The Tower Review | Once Upon a Time Season 3, Episode 14

“Don’t fail the next one.”

Emma Swan

Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, and Robert Carlyle.

Season 3
Episode 14: The Tower

In a bit more of a standalone episode, Once explores (not entirely subtly) facing down one’s fears. It’s a bit slower and less engrossing than the previous episodes have been, but the ongoing machinations of Zelena are enough to keep it compelling enough to carry on watching. It’s also a shame that a “fairytale of the week” story rests upon Charming’s shoulders, as one of the less interesting and – bizarrely – less developed characters on the show.

Charming hasn’t really been developed very much throughout Once, despite being half of the show’s central coupling. Significantly more flashbacks have focused upon Snow and Regina’s conflict. Some steps have been made, such as changing his backgrounds to a shepherd instead of an out-of-touch Prince, but largely Charming comes across as vaguely nice and a bit too happy to use a sword to solve his problems. Unfortunately, Once continues to show that it’s much better able to construct and develop its villains compared to its heroes.

This episode doesn’t do too much to dispel this notion, as it explores the concept of paralysing fear. In the Enchanted Forest, Rapunzel is held captive within her tower out of fear of returning to her parents and being next in line to the throne of her kingdom due to her apprehension at her effectiveness at being a ruler. Ultimately, it transpires that Rapunzel is literally held there only by her deepest fears, as the witch that she is terrified of is, in fact, herself. Once she admits her fears, the creature disappears, leaving Rapunzel free to return to her parents once more.

It was a pleasing twist upon the traditional Rapunzel tale, and it’s nice for a fairytale-of-the-week story to actually be given a decent conclusion, instead of having yet another recurring character floating around to have to check in with intermittently. It was also chillingly told, with the direction and camerawork really selling the terrifying nature of the witch.

Charming, meanwhile, is paralysed by his worries at being a competent father. In an incredibly on-the-nose dream, Charming is told by Emma, “Don’t fail the next one” as she rockets out of the nursery via the magical wardrobe. It’s an interesting concept to see such an outwardly appearing character confront their own fears, as Charming is perhaps a character who traditionally would be associated with bravery and courage. Ultimately, of course, these two things can co-exist, but it’s still a twist upon what we would expect from him. The only problem is that it doesn’t feel entirely organic, or at least not in the way that it is presented. Charming didn’t fail Emma. Sure, they did not have a usual upbringing because of the curse, but he didn’t really fail her. He saved her, instead. So that link feels a little bit tenuous, and was as subtle as a brick to the face.

This entire episode was deeply sinister and unsettling. The camerawork throughout was cinematic, and little details like the lighting and the spinning doll heads, as well as the movements that made the hooded figures appear to scuttle were really effective and well done.

It was a brilliant touch to have Charming and Emma interact within Charming’s dream. Their relationship is disarmingly sweet, even if we don’t see it as much as Snow’s relationship with their daughter. It was, in fact, slightly strange that Charming was the one whose brain was on Emma when he found out that Snow was expecting instead of Snow herself, but the feasibility of basing an episode around a non-pregnant Snow thinking back to the problems with Emma would have been difficult, as well as probably re-treading old ground.

The only problem with the imagining of Emma and Charming is the fact that, awkwardly, Jennifer Morrison and Josh Dallas had searingly good chemistry that made the section a little bit Game of Thrones and strangely sexually charged. Speaking of sexually charged, Zelena and Rumplestiltskin also shared a moment this week as she seductively trimmed his beard using the dagger. The reveal at the end of the episode of Rumple having escaped is also wonderfully intriguing, though it would be surprising if it wasn’t another of Zelena’s plots.

Having Zelena continuing to be a presence within Storybrooke was engrossing and gives the episode a sinister undercurrent, especially as she and Snow continue to grow closer. Her ability to manipulate and to worm her way into the Storybrooke inhabitants lives is quite subversive, especially since we still don’t know what her plans are. Having these elements play out without any distracting green screen effects is also an added bonus and it’s pleasing to see that the snow are relying upon these elements less.

Ultimately, despite the slightly underwhelming B-plot (which I suppose was technically the A-plot), “The Tower” boasts highly effective and atmospheric direction. There are significant hints towards where this story could go and develop, seeming to suggest an anti-Wizard of Oz direction for Zelena, as she has stolen Charming’s courage. Perhaps she is also responsible for Rumple’s deterioration and loss of mind, suggesting that she will also need to take somebody’s heart? Quite how Snow’s unborn child factors into that situation remains to be seen, but it is definitely intriguing.

In Short

  • Snow reveals to Charming that she is expecting a baby.
  • Charming goes to find nightroot to eliminate his fear, but instead saves Rapunzel from the tower, where she is being menaced by her own fears.
  • Hook, Regina, Charming and Emma use physical evidence to track back to Zelena’s residence.
  • Charming is attacked by his fears after being spiked by Zelena.
  • The group find Rumple’s abandoned cage at Zelena’s farm.

Other thoughts

  • Surely if they wait around long enough at Zelena’s place she will just rock up? Or maybe they’d recognise her bike? Surely it’s only a matter of time before they work out who she is?
  • Since Zelena still has Rumple’s dagger, it’s possible that she has let him go and is going to use him as her puppet to further achieve her goals – whatever they are.
  • Poor Belle looks so lonely. It’s such a shame that they’ve never really built her any solid friendships. Without Rumple, her storyline falls apart.
  • Neal is still MIA. Hopefully the flashbacks to the Enchanted Forest will continue to reveal what exactly is happening/has happened to him.
  • With the rate that these plot revelations are coming, it really does seem that the writers have a grand masterplan for the back end of this season.


A highly sinister and atmospheric instalment. While not the best, the continuing premise proves to be captivating enough to see the episode through.

You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.

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