Once Upon a Time: A Wondrous Place Review
By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)
“A Wondrous Place” was a wondrous episode of Once Upon a Time, filled with fun, adventure, heartfelt and touching moments, amazing callbacks and parallels, interesting symbolism, and poignant themes. We see what makes a hero; how true love can transcend realms, save the day, restore our faith; and importantly, that the reality of that love goes far deeper than sweet kisses and adoring looks. It is an episode that is a shining example of magical realism. Yes, there were some minor qualms, but the ways in which everything was connected with what was seen in this episode and from seasons past was a thing of beauty and truly shows how often the show is as intricately woven as a magic carpet. One of the things I love is that describing episode’s plot sounds so wild both in and out of context. Captain Hook, Aladdin, and Jasmine board the Nautilus with Captain Nemo with hopes of returning everyone back home. After damages from a kraken nearly destroy the submarine, Hook, Jasmine, and Aladdin find Ariel on a remote island, defeat Jafar, restore Agrabah, and free Aladdin thanks to True Love’s Kiss. Meanwhile in Storybrooke, Regina and Snow White take Emma out to drown her sorrows, but Snow gets unordinarily drunk and ends up playing bar games with a group of Vikings, while Emma opens up to a bartender named Aesop, who unfortunately was Gideon in disguise who steals her tears, preventing Killian from returning home, but not before he’s able to get a message to her and proclaim his love and promise that he’d never leave her and is determined to return home to her. Sounds pretty wild, doesn’t it? But when it comes to Once Upon a Time, that can often be the case and that is what is so amazing.
In fact, “A Wondrous Place” had moments I never knew I wanted to see until they happened, as well as ones that continued to the delight and warm my heart. As I said in my previous review, Nemo is such a wonderful and compassionate character and the kind of father figure Killian deserves, and Faran Tahir exudes such warmth and wisdom. I also love seeing Killian’s brother Liam (Nick Eversman) again, fences now mended with camaraderie remaining. It warmed my heart to see the two brothers – who as Liam says never get enough time – hug each other goodbye, not with a sense of finality but with Killian saying “til we meet again.” I would unabashedly watch more adventures aboard the Nautilus – which is one of the most gorgeous and evocative sets the show has ever created – just as long as next time,
Emma could come along for the ride.
Just as I love the Nautilus, so too did I adore Agrabah. Its costumes and beautiful scenery were magical and full of color, from Aladdin and Jasmine looking down upon the city to she and Ariel going on a magic carpet ride. How could one not smile or be in awe? I also loved Oded Fehr’s Jafar, whose villainy is such mustache-twirling, scenery-chewing deliciousness. He takes sheer delight in hurting others with his motivations being completely personal. He’s the kind of villain you love to hate. However, it was odd that there was no explanation as to how he was able to break free of the Genie curse. I suppose because he’s powerful, he simply needed to be released from the bottle, but it was left unexplained. This was one of the qualms I had with the episode. So too was I a bit disappointed to see Emma’s family not offer any hope or faith about Killian leaving. David who, besides Killian, understands Emma the best was also the best at offering support and took the news about his father fairly well – though I suspect more is to come for these two. It was nice to see Regina’s heart was in the right place and her offering up a girls night out is miles better than trying to use the dagger to get Emma to open up. But once again we see that although her intentions were good, the method wasn’t really what Emma needed. The person she opens up to the most isn’t there and is the source of her heartbreak, so it’s not surprising opening up to a stranger was easier for her. Of course he played on her vulnerabilities and deep issues and insecurities, but that’s another story. I suppose the most jarring was the way Snow and Henry acted. It would have been nice to see Snow give a hope speech, especially given her sweet scene with Killian last week. But it’s hard to find complete fault with her as she admittedly has trouble comforting her daughter, and needed a night out as well. Plus a drunk Snow White is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen and Ginnifer Goodwin clearly had fun completely going to town with it. Kudos to Snow who may have been completely hammered, but still retained her knife-tossing accuracy perfectly. The sight of her playing pool with a Viking helmet on is one I will not long forget. The only behavior that I found most confusing was Henry’s, who seemed disinterested that Killian was gone and his mother was hurting. Considering his grown affection for his future stepdad, and history of being loving and sympathetic, his behavior was just odd. I’m not sure if this was meant to reflect how teenagers act, internalizing everything. The only good thing is that in not listening to his mother, Emma was able to hear Killian’s message, so I suppose all is forgiven.
When it comes to guest stars, when they are given a great deal of focus, they should be engaging and related to whatever the main storyline is – and in turn the main characters – to warrant such focus. When I think of my favorite guest stars – The Frozen characters (especially Georgina Haig and Elizabeth Lail), Victoria Smurfit’s Cruella DeVil, Liam Garrigan’s King Arthur, and Elliott Knight’s Merlin – these attributes are what made them such. And “A Wondrous Place” felt so reminiscent in terms of sweetness, emotional poignancy, and adventure of two of my two favorite arcs – the Dark Swan/Camelot arc and the Frozen arc. So it’s no surprise that the guest stars in this episode did as well. Joanna Garcia Swisher’s Ariel continues to be a favorite guest star of mine. Her presence is always a joy and comes at a crucial story points. Swisher’s mermaid is bright, bubbly, funny, sweet, and unaffected, and was the perfect companion for the journeys of Aladdin, Jasmine, and Killian. Her one-liners, arguing over the magic carpet being a rug, hugging Killian instead of slapping him, her delight at witnessing true love, and her kindness were not new to her character, but continued to be absolutely delightful. Swisher is the perfect Arial but if I had a Genie wish, I would wish to see more of her story with Eric, because as wonderful as it was to see Gil McKinney on my screen again, as well as funny when I realized it wasn’t the real Eric when I heard his line about liking mermaids poached, I still wish that we could see the real Prince Eric again. However, this did a good job of maintaining the continuity of the show and the callbacks that were abundant in the episode. Dating all the way back to season three, Ariel knew Eric was leaving on a grand expedition to far off places including Agrabah, but her voice was stolen before she could reach them. As Ariel said, it’s another story how she obtained the necklace that gave her legs and her voice back, but her presence in Agrabah to find Eric and team up with Jasmine, perfectly aligned with her character’s story. And I must laugh at the consistent portrayal of her kleptomaniac tendencies. She can’t seem to resist taking dinglehoppers (forks) as well as corkscrews, but at least she asked if she could have the ring of Agrabah instead of simply taking it this time. But in all seriousness, Ariel’s presence in “A Wondrous Place” lent itself to the all-encompassing story in a seamless and important way, and reflected the other characters as well.
Ariel may not know everything about the human world, but she knows about life, and about the importance of being brave and fighting for love. It’s why she was the perfect companion for this episode. It’s wonderful to see how much the relationship between her and Killian has changed. Now friends, I loved the knowing smiles and easy friendship between them and that she gave him the much needed mermaid magic “shell phone” so he could communicate with Emma, smiling in the background when he spoke to her. Equally wonderful was fast friendship between her and Jasmine, who share an understanding of feeling the pangs of regret of things left unsaid. It was these characters that produced some of the episode’s brightest moments and showcased the episode’s most poignant themes.
Karen David and Deniz Akdeniz make the ideal Jasmine and Aladdin, and while I adored what we’ve seen from them in previous episodes, it was in “A Wondrous Place” that they shined the brightest, not only for their journeys as characters, but in the way they beautifully reflected and connected with our main story, characters, and themes. The banter and rapport and clear affection between the couple was a joy, especially when they were speaking with Killian about the other, who was bemused at the poor communication between the two people in love. But significantly, themes about true heroism and true love were ever apparent in their story. Jasmine’s entire arc centered on her guilt about failing her people and trying to find a hero to help rectify these failings. The scene between Jasmine and Killian was one of the most significant as it revealed so much about each character. It was heartbreaking to hear Jasmine believe her failings meant she didn’t deserve love, but also so touching that Killian was the one to not only understand how she felt, but also offer the sage advice that hiding behind that guilt is not the answer. The captain has come so far and this wisdom was moving to hear, as was his admission about how much he misses home, when he once thought he’d only ever live at sea. When you fall in love and find the person with whom you wish to share your life, everything can change. You do things you never thought possible. Killian’s home is with Emma and he will face any dangers to get back to her. It’s the recognition of not only that love, but also their own courage that was important. Jasmine learned what Killian already had. She faced her fears and realized that she was braver than she thought possible and smarter than Jafar believed her to be, not only in the way she defeated him, but in restoring Agrabah from the ring it was trapped in. I knew there had to be a reason Aladdin and Jasmine had not kissed and it made their moment so much more meaningful. Jasmine realized she could save Agrabah with love, and restoring the city with her and Aladdin’s True Love’s Kiss was one of the sweetest and most magical moments of the series. Besides the very first one with Snow and Charming, and Emma’s with Henry, this was one of my favorites we’ve seen because it was built out of such a powerful message and resolution. Jasmine learned to believe in herself and in the power of love, and in that recognition, she herself became the hero she had been searching for all along. Restoring both Agrabah and freeing Aladdin from the Genie, love and belief was their saving grace. Aladdin may be a Savior, but Jasmine became everyone’s hero. This was truly beautiful as a story on its own, but also a reflection on others, revealing poignant character beats, parallels, and significant moments.
One of the loveliest things about Emma and Killian’s relationship is that for all the magical elements, it also is such a remarkably real depiction of the beauty and joys and struggles and issues that embody the deepest and truest kinds of love, for the strongest relationships are not perfect because no person is. We all have insecurities and faults but can learn to work through them with trust and faith. And while we may still have moments where these come back it, doesn’t mean the love is not strong. And if our faith falters and we need something or someone to help restore it, that also doesn’t lessen how deeply we feel or the faith we have deep down in our hearts. It was so significant to see Emma and Killian going through these personal struggles at the same time because it illuminates the depth of so much about them and what they’ve gone through together. And the way Morrison and O’Donoghue portrayed their journey throughout this episode was illuminating and moving as well. Emma’s demeanor and speech pattern was a perfect representation of the Emma Swan with walls a mile high and as someone so hurt that she has trouble opening up. Emma is heartbroken, confused about how to feel, and realizing her worst fears once again are coming true, so her deeply-rooted abandonment issues come to the surface in full force. She is short and stoic in her speech, stiff in her demeanor, and her clothes are an obvious reflection of what she is feeling. Gone are the light colors and more flowing garments; here she is in all black and a turtleneck. She’s closing herself back up, reverting into her protective shell of armor. It’s only when her guard is momentarily down around a stranger that the tears begin and she relaxes a bit, but her speech was still riddled with uncertainties, filled with “probablies.” What I found so important and meaningful was that this was Emma and Killian finally dealing with the deeper struggles they went through as the Dark Ones, which had not been dealt with in any significant way up until now. And the fact that they are now doing so is a signifier of their continued growth and another step towards their commitment to each other. In “Broken Heart,” Emma brought up how everyone she ever loved abandoned her, but Killian balked back that he never did and was so hurt that she didn’t have faith in him to fight against the darkness. What was important was that they were both right, and at fault. They were able to overcome the darkness, but perhaps it’s even more significant that now as their normal selves, they are dealing with these issues once more, truly in sync with each other, with their worst fears causing their faith to falter.
Killian thought Emma wouldn’t be able to forgive his past and felt as if he is not worthy of her, while Emma believed Killian, like everyone else before, had abandoned her. It’s important to note that Killian, with no knowledge of what she was told, instinctively knew that Emma would believe he left her, because he knows her better than anyone. He always comes back to her, but this time it is different because every other time he had been separated from her from her, it had not been by choice, from the curse in season three to his death in season five. But now he knows his momentary mistake at the thought of leaving will bring back those walls she had come so far to bring down. O’Donoghue portrays Killian’s steadfast determination to get home to Emma and to make sure she knows the truth with such fervor, showcasing the depth of his profound devotion and love, making the scene where he magically communicates with Emma deeply moving and beautiful.
This moment of True Love transcending realms was a profound and exquisite demonstration of the magical realism of their relationship and the brilliance of their performers. The moment Emma hears Killian’s voice telling her he would never leave her and that he loves her, Emma’s tone of voice and demeanor changes. Smiling through her tears, Killian’s profession of love and determination restores Emma’s faith and it was beautiful to witness. Killian didn’t know if Emma could hear him, but that didn’t deter him from laying out his feelings to her. It’s also a true testament to both actors’ ability to express the depth of their characters’ love for one another. They’re not together, but you can feel and see the depth of that affection, demonstrating that duality of magic and reality. They may have spoken to each other with a magical means, but the feelings and struggles they went through were deeply real and profoundly moving, just as their love story is.
The final scene between Emma and Gideon solidifies that importance and the nature of Emma and Killian’s love story as Gideon’s sadistic plan centered on keeping them apart and played upon her deepest fears in order to steal her tears. It’s fascinating that the “tears of the Savior” hold so much power and that in the hands of a villain it keeps lovers apart. What kind of power do her tears truly hold? It’s also interesting when remembering the way tears of been used in the show in the past. “A Wondrous Place” had clever and significant callbacks I didn’t expect with the use of the enchanted harpoon and the shell phone. But it’s the tears that I find most intriguing. All the way back in season two, Rumple gave Snow one of Regina’s tears that, when combined with her own, was a way of her finding the Queen. But more like in the current episode, last season we saw Merlin’s tears that were stolen by the Dark One trap him in a tree, with Henry’s tears freeing him. And most similar was the tear Rumple got from Anna. It was one from someone who faced their darkness and turned away, with the love she had for her sister all that he needed. Rumple played on her emotions to get what he wanted and she wisely proclaimed her disdain for him turning love, the most precious thing in the world, into a weapon. Seems it’s a case of like father, like son as Gideon has now used Emma’s love for Killian as a weapon, preventing them from reuniting until she agrees to kill the Black Fairy. It’s most assuredly significant that this parallel has arisen, most especially because it’s a reflection of what tears truly are, and in turn what love is at its truest form. Tears are a physical and literal projection of our emotions and when they result from love, it only proves how powerful they can be. But with a renewal of faith and determination, nothing and no one can stop true love. It can break any curse, transcend realms, restore what once was lost, and make the impossible possible. What powers reside within Emma’s tears and within her control remains to be seen. But what we do see is that with True Love and the realest relationships, things are never be easy but it is worth it to be with the one who is your deepest love, your heart, your home.
Favorite Moments: Killian communicating with Emma, telling her he would never leave, loves her, and is fighting to get home was truly beautiful from the depth of their feelings seen to their expressions. It was both magic and real at the same time. Equally beautiful was the True Love’s Kiss between Jasmine and Aladdin as it not only restored the city and freed Aladdin, but also was the culmination of Jasmine being the hero she was searching for. I also adored Ariel’s effervescent presence, smiles and kindness; Nemo and Liam’s warmth towards Killian as family; and Snow White getting drunk as it was absolutely hilarious.
Killian: Emma, are you there? I didn’t mean to leave. I was on my way back to you, and Gideon sent me away. I would never leave you. Emma, he wanted me out of the way. I love you. I don’t know if you can hear me, but I’m trying to get home to you and I won’t stop until I do.
Emma: I love you, too.
Ariel: Son of a fish!
Jasmine: I finally realized that the way to save Agrabah was with the kind of magic that could break any curse.
Jasmine: How could I lose, facing him with three heroes at my side?
Aladdin: The way I’m counting, I see four, Jasmine.