Hello Oncers! As I said in this post here I will be celebrating Once Upon a Time reaching 100 episodes with a series of posts highlighting the best of our beloved show. This first one is the Best Underrated episodes. These are ones that are excellent and worthy of praise but episodes that often overlooked and rarely discussed, especially when speaking about the best of the series. Here are my top picks in underrated gems.
1.”The Shepherd” (Season 1, Episode 6)
The very first backstory for Charming/David’s character is also one of the best. As is often the case for his centrics and his character, David is underrated and overlooked, but “The Shepherd” is a wonderful episode. Touching and engaging, the present day drama explores the tension between David and Mary-Margaret wanting to be together, with David’s confusion, weakness and altered memories getting in the way, contrasted with Enchanted Forest David, thrust into a new life, finding his courage, and slaying a dragon. This episode also featured one of the show’s most unexpected twists (David has a half-brother named James who was slain in battle), and one of the sweetest relationships that is rarely talked about- David and his mother. The moment he must say goodbye to her is very moving, and overall this episode established what makes the real Prince Charming such an amazing character: that his goodness and integrity do not come from some idealized arcetype but rather from a very real and believable place.
2.”A Curious Thing” (Season 3, Episode 19)
Romantic, surprising and exciting, “A Curious Thing” came at a crucial point in the season before the arc came to a close. The tension and drama were high as our heroes try their best to discover Zelena’s plans and had to rescue Henry when Killian tried to protect him by helping him leave Storybrooke and they were attacked. When episodes always manage to bring unexpected and beautiful moments especially for many characters it’s a treat. We witnessed the amazing moment of Henry regaining his memories and belief thanks to the Storybook, Regina giving him true love’s kiss and breaking the curse, and a moment where Emma expressed that she felt she could not trust Killian. Sad as this last one was it was necessary to move Emma towards the end of the season when she realizes all he has done for her and opens her heart. Speaking of hearts, nothing was as romantic as one of the most beautiful moments ever for Snow and Charming. Not only was it poignant to see them physically share a heart but it was also touching seeing the shift and trust and friendship between the couple and Regina, and the unfailing believe expressed by Snow. She believed her heart was strong enough to be shared and her faith proved true when her husband’s life was restored, solidifying how strong true love really is.
3.”The Snow Queen” (Season 4, Episode 7)
Well-balanced and poignant, this backstory for Ingrid’s Snow Queen was one of the best ever for a villain on the show as we see her feel completely isolated and living her life in fear; and when she accidentally kills her sister, her devastation is so heartbreaking and there has rarely been a more sympathetic moment for any villain on the show. Ingrid’s fears of her powers parallel what many in Storybooke were going through most especially Emma’s whose powers go awry and Regina and Robin who could not deny their feelings for each other. And what this explored was the lovely theme that we should not be afraid of our feelings – there is no need to conceal and not feel. Be open and honest, do not be afraid, and when a loved one reaches out their hand, always take it.
4.”Red-handed” (Season 1, Episode 15)
Clever puns notwithstanding, Once Upon a Time has always been known for taking classic fairytales and turning them on their heads. This episode was the first twist that completely floored me. The original “Little Red Riding Hood” fairytale is a cautionary story to be leery of strangers and predators. So, Ruby being the wolf was a brilliant new spin, instead showcasing that theme again of finding out who we are and finding the courage to be true to that. Aesthetically gorgeous in flashbacks (her red cloak contrasted against the white snow is stunning), sweet in its establishing of the Red and Snow friendship, gripping in its mystery, and touching with Ruby and Granny finding love and understanding from each other, this episode is one of the most overlooked of the series.
5.”Siege Perilous” (Season 5, Episode 3)
Another Charming centric episode – a commonality on this list for the unappreciated character – what made this episode so great was not only the storylines involving David but also Emma, Killian, Robin, Snow and Arthur. As is often the case in episodes with David’s character, a prescient theme is showcased with poignant results, we are treated to exciting action sequences, and in the end David continues to live up to his princely name. As David and Arthur go on journeys in the past and the present we learn the timeless lesson that we must never give up even when we fail and that sometimes it’s continuing to fight after the failure that is the true measure of our character. Despite Arthur’s ulterior motives, David earned his seat at the Roundtable, as well as his hero status and Snow’s eyes because he continues to fight for his daughter. This theme applies to the poignant moments for Emma and Killian when she re-creates their first date and he uttered those heartbreaking words “I loved you.” But neither give up on each other and we see just how much their true selves mean to one another when he tells her that he liked her walls and being the one to bring them down. Lastly, the levity brought to the episode by the new friendship between Robin and Killian was fantastic and something I’d love to see continue.
6.”What Happened to Frederick” (Season 1, Episode 13)
One of the series’ most beautiful and iconic lines, and one of my personal favorites, is heard in this in episode that does what Season 1 so famously embodied: a flashback that demonstrated a truth about the story and character contrasted with present-day struggles due to the dark curse personas, all while Emma continues on her journey of belief. While we see the beginning of Emma’s friendship with August with talk beside a wishing well about magic, it importantly showed Emma skeptical but not closed off. And David’s journey to help reunite Abigail with her true love Frederick not only resulted in an amazing scene where a siren image of Snow tempts him until he overcomes this, but also a poignant one as he says he wants the real thing or nothing else. Here we witness one of the show’s most constant and romantic themes: “True Love isn’t easy, but it must be fought for. Because once you find it, it can never be replaced.”
7.”In the Name of the Brother” (Season 2, Episode 12)
In one of the most unexpected episodes of the series we finally saw a proper backstory for Dr. Whale – first hinted at in “The Doctor” – with the inspired and brilliant choice for his land to literally be in black and white. They create an evocative, noirish Victorian setting, and a heartbreaking tragedy of Victor Frankenstein, losing his brother and father because of his choices. And the result is fantastic! For an episode to be focused so heavily on a guest character,the story must be gripping and Whale’s tragic past, and present day triumphs thanks to the sweet, burgeoning friendship and understanding with Ruby, created one of the most unique episodes of the series. And who doesn’t love the tense back-and-forth between Emma and an injured Hook, from him calling her beautiful, despite being hit by a car, to their conversation in his hospital room where you see that she does not condone his actions but still has a hint of sympathy in her eyes. It was only the beginning.
8.”Dreamy” (Season 1, Episode 14)
The story behind how the grumpiest of dwarfs got his name is one of the sweetest, saddest, and most under-appreciated episodes of the series. For one thing, it was so delightfully inventive learning how dwarfs hatched from eggs as adults,were meant for one purpose, and given their names by the one that appears on their chosen pickax. Seeing that Grumpy was once “Dreamy” was surprising and seeing the sweet and unlikely love story with a fairy named Nova, and how they did not have a happy ending was actually pretty heartbreaking. A broken heart made him grumpy, but as we continue to witness the dynamic themes of identity, we see we are not defined by singular things. He may be “Grumpy,” but Leroy still has kindness in him as we see in the past and more importantly in the present, as not even the curse could stop his inherit goodness. Despite some grumbling, he helped the nuns, in particular Astrid (the fairy Nova) and Mary Margaret during the Miner’s Day festival. I hope that in the end Leroy and Astrid get their happy ending.
9.”We Are Both” (Season 2, Episode 2)
What makes this episode so great is its unique structure, development of relationships not often discussed or highlighted, and fantastic moments in that they bring forth one of the most constant and profound themes of the series. This is one of the few times Emma’s character is seen but for moment, so it would take a lot to make up for a favorite character not being on screen. But what we saw was engaging and poignant. These were some of Regina’s best flashbacks to her young and not evil self simply wanting to escape her mother’s plans while the allure and feel of magic put her on the first step towards a dark path. But in the present while we saw some similarities in Regina’s behavior, mirroring her mother in trying to get control Henry (this was crucial in her present learning how to be a better mom ), the main story was not hers but rather David’s as he dealt with town chaos, taking care of Henry, and tracking down Jefferson, determined to reach Snow and Emma. This different structure was refreshing as we see the sweet relationships developed between him and his grandson and his friend Ruby, two relationships that are wonderful but not often discussed. But it was his impassioned speech at the town line about how “we are both” that truly made the episode. It was a moving example of what the show always exemplifies about the human condition: we all have light and dark, moments of weakness and moments of strength, triumphs and mistakes; but it is remembering that and striving to be our best selves while accepting our flaws that make us who we are. And delivered by David, we, and the town, were inspired.
10.”Family Business” (Season 4 Episode 6)
This episode is perhaps my favorite of Belle’s adventures because it showcased new layers for her character and some of DeRavin’s best acting, not to mention giving the audience the necessary cues to see the inevitability of the rift between Belle and Rumple, as well as lovely quiet moments for Emma and Killian and Regina and Robin. Getting better upon multiple viewings, the rapport between Belle and Anna was natural and sweet. We expect Belle to always do the right thing, so seeing her have a moment where she did not – where she acted selfishly and someone suffered – made her more human, but also ever more likable when her guilt makes her work so hard to right her wrongs and be honest. Her worst fears reflected back in the Snow Queen’s mirror was so chilling it’s too bad we do not see this more characters. Lastly, moments of bravery for Belle and the quieter moments for the two couples may not have been earth shattering but were lovely in their simplicity: Robin unable to forget his love for Regina and her trying to do the right thing, Belle courageously realizing that sometimes we may must sacrifice everything to save those we love, and Emma discovering Ingrid saved things from her childhood while Killian provides the understanding shoulder as someone who knows wounds made when we are young can often linger. Such simple but profound truths delivered beautifully.