Season 2 of Once Upon a Time may not reach the heights of other seasons, but when all things are considered, as Hook would say, it is still “bloody brilliant, amazing!” Although the first half is the stronger arc, the season ends on a high note with the promise of so much exciting adventure to come leaving us desperately wanting more. Filled with a great deal of poignancy, amazing characters moments, the hope of new, blossoming romances and more moments of true love in all its forms, Season 2 was wonderful season. Here are the best episodes for the show’s sophomore run.
1. “Lady of the Lake” (Season 2, Episode 3)
A beautiful and poignant episode, season two’s finest hour was about love in all its forms – romantic love, familial love, and all its joys and sorrows. There were so many moving moments that warmed our hearts and made us cry from David bonding with Henry, determined to find their loved ones and partaking in a place sword fight that one cannot help but smile at, and Jefferson reuniting with his daughter Grace after finding the courage to find her, to David’s mother Ruth willingly letting Snow be cured rather than herself, sacrificing her life for her son’s happiness, and Snow and Emma finding what was to be her nursery and Emma breaking down confessing she’s not used to people putting her first. All of these heartfelt moments showcase the strength of that familial bond in truly touching ways. Seeing that Snow and David were married by Lancelot, the man who along with Ruth, is the reason Emma was able to be born was so sweet and moving. But most especially, it was that journey and discovering of that last drop of mystical healing water of Lake Nostos, a drop that made Emma’s existence possible, that was such a beautiful symbol of love and its ability to heal, to restore, and to give strength even when all hope seemed lost.
2. “Tallahassee” (Season 2, Episode 6)
It is amazing that the entire first season of Once Upon a Time went by without a proper backstory for our heroine Emma Swan; but there was a good reason. We already knew about Emma’s walls and why opening up to family is so difficult for her. But it wasn’t until this beautifully significant episode that it became clear why opening up romantically is so hard for her. Contrasting her first love Neal, their life on the run, and his ultimate decision to let her go to prison for his crime which left her feeling betrayed, with her present day adventure with Hook as they climbed a beanstalk, and battled a giant in search of a magical compass that could lead them back home, was a affecting way of paralleling Emma’s painful past with the hope of a happy future. As we see the clear attraction between Emma and Hook as the two bond over the loss of love, opening up in rare moments of vulnerability especially for Emma, with the two easily making “quite the team,” it made the moment Hook reaches out to her in hope in earnest and she leaves him behind all the more meaningful. Emma had found the hope of her “Tallahassee” but was too scared to believe it. It was the only the beginning of a long and lovely journey.
3. “Broken” (Season 2, Episode 1)
Touching, sweet, and ultimately surprising, the first full episode where the dark curse was broken we saw smiles and tears at the happy reunions that never fail to make us cry and pull at our heartstrings especially David and Mary Margaret hugging their daughter after she “found “and Henry calling David Grandpa. Of course the rest of the episode was also captivating: the introduction of Aurora, Philip, and Mulan with the sweet couple’s first moments together after True Love’s kiss being heartbreaking when he sacrifices himself to the wraith, while in Storybrooke our heroes do what heroes do and forgive Regina when that wraith tries to consume her soul. No stranger to dramatic twists, from the hint that Emma has magic to the moment Emma is sucked into Jefferson’s hat only for Snow to follow – these moments were unexpected and intriguing with a promise of an exciting season to come. What is so fun that you always end up saying things that sounds so odd out of context – “I didn’t expect them to get sucked into the hat!” Only on Once Upon a Time, eh!
4. “The Doctor” (Season 2, Episode 5)
This is such a well-balanced episode character and story wise with new and different dynamics further explored in both the past and the present, that were all moving, entertaining and so important to the story. In the flashbacks of Regina on the brink of darkness but still clinging to the light we come to discover that Rumple manipulates a deal so her journey with Jefferson to meet Dr. Frankenstein in hopes of bringing Daniel back to life was ill fated. These were so fantastic to watch and provided a key piece of the puzzle in a heartbreaking parallel to the present where Victor succeeds but the dark method to bring him back creates a monster who was not the true man Regina loves and so she must say goodbye to him again. And in the Enchanted Forest of the present it is Emma who finds Hook and doesn’t believe the story of being a blacksmith for minute, and we are treated to a wonderful beginning to their story, as she ties him to a tree (like mother, like daughter- remember “Heart of Darkness”) and he aligns himself with the four women with the promise of a way to return home. This episode is just amazing all around.
5. “Queen of Hearts” (Season 2, Episode 9)
The exciting and touching end to the first arc of the season, this episode, much like “The Doctor,” filled in crucial pieces to the puzzle in dynamic ways, while the present day stories were emotional, lovely and captivating. It was quite the cool twist to see that Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts was Regina’s mother Cora, who ended up allying with Hook, whose own character continued to be flushed out in intriguing ways with moments of sincerity such as telling Emma he would not have left her behind and saving Aurora’s heart, leaving the foundation for the true heart of Killian Jones. And who could forget the sword fight with him and the Savior, laced with sexual tension but still including Emma’s wonderful no-nonsense attitude, and right hook – pun intended. Lastly, in episode about hearts it was beautiful to witness the true hearts of our characters: as I said Hook saving a heart, Regina stopping Rumple’s magic that would’ve killed Emma and Mary Margaret at the urging of Henry, Snow awakening her husband with True Love’s kiss echoing their dialogue from the “Pilot,” and Emma saving her mother’s heart, risking her own being taken by Cora only to discover the power of the magic inside her. After all- love is not weakness, it’s strength.
6. “The Crocodile” (Season 2, Episode 4)
This introduction to Captain Hook was not only one of the best episodes of the series but one of the most compellingly foreshadowing, as this episode highlights Rumple’s past with his wife Milah, with the pirate captain, and his present relationship struggles with Belle. Interesting fact: this is the only episode of Once Upon a Time that doesn’t feature Emma Swan. That is a intriguing coincidence that said episode is the first appearance of the man who would become her true love. And it’s quite significant, that this dynamic introduction to such a dashing, amazing character – a character undeniably connected to Emma- was also introduced with an undeniable connection to Rumple, his story, and the Dark One. His quest to rid the world of that demon is intrinsically part of the story and the two characters remain fascinating foils. Two men with similarities and yet drastic differences. As for Rumple seeing his cruelty in the past contrasted with the hope and honest attempt to be courageous and the good man Belle longs for sets up the storyline that still continues on its heart wrenching, complex journey.
7. “Into the Deep” (Season 2, Episode 8)
The romantic and thrilling climatic episode before the end of season two’s first part was beautiful and evocative in its exploration the Netherworld – a door less room filled with fire and only accessible to those who have been under a sleeping curse. At first Henry and Aurora do the communicating but after it’s too dangerous for Henry and Aurora is kidnapped, the steadfast couple find each other in this world, gaining the knowledge they need for their quest, and discovering that because neither is really their true love’s kiss is impossible. But Charming’s beautiful vow that he believes she will succeed and wake him as he woke her demonstrates so exquisitely that faith and believe that only true love can inspire.
8. “And Straight on til Morning” (Season 2, Episode 3)
The finale of season two, much like season one, was a moving conclusion to season-long character arcs with the promise of so much more adventure to come. Regina had been struggling to be a better mother and person and stay on the good path and in the end is willing to sacrifice herself to save the town, Emma was doubting herself and having trouble opening up to people but in the end connected with Hook and offered him a chance to be a part of something, finally called her parents Mom and Dad, and believed that her magic was strong enough, along with Regina’s, and helped stop what would’ve destroyed Storybrooke. The heart-wrenching flashbacks to Hook with a Baelfire, wanting them to be a family, but unable to convince him and so letting Peter Pan’s Lost Boys take him were a wonderful contrast to him realizing that his revenge is empty, and after nearly leaving everyone to fend for themselves, deciding to turn his ship around and work toward being a part of something and a better man. All of these first step toward bravery and heroism were wonderful and the touching ends to this chapter of the story. With the beginning of the next chapter- the quest to save Henry in Neverland- our heroes board the Jolly Roger and as the ship disappears through a portal we are left wanting more. This is a way to keep your audience captivated!
9. “Manhattan” (Season 2, Episode 14)
A somber, heartrending and significant episode for Rumple and Emma’s characters, this revealed that Rumple’s long lost son Baelfire was also Emma’s first love Neal and Henry’s father. The complicated family tree and sad moments aside, what made this episode intriguing was seeing how much baggage these characters have, and the relatable issues that many families deal with despite the fantastical situations, from estrangement and lack of trust, to the hope for forgiveness. Seeing Emma’s pain was almost unbearable but a necessary step to her healing and moving on, while seeing the truth of why Rumple will forever walk with a cane was shocking. He was a coward and deserter but did it so he would not leave his son fatherless. Not condoning for understanding his behavior the moment Rumple holds his baby son for the first time was heartrending and demonstrated that despite everything his love for Bae is true.
10. “The Evil Queen” (Season 2, Episode 20)
The pinnacle episode before the end of the season was well balanced with really great moments such as Emma and Henry going on a stake out (they are adorable together), Hook and Regina going back-and-forth with their allegiances as he implores something very profound – the constant quest for revenge is the reason why so few care for them and it’s an end and not a beginning. Eventually your life will be empty. But the episode’s best and most poignant moment showcase that hope that it’s never too late to change as we see flashbacks between bandit Snow tending to Regina in disguise. Their relationship is complex but despite everything there is a genuine affection between them. Despite the episode’s sad ending for them we see that deep down Regina wants to atone for her sins and find a family again.