Once Upon a Time has always been a show that has put emphasis on holding hands and on hearts for all of the characters. But before Season 5 began I wrote here about just how much Emma and Killian’s journey put an emphasis on their hands and hearts entwined, symbolic motifs that bring great beauty to their story in emotional ways. So, it was unsurprising that in Season 5 this emphasis continued; but it also was truly amazing just how much this was intrinsically part of their character’s journeys for the season. Both aspects reflect that unity and connection between them in physical and spiritual ways and demonstrate the love that has blossomed into the rarest and truest forms, much like her parents. As I wrote, “Holding hands is a lovely sign of love and for Emma and Killian is unquestionable. But also undeniable is the emphasis on their hands that displays how these two characters are written specifically as meant to be joined together. [And] if the emphasis on Emma and Killian’s hands entwined was meant to show the connection they have in a physical way that is an emblematic sign of love, the way their hearts are entwined solidifies that their story is not only one of remarkable beauty, but also one that was always meant to be felt and seen by the characters and the audience.” From Camelot to Storybrooke to the Underworld, Emma and Killian’s journey in Season 5 was intense and poignant but only demonstrated further have these aspects entwined show how their characters are indelibly and irrevocably connected.
“Holding hands is a promise to one another that, just for a moment, the two of you don’t have to face the world alone.”
In 5×1 “The Dark Swan,” just after Killian was able to get through to Emma, he offers her his hand to show her just how they were able to reach her. And we see a front view of him walking with her hands entwined, a significant image as it is something that is repeated throughout the season, and a signifier that the season they will be holding onto each other and deeply connected.
Moreover, we see in the episode’s final scene in Camelot a close-up shot as Killian smiles at Emma and intertwines their fingers together, a sign of love and support that they will face this latest obstacle together. The first of the season, this close-up of their hands that has been seen frequently on their journey, continues this emphasis and establishes that it will remain an important element this season.
In 5×3 “Siege Perilous” we see another close-up as Emma holds out her hand to Killian and he cautiously takes it. The scene is fraught with heartache and angst but the image of their hands continues as we see that this was the real Emma reaching out to him. Her motives were murky but this was her wanting that real connection back with him.
The importance of touch and the way in which it shows support, love, and unity has been seen the past few seasons and was further established in 5×1 “The Dark Swan” and then exemplified in 5×4 “The Broken Kingdom.” As Emma shares her struggles with inner voices, Killian shares that he was able to purge demons on the calm deck of his ship. She caresses his hand as a sweet sign of empathy and holds it as Killian gets an idea on how to help her.
And after their horse ride that leaves her feeling lighter and free, (and was meant to get her heart racing) they walk hand-in-hand into the field of Middlemist flowers feeling less burdened, a beautiful and foreshadowing way of showing that they can overcome darkness when joined together with trust and understanding.
This sweet and profound affection, as well as the emphasis on their hands continues with them in 5×7 “Nimue,” with two close up shots of their hands in a single scene. Before Emma parts from Killian, one last step before they can destroy the darkness, he takes her hand asking her to be careful; and then gives a ring to help keep her safe and remind her of his love for her. By showing their hands clasped together again that motif continues of finding strength in unity.
By the next time we see their hands entwined in close up, Emma grasps Killian’s hand asking about their future as he lay dying in 5×8 “Birth”, while he is let go as long as she has one. It’s the first sign that they will have to both let go eventually to be able to come together again. And then they will hold onto each other and never let go again.
As Emma did in 5×3 “Siege Perilous,” in 5×10 “Broken Heart” she reaches out her hand for Killian seeking forgiveness and trust, this time Killian’s motives more murky. But make no mistakes their hands joined are meant to demonstrate their connection, as is the moment when we once again see them walking out of the forest hand-in-hand that has become their natural state. And even though darkness had begun to take over Killian, this image is a sign that it will not prevail – light will shine through once again.
“With these hands and these fingers, I will reach across, over, and under, or through anything that separates you from me. I will paint your face and neck with tenderness, I will coat you in calm. I will be everything you need because you are everything to me.”
– Tyler Knott Gregson
When Killian sacrifices his life in 5×11 “Swan Song” Emma holds his hand and doesn’t let go until the last possible the moment (something will see again) and it’s a heartbreaking image. Importantly, it’s a way of connecting this goodbye with another Emma and Killian are forced to face again.
In the Underworld rescue mission we see the emphasis much less, say for them standing with their hands together after Emma rescues him in 5×14 “Devil’s Due.”
Significantly, as a way of paralleling their goodbye in 5×11 “Swan Song” it’s in 5×20 “Firebird” that the emphasis returns significantly.
It was in the goodbye at the elevator that this prominence was so crucial, and the parallels with ‘Swan Song” were so poignant. They don’t truly want to let go but reality settles in with the heartbreaking realization that they cannot find a way to restore his life. Killian is able to accept it first but soon both must make their tearful farewells, bringing back the emphasis on their hands entwined. Their hearts may be breaking but their promises to each other are of selfless true love. As Emma ascends away from Killian he tenderly holds her hand and then reverently kisses it as a way of showing her that loving her was his life’s greatest honor. And as they hold on for as long as possible, Killian’s fingers grasping until he can no longer can, we bear witness to one of the most beautifully heart wrenching scenes of the series. They did not want to part from each other but the way they hold on until the last moment showcases that no matter what their connection will remain, if not in the physical sense then in the spiritual one. It was a way of demonstrating the way their characters are inherently entwined through their hearts.
What is remarkable about Season 5 in terms of the emphasis on hearts entwined is that for as much as we’ve seen this emphasized, Season 5 in a away had its main story revolve around Emma’s heart, and found a way of connecting that motif of the one of emphasized hands intertwined in really emotional and beautiful ways. Season 4 ended with Killian telling Emma he hoped it was his job to protect her heart, and we see now that was a prelude for what was to come.
That season focused on trying to protect the Savior’s heart from turning dark. While she did overcome that, in the end she still did, just in different way – by becoming the Dark One to save everyone’s lives. And Emma’s last moments with someone before she disappeared were with Killian, their hands entwined and placed over her heart. Just as she had instinctively placed her hand over Killian’s heart in a protective, loving manner ever since he had his heart returned (something that continues on), it now was Emma’s heart that was threatened. And Season 5 revolved so greatly around her heart – protecting it, preserving it, weighing it, willing to sacrifice it, and finally, her heart being completely open – all within a complex framework of both romantic and personal journeys for these characters.
Much like the scene in 2×9 “The Queen of Hearts,” in “The Dark Swan,” multiple hearts were threatened and saved. In this case it was both Merida’s and Emma’s. Emma, listening to the voice of Rumplestltskin thought her only option was to crush Merida’s heart. You could see her internal struggle manifested in a visual and physical way – something the show has always done. The way hearts are thought of in reality has a much more of an emotional bearing to us. They allow us to live but more so they are where our feelings reside, what allows us to love and guides our morals and acts combined with their minds. And on Once Upon a Time we see this manifested in physical ways. Evil deeds can turn a heart black, and a heart filled with true love can be shared with another. In this scene we see Emma’s new struggles with the dark curse, but with Killian’s wise words and her own strength, she gives Merida her heart back and keeps her own from giving into the darkness completely.
This scene is meant to be a direct contrast to Nimue and Merlin – all the ways they were not able to overcome the darkness, the ways in which love failed them, and that Nimue couldn’t resist the power. But Emma was able to succeed in ways she didn’t as we see in 5×7 “Nimue,” and she and Killian’s love was in and able to overcome the darkness, even if there was a struggle.
A small moment that represents that struggle was a very subtle one in “Siege Perilous.” When Emma and Killian are on the Jolly Roger you can see that she places her hand over his heart. She had been reaching out to him, and again here was the real Emma doing so – touching the heart she knows has been darkened because of her but still wants to protect and connect with. They’re both struggling in the moment to understand each other, and the time was not right yet.
What was emotional about the first half of Season 5 was that after spending so much effort to protect Emma’s heart from fully giving into the darkness, it was the love in her heart for Killian that led her to doing just that in order to save his life. The anger and turmoil in the episode “Broken Heart” was felt by both; Killian is heartbroken by Emma’s choice to turn him into the Dark One and her deception about Excalibur, both he felt were betrayals. Emma was heartbroken to see Killian let the darkness consume him and say harsh words to her. And yet hope wasn’t lost. Their hearts were broken but not shattered beyond repair. Killing refused to enact the dark curse and crush Emma’s heart, Emma refused to give up on him and took his memories determined to save both of their hearts in the end.
When we reach the midway part of Season 5 and onward it’s clear that Emma and Killian’s hearts will continue to be emphasized and remain connected, transcending the darkest of times and obstacles. In “Swan Song” both of their hearts are freed from the darkness with Killian’s heroic sacrifice. And from the way Emma holds his hand close to her heart refusing to let go, to her plan to march into the Underworld and share her heart to save his life, it solidified how their story truly is about their heart entwineds.
“And invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break.” – Chinese Proverb
What is, for lack of a better word, heart-wrenching was that even though they both love each other so deeply they were still astonished by how much. Killian especially had doubts of his worthiness and that Emma could love him so much. In “Devil’s Due” Killian looks awestruck that Emma plans to split her heart as she smiles lovingly assuring him that it will work. His reaction is of acceptance but still disbelief, which manages to change to one of hope and happiness in “Firebird” when Emma places her hand over his chest ready to give him half of her heart.
It doesn’t matter they were that they were not able to do so. It doesn’t matter that her physical heart could not restore his life, because as we see in “Devils Due,” “Firebird” and “Last Rites” it is that love that saves him in the way their hearts still indeed remain forever entwined. The moment Emma and Killian pass a test of true love was undeniably about both of their hearts in such a striking visual on its own, both looking onto the scale with her heart on one side. But true love is based on equality so it’s not any wonder why they proved their love is true by choosing each other in equal measure. It was touching to see Killian still wonder if the love they share is True- if weighing her heart will prove it once and for all. No matter what they are still willing to try because love is worth it. What was moving was that it was not about simply weighing her heart – it was about her willingness to sacrifice it and his willingness to let himself be engulfed in flames to protect it. They are both in excruciating pain but chose to save each other over themselves – that is the measure of true love.
Emma’s heart may night not have physically saved Killian’s life but the spiritual way their hearts are connected, (something that has been developing since the beginning), most certainly did. She has saved his life many times, but none more so than by offering him a chance to be a part of something and inspiring him to be the man he always wanted to be – the man he truly is. And he saved her by his constancy and patience that allowed her to trust again. And they saved each other by reawakening each other’s hearts to the kind of feelings neither thought they would or were going to allow themselves to feel. But when you meet the right person all the things you thought impossible can come true.
What is truly beautiful is that like Snow and Charming, they felt that connection before they knew the love they shared was True. Their hearts are connected in spiritual ways as Emma can sense Killian’s presence when she was close to rescuing him. But even more remarkable was after Emma had to leave him behind – they still could feel what they were going through, not only transcending realms but also death. Emma could feel his pain and that he could not move on and Killian could not because he knew Emma was still in danger. And when they were able to work together, despite being physically separated, Killian just felt she had done what she needed to do – their hearts undeniably are connected.
And so brings us to the end of Season 5 where it’s clear that just as we’ve seen all season and beyond, these aspects entwined are an undeniable part of their story. After their joyful reunion in 5×21 “Last Rites,” the very first shot of them in the finale is a close-up of their entwined hands as they walked down the street towards Granny’s.
And when they are back in each other’s arms at the end of episode, Emma embraces Killian, puts her hand over his heart and as they again begin to walk towards Granny’s, they instantaneously intertwine their fingers. It’s become so natural and an instinctual gesture between them almost as if it’s second nature.
And in this moment we see how both of these motifs are connected. For as they walk hand-in-hand, a symbol of their unbreakable bond as they face the world together, Emma says that after going through so much she wants to tell him something when they’re not in the middle of a battle and neither of them is facing death – when things are just normal. And then Emma tells Killian and she loves him. It’s not a new declaration but the emotional meaning behind it is. For the first time she was able to tell him she loves him in a moment of peace and normalcy. But importantly it’s an “I Love You” where not only both of their hearts are completely free from darkness or pain for the first time all season, but also that Emma’s heart is completely open. It already was open to love but was still filled with fears and burdens. Now her armor is off and she’s no longer afraid to express herself solely in life or death moments. It can simply be in a happy moment because she wants to. Holding each other’s hands, their hearts completely open, they kiss each other as they’ve never done before, Killian lifting her up in joy and bliss.
Hand in hand, one heart beat at a time, these entities will forever be entwined as Emma and Killian are ready to face a bright and happy future together.