Once Upon a Time: The Broken Kingdom Review

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By Marianne Paluso (Marianne_P81)

In my favorite episode of Season 5 thus far, “The Broken Kingdom” explored the very nature of true love and the dangers of obsession, realistically examining the complexities of romantic relationships. Love is only true when given freely, and the question is raised – does it matter if your life is merely an illusion of what you want or must it be real? Are you willing to live a life of lies as long as it has a sheen of happiness? Examining the relationships of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot, Emma and Killian, and Snow and David, we see beautifully, and clearly, love in its most true and false forms brought to life with poignancy and gorgeous visuals, while also filling in crucial pieces of the puzzle of Camelot and all of its mysteries. If there was any doubt about Arthur’s true nature, those were completely vanquished as his story was laid out with perfect clarity. As a young boy, he and Guinevere were childhood sweethearts, and he shares with her the secret of Merlin’s prophecy that he is destined to pull Excalibur from the stone and rule Camelot. The kingdom would no longer be broken and as his queen, he promises she shall have middle mist flowers every year on her birthday. As an adult, Arthur and Guinevere remain in love and by each other’s side as Merlin’s prophecy is fulfilled; but as we know, Excalibur is incomplete and Arthur grows obsessed with finding the dagger and making the sword whole. Instead of working to make Camelot a great kingdom, he pours over books and translations for hours upon end, losing sight of what truly matters. I was impressed with Liam Garrigan’s performance as we see Arthur’s slow descent into near madness, displaying how easily frustrations can lead to obsession and corrupt and change you into a person willing to not only perpetually lie but also mistreat others, even those you claim to love. The changes he displays are subtle and the nuances were fascinating to watch. Arthur neglects his wife, even failing to stop his quest long enough to share a dance with her on her birthday. Lancelot tries to make her feel better by asking the Queen to dance and as they are suddenly showered by pink flower petals, the joy on her face is short-lived when she realizes that Lancelot, and not her husband, is responsible for the gesture. But she thanks him for his kindness. Wanting her husband back, she and Lancelot use Merlin’s magical gauntlet to find the dagger, traveling to the Dark One’s vault, finding the blade protected by magic as well the Dark One himself, Rumpelstiltskin, who offers them, in exchange for the gauntlet, the Sands of Avalon, which can give the appearance of having that which is broken fixed. They accept the sands, and despite growing close and sharing a kiss, Lancelot leaves and Guinevere finds Arthur, planning to use the sands on Excalibur. But she realizes something important that he fails to: as much as she wants him back and to stop his pursuit, she doesn’t want anything unless it is real. She says Arthur must choose between his obsession with the dagger or her, otherwise their kingdom, and their relationship, will be broken forever. But much like Rumpelstiltskin, he refuses, and Arthur’s first sign of villainy is seen. He uses the sands on Guinevere, “fixing” the strain on their relationship and taking away her agency. He then sprinkles the dust on Camelot, creating a beautiful pristine kingdom with his queen by his side, essentially brainwashing her into submission. He creates a beautiful illusion, but it begins to crumble in the present when everyone is concerned for Emma’s well-being.

While Killian and Henry take Emma away for rest and quiet, Snow and David argue about what is the best way to help their daughter and clash about who to trust. David believes in Arthur and asks for his help to rid Emma of the darkness, while Snow seeks out Lancelot for help in hiding the dagger. But Arthur follows them and when he threatens Lancelot, Snow gives him the dagger. Reveling in victory, he tries to summon her, but just like his kingdom, things are not what they seem. Knowing they would be followed, Snow reveals that the dagger is a fake, while David appears behind the corrupt King having rightly deceived him, and stands beside with his wife to protect Emma. All seems well until Arthur, who had another trick up his sleeve, smiles as an army and Guinevere appear who order Lancelot to the dungeon. Lancelot is taken away in disbelief and heartbreak as he sees the woman he loves has been manipulated. Bravo to Sinqua Walls for conveying these emotions in so short a moment, and for the use of Snow and Charming’s musical theme which conveyed that his love for Guinevere is far more true. Guinevere then uses the Sands of Avalon on Snow and Charming and as devastating as this was, it revealed something very important. The couple did not fail their daughter, and any wrongdoing on their part is due to Arthur’s villainy. 
Meanwhile Emma, plagued with Rumpelstiltskin’s voice constantly in her head, still cannot sleep and spends her time making dream catchers. Starting to hear the dagger ominously calling to her and weighed down by his voice, she is horrified when she almost hurts Killian with magic. But he simply holds her and tries to show her comfort. As her family stays behind, Killian and Henry take Emma to rest and Henry leads them to the stable of Violet’s family. After an adorable scene where Henry tries to downplay his crush on the girl where Emma and Killian watch out of view the sure signs of first love, Killian asks Emma for the truth and she tells him about the voice that is burdening her. Understanding battling demons in one’s head, Killian knows how to help his love. He takes her horse riding, asking her to put her faith in him and their future together because he will never stop fighting for them. And after their ride, which does Emma a world of good, her smile and lightness returns to her. He leads her into a beautiful meadow of pink flowers, taking her hand, giving her a flower, and asking what she sees, and more importantly what she doesn’t see: her vision of Rumpelstiltskin is gone. As he did before, he helps quiet the darkness within her by trusting him with her burden. And then the two share a passionate kiss in the most beautiful, romantic, fairy tale idyllic moment we’ve ever seen on Once Upon a Time. As the sunlight peeks through the trees, Emma and Killian kiss as she wraps her arms around him to hold him closer as the camera pans above to see them surrounded by a sea of pink blossoms. Director of photography Stephen Jackson is in a class all his own, helping create a moment already beautiful in meaning even more exquisite with radiant visuals. This sweepingly romantic moment is the loveliest we have ever seen on the show and is the type of dreamlike beauty that makes you clutch your heart in awe and amazement.

The very nature of true love is explored beautifully in “The Broken Kingdom” both story-wise and symbolically as we see parallels and contrasts between the characters. I loved seeing Snow and David’s relationship explored in a realistic and mature way as they clash over the best way to help Emma and whom to trust. They are always the pillar of understanding and support so seeing them disagree was not only refreshing, but shows how often parents can have conflicting ideas on how to help their children. I never should have doubted David, but it was a wonderful twist when we see that he and his wife were working together to trick Arthur, as well as a fantastic showcase of the kind of mature, loving relationship to aspire to. They may have been fighting, but with love, compromise, and belief, you can work through any struggle so long as you don’t lose sight of what’s important. In this case, it’s their daughter’s well-being and they will always think of their family above all else, and will do so together. Arthur and Guinevere’s relationship is in direct contrast with Snow and David, who clashed over something significant but trusted each other enough to be honest and work through it. When Guinevere is truthful with Arthur about how she feels about his pursuit and wanting to repair their relationship, he displays the exact opposite of what the Charmings epitomize. He takes away her ability to choose and from then on, any kind of love and trust between them is built on a house of sand. Loves is indeed rare and fragile and should be cherished, but are you willing to live a lie to preserve it? Any true love between them is now tainted by the illusion he created, and it’s only a matter of time before his kingdom crumbles. Arthur and Guinevere’s relationship is not only meant to contrast Snow and David but also, and even more significantly, Emma and Killian and the ways in which they demonstrated a love built on trust and healing from a place of devotion and honesty. Killian knows Emma well enough to realize something is plaguing her and asks her to not only be honest, to which she does, but to trust him and believe in their future. And when the darkness is quieted, we beautifully see what true love should entail, and what Arthur could never do. Arthur clearly is shown to be unable to give up pursuit of the Dark One dagger and choose his love instead. But Killian was able to do so. He spent 300 years in search of the dagger, but in finding love with Emma, he gave up his pursuit. He chose love over revenge and proved to be courageous and good. Moreover, Emma and Killian also display something Arthur failed to demonstrate: a trust and belief in each other to be able share of our struggles. Guinevere would have shared his burden, but Arthur did so alone, neglecting her and making her feel isolated. In contrast, both Emma and Killian have had trouble trusting in the past but as they have learned to open up to each other, that trust grew. We should be able to share everything with those we love, from our greatest joys to our darkest demons, without fear but rather faith that together the other will be there to help make that burden feel a little less heavy. And the moment she realizes what putting her trust in him has done, she’s able to smile again and feel nothing but the warmth of his embrace and the powerful love that they share.

The symbolic use of pink flowers was also an exquisite and poignant exploration of true love in this episode. When young Arthur gives Guinevere a single flower, it’s full of innocence and hope, before he let his obsession corrupt him. The petals Lancelot showers Guinevere with are a lovely gesture and a sign of love but the complexity and imperfection of their situation is also seen through their state. The flowers are not whole but fragmented and broken, showcasing how there may be feelings between them, but the two are not, and may never be truly united. The flowers that Arthur creates with the Avalon sand may be beautiful, but at their heart are artificial. Much like the quote by John Dewey, “Just as a flower which seems beautiful and has color but no perfume, so are the fruitless words of the man who speaks them but does them not,” her bouquet is lovely, but just like Arthur’s words, are empty and false. They look perfect, but if you held them up to the mirror they would be wilted. Pink flowers are meant to symbolize love, poetic romance, gentleness, and admiration, and all these beautiful qualities are demonstrated with radiance in the moment between Emma and Killian in the meadow that is the loveliest and most meaningful use of this symbolism. We often say that love blossoms like a flower, slowly opening its petals to the light and becoming something of great beauty. Perhaps no other scene displays this as beautifully as Emma and Killian’s romantic interlude. Beginning with a single flower, their love soon blossomed into an endless garden of luminous beauty. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk in my garden forever,” and this moment is a glowing example of that kind of devotion. As Emma and Killian sweetly kiss in a sea of pink flowers, we see a fairy tale moment of dreams built on what Once Upon a Time epitomizes: true love, hope, and faith that we can overcome even our darkest demons. Just like a flower blossoms in the sunlight, Emma and Killian have slowly began to open themselves up and a love of rare and immaculate beauty has blossomed within their hearts. So seeing that Emma has kept the rose he gave her and is living in the white picket fence home Killian believed they could get back to is what makes Emma’s actions in Storybrooke both heartbreaking and intriguing. She has kidnapped Merida, wanting her to make Mr. Gold a brave hero. But she also seems to be doing much like what Arthur did: trying to create the happy life she dreamed of living with the man she loved. But because she is not her true self, it’s an illusion much like Camelot. Only when she is able to choose love over power will the dream become real and the love true again. And only then will she return to the garden where their love will bloom forever.

Favorite Moments: Emma and Killian’s scene in the meadow is the most romantically beautiful moment I have ever seen on Once Upon a Time brought to life by gorgeous visuals, stunning direction, and lovely performances by Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue. You felt every heartbeat of this meaningful moment and tears were shed because of its rare beauty. It was also so sweet seeing Emma and Killian learn about Henry’s crush on Violet, and Emma’s subtle smiles and Killian’s playful teasing and joy in this moment felt like a preview of what their family dynamics would be like. The moment of truth between Arthur and Guinevere was also great drama and solidifies that overarching theme that we must choose between power and love. Lastly, it was a great twist to see that despite their disagreement, Snow and David learned to put their differences aside and think of Emma above all else. And even though they were put under a spell, I am glad to know they did not truly fail their daughter.

Favorite Lines:

Killian: This is about putting your faith in me and our future.

Emma: You still think we can get back there? Storybrooke and some white picket fence life?

Killian: Yes. I’ll never stop fighting for us. All you have to do is trust me.

Guinevere: I wanted you back! To be the man I loved! My king. But now I realize, I don’t want any of it, not unless it’s real.

David: You tried to trick me with a catchy title and comfy chair.


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