Once Upon a Time: Ill-Boding Patterns and Page 23 Reviews
By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)
The past two weeks of Once Upon a Time have continued the pattern and quality of the final episodes of season six are presenting. Storylines truly feel like they’re coming full circle or being propelled toward happy endings in really compelling ways. At the time of this review’s publication, the status of the show’s renewal is still up in the air, but even without that knowledge, the story feels all-encompassing. We continue to see the juxtaposition of conflicting emotions not only from the characters, but from the audience as well. Moreover, themes that have been part of the show since its inception are also continuing to be showcased in ways that bring forth some truly beautiful moments for our characters and wonderful performances from the actors. In both “Ill-Boding Patterns” and “Page 23,” we see quite clearly the common theme of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, and that we often do things that are not necessarily wrong when a situation is fraught with difficulties. It’s about doing things to preserve the happiness or soul of those we love, how we are all undeniably shades of gray, and that we must learn how to love and forgive ourselves if we are ever to earn true absolution and happiness.
At this point in the series, I am less forgiving of screen time and the way it is distributed, and in both of these episodes, there were definite moments in the flashbacks that were repetitive and could have been done much more concisely. There are also some very important moments that informed where the characters are in the present, specifically for Rumple and Bae and Regina and the Evil Queen, which translated to the present specifically for Rumple and Gideon and Regina and Robin. Lastly, amongst the intense drama were moments of great joy and sadness for Emma, Killian, and the family they found which provided moments of great poignancy and the promise of an epic story of fighting for true love.
In “Ill-boding Patterns,” the relationships between Rumple and his sons were in the forefront, as well as the ways in which we will do the wrong thing for the right reasons, but also that things are never as simple as that. Rumple has always been a very complex and character, justifying bad behavior in ways that were often not the case. At first, the flashbacks between him and Baelfire seemed unbelievable, as Rumple was more in control and it was his son who succumbed to darkness with the dagger in his hands and ordered Rumple to kill Beowulf to “protect ” themselves. Based on previous behavior from both characters, how could this be something that happened? But not only was this a way of connecting what Rumple was going through in the present with Gideon, but also helps reconcile some very important things. One of the most perplexing aspects of the series for me has been contemplating how sweet, brave Baelfire who made heroic, good choices, could grow up to be Neal who often made very bad choices that were cowardly and hurtful. But seeing this flashback definitely helped reconcile his younger and older selves because the memory potion that Rumple gives Bae so the burden of what he did would not plague him, and his souls would not be any further corrupted doesn’t take away what his character is capable of. We are a product of our experiences and situations in life, and until we are faced with something, we don’t know how we’ll react. That is what made Rumple’s behavior in both the past and the present more emotional and believable. There is no doubt Rumple’s love for Belle is an indelible part of the story, but it began with his son and now history is repeating itself. Robert Carlyle was exceptional in the scenes with the sons where you see him put them above himself. Giving Bae the memory potion and letting him believe he ruthlessly killed Beowulf, and taking the Blue Fairy’s blood so Gideon would not are not necessarily right choices, but they were ones done out of protection for his children – something any parent can relate to. It’s unsurprising that Rumple’s story has come full circle with his relationship to his sons and how he helps to save him Gideon will be emotional to be sure.
Gideon himself is a complex character, like his father, as we see glimmers of his conscience being overridden by a single-minded, murderous goal. He is letting the abuse he suffered cloud his judgment and send him on his path to kill Emma in order to save others. Sympathetic as the suffering was, his methods are not. Giles Matthey plays this duality well, as well as the frightening, villainous aspect as he slinks into scenes cloaked in a way that is reminiscent of Ring Wraiths or dementors. His goal is indeed demented because Emma would help save the Dark Realm if he came to her in earnest. But that is what darkness does: it corrupts the soul. But all hope is not lost. Love is always stronger. It was quite telling that Rumple tells Gideon once you succumb, it’s almost impossible to came back from it. That has been his personal struggle for hundreds of years. But we should not forget that last season defied the impossible. They overcame darkness and it was all because of love.
In both episodes, Regina’s story was one of great personal growth and honest recognition of her sins, mistakes, deep personal struggles, and learning to come to grips with it all. It’s no secret that the show began with her casting a dark curse to get revenge on Snow White. She let hatred consume her and wreak havoc over an entire kingdom. So when “Page 23” began with another scene where once again we see the Evil Queen mercilessly searching for Snow, threatening the villagers who may know more about her whereabouts, I questioned the repetitiveness. And it’s true that much of these flashbacks did have an air of repetition and scenes that were too long. But there were some significant revelations that informed the present in really powerful ways. The reappearance of Tinkerbell was wonderful and a signifier that her trail of pixie dust towards Regina’s soulmate was not entirely in vain. But the most important revelation occurred when an arrow Regina enchanted to lead to the person she hated most didn’t need to Snow as she suspected. It led to herself, and discovering that was perhaps the saddest moment I’ve ever seen for her character. She truly loathed the evil person she had become and while it doesn’t excuse any of her actions, it’s certainly is an accurate representation of those who are similar. How often we encounter individuals who are cruel, spew hate, or are vicious. They may seem to relish in it as she did, but it’s a façade for her own self-hatred, internalizing her despair and projecting it onto others. That is what many bullies do – take their own great unhappiness out on others. This is what makes Regina’s actions in the present so meaningful, like in the scene where she faces her other half in battle, and holding both their hearts in her hand in was one of her finest moments and the culmination of what her story needed.
For so long, I thought one of the things that Regina needed was to find a way to put her two halves back together again. But if that was not meant to be, what would be the alternative and one where she learned what she needed to? The answer to this is the very moving moment where both Regina and the Evil Queen were separate and vulnerable to pain. The situation is unique indeed, but much like many of the magical scenarios of the show, they are merely metaphors for what we struggle with in our own lives. Regina can’t erase the harm she’s done nor eradicate the darkness she has. What she needed was to take a hard look into the mirror at who she really is and accept it – the good and the bad. It’s certainly significant that a character with a magic mirror needed that metaphorical visual, but in truth, it also became literal one. She needed to see her other half standing before her. And the moment Regina looks down upon the shattered mirror in her office, remembering the hate she felt for herself, Lana Parrilla showcases that realization so beautifully. She finally acknowledges that the Evil Queen is a part of her and that despite everything, she cannot love herself. And it’s because she knows the love of others. Seeing her combine both the darkness and love into both of their hearts is such a wonderful visual representation of what she’s learned in her significant growth. The light and the dark is in both of their hearts and they can finally move towards a fresh start for the Evil Queen and peace for Regina. And it was a very satisfying conclusion to this storyline.
Speaking of moving and satisfying, although a perfect scenario would be the real Regina and Robin Hood together, it was not meant to be. I wasn’t exactly sure where the story was headed with the wish version of Robin. I thought it might end sadly. But on the contrary, it seems a version of Outlaw Queen was destined for a happy ending after all. When Henry wrote that the Evil Queen went to a place where she could get a fresh start, she was transported to the realm created by her wish – the place that version of Robin was sent back to. And she walked into the pub to meet the man with a lion tattoo, smiling, commiserating at her change of heart, and sharing a drink with him – a steadfast commonality for the couple. I loved the warmth Sean Maguire and Parrilla exuded in this sweet moment as the two characters’ natural chemistry and connection came forth in the way it always does. For all intents and purposes, neither of them should exist, but parts of Regina’s and Robin’s souls reside within them and so the pixie dust was right after all. And it’s rather beautiful that in this realm, these two soulmates were led to the happy ending that was always destined for them. No matter the reality, Regina and Robin’s souls will always be intertwined.
In both “Ill-boding Patterns ” and “Page 23,” Emma and Killian may not have been entirely in the forefront, but their scenes also felt like the centerpiece of the all-encompassing story of the season. Moreover, many themes mentioned earlier were abundant, with scenes of joy and sorrow and exquisite performances. The contrasting emotions were ever-apparent as Killian is racked with guilt and fear of losing Emma and her family when they discover he unknowingly killed David’s father years ago. But he found his courage, prepared to tell the truth because he’s a changed man, a good man, and as Archie calls him, “the man Emma wants to marry.” Contrasting these emotions are Emma’s of pure joy, bliss, and anticipation and as he arrives home, she comes bounding down the stairs because she’s found the engagement ring and already is saying yes before he even asks the question. Despite the underlying despair and guilt for Killian, this moment was truly beautiful for a couple and for two individuals who have gone through so much apart and together, and Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue played all of these deep emotions with the subtlety, authenticity, and beauty. From her tearful but glowing expression, to the lovely way we see his expression turn from one of trepidation and uncertainty to complete reverence and adoration, these two earned this moment and it was a thing of beauty. Seeing Killian kneel and utter the words, “Emma Swan, will you marry me?” and seeing Emma so radiantly happy, exclaiming yes, and embracing him with fervor was beyond special for these characters. It was particularly touching and sweet to see Morrison’s mannerisms as she does a subtle little nervous grasp of her wrist as he places the ring on her finger. It exudes pure and shy happiness – something that she thought she would never have and it’s what makes the moment so meaningful. Killian, as he always does, chose to make Emma happy rather than assuage his own guilt, making this proposal still so beautiful despite the circumstances.
Of course with joy comes drama and with their happy moments being fraught with Killian’s guilt, it’s only natural for drama to ensue. But it’s a captivating and meaningful drama as it showcases character issues that have been inherently a part of their journey since the beginning, which resulted in some very real and poignant moments. It’s never been about how much Emma and Killian love each other; it’s about working through real struggles. The scene where Emma and Killian argue as he confessed he was ashamed of his past, not knowing if he could live with what he has done not just for the family, but what has happened because of him is not about her anger over what he did. Rather it’s because he didn’t lean on her or trust her to share this burden with her. They’re going to be husband and wife and commitment requires complete trust. It’s heartbreaking, but is such a powerful moment made real by their performances. As she gives him back the engagement ring, it may be devastating, but it is such an important thing for their characters as it will be their final hurdle towards happiness. Emma will deal with her struggles with wanting that trust and feeling abandoned, while Killian will learn to forgive himself, feel worthy of Emma, and trust her completely. It’s a beautiful thing to hear Emma tell Killian they need to do things together because when you share your life with someone, that is what it is about. After giving so much support to her and allowing him to share her burden, she is reciprocating, helping him lower his last walls of vulnerability. This is what kindred spirits and true love do best.
Not only were the moments for the couple important, but their individual ones and ones with other characters were as well. I absolutely adore the moment between Killian and Nemo as he is so warm, wise, and fatherly. Faran Tahir is absolutely wonderful in his role and in their scenes together and they helped propel Killian’s journey in such lovely ways and imparted wisdom about learning to forgive yourself, seeking the forgiveness of others, and second chances. Also unbelievably lovely was the ethereally beautiful scene Killian shared with Snow, as real snow fell down upon the future in-laws in a moment that was a long time coming and brought tears to my eyes. Snow has always been able to elicit hope in people with her steadfast belief in love and in others’ ability to change. As a mother, Snow more than anything wants to see her daughter happy, but seeing her express her happiness to Killian as well, hugging him and kissing him on the cheek, telling him she is genuinely happy she is choosing to share her life with him was so special as it validates what the show is about – acceptance, redemption, love, and family. Without knowing it, she gave Killian a “hope speech” when he needed it the most in one of the show’s sweetest moments ever.
As the story unfolds, we are at the darkest moments: the moments of adventure where happiness and love are being threatened as Gideon literally propels Killian towards the final steps in his journey when he sends him the crew of the Nautilus out of Storybrooke. Separating Emma from her true love is unsurprising as love gives you strength. The final moments of her alone in their home were achingly beautiful and melancholy as she waits for Killian to come back to her as he has always done in the past. Symbolically shutting off the lights represents the darkest moments before the dawn, the sorrow you must overcome before your joyous happy ending. Emma’s fears of abandonment will no doubt plague her, but not only can love save even the darkest of souls, but it can also restore our faith. In love there is hope and soon they will never have to walk alone again.
Killian: Emma Swan, will you marry me?
Emma: Yes, Killian. Yes!
Snow: Emma has waited a long time to find the right person with whom to share her life. I’m so happy it’s you.
Regina: I’m going to do what we never could. I’m going to be brave for both of us. And choose love over hate.