Once Upon a Time: Changelings (Review)
by Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)
With only one episode left before the midseason finale, “Changelings” was a melancholy and evocative episode both visually and story-wise, filled with a few unexpected twists, sweetness, and heartbreak that pulled you in and ended with a momentum that was both intriguing and emotional. With themes of heroism and sacrifice reiterated, we see that once again it’s all about choices, and that being a hero is more than about saving people. It’s about loving, forgiving, compassion, and often sacrifice as we saw history repeating itself in significant ways.
One of the episode’s first quite sad elements, but one that seems to be leading to some growth, was the confrontations between the Evil Queen, Zelena, and Regina. As heartless as she is, I still didn’t think the Evil Queen would actually try to kill Zelena, but lo and behold she did, and Regina figures out why, because as we should not forget, they are one in the same. The Evil Queen got her revenge on Snow White but she still feels empty. She’s trying to fill the hole in her heart with anyone she thinks can fill that void. Something tells me she will really want Emma gone to finally have Henry to herself, as twisted and unimaginable as that sounds. I also think this emptiness will finally lead to a conclusion to this story. But it was the scenes between Regina and Zelena that proved more interesting and sad, for as close as they had grown and despite her saving her sister’s life, Regina says she still blames Zelena for Robin Hood’s death, and can hate her, pity her, and save her – because that’s what heroes do – but she can never forgive her. Despite Zelena’s past wrongs, it was very painful to see Regina be so cruel and unforgiving to her because deep down, I think all Zelena truly wants is to live her life with her daughter and her sister’s love and has been seeking it in any way she thinks she can receive it. But what I found really interesting was that this feels as if it’s a way of finally beginning to reconcile both sides of Regina. In a moment filled with obvious hypocrisy on her part, a case of repeated history showed Regina to again be the queen of the deflection and misplaced anger. Just as she once blamed Snow over the death of her love, she now blames Zelena for the same. But Regina forgave Snow – or did she simply bury her anger, because why else would the Evil Queen had sought revenge? Rather Regina was forgiven by those she hurt and so wanted to be a good person and not lose them. It all felt like a very deliberate way of suggesting that she is simply deflecting her own issues onto her sister, but that she soon may be able to look inward and not only continue to grow, but give her sister the same forgiveness and empathy bestowed upon her. The sisters are not that different and if Regina can be forgiven, Zelena should be allowed to earn redemption too, especially if they both want to be good and not for their own personal gain but because it’s the right thing to do. It feels as if this may be on its way.
Another of the episode’s somewhat sad moments also provided the first unexpected twist. Jasmine confides in Snow about finding a magic lamp, wondering if it can help her find Agrabah, but is also leery about the price they may pay for the wish. But Snow encourages her new friend and so she and Aladdin decided to release the Genie. But they find the Genie has already been freed and only his magic shackles remain. And in a moment that was perhaps a rash but undoubtedly noble, Aladdin places that binds on himself, turning into a Genie. He’s being the hero Jasmine always knew he could be and while I have no doubt there will be struggles and a steep price to this choice, and I also believe it will turn out okay because it began with such a noble act. He willingly sacrificed his free will for Jasmine, for Agrabah, and for himself and what was lovely was the quietness and simplicity of the moment. It was a powerful scene done simply which is a refreshing and wonderful touch.
The most significant part of the episode involved Rumple, Belle, and their unborn son with another twist that I didn’t see coming involving Rumple in both the past and the present. As the Dark One in the Enchanted Forest, he stole a child to lure the Black Fairy to him, a being who was once good but her heart grew dark and she took to stealing the children she was meant to protect. An extreme sacrifice to say the least, we discover it’s all so he can find out the truth about why she had abandoned her own child, not even bothering to give him a name. That’s right: the Black Fairy is Rumpelstiltskin’s mother! She’s sadistic and cruel, laughing at her son and telling him she chose power over love. The apple certainly doesn’t fall far from the tree. And while it absolutely doesn’t excuse anything, it certainly explains more about his behavior. But when really comes down to it, it’s about choices and not letting hardships define you. It was pitying hearing him say no one knows anything about his pain as if somehow it was the worst that ever existed. It also feels like a deliberate contrast to characters like Snow, Charming, even Killian, and most especially Emma who all suffered great loss and tragedy in their childhoods, as well as paralleling the tragic and vicious circle his character refuses to break free from in the present.
As terrible as being abandoned by his parents is, as Belle said it doesn’t excuse anything, particularly a willingness to sacrifice an innocent child. It’s unclear what would’ve happened to the baby if Belle had not intervened, but the poor thing was still snatched from his home. Moreover, as we see in spades on Once Upon a Time, character’s tragic back stories are seen in abundance. Killian was abandoned by his father and sold into servitude; David’s father was an alcoholic and died when he was just a boy, with him never knowing he had a twin brother; and both of Snow’s parents were murdered and she had to live like a bandit to escape her own murder. But more than anything, it feels like the way we see Rumple here is meant to be a significant contrast to Emma’s character especially when he tells Belle he truly believes he just may be unlovable. This is why he is so desperate to change his son’s fate by speeding up Belle’s pregnancy and using the shears so that maybe his son could love him. It’s such a sad moment – not sympathetic – but truly sad. Because like him, Emma had an equally tragic childhood. She was orphaned, in and out of foster homes where she felt lonely and unwanted, and eventually abandoned and sent to prison at only 17 years old. Emma has felt unlovable too – a lost girl who didn’t think she’d ever matter to anyone. But she didn’t become a villain who was cruel and malicious and hurt others because she was in pain. She may have been closed off and often jaded, but she remained caring and wanted to help others, not hurt them. The tragic thing about Rumple is that he could do good and he has. But he remains unable to consistently be that way. His confrontation with Belle in library will remain, no doubt, a very important moment for them as she said she in such simple terms the crux of what their relationship is. She never wanted perfection. She just wanted him to try. For him to be good and not fall back into the darkness. His declaration that he has tried and then it didn’t matter was the perfect demonstration of his fatal flaw. Since the beginning of season four, his trying has been so feeble and his reaction to Belle sending away their son with Blue after he was born was unbelievable as he tells her she abandoned their child and that he never hurt her because both rang so false. She did what she had to do to protect her son and he has been emotionally hurting her for so long. Does he truly believe these things or is it his grief talking? As dark as he’s become, what we saw in “Changelings” was perhaps his lowest point, and maybe the only way for him to truly change enough to earn the love of his child the right way. With history repeating itself again as Rumple lost another son with the Blue Fairy involved in his fate, this has to be the final straw for him to realize he must break free from this vicious cycle he’s in of his own doing. What was a positive step is that he was unwilling to pay the price of losing Belle forever and did not use magic on her (that was the Evil Queen’s doing). Can he continue on this path? The choice is his and his alone and he cannot blame anyone else. It will take a strength like Belle has learned to exhibit and while the damage may be too far gone for them, for father and son, there is still hope.
The best and loveliest parts of the episode were Belle’s strength, loving nature, sense of hope, and demonstration of what a hero is like and what a mother should be, with moments that were melancholy and heartbreaking but also quite beautiful. Belle has always been strong but has grown so much in that regard especially this season, and in particular in “Changelings,” where her true inner beauty was showcased and we saw some of the DeRavin’s finest work. We saw her sweet, maternal nature in the past as she takes care of the stolen child. Her reading the book her mother had read to her – “Her Handsome Hero” – was a sweet callback to what the story means to her, made even more meaningful when she named her son Gideon, after the hero of the book, honoring her mother and the beautiful qualities of bravery, strength, and nobility she believes in. Stories are meant to inspire us and this book helped shape Belle’s idealism and beliefs in significant ways that continue in the present. Her belief in hope and her loving nature were exquisitely displayed in her moments with her son when she sees him in the dream world which had such a melancholy and otherworldly quality. I truly felt like I was stepping into someone’s dream with haunting, emotional music and evocative cinematography. Hearing a child’s voice asking his mommy to push him on the swing was such an effective way of pulling us in. But the way Belle embraced her son and told him she loved him more than anything was so touching and moved me to tears, connecting to the moment her son is born in a heartfelt way. Her dream was a realization and prelude to her goodbye to him, bringing forth those steadfast themes of the sacrifices of heroes and of mothers in another, and terribly heartbreaking case, of paralleling history. Just like Snow and Emma, moments after the birth of her child, she must send him away to give him his best chance. But also like Snow, she still believes that someday things will be better and she and her son will be reunited. That beautiful sense of hope is ingrained within Belle’s soul and will not waver despite the hardships she has faced, making her another mother and another hero to be inspired and beautifully moved by.
The other wonderful aspects of “Changelings” were the connectivity between characters and those themes of hope, love, forgiveness, and sacrifice seen with Belle, Emma, and Killian. I loved seeing Belle leaning on her friends for support and that sense of hope she embodies is what makes her friendship with Killian so special. From a place of darkness, she has seen him work hard to be a better man and tread the path of light, forgiving him even if he hasn’t forgiven himself. It makes sense why she remains so hopeful seeing how much he has changed and that is truly touching. Moreover, Emma and Killian helping Belle not only was a beautiful demonstration of how they are equals and partners, but also a way of connecting their stories to past and future events in significant ways. As they watched Belle make such a sacrifice, Emma was surely reminded of the heartbreaking moment she gave up Henry. But importantly, having the two of them together looking on with sympathy and compassion feels like another foreshadowing clue to what they may face with a child of their own someday. The moment Emma saw Killian’s sweetness with Ashley’s daughter it was clear that she wants a family with him, and from bonding with Henry to helping Belle with her son, the foreshadowing is ever apparent. But we can hope that the future birth of their child will be a joyous event and no longer involve a mother being separated from her child.
What’s next for Emma may be uncertain but the ways in which she and Killian worked together in “Changelings” proved what a perfect team they are together. The True Love between them has always been about affection and support in equal measure just like the True Love test they faced in the Underworld showcased their willingness to sacrifice their own lives for each other. As they helped Belle do research, the way they balance each other was pristinely clear. His intelligence recognized the squid ink and her magic extracted it. It’s a perfect combination. And when her visions once again returned, her fighting spirit did as well, not only because she was reminded of what being the Savior means to her, but also because she recognizes that Killian is right there with her. Emma is no longer hiding when something is wrong but being completely forthright with him. Instead of hiding her fear, she’s sharing it, not because he can solve it, but because they can work through it together. For Emma to say she doesn’t know if she’s alright after her vision is quite meaningful for her character and their relationship. She’s learning to share the burden with him and it’s a beautiful thing.
As she grasps Killian’s hook, reminding him that she fights for the people she loves, it was a symbolic way of showing that unshakable connection between them and that she loves every part of him. And it’s what also gives them the motivation to finally find a way to change her destiny. It was powerful to see that Emma Swan fighting spirit (the one Killian loves so much), punch back against her vision, and grasp the sword that will cause her demise. And in another meaningful and symbolic moment, as Emma raises the sword with Killian right behind her, it showcases that she’s ready to fight back and that he will be right there with her. He will have her back and she is going to fight for her future, their future. No one gets to the decide her fate but her and she will prove that the heroic spirit she embodies will no longer only be for the happy ending of others, but also for her own. History may be repeating itself in striking ways, but our futures will always be what we make of them.
Favorite Moments: Heartbreaking as they were, the moments between Belle and her son Gideon from their goodbye in the dream world to her kissing him goodbye after he is born, were evocative, beautiful, and moving and proved that Belle is the hero she always wanted to be: the strong and brave hero she calls her son. She is making a tragic sacrifice to protect her son, and yet still has hope that things will be better someday. I also loved Emma and Killian not only working together to help their friend (with foreshadowing that they will have a child someday) but also figuring out what is triggering Emma’s visions, demonstrating how they are true partners and a couple that will give each other support when they need it the most.
Belle: My Gideon, strong and brave. A hero for all time. Don’t you ever forget that I love you.
Belle: I love you. I love you more than anything in the world.
Gideon: I know. And I won’t ever forget it.
Emma: As the Savior, it’s a title I thought about from running from numerous times, but I never have. What Belle did today reminded me why of I don’t run, why I fight. Because I want to protect my family and my friends and the people that I love.
Killian: The vision – it’s still getting to you?
Emma: Yeah. It’s time for me to get to it.
Killian: There’s the fight that I love