Once Upon a Time: Dreamcatcher Review

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By Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

While some episodes of Once Upon a Time are very emotionally or character driven, others are more plot-heavy. This was, mostly, the case with “Dreamcatcher,” which helped move the story along quite a bit. That is not to say there were not emotional, character-driven moments. In fact those were the episode’s brightest spots. There were also some questions answered and even more raised. We began in Camelot many years ago. Merlin summons what we can assume is the very first Dark One, who creepily appears donning a mask. He plans to kill them, saying they destroyed the woman he loved, but he can’t bring himself to do it. Instead he cries and the Dark One captures a tear on the blade, which allows them to imprison Merlin in a tree. Flash forward to Emma witnessing this event via a Dreamcatcher and her finding Regina in the woods with Snow and David, freezing her parents in place saying she knows they’re under a spell and that they must work quickly to free Merlin. They discovered that if they too can get a tear from true heartbreak, they could create a potion to free the wizard. Regina volunteers to use a Dreamcatcher to relive the moment Cora killed Daniel. And indeed the heartbreak did come back and a tear was retrieved. But it doesn’t work. Regina has moved on with Robin and healed, so her heartbreak was not as potent. Luckily, or not so much, Henry arrives just having his heart broken from Violet. He had set up a special date for them full of hope and starry eyes, being completely himself as his mothers advised him to be, but she rejected him. His heartbreak is real and his tear allows Emma to free Merlin, who is magically released, with a look of pride in Emma and utter disappointment in Arthur in his eyes. Back at Granny’s, Merlin breaks Snow and David from their spell and says he can free Emma from the darkness but with a caveat. Her heart must be truly be ready to be free from the power. Her look of hesitation is ominous and we know why. She has already begun succumbing to its powers not only enjoying using dark magic, but also crossing a dark line to obtain the coveted tear. She takes Violet’s heart and tells her to break Henry’s. She takes no pleasure in doing so, and her reasons are even understandable, but she did hurt her child. These past actions play into the present-day happenings in Storybrooke. Merida is tasked with taking Rumple to the woods to make a hero out of him. When she taunts him about his cowardice ways, holding the chipped cup in front of him, she finally sparks some bravery in him because he thinks of Belle rather than himself. While Snow and David are busy preparing a block party to raise the spirits of the Camelot folks, Henry asks Emma to help him bring back Violet’s happy ending and find her runaway horse. Meanwhile Killian, Regina, Robin, and Belle break into Emma’s house and discover not only Excalibur, but also a Dreamcatcher that Regina realizes is the way Emma erased their memories. While Emma and Henry resume Operation Cobra, beginning to feel like their old dynamic, this allowed Henry to be the hero and bring Violet’s horse back to her, earning him his first kiss on the cheek. But this happiness is short-lived. The Dreamcatcher found was imbued with Violet’s memories and Regina and Robin witness Emma taking the young girl’s heart, not knowing Henry was standing behind them. When Emma arrives wanting to see him, she and Regina have an argument about choices and Emma is shut out. As she leaves, she looks up to see Henry looking down at her with disdain. She’s isolated from another true love. First Killian and now her son.

In a very plot-driven episode, it was both the characters’ emotional moments as well as the many questions raised that stood out the most. I loved that a great deal of focus was put on Henry’s character as he is experiencing the pangs of adolescence, from not only his first real crush but also feelings of self-doubt and insecurity we all experience growing up. He and Violet bond over a loss of parents which was touching, and I could not help but smile when he was alone in the stables trying to be knightly and wield the sword. When Violet’s father puts the idea in his head that he is not good enough, I was happy to see his moms tell him to be exactly himself and then follow through on their advice as he plans a cute date for himself and Violet at Granny’s with the wonders of soda, lasagna, and movies on his phone. Though I laughed at the thought of Harold and Maude being a good date movie for two 13 year-olds. I would’ve thought 16 Candles a more appropriate choice. But I digress. Not only did I love seeing Jared Gilmore given a chance to shine as he portrayed that first blush of sweet and somewhat awkward first love beautifully, but it was touching to me that we see his character exploring and demonstrating his most realistic and relatable material to date. That is not to say his previous storylines lacked realism, but they were also grounded in a fairytale, often grand framework, from making Emma believe, to giving Pan his heart, to becoming the next author; all of these were enthralling but fantastical situations. Here, we see things less grand in scale but ever so moving as he feels inadequate, especially when Violet breaks his heart. How painful it was to watch him crying that being himself was not good enough for the girl he liked, as well as learning that his mom had been responsible. So many of us have experienced these feelings of insecurity or anger at our parents and these moments, while devastating, were fantastic in their relatability and basis in reality.

This episode also had some great moments for Regina’s character and she proved to be astute in asking very appropriate questions about how Emma suddenly knew such important information, and providing sage warnings about the slippery slope of using dark magic. She was also strong in offering to relive one of the most tragic parts of her past, and comforting her son who was in deep pain. She looked just as crushed as he was in that moment. There was also an interesting dynamic and contrast in the scenes between her and Emma in Camelot and Storybrooke. Emma witnessed something that was devastating for her friend and perhaps understood her better and couldn’t believe a mother would act so brutally. But it important to mention that what Emma did was not nearly as horrific as Cora’s actions, as she not only showed tremendous remorse and believed it was her only choice, but worked to remedy it in the present, so comparing the two is very harsh. That being said, her argument with Regina about choice was really thought-provoking. Did Emma make a bad choice? Yes. But so much of what happened in Camelot is still a mystery. Are her actions unforgivable? Of course not. This was a heartbreaking blow to Emma and Henry’s relationship and a rift is now present, but if we learn from our choices, redemption is always possible. I also enjoyed seeing the characters in Storybrooke working together, particularly when they discovered Excalibur and the Dreamcatcher in Emma’s house as it presented some intriguing and moving moments for Killian’s character. I loved when Regina warned him about trying to remove Excalibur in what felt like a great foreshadowing moment. He joked he didn’t know she cared, to which she responded she doesn’t. Perhaps she does not care that much but there does seem to be a change in their dynamic and it would be nice if they became friends. Perhaps it is actually possible. It was also poignant and interesting to see, much like Excalibur, Killian is drawn toward the Dreamcatcher. First of all, I was moved that he recognized it because it means he and Emma have discussed what it had meant for her and Neal. Being in a real, interesting relationship means sharing the deep caverns of your heart, even ones that could be painful, so knowing that Emma opened up to Killian about her past in this way shows how much he means to her to be able to discuss things so rarely shared with anyone. That is very moving. The pull he feels towards the object is intriguing, as not only is he single singularly drawn to it, but it also leads me to wonder if this is demonstrating the connection he and Emma share. Could this be similar to the way in which Charming could feel when Snow ate the poison apple? We know Emma and Killian share a deep connection; it would be touching and unsurprising if they now truly are connected in a more spiritual and physical way.

First love was also showcased in “Dreamcatcher” in a potent way. While Henry was experiencing strong romantic feelings for the first time, both Regina and Emma showed that it is possible to move on from the loss of love. Emma was not surprised that Regina’s tear did not work because her heart has healed and she has found true love with Robin. It is perhaps why Emma didn’t even consider using a tear shed for Neal because she too has moved on and found deep and true love with Killian. Although her talking to Henry about liking his father because he was always completely himself was a bit irksome considering so much of his persona was a facade, I suppose she means in essentials and personality he was always himself. She also will naturally speak kindly to Henry about his father. Importantly, these mentions of past loves were a realistic portrayal of what these people can mean to us. You will never forget them, but it is still possible to find love again, sometimes even a love greater than you could ever dream about. 

I would be remiss if I did not once again discuss Jennifer Morrison’s astounding performance this season. The subtleties and shifts in Emma’s character are remarkable, especially when glimpses of the true Emma shine through in Storybrooke and the darkness creeps into her in Camelot. Similar to the way she spoke to Killian in “Siege Perilous,” when she speaks to Henry in this episode, her voice and her expression softens, a sharp contrast to her more deliberate, lower tone of voice towards other characters. In one of the episode’s best moments, Emma frees Merlin using both light and dark magic in a captivating and epic moment both visually and viscerally. You can see how powerful she is. But Morrison gives Emma an ominous look of pleasure in using such strong magic. She enjoyed it and that is what makes the darkness so dangerous.

Lastly, the further showcases of new characters as well as the many questions raised were great standouts. I love Amy Manson’s turn as Merida as she is no-nonsense, feisty, strong, and so impatient with Rumple. It’s going to take a lot of motivation to make him brave, and she looks to be the best person to try. Likewise, I already adore Elliot Knight’s portrayal as Once’s different take on Merlin. He is the most powerful sorcerer of all, but displays a calm, unassuming, and affable quality that I suspect is merely a way of masking just how powerful he is. And while we learned much in this episode, there were more questions raised than answered, most of these dealing with Emma’s motivations and what happened in Camelot. While David and Snow sadly wonder what caused her to fall so far when they speak to Arthur about Excalibur, I suspect Killian may already be sensing the King’s untrustworthiness. Most significant is when we see Emma’s shed full of dreamcatchers and her clutch and weep over one. We have to wonder what exactly pushed her over the edge. I spoke with a few fellow Oncers about the possibility that she left the Dreamcatcher in her house wanting it to be found, because why would she leave it so easily accessed? But then again, why would she want to cause a rift between her and her loved ones? Most befuddling is the great shift in her character from last week’s episode “The Broken Kingdom.” The last we saw her, she shared a beautiful kiss with Killian, the darkness quieted in her with a sense that they were ready to fight for their future together. But the next we see her she suddenly knows a great deal of information and is liberally using dark magic, the lightness she was feeling dissipated. Was this because Killian was not with her? Considering his ability to give her strength and comfort, why was he not by her side? Something important seems missing, but I cannot wait to see the pieces of the puzzle continue to be filled in as the struggle between dark and light reaches its peak.

Favorite Moments:

I loved seeing Emma show such tremendous power using both light and dark magic in a moment that was visually amazing and a showcase of Morrison’s talent. Henry’s focus was also a welcome and moving part of the episode and I especially enjoyed the light moments, from his and Violet’s date, to him being the hero and returning her house, and David and Killian playfully teasing and offering him dating advice. Lastly, Merlin’s character already has such a mysterious and appealing presence that I cannot wait to see what the show has in store for this powerful sorcerer.

Favorite Lines:

Merida: All a man needs is a sword and one good hand.

Regina: There’s always a choice, Emma. You’ve said that to me a thousand times!


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