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References and Shipping in Once Upon a Time “Dreamcatcher”

The background symbolism begins to coalesce. Swan Queens get a whole episode all for them. And Merlin is too hot to ship with anybody but yourself.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.”

The Fisher King

Rumple’s being set up for this and surrounded by its imagery. He fits so well that this has probably been part of the plan from the beginning. He’s got the requisite leg wound that metaphorically suggests his impotence (cowardice) and his son’s gone (a mark of broken fertility). What this episode did was collect the four hallows around him.

  • The broken sword: Excalibur and the Wavy Knife
  • The lance: Merida’s hastily crafted walking staff.
  • The grail: The chipped teacup, symbolically representing love (Belle) and literally his motivation to fight.
  • The dish: the eponymous dreamcatcher.

Morgan le Fey

Violet’s father is Sir Morgan. Given the research the writers have done, that’s no accident. It probably doesn’t mean much for him, but it sets her up as a Mordred figure. While that particular variation is a later one, Disney loves it. Think Gargoyles.

The Secret of NIMH

Nicodemus is back.

“Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater”

And Henry and Emma find him at Peter Peter’s Pumpkin Patch. Happy Halloween. See. Hallows.

5x05 Peter Peter

Star Wars

File this under speculation, but in the same way Darth Vader killed Luke’s father, the first dark one destroyed Merlin’s love.

5x05 Dark ONE

Bonus: Harry Potter – the Dark One looks like a Death Eater.

101 Dalmatians (Queens of Darkness)

The Panther De Ville’s for sale. Remember how Emma killed Cruella?

5x05 Cruella


In the same way they called out Frozen last year, they’re title dropping this with abandon.

Rumplestiltskin: I can never be BRAVE.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

“Only You” by Yazoo plays over Henry and Violet’s “date.”


Henry’s got two movies on his phone. The first is a 1985 excuse for an action hero to go on a killing spree. Plot elements include returning a dictator to power and rescuing a child. But that seems coincidental.

5x05 Commando

Harold and Maude

The second is cult comedy from 1971 about a relationship between a teenager and a septaugenarian. Whether this has a bearing on who or what Violet is or simply foreshadows Emma’s control of her, it’s quite provocative. “It’s a good date movie, I think,” indeed.

The Sword in the Stone

Merlin refers to Arthur as the boy who would be king, recalling the child of this film rather than the more mature versions of the story.


“It’s like a carnival in a can”

5x05 Pepsi

Once Upon a Time

Merida gets a look in the book to find Rumple’s weakness.

5x05 Book

“The Apprentice”

They’re leaning pretty hard on 4×04 and have done so over and over again.”Love is a weapon,” was quoted and the tear of heartbreak bracketed “Dreamcatcher.”

Operation Cobra

Emma’s mission is still to bring everyone’s happy ending. Regina will be the savior. Rumple will be a hero.

Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments

Purple Prose comes to the fore! The return of Rumpbelle!


Purple Prose (Henry + Violet)

This is their episode. There are two storylines to their budding romance. The elements of each are interwoven to keep the big reveals for extra special heart-tugging at the end.

In Storybrooke, Henry suggests a dance to give people hope (read: to have an excuse to ask Violet out on a date). Unfortunately for him, she’s in no mood to dance: her horse is lost. Henry vows to find her horse. He figures he can be a hero for Violet, get her to the dance, AND reach the good part still buried somewhere in Emma.

In Camelot, Violet and Henry groom horse and chill, bonding over lost parents. Violet: “I never met anyone I could talk to about this before.” While she’s away for a bit, Henry picks up one of her father’s swords and swings it around a bit pretending to be a knight. To his utter horror, he is discovered by Violet’s father, Sir Morgan, who goes on to condescend to him–how will being a writer protect his daughter against ogres? (AU fantasy: Henry sics his moms on Sir Morgan.)

Back in Storybrooke, Henry tells Emma about how he connected with Violet over the Yaz song. Emma explains how that was Baelfire’s wooing go-to; subtext also explains why Henry would be nuts over an obscure 80’s song. They find the horse at a pumpkin patch.

Back in Camelot, Sir Morgan has effectively shaken Henry’s confidence. His moms build him back up, convince him to use his mysterious other-worlder status to hook her.

So Henry sends her a note to meet him at Granny’s diner where he’s set up a dinner date over leftover lasagne. His ace-in-the-hole: Pepsi. Just when things seem to be heading towards romance, Violet says she just wants to be friends. Henry’s tear of lost love is fresh and powerful enough to free Merlin.

But in Storybrooke, his heroic return of the horse grants him the approval of Sir Morgan and the kiss-on-the-cheek of gratitude from Violet. It seems the second chance granted by the curse’s amnesia brings him romantic success.

The great reveal: this is all Emma’s machinations. In Camelot, she took Violet’s heart to make her break Henry’s. In Storybrooke, she attempts to right that wrong by rigging up the lost horse scenario. At least, that’s what Regina suggests, and it rings with truth.


These last few episodes have been great for reminding us why the OTP’s are what they are. Many of us were so done with Rumpbelle, until Rumpel was freed of the darkness, and now he arrests our sympathies again. He immediately tells Emma, upon her freeing him to transform into a pure-hearted hero, that he needs to see Belle. Later, when he keeps saying he can’t fight, Merida reads his story in the in-town history book and uses the chipped cup to motivate Rumpel to fight. That symbol of the flawed Rumpbelle relationship is so precious to him, he’ll risk his life and overcome his cowardice to protect it–and by extension, Belle.

Meanwhile, Belle leads the Storybrooke Scooby Gang in hunting down where Emma had been keeping Rumpel. She’s on a mission and firing on all cylinders to get ‘er done. It’s pretty hawt.

Swan Queen

Speaking of hot, Swan Queen was on fire this episode. Regina even fires off a fireball to protect Emma’s ability to free Merlin. But prior to that, Regina relived her most painful memory–her mother killing Daniel–to get the true love’s tear needed to break the spell encasing Merlin. Emma was emotionally touched learning it, but then also used it for inspiration with Henry. The two fought side-by-side as magical soulmates against Arthur.

Back in Storybrooke, however, things are more complicated. Emma is at a distance, not opening up to anyone. But Regina has been keeping the hope alive. “There’s nothing you can’t come back from if you just tell us.” Emma remains closed-lipped. Then Regina reveals they’ve seen the dreamcatcher’s memory. Emma attempts to justify it: she broke Henry’s heart “to protect him.” Regina’s having none of it–that’s what her mother said when she killed Daniel. She has to distance herself, going back to calling Emma “Miss Swan” and shutting the door in her face.

Captain Swan

Killian continues to devote himself to freeing Emma from the darkness, though Merlin, when he comes, warns that she must be willing to be free of it. And we already know she’s got mixed feeling about that.

Notably, Killian is so gung-ho, he goes to pull the sword from the stone. Regina stops him because he could turn to dust (and because it’s not 5×10 yet).

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References and Shipping in Once Upon a Time “Siege Perilous”

The Perilous Seat is David’s chance at the big kids’ table.  The writers play musical chairs. And Arthur carries a torch for David.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.”

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

We more or less get this scene. Whistling. No lyrics.

And Happy comes close enough to The Fellowship of the Ring for government work.


Emma: “You guys sure you don’t want me to just wiggle my nose and get ‘im oughta that tree?”

Amanita Muscaria

Tonight on Once Upon a Time, King Arthur and Prince Charming go foraging for psychoactive mushrooms so that their wives can, no, no, really, talk to trees. I can’t even.

5x03 Toadstool

Siege Perilous

In Arthurian legend, the Siege Perilous is a vacant seat at the Round Table reserved by Merlin for the knight who would one day be successful in the quest for the Holy Grail. The Siege Perilous is so strictly reserved that it is fatal to anyone else who sits in it. Once is substituting Excalibur.

They demonstrated that by dusting Sir Kay and lampshaded its importance by allowing Percival, the original occupant before Galahad, to die.

Then played some, ahem, musical chairs to place Lancelot in the seat prior to his moral turpitude and left Percival’s seat open as a placeholder.

The Little Mermaid

Zelena does a little ahh-ahh-ahh and comments on her light and feminine voice when Regina releases it. Since Regina posed as Ursula and reenacted the plot in 3×06 “Ariel,” it’s especially amusing.

“The Apprentice” (4×04)

The Dark One dons the first date dress to lull Killian. You know, the date where Hook’s hand was purportedly “evil” and he became a patsy for the Dark One? Sometimes the self-referential stuff is the best.

The Once and Future King

The notion that Arthur needs a two ton table to remind him to be humble comes from this version of the story.


Arthur’s squire, Grif, is a canonical character that was one of Arthur’s earliest allies and chief advisors. It’ looking like the more truly pure and loyal a character was, the more likely he will be to die, and die early, in this arc.

Folklore of the Sea

Not really an explicit reference, but black trunks were believed to bring bad luck aboard ships. So when they brought out the reliquary and it was jet black, it was obvious it was shady.

Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments

Quest, ho! It’s time to declare a new ship: King Charming! And it was the best ship of the episode by far.

King Charming

King Charming

David declares it’s questing time when the womenfolk need a super-magic toadstool to talk to tree-Merlin. Arthur invites himself along, and since he’s king, David allows it. On the way, Arthur literally carries a torch for David. They walkabout in the atmospheric darkness of the forest and share admirations of their wives to cover their clear attraction to each other. Arthur suggests having their women compete with bows and arrows, and when David shoots that idea down, Arthur suggests, “Perhaps there are better ways for me to show off.”

When David is beset by undead water knights, Arthur comes to his aid. Back in Camelot, David is awarded the special tall chair for the knight with the purest heart. Arthur gives that seat to all his knightly lovers–see former seat-holder, Lancelot.

Captain Swan

Oh, Killian, let go of the hate. Nevermind, Emma’s just using you anyway.

So Emma plays with Killian’s heart to get her hands on the cutlass that touched pre-Dark One Rumple’s neck. She plays with audience hearts too by using the set up of their first date. BUT recall that in that episode, Hook had to fight his own darkness in the form of his “evil” reattached hand. So inversion here, though Emma’s using her darkness, not fighting it.

Emma: “I have a question for you for once. Do you love me? If you tell me you don’t love me, I will let you go.”
Hook: “I loved you.”


Of course, that’s Hook’s conflict. He hates the Dark One habitually. He loves Emma…but unconditionally? Apparently not if she’s the Dark One. So the question of the scene and of his inner turmoil is whether the Dark One is still Emma.

But don’t worry. Spoilers for 5×04 have surfaced that are causing the Captain Swan shippers to explode with glee.

Outlaw Queen

Robin not only will throw himself in harm’s way for Regina, he’ll also make her tea. And be lovely and reassuring.

Also, Robin confides in Killian that he’s excited about the baby. But he does NOT want Regina to know that. Hrm.



Belle, who has been holding vigil via rose, heads into Granny’s for a spot of dinner. While in there, the rose drops all its leaves (ack!) but then magically restores them (WHA?!). Belle hightails it for the pawn shop to hopefully greet an awake Rumple. BUT HE’S GONE! (He’s in Emma’s hands now. They’ll never escape the Dark One.)


SnowingHeroDavid is feeling helpless in the fight to save Emma. The women are all about unlocking the magic, but David’s got nothing to swing a sword at. Mary Margaret reassures him as best she can that he’s still her hero. They kiss.

But then we get to see both Prince Charming and Sheriff David parallel quest. In Storybrooke, he finds the mushroom (signalling that Arthur pickpocketed from him) and brings it to Snow and Regina. Snow shows her love and appreciation: “David, you did it.” David’s manhood is reaffirmed.

Swan Queen

Regina continues to devote all her time to saving Emma.

White Queen

Regina (to Snow): “You are occasionally genius!”


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References and Shipping in Once Upon a Time “The Price”

It’s Friday! We take a stand on naming two new ships. Trust us, we’re misfits; our names are better.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.” (now with a sound file)

I intended to talk a little more about Merlin and Percival. But time and toddlers truncated the list a little. So I’ll just note that in the legends, Merlin is variously trapped in a cave or in a tree, so this is entirely legit. The tree theme fits Once much better, no matter how obscure it is. Percival seems to be dead, but the next episode title, “Siege Perilous,” refers to the seat at the Round Table left vacant for the person who eventually succeeds on the Grail quest. Percival.


Henry calls his mom on the dock. Three times. While it functions as a narrative device to remind old viewers and inform new ones that calling the Dark One by name draws his or her attention to you, it’s also a direct shout out to Michael Keaton’s second best role. Here he spells it out for you.

The Empire Strikes Back

Not I love youso much Star Wars in this episode, especially compared to last week. There are hints of it in Emma’s dress in Camelot. But the real moment recalls the eighties’ best shipper moment in Cloud City’s carbon-freezing chamber.

Kilian: “You look…”

Emma: “I know.”


The Erinyes were Greek spirits of vengeance who targeted oathbreakers. Neal Gaiman’s beloved Sandman popularized The Kindly Ones as irresistable collectors of blood debts. Invoking them with the crass “fury,” tends to draw their attention to you, so they’re a good choice for an episode where we’re being reminded about some of the Dark One rules.

OUaT Fury

Bonus – Reboot: It kind of looks like Hexadecimal. Crazy.


In order to have a fury and retain some dramatic tension – they usually just annihilate their targets – the writers have it deliver Robin to a body of water where we get some more Greek mythology. A hooded figure approaches on a narrow boat. This is Charon, the ferryman of Hades.

Once Upon a Time 5x02 Charon

Does this mean we’ll be seeing Hercules or the Olympians? Probably not. If anything it’s a visual segue into some Gargoyles references. Anyway, is that an ugly duckling in the lower right?

Guardians of the Galaxy

The magic of friendship defeats the baddie, refies Regina’s position as the new Savior, and 100% references the third highest-grossing film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nerds will tell you that other movies used the trope. Cynical hipsters will point out that Buffy and Captain Planet did this all the time. And yet…

OUaT GotG Friendship is Magic

For what it’s worth, Arthur is the last person to to offer his help. That’s not an accident.

Beauty and the Beast

Yes, everyone knows the rose in the bell(e) jar is a reference. But here they’re showing the falling petals. They’re keeping the awkward thing around because they’ll be referencing every important scene with it.

5x02 Rose Petals

Black Swan

While Once is never going to match Aronofsky’s body horror, the narratological similarity is undeniable. Power and transformation represented by an uncontrollabale dermatological condition. Terrifying and yet desired.

5x02 Dermatological Power

“Only You”

Henry’s boon from the Savior is playing Yazoo’s 1999 remix of their 1982 hit. So’s the jukebox at Granny’s. Technically the town was trapped in the eighties for decades, so I guess this is legit. The lyrics seem to have more to do with Emma and Killian, though.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

I originally thought the whole shared headphones thing with Violet and Henry was an Eleanor & Park reference. You know, because it looks so much like the cover. But it turns out that “Only You” is actually on Norah’s playlist according to Rachel Cohn, so.

5x02 headphones

Fisher King

We talk about the Fisher King here on The Dinglehopper, and we’ll have plenty of opportunities this season. But this episode made it absolutely clear that this version of Excalibur and the Dark One Dagger (cf Wavy Knife) were connected, indeed pieces of the same thing. So we have the Fisher King’s wound imagery covered.

Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments

The peril! The irony! Evil Charming and Captain Beauty come to the fore! And a brand new ship which we dub Purple Prose!

Captain Beauty (Captain Book? Belle Hooks!)

Belle opens up to Hook about how hard it is to love the Dark One. They share drinks and emotions. Perhaps soon they’ll realize the folly of loving one who cannot love them back and turn to each other for romantic solace.


Captain Swan

In Camelot, Emma and Hook get their second ball together. This one is no less dramatic than the first, but at least they’re not the ones at the center of the attempted killing action. Instead, we get a nice little exchange between them regarding Emma’s beauty. “Swan, you look…” “I know.”

In Storybrooke, Dark One Emma finally has a house all to herself, but ironically Hook doesn’t want to use that new chance for intimacy if she’s going to be all evil and stuff. Despite previously being fairly evil himself, he’s no longer into that kind of romance. If it ain’t savior-lovin’, he wants none of it. Is there any surprise that true love’s kiss fails if he’s going to be so judgy?

In general, Killian remains deeply focused and concerned about Emma’s darkness. She still wants a relationship with him, but the implications of her attempted seduction are that her interest is mostly shallow and lusty. (I’m kinda okay with that.) But I’m not sure that’s all of it. Her longing look into Granny’s shows her loneliness. Hook may be losing good opportunities to pull her back to him.

Killian, meanwhile, turns to the rum. Belle asks him if he tried to kiss her. “Aye. She didn’t even flinch. It’s not over. I spent over a century trying to kill the Crocodile. I can spend at least that trying to save the woman I love.”

Evil Charming

When Regina doesn’t know how to dance, David steps forward to teach her. It’s an adorable moment between a couple that rarely gets screen time without that harpy of a woman, Mary Margaret. Did you catch her Snowsplaining David’s response to Regina’s first choice of ball gown? That woman needs to get out of his way.

Outlaw Queen

Regina doubts she’ll convince the town she can be the savior. Robin attempts to reassure her. He believes in her. But then a Fury grabs him, and Regina’s doubts must fall away as she is called to act the savior, not just claim the title.

When she discovers she must sacrifice a life to save Robin from the Fury, she hesitates only a moment before putting her own life up in trade. Seems those two just can’t stop trying to sacrifice themselves to save the other from harm. That’s one definition of love for you–though a short lived one.

In the backstory from Camelot, Robin throws himself in front of Percival’s blade when he attacks Regina. Regina asks Emma to save his life when she herself cannot, even though Emma will have to use dark magic to do it. And, of course, all magic has a price.

Purple Prose

Henry gets prodded by Gramps to go talk to the pretty teen princess in Camelot and woos her with his strange magical music box that was a gift from the savior for saving everyone from an alternate reality. Yeah, that’ll impress the chicks. And because she doesn’t know anything about popular music, she doesn’t think it strange that he’s got obscure 20-year-old tunes on said music box.

Also not registering as strange: Granny has the same song on her jukebox. What, did Henry write the playlist? I’m beginning to suspect he doesn’t really need a pen.


Rumple is still comatose. Belle shares how hard it is to love the Dark One with Hook. Clearly her feelings for Rumple are strong, not nearly as “over” as she might want to believe.

In Camelot, Leroy buoys Belle’s spirit by pointing out that the rose is half full, not half empty. “Each of those petals is a chance to save him.”


David attempts to soothe Mary Margaret’s clear distress over Emma. He assures her they’ll win and get Emma back. But Snow remains pessimistic–“If we win, Emma loses.”

Swan Queen

Regina negotiates her literal control of Emma’s actions in Camelot to awkward, humorous, and touching effects. But, oh, the fanfic possibilities.

More importantly, Emma is willing to use dark magic to save Regina’s happiness in the form of Robin. She’s willing to pay the price for the magic, even as Ghost Rumple explains that’s not how it works.

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References and Shipping in Once Upon a Time “Dark Swan”

Our turnaround is going to be little longer this season. The premiere is allusive. And Swan Queens get their first tear jerker.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.” (now with a sound file)

I wanted to address a couple references that weren’t technically part of the premiere episode that nonetheless bear on the season and the show. These have mostly to do with the promotional materials both online and off. And they might provide some insight into the overall arc. Or not.

Black Swan

The imagery on the first promo poster draws heavily from 2010 Aronofsky film, but goes for a slicker, more stylized look.

Black Swan Dark Swan

The storyline requires Emma, the embodiment of good as the Savior, to portray her opposite, The Dark One. Oddly enough, there was another Black Swan in 1910 about a reformed pirate. Writers are nerds.

The Dark Knight Rises

This is mostly about color scheme and graphics. What you’re seeing below is clearly twister imagery but the particular monochromatic palette hollers Nolan’s trilogy. The word choice cinches it. Batman plays for the other team, but he can still function as an archetype. Modern Batman is always walking the knife edge between heroism and villainy and I bet that’s what we’re going to see in this story.

The Dark Swan Shall Rise


One of maybe three truly iconic caped crusader poses. It’s unbelievably convenient that it’s often depicted on a circular or spotlighted place. So not only do we get a knowing nod to 3×15 “Quiet Minds,” we get a secondary reinforcement of the whole Dark Knight thing.

Emma Circle Batman Circle

The Sword in the Stone

Full disclosure. I want missing MerlinMerlin to be in Bermuda. They’ve got a really sweet looking poster out with a beautiful blue robe and a serious looking Elliot Knight. But. But. Listen, Once, I never ask you for anything. Give me this.

Anyway, We first see stony faced prophesying Merlin the magician in Minneapolis at an unusual marquee rerelease of the classic adaptation of The Once and Future King. We get a good look at Merlin in the film and young Arthur drawing Excalibur from the stone

Sir Kay, the treacherous knight that tries to draw Excaibur in Fairy Tale Land and gets dusted Buffy style for it is a nod to Arthur’s thuggish foster brother in the film. Nice touch.

Speaking of foster kids, Emma. Merlin’s got a tic.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

A previous Dark One, Gorgon the Invincible, is or looks like a bandersnatch.

Gorgon the Invincible


Mickey conjures the want Merlin gave him on the day he became the apprentice with the now familiar broom music playing over the scene.

Star Wars

Emma Force chokes the traveling peddler with her uncontrollable dark magic. The fear, excitement, and comprehForce Chokeension in the scene mirrors Anakin Skywalker’s descent toward the The Dark Lord of the Sith. Kitsiss and Horowitz are all over Star Wars.

Killian references the old wookie prisoner gag, nicely grabbing the reference within a reference to “Operation Mongoose,” which was also about altered circumstances in Fairy Tale Land. So this is technically an Inception reference, too.

Not enough? Zelena slying slips in, “So, this is a Rogue mission?” It’s all about word choice in context. Right here, it’s more writerly nerdery.

Rumple’s evil ghost-of-Obi-Wan urges Emma to use her anger. Classic Sith move.

Beauty and the Beast

Ruehl Gorm: “This Rose is now linked to your beast, Belle. As long as it still has petals he lives.”

Beauty and the Beast Rose

Shut up. I’m not crying. You’re crying. Seriously, they do this just to incite fans of the original. The imagery is so powerful that catching it in other stories evokes an emotional reaction. Rumpbelle should be over, but it’s not. Look!


The Will o’ the Wisp and the Hill of Stones are repurposed to force Merida and Emma into conflict.

Her trailer, oddly enough, pulls a shot directly from the film; which was itself a reference to the classic Robin Hood shot. Here’s hoping we get to see them both at a tournament.


And, of course, she mentions transforming into a bear. Because she has to. And her people’s lack of confidence in her suitability. Because this is what we want out of Merida. But both an uncontrollable transformation and faithless fraternities are themes for the season. Turning throwaway lines into major points is one of the things Once does best,

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Henry finally makes Nurse Ratched an official reference rather than a sight gag bolstered by a doppelganger of Chief Bromden.

Goodnight Moon

Robin’s carrying a copy when Zelena stops by. I’m gonna pretend it’s all a subtle reference to the death of the Apprentice. Goodnight mouse.

The Wizard of Oz

Zelena summons a tornado to cross realms. Because of course she does.

Garden Gnomes

Emma turns Sneezy to stone, fulfilling some sort of apotheosis for Regina, who no longer would do that, but probably always wanted to.


Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments

emmakillianembrace5x01The tables keep getting turned. Villains turned heroes. Savior turned dark. But in the end, the enduring question remains: can love save us?

Captain Swan

Hook’s focus to get Emma back is unwavering. It makes him snarky, sexy, and stupid. He’ll scrap with anyone in his way, mostly Robin and Regina. His initial attempt to call her to him using the dagger fails, indicating she’s not in this world.

Then he’s willing to be all manner of sneaky and stupid to open a portal to get her, even trying to take Zelena’s heart, but getting hoodwinked while Zelena escapes.

When he does reunite with Emma, he talks her down from killing Merida. Emma is surprised they have reached her. Hook responds: “Has anything ever stopped me before?” And to convince her to return the heart: “We can find another way…together.” Aww.

They hold hands into Camelot.

Sadly, things are not so romantic six weeks later.

Outlaw Queen

Regina snarls at Zelena at mention of the baby.

Even more tantalizing is the fact that when Zelena glamours herself to look like Regina and kisses Robin, Robin knows it’s Zelena immediately. He might have been fooled by a faux-Marian, but Regina’s kiss is far more memorable. Zelena hangs a nice bell on that fact.


Rumple is still comatose. I can only assume he’ll awaken, but the point here is that his lack of consciousness echoes the end of Beauty and the Beast. Belle holds Rumple’s hand, not wanting to leave his side should he die in her absence. “If he goes, I want to be with him.” And to make all the shippers swoon, the Blue Fairy gives Belle THE ENCHANTED ROSE to let her know that Rumple is still alive. You should already know the drill: as long as the rose has petals, Rumple lives.

But has he survived six weeks?

Swan Queen

Regina is set up as the lynch pin to saving or destroying Emma, depending on what the situation calls for. Hook is not. Regina’s failure to wield the wand due to too much light in her heart is a testament to the effect Emma has had on her. Swan Queen OTP. Ignore how distracted Regina is by her (faux) romance with Robin. She uses Zelena’s affection for Robin to open the portal to Emma, despite the danger to Robin.

When they do find Emma, and they offer her the dagger (idiots), Emma only trusts Regina with it, knowing that Regina cares enough about her to use the dagger well, whether that means command or kill. “Someone needs to watch me,” Emma says. “I saved you. Now you save me.”

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Early Observations about “Operation Mongoose”

Severe weather delayed our reactions. Henry brought his A game. And the ships sailed en masse.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.”

“Operation Mongoose”

We covered this one back in 4×03 “Rocky Road.” It’s more a less a reference to Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and “Rikki-tikki-tavi.”

Then it was perfect. Here it’s funny. It’s both. Regina intitially chose because mongooses are fabled (operation) cobra killers.

Walt Disney

The opening scene literally occurs on the day of Walter Elias Disney’s death: December 15, 1966. The envelope Isaac receives from Star Publishing bears that date. This pretty much confirms that the “man named Walt” mentioned by August in 4×17 “Best Laid Plans” was the Author immediately prior to Isaac Heller.

4x21-22 December 15

Bonus: 1966 was the year color television really became a viable consumer option following an industry wide push to broadcast half of all programming in color and the introduction of General Electric’s Porta-Color.

Bonus: “When You Wish Upon A Star,” the Disney anthem is alluded to in the publishing company, showing that even though Isaac views himself as a non-hero, he too can make his dreams come true.

Alice in Wonderland

carpenterThe Apprentice keeps repeating to Isaac, “The time has come…” which is also the starting line of a stanza in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” Turns out our Apprentice also played the role of the Carpenter in SyFy’s Alice.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”


Their logo appears on the sales floor television screens.

4x21-22 abc

Zenith Space Command 600

Yes, the first practical wireless television remote control was called the Space Command, because the days of future past were awesome. The 600 was designed for use with color televisions and allowed viewers to adjust hues by increments.

4x21-22 Space Command

The television Isaac’s awkwardly trying to sell is not, however, and actual 1966 model Zenith Mareseille.

25th Infantry Division

The customer and the shop owner are veterans of the United States’ Pacific War during World War II. The 25th Infantry Division, “Tropic Lightning” was posted at Schofield Barracks on Oahu.

4x21-22 25th Infantry Division

So it’s probably another Lost related reference. However, that particular unit was also the subejct of From Here to Eternity which ends at the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Shortly after this scene, Oliver Stone would would see combat in Vietnam with the unit, the same which inspired Platoon.

Bonus: Isaac’s boss was the White Knight in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

Harry Potter

The Apprentice lays out five wands pens from which Isaac must choose. The scene is only somewhat reminiscent of Olivander’s, “The wand chooses the wizard.” However, Henry breaking the quill at the end mirrors Harry’s refusal of the Elder Wand.


These are probably too numerous to account for, but there’s an obvious Cinderella in the front row at Isaac’s reading. There’s a brilliant Ursula. And there’s the mind boggling superfan cosplaying Regina cosplaying bandit Snow. Needless to say, I was delighted by that one.

4x21-22 Ursula


Isaac’s surname is inspired by Joseph Heller, another famous Jewish author. The reference manifests in Henry’s role. As a being born in the real world, Isaac was unable to affect him. But it’s that very quality that allows him to track down the renegade Author and eventually save the day.

4x21-22 Isaac Heller

He’s the catch. All of the books on the rack are mock-ups. On the far right, you can see Shadow Precinct by Bill Burd. Burd is Once Upon a Time‘s property master.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Grumpy: Hi ho, boys, it’s off to work we go!

Obviously every episode is technically a reference to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and half a dozen other Disnified fairy tales, but it’s rare to get an actual line from the film. This was great.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Henry instructs Killian to tell Emma’s guard that he’s escorting a prisoner from Kashyyyk. “The old wookie prisoner gag. Works every time.” Better yet, Hook’s our Hand Solo (forgive me.) And they’re rescuing Princess Leia!

4x21-22 Kashyyyk


Emma’s locked in a tower by the queen, technically her mother, in Heroes and Villains, approaching the Rapunzel reference which they couldn’t do directly since the character’s already represented on the show. But what they did do is dress her following the rescue in Flynn Rider’s clothes! So Emma gets to be both of the protagonists of Tangled.

4x21-22 Tangled

Pirates of the Caribbean

Killian: You’re telling me that in this other reality I’m an expert with such a weapon?

Emma: You’re a regular Jack Sparrow.

Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments

Rather than reusing the hackneyed true love’s kiss, all the real ships of worth had love-motivated sacrifices.

Captain Swan

Emma remembers the way things were before the rewrite, which is convenient for the plot but also gives the opportunity for lots of tasty dramatic irony. So, for instance, when Hook (a mere deckhand) and Henry rescue Emma from her tower, and she runs full on into Hook, there’s a moment where she clearly wants to kiss him. She’s so happy to see him again, she can hardly contain herself. But she knows he doesn’t remember her, even though its clear she makes a quick, deep romantic impression on him. It’s a dramatic reversal of him coming to New York to rescue her from her Storybrook amnesia. Though, of course, he does kiss her.

After defeating dragon Lily, Hook asks Emma why she trusted him with her life just now. She responds, “It’s complicated. Might take a while.” She ends up not telling him, but it gets Killian’s brain going in the right direction so that when they begin working on his fighting skills, and she’s playing the flirty mentor, he’s able to see clearly that in the world she’s trying to get back to, they were close. He comments that he’s rather jealous of this other Hook from her world, and echo of being jealous of the Hook she seduces at the end of Season 3.

Sadly, this is followed up by Killian’s sacrificial death giving Emma a chance to escape. Returning the trust, he figures if she manages her mission, his death here won’t mean anything. He’s right, but his death still deeply wounds Emma emotionally.

When later Emma attempts to convince Regina to go after Robin and her happiness, she explains, “I just watched the man I love die…The worst part is that I never told him I loved him. Not once. I was too scared. Too scared that somehow saying it would make it real and change everything.”

After Henry saves the day and returns everyone back to their original selves in Storybrooke, Emma makes a mad dash for the apartment to make sure Killian’s there. There’s a brief tease when we think he’s not, but he’s just up in the loft. She runs up to him and tackles him onto the bed. He’s happy to see her, of course, and tickled at her enthusiasm. She starts to come clean about her feelings, and his face shows he expects her to finally say it–he even has this adorable tiny smirk and a nervous swallow of the throat–but then she dodges into a thank you for saving her and Henry’s lives. Because he’s Killian, and he totally gets Emma, he simply responds it’s just another day in the life of a hero. But, of course, all of the Captain Swanners everywhere started throwing things at Emma on their televisions.

And finally, when Regina gets attacked by the Darkness and Emma decides to tether herself to it to save Regina, Hook begs her not to with tears in his eyes. She finally tells him she loves him before grabbing the dagger and sacrificing herself for Regina’s happy ending. That’s a three hanky ending, folks.


In Heroes and Villains, Rumple and Belle have a new baby and a happy marriage. But Rumple is keeping secrets about his first son from her, and Isaac uses that to manipulate Rumple into being villainous. Rumple attempts to talk to Belle about the dilemma in vague terms and ends up dropping his teacup in his nervousness, producing the infamous chipped cup that symbolizes their relationship.

When Henry returns the characters to where they were, Rumple is dying in the shop. Belle comes in looking for him, wanting to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone else. But he knows these are his last moments, and when the man is gone, along with his ability to love, the Darkness will be the greatest danger the town has ever encountered. Faced with his impending death, Belle admits she doesn’t love Will (with the implication that she still loves Rumple) and won’t let Rumple die alone, but Rumple sends her for help to defend against the Darkness that is inside him.

Swan Queen

Emma encourages Regina to go after her happy ending, starting with going after Robin. “My happy ending isn’t a man,” Regina states, with the implication that it might, in fact, be a woman named Emma.

Emma becomes the Dark One to save Regina from being killed by the Darkness like the Apprentice was. Regina protests that there must be another way–she doesn’t want Emma to do this–but Emma doesn’t see one, not yet anyway. She trusts that her family will find a way to banish her darkness once again as heroes. (Mmm, redemptiony.)

Outlaw Queen

When Regina meets Robin after he rescues her from Evil Snow White, they share a drink at a pub, just as Henry suggested. Regina tries playing it cool, but Robin is all sincerity. He holds her hand to clean her wound in the age-old way of dowsing it in alcohol. She thought he’d be dirtier, but he’s always admired her skills. They’re clearly hitting it off, and Regina’s face becomes more and more open to the possibility that he really is her true love. He propositions her with taking his place as leader of the Merry Men. She asks what’s driving him out of the business, and he delivers a most romantic response, one that melts her very heart: “Have you ever met someone that you would change your entire world for? Someone whose eyes you just knew you were born to gaze into?” And as she gazes into his eyes, his words have struck a chord. Too damn bad he’s talking about Zelena.

And, of course, breaking the Isaac curse hinges on Regina stopping the wedding between Robin and Zelena and using true love’s kiss to undo the magic. She doesn’t manage it, though they do share an ambiguously sweet smile, instead sacrificing herself for Henry before he gets killed by Rumple. Robin and wedding party are leaving the chapel and see Regina. He runs to her. Zelena complains about getting blood on her dress, showing Robin what kind of false true love she really is. Robin promises that he won’t let Regina die alone.

Upon returning to Storybrooke, Robin asks Regina about Zelena. She says still locked up and still pregnant, but we can deal with that. Robin then invites her on a long moonlit walk. Unfortunately, that never happens thanks to the release of the Darkness. Robin attempts to save Regina by running into the Darkness, but he just gets thrown backwards.

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Early Observations about “Mother”

Oddly enough, some parenting of our own delayed this post a day. Things are getting more meta by the moment. And just when everyone’s finding happiness on their own, too.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.”

“Mother” (1988)

Inspired by Tipper Gore’s PMRC and their crusade for Parental Advisory labeling, Danzig’s “Mother” is a more or less a challenge to parents who wish to protect their children from the evils of the world. Sound familiar?

Can you keep them in the dark for life
Can you hide them from the waiting world

Not about to see your light
And if you wanna find hell with me
I can show you what it’s like

Of course there are also a surfeit of mothers on the show: Emma, Regina, Mary Margaret, Zelena, Cora, Maleficent, (the baby club from 4A)…

Exodus 2:1-10

Lily: They sent me through the portal in my eggshell. Baby Moses in his basket.

So last episode I pointed out how the SuperSport with the Sylvia license plate linked Lily and Mal to 2014’s Maleficent. “Rhea Sylvia conceived Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome with the god Mars. She was a minor forest diety, a spirit of the forest, like the movie Mal.” Here the writers drill further down. The legends of Romulus and Remus as well as Moses are examples of the foundling tale, a trope as old as stories themselves. Maleficent‘s Anastasia is another example.

This is apparently the kind of thing writers get up to when allowed. We’ve seen a reference to another foundling, Sigurd, by way of his partner Guðrún’s name emblazoned on the shop next to Gold’s.

“Dark Star” (1968)

4x20 Dark Star Pharmacy

Naming a pharmacy after a song by the psychedelic rock band The Grateful Dead is both goofy and inspired. Placing the sign for it above Lilith Page, Maleficent’s daughter and unwilling recipient of Emma Swan’s potential for darkness with the star shaped birthmark… well, that’s just a cleverness hammer.

Mirror shatters in formless reflections of matter.
Glass hand dissolving to ice petal flowers revolving.

Like Gudrun they might even have seen the callback to 4A. And they named this ship if anyone wants to sail it.

Annie Hall

Maleficent: But all I want to do now is enjoy our time together. I am your mother.
Lily: Well, I’m grown up now. I don’t need grooming advice from Annie Hall.

4x20 Annie Hall

The prodigal daughter is definitely making fun of Mal’s vest and tie, but there’s a good chance that she’s making another lateral analogy. One of the tensions in everybody’s favorite Woody Allen movie is between enjoying the time we have versus neurotically dwelling on the past.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Chief Bromden and Nurse Ratched:

4x20 Chief Bromden and Nurse Ratched


Bonus points for working these folks, whom we’ve seen before into Zelena’s cuckoo scheme subplot.

The Lion King

This is probably the closest we’ll ever get, but it’s actually more interestingly constructed than it might appear at first glance.

4x20 The Boy with the Lion Tattoo

Nottingham’s actually trying to get himself a kingship he has no right to and he’s the nemesis of Robin, the guy Regina believes to belong by her side. This little lion is meant to remind the scary sheriff who he is. Remember…

How to Train Your Dragon

This one seems a like a bit of a stretch, but Mal does say dragons have to be trained how to fly. Even so, I might have ignored it if Killian hadn’t mentioned Toothless.

Mr. Gold: Are you sure you want to start the day tangling with the Dark One?
Hook: The Dark One can’t strike back without charring his heart. You’re toothless, old dog.


Why didn’t he say crocodile? Because we’re talking about the descriptor, not the animal.

“Operation Mongoose” 4×21,22

Maleficent: Can’t you just wait a little while longer? Things could look different in a week.

Postneometareference to the season finale, where things look very different indeed.

“Pilot” 1×1

But wait, it’s also referencing the first ever episode? It is. Like a mirror. The parent is trying to get the child to stay in Storybrooke for one week rather than the other way around.

Emma: Listen to me, kid. I am not in any book. I’m a real person. And I’m no savior. You were right about one thing, though. I wanted you to have your best chance. But it’s not with me. C’mon, let’s go.
Henry: Please don’t take me back there! Just stay with me for one week, that’s all I ask! One week, and you’ll see I’m not crazy.

“Heroes and Villains” 4×12

Another episode reference comes full circle as Gold’s plans from the beginning of the arc come to fruition, just in time for villains to finally win.

4x20 Heroes and Villains


Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments

Captain Swan

Killian gloats to Gold that Emma didn’t turn dark. Nah-nah-nah-nah-boo-boo!

Emma’s return to Storybrooke means a big ol’ romantic hug for Capt. Hook.

Killian takes Emma out to the docks to have her look at the horizon. “I can tell your heart is uneasy. And it’s my job, well, I hope it’s my job to protect your heart, even when no one is physically trying to steal it.” He talks to her again about letting go of the anger and resentment she’s holding towards her parents. It is incredibly sweet. And it totally works. Of course, since Lily’s blood is the key to making the ink, totally saving Emma from her darker self doesn’t end up meaning much for the plot, but it does bring Killian and Emma closer and restores the bond she has with her parents. Killian proves, once again, how insightful he can be about love and grudges.

Outlaw Queen

A rough opening scene and conversation between Regina and Robin. Regina, however, shows her character growth by not just ripping out his heart. Actually, she’s pretty calm about the whole thing, if a little wallowing in self-pity. Robin rightfully points out that his moving on is hardly the biggest issue here–his little Roland won’t understand where his mother has gone once Zelena stops using the glamour. This helps get Regina back on focus, and she suggests a forgetting potion to take him back to the time before fake Marian showed up. Furthermore, poor Marian, who died for no other reason than this farce that Zelena cooked up. Regina apologies for Zelena doing all of this to thwart Regina’s happy ending, and Robin suggests they can now pursue that happy ending again, though clearly there are many complications and challenges in front of them. Here Regina wallows a bit more, foreshadowing the reveal that she cannot have children. But Robin just asks, “What do we do now?” It’s a neat scene, echoed later with Lily and Malificent, showing two real human adults dealing with their hopes and disappointments. It certainly kicks the door wide open for these two to continue their relationship, but it doesn’t minimize the emotional difficulties it would mean.

Cora is an Outlaw Queen shipper! (Except not so much as it turns out she’s willing to sub any ol’ scoundrel in for Robin.) When Cora does try to trick Regina into accepting Nottingham (the sexist pig!) in for Robin, Regina doesn’t fall for it. Later she tells Cora: “That’s not what a soulmate feels like.” Regina will understand many years later how right she is.

Regina realizes she’s her own worst enemy in achieving her happy ending and changes her mind at the last minute about writing Zelena out of the story. Instead, she essentially challenges Zelena to a custody battle, showing she’s ready to fight for her happy ending…which is feeling at home in this world. Robin’s just a part of that world. Too bad that decision makes Isaac very bored.reginaworld


No real action in this episode, but the teaser for next week certainly promises great things for Rumpbelle on the horizon.

Swan Queen

Regina figures out a way to power the blood without endangering her/our Savior’s heart.


When Snow runs in to “help” with Lily in dragon form, Charming runs in after her, clearly concerned for her well-being (and rightfully so).

Anti-ship Moment

Zelena, after hearing Regina’s plans to be happy with Robin despite Zelena’s meddling: “Another woman defining happiness relative to the love of a man.”



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Early Observations about “Lily”

There’s almost too much of everything in this episode. Too many references to do them all. To many shipper moments to catch your breath.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.”


The Flower symbolizes friendship and devotion. Which helps explain why every other word launced a ship. And ties in nicely to the Emma/Lilith relationship over time.

The opening scene is a smorgasbord.

Once Upon a Time “Best Laid Plans”

This scene picks up immediately after Isaac’s imprisonment.

Fantasia – “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

As always, The Apprentice is accompanied by theme music based on the film.

4x20 Apprentice - stairs

Mickey The Apprentice traipses down the stairs to the Sorcerer’s… what is this place anyway?

According to The Disney Audio Archive and Sterling Holloway, “Once upon a time, in a deep dark cave way down underground, there lived a mighty sorcerer.” So that’s cannon anyway.

The Sword and the Stone

The Sorcerer finally manifests himself as blue smoke with white stars and red lights. It’d be an incredibly interesting coincidence if this weren’t intentional.

4x20 The Sorcerer and Merlin

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

The Sorcerer sounds a lot like Palpatine, particularly with the diminutive, “my Apprentice.”

The Invisibles

Ragged Robin Ganzfeldt Tank SmallSeveral works of fiction have dealt with authors entering into or getting trapped in their own stories, but few have dealt with them continuing to write inside. In Volume 2 of Grant Morrison’s magnum opus, the reader learns that Kay actually wrote herself into the story. A feat which required technology, magic, and time travel.Tom O Bedlam Small

Being trapped inside might not be inherently bad; though Isaac doesn’t seem to have been too fond of it. Coincidentally, The Apprentice looks an awful lot like Tom’O’Bedlam, greatest sorcerer of his age.


The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Jennifer Morrison actually mentioned this title on Facebook and Twitter a couple weeks ago.

Gold: We won’t have what we need to rewrite the book, to secure our happy endings, until Ms. Swan has completed her journey.

We’d be forgiven for assuming he means only the dark path he mentions next. But in a sense, that’s just the latter phase(s) of the hero’s journey, dramatized below by Ryan Dunlavey in Action Philosophers.

Hero's Journey

 Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Gold (again): The savior has taken the first step down a dark path.

Led Zeppelin and Jack of Fables4x20 Lilith Page

Lily’s adoptive parents are James and Priscilla Page. They’re named page to tie in with all this author stuff, The first names are clever. Jimmy Page’s guitar could scream for Adam and Eddie as easily as Tolkien. But Priscilla Page is a bold move. Fables is an ongoing comic book series with a conceit similar to that of Once Upon a Time. Priscilla Page handles retrieval, capture, and return of Fables to the Golden Boughs Retirement Village.

Paradise Lost

With Lily explicitly noting the savior.anti-savior setup they have going, it’s probably safe to revisit one of the greatest stories of hubris in the Enlish language.

Regina: How about we make this the day we both beat fate?

Nether of them actually do, of course. Emma picks up an embodied nemesis and Regina finds Robin bound by his sense of honor to remain with Zelena.


Emma’s foster family serves Mr. Cluck’s Chicken Shack for dinner despite having a two thousand dollar espresso machine,

Once upon a Time in Wonderland

A chess board with the white pieces closest to the camera and more to the left than their black counterparts dominates the foreground while Belle says goodbye to Will, recalling the White King.

4x20 White King


Will: If you’ve come here to hurt me,Will Scrappy you best get on with it. But I warn you, I’m scrappy.
Gold: All right, Scrappy.

Scrappy is the original Poochy, added to the ABC series Scooby-Doo in 1979 in an effort to bolster ratings. It worked, but oversaturation ultimately squandered fans’ goodwill. He’s a universally unpopular character and the trope namer for characters with hatedoms rather than fandoms.

However, the reference here is both to Will’s boxing style and his willingness, even eagerness, to begin a discussion with fisticuffs. The image is from 4×11 because even he knows punching the Dark One is silly.

Weekly World NewsWeekly World News – The World’s Only Reliable News

Once a supermarket checkout aisle staple, The Weekly World News published its last issue in 2007. Consisting of mostly fictional material, the tabloid occupied a sort of fairy tale space in American culture for nearly three decades. Pinocchio’s story would not have seemed out of place on the cover as “Toy Becomes a Real Boy.” And it would have ran without a disclaimer.


First things first. You cannot escape this car in a Volkswagon Beetle. Even if you’re the Antisaviour.

4x20 Sylvia

Other than that, we mostly want it for the license plate that connects Lily to Maleficent via the 2014 movie. Rhea Sylvia conceived Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome with the god Mars. She was a minor forest diety, a spirit of the forest, like the movie Mal.

Disney Descendants

Snow and Charming have a dateughter. And a son. The Evil Queen has a son. Maelficent has a daughter. Zelena’s pregnant. What does it all mean? Hopefully not this. (Although Kristin Chenoweth is always a delight.

Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments

Captain Swan

  • killiannothingtoliveforAlthough Hook himself isn’t in much of the episode, he and Emma have a key romantic scene. As Emma is saying her good-byes to the fam before she and Regina road trip it to New York, Killian gives her one last encouragement on how to keep from the dark side as a man who started as a hero, turned dark, and has had to work his way back. She asks him why he gave in to the dark path of revenge. “I had nothing to live for. You have your parents, Henry…” “You,” she supplies wryly. “Aye, me. And I you. That’s what’s kept me on my path now. Use whatever it takes to stay on yours.” If Emma does go dark, or on the brink of it, and all signs seem to point that way, I’m hoping Killian will be the one to bring her back.

Swan QueenReginaSmilesatEmma

  • This is a Swan Queen episode if ever there was one. Regina is the one to comfort Emma when she finds her staring at the microfilm article about baby Lilith Page, empathizing about being fate’s plaything–Emma’s only friend may have been her darkside doppleganger, but Regina managed to adopt the Savior’s son. In the first half of the season, this role was being filled by Killian, but now Regina has stepped in. Regina suggests they road trip to New York. Emma says she doesn’t need a babysitter, but Regina responds by saying perhaps she needs Emma. “But maybe I need you. You lived in New York; I’ve barely been outside of Storybrooke. How ’bout it, Swan? How ’bout we make today the day we both beat fate?”
  • On the road trip, Regina attempts to find out more about the story of Emma and Lily, leading to the various flashbacks, although it doesn’t seem that Emma shares the information from those flashbacks with her. Instead, as Emma is challenged by her feelings of anger, fear, and aggression (the Dark Side of the Force are they), Regina is constantly trying to pull her back, make sure she’s okay and not crossing lines she can’t come back from. Most noteably this happens when Emma has Lily on her knees at a point of a gun and Regina talks her back from killing her. What’s at stake for Emma: Lily knows the whole story and wants revenge against Emma’s parents. By killing Lily, Emma would be protecting her family. This was the Cruella justification. But this time, Emma knows Lily can’t kill anyone, at least not at the moment. There is time for other options. Regina points this out and makes it clear that if she crosses this line, the path back is not easy. “Your parents need a hero, not a murderer…Cruella was an accident. But if you cross this line, the journey back isn’t easy. Trust me. I know.” And Regina reaches her.

Lily Swan

  • Of course, the other major ship that got play this episode was Lily Swan. All of the talk of fated, entangled lives. All the discussion of Lily being in darkness and life being lighter when Emma is around. All of that can easily be read as soul-crossed lovers stuff. Among the best of these lines: “Emma was the first person who really understood me. You know, like we were meant to come into each other’s lives.”
  • But also: “My life is filled with darkness. When you’re around, things are brighter.”
  • And the set designers are fine leaving the ambiguity there. When Emma and Regina enter Lily’s mobile home, there is a colorful banner hanging over her couch. It’s one of those multicolored prayer banners with the many different religious symbols to guide a person to enlightenment–clearly a character-building detail–but it also reads as a gay pride banner to anyone looking for clues of that sort.


Dragon Queen

  • Regina looks truly excited and impressed when Malificent crashes the family meeting to get Emma on the case of finding her daughter. “I knew Gold couldn’t keep the dragon on her leash for long.”



  • Gold enlists Will’s help to retrieve Belle’s heart. But the banter that opens the deal is priceless. While Will certainly doesn’t want to work with Gold, he does want Belle to have her heart.
  • The mission is a success, and Rumple gives back Belle’s heart while also seemingly bowing out of the love triangle. Gold: “We [he and Will] share one thing in common–we both care for you… I’m not asking for forgiveness. I spent every day of our marriage deceiving you when I shoulda been trying to make you happy. Now it’s too late. My heart is nearly black. If I continue hurting you, then there’s no hope for me. I’m going to return this [her heart] to you, Belle. But he’s [Will] the one who is going to protect it, because I’ve proven unworthy.” When he leaves, she turns to go after him or say something at least. Will tries to take her hand but she pulls it away. Now, on the one hand, this could be sincere change in Rumple, a move that deserves Belle cracking her heart open to let him back in. But, on the other hand, this could be a calculated move to sully Will in her eyes by teaming up with him, magnanimously giving back her heart, both literally and figuratively, and showing repentance and a lack of jealousy.

Scarlet Beauty

  • The same scenes that play into the Rumpbelle fandom play here, but less well. The scene opens with Belle and Will kissing before Belle goes off to babysit for a bit. Will, when originally approached by Gold, readies himself for a fight. Although he doesn’t trust Gold, he cares enough about Belle to take a chance to get her heart back.
  • But why does he back up so when Rumple gives her heart back? Rumple gives a line that might be a clue to another twist in this story: “But he’s the one who is going to protect it, because I’ve proven unworthy.” At face value, it would seem Rumple is talking about Will making her happy. But there’s another option, a more literal one. Perhaps Rumple put Belle’s heart in Will’s body and Will’s heart in Belle’s body. Thus he would literally be protecting her heart, and the one in her chest, the one that Regina might seek to remove again for leverage, would actually be Will’s. He would take the chance rather than her. It’s a bit convoluted, but not outside of the range of plausibility.

Outlaw Queen

  • Good grief. Where to start? This story line went from bad to worse in the span of five minutes. But let’s begin at the good. Regina travels to New York to save her love Robin Hood from her insane sister. I like the twist of the normal trope here–the princess needing to be rescued from the evil king.
  • The bad. Then, at the end of the episode, she finally makes it to New York, gets reunited with Robin, tells him Marian is actually Zelena, and (conveniently) it was Zelena who killed Marian (not her). She can’t understand why Robin is so reticent to believe her, to grab Roland and make a run for it.
  • The ugly. Then Marian returns home, and all hell breaks loose. First, Zelena attempts to play Marian and get Robin on her side. This works for a while, until Regina makes a move to find the magical artifact allowing Zelena to look like Marian and Zelena brings down the illusion to reveal to Robin the truth. Robin is aghast. Zelena is pregnant. He can’t leave her.
  • robinreactsWhy is this ending so ugly? Because Robin was raped (or merely sexually assaulted by some state’s definitions). It’s bad enough for OQ shippers that he would consent to sex with Marian, and certainly that is one of the implications of Zelena’s pregnancy. But the fact that he was consenting to sex with Marian, not Zelena, means that Zelena raped him. The ugliness of this is that the show runners won’t likely treat it as such. Already, he means to stay with Zelena out of honor. I understand him wanting to make sure the baby is healthy and protected, but the whole turn of events, besides being needlessly soap-operatic, is likely going to do little justice to telling a story of male rape. And that’s a damned shame. Treat it respectfully, or find another way to challenge the Regina/Robin relationship.


Early Observations about “Sympathy for the De Vil”

We learn that sympathy for De Vil is misplaced. Or is it? The writers appear to be doing some deep literary work. And a fan favorite ship is upturned.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.”

“Sympathy for the Devil”

The first track on Beggar’s Banquet, 1968, from The Rolling Stones. While the song doesn’t actually generate any sympathy for Lucifer, this episode goes out of its way to empathize with the baddies. Rumple gets played pretty hard. Cruella’s story is structured so that her nature only becomes clear at the end. And the Author’s heart gets broken.

He also stands in for the tempter in several cases. Setting Snow and Charming on the path that lead to Lily’s exile. Giving Cruella her magic. And who knows what else?

But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

Isaac: Why?
Cruella: That’s the question on everybody’s mind, isn’t it? I wish I had an answer.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians

The title carCruella Smoked featured the running dalmatians from the movie integrated into the standard forest scene. More and more appeared as they ran.

Cruella’s magic, the ability to control animals, manifested as green smoke; an homage to the orginal animated feature and the perpetual cloud surrounding the character.

Cruella: With one whistle I can send a hundred snarling dogs after you.

In this version of the story, Cruella gets the dalmatian coat. In fact, she sews it herself.

4x18 The Dalmatian Coat


It’s not much, but Zelena’s inspiration and tagline gets a quick mention.

Regina: I can handle one wicked sister.


Isaac calls Cruella’s life “a classic Cinderella story.” While that title belongs to Storybrooke’s Ashley back in the Enchanted Forest, it not only makes sense that multiple realms would mean multiple iterations of the same story, it fits with how we classify folktales. Cruella’s an Aarne-Thompson 510A, “The Persecuted Heroine.” She’s got the missing father, the female antagonist, the confinement, and escaping for a magical date. The variation, of course, is that she’s a psychopath.

Murray’s Night Club

4x18 Murray's Club

Cruella and Isaac went to a real place. Well, a place based on a place that actually existed.

Murray’s Night Club opened in London in 1913. While both its format and ownership changed over the years, it remained a durable Beak Street fixture until 1975.

The stand-in in the episode looks almost nothing like existing drawings or photographs, but it’s nonetheless a nice touch. If you’re interested, you can read more here.

Ernest Hemingway / Henry David Thoreaux

Isaac isn’t exactly impressed with Gold’s cabin, first mocking the antlers and then trying to recover with, “makes me feel like Hemingway; or Thoreau.” Both the intensely masculine Hemingway and the anti-establishment Thoreau might have been at home in such a place, writing the Nick Jones stories or Walden.

The Great Gatsby

Makes sense. An Author reading the classics. But it really informs the flashback scenes. The Great Gatsby is the quintessential Jazz Age novel. And he was a contemporary and friend of the aforementioned Hemingway. The text on the Introduction places the edition between 2010 and 2013, which is an eerie detail since it also places it before Frozen. I’m impressed they bothered to note when the season takes place like that.

4x18 The Great Gatzby

Isaac and Ishmael

Something’s missing when you drop Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Thoreau without a fourth name. Another American Romantic or Renaissance writer. I can’t shake the feeling that the Author’s name is Isaac because that missing author, Melville, began his masterwork, Moby Dick, with, “Call me Ishmael.”

Angry Birds

Because she’s not actually going to kill Henry, Cruella sits on her hood and plays the hottest new game app. It’s one of two game references. The logo would have looked like this at the time.

Angry Birds

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

In the 2003 XBox game, in game choices affected your characters position on a spectrum between the light side of the Force and the dark side. Jedi were hale and healthy, tanned and bright eyed. But as Sith slipped toward the dark side, or splashed in and had fun, their skin paled and cracked while their eyes sunk and rimmed with red. That’s pretty much what’s been going on with Emma.

4x18 Evil Emma KotOR

Bonus! Return of the Jedi

I can’t call this one an actual reference because the irreverence would be unusual, but the resemblance is uncanny. Rumple’s heart looks a bit like Boushh’s thermal detonator during the confrontation with Jabba the Hutt. It’s even in a similar position.

4x18 Thermal Detonator

Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments



I’d thought I’d lead with Rumpbelle, because they got the biggest high and then the biggest drop kick to the groin.

Regina visits Belle to help her make sure that Gold won’t be a threat to her trip to NYC to save Robin from Zelena. Belle asks what she can do to help. “I’m so glad you asked that.” Cut to next scene. When we return to Belle, she is calling Rumpelstiltskin to the wishing well in the woods. They have a moment of remembrance about what he said to her there–that she had chased the darkness out of him. Well, not quite. She asks why he’s back, what he’s after. Her? Gold pulls his heart out of his chest to show the blackened heart with only a small dot of beating red light in the middle. He explains that centuries of dark deeds take their toll. “Will you die?” she asks. Rumple answers, “In a manner of speaking, yes. I will lose any ability to love, and that goodness you saw inside of me will be gone forever.” Only the Author can reverse the process. “I don’t expect you to understand, of course.” Belle counters, “But I, I do understand.” “You do?” “Sometimes I worry I threw out the chipped tea cup too soon.” THEY KISS. Rumpbelle fans everywhere shout, “OTP!” and throw their hands up in victory.

But then the kiss breaks and Belle continues, “You know what the problem is though…Will is just such a better kisser than you are.” “What?” Rumple asks (as do the Rumpbelle fans who had just been cheering). “You are pathetic. Watching you come grovelling back to me is like a dog begging for scraps.” “Why are you saying this? This isn’t like you, Belle.” (The Rumpbelle contingent nod their heads energetically in agreement.) “But it is so like me,” Regina interrupts from off-screen. The cut to her reveals that Regina has taken Belle’s heart and has been controlling her this whole time. Regina tells Belle to forget this ever happened and scamper off before making her demands clear to Gold, who pretty much just got his black heart run through the cheese grater.

By the way, there’s an upside down ship hanging from the ceiling in Gold’s shop. Symbolic much?

Swan Queen

Emma worries about Regina heading into NYC alone. And since Regina refuses to let Emma join her in NYC, Emma gives her her gun to protect her. (Because giving a gun to a person who has probably never used one before is a good idea. Headcanon fills in that since these two are in a committed relationship, Emma’s certainly taken her out to the woods and shown her how to shoot.)

But wait! Cruella has kidnapped Henry! The two watch their video message together and then share a very intimate, serious look. It reminds me of the look on Ripley’s face in Aliens: “Get away from her, you bitch!”

Making plans to rescue Henry, Regina comments that it’ll be far more satisfying to kill Cruella rather than the Author. When Snow is taken aback by the comment, Regina retorts, “It’s Emma’s heart we’re trying to save, not mine.”

Later, Emma splits the Henry Rescue Posse into two groups: 1) her parents, and 2) everyone else, showing that she trusts Regina and Hook while she doesn’t trust her parents. “So you’re not angry with me for keeping your parents’ secret?” Regina asks. Nah, Emma’s soft spot for Regina foists the blame solely onto her parents. Regina then teams up with Hook to coach Emma into forgiving her parents. Emma points out that while the two of them have been bad guys in the past, they’ve never lied about it and played themselves off as heroes. (And I begin wondering if there’s a name for this OT3. Captain Swan Queen?) The two attempt to reason with Emma using empathy. “Even heroes make mistakes, love,” Hook points out. It’s a cool little switcheroo and also heavy foreshadowing. But Emma doesn’t go for it. She continues her petulant little child act by saying, “You two understand them so well you forgive them.”

Outlaw Queen

Regina makes plans to rescue Robin. She manipulates and endangers Belle to do it. I’m not sure Robin would approve, exactly, but it certainly shows her commitment to her man.

Captain Swan

Other than the OT3 moment mentioned above, there’s just not much overt Captain Swan material in this episode. Hook is always in the background of Emma’s scenes (except when she gives the gun to Regina) and he’s always showing concern and support for her. That’s pretty sweet of him.

But the fact that he’s the one that says, “Even heroes make mistakes, love,” right before she goes off and makes a pretty big mistake foreshadows that he’ll be crucial to keeping her from going full-on darkside or at least bringing her back.

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Early Observations about “Heart of Gold”

There’s nothing like flashlight beams cutting through trees near Vancouver to evoke the X-Files. The writers dig deep to explain some unusual appearances. And Swan Queen gets a cliffhanger.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.”

“Heart of Gold” (1972)

Neil Young’s only #1 in the United States.

I want to live,
I want to give
I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.

Keep me searching for a heart of gold.
You keep me searching and I’m growing old.

Rumpelstiltskin’s heart is failing without is magic to keep him alive. His past misdeeds have shriveled it to a blackened lump. He’s growing old. He wants to live.

There’s also the enduring literary trope of the prostitute or courtesan with a hidden integrity or kindness, the hooker with a heart of gold. Once Upon a Time will occasionally invert a trope to devastating effect. At the end of last season, Hook and Charming had a conversation about love that would have been at home in any chick flick. Uttered between two men, it might have been one of the most revolutionary scenes on network television. Here, Robin is unwilling to take certain actions within the remit of his talents and profession because of his own peculiar integrity, making him a representative of the trope.

‘Cor Aut Mors’

4x17 Cor Aut Mors

Latin: literally “Heart or Death”

It’s a bit odd for a container holding a heart-healing potion, but when you consider it’s symbolic meaning it’s a very writerly addition. It represents a choice between the heart, moral values and integrity, and death, ignominy and disrespect. Robin chooses to help will at his own risk and extends that choice throughout his life.

Midnight Cowboy

As we transition to New York, nine weeks ago, we fade in on a skyline and hear the quotable, “I’m walkin’ here.”


Robin riding a horse down a New York street is reminiscent of Prince Edward’s anacronistic behavior in the city.

The Wizard of Oz

Any episode with the Wicked Witch and the Emerald City is, of course, going to reference this. But there are a couple immediate specific references that deserve mention. Robin exits the magical doorway on the yellow brick road.

4x17 Boots

In addition, the door lands right on top of a guard whose boots stick out in front. And Robin steals them!

The Patchwork Girl of Oz

The seventh book in L. Frank Baum’s Oz series. Unc Nunkie and Margolotte Pipt are turned to marble by the Liquid of Petrifaction. Dr. Pipt sends Ojo on a mission to collect the ingredients needed to restore them to life. One of those ingredients is the rare six-leaved clover of Oz, which grows outside the Emerald City. Queen Ozma has outlawed the picking of the clover and its use in magical transformations in conjuction with her injunction against sorcery.

4x17 Six Leaf Clover

However you feel about the twist, its been Oz cannon for over a century. Honestly, I probably missed half a dozen book references.

The Walt Disney Company

One of the first references in The Wizard of Oak is a set of Mickey Mouse ears cast in steel.

4x17 Mickey Mouse Ears


Robin’s hanging out in front of a poster for Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway while he waits for Gold’s discharge.

4x17 Aladdin Poster

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

After giving Regina an opportunity to call Robin, and asking her to choose between him and Emma, Rumple takes the phone from her and asks the tense iconic, “Is that your final answer?”

Who Wants to BE a Millionaire

Once Upon a Time

2×19 “Lacey”

This episode explains both why Robin Hood looked different, other than because he was originally played by Tom Ellis, in “Lacey” and where he got the bow that never misses.

Round Robin

3×21 “Snow Drifts”

Gold “kills” Zelena. Wile they come back to the events and even reuse footage, there’s a bit where Robin’s lurking outside The Wizard of Oak and says, “Zelena’s no fool.” Gold replies, “No, she wasn’t.”

Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments

Captain Swan

  • Nothing for us here this week, dearies. Except for the flashback to the Captain Swan shippiest episode ever “Snow Drifts” wherein we get to see them dancing around the ballroom again.


  • There are a number of scenes showing us Rumple in regret mode: First of which, his heart is diseased from dark magic. Now that’s certainly less cheesy than dying from a broken heart, but it rings similarly in this situation. The loss of Belle’s love has put him in this position. However, it seems like this might have been good information to tell Belle when she was getting him to give up magic: “My dear, I’d love to give up magic for you, but I’ll literally die.”
  • He tells Robin he didn’t recognize happiness when he had it–what he had in front of him wasn’t enough. Although he’s ambiguous about the when he had happiness, I can only assume he means Belle.
  • But the best of these moments is definitely when he advises Robin: “If you know who and where your happy ending is, you should run to it and not let go.” Sadly, Robin focuses on the previous bit about what is in front of him and not the idea of running off to Regina. But that’s another ship.

Swan Queen

  • When Rumple proves that Zelena has Robin in her clutches and threatens to kill him if Regina doesn’t help Rumple push Emma to the dark side, Regina chooses Emma. She chooses Emma! “You made me a monster. I won’t let you do the same to Emma.” “So you’ve made your choice, have you? You’re choosing the Savior over your beloved Robin Hood?” No, Rumple, she’s choosing her beloved Savior over Robin Hood.

Outlaw Queen

  • We got a replay of the goodbye kiss between Robin and Regina from when Robin, Marian, and Roland left Storybrooke.
  • Gold attempts to use the love between Regina and Robin to manipulate Regina. It doesn’t exactly work, but my theory on why is that Regina respects and loves Robin in part for his honorable code. He makes her a better person because she sees that code as a model to better herself, become a hero.
  • Many Outlaw Queen fans have wanted Marian out of the way since she made her way to Storybrooke, but the way this episode gets rid of her but doesn’t blows chunks. When Marian was the real Marian, she was also a real choice for Robin to make. There was real character turmoil, both for him and the audience. Honor would say stay with your wife and mother of your son. But then there’s true love. Now that Marian is simply Zelena, all that character turmoil disappears, at least for the audience. Now the whole this is a no-brainer running off of dramatic irony only AND they killed off an otherwise pretty awesome woman in Marian. I tell you, writers, we Outlaw Queen fans didn’t need it made easy for us. We knew true love would prevail. We knew Marian’s honor and desire for Robin’s happiness would eventually send him back to Storybrooke.


  • I don’t know if anyone out there was actually rooting for these two. But the episode seemed to set up exactly why you should ship them and then rip the ship right out from under us.
  • First, there’s Robin’s gallant retrieval of Marian’s purse via horseback. (The first two clues of the episode that Marian was Zelena: 1) that a thief’s wife would set down her purse in a busy city, and 2) that a mother would need to set down her bag to pick up her 4-year old.) But the purse’s rescue was pretty darned awesome.
  • Second, the flashbacks to Sherwood Forest include married Marian and Robin exchanging loving looks at each other as she waits tables and he barkeeps. We get just a brief look at the jealousy of the Sheriff of Nottingham. It’s all pretty cute.
  • Third, when Robin joins the Merry Men as an outlaw and dubs himself Robin Hood, Marian is amazingly supportive. “It doesn’t matter where we are or what we face. I want to be with you.”
  • So when all of that gets turned upside down by the reveal that Marian is actually Zelena and has been since before Hook and Emma returned from the Enchanted Forest, anyone who started rooting for these two is heavily disappointed. And the impact of Robin’s decision to try to be the husband Marian deserves is completely undercut.

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Early Observations about “Best Laid Plans”

The Author shines a light on things and brings down the curtain. Even our toddler has had it with Snow White and Prince Charming. And Rumpbelle is resurrected.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.”

“To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough” (1785) – Robert Burns

This classic poem draws parallels between a farmer’s situation and that of a mouse whose home is destroyed as he plows. It’s a leveling of the field, as it were, ennobling the mouse and humbling the farmer. While the tone of the poem is companionable and its message universal, it’s useful to Once Upon a Time because it reverses the existing order, the theme of 4B.

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
                    Which makes thee startle         10
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
                    An’ fellow-mortal!

Specific to this episode, “Best Laid Plans,” references lines 39 and 40, often translated into modern English as, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” We’re meant to note that for all Snowing’s efforts to ensure Emma’s future, they still ended up at the same verbal exchange Snow witnessed in her vision. It’s extra special because the Apprentice, our mouse, was involved.

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
                    Gang aft agley,         40
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
                    For promis’d joy!

The title is also, again, an hilarious pun. Maleficent’s best laid egg…

Bonus: Jacob Grimm, the elder of the Brothers Grimm who recorded scores of household tales including many of those reinterpreted in Once Upon a Time, was born in 1785.

Was he an Author?

August: There have been many Authors throughout time. It’s a job, not a person. And the one trapped in here was just the last tasked with the great responsibility.
Emma: Which is?
August: To record–to witness the greatest stories of all time and record them for posterity. the job has gone back eons,1 from the man who watched shadows dance across cave walls and developed an entire philosophy,2 to a playwright who told tales in poetry,3 to a man named Walt.4 Many have had this sacred job–great women and men who took on the responsibility with the gravity that it deserved… until this last one.

Eion Baily1

August Booth is played by actor Eion Baily. There’s a chance, however slight, that the word choice here was subtly hinting that he’s the current author or at least a journeyman in training. after all, he was able to add his own story to Henry’s Once Upon a Time book. And he knows more about the Author(s) than anyone outside the Apprentice or the tricksie Peddler himself.


In The Republic, Plato has Socrates desPlato's Cavecribe a gathering of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to designate names to these shadows. The shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.

William Shakespeare3

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. His works have been translated into every major living language. His inclusion in the mythology opens up a huge roster of potential background characters.

Walt Disney4

Often suggested as the Author who’d appear this season, Walt Disney founded the company that owns ABC and has produced several popular interpretations of classic fairy tales. But you knew that.

It’s not entirely unreasonable to suggest that the Author trapped in the book is James Lapine, writer of the postmodern revisionist Into the Woods, the film version of which Disney released last year. It makes Charming’s, “As long as we have each other, we can be the best versions of ourselves,” slyly metatextual.

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Snow White plays Lady Macbeth pretty much straight here. Unable to shake her vision, she pushes herself and her husband to ever more egregious acts of evil until, eventually, she cannot take the consequences anymore.

Isaiah 34:14

Lilith, variously a female demon or wicked fairy. In Jewish folklore she became Adam’s first, equal, wife who refused to submit and rejected Eden. So Maleficent’s exiled daughter has a powerful, resonant, ominous name.

Paradise Lost

Finally, some of the juxtapositions in the Comic-Con trailer make sense. What had been useful as a broad metaphor now has specific referents. The first portion in particular.

Snow: I’ve loved you since the first moment I saw you.
Charming: And I’ll love you until my last

Out of our evil seek to bring forth good,(163)
Our labour must be to pervert that end,(164)

Emma: It’s time for all of us to believe; to believe in each other

And out of good still to find means of evil;(165)

Zelena: I tried to be good once but it wasn’t in the cards.

Snowing sought to secure Emma’s good destiny through an act of evil. Zelena managed to twist several benevolent acts toward her own ends. And, of course, as long as you’ve seen the preview, she’s coming back.

The Poetic Edda

For whatever reason, the building to the left of Gold’s Pawn Shop, if you’re facing it, is fronted with “gudrun.” It could have been there all along, but I only remember seeing it twice this season. In one of the stories in the Edda, Guðrún feeds her husband their sons and burns down his hall.

Once Upon a Time

The non-Frozen portions of 4A really come back in force this episode. We revisit “The Apprentice,” “Breaking Glass,” and “Smash the Mirror” all weigh pretty heavily here. But since we open on Snowing tracking a unicorn for clairvoyant visions, I want to focus on that.

Emma Swan has always been associated with the unicorn and it’s nice to see it brought back into the mythology and reality of the show. The unicorn is a traditional Christian salvific symbol, so it’s entirely appropriate that it be involved with every aspect of her story.

1×01 “Pilot”

This is where we first see the unicorn mobile.  It reappears in Gold’s shop in 1×06 “The Shepherd.”

Unicorn Mobile

In addition to the potential Into the Woods connection above, the acknowledgement that the mobile was a gift from Cinderella opens her, via the recent live action Disney release, as a potential focus next season.

1×02 “The Thing You Love Most”

When Regina confronts Maleficent in order to retrieve The Dark Curse, Mal has a diminutive pet unicorn by her side. Ultimately, it’s her concern for this pet that decides the fight against her. It’s interesting that the other unicorn in the story is at least tangentially linked to Swan’s counterpart, Lily.

Unicorn Title Card1×12 “Skin Deep”

This episode reuses the title card from “Skin Deep.” In that episode the unicorns appear on tapestries in Rumpelstiltskin’s Dark Castle.

The first “Sight” from the series The Lady and the Unicorn. The second only appears after Belle attempts to break Rumple’s curse with true love’s kiss. He tears the cover from the mirror and rants at Regina while “The Unicorn in Captivity and No Longer Dead” from the series The Hunt of the Unicorn overwhelms the background. It’s a subtle scenery clue that the savior is integral to his convoluted plans.

At this point, Rumpelstiltskin, Ingrid, the Sorcerer, the Apprentice, Snowing, and the Author all have designs on Emma Swan. With all that pressure, how much control does she have over her own destiny?

Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments

Captain Swan

  • Killian is clearly deeply concerned about the plan to turn Emma into a villain. Emma emphatically reassures him she will not go dark, though Killian speaks from experience when he tells her darkness can creep up on a person. The two share a long comfort hug where clearly they are oblivious to everyone else around them because one foot away Charming and Snow are discussing the thing which cannot be told to Emma and use Emma’s name. That’s a helluva hug.
  • Killian asks how “the wooden man-child” was as a dual conversation starter. Certainly he knows she’s thinking about August’s well-being, but he’s also attempting to dig a little into her feelings for August. Emma sees immediately what he’s up to and tells him, “Now is not the time to be jealous.” “Why would I be jealous?” Killian responds, adding that he knows she’s partial to men in leather jackets. Emma explains that August is just a friend, but since she’s had a rough time making friends, she holds him dear. Then they notice the sleeping curse coming at them and land in the cutest sleeping pose possible, with Emma laying on Killian’s chest.
  • When her parents finally come clean, Killian attempts to comfort Emma by asking if she’s alright and moving to hold her hand, but she pulls it away quickly before he can touch her. She leaves shortly after.
  • Killian finds her later by the pier. She tells him she just needs some time. He knows to skip the discussion of how she’s doing and goes straight to what will relieve some of her anxiety: “August is awake. Your parents are with him.” “Is he?” “He’s going to be fine. Your friend is going to be fine.” Then she hugs him, bringing back the intimacy and comfort she had rejected earlier and allowing him to carry her emotional burden. It’s quite sweet and says much about how much vulnerability she has allowed herself to have with him.


  • Finally, a truly substantive moment for the Rumpbelle shippers out there. Rumple takes his opportunity to be close to Belle during Maleficent’s sleeping spell. He lovingly moves her from the floor to a divan, holds her hand, and speaks softly. “My love,” he begins. He goes on to confess that all magic comes with a cost and he’s wracked up so much magical debt, he’ll never be free of it. He has to change the rules altogether, and quickly. He promises to come back for her if he can and kisses her hand before leaving.

Runaways (Emma/Lily)

  • Emma explains the dearness with which she carries August by reminding Killian of her lost friendship with Lily. Later we find out Lily is Maleficent’s child and thus also Emma’s heart of darkness mate. They are now officially two halves to a whole! The two are meant to be together.

Swan Queen

  • Regina intervenes on Emma’s behalf when Cruella makes a comment about wanting to wring her neck while she sleeps.


  • Although the role these two play in the episode is largely antagonistic, that doesn’t mean that their intentions weren’t motivated by love. The concern they share for their child’s well-being brings them together. In all actions, they are united, though their visions of the child diverge.
  • After they go through with the nefarious plan to imbue another child (Maleficent’s baby) with their child’s darkness, they are haunted by what they’ve done. Snow notes they are no longer heroes, but Charming is more concerned with their relationship: “But we’re still here, so how do we fix us?” Snow again shows her concern is with them being good again. She asks, “Do you really think redemption is possible?” Charming says they must “spread hope and faith everyday” and be the best version of themselves. The two commit to being better heroes to raise their child and keep her on the right track.

Wooden Swan 

  • August falls ill from so many recent magical transformations. Emma is deeply concerned. She is so concerned, in fact, Killian becomes jealous.
  • When August wakes and Emma returns, he asks her what’s going on. She dodges the question, but he sees right through it, reminding her that he knows lying. When she makes a connection about the powers the Author would still have, he comments that she’s come a long way from the woman who wouldn’t believe. There is clear affection and intimacy in his understanding of who Emma is