Once Upon a Time: The Savior Review


By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

Six seasons in and it’s remarkable how Once Upon a Time continues to shine in its ability to portray realistic characters and situations amidst the backdrop of fairy tales. The show may have a formula, but most do, and what I love is how these patterns show consistency and bring forth the idea that this is simply one book filled with many stories. And the premiere did just that – it set up the stories for every character and in beautiful and intriguing ways and raised the question: is the end of our story inevitable, or can we change it? And when it comes down to it, we are reminded that good and evil, love and hope are all choices. These intangibles make us who we are and shape our lives and our stories. And we see that similar to what was first established in season four, but in more psychological ways, that fight for a happy ending remains the centerpiece of the series.

For the new characters that have arrived, what their stories are and will be are a great mystery and will connect to the stories of our heroes inevitably, especially our main hero Emma. We flashback to Jafar taunting Aladdin who is tired and broken, once a vital man reduced to trembles and hopelessness. And we learn that this is because like Emma, he is a savior, and their fate is all the same – they never live happily ever after. For the new Storybrooke arrivals, their stories seem intrinsically tied to this sad fate. Mr. Hyde somehow knows all about this and leads Emma to this shocking discovery. The question is why, and that is what makes him a formidable villain. What does Mr. Hyde hope to gain by bringing all those people from the Land of Untold Stories, and wanting them to play out? Is this somehow connected to Aladdin and Jafar? A villain that is almost indestructible is scary, but one whose motivations are unknown is terrifying because you never know what to expect. Moreover, it is an interesting set up that these characters are brought to the one place where the Savior destined to bring back happy endings resides. Hyde begs the question which is sure to be the emotional centerpiece for the season – if Emma helps them find their happy endings as the Savior, will this continue to take its toll on her, and eventually lead to the fate she has visions of – her inevitable and untimely death? Will helping others find happiness deny her of her own? Grim as that may sound, this sets up a poignant paradigm that I am truly excited to see play out because Once Upon a Time always portrays that when all hope seems lost, it is exactly the time when we need to believe in it the most. Another thing that is certain is that there is something rotten in the state of Storybrooke. Methinks this “Oracle” with an innocent face, a red bird, and a staff with eyes that glow that showed Emma a vision of her future is truly Jafar and Iago manipulating Emma for their own point and purpose. Before we delve more into Emma’s story, let us discuss the other stories that were set up in the premiere.

For Rumple and Belle, their story remains to be one where we ask where we go from here – is reconciliation possible? In order to wake her from her sleeping curse, Rumple uses the Sands of Morpheus to enter her dream world, and guided by Morpheus himself to this place, he attempts to re-create their happiest moments – dancing together (to the tune of “Beauty and the Beast”), bonding over the loss of his son, and proclaiming he wants to change and would be a better man for her. Lovely and sweet as these moments were, the reality of them is that these are merely illusions, or more specifically, only part of their story. And all must be known. When he kisses her, it doesn’t wake her up, it simply awakens her memories and she says even though they love each other, there have been too many broken promises and deceit and she’d rather she and her child remained safe than indebted to him. And this is what in turn saves her, for the young man in her dream is not Morpheus but rather her and Rumple’s unborn son who wants to protect his mother and already shares a love and connection with her that’s true. He kisses her and she awakens, prepared to go home but not by her husband’s side. Sad as this is for Rumple, this is necessary if he is going to truly change. Letting go of Bae was always his biggest regret, so to lose another child before they’re even born is a tragic loss for him. And for Belle, her protecting herself and her child was a great moment of strength for her character and may be the only thing that will motivate Rumple to let love awaken him for good and choose that over power.

For Regina, her story in the premiere was one of grief and searching for peace and understanding, while setting up what is sure to be her arc for the season. It’s unsurprising that her and Zelena living together did not last because although they may have grown closer and want to be true and loving sisters, the issues between them will not be repaired overnight, especially when Regina still resents Zelena’s part in Robin’s death. It was an interesting revelation that what Zelena was most hurt by was that Regina not only turned to Snow when making the decision to “destroy” her evil half, but also that she destroyed the part that most resembled herself. Does Zelena think it’s only that evil side that can relate and love her? That’s quite a sad thought and sets up the witch’s story when Evil Queen surprises her in her farmhouse. Zelena’s character is a bit of a wild card, toeing the line between good and evil, and hers is sure to be a story where her allies and morals are torn. And for Regina, her grief over Robin was heartrending, believable, dealt with in a way I wasn’t expecting, and moved me to tears. Losing Robin was heartbreaking enough, but believing he was obliterated is too painful to bear, which is why Regina wanted to find proof that wasn’t true so she could properly grieve, honor him, and move on. And this brought forth beautiful themes thanks to some wise words from Henry and Snow. Hope and faith are beautiful intangibles that sometimes can be difficult for people during dark times, but as Henry and Snow said, you have to choose to have faith and to hope – to believe that someone as good as Robin is at peace and that we can move forward and find that peace and happiness within ourselves. Snow learned that the only way she could survive was to never give up hope, and what a poignant lesson that is and one we all can relate to. This may be a show about fairy tales, but it’s rooted in real emotions. The moment where Regina admits what a horrible stepmother she was to Snow was wonderful because it not only shows how far they’ve come, but also that Regina is truly making more strides toward changing and taking responsibility for her own actions. And although she wants her story to no longer include the Evil Queen and she believes she is gone, the fact that she is not does not lessen the possibility that her story can have a better ending. I still believe we all must reconcile the dark and light parts of ourselves and choose the light. It’s why she chose to believe that Robin’s soul is at peace. She doesn’t need to prove it anymore. She has faith – something we’ve seen all the characters struggle with, but ultimately let shine through. When stepmother and daughter walk away and we see a single feather float down, it was the show’s way of saying that faith was not unfounded. Robin is at peace and watching over Regina.

The heartfelt moment for Snow and her stepmother was but one of the stories set up for Snow and Charming. The steadfast couple remains strong and united and once again is presented as leaders, ready to help those from the Land of Untold Stories. Storybrooke is their kingdom of sorts and their benevolence and compassion for others never fails. But as loving as they are, they still struggle with connecting with their daughter at times. They love and want to protect her but don’t always know what to say so and wise enough to know she may be able to speak better with someone without an emotional attachment to her – namely Archie. We shall see how it goes, but in theory, therapy can be a good thing and undoubtedly is something that Emma could benefit from. They want their daughter to find her own happy ending, so this is their way of reaching out before they are able to themselves.

Over the course of the series, the story of Emma and Killian both individually and as a couple, most especially last season, has been one of great beauty and poignancy. After overcoming darkness and death, it is only natural for the two of them to want to find a happy and quiet moment together where words are no longer necessary. It was a joy to watch them together in their home in a moment both passionate and sweet, filled with kisses and giggles, overjoyed to be safe in each other’s arms and ready to finally express their love for each other physically. And seeing Emma smile when she hears Killian say there’s no need for her to remove her red leather jacket because he likes it was not only undeniably adorable, but also a way of him once again telling her that he loves every part of her, including her walls and her armor which her red leather jacket has often represented. But their moment is short lived and I hope we see them get back to this place and share the intimacy they obviously long to express through their bodies as opposed to words. But of course this being Storybrooke, and apparently the fate of all Saviors, Emma cannot catch a break, and her happy time with her pirate is not only interrupted but seemingly destined to end before it has even begun. This in turn causes those walls of hers to go back up when she doesn’t reveal to Killian the truth about her vision of her future and the tremors in her hand. The moment of them together in the forest set up the beginning of their stories for the season, the two of them symbolically cast in shadow because Emma will be keeping him in the dark about her fate. But Killian knows her better than anyone. She has always been an open book and he can tell something is wrong even when she finds him later at Granny’s, giving him a smile, a soft kiss, and a promise that everything is okay. He softly smiles back with love, but you can see in his expression that he knows she is holding something back. And while Killian will no doubt be hurt by her not telling him the truth, her behavior is not only empathetic, but so akin to what anyone but especially Emma would do in her situation. Nearly days after the love of her life returns from the dead, she essentially discovers that a part of her that she has learned to embrace will also lead to her demise. It’s akin to receiving the news of having a terminal illness. And it’s as if her happy ending is now all but an elusive dream even after she has fought so hard for it. And loving Killian as she does and knowing what he has suffered, she decides not to share this burden because her not having a happy ending also denies him of his. It’s no wonder she is so afraid to tell him – it’s not that she doesn’t trust him, but rather she wants to preserve this happy time and not have it be fraught with worry. Instead, as always, she wants to shoulder the burden alone, putting her walls back up not to protect herself, but to protect her loved ones. Is this a mistake? Undeniably so, but it is simply another part of her story and one where she will finally learns that she doesn’t have to face the world alone, and one where her future is not written in stone. Her family, her son, and Killian all helped bring those walls down, and although she put them back up, they are no longer impenetrable. Every time she has put them back up, they’ve come down easier and easier, so I have no doubt that when the truth is revealed, her family and Killian will be there to give her the support she will learn to accept. Who she’s battling remains a mystery. Is it the Evil Queen? Or perhaps she is fighting herself as Emma’s fears and insecurities are often her own worst enemy. It’s also quite poignant and intriguing the way this state manifests itself with the trembling of the hand. Holding hands is been a significant sign of unity and strength for all the characters but especially Emma and Killian whose story has always put an emphasis on their hands entwined. Killian is reaching out to her and she is not yet ready to accept it. But when she does, when he takes her trembling hand in his, it will surely steady her tremors, and steady her fears to a strength as steady as the beat of their hearts – strong, pure and true. Together they can overcome anything, and their story will not end with Emma’s death. Not as long as Killian has breath left in his body. He came back to his Swan and will fight for their future. And when they fight for it together they will prevail because true love stories have no ending.

It is sure to be quite a fascinating season on Once Upon a Time and I believe it’s no coincidence that a show with a magical storybook that is built on hope is exploring how we each have many stories in our lives not only with our experiences but who we were, who we are, and who we hope to be. And each character’s stories will no doubt be important part of this chapter of the series. Henry is a son, an author, and a believer of the truest kind. Zelena is a witch, a mother, and a sister. Rumple is a wizard, a husband, a father, a returner from death, and a Dark One, while Belle is a soon-to-be mother, a former servant, a friend, and a wife. David is a shepherd and a prince, a sheriff, a husband and a father. Snow is a princess and former bandit, a wife and a friend, a stepdaughter and a mother. Regina is a queen and a mayor, a friend, and a mother. Killian is a pirate and a former slave, once a Dark One and returner from death, a friend, and a lover. And finally, Emma is a former lost girl and orphan, a princess and a sheriff, a friend and a daughter, a mother and lover. A Savior. All of these stories are indelibly connected and what makes the show so special and I cannot wait for each story to be explored, because although fairy tales are rooted in very dark and psychological places, ultimately, at least in this series, they will be ones of hope. Emma may feel like her happy ending is gone, but that is the time when hope needs to be believed in the most. Emma’s faith may be wavering, but by choosing to hope and choosing love, the fate of the Savior will not be an unhappy one. She can and will punch back and say, “No this is who I am!”- a Savior who will defy the odds and live her happily ever after. And that is a story that will surely stay with us long after we reach the final page.

Favorite Moments: Emma and Killian’s moments of passion and smiles that bookended the episode were a delight to watch, because they were the perfect embodiment of their relationship – one of true love, understanding, and hope. And the moment between Snow and Regina was another incredibly lovely one built on hope and that we all have many stories that are a part of us, her speech playing over a beautiful montage that perfectly related to all of the characters.

Favorite Lines:
Snow: You are the one who taught me that hope is a choice.

Henry: What I choose to believe in is faith. Hope that when a hero’s story is over there’s a special place for them.


  1. SonyaSeptember 28th, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Beautifully written!

  2. Carole RyanSeptember 28th, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    Loved the article.

  3. MicheleSeptember 29th, 2016 at 10:38 am

    Beautiful and insightful recap!

  4. SharonSeptember 29th, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Grateful that you included so many hopeful details. Looking forward to seeing more reviews highlighting the hope and fulfilled promises of happy endings!

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