Once Upon a Time: Awake Review

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By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

If there was to be one episode thus far of Once Upon a Time season six to be called the most beautifully resonant, emotional, and brimming with remarkable and moving symbolism, it would be without question the Andrew Chambliss and Leah Fong penned “Awake.” With a lovely storyline, “Awake” not only exhibited lovely performances and heartfelt poignancy, but a profound demonstration of every kind of True Love possible – romantic, familial, and friendship – and in a way that made this not only one of the greatest and most all-encompassing episodes of the season, but also the entire series. Previous episodes began a showcase of these constant themes of True Love and sacrifice, meaningful parallels, and symbolism that harkens back to so many of our characters and the show’s iconic moments, but “Awake “does so in a way that proved to be deeply, deeply moving.

Heartbreaking, heartfelt, with tears of sorrow and tears of joy, excitement, mystery, and intrigue, there was an abundance to love. In a flashback, we learned that a pixie flower blossomed in Storybrooke and awakened Snow and Charming from the curse, and they had a chance to reunite with Emma as a little girl, but they had to sacrifice the chance or everyone else would have been condemned to live under the curse forever with Emma never fulfilling her destiny as the Savior. In the present day, Killian aligns with Tiger Lily in Neverland, a former fairy herself who says they must get a powerful wand to the Savior in hopes of her defeating the Black Fairy. That malevolent sorceress reveals herself to Rumple and Belle, and continues to control Gideon, forcing him to destroy all of the new pixie flowers that had blossomed. But one remained, giving hope to Rumple that Gideon was strong enough to resist her control. Meanwhile, back in Neverland, Killian cuts off his shadow and sends the wand to Emma, thinking he won’t survive the Lost Boys’ wrath. The shadow gets to her and Emma fears she won’t find him, to which Snow says she will. Their hearts weakened, both Snow and Charming will soon be asleep, but instead of using the flower’s magic to break their curse, she puts Emma first, telling her to reunite with her True Love. But in return, the love of their friends and family is able to finally awaken Snow and Charming, as they shared the curse amongst themselves, diluting its power and proving that love is stronger than any curse.

I must say it was definitely interesting to see the Black Fairy’s interaction with Rumple as there seemed to be not much disdain on her part, but rather confidence that he will join her side. It’s also intriguing to hear that Tiger Lily was a fairy too, and seems to be privy to a lot of crucial information about the final battle. It was great to see Tiger Lily working with Killian for a common goal of getting him home, or at the very least, getting Emma what she would need to survive the battle. I could not help but chuckle at Killian’s exasperation at the Lost Boys who have gone full-on Lord of the Flies, wondering why it’s “never passed their bloody bedtimes.” But it was his determination to first get back to Emma and then simply to get her the wand, that once again shows just how far he’s come in his redemption and path of love. I adored the scene between him and Tiger Lily where she was in disbelief that he could’ve possibly fallen in love. But he has, and as Tiger learns, it’s with the Savior, and her smile at that realization was so wonderful. Clearly she knew him at his darkest, and now he’s a changed man, desperate to get home to the woman he loves. The old Hook Tiger Lily once knew most likely would have been angry and resentful at the thought of not getting what he wanted. For the one facing death here, all that mattered what was that Emma got what she needed. Happily, Emma did what she always does and found him, and in the nick of time, and seeing her charging through that door and saving her pirate in true Emma, heroic fashion was another amazing depiction of both the epic nature and the equality in their relationship.

When it comes to moments that warmed my heart and made it soar, and also broke it, resulting in many, many tears, there was no shortage of scenes in “Awake.” Seeing David pull Killian up to support him was a touching continuation of Killian supporting David when he broke down over his father. Killian assumes his secret is still unknown, but with understanding in his eyes, David tells him he not only knows, but forgives him because he can see, like everyone, that Killian is a changed man. He taps him on the shoulder and Killian hangs his head in relief and sincere thanks. It was a short and simple moment, but very much earned and for the future in-laws and true friends. Another moving moment came when Killian’s shadow found Emma and gave her not only what it was tasked to give her, but also a moment of comfort and a goodbye. It was unexpectedly moving to see a part of Killian’s soul look down to Emma and caress her cheek before disappearing. It’s a true testament to both the visual effects artists, and Jennifer Morrison’s acting to make such a scene feel so real and poignant. How can a black figure with glowing orbs appear so sad and in love? How could a mere shadow of a man move me to tears? This beautiful scene was meant to express one thing: every single fiber of Killian and Emma’s beings are indelibly connected and undeniably deeply and truly in love.

The first time Killian proposed to Emma was beautiful and touching, but was also tinged with sorrow as Killian had not revealed his secret yet and was wracked with guilt. The duality of both love and sorrow was reflected not only in the joy leaving Killian’s face, but also in the musical score. It was the same cue heard when Emma had saved Killian by turning him into a Dark One, a scene filled with a demonstration of love but also great sadness. When Emma rescues Killian this time and brings him home, gone is the sorrow and the guilt and instead replaced with sincere apologies, forgiveness, and great joy. It was a proposal even more beautiful than the first as it solidifies the nature of their journeys as individuals and as a couple to have reached this moment in time. For them both there are no more walls, no more secrets, with Killian repeating Emma’s words of “what do you say” which she said during their first proposal. It was a lovely parallel, but is also significant as these words were said by Killian to a memory-less Emma in “New York City Serenade” where he asked to take a leap of faith and believe him. Once again he’s asking for that leap because love and marriage is indeed a great leap, but it’s one they are ready to take as they have faith in each other, as Killian makes the resolute promise that no matter what the future may hold, he will always be by her side. With the gorgeous swell of music as they kiss, to the radiant performances, to the profound meaning behind this moment, everything about the scene was truly superb. From Emma cradling Killian’s face, to the tears streaming down her cheek, to the soft smiles and Killian’s little laugh at her profound “yes,” Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue brought such warmth and reality to this moment. Simple gestures are made exquisite by the ever natural, soft tenderness that radiates from their eyes and the gentle affection they demonstrate. Every moment between these two actors is a glorious gift. Moreover, Emma kneeling down to meet him demonstrates how they are truly equal partners, while Killian’s promise expresses so much more than a vow to always love her. The love they feel will never fade – there was never any doubt of that. But to promise to always be there is such a significant affirmation for a woman who was always left alone and for a man who once only thought of himself. Together they healed and became the best versions of themselves. They may have faltered a bit but from this moment on, their constancy in each other’s lives will never waiver. He is vowing to not only love her and cherish her, but to stand beside her, fight for her and right alongside her, with a future outstretched before them, uncertain but happy because they will be facing the horizon hand in hand, side by side, always and forever.

Both the flashbacks and present day moments for Snow and Charming were very much the heart of the episode as we saw once again what makes this couple and these characters so special. They are beacons of hope, love, and heroism not only together, but also in relation to their daughter and the people they swore to protect. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how clever and illuminating the flashbacks were. Even though it seemed as if they were not going to, they were able to keep the story in tact without contradiction, from the way the character’s acted around Regina, to her cruelty (a stark contrast to her present day self), to the way in which Rumple woke up only by hearing Emma’s name. It’s not surprising that the magic of a true love flower was able to wake Snow and Charming. They are the epitome of love overcoming anything, and I loved seeing them passionately kiss as their musical themed played. The moving truth was that these moments bookended their time “awake,” with the second being such a beautiful showcase of that hope they endeavor to live by and never let go of. I was brought to tears by Ginnifer Goodwin’s expression when she knows they must say goodbye again, having had such a short time together. It was so reminiscent of her expression in the Netherworld in “Into the Deep” when she realized she was waking up. This time they were both about to fall back into their cursed sleep, but in both moments, David proclaims that steadfast promise “I will always find you,” providing a moving parallel for the couple. Even more moving and heart wrenching was when we discovered that they had a chance to raise Emma when she was a little girl. One could not help but not but be touched at witnessing these parents look upon their daughter for the first time since she was born, love and sadness in their eyes at all the time they’ve already missed. David’s “she’s so beautiful” was enough to bring on the tears. But their sacrifice really did so. They made the profound sacrifice to give up raising their daughter to make sure their friends, loved ones, and kingdom would not be condemned to a cursed life forever. If they hadn’t, Emma would have never been able to break the curse and become their Savior. As difficult and heartbreaking as their choice was, it was one of selflessness true heroism, and belief in their daughter’s strength, as well as one that proves that they learned from their past mistake with Maleficent. We know that Emma understands because she never would have wanted others to suffer just so she wouldn’t. The Charming Family proves to be pillars of strength and unselfishness and it provided a meaningful link to the present day with Emma.

They closed a door in the past but in the future, one was opened. Snow knows Killian is in danger and believes that Emma will find another way to break their curse, so Snow chooses to put Emma first and chooses hope and love because that is what Snow White does. When Snow says she can’t take Killian away from Emma, it was so incredibly moving as it acknowledges both her faith in Emma and her belief in the True Love her daughter shares with Killian. And in return, Emma chooses hope and belief, which was not in vain as she not only was reunited with Her True Love, but her parents were finally awakened from their sleeping curse by another kind of love: that of friends and family. To say I was moved by the way Snow and Charming’s curse was finally broken would be an understatement. It was a surprising solution, but so beautiful to see Regina come up with the idea and for everyone to share a bit of their curse, not even knowing if it would work. Show and David had sacrificed so much for them and so they all did the same. It’s a lovely tribute to the power of the community spirit and the love than can exist between not only the families we are born into, but also the ones we create during our lives. It’s such a profound message to showcase that in dark times people can come together and make a difference in each other’s lives, sometimes in the most life changing way possible. Every kind of love prevailed in “Awake” and it was remarkable to witness.

The other beautiful aspect of “Awake” was its use of symbolism. Once Upon a Time is no stranger to such things, and this season has been no different, but this episode exhibited such staggering and poignant symbolism, much of which was a continuation of what we’ve seen throughout the entire series. Firstly, the way flowers and nature have been used the past two seasons has been lovely, symbolizing the usual things: renewal, rebirth, and love. It first began with the Middlemist flowers tha were a symbol of love, hope and prosperity. They flourished despite the darkness and were most prominent in scenes where Emma and Killian’s love fought against that great darkness. In the Underworld, we saw that flowers began miraculously growing in a place where things only decayed. But like nature’s wondrous miracles, hope allowed flowers to blossom in a place of darkness and death. And so in “Awake,” this was amplified in a meaningful way with a flower not only being a symbol of True Love and hope, but a living embodiment of it. It’s significant that Pixie flowers will only grow in the presence of great evil. Why would they grow out of such darkness and yet have the ability to reunite anyone who shares True Love? The answer is simply and beautiful. It’s because True Love is the only thing powerful enough to vanquish that evil. Life will find a way to bring hope to those who need it and it’s a poignant and spiritual inclusion in the show that is so touching to see. And the fact that we saw both couples in Snow and David and Emma and Killian use this flower was not only sweetly moving, but also a way of tying into another inclusion of symbolism in “Awake.”

Doors and portals played a significant role in this episode and the ways in which they were utilized were not only evocative, but harkened back and parallels so much from the series all the way back to the pilot episode. In that episode, Charming put Emma in the wardrobe and closed the door on his baby girl, while in “Awake,” he and Snow opened a magical door back open again to their daughter. They found her. But they had to choose to close the door so she could find them, importantly Snow doing so because David could not bear to do so again. The closed door represents a barrier between them and their daughter that cannot be crossed yet, but significantly it is not locked and it’s meant to also symbolize protection. Just as the wardrobe protected Emma from harm, so too does this door protect Emma’s destiny and everyone in Storybrooke as they would suffer if they crossed that threshold. It’s heart wrenching but powerful, much like the way a doorway opened to Emma in the present. It’s quite special that both times Emma and Killian magically proved their love to be true involved doors opening. In the Underworld, they passed a test by sacrificing their own safety, proving that they hearts were filled with True Love. Here, it was not even a question if the door would open for her as there no longer any doubt in what they share. It shouldn’t be surprising that doors and portals are what showcase their love as they’ve always played a profound part of their story. It was a portal to the Enchanted Forest that Emma fell through (by no coincidence with her mother Snow) that led her to meeting Killian. It was a portal he went through to find her in New York and bring her back to her family. And it was a portal that they both fell through that took them to the past and truly awakened their feelings for each other. It was what broke down their walls as they – by no coincidence – again helped make sure Snow and Charming still fell in love. And each time, as these pathways opened up, love grew until it became deep and true. It’s a truly remarkable and exquisite demonstration of both the ways doors represent a path to the future that is uncertain, but is filled with endless possibilities. In “Awake,” the circular nature of life and storytelling employed is a further way of leading into another symbolic aspect of the episode. Snow and Charming closed a door in the past so Emma could open one in the future. And suddenly, the scene in “Heartless” in which the sleeping curse was first cast and where Killian reads Emma the storybook holds even more meaning, showcasing a connection between these stories in a way that brings everything full circle.

What’s so beautiful is that circles in both the literal and spiritual sense abounded in “Awake.” In a way, this season has really been coming full circle, and this episode brought forth how this circular storytelling is not only by design, but also employed as a way of reflecting how life itself is so circular in nature. Beautifully so, in an episode where Emma and Killian become engaged, we see this in abundance. Just as the wearing of rings is meant to symbolize how love is endless and unbreakable, the ways in which these characters are coming full circle symbolize that with love; life can be endless as families continue to grow. As the Charming Family grows with Killian marrying Emma, we also see in “Awake” that the town of Storybrooke is also like a family. Regina was right in that Snow and David inspired them all and gave up their family, and so too was Snow who said that they gained a larger one in return. And that circular nature of life is visually seen in a beautiful way when Show and David awaken from their curse with everyone who shared a piece of it, asleep encircled around them. That image of their loved ones surrounding them is symbolic of what this show represents: love, faith, sacrifice, family, and a willingness to do anything for those we care about, and in a way that is boundless and has no end.

The final piece of symbolism prominent in “Awake” is not something singular to this episode. The title in itself is an obvious reflection of the sleeping curse being broken. But even more so, the concept of curses being broken and of people awakening has been a part of Once Upon a Time since its inception. The ways in which “Awake” showcased this were exquisite and once again part of the circular storytelling, a reflection of what truly matters and universal truths about life. When Emma first arrived in Storybrooke, she woke the town in a sense of time, bringing color in to their gray, monotonous lives. They began to live again, but it was still only a part of their lives, still false at its heart. Symbolically, when Emma opened her heart to Henry, she broke the curse and truly awakened the town. And now in turn, we see the town doing their part to awaken those that needed them. It’s said that when you open your heart to love, that’s when your soul truly wakes up. We’ve seen this with just about every character on the show. When Emma fully opened her heart to romantic love in season four, I wrote that Killian was “the symbolic prince who willingly faces a forest of thorns to awaken his true love on the other side. And Emma’s heart has awakened from a long sleep.” It’s a stunning realization that this symbolism not only rang true then, but has flourished and grown and now applies to both Emma and Killian, each heroic figures whose souls were woken up by love, and will fight dragons and darkness and walk through Hell for each other. She is her parent’s daughter: a strong woman who is brave, has hope, and has found a love worth fighting for. She is no longer the little lost girl who didn’t matter to anyone. And for Emma, a happy life with her family and Killian by her side no longer need be just a dream, giving us all hope that no matter how uncertain life is happiness is possible. One need only open their heart and awaken.

Favorite Moments: The entire episode was an exquisite gift of splendid beauty and poignancy from the performances to the profound symbolism. The greatest moments were ones filled with True Love: Snow putting Emma first and letting Emma open a door to find Killian, Killian proposing to Emma with a promise to always be by her side, the town sharing the curse and awakening Snow and Charming, the couple awakening from the curse and then making the heart wrenching decision to think of others instead of themselves and sacrificing raising Emma. Lastly, the musical score as per usual was absolutely glorious in this episode. How Mark Isham has not won countless awards is beyond me. It was truly stunning.

Favorite Lines:
Killian: Swan, I know you face an uncertain future, but there is one thing I want you to be certain of: that I will always, always be by your side. So, Emma Swan, what do you say? Will you marry me?
Emma: Yes.

Snow: Today I’m putting you first. You have a future, someone you love…We took so much from you. We can’t take him too.

Regina: It wouldn’t have worked if you didn’t inspire all these people. You gave up your family for them.
Snow: And got a bigger one in return.

David: Remember, I will always find you.
Snow: One day, Emma will find us.

Killian: Why is it never past their bloody bedtime?


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