationship was one of the year’s most moving aspects.

For the couple whose motto is they will always find each other, Snow and David demonstrated how strong and pure their steadfast devotion to each other truly is. David willingly sacrificed his own heart to enact the dark curse, while Snow gave up half of her own so that he could survive. Although magical in nature, this is a beautiful symbol of the kind of equal partnership true love should embody. When one falters, the other is there to pull them back up. When one is weak, the other is strong, and when both are strong, they are unstoppable. When one needs comfort, the other is there with an understanding shoulder, a kiss, or a hand to hold. We see this beautifully personified in David and Snow’s relationship but in other couples as well. When Anna and Kristoff nearly drowned, the ever-optimistic Anna lost hope and Kristoff gave her a sense of comfort and hope, their hands clasped together as a symbol of fidelity and an unbreakable bond. But perhaps the most exquisite portrayal of this kind of devotion and love was showcased by Emma and Killian, not only because their love is still blossoming, but also because of the nature of their characters. Both were guarded and wounded, having suffered loss and heartbreak, but Emma and Killian have slowly opened their hearts to each other in a story that has continued to be beautiful, relatable, and captivating.

From the moment Killian found Emma in New York City and helped her regain her memories, to seeing their time traveling adventures where their love was developing right alongside Emma’s parents, to discovering that Killian traded his ship for Emma and they shared their first real and unguarded kiss, their connection was solidified as something very special. Indeed, when we think about all of their moments together in this past year, it becomes apparent the exceptional care given to portraying this love story from the brilliant writing to the exemplary chemistry between actors Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue. As their relationship has grown this year, the moments they’ve shared have been tender, sweet, passionate, and moving as we’ve seen how much they have come to mean to each other and these shared moments demonstrated the beautiful partnership they’re forming. When Emma nearly froze to death, she departed the ice cave right into his warm embrace, carrying her up into his arms in a literal depiction of support. We’ve seen them be there for one another with a hug, a kiss, a tender touch, or a hand to hold. On their first date, Emma reached and held Killian’s hand when he felt worried or uncertain, and when she knew something was wrong with Killian’s behavior, she tenderly stroked his face as sign of understanding that she is there for him. When Emma revealed the painful reason behind her guarded heart, he assured her that he is a survivor and kissed her with fervor to not only express his love, but also give her reassurance that will never leave her. And when she nearly lost him and placed his heart back into his chest, he reiterated that promise with a passionate kiss and a warm smile. But perhaps the loveliest moments were when we saw a new side to Emma. With a man she feels safe enough to be vulnerable with, she showed aspects of herself that had long been buried deep inside. She smiled so often and so freely and dressed in soft pink dress for their first date. She revealed pieces of her heart she has rarely, if ever, shared with another soul. It took a great deal of courage to admit she could not bear to lose Killian as she shared with him a box of childhood mementos. Seeing her sorrow and trepidation, Killian simply holds her hand and offers her his shoulder, both tender signs of unspoken comfort. And when Emma and Killian say goodbye before the Spell of Shattered Sight, Emma kissing and clinging onto Killian despite admitting she is not a “tearful goodbye kiss person,” we are witnessing how love can truly change our lives. Perhaps Emma did not used to be that sort of person, but she is now. They showed each other comfort in that brief but beautiful moment, showcasing two lovely aspects to their relationship and the kind of love Once Upon a Time exhibits with radiance. We see that when words fail, there are other ways to express our love. But most especially, we see that Emma and Killian will continue to grow on their journey together. They will be a light for each other when the other is lost in the darkness, a hand to hold when the other needs solace, a shoulder to lean on when the other needs support, arms to embrace when the other needs warmth, and lips to kiss to make each other feel truly loved. With Emma and Killian, we are witnessing a new love story and a beautiful fairy tale being written page by page. And it is a storybook for the ages.

Favorite Episodes:
From Season 3: “Snow Drifts/There’s No Place Like Home,” “The Jolly Roger,” “New York City Serenade”
From Season 4: “The Apprentice,” “White Out,” “Fall,” “Rocky Road”

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