Once Upon a Time 100th Episode Celebration: Top 10 Best Season 4 Episodes

season 4

Season 4 of Once Upon a Time was one of my personal favorites, and although it is a bit divisive, it is also all around excellent and one of the best. While the second half had some slow and muddled bits, there were some amazing episodes and one truly stellar ending. And while technically the Frozen arc consisted of potentially” too much” screen time for the guest stars, these characters were also so fantastic and the overall story so well paced and moving that even with the rushed ending, it was one of the overall best arcs of the series. I loved Season 4 to pieces. Here are the best of the bunch.

1. “Operation Mongoose” (Season 4, Episode 21/22)

Much like the season 3 finale, season 4 ended on an emotional high note, taking our characters to new places and giving each poignant and truly gripping material while allowing our actors to explore new territory. It was eerie seeing Storybrooke empty except for Henry while everyone was transported into Isaac’s alternate fairytale universe. Literally inside a book (how cool is that), I loved seeing Henry in hero mode working to make sure everything was set right in this topsy-turvy world. And how wonderful was it to see our characters in these reversed roles – Snow and Charming as the Evil Queen and Huntsman, Regina the bandit running for her life, Robin Hood about to marry Zelena, Rumple as the “Light One,” married to Belle and a great hero, Killian as a lowly and meek deckhand, with only Emma retaining her memories, but trapped in a tower, powerless and nearly going mad. What was moving was seeing their true hearts emerge in their interactions with Henry, especially Regina and Killian. The adventure Henry and Killian go on to rescue Emma resulted in some of the most fairytale moments ever as the two captain a ship together, while Emma and her Killian show not only the undeniable true love connection between them in their fourth “first meeting” with Emma looking at him with all the love and adoration in the world and Killian completely awestruck and speechless, but also their ability to always make quite the team as the two literally slay a dragon together. His shyness is endearing as she teaches him to sword fight, and the true courage that emerges from him truly moving as he sacrifices himself to save Emma and Henry. And despite barely knowing Henry, Regina also sacrifices herself for him, choosing to save his life rather than stop Robin’s wedding in a very powerful moment, of motherly love, and romantic connection when Robin holds her hand and promises she won’t die alone. These scenes of heroism were beautiful and matched by Henry taking Isaac’s pen and becoming the next author. In the end it was the truest believer who saved everyone and restored the characters back to normal. Of course, as is always the case, it was Emma’s journey for the season that also came to a beautiful conclusion, culminating in such a dramatic and gripping way that left us in tears. From Emma learning to truly understand and forgive her parents, to opening her heart without fear, and the threat of her turning dark, “Operation Mongoose” centered around all these aspects, especially her love for Killian and fear of telling him “I love you.” The pain of losing him in the alternate universe was potent, her joy in finding him alive beautiful, and heart ache when she finally tells him those words poignant and she sacrifices herself and becomes the new Dark One. This was one of the best endings of a season ever as she disappears and all that is left is the dagger with her name engraved upon it. That’s taking dramatica cliffhanger to a new level.

2. “Fall” (Season 4, Episode 9)

One of the best episodes in terms of giving every single character a moment of real emotional poignancy in an engaging and lovely story, “Fall” is the type of episode that demonstrates how special the series is. Fast-moving in a race against the clock, our heroes prepare for Ingrid’s spell of “Shattered Sight” which will turn them into their worst selves, while in Arendelle, Anna and Kristoff are captured by Blackbeard and thrown into the sea. Moments of villainy and true love were so effective and moving and had us gasping, crying and completely captivated. Blackbeard and Hans were so great at their dastardly villainy, while Rumple so despicable as he forces Killian, whose heart he controls, to trap the fairies in the Sorcerer’s hat and thwart the heroes’ their plants to stop the spell. And the love filled moments were nothing short of breathtaking and thoroughly heartwarming: Regina and Robin sharing a lovely goodbye wanting to remember this moment as true, real, and filled with looks of love, Elsa and Anna’s strong sisterly bond with Elsa’s wish to find her sister being so pure it miraculously reunites them, Anna and Kristoff swearing their love, hands clasped believing they’re about to drown, Emma and Killian saying goodbye in a heart wrenching moment with Killian believing it to be for the last time, kissing her as he never has before and Emma proving how love can make you brave and change you for the better as she becomes a “tearful goodbye kiss person.” and finally Snow and David not only demonstrating unfailing faith in their love for each other, but also in Emma’s ability to always succeed. The episode flies by and the ending montage with the emotional musical score was the perfect example of how Once Upon a Time can be so beautiful aesthetically and dramatically. And the final shot of Snow and David as their expressions change from love to utter disdain was absolutely chilling!

3. “Poor Unfortunate Soul” (Season 4, Episode 15)

Episodes with Killian back stories are always thoroughly profound and captivating, but what makes this episode so special was that in addition to intriguing flashbacks that complemented the present perfectly, the drama in Storybrooke was fast-paced, well-balanced, and featured some of the best character moments and expressions of profound themes of series. In the past we see how much Killian’s code of honor meant to him and that his soul could be soothed from heart ache, but that, unlike the present where he has true love in his life, in the past we see how tragically his quest for revenge and no one to inspire him leads him to go back on his word to Ursula, stealing her singing voice. But in the present he wants to make amends and help restore her happy ending which will also help and their fight against Gold and the other Queens of Darkness. The reappearance of characters like August and Ariel, which were lovely and revealed truths about the right way to get a happy ending and the power of believing in yourself, and gave us scenes of unexpected profundity and sweetness. Seeing Emma reunite with her friend August was so heartwarming as was the one where Killian brings Poseidon back to Ursula and her singing voice is restored. It was a beautiful expression of how bad choices can be rectified, forgiveness is always possible, as well as redemption, especially when you realize the error of your ways. But it was a moment of pure vulnerability and heart between Killian and Emma that provided not only the episode’s best moment, but one of the show’s finest ever. When Killian tells Emma she is his happy ending, both are so overcome with emotion over the brevity of his meaning, Killian letting out a small breath of emotion and a single tear falling from Emma’s cheek as they slowly kiss. It was a moment of beautiful perfection that is the epitome of true love.

4. “The Apprentice” (Season 4, Episode 4)

This episode was a beautiful gift. Not only were we treated to Emma and Killian finally going on their first date, but also heartwarming Charming Family moments, the fantastic dynamic between perpetual foils Killian and Rumplestilskin, and a fantastic flashback for Anna and Rumple that established a poignant theme that has continued ever since. Of all the wonderful Frozen characters, Anna was my personal favorite and she was given so much wonderful comedic and dramatic material. This episode showcased this in abundance in the significant flashback with Rumple and the Sorcerer’s apprentice which solidified that theme that “love is a weapon.” What was moving was seeing that even after Rumple used her love for Elsa against her, she was able to get the best of him. It was a striking parallel to present day Storybrooke where Rumple uses Killian’s love for Emma and desire to be good enough for her against him. Killian may have blackmailed Rumple to get his hand back but his motivations were heart-wrenching – if Emma wants him to, he would like to be able to hold her with both hands. So seeing his fear that his hand was cursed was actually heartbreaking not because he loses it once again, but that it stems from a place of insecurity. But for the happier parts of the episode – the parts where dreams were made a reality- there was nothing but beautiful sweetness and heart. It was so lovely seeing Snow and David’s dream of sending their daughter to a ball come true as they watch Emma prepare for her date, waiting up to hear all about it. Seeing Emma and Killian being able to enjoy time just for themselves on a date with flirtatious smiles, hand holding, jacket sharing, and a spine tingling romantic goodnight kiss that left them both breathless was a real gift. For Killian it was moving that his desire to be able to hold her the way he surely always wanted to came true, brief as it was, and for Emma it was so poignant to see her finally be able to have a night off without having to think of danger or villains, but also that she finally has found someone that she feel safe enough to be vulnerable with and express her softer and romantic side, seen in the beautiful pink dress she wears. When she’s back home and must compose herself for a moment, it was clear she had fallen completely in love – and everything changed. 

5. “White Out” (Season 4, Episode 2)

The best centric for Prince Charming is the sweet-hearted and light (comparatively speaking) episode which showcases the importance of friendship, family, never giving up, and living a life with no regrets. As I have said, there’s something about David’s character that always brings forth important things for the series and lessons we can all learn from an aspire to in our own lives. Seeing that David was not always so confident and stalwart in his beliefs because of the loss of his father and the torturing of the warlord Bo Peep, and that he learned not only how to sword fight but also how to fight back in life from Anna was so moving and special and the perfect example of how to include a new character into the framework of the existing story, giving new layers to the characters we already love. Seeing David find his courage in the past was the perfect parallel to David and Killian working together to save Emma after Elsa accidentally traps them in an ice cave. We see the continued friendship between the two men, who despite the uniqueness of the relationship and David’s protectiveness over a “pirate “dating his daughter, work perfectly together – as well as brothers. The friendship formed for Anna and David helped him find the person that was in there all along, while Elsa and Emma formed an instant kindred bond over shared experiences, which was something Emma really needed in her life. It was an episode all about those bonds that change us and finding the inner strength we may not have to have believed we have. Snow was able to restore power to Storybrooke all on her own, and Elsa, who insisted she needed her sister to help control her magic, was able to free her new friend. And for Emma and Killian who had just begun their relationship they pass that first threshold of intimacy in beautiful ways as we see Killian’s desperation to break through the ice to her, their joint relief when they cling to each other after she is saved, and newfound closeness as they hold hands and seek comfort in each other’s arms. They were becoming everything to each other and as David says that their family never gives up and vows to find Elsa’s sister, we see that all of these characters have formed a beautiful new familial bond that has only grown stronger ever since.

6. “Smash the Mirror” (Season 4, Episode 8)

This exciting two-part episode was the centerpiece of the arc and moved the story and characters in intense dramatic directions not only for the story, but as individual characters. Perhaps the scenes were long, but the flashbacks in Arendelle were necessary and captivating as Elsa and Anna’s bond is shattered by Ingrid’s evil spell and we discover the missing pieces to how Elsa found herself trapped in the urn and in Rumple’s possession. The Storybrooke drama was a mixture of so much: hopeful romance as Robin and Regina bask in the afterglow of their first night together and discover an alternate page of the storybook that gives them a new found sense of hope for a happy ending together, family drama as Snow and Charming battle their consciences and wanting to make sure their daughter is happy while ultimately realizing, with a touching self-aware confession by Regina, that you should never let your children give up that what makes them special and who they are. There were also heart wrenching confessions and attempts at rescue as Killian leaves a tearful voicemail for Emma, admitting his mistakes with Rumple, hoping she never forgives and because it would mean she is safe, and villainy as Rumple stops him from coming to her rescue by taking his heart – a key ingredient he needs for ultimate power from the Sorcerer’s hat. But it was Emma’s journey of self acceptance that was the most significant and touching moment as she contemplates getting rid of her magic forever to protect her loved ones from getting hurt. And when she really needed a friend, Elsa was there, her hand outstretched without fear who helps Emma learn not to be afraid of herself, to accept her magic – a metaphor for us to accept ourselves as we truly are. When she saves herself from making a grave decision our tears were matched by Emma’s, and her joys were matched by the passionate kiss Killian gives her, and in the hugs and smiles on her family’s faces when they find her safe. Like her true love, she was on her way of being a fan of every part of herself and the look of pride and glee at her creating a magical display of fireworks was as beautiful an expression on her face as we have ever seen.

7. “Unforgiven” (Season 4, Episode 12)

It is always a treat to see more of Snow and Charming in their days as newlyweds paralleled with them dealing with something in Storybrooke, because it’s often displayed that no matter what they are doing, they are doing it together. Whether their decisions are good or misguided they always come around to the better path, standing side by side to give support. This half of the season began with the threat of Emma’s heart turning dark and the mystery of a great secret the Charming’s were keeping from their daughter. The fact that they went to extremes to keep Emma light, and that they were responsible for Maleficent losing her child was shocking as they are the epitome a virtue. But it gave them new depth as it showed that even the finest people can make a mistake. But “Unforgiven” is also filled with so many more golden moments: Ursula and Cruella chewing up the scenery with their comedic villainy, Regina sharing a true and moving moment of contrition with Marco, and after Killian is afraid to tell Emma the truth about his ugly past with Ursula, she tells him she believes in the man he is now, and two promise to always see the best in each other. As the show ends with the kind of evocative montage that Once does so exquisitely, we see how far our characters have gone, Snow’s voice over providing the poignancy of the scene as we see Henry hopeful, Rumple devastated, and Emma and Killian beaming and as happy as we’ve ever seen. This episode hit all the right emotional notes.

8. “Rocky Road” (Season 4, Episode 3)

New engaging characters, romantic confessions, and moments of intrigue and mystery surrounding Ingrid’s Snow Queen, this episode so wonderful. From seeing the perfect characterizations of Elsa and Kristoff becoming friends, to Elsa and Killian sharing a mutual concern for Emma and desire to find out exactly who the Snow Queen is, to Regina probably promising she’ll help unfreeze Marion but Robin confessing that he truly loves Regina, to Emma revealing to Killian she was pulling away for fear of losing him and him promising he is a survivor, all our characters were on a rocky road of love and discovery that was heartfelt and a joy to watch. With the introduction to one of the most chilling villains ever, the mystery of her identity was set up perfectly leaving the audience wondering what exactly were her motivations. This is an all-around terrific episode.

9. “Sympathy for the DeVil” (Season 4, Episode 18)

If an episode is going to focus heavily on a guest star then it must be interesting and compelling in order to keep our interest. Normally I find the episodes with the main cast focused on as the best. But there are certain episodes that stand out in dynamic ways. Such is the case with “Sympathy for the Devil.” I loved Cruella from the first moment she appeared on screen, and her backstory was fantastic in every way. Completely unique and unlike anything we’ve ever seen on the show, the 1920’s Gatsby-esque, Art Deco world she lives in was a glittering, champagne soaked, jazzy delight. And the way the episode was filmed was reminiscent of a noir film from the 1940s that would have starred Humphrey Bogart or Veronica Lake. This was not a fairytale but that’s what makes it all the more fascinating to watch as we see one of the best twists on the show ever – not only that she is just inherently evil and psychotic for no reason whatsoever, but also that she, thanks to Isaac’s quick thinking, was not able to kill anyone, making the moment Emma kills her to save Henry’s life all the more dramatic. The look on Emma’s face after that moment was chilling and the perfect ending to a deliciously dark episode.

10. “A Tale of Two Sisters” (Season 4, Episode 1)

An absolutely sweet and lovely introduction to what we now dub the “Frozen Arc,” the beginning of season 4 began with a well-balanced, light episode where all of the characters had moments of touching emotion. The backstory of Anna and Elsa in Arendelle could not have been more delightful as they seem to have leapt from the film and into the Once universe, and our hearts, with beautiful ease. Regina was heartbroken that Robin’s wife was back but it established her journey that would take the whole season of her discovering the right way to find her happy ending, as well as Emma being a good and forgiving person and sincerely offering her a sense of sisterly friendship. Even though in the end Rumple cannot resist the allure of power once again, the iconic Beauty and the Beast dance which were re-created in a truly beautiful way, surely made Rumbelle fans cry. And lastly, it was a delight to see, after sharing a moment of love and a passionate kiss, Emma and Killian try to discuss the relationship amidst snow monsters and long-lost wives of friends resurrected from the dead! When Emma kisses him,  asking him to “be patient” you can see she is almost ready to take that next step, but a fear is holding her back, and that she is thankful to have someone who will not only wait but can recognize there is something else going on inside her heart. Of course this was also a humorous wink to the audience asking us to “be patient” with their relationship, which has always been developing slowly and steadily. But that is what makes it all the more special.

 

Once Upon a Time 100th Episode Celebration: Top 10 Best Season 3 Episodes

season 3

Season 3 of Once Upon a Time is one of the best of the series with both arcs being captivating and moving as we were treated to new lands, fantastic villains, growth from our characters, and so much heart in terms of romance and family relationships. Moments that had us opening weeping as well as moments that had us smiling endlessly, Season 3 was remarkable in every way and still includes the best episode the series has ever created. Here are the best from this magical season.

1. “Snow Drifts/There’s No Place Like Home” (Season 3, Episode 21/22)

If any episode of Once Upon a Time could be described as perfect, it would be the two-part season 3 finale. An epic, romantic, exquisitely poignant fairytale adventure if there ever was one, it had everything: time travel, sword fights, romantic waltzes, intrigues, a wedding, and magic, with true love once again prevailing. Creator Eddy Kitsis called this episode “wish fulfillment” and indeed this stunning conclusion to the season was like a dream come true. There were countless amazing moments: we see the first meeting of Snow and Charming interrupted but Emma and Hook working to make sure things are restored to normal, showing the couple still falling in love in very much the same way, and proving that some things are meant to be. Emma entering the fairy tale world, experiencing things she’s never done in her life was very significant, and witnessing her parents fall in love mirroring her own heart as she was opening up to Hook. Their adventures brought them closer together in truly extraordinary moments from Emma seducing a past Captain Hook, to which he punches this version of himself, to him teaching her to waltz, to him lending a shoulder and understanding ear and she realizes how much your parents mean to her and that Storybrooke is her home. And indeed magic as glorious Emma’s was created. Every character had their time to shine in truly delightful ways: Rumpelstiltskin in his hilarious, impish self contrasting with his softer (albeit still deceitful) but sincere marriage vows to Belle, as well as Regina in her evil queen grandeur showing just how far she has come especially in finding happiness as she rejoices in her time with Robin Hood. The true love couple montage at the end of the episode was poignant and truly beautiful with each vow reflecting what our characters have gone through on their journeys toward love. For Emma and Hook, the moment he revealed he traded his ship for her was an exquisitely moving scene and it demonstrated the great beauty of true love. Emma’s journey has been a long one and her walls were a mile high. But with a single word her walls came tumbling down as the two share the most beautiful kiss the show has ever seen. He gave up his home to bring her back to hers and in a show about shared hearts and true love’s kiss this moment of sincerity and love was just as pure and magical. This episode fulfilled that theme Once Upon a Time demonstrates so perfectly: true love is indeed the most powerful magic of all. And there has never been a more magical episode.

2.  “New York City Serenade”  (Season 3, Episode 12)

The mid season premiere of season 3 was one of the most different and yet beautifully familiar episodes ever. With significant and lovely parallels to the “Pilot,” this episode reinvigorated series in such a dynamic way and it was fantastic to watch. With flashbacks to our heroes just after they’ve been transported back to the Enchanted Forest, we see how far they’ve come especially for Regina, Snow and Charming. As they work their way back to their home united and determined, we bear witness to the wonderful, hopeful new chance at love when Regina meets the dashing outlaw Robin Hood as well as the truly touching moment where Regina and Snow share the heartache of leaving their children behind. The present-day scenes of Hook finding Emma in New York City were equally fantastic – amusing in their fish out of water scenario, and poignant in the undeniable connection we see between them in the moment where she takes the leap of faith, trusts him, and has her memories restored. And in the journey back home to Storybrooke complete with dialogue, music, and camera angles that perfectly parallel the “Pilot,” we see that just like her other true love Henry, Hook was bringing her back to Storybrooke with the hope of breaking the curse, but was actually bringing her home. This episode was amazing in every way.

3. “Going Home” (Season 3, Episode 11)

Tied with “Swan Song” as the episode that has made me cry the most, the dramatic and heart-wrenching finale to the first half of season 3 gave every character significant moments both in flashbacks and present-day Storybrooke as our heroes tried to stop Peter Pan and his dark curse that threatened their lives. From the flashbacks of Snow and Charming recalling the days before the first dark curse choosing to have hope that everything will be okay, to Rumple lighting a candle for Baelfire’s birthday, to Hook meeting Tinkerbell in Neverland claiming that he’d risk his life for love or revenge, and Henry first receiving the storybook from Mary Margaret sparking that belief in hope and his quest towards finding Emma, all of these flashbacks reflected the present day drama in profound ways. Rumple made the ultimate sacrifice fulfilling his arc for this half of the season, laying down his life most especially for Neal and Belle but saving everyone from Peter Pan. Regina had to say goodbye to Henry to stop the curse and in Henry’s eyes the woman was no longer a villain but simply his mother and she was able to spare Henry and Emma from the curse with the gift of new and happy memories but ones that erased Storybrooke and the memories of all them from their minds. In these moments where Emma said goodbye to her friends, to Hook who promised to think of her every day, and finally, with a heavy heart, to her parents, I openly wept as they crossed that town line and our fairytale tale heroes and Storybrooke vanished in a cloud of magic. And in a pure stroke of unexpected genius, when  I saw the one year flash forward to Emma and Henry in New York City with Hook showing up at her door, trying True Love’s Kiss to restore her memories, I literally lept from my seat, my heart so full after having been broken moments before. It was a perfect representation of the theme to never lose hope and that no matter the distance,  love will always find you.

4. “Good Form” (Season 3, Episode 5)

This episode truly had it all in terms of new and fantastic dynamics being explored, heart, unexpected moments, and flashbacks that not only informed what was going on in the present but also helped delve deeper into a character and indeed the over arching story. It was wonderful to see “Team Mom” working together – essentially three generations of family doing anything to get a message to Henry – to give him hope and let him know they were coming for him in “Operation Cobra Rescue.” Equally fantastic was Hook and David traveling to Dead Man’s Peak to retrieve a sextant, while in truth it being a quest to the magical water to cure David dreamshade poisoning. The reluctant alliance soon turns to mutual understanding and an unlikely but real friendship was formed. It was a poignant parallel to the flashbacks to not Captain Hook, but the true man he is. Lieutenant Killian Jones was sweet, earnest, and honorable, worshiped his brother Liam, and wanted to be a hero. Seeing shades of this his brother in David no doubt motivated Killian as well as wanting to save him Emma’s sake. It was heartbreaking to see how Liam died in his arms and that his path towards piracy was the result of the loss of love and betrayal from a corrupt king. These flashbacks were not only engaging, wonderful drama but perfectly established the idea of the longing to be a hero even if you’ve faltered along the way. Honor remained in Killian as he saved David’s life and respected his wishes for discretion about the truth of his condition. But he’s also has evolved and the cheeky charmer cannot help but flirt and ask Emma for a kiss, no doubt never believing she actually would do so. And what a kiss it was! Passionate and intense, it was the result of the pent up sexual tension between them with genuine feelings being revealed as the two are completely overwhelmed after their amorous moment. Emma and Hook, and indeed the show, have not looked back since.

5. “Ariel” (Season 3, Episode6)

The Little Mermaid was my favorite Disney film as a child so I was so excited to see Once Upon a Time’s take on the iconic character. And they did not disappoint. Not only did Joanna Garcia Swisher’s characterization perfectly capture  Ariel’s sweetness, spunk, and romantic sensibilities, but she beautifully reflected what our characters were experiencing in Neverland. In the past, Snow helps Ariel find her courage to go after love, even if she is afraid because love is always worth the risk; she also proved to be a a kind, selfless soul choosing friendship and saving Snow’s life over the chance to be with Eric. These flashbacks were whimsical and lovely with a tinge of heartache when Ariel reaches Eric and is unable to speak. It was an effective and moving parallel to our heroes journey to rescue Neal in the Echo Cave where they had to reveal their darkest secret – where their voices were what was necessary. These confessions were some of the most heartrending of the series, each of which were profound and affecting for everyone but especially Emma and her journey of love, forgiveness, and healing. From David’s tearful secret about his fate, to Snow revealing how much she loves Emma but desires to have another baby to experience what she missed with her daughter, to Hook confessing that their kiss revealed that he never thought he could let go of his first love and move on until he met Emma, and finally to Emma telling Neal she had hoped him being alive had been a trick, this heart-wrenching confession that his death would be easier to move on from rather facing all their pain again. These confessions were undeniably dramatic and compelling and irrevocably changed everything for our characters.

6. “Dark Hollow”  (Season 3, Episode 7)

One of the most complimentary, fast-moving, and well-balanced episodes of the series, “Dark Hollow” finally brought the action back to Storybrooke after a long absence, with events happening concurrently with the events in Neverland – a type of timeline rarely seen on the show. Ariel and Belle work together to retrieve Pandora’s box proving crucial in the “Nevengers” quest to defeat Pan and proving that quick thinking, cleverness, and compassion and understanding are just as important as physical strength. I loved their scenes and the friendship they formed. Meanwhile in Neverland, the heroes all split up with different tasks, but meaningful truths were revealed. Snow finally expressed her anger towards David, while he admitted his fears and contrition as the two were reminded that they must always be honest and believe in their love and each other. Truth of the heart also embodied the trek Emma, Hook, and Neal made to Dark Hollow to retrieve Pan’s shadow. Hook and Neal may have had tension between them, but the real tension and truth was in the romantically spine tingling moment where Hook completely lays his heart on the line and vow to win Emma’s heart, but that it will be only because she wants him. That beautiful honesty may have been too much for her to handle at the moment, but when the shadows attack both men, she not only was able to use her magic to save them, but screams Hook’s name in terror, her true feelings beginning to come to the surface and showcasing what Once Upon a Time does so well: demonstrate that moments of fear and darkness can reveal what truly lies within our hearts.

7. “The Jolly Roger” (Season 3, Episode 17)

Melancholy, sweet, and captivating, this episode revealed more crucial moments from the missing year in the Enchanted Forest, while also showing how much our characters have grown into a family, and ended in a way that had us audibly gasping in heartbreak – all of this necessary to move the story forward while moving us in very deep ways. In some lighter moments, it was great to see Emma being taught how to hone her magic by Regina; her methods were extreme but Emma’s instincts proved to be amazing. David teaching Henry to drive was one of the funniest moments of the series and provided much-needed levity, while seeing them all happily eating dinner together at Granny’s we witnessed how forgiveness can repair and create a happy family. Snow’s expression, matched by one from earlier in the episode, was particularly telling. Despite everything I think Snow just wanted her stepmother back and she finally is. It was the person who was missing from the family dinner that provided the heartache of the episode. In the past we see how hard Hook was trying to forget Emma and go back to his old way of life, but struggling to do so. These flashbacks, complete with swashbuckling gloriousness with a pirate duel with Blackbeard aboard the Jolly Roger provided the captivating adventure, while the sadness of his mistake and going back on his word to Ariel provided the brevity. It was a brevity punctuated with profundity with his confession to Ariel in the present which resulted in him swearing on the name of his true love Emma Swan. Profound on its own it was also shocking when we discovered that Ariel was Zelena in disguise who cursed Killian’s lips, leaving him shocked, trapped, and so heartbroken that he feels he can’t accept Emma’s dinner invitation and sincere sign that she’s ready to open her heart to him. As he watched from afar, his heartbreak was potent and unforgettable.

8. “Kansas”  (Season 3, Episode 20)

So much to find captivating and moving in this episode, we see fun and unique flashbacks to Zelena’s trip to Oz and her inability to stay free from envy which tied right into the present-day excitement that found her eventually defeated but her essence still remaining to cause trouble for our characters. The birth of Snow and David’s baby boy was done so movingly, paralleling the “Pilot” when he is snatched from her arms moments after his birth. The raw pain was heart wrenching, which made the pure joy when David returns, a bright smile upon his face, placing the baby back in her arms even more beautiful. When Emma and Henry join them, happily welcoming the new member of the Charming clan, the moment is sweet and joyful but punctuated with sadness as we see Hook, outside the room, physically and still metaphorically separated from my family he longs to be a part of. He longs to be with Emma, and knows that she cares deeply – something she realizes herself when she gave up her magic to save him from drowning, begging for him to come back to her. The moment is poignant and emphasizes her fear of losing him. But it’s a fear that is still under the surface, blocked by her fears of an uncertain future, resulting in her saying she’s going back to New York. Lastly the defeat of Zelena – the showdown between sisters- was absolutely fantastic as we see Regina fight back, find her courage (and I might add a moment after Robin retrieved her heart) and proving that you can change. She found light magic within herself and proved to be a real hero.

9. “Lost Girl” (Season 3, Episode 2)

A truly touching episode that paralleled mother and daughter, “Lost Girl” is apristine example of the way Once Upon a Time so perfectly can balance family and romantic moments with adventure and poignancy. Seeing how much faith David has in Snow was lovely as it is revealed that the quest to find Excalibur was simply a ruse for her to realize that she had the courage inside of her all the time. When she stood up to Regina and vowed to fight for her kingdom she showed that is not outside essentials that determine our heroism, but rather the truth of our hearts. Snow was lost but with a little help from her true love she found herself. It was a moving parallel to Emma in Neverland, who needed to admit who she really was in order for Pan’s map to Henry to be revealed. Of course the episode also showed the birth of the “Nevengers “as they banded together in a battle against the Lost Boys; but the true heart of the episode was Emma admitting to her mother that she doesn’t feel like a hero or a savior. She feels like an orphan, seeing the same look of despair in the eyes of a lost boy that she has had. Her admittance of the pain she experienced as a child when she cried herself to sleep, wanting her parents, never understanding why they gave her up was heart-wrenching and beautifully performed. It was another step in Emma’s journey of her heart slowly beginning to heal and open up. This step was lastly demonstrated when Hook honestly says he would like to know who she really is and she walks away not quite ready to open up to him. This is a truly lovely episode.

10. “The Tower”
(Season 3, Episode 14)

There are not nearly enough episodes that are center around David’s character, but when there are they never disappoint. This one in particular was a powerful one for his character and the show itself. As is often the case, he brings out the show’s timeless themes in moving ways. In this case, it is a flashback that centered around searching for a root to rid himself of his nightmares but instead had him finding Rapunzel in a tower, afraid to leave, bringing forth the idea that our fears must always be faced head-on. The melancholy dream David has of teaching Emma to dance only for her to be pulled away from him show his fears of failing his children, something any parent can relate to. When he physically faces a version of himself that taunts these deepest, darkest fears that he has, he found his courage and realized that bravery doesn’t mean the absence of fear, but rather recognizing and facing it anyway. It may be a fantastical situation, but moving and relatable nonetheless. Complete with a sweet moment between Henry and Regina, and evocative and romantic one where Emma opens up about getting her heartbroken with Hook saying he’s glad because it means it still works, “The Tower” is all around fantastic.

Once Upon a Time 100th Episode Celebration: Top 10 Best Season 2 Episodes

season 2a

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.

Once Upon a Time 100th Episode Celebration: Top 10 Best Season 1 Episodes

season 1

Season 1 of this magical show was just that- magical. It was filled with mystery, intrigue and beautiful romance with introductions to so many characters and new and unexpected twists on fairy tales we know and love. There were quite a few back stories for characters now rarely seen, so indeed where they really triumphed in this first season was with the main storylines specifically the love story between Snow and Charming, Emma’s journey in her destiny as a mother and the Savior, and Regina and Rumple’s deliciously evil plots as well as moments of true humanity. Here are the best from the enchanting beginning of the series.

1. “The Land Without Magic” (Season 1, Episode 22)

Every character went through a season-long journey and every story reached their gripping conclusion with the promise of more to come in the beautiful and compelling first season finale of the series: from Emma finally believing in magic, Rumple reuniting with Belle, Regina admitting the curse is real and displaying real vulnerability at the thought of losing Henry, to Snow and Charming proving how magical a true love reunion can be. The exciting and lovely flashbacks revealed David’s heroics to find and awaken Snow and  bookended the “Pilot” in a lovely way, most especially paralleling Emma’s heroics to save her son Henry. Both father and daughter were aided by Rumple (with him having ulterior motives) fought Maleficent in Dragon form, and woke a loved one with true love’s kiss. So many bold and compelling choices were made from the curse being broken to showing that true love need not only be romantic . Indeed, a mother’s love is deep and endless, and Emma’s journey of belief in magic was matched in her journey of learning to open her heart to her son. This episode was beautiful and poignant and the perfect way to end an amazing first season.

2. “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

The episode that started it all is not only one of the best of the series, but also one of the best pilots ever. Establishing the tone of the series perfectly we see mystery, magic, family drama, epic love, hope and belief are abundant and showcased exquisitely with each character in different ways. The approaching of the dark curse was intense, evocative and dramatic. And the beginning of Emma’s story was sad but hopeful as we see a woman who is strong but deeply wounded. She may be cynical but still buys a cupcake on her birthday and makes a wish. And then her life irrevocably changes. That belief that love and happiness are possible and that things can get better is the theme of the show and is demonstrated touchingly by Emma’s wish as well as the final image of Henry as he sees the Storybrooke clock tower move for the first time in his life. These images epitomize that beautiful and timeless theme: hope.

3. “Snow Falls” (Season1, Episode 3)

This was the story of how Snow White and Prince Charming fell in love and while it was undeniably sweet and fairy tale romantic, it was also a new kind of romantic story that Once does so perfectly. As creator Edward Kitsis says, sometimes true love starts by hitting the other in the head with a rock. Indeed their love story was not all hearts and flowers – she stole his mother’s ring, he trapped her in a net, they argued and went on an adventure fighting black Knights and trolls, and somewhere along the way love blossoms seen in the beautiful moment that she tries that ring on her finger. They may have parted but it was the start of the journey – a journey mirrored so beautifully with Mary Margaret awakening David in Storybrooke with the story and a kiss, and Emma slowly awakening her heart by seeking friendship and moving into Mary Margaret’s spare room. This is a heartfelt, lovely episode.

4. “Hat Trick” (Season 1, Episode 17)

One of the episodes with a decidedly darker tone is also unique and fantastic with the insertion of a new and intriguing character. Once Upon a Time’s version of the Mad Hatter is named Jefferson and in this episode he is simultaneously sympathetic in his heartbreaking backstory where he is separated from his daughter, and frightening when he kidnaps Mary Margaret and Emma insisting the Savior can make his array of hats “work” with her magic. Jefferson implores that the problem with the world is “everybody wants a magical solution to their problems but everyone refuses to believe in magic.” It is true. Real or metaphorical, if we stop to see the magic around us, if we believe in something, if we bravely open ourselves up the way Emma does when she calls Mary Margaret family, that is the real “trick “of life.

5. “Heart of Darkness” (Season 1, Episode 16)

Seeing Snow White as a badass bandit with gumption and heart was definitely a new take on the character. But seeing the sweet natured princess with a thirst for revenge and no belief in love was something entirely new and fantastic to watch. Of course what made this moving was that her dark turn was the result of a loss of love, or more specifically memories of the one she loves. And when he does everything in his power to protect her heart, we see one of the most poignant and romantic moments of the series, and definitely a prelude to the love story their daughter would soon experience with Hook. These moving flashbacks combined with the intense, heartbreaking contrast with present-day Storybrooke showcase the beautiful theme that still is so prevalent on the series: true love is stronger than darkness.

6. “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” (Season 1, Episode 7)

Somber, intriguing, and melancholy with a tinge of hope, this was the first episode where it really felt as if that irony surrounding hearts occurred: a show that often involves hearts been ripped from people’s chests made us feel as if we were experiencing the same. It was indeed heart-wrenching to finally learn more about Sheriff Graham only for him to die at episode’s end. We learn he was the Huntsman who was sent to kill Snow White but showed her mercy and suffered enslavement because of it, and his journey in present-day Storybrooke to find his missing heart, growing close to Emma, and regaining his memories thanks to a Savior magic filled kiss, was deeply profound despite the sad ending. With lovely performances and a evocative atmosphere, we see that we can break free from our bounds real or metaphorical, and that our souls are strong showcased with Graham feeling deeply and choosing to take control of his life despite his heart not beating inside his chest. And for Emma, we see what this honorable man represented for her character and her journey – that flicker of hope that she can move on and open her heart to a man. His death was heartbreaking but audacious and compelling storytelling.

7. “7:15 a.m.” (Season 1, Episode 10)

Many of Season One’s best moments was that of the love story of Snow White and Prince Charming and the one we so desperately wanted between David and Mary Margaret. Despite knowing that they would indeed find each other in the past, that did not lessen the beauty nor intriguing aspect of their story and seeing Charming want to defy the king and risk everything for love, and seeing Snow make the difficult sacrifice and deny her love to save his life was wonderfully romantic drama and made you want David and Mary Margaret to come together all the more. The idea that love can never be denied despite obstacles and curses set the precedent for the series and those final moments where despite purposefully changing their routines the two still “found “each other and shared an amazing kiss, showcased that some things are truly meant to be.

8. “The Stable Boy” (Season 1, Episode 18)

Well into the series now, it’s always great to revisit how we arrived here and this was the first episode that truly showed Regina, not the Evil Queen. And as horrible as she was that season, this backstory made her into a sympathetic character, and it was indeed sad to see her relationship with a child Snow White go south so drastically and to see Regina’s own mother do exactly what a mother should not do – destroy her child’s happiness because they think they know what’s best. And while you still were not rooting for Regina and Storybrooke during her quest for revenge, especially in the chilling scene where she taunts a sobbing and apologetic Mary Margaret knowing she’s innocent, “The Stable Boy” emphasized how tragedy affects everyone differently and can send you toward a very dark path and that life is often very complicated.

9. “Skin Deep” (Season 1, Episode 12)

As Once Upon a Time does so wonderfully, classic fairytale characters are never exactly what we expect, and it was definitely unexpected to see that Rumpelstiltskin was also the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, and that this very dark, manipulative character had fallen in love and shown a soft and vulnerable side. The best part of this episode was that it explored something deeper than someone feeling ugly and being brutish. It was much more complex than that and indeed the love story of Rumple and Belle is complicated and fraught with heartache as Rumple not only wants to maintain power but cannot believe she would love him, hence why true love’s kiss did not fully work. So much has happened since but in this episode we saw most especially that love can come in the most unexpected places.

10. “The Stranger” (Season 1, Episode 20)

When the leather clad, handsome and mysterious stranger rode into town on his motorcycle, with us soon learning his sole purpose was to help Emma believe, we wondered who exactly he was. The truth resulted in a compelling, heart-wrenching tale that brought more of Emma’s past to light and saw her really open up about her insecurities and unwillingness to believe in her destiny. From the flashbacks of little Pinocchio, to the climatic and intense scene where August brings Emma to the tree they were magically transferred transported to this world in, begging her to believe saying they all need her, one could help but be moved. It was a dramatic push the story needed and the best episode for the “typewriter wrapped in an enigma wrapped in stubble.”

Once Upon a Time 100th Episode Celebration: Top 10 Best Underrated Episodes

underrated

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.