You don’t have to worry about me anymore. ‘Cause I’m okay. I promise.Alice
Starring Lana Parrilla, Colin O’Donoghue, Andrew J. West, Dania Ramirez, Alison Fernandez, Mekia Cox, and Robert Carlyle
Episode 14: The Girl in the Tower
“The Girl in the Tower” is firmly Alice’s episode. Even with the other elements within the instalment, the focus is firmly upon her character. Alice has always been hugely fascinating and captivating throughout Season 7, but to truly take a look behind her myriad layers here makes this a highlight of Once Upon a Time’s final run. Not only this, but it also gives us a huge amount of development in her and Robin’s relationship, which was previously confirmed in the mid season finale.
Of course, Alice’s story is far from the only plot line of this episode, which is a recurring theme with these season and is a massive loss here, as the flashbacks easily could have carried this episode far more substantially. In the Once Upon a Time episodes of old, there would generally be one storyline in the past and one in the present, perhaps with a couple of side plots co-occurring. This was switched up for Season 6, which allowed for more equality in the screentime of our regulars, but is proving less successful in Season 7, when we are less bonded to each of the characters and need more time to get to know them and understand what makes them tick.
Fortunately, this episode does give us a much greater appreciation for both Alice, and Tilly, both of whom are overwhelmingly off the wall characters and are difficult to pin down. Up until now, it’s been easy to dismiss Alice, and Tilly, as being “crazy”. That’s the main through thought of the Hyperion Heights narrative, after all, is that Tilly is on medication for mental illness, and it definitely fits in with her more erratic moments in the New Enchanted Forest, as well. Alice as a character is on the scatty side, even in the original novel, so it’s definitely in keeping with what we would expect. However, this episode does help break down that idea of her being zany and weird and helps contextualise it in a realistic and quite tragic way.
Through rooting her personality quirks in her upbringing, it makes these aspects all the more sad to see. You can see through this episode the profound loneliness that Alice experiences. Unlike her father, who is able to continue with his regular life in the real world, Alice is abandoned in the tower with only herself for company, leading to her inventing conversation with the inanimate objects around her. The plot revelation that Alice managed to summon the troll herself because of her desire to escape tells us even more about Alice’s character; the way that she wished and hoped so viscerally that she managed to create something that would not only save her but also continue to exist and to protect her even years later is hugely touching. It demonstrates that sense of loneliness that she cares with her, as well as her sense of childlike innocence and the sense of simultaneously being excited and terrified by the wider world that lies outside of her tower. It’s almost as if she invents herself the sort of caregiver that she should have had, somebody who she can rely upon and somebody to rescue her, which is the opposite of what she gets from Hook, especially when they continue to be separated.
This episode added valuable context to Alice and Robin’s relationship, as well. We have known since the mid season finale that the pair would ultimately end up in love, but this foreknowledge doesn’t diminish their connection here particularly. The way that they begin with animosity is also a nice touch, as that fractious back and forth highlights their chemistry. Principally, the two also complement each other nicely as a unit. Alice smooths some of Robin’s rougher, more malicious and untrusting edges, while Robin manages to ground Alice’s more flighty and manic ways. While just lumping them together in the finale, this episode really manages to sell their connection and justify the legitimacy of their relationship.
To have Alice’s magic rooted in the idea of wishing and hoping is something that is so disarmingly sweet and charming about the character. It’s not, unlike the other characters we have seen on the show, derived from a pursuit of gaining power or revenge, but purely because of her own personal strength and the strength that comes from her own hope. The speech that Alice gives to the troll, and also to herself in a way, about not needing him anymore, and not to worry about her was endearingly honest and a highlight of the episode. Additionally, the way that this magic even seems to last through into the real world, in the way that the troll continues to look after her adds to the whimsical and fantastical tone of the instalment.
The cherry on top of this episode about their relationship was Margot and Tilly interacting back in Hyperion heights. We know that Margot has been off exploring – in fact it’s quite a disarming turn of the tables compared to their existence in the New Enchanted Forest that Tilly is the one who has remained in one place while Margot has been seeing the world. Their chemistry seems obvious just from their first interaction, even though they do not consciously know who the other is. The little touch of the pair of them reading each other’s books throughout the episode was also a nice nod to their True Love.
While it may seem a little bit strange to have an entire episode out of the final run dedicated to a “new” relationship, instead of focusing upon the legacy members like Rumple or Regina or Henry, I would argue that Robin and Alice perfectly demonstrate the concept of the “next generation” of Once Upon a Time. From a strictly obvious point of view, Robin is connected deeply to the lore of the original series, through Zelena being her mother and Robin Hood her father. Zelena’s pregnancy was a major plot point, and it’s natural that that is then further explored, in the same way that Belle and Rumple’s adult child was a major part of Season 6. It’s also a nice acknowledgement that the story does continue and it does go on, and to have an LGBT pairing as the focal point of an episode, and really selling their connection, in a way that was honestly not present with Ruby and Dorothy’s one-episode romance. In that particular outing, the two shared approximately one one-to-one conversation before Ruby magically realised that she was in love, which definitely did come out of the blue (apparently the story arc was meant to last for more episodes, but Meghan Ory’s availability put paid to that idea). To have a lesbian couple at the centre of essentially a fairytale love story is really heartwarming, and its impact is not to be underestimated.
Elsewhere in the episode, Ivy took some meaningful steps forwards, highlighting the show’s intention to lead her down a redemption journey, as she resolves to find Anastasia (who apparently is missing, which entirely skipped me by. I imagined that she was still Gothel’s captive, so I’m not sure what exactly I missed). She also apologises to Henry, not that he knows what she’s apologising for, and acknowledges that if she’d met him sooner, perhaps everything would have been different. This is a nice nod of the head to their obvious chemistry and connection, and it’s sweet that Ivy is expressing her regret over the whole situation. It’s a small moment, which I don’t think is necessarily enough for a character who had quite a large part to play earlier in the season, but at least it isn’t being completely ignored.
This episode also marked the beginning of Operation Hyacinth, and we discover that Facilier is after the Dark One’s dagger – as, apparently, is everybody. This causes me a slight amount of worry, that the show is starting to get a little bit busy in the way of villains. There’s Facilier, who is after the Dark One’s dagger for some reason we don’t know, then Gothel, who is seeking the Guardian and possibly also the dagger, and then Rumple who wants to find the Guardian to rid himself of the dagger. With everybody after different things involving the same plot elements this can easily get muddled and very messy further down the line, as well as making the audience confused as to which characters to root for. It definitely affords more options for the writers, but that doesn’t mean that it makes for good storytelling.
Within this episode, Regina also admits to Zelena that she still has feelings about Facilier. This revelation is somewhat tricky to swallow as the audience, purely because we haven’t actually seen the history behind their relationship and I don’t want to spend too much time in the coming episodes actually dedicating time to selling the relationship. We don’t know where the connection is coming from, and since Facilier doesn’t seem entirely trustable, it’s bound to end with disaster and there aren’t enough episodes to properly give Regina an epic romance.
Ultimately, this episode felt like a fairytale, which has been a sense that Once Upon a Time has been missing for a while. It was full of whimsy, and heartwarming moments, from Alice and Robin connecting in the New Enchanted Forest, to Rogers taking Tilly in at the close of the episode. It was far more focussed upon just a couple of plot elements, instead of trying to dedicate too much time to other revelations, and the adventure in the past was self contained enough to be appreciated as a singular narrative, as opposed to connecting to any events past or future, which can often weigh down the flashback sections. I look forward to seeing how Tilly and Margot’s relationship develops as the final season rumbles on.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. Seasons 1 – 4 are now available on Disney+ in the UK. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.