Once Upon a Time: The Other Shoe Review

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by Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)
 
Some episodes of Once Upon a Time are romantic and sweet, some are epic and emotional, and some are just pure magic. But when an episode is all of these things, we must rejoice, and “The Other Shoe” was a truly special episode, beautifully written by Jane Espenson and Jerome Schwartz (who wrote nearly all of my favorite Season 5 episodes), well-balanced, brilliantly acted, and exuding with everything that captured the hearts of the audience 6 years ago – romance, humor, sweetness, love, hope, family, and familiar mythos of the fairy tale combined with new and modern twists. The Cinderella story is not only one of the most beloved, but also the perfect one to revisit at this point in Emma’s journey. Like so many of the modern retellings to the classic tale, there was indeed that perfect combination of traditional and modern, and the connections between all of the stories were, like Cinderella’s glass slipper, the perfect fit.
 
There was simply so much to love from the small character moments, to the touches of humor, to the things that combined both and were important to the plot. I always loved the original Cinderella episode “The Price of Gold,” but was so delighted to revisit the story and see not only what we come to expect with Ella meeting and falling in love with her Prince at the ball, but also something new with one of her stepsisters Clorinda not being so evil as we thought, and that it was Ella who had to make up for wronging her. I always love a royal ball on Once Upon a Time and this one didn’t disappoint. Sumptuous costumes and glorious dancing, it was a feast for the eyes and such glorious fairy tale grandeur. And wasn’t it adorable seeing Ella’s faithful mouse friend Gus in his little outfit like the Disney cartoon, and in human form overjoyed at the prospect of free cheese? Bringing in so many characters from classic literature are such fun touches, like spotting The Three Musketeers in Granny’s last week and now we saw Hester Pryne from The Scarlet Letter stroll by. Regina’s hope that Dr. Jekyll can re-create his serum and hopefully destroy the Evil Queen was not only laying the groundwork for what’s to come, but provided such unique humor that only Once Upon a Time can provide. When Dr. Whale, a.k.a. Dr. Frankenstein meets Dr. Jekyll, it not only was, as Regina said, the scariest pediatrician’s office, and as Snow said, an amazing possible high school science department, but also any lit nerd’s dream. I also laughed out loud at the clever iZombie reference that food is not in his refrigerator and how his license plate said “The Doctor.” Can we figure out a way for David Anders to guest star more often because he’s golden. When the Evil Queen and Mr. Hyde walked arm in arm out of the psych ward after she freed him, I must admit they had a deliciously elegant quality in its evilness that I really liked. I also couldn’t help but smile that Belle had brought so many personal touches to her cabin on the Jolly Roger and at the sweet lullaby that Rumple have recorded for their son. Of course it will take more than a poem to repair the damage there, but it was a lovely moment nonetheless, and it was wonderful hearing Robert Carlyle’s Scottish brogue come through as he recited it. And in Belle’s talk with David when he gave her the tape in exchange for information about his father, Belle brought up the fact that no matter what, sons will always long for their fathers, and this continued to set up a story for David that I’m so excited to see play out. Josh Dallas doesn’t always get the chance to showcase David’s vulnerability, but the moment he admitted that despite who his father was, it was worse having him gone was performed with lovely subtlety and heartache. Will David do as he promised Snow and not seek revenge on the one who killed his father and focus on his family instead? Something tells me he’ll have trouble letting this go but it will just be another lesson learned that love and family is the most epic adventure that life has to offer.
 
The moments for Snow and Charming provided the core framework of the episode thematically and also the foundation of what their daughter is going through. Snow longs for some sense of normalcy, wanting to get back to teaching because, “Why can’t a princess be a teacher? What’s more noble than that?” I wholeheartedly agree. But through the couple, we are presented with the concept of what does normal even look like and what is a happy ending? Is it just some idea in your head or a fixed point? As they are learning what this means in their happy and settled life, Emma is struggling with the knowledge that this type of future may not come true for her.
 
Some of Emma’s most important and inspiring first moments of the series occurred in the Season 1 episode “The Price of Gold” as she saw a bit of herself in Ashley: young, pregnant, and scared. She was a representation of what she’d given up when she had Henry, and so she helps Ashley keep her baby, telling her that in life, if you want things to change and for people to see you differently, you just have to punch back. That Emma was strong but her heart was still somewhat closed off, but in helping Ashley with her child, Emma began her journey of opening her heart to her own son. Six seasons later and Emma is even stronger, and now with her two True Loves helping restore her first happy ending. But once again when we see Ashley, Emma sees a friend she wants to help but also a representation of what she desires but cannot have – or so she thinks. Through these parallels, we once again see some of the most important moments for Emma’s character of the entire series.
 
Heartwarming moments are not rare on this show but seeing Killian put a dollop of whipped cream on his nose and make funny faces trying to make Ashley’s daughter Alexandra laugh was just about the cutest thing ever to witness. Who would have thought we’d see a scene like this for our swashbuckling pirate. But Killian is more sensitive than I think people realize and my heart completely melted in this moment. But as much as mine did as a viewer, no heart was as affected as Emma’s, who watched on lovingly at what her future could be – the future she wants very much. Her longing expression said it all. But these feelings were affirmed when Emma tells Archie she is jealous of what Ashley has, feeling so distraught that the happiness she feels is fleeting. My heart broke for her when she said she wants to be living with Killian but fears she can’t because she cannot get him the future he deserves. That she fought for everyone else’s happy endings but doesn’t get her own. This was such a significant thing for Emma to admit because she so often bottles up her emotions and fears. It’s what’s causing her tremors at the moment. She’s terrified no longer of opening her heart, but that she has and is so happy and that will all soon go away. What she wants – a life with Killian and Henry, living in their home, and a future filled with love, laughter, and children is just a dream and her heart is breaking for herself and for her loved ones she fears telling. And while I still believe her future is not as bleak as she believes, what Archie tells her is such a timeless and poignant truth. Maybe it’s not about how we end things but how we live them. For show about finding happy endings, that is a very real and profound statement and just one of the many brilliant characteristics this episode showcased so beautifully.
 
Revisiting the Cinderella story during Emma’s current journey as the Savior, as someone who is losing hope for the future, and as someone who has found and embraced love, is utterly perfect as what’s brought forth are striking parallels and connections between both stories, as well as inspiring modernity juxtaposed with familiar fairy tale mythology. Cinderella has been told countless times and there are always common attributes: an orphan who gets her name from the cinders of the fireplace she sleeps beside, the Ball she attends thanks to a fairy godmother, the Prince she meets and falls in love with, the evil step-family, a magnificent dress, a pumpkin coach, and a glass slipper. These common aspects give the audience a sense of comfort in their consistency and the story its sheen. But sometimes what we forget is that the story is not about a girl who goes to a dance and is rescued by a Prince. It’s about a girl who survived and overcame harsh realities of life and cruel and malicious treatment from those who are meant to show her love. It’s about a person who is strong and remained loving and good despite being made to feel like she was nothing, and finding happiness with someone who treated her with respect. The iconic images like the glass slipper are more than just pretty things – they are symbols of hope, much like Henry’s storybook, that life can get better. The latest incarnation of Cinderella showcased the theme “have courage and be kind.” Is that not what Once Upon a Time’s Emma embodies and what we saw displayed in this chapter of the series not only by Emma, but also by Ella/Ashley as well? Ella didn’t hold onto resentment for her stepsister Clorinda when she discovered that all she wanted was to marry the Prince’s footman Jacob. When a moment of weakness betrayed them, she did all she could to make up for it, bravely standing between them and her stepmother and nearly losing her life in the process. Similarly, Emma’s life has been a constant string of the proverbial other shoe dropping, feeling unloved, unwanted, and insignificant. She closed off herself but importantly, not completely. She remained kind, with a good heart, and someone who, like Ella, still wanted love and family. I also found it interesting the ways in which this episode paralleled the Evil stepmother and the Evil Queen in the ways in which they treated Ella and Emma. Ella’s stepmother was incredibly cruel, calling her “scab on her sole” and that she was nothing but a joke, while the Evil Queen said she wanted to hurt Emma, make her see how pointless she is, and that in the end, her life will have meant nothing. There are many ways to be cruel to a person, but telling someone they’re pointless, and making them feel like nothing as if their existence doesn’t matter is just about the worst thing you could possibly say to a person. But the lesson of the Cinderella story is that you can overcome anything. Ella certainly did and while Emma may be struggling with her fears at the moment, she has fought back before from being made to feel like nothing. She is not nothing! She was never nothing!
 
In addition to the parallels between characters, what was significant about “The Other Shoe” was the contrast in the stepfamilies, something that Once Upon a Time has done so wonderfully already. The common fairy tale trope is that some parents are often dead and step-parents are evil and unkind, often meeting gruesome ends. I love how Once Upon a Time has truly broken this mold. Regina may have begun the show as Snow’s evil stepmother, but she has worked to be a better person and the two are now very close. You could also say the same for the change in her relationship with her adoptive son Henry. What I loved about “The Other Shoe” were the ways in which Ella’s stepfamily and Emma, Henry, and Killian once again presented such new and positive depictions of family that transcend the traditional fairy tale. Moreover, the key moments for these characters presented, in very moving scenes, every kind of love possible. I loved the scenes between Emma, Henry, and Killian from them adorably arguing about what Ella’s stepsister’s name was, to Killian and Henry practicing sword fighting, to Henry and Killian being Emma’s pillars of support, steadying her tremors, telling her she’s strong and can do anything, and hugging her tightly. Their moments were not only were lovely and heartwarming but a beautiful representation of what family dynamics should be in contrast to what Ella experienced with her stepfamily. Killian may not be Henry’s stepfather yet, but it’s clear that Emma longs for that future, and that Killian clearly adores her son and the happy family dynamic they’ve established together. Henry’s family just keeps growing and another positive parental figure in his life is so wonderful to witness. In the end, although Ella’s experience was not the same, one of her stepsisters did indeed show her the love that she wished for. And the scene where Emma saves Ashley was not only important and poignant as we see her overcoming her fears with her magic shining through, but also seeing all the hugs over this emotional moment brought tears to my eyes as we saw every form of love displayed in these embraces: romantic, friendship, and blood and step-familial relationships. It’s one of the reasons I enjoyed Emma, Killian, and Henry in this episode as we see what Once Upon a Time continues showcase so brilliantly: true love between romantic partners, love between your blood family members, and love between the family with which you do not share blood but would sacrifice it for.
 
The character of Emma Swan is, in so many ways, Once Upon a Time’s crowning achievement because she is an entirely new fairy tale creation, and subsequently so is the remarkable love story between her and Captain Hook. It’s beautiful and relatable, especially in the ways in which it blends traditional fairy tale romance with modern sensibilities. The scene in which Emma asked Killian to move in with her was a lovely representation of these attributes. In the sun-kissed twilight of the day, Emma realizes that her happiness need not be an illusion because no matter how uncertain the future may be, what matters is embracing each day with love. The gentle serenity of this moment and tender performances by Morrison and O’Donoghue who both glowed with pure love and happiness, gave this scene such an idyllic fairy tale quality, which was matched by the lovely simplicity of sharing a meal and the sweet way in which she asked him to move in by saying she can make room next to her red leather jackets for his black leather ones. They are a fairy tale couple but a real and modern one. Where Cinderella had a ball gown and a glass slipper that the perfectly, Emma and Killian have matching leather jackets and hands that fit perfectly together. Significantly, this was such a meaningful and profound moment for Emma’s character who is bravely choosing not to let fear of the future prevent her from finding happiness in the present. Every day is a gift and in this moment about two people about to begin living each day together, they are home. Beautifully so, I’m reminded of a line from another Cinderella retelling: Ever After. I still have hope that her future will be a long and bright one but what’s important right now is that Emma is choosing to live life no matter what the ending may be. And while I do believe they will indeed live happily ever after, the important part will be that “they lived.”
 
Favorite Moments: Very rarely would I say this but I loved the entire episode so much that it’s difficult to pin down favorite moments. But I most especially loved the moment Emma asked Killian to move in with her. It was such a sweet way to ask that felt so perfect for them, and this incandescent and serene moment in meaning and feeling, gave the couple another beautiful moment and significant milestone. It was also incredibly heartwarming watching Killian try to make Ashley’s daughter laugh, teach Henry to sword fight, and the three work together to help Ashley. Lastly, all of Ella/Ashley’s moments were just superb, from the glorious royal ball to the meaningful parallels to Emma’s character, and when Ashley protects her step sister, Emma saves her, and all the characters embrace, I was moved to tears.
 
Favorite Lines:
Emma: Move in with me. I know everything in life is uncertain, but sometimes you have to walk out the door and hope there’s not a bus. I mean, I have a closet full of red leather jackets. I feel like I can make some space for some black leather.
Killian: Well when you put it like that, then I would love to move in with you.
 
Snow: Is this our life now? Just defeat and repeat?
 
Archie: Maybe it’s not about how you end things. Maybe it’s about how you live them.
 
Ella: You think [The Prince] could be charming?
Snow: Oh that name’s taken.
 
Emma: Ashley was my first save. You take that away, then what? Everything I’ve done can be undone?
Killian: By the Evil Queen? No, no. My Emma is too strong for that.
 
Killian: She really was brave, Ashley.
Emma: Putting love before life.
Killian: Exactly.
 
Snow: Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Frankenstein. You know what that sounds like?
Regina: The world’s scariest sounding pediatrician’s office.


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