And this emotionally powerful moment is made all the more so by Regina’s reaction. Back in the day, Regina would have loved nothing more than to rip out Snow’s heart and crush it. In fact, she pulled it out as recently as last year and then placed it right back inside her, to punish her with the guilt of her role in Cora’s death. But things have truly changed between them now. She finds herself no longer wanting to kill Snow and also being legitimately worried that this might not work. She has never shared or fully understood Snow’s enduring sense of belief in the power of faith in another person, and make no mistake about it, Snow’s asking Regina to do this is just as much an act of faith in Regina as it is in her own heart’s ability to sustain two people.
And what I love most about it is how gentle and maternal Regina’s body language is while leaning over Snow to extract her heart–which isn’t only a beautiful reminder of the kindness she once bestowed on her, before Snow accidentally betrayed her trust to Cora, but also a haunting and ironic visual echo of how Regina killed her father, with her arms lovingly wrapped around him. This time around, though, the “victim” isn’t only fully willing but trusts Regina to do it and bring both her and her husband back. And Regina does. To her surprise, it actually works. Which, in retrospect, might be the thing that subconsciously reignited Regina’s belief in the power of love–practically in spite of herself–when it comes to Robin Hood.
And next, of course, we have to talk about Henry. What’s so great about what happens with him in this episode, along with how the curse is broken, is, again, that it’s also entirely rooted in series history. The characters very intelligently figure out what they need to do by deliberately retracing the steps that were taken to break the curse the last time, which applies a level of methodical problem-solving to the equation that I wouldn’t have guessed. They reason that the last time Emma broke the curse, it was by kissing Henry, but that that clearly wasn’t enough this time around, as she’d kissed Henry since arriving in Storybrooke. And then they realize that the difference was that, last time around, Henry had believed in magic and so they need to get him to believe again. And what’s the best way to do that? Restore his memories. Well, how did Emma learn the truth the first time around? By touching the storybook, after having been convinced to open herself up to believing in magic and having faith due to Henry’s eating the apple.
And so they realize they have to find the storybook. But how? Last time, it appeared when it was needed in Mary Margaret’s closet, so that’s where they look again. And just as in the past, it needs to be Mary Margaret herself who finds it, because when Emma checks a certain box, it isn’t there. When Snow does, it is. Finally, although this Henry doesn’t believe in magic, when Emma asks him to try touching the book, it is only moments after seeing flying monkeys, and even more importantly, while he may not believe in magic, he does still believe in Emma, and that trust is enough for the book to work its magic when he touches it and Emma kisses him on the forehead. And whoosh! Henry’s memory is restored, which leads to one of the most heartrending moments of the series to date: Henry’s “Mom!” when he sees Regina, and Regina’s joy at his remembering her, which in turn leads to another unexpected spell-breaking, when she kisses him on the forehead and suddenly everyone’s memories are returned to them.
This is another perfect example of mythology, metaphor, and emotion working in perfect tandem to a breathtaking moment of catharsis. As I spoke of in the last Once review, over the course of this experience, Regina has slowly but surely evolved into a person truly worthy of her son, and now she has reached the point where she is every bit Emma’s equal in his heart and mind, and the fact that she has now broken a curse by kissing him, just as Emma has twice, reasserts the writers’ commitment to demonstrating that Regina is not just Henry’s adoptive mom. She’s his mom, too. Period. And, again, it is by a reenacting of the first season finale, but this time with Regina doing the final curse-breaking (a two-part process that, of course, required Emma, as well, another example of the two literally and metaphorically joining forces), that this is accomplished. Brilliant.
Other odds and ends:
–Henry’s reaction upon discovering that his mom is now dating Robin Hood of all people is another all-time favorite series moment for me. Jared Gilmore’s in-character reaction as Henry is absolute perfection, and boy, it’s nice to have him back to normal!
–I’m not sure which I love more: that we finally get to meet Glinda, or that it seems that she might have been banished to Narnia. By the way, I’m only half-kidding. I think it would be amazing if that is Narnia and is set-up for next season. We don’t get a great deal of time with Glinda, but I like how completely different her demeanor is than the general depiction, and I’m curious to learn when/how Zelena and she became friends. Was this when Zelena was still poor? Did she instead befriend her after the flashback we’ve seen, not realizing that she was wicked? How did she wind up in what-I’m-referring-to-as-Narnia? I’m hoping we get these answers over the course of the last 3 hours of the season.
–The final reveal of how Hook came to arrive in our world with his memories intact is also wonderful. Just as Rumple was about to drink Zelena’s potion, Neal (in a nice surprise cameo) took over his body and sent it to Hook, via bird, along with a message. This isn’t only a lovely reminder of what a brave, devoted person Neal had become by this point but also a great callback to Neal’s childhood friendship with Hook, as well as acknowledgment of how much he knows Hook cares about Emma. It says a great deal about him that he cares more about helping her and his son than he worries about possibly pushing a competitor for her heart towards her again.
–In an episode full of great character moments, there are two sad, quiet ones that particularly impressed me. The first is the look of hurt on Regina’s face when Mary Margaret tells her the state of mind that Henry was in when she gave him the storybook, unhappy with Regina’s parenting. It’s an honest moment, but I love that Snow doesn’t sugar-coat it and that Regina ultimately accepts the answer. Which, in retrospect, beautifully sets up her scenes with Henry at the end. The second is in the same scene, when Snow realizes why Emma has been so reticent to restore Henry’s memories. Her clearly wounded response to Emma that this “happiness” was predicated on Emma and Henry not remembering Charming and her is powerful and honest. I love this show so much.
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