Once Upon a Time: Dark Waters Review

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By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

The best episodes of Once Upon a Time are ones that balance character and plot, move us, and remind us of what really matters. Like my other favorite episode of season six “The Other Shoe, “Dark Waters” took things established in that episode, as well as others, and further expanded and explored them in touching ways, bringing some stories full circle with still the promise of more to come, as well as asserting the themes Once Upon a Time embodies: love, hope, redemption, forgiveness, empathy, and in this episode – above all else – family.

The plot moved ahead nicely. The Charmings and Regina presented a united front against the Evil Queen and rescued Archie; Belle had her first ultrasound and the left Rumple a copy of the photo; Zelena remained conflicted between the two halves of her sister and being a protective mother; Aladdin and Jasmine had an important discussion after Emma gave him wise advice; and Henry and Killian grew closer after some tension and peril with Killian’s vengeful younger brother Liam, in the end revealing to Emma that the shears are now disposed of. Or so they think, because at the end, the Evil Queen and Rumple seemed to form an alliance and she gives him those fateful scissors and a kiss, and says what she really wants is Snow White’s heart. The last point represents something I would like to forget as seeing the Evil Queen flirt and kiss Rumple felt so creepy and wrong and I felt a bit like that iconic moment in Friends when Phoebe shouts “My eyes! My eyes!” I wish I could un-see it and if this continues I will not discuss it more than necessary as I don’t like nor understand it. I want their old dynamic back. But the positives of “Dark Waters” were abundant in this truly wonderful episode and reiterated the importance and beauty of family in all its forms – biological, adoptive, step relations, and especially in this one, the family we create, reminding us once again that family is not only defined by those with whom we share blood, but also with those we would give our blood for.

Family was indeed out in full force. I’m really loving seeing that Regina and the Charmings continue to stand strong and united, something we’ve seen truly since season three but continues to be an important dynamic. Snow says nothing will tear their family apart and Evil Queen seems to be changing her strategy of trying to divide them. What will be interesting is that since Regina and the Evil Queen are still one in the same person, how this family dynamic will cope with the Evil Queen’s clear vendetta and unforgiving nature. But that will be a part of their journey this season. I’m also enjoying Belle remaining strong but understandably conflicted. I felt sympathy for her and she waited for her ultrasound appointment alone, and while the scene with Snow and Belle was very sweet, I was surprised that Snow didn’t offer to go in with her. And while you can understand why she would want to protect her son and herself from Rumple, the fact that she’s still willing to perhaps keep alive hope for father and son is admirable and unsurprising giving her kind and noble heart. But it was the most prominent depiction of family, as well as the other themes of love, redemption, empathy, and forgiveness in the flashbacks with Nemo, Killian, and Liam, and in the present day with Killian, Henry, and by extension, Emma that was the highlight and most poignant part of the episode.

I was quite excited to see how Captain Nemo and the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea story would be incorporated into the show and the result was amazing and such a perfect mirroring of Killian’s character and path to redemption. The classic novel by Jules Verne and 1950s film adaptation by Walt Disney is about a captain whose grief over the murder of his family and quest for revenge drives him mad, and yet his crew would willingly follow him, even to their death. He’s charismatic, determined, and truly a tragic figure. What I loved about Once Upon a Time‘s version of Nemo is that he embodies much of these characteristics, but softens him, and then connects to Killian’s story seamlessly. Faran Tahir captured the elegance and sadness of the classic character while bringing in his own sense of hope, nobility, and compassion that this Nemo epitomized. What was poignant was the way one of the film’s most significant quotes from Nemo was reflected in our story: “Do you know the meaning of love? What you fail to understand is the power of hate. It can feel your heart as surely as love can.” The film’s Nemo may be lucid in this understanding, but Once Upon a Time‘s Nemo comes to understand that vengeance will only leave your heart empty. It’s why he seeks out wayward souls like he once was and why he sought Captain Hook when he still was hell-bent on revenge against the Dark One. And it’s why he implores his first mate Liam to let go of his hate and not seek vengeance against Hook for killing their father. All of these flashbacks were incredibly captivating and the Nemo of the past is assuredly a reflection of the Killian of the present – a man who, like Nemo, realized vengeance will only leave you empty and went one step further and actually abandoned his revenge and instead has been trying to be a good man, finding love and family in the process. All of these flashbacks were a reminder of the power that forgiveness and redemption can have on our souls. Nemo offered those who were lost a family and a chance to fill their hearts with love rather than hate. In the past, Liam and Killian could not let go of this, but in the present they not only found peace, but also connected intrinsically with Killian and Henry in the episode’s most significant display of relationship development.

“The Other Shoe” established what “Dark Waters” further explored with Emma, Killian, and Henry and the family unit they are creating. But what I really loved about this episode was that those interactions between Killian and Henry were realistic, honest, and in the end, quite moving. Now that Killian has officially moved in with Emma, the dynamic irrevocably changes between him and her son, and while Henry clearly adores him and smiled sweetly at their flirtations around the breakfast table, there is a big difference between hanging out with the man your mom is dating and living with him in what he knows will someday be a permanent state. Although it was funny how his annoyance was brought on by his Pop Tarts being discarded as an unsuitable breakfast, that really was just a trigger that turned into anger when Evil Queen showed him that Killian kept the shears. And there was so much I loved about their scenes together in Storybrooke – the duality of their purpose, the natural performances, and the further exemplification of who their characters are and what they mean to each other. The perils experienced on the Nautilus were a way of revealing and resolving tension between them, revealing Killian’s younger brother, and connecting the past and the present in empathetic ways. While I have always loved their sweet moments of teamwork and bonding, I truly appreciated that “Dark Waters” explored the relationship on a deeper level. When Henry yells at Killian, asking why he would even care about Emma’s fate and telling him he’s not even a part of their family, I was simultaneously heartbroken for Killian and angry at Henry for such harshness. But then I realized that deep down, Henry didn’t mean it. This was him simply lashing out as many teens at his age do, especially when a man who is not the natural father becomes a part of their permanent lives. Furthermore, this was also the catalyst for their journey of understanding for the episode.

One of the things I loved about their scenes was how honest and frank they were, filled with underlying emotion. Killian admits his past sins against his family with regret and shame but not excuses, and Henry listens with compassion and not judgment. And when Killian and Henry are ready to escape and Henry realizes that he is only the only one leaving and that Killian is sacrificing himself, making sure he is the one that is going back to Emma safely, we are reminded of when Killian took Emma back to the elevator in “Firebird” and the heroism and sacrifices Killian will make for his loved ones. Just like Emma, Henry didn’t want to leave him behind. But movingly so, this time around, Henry was able to come back, proving to be quite the hero himself as his presence saved two families in the process: the two brothers and the one he has with him and Emma. From tension to honesty to poignancy, Henry admitted in his way that he does consider Killian family. Henry may have told him not to “push it” (which sounded so much like his Grandpa Charming), but his smiles say it all, as well as the simplicity of the statement that he knows Killian loves his mother, that they will find a way to save her, and then that he will see him at home. Their moments together not only became such a heartfelt part of the season, but also reiterated the importance of what family is. As Killian watches over his younger brother, sees him reach out to Nemo who was thankfully safe and alive, and admits that Henry is someone he lives for as well, I was moved to tears and we saw the way so many stories are truly coming full circle. Just as Killian turned the ship around, came back to be a part of something, and offered to help save Henry, now it was the boy who came back to save the man is becoming a father figure and does include him as a member of his very large family. Just as we’ve seen Killian’s willingness to die for those he loves, we now see he lives for them as well. He would sacrifice anything for Emma and do anything to keep her safe, but hearing that he truly considers Henry as another reason to live was such a touching moment and one that beautifully reflects that the family is not merely defined by blood. Emma loves her parents, but as an adult, the family she has with her son and the man she loves represents the family we create on our own – the family we choose. No one will ever replace those we lose, but that doesn’t mean there’s no longer hope that you can find love and family with others. Sometimes it happens when you least expect it and when you feel completely lost. But all it takes is meeting the right person for everything to change. When Killian tells his brother Liam he’s not that pirate anymore, he’s not boasting about his redemption but admitting that love changed him, or rather reminded him of what truly mattered in life. It’s what Liam remembered when Henry came back to save Killian. He didn’t want another boy to grow up with a heart filled with hate, and now has found peace with his brother. For Liam, it was Nemo who became like a father to him that showed him the path towards what matters. And for Killian it was when he met a brave, beautiful, and tenacious woman who reminded him of life’s greatest joys. It may have taken a while and a few missteps but in the end, Killian became a man who no longer was going to die for revenge but rather live for love and family.

If the growth between Henry and Killian’s relationship provided the emotional center for “Dark Waters,” the moment Killian reveals the truth about the shears provided its touching conclusion. Above all else, he kept them because they could save Emma’s life. Even if it meant she would hate him for it, all that mattered was her well-being. His act was unsurprising but what’s beautiful is the ways in which these two continue to surprise each other with how deeply they love and understand one another. Killian is awestruck and moved that she says she gets why he kept them and that she would’ve done the exact same thing. Her look is not one of forgiveness so much because there’s nothing to forgive, but more like compassion and perhaps sadness that they’re gone. And their embrace was one of not only relief but deep empathy. They are indeed kindred spirits, soulmates, true love.

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss other wonderful aspects of “Dark Waters” from the clever allusions to the stunning visuals. The production design of the Nautilus submarine and its interiors were just gorgeous with rich colors of green, red, and blue and enough similarities to the classic design from the film with its own Once Upon a Time flair. I also love the nods to the giant squid, the way the Nautilus was thought to be a sea monster, and the reference to The Mysterious Island, the Jules Verne sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I also couldn’t help but smile at Aladdin and Jasmine who continue to be as sweet and adorable as their animated counterparts, that Killian said the shears (which were used in the Disney film Hercules) were at the bottom of the sea where they can “tell no tales” just like in Pirates of the Caribbean, the blue tang fish like Dory swimming outside the Nautilus, and the fact that in the end they “found Nemo.” Lastly, given the theme of the episode, I cannot help but think of the iconic Lilo & Stitch line when Henry came back for Killian: “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind.”

What’s next in this wonderful season is sure to be intriguing and meaningful. I wonder if Snow and Charming sharing a heart will have consequences if the Evil Queen once again wants it. I also hope that Nemo and Liam stay in Storybrooke. I not only love their characters, but it would be nice for Killian to have a relative in the present day as he was the only main cast member who didn’t have at least one in Storybrooke with him. Now that Killian has officially moved in with Emma, I hope that we see a scene of them in their bedroom together. We’ve seen many beautiful moments for all the couples like this and for them I would love a scene of tender intimacy that was no longer about sorrow but rather physically expressing their love in a moment of happiness. And what is next for the two Saviors, Emma and Aladdin, is sure to be enthralling and meaningful. The conversations between Emma and Aladdin and him and Jasmine I think will most definitely be significant. Emma talking to Aladdin about her tendency to run was not only to demonstrate her character growth, but connect with her identity as the Savior. Jasmine told Aladdin that Agrabah has disappeared. Did this happen when he used the shears, not only changing his fate, but the city he was destined to be the savior of? While I rarely theorize in these reviews, I cannot help but wonder if not only we see both Emma and Aladdin discover more about themselves, but also if we do indeed see the shears used to change Emma’s fate. And if so, might it parallel Rapunzel’s story from Tangled in a way. Interesting how both would involve cutting away what is thought to be the source of their magic. But in the end I would venture to say that Emma’s magic, like Rapunzel’s, would still be inside of her. Remember, Emma was able to find Aladdin with their connected Savior magic even after he cut his ties. And could it be fully restored with a True Love’s kiss or belief in yourself? What I do believe is that Emma and others will learn that being the Savior is not what makes her special. I think deep down they know this and you know that Killian does. This journey may well be that realization for Emma that she is remarkable because of who she is, not what she does. After all, Emma Swan is Once Upon a Time’s most steadfast and inspiring hero.

Favorite Moments: It was all the moments of love, forgiveness, and family that provided such touching poignancy that moved me tears and made me smile. Henry coming back to save Henry, him telling Henry that is more important that he get back to Emma, the two talking with compassion and honesty and vowing to find a way to save Emma, Liam and Killian finding peace with each other, Liam and Nemo sweetly reaching out to each other as a father and son, Killian saying he also lives for Henry, and Emma telling Killian that she would have done exactly as he did – all of these moments were undeniably moving and meaningful and showcased that family is not only what matters, but that it comes in many forms. I also loved seeing Emma, Killian, and Henry in their home together, as well as all of the flashbacks which were captivating and proved to be such a perfect parallel to the present day. Seeing the Nautilus both above and below the waters in Storybrooke’s harbor were some of one is the best visuals of the entire series.

Favorite Lines:
Killian: What made you come back?
Henry: You said you couldn’t ruin one more family. Neither could I.

Killian: Henry, you were right. What you and your mother have is special. You wouldn’t want to lose that. If only one of us is going to get back to Emma, it’s going to be you.

Killian: I couldn’t lose the one thing that might help save you, even if it meant you hated me.
Emma: It’s okay, I get it.
Killian: You do?
Emma: I would’ve done the exact same thing.

Emma: You kid brother has a submarine?


    2 Comments

  1. JoNovember 3rd, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Again you are amazing & I really love your analysis. Thank you

  2. MonicaNovember 3rd, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    LOVE

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