Once Upon a Time: Street Rats Review

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by Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)
 
In my second favorite episode of season six thus far, “Street Rats” accomplished what many of Once Upon a Time’s other fine episodes do – provide viewers with engaging flashbacks that reflect the present as well as new twists on beloved characters, in addition to delivering striking parallels, significant character connections and captivating story set-up, and the kind of poignancy, intriguing questions, and dramatic tension in both premise and character development that I not only love but leave me wanting more.
 
In the past, Jasmine seeks out Aladdin, believing he will be the Savior of Agrabah. The two form a strong bond and Aladdin does indeed save the day, but before he does, Jafar gives him magical shears which can change his doomed fate of all saviors. In the present day, the Evil Queen kidnaps Archie and disguises herself as him, forcing Emma to reveal the secret about her visions to her loved ones. With Jasmine, they go in search of Aladdin and believe him to be dead until he reveals himself to Emma and Henry, admitting he eventually used the shears on himself, giving them to Emma should she want to use them. But Emma doesn’t. She believes her family can find a third option, but if it comes to it, she’s willing to pay the price of being a Savior. Her loved ones agree, but while Killian tells her he disposed of the shears deep in the sea, it’s revealed he kept them, with him now being the one keeping a secret. There was so much to love in this episode, but I suppose the one thing I didn’t care for was the Evil Queen and Zelena’s little trip to a spa. There were some important plot points with Archie in there, as well as what will most likely be Zelena’s story about balancing self-acceptance and being a good mother, but it all felt a little silly and a waste of screen time and their talents, as well as not fitting in with the rest of the episode. What I did love was the continued exploration of these characters dealing with extreme and fantastical situations on very human and relatable levels. Where some may feel frustrations or sadness, I see consistencies and hope, completely empathetic and understandable behavior, and the concept that our lives are not just about the destination but the journey – and journeys that are about growth and setbacks, triumphs and mistakes, as they continue to learn about love, life, and themselves.
 
Aladdin has always been one of my favorite Disney films and he and Jasmine one of my favorite couples, so I was beyond excited to see them incorporated into the show. When it comes to classic characters, there are multiple routes that are employed on Once Upon a Time. They could be like Snow and Charming, who are completely new kinds of characterizations, or like the Frozen characters who felt as if they’d leapt off the screen with a story that picks up after the film ends, or like Ariel and Eric with a story and characterizations that are a mixture of the new and familiar. Aladdin and Jasmine are most assuredly the latter, and I absolutely adored not only their story but their characters. Deniz Akdeniz and Karen David captured the essence of the Aladdin and Jasmine while also truly making them their own. Akdeniz portrayed Aladdin’s charm, tenacity, confidence, and insecurities, while David showcased Jasmine’s beauty inside and out, warmth, bravery, and feistiness and the two shared such a natural and lovely rapport. I must also note Oded Fehr’s amazing take on the villain Jafar. Coming from someone who loved Naveen Andrews’ Jafar from Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, Fehr more than makes the character his own with an ominous elegance and an understated presence that is frightening because it’s as if we have not seen how dangerous he can be. The nods to the film also made my heart soar. From interrupted and almost kisses and Aladdin’s nifty trick of sharing an apple with Jasmine, to his promise to show her the world, to the sumptuous costumes and familiar imagery of the Cave of Wonders, giant hourglass, and magic carpet, to the monkey idol used to offset a booby-trap which was simultaneously a nod to Abu and Indiana Jones, to finally the way in which Jafar was controlling the Sultan which was much like the film and also very similar to the way Saruman and Wormtongue controlled King Theoden in Lord of the Rings. They also once again showed Aladdin to be a “Diamond in the Rough” but took it a step further in that this also makes him the Savior of Agrabah. There’s still so much left to tell with Aladdin’s story and I cannot wait to see how it will continue to evolve as we learn more about what led Aladdin to use the shears in the past, and what’s to come for him and Jasmine in the future. Their reunion in Storybrooke was not only sweet but set up one of the many connections between Aladdin and Emma, two Saviors and self-proclaimed street rats, but also so much more, and who will no doubt continue to learn about themselves.
 
The parallels between Aladdin and Emma are abundant and striking, some of which were meant to show differences between them as well the ways in which they can learn from each other through their shared experiences. It was obvious that Aladdin and Jasmine’s venture into the Cave of Wonders was meant to parallel Emma and Killian’s trip up the beanstalk with dialogue, actions, and visuals so very similar. Being the Savior is a heavy burden, but being the true love of the Savior also comes with great struggles. Killian’s pain and fears were ever apparent but they’re still so much to tell with his story with Emma. This episode instead focused more on how Emma’s other true love, her son Henry, was handling the situation. And the scenes in which he spoke with Jasmine and Emma were beautiful in their emotional honesty and showcased perhaps Jared Gilmore’s finest performances to date, as well as some of Jennifer Morrison’s loveliest work. I was not expecting to see a scene between Henry and Jasmine but hearing them commiserate over the pains and regrets of putting those they love on the Savior’s path because it means a death sentence was unexpectedly moving. Both Aladdin and Emma were simply living their lives and were thrust into a destiny neither asked for, but eventually embraced. The question remains for how long? Aladdin lost faith and did not share his burden, which Emma believes was his mistake, and I believe this will continue to be a lesson for the season. Of course the pain and fears are fresh for our characters and the scene between Emma and Henry was such a poignant portrayal of the depth of the love between a child and a parent, and what life is truly about. Hearing him place all the blame on himself was heartbreaking but I was moved to tears by the way Emma proved to be what any good mother tries to be for their child when faced with death: brave but honest. The brevity of Morrison’s performance was so soft and real and it brought me to tears when she said she doesn’t regret anything because being the Savior brought her family, made her a mother, and gave her real magic in her life – Henry. How beautiful and true is that statement and something Once Upon a Time exemplifies and reflects in our lives. In a show about magic, we see that love is the greatest magic of all, more powerful than any dark curse or evil spell. And in the world we live in, there may not be magic, but is there anything else on earth that feels more magical than love? Moreover, when Emma says it’s about not worrying about an ending that will be sad but instead focusing on having a happy middle, we are reminded that life is about the journey and not the destination. And it was Emma’s bravery and wisdom, Aladdin’s offering of the shears to ensure her happy ending, and the ways in which all of these characters reacted that were some of the most significant parts of the episode, as each were so in tune with who they are as people on their journeys as individuals and as units.
 
There were so many emotional and interesting complexities surrounding the revelation of Emma’s secret and her choice not to use the shears to change her fate. Fear, pain, confusion, and regret – all of these emotions were on full display. You have to appreciate the irony of Snow telling Emma that she and David may not be perfect but they don’t keep secrets from each other, considering they’ve had many secrets between them in the past and David is currently keeping one from his wife. Of course Snow is right. Secrets are never good, especially between couples, and while some may feel frustrated with them in the story, this is the kind of drama and tension I enjoy because it’s not about cruelty, misunderstandings, or needless break ups. The secrets between Emma and Killian are not malicious or of ill intent, but come from a place of not only fear but love. The tension between them, the differences in their and others’ reactions, and the lack of significant discussion between them were all very deliberate and obvious and showcased that their story is meant to continue and in very significant ways.
 
Emma’s choice to not use the shears but instead choose to find a third option to her fate was such an important display of how much her character has learned and grown. Her willingness to accept her fate reminded me so much of David’s willingness to sacrifice his heart and season three. She is being her brave and noble self. While I still believe there’s more story to come with Emma’s identity as the Savior, learning that no matter what she is special, strong, and worthy regardless, that is not what truly matters in this moment. Most importantly, her believing her in family’s ability to find another way shows just how far she has come. Where she was once frustrated with how her parents were “infuriatingly optimistic,” she is now taking a page out of their book. She is not choosing death. She is choosing hope. And for Emma that is monumental. And with all due respect, she’s not going to make the mistake Regina did when splitting herself, which I think she now regrets. That was a quick fix and using the shears would be like that. And we all know that things are never that easy. Emma is choosing the harder path – the one where she is choosing to hope that they will prevail in the end. It’s why her parents so easily acquiesced to her decision as she’s acting much like they do when faced with turmoil. But I suspect there is much more story to behold. Will Emma lose hope? Will she want to use the shears after all? Or will they truly find another way to change her fate? Only time will tell, but while her parents, Regina, and Henry are more ease, Killian is not and it’s providing fantastic dramatic tension now and surely for what’s to come.
 
Just like Emma’s reaction to her fate, choosing to keep it a secret, and then realizing that she must share her burden and wants to choose hope is empathetic and understandable for who she is as a character, how Killian reacted was as well. From hearing the truth about her impending death, and her decision to accept it should it come to pass, to his decision to keep the fateful shears, you can see the depth of his confusion, fear and pain all in grief-stricken expressions that truly broke my heart. Colin O’Donoghue’s talents never cease to amaze me and to portray so much emotion all through his eyes was astonishing. And it was these reactions and minimal communication that was the steadfast thread throughout the episode. You can see that Killian was deeply hurt that Emma did not tell him about her visions, about what they meant, and that she chose to rid herself of the shears, the one thing that could save her life. He loves her so much and cannot bear the thought of losing her, just like Emma when she couldn’t bear to lose Killian and so used Excalibur to save his life and turn him into a Dark One. And so he kept the shears. But as similar as the motivations and emotions are, the situations are decidedly different. His choice importantly still gives her one should she change her mind. If it were me, I would have kept them, too. He’s scared and doesn’t want what may be her only chance to live gone forever, because in contrast to Emma, even after being granted a second chance at life by Zeus, Killian still struggles with hope. But importantly, both Emma and Killian are continuing to do what they always do – valuing others above themselves: Emma, all of her loved ones; and Killian, his beloved Emma. They undoubtedly value each other, and after overcoming so much, they undeniably value the love they found together. But they still are learning to value themselves.
 
The final scene between Emma and Killian with an exquisite demonstration of why their story and their characters remain so beautiful and captivating, and why they continue to be ever relatable, while also providing the promise of great drama to come. Killian keeping the shears and that secret from Emma instead of disposing of them thousands of leagues under the sea, like the constant focus of the camera on his reactions, was a deliberate indicator that a meaningful discussion is to come between them. But more poignantly so, this secret, and the way they spoke and softly kissed, was a representation of so many facets of their relationship and the themes of the show. So many choices are much more complex than black and white, right and wrong, especially when they come from a place of love, and Emma and Killian showcased that ever relatable truth. They may have found True Love but are still learning to navigate the vast oceans of what a real relationship embodies. With the romantic and playful way Emma wanted to cuddle up with him next to a fire with some hot buttered rum and asked him which dinner he’d prefer, we see that some waters are calm and peaceful. With Killian’s secret, we see how some waters are dark and unpredictable. And with Killian vowing that all he wants Emma to have is her heart’s desire, we see how some waters are never shallow, but as deep and endless as their love. He truly means this and will always put her first. He wants her to have that happy future. In Camelot, he wanted her to put her faith in him and their future and promised to never stop fighting for them. He always will. But what they are still learning to navigate are those decisions you make as a couple with honesty – all of the dark and light waters that run deep because that is what True Love is about. As Will Scarlet says, “Love is messy. It means arguing and making up and laughing and crying and struggling, and sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it. But it is. And, at the end, when you’re in love, no matter what happens, you forgive each other.”
 
There are so many intriguing questions and so much remarkable story yet to be revealed that “Street Rats ” laid the foundation for. How did Jasmine know Aladdin was meant to be the Savior? Can we take Jafar’s word as gospel and how do the shears really work? What exactly did Aladdin see in his vision of the future? How was Emma able to feel connected and find Aladdin with their shared Savior magic if Aladdin used the shears on himself to change his fate? Will Emma remain a Savior? I was intrigued that the same verbiage of a coming storm was used in both the Jafar’s note to Aladdin and Killian’s scene with Emma at the end of the episode. Is the hourglass that was in the title card a reflection how time is running out for Emma? One thing I have no doubt of is that the story we’re witnessing is a moving reflection of what to strive for in life. Emma’s speech to Henry was so reminiscent of the true and poignant line from the film Hope Floats: “Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, it’s the middle that counts the most. You just need to remember that when you find yourself at the beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up.” As true as this is, I also know that this story is not about resigning to our fate, and the way Emma’s story feels so uncertain and bleak is the very reason I believe she will have the happiest one of all. Her story will not only have a happy middle, but a long one – a true happily ever after because no matter what, hope will never sink, but always float. And when it feels like you’re drowning in fear in the middle of the dark ocean, remember that every breath you take with true love and honesty in your heart will bring you safely to shore.
 
Favorite Moments: The moment between Emma and Henry when she tells her son she doesn’t regret one moment since he brought her to Storybrooke was such a moving demonstration what a mother strives to be, with the beautiful truth that having love in your life is the real magic. The was the episode’s best and most touching scene. But equally beautiful and enthralling was the final scene between Emma and Killian because we saw both drama and romance, and in a single scene, and showed navigating a relationship will have moments of happiness and tension. Lastly, the flashbacks between Aladdin and Jasmine and their reunion in Storybrooke were an absolute dream with sweetness, excitement, and utterly perfect characterizations.
 
Favorite Lines:
Henry: If I never knocked on your door, if I never dragged you to Storybrooke in the first place, none of this would be happening. I forced you to become the Savior.
Emma: You didn’t force me to do anything. You helped me believe.
Henry: Believing won’t stop the future.
Emma: Maybe not. But it gave me a family. It made me a mother. I have actual magic in my life, I have you. If I could go back I wouldn’t change a thing. Let’s not worry about the end of the story. Endings usually suck. Let’s just enjoy the middle, the journey together.
 
Emma: Pizza or Chinese?
Killian: Your heart’s desire, Swan. I promise that’s all I want you to have.
 
Aladdin: Come with me. We make a good team. We could fight Jafar together. And I could show you the world. What do you say, Princess?


    3 Comments

  1. ButtercupOctober 26th, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    Beautiful review! I always love your insights on Once Upon a Time. You do such an amazing job seeing the heart of the show and its characters. Thank you.

  2. JoAnneOctober 26th, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    That was awesome, Thank you for putting into words my exact thoughts ! I am blown away by the amazing talent on OUAT!

  3. MicheleOctober 26th, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    What a wonderful review! You notes some points that I had not thought of – the significance of the hourglass, the “savior connection” between Emma and Aladdin, etc. I really enjoyed reading this!

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