Every classic hero’s tale has a dark night of the soul—that moment when everything appears to be at its worst—just before things begin to turn around. But Once Upon a Time is series TV and there are many seasons ahead before this heroic tale comes to an end. My guess is that there will be many dark nights for several of the main cast before the series ends someday. But this week’s episode “An Apple Red as Blood” places Emma at that classic crossroads between giving up all hope and finding the strength to continue the battle.
Emma (Jennifer Morrison, who’s really beginning to own this role) is at a low point (not the low point, I’m sure), and she wants to flee Storybrooke with son Henry (Jared Gilmore) in tow. She wants to hear nothing more about curses and fairy tale characters; she does not believe. She does not want to believe.
But believe she must, to save her own life—and the lives of everyone from Fairy Tale Land, who are stuck in a joyless modern existence. Emma has a long, long way to go, unable to even see what’s right in front of her nose—the truth that’s staring her in the face.
Running away has been Emma’s M.O. for a long time, and although it appears she wants to do this for Henry’s sake—to stop the war between herself and Regina—she also doesn’t want to accept her destiny. Every heroic quest has this blip (as Henry points out), but when her sone takes a bite of Regina’s apple turnover, his life is at suddenly at risk. I see this as the game changer for Emma, setting up the queen’s now fully-invested adversary for next season.
Despite what Emma may or may not believe, her presence is having an effect on the Evil Queen’s (Lana Parrilla) curse. Regina’s apple tree is dying, the town clock is moving; townspeople are beginning to remember who they (really) are—and (have you noticed?) the meek Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) is becoming as badass as Snow White!
And while Emma wants to run as fast as she can the Evil Queen wants to get rid of her. Permanently. But doing that is not so simple. Regina first consults with Mr. Gold (the always awesome Robert Carlyle), whom she considers her natural ally. After all, he created the curse and gave it to her, and poor deluded, egomaniacal Regina believes that she and Mr. Gold are on the same page.
But Gold’s reasoning behind the curse could not be further from Regina’s interests. It is fairly clear (to me, anyway) that the entire rationale for Gold’s curse in the first place was to be able to follow his son Bae (Dylan Schmid) into the “world without magic” into which he slipped (“The Return”). Regina’s purpose is to take away everyone’s happiness (of course she had long since ripped from Gold’s alter ego Rumplestiltskin’s hope of happiness). Gold acted out of love for his son (and put in place a time clock to remove the curse in due time); Regina out of spite.
Gold has no desire to see the curse remain in place. After all, it was he that put Emma into the mix in the first place—and brought Henry to Storybrooke.
I have to say that The Evil Queen may be powerful, but she’s not especially bright. Hasn’t she by now figured out that Mr. Gold is not her friend? He certainly has his own agenda, but his interests are more in line with the forces of good.
Now, the queen has an ace up her sleeve, and I wonder if she’s planning to use it in the season finale. She has Belle. And I can certainly see her offering Mr. Gold a choice: help her and be reunited with Belle—or don’t help and see Belle murdered. But if he helps her, then all hope will be lost to ever reunite with Baelfire. I can really see this as a possible cliffhanger for season one (at least one of what I suspect will be several cliffhangers).
He seems pretty convinced that Bae isn’t in Storybrooke, and that trip he’s planning will be to explore the rest of the non-magical world—as soon as the curse is broken. He seems to have no plan to return to Fairy Tale Land, and instead seems like he wants to set out beyond the town boundaries and search for his son—within this land without magic. And why would he return to his life before Storybrooke: in prison, filled with sadness and regret?
With Gold refusing to cooperate with her, the mayor turns to Jefferson, dangling before him the opportunity address his great loss: his daughter Grace—if he’ll do a little magic for her. But Jefferson doesn’t want to resume his life with Grace. No. He needs to forget what happened; he wants Regina to write them a new story. Deal struck. And so Jefferson procures for Regina her infamous poisoned apple—straight from her Fairy Tale Land tree.
But what she hadn’t bargained for was for Henry to take a bite of the apple turnover into which she baked the poisonous apple. He poisons himself knowingly and deliberately—a desperate attempt to make Emma believe that poisoned apples and evil queens really do exist; that his story isn’t so much a work of fiction as a historical account. She needs to understand her destiny—and no one else can make her believe.
Back in Fairy Tale Land, the queen sets up an elaborate plan for revenge on Snow White, who finally learns what she had done to make her so vindictive. Having taken Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) captive, she strikes a deal with Snow White to spare the life of Charming if only she will willingly eat the poisoned apple; something she does in an act of self-sacrifice paralleled by her grandson Henry in Storybrooke.
This was another terrific episode, well written by the great Jane Espenson with David Goodman. Okay, the fairy air force was a bit hokey—but it was a lot of fun to watch those tiny colorful creatures in coordinated attack along with the other non-magical beings of Fairy Tale Land. It wasn’t quite Helm’s Deep, but it was great watching all those powerless folk take on the castle keep in true badass fashion!
So what’s next? How will the season end? I’ve given you a bit of my speculation. What do you have to say? How will things end for Emma? Will Henry make it (we know he will!)? Will Mary Margaret and David finally get together? How will Regina react to her curse backfiring and endangering Emma’s life? And what’s up Mr. Gold’s sleeve? Stay tuned! The Once Upon a Time season finale airs next Sunday at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
Photo credit: ABC Television Network