Emma’s past before Storybrooke helps explain her distance with her relationship with Snow.
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Josh Dallas, and Jared S. Gilmore.
Back when Emma was 17 (you can tell she’s seventeen because she has a different hairstyle and wears glasses. Give that costume designer a raise), she steals a yellow VW bug. Unfortunately for her there is already a man inside it, namely Neal Cassidy (the mysterious man from the season premiere), who himself had stolen the car. The two form a bond and start banding together to perform small crimes, such as shoplifting. Eventually they decide to settle down and Emma points at the map, revealing Tallahassee as the place. Soon, however, Neal discovers that he is still wanted for grand larceny, having stolen a case of watches from his job at a jewellery store in Phoenix. As a result, he needs to flee to Canada until the heat dies down, but they haven’t the money for both of them to go. Emma proposes that she could retrieve the watches from where Neal had hidden them so that they can get the money for both of them to go to Canada together, or to change their identities and live in Tallahassee. Emma goes to the train station and retrieves the watches, then hands them across to Neal to sell. The pair agree to meet later on, once he has the money.
Having separated, Neal is confronted by August, who convinces Neal of the existence of magic and Emma’s role in breaking the curse through a mysterious, but unknown, something inside his box. August encourages Neal to leave Emma, for the sake of her destiny. Emma, at the meeting place, is met with an officer instead of Neal and she is arrested. Two months afterwards, August and Neal meet in Vancouver and August tells Neal that Emma was sentences to eleven months in a minimum security facility. Neal gives August the money he got from the watches, as well as the keys to the VW, which he know owns legitimately, to pass on to Emma. August, in return, promises to let Neal know once the curse is broken and it’s safe for him to return. In prison, Emma receives a package from Phuket, which contains the car keys. As the police officer leaves, she congratulates Emma on the news of her pregnancy, as we see Emma clutching a positive pregnancy test.
The Enchanted Forest
Snow, Emma, Mulan, Aurora and Hook arrive at the beanstalk, with Hook explaining that magic beans were grown by giants and used them to plunder other realms, until they were defeated by mankind, led by the fabled Jack. As a result, the giants destroyed the beans when they were defeated and the magic compass belongs to the last remaining giant. Hook explains that the beanstalk is enchanted to prevent people climbing it, but that Cora gave him a counter spell that can be shared with another person. Emma insists that she should go up with Hook, and Mulan gifts them a sleeping powder. Secretly, Emma instructs Mulan to chop down the beanstalk if they do not return after 10 hours.
At the top of the beanstalk, Emma and Hook knock out the giant with Mulan’s sleeping powder and begin to search for the compass. However, the giant awakes and pursues them, burying Hook underneath falling rubble. Emma manages to trap the giant in a cage engineered as a human booby trap, but does not kill him, leading to the giant giving her the compass. He then lets Emma go, but she negotiates that he also holds Hook prisoner there for 10 hours, who she has handcuffed to a pole so that he cannot betray her.
Meanwhile, on the ground, Snow bonds with Aurora and comforts her over the dreams that Aurora seems to be having. Snow explains that this is a common side effect of the sleeping curse that the pair of them have been through. After having one such nightmare, Aurora awakes and regales how she was trapped in a sealed red room with red curtains, which were on fire. Worryingly, she also has the sense that there was somebody else in the room, who was looking at her through the flames. Mulan works out that it has been ten hours since Emma went up the beanstalk and starts to cut it down, but Snow battles her away from it, even though Emma requested it. At that moment, Emma arrives at the bottom of the beanstalk, and Snow confronts her, telling her angrily that they are going to return to Storybrooke together. The foursome then prepare to get the magical ashes from Cora.
Henry has a nightmare, and is comforted by David. The nightmare that Henry describes is identical in nature to Aurora’s dream, except he could see a woman looking at him through the burning curtains.
- In the past, Emma falls in love with petty criminal Neal Cassidy.
- Before they run away together, August warns Neal away from Emma and the pair get Emma arrested for one of Neal’s crimes.
- Emma discovers she is pregnant with Neal’s baby while in prison.
- Hook and Emma go to the top of the beanstalk, and Emma retrieves the compass to help them return to Storybrooke.
- Aurora and Henry are having the same nightmare, involving a sealed red room with burning red curtains.
A slightly slower episode this week. In contrast to juggling three different storylines at once, this instalment decided to tone back its focus upon Storybrooke so that we could properly explore the flashback and the events in the Enchanted Forest. This episode in particular really helped us to understand our central character, Emma. Emma has been at the foreground of the programme since its inception, though we have never seen her in flashbacks before. Emma has never really been a character who is lacking in depth, but it is nice to see further elements of her backstory, especially with the identity of the mysterious stranger becoming more clear.
Here, we can see that the Emma that we know was not wholly moulded by her experiences with the foster care system. While that is a big part of who she is, and her abandonment complex is immense, we learn about another massive formative experience upon her life. Her ordeal with Neal definitely goes some ways to explain Emma’s emotional distance that we have seen since she arrived in Storybrooke. We have seen lots of those walls come down with those around her, namely Mary Margaret and her own son, Henry, but Neal’s cold-hearted betrayal (from Emma’s point of view) definitely shattered her illusion of love. The Emma that we see in the past is so ready and willing to love and to go all into the traditional idea of family that Emma had been lacking as a child, but we can see that being betrayed by Neal, who she trusted implicitly, is a massive dent in Emma’s ability to open up to other people. It’s also a wall that Snow is still fighting against even now, despite their friendship during Snow’s cursed identity of Mary Margaret. Emma’s finding ways still to open herself up, be vulnerable and need help, but we can see that these experiences are the reason for her reticence, and the reason for her independent resolve that has served her much better since.
The character of Neal is quite intriguing. It’s nice to have some answers as to his identity after his random appearance in the season premiere. Michael Raymond-James plays him wonderfully, imbuing him with a wonderful, charming youthfulness, but his response to August telling him about the curse or magic does not seem to be met with as much pushback from Neal as Emma gave it last season. This begs the question as to what exactly August showed Neal to make him believe so fully, or whether there are some hidden secrets about Neal still waiting to be revealed. One thing is for sure, that postcard sent in Broken was sent by August, informing Neal that the curse is broken, meaning that Neal should be heading for Storybrooke any day now. It does also mean that August survived the Pinocchio transformation, as if his empty hotel room wasn’t evidence enough.
It is quite apparent with this episode that Once Upon a Time is keen to expand its fairytale horizons. The inclusion of beanstalks and giants, as well as details of a giant/human war is an interesting one, but I can’t help but feel that I would rather find out more about the origins and the characteristics of the myriad characters already in the programme as opposed to adding in more. I still feel like we barely know anything about Aurora or Mulan, despite them featuring in loads of episodes this season.
Once Upon a Time is also, evidently, ambitious in the story that it strives to tell, but it was severely hampered in this instalment with the heavy reliance upon CGI. It must be a nightmare to work in the editing department for this show, as the creators have a movie expectation with just a network television budget. Never before has that been so obvious as now. While the giant sequence turned out alright, the graphic effects certainly detracted from the level of action and made it appear much less dramatic and frightening than the creatives were aiming for, which makes me long for the writers to take into consideration what is practically achievable by the show and write these sequences accordingly.
- I’m excited to see what’s happening with the dream that both Henry and Aurora are having. They are joined by the fact that both of them have been put under the sleeping curse, recently, as alluded to by Snow, but it is a curious idea. If both of them are having the same nightmare, and seeing each other there, is what they see in the dream real? Could the pair of them actually be hurt by what is in there? Are they actually transporting to a different plane? And could this be a way to get back to Storybrooke?
- I like how Emma wasn’t fooled by Hook. I’ve been worried since he appeared as Cora’s agent that it was all a massive double crossing and that Emma would fall for it. It would have been massively out of keeping considering the backstory we see of her this episode, so it’s nice that she is being cautious. She was fooled multiple times last season, so it’s good to see she’s being a little bit more shrewd this time around.
- Speaking of which, I’m unsure what to think of Hook. He is definitely being incredibly flirtatious around Emma, but I worry as to what his intentions are. Is he actually interested in her, or is he just really flirtatious? Either way, she is not having it.
- Jennifer Morrison did play younger Emma quite well. She showed the youthful energy and more lighthearted spirit to the character that set her completely apart from the modern-day Emma. However, no amount of ponytail will make her look 17. I’m not entirely sure what would, and I’d hate to have another actress play Emma, but it wasn’t entirely believable, and now I have no idea how old I’m meant to think Neal is either.
A touching exploration into one of our central characters, helping us to understand more of the barriers in her personal relationships, though weighed down by overly ambitious and clunky CGI sequences.