Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sometimes You Reach What's Real By Making Believe

SPOILERS AHEAD for Once Upon a Time Season 3, Episodes 21/22 -  "Snow Drifts"/"There's No Place Like Home" 

The next time I want to give up on a show, smack me and say "Captain Swan, dammit!"

I swear to all that is good and holy, Once Upon a Time was invented and written just for me. Fairy tale characters in modern times - magic existing in our world - a girl who discovers she's in actual fact a fairy tale princess - how could it not be?

Even though... I will be totally, 100% honest - I was ready to throw in the towel on this show about a month ago (the reasons are wide and varied, and I don't need to go into them now). But I am eternally grateful that I did not. Because then I wouldn't have had the immense joy and pleasure of watching this season finale.

The lead-up to this finale was tense. My two most very favorite characters - Emma Swan and Killian "Captain Hook" Jones - were going to go on a fantastic journey back in time to when Emma's parents met. They promised us Back to the Future and Star Wars parallels. The relationship between Emma and Killian had been compared to The Princess Bride and Tangled and, of course, Princess Leia and Han Solo. Hell, I made that connection before I ever saw it on Tumblr. Unofficially, this finale was billed as "The Captain Swan Movie" ("Captain" Hook and Emma "Swan" - get it? No? Then I can't help you...)

I was nervous that I was building my hopes up too high for this. But I didn't need to worry - it lived up to my expectations and then some!

Because this finale contained oodles of payoff for Emma and Killian, I've got to tackle some things on the individual character levels first - First off, Emma Swan. Emma has been left behind by people she's cared about tons of times. She's never had a real home or felt like she belonged anywhere. Clear back in the first episode of the series, she makes a birthday wish that she doesn't have to spend her birthday alone. That has what her entire character arc has been - finding a home. Now, when I first started watching Once, I thought that this little nugget would be dealt with a lot sooner (apparently, the creators go in for the long game - which I'm fine with, now that I know that's what's going on). But this is Season 3 - and Emma still doesn't feel like she's got a place in Storybrooke. The fairy tale people depend on her because her powers keep them safe from really terrible things - and maybe that's all she thinks she is to these people. That's certainly not the case - especially since Emma's parents express dismay that she plans to leave Storybrooke now that the latest Big Bad has been defeated. But she's leaving - because she's never felt like anyone's cared enough about her to chase her down.

Except - there's Killian Jones. Who I've talked about previously. Who's probably had the most character development in this series to date (Regina might have just as much - but it's not exactly a contest). Season 3 has been very, very good to Captain Hook. In Season 2, he was introduced as kind of a minion in the main villain's schemes (Killian was after revenge on Rumpelstiltskin for cutting off his hand and killing the love of his life - complicated story). At the end of that season, Killian had a change of heart (probably because he was in love with Emma from the beginning - even when they were at odds with each other) and allied with the good guys. The first part of Season 3 - for all it's endless tromping through Neverland - provided Killian with some fantastic backstory (in episode 5 "Good Form" - where we learn how he turned from being a respectable lieutenant in His Majesty's Royal Navy to a dirty rotten pirate. And I use that term in the best possible way). Personally, I fell in love with Killian. I loved his character, I loved his personality, I loved the new twist on the Captain Hook persona, I loved the way he looked (Colin O'Donoghue is a fine looking gentleman. I'm a bit shallow - so sue me). The more he was on the show, the more I could overlook the things I had problems with (which ended up not to be that big of a deal, so it all worked out great). And he didn't have a personal history with Emma Swan. Which, to that point, everyone that Emma could have had a decent relationship with was tainted by things that happened in her past (she thought her parents abandoned her, her ex-boyfriend abandoned her, even her son carried bad memories for her - though that wasn't his fault and they seemed to do okay later). Killian does everything in his power to show that he loves Emma - and Emma must love him too. But she can't let go of things in her past and accept that she is worthy to love someone and to be loved and to have a place to call her own.

This is where "Snow Drifts" opens up. Storybrooke is celebrating the downfall of the Wicked Witch and the birth of Snow White and Prince Charming's newborn son. Snow and Charming talk about how they met (think George and Lorraine in Back to the Future - even though that story has been covered before - it's good to have a refresher). Emma is contemplating packing Henry up and heading back to New York. Everyone's kind of upset about this - few moreso than Killian Jones, who goes after Emma to talk to her alone. And wouldn't you know it - the Wicked Witch's heretofore-failed-time-travel portal opens up all on its own and Emma and Killian fall into it.

This story is Back to the Future - plain and simple. Emma screws up her parents first meeting and she has to get them to redo their first meeting all over again. Along the way, she and Killian meet up with Rumpelstiltskin (the look on Emma's face when she meets fairy-tale-Rumple is priceless) and he helps them get the things they need to put this plan into action. Everything's pretty straightforward, like you'd expect an homage to be.

Except - there is one twist in the classic story. Emma gets to see what life in the fairy tale kingdom would have been like for her. She finally gets to be the fairy tale princess (using "Princess Leia" as a pseudonym because why not? I think it's fitting - Disney owns Star Wars now and there is Disney all over Once Upon a Time and Leia should be among the Disney princesses). She even gets her first dance at a royal ball with her very own prince (I squeed the whole time she and Killian were dancing). And even more than that - she sees that she can depend on Killian and that he's not going to leave her behind. He believes in her and he wants her to believe in herself. He encourages her, he makes her laugh, he brings out everything good about her. Sure, he's flirty as hell still and one cheeky bastard - but that's Killian. That's why his one of the best characters on the whole damn show! And Emma is flirty right back! She's having fun, even in the middle of this dangerous mission. She belongs in this world with this pirate and everything is just perfect.

One thing I love about this finale is all the homages to other stories - not just traditional fairy tales, but classic stories from our modern world. I mentioned a few earlier - Back to the Future, Star Wars, Tangled, The Princess Bride (Anastasia was mentioned once or twice this week too). Hell, I half expected Dumbledore or somebody to show up from Harry Potter - it felt like all my favorite stories were being represented! And that's what I love about this show - while it's about true love and believing in happy endings - it's also about the power of stories. It's something that I've clung to all my life - it's why I'm a librarian and why I read so much and, quite honestly, why I do so many of the crazy things that I do. It's because stories are the world's greatest magic. I know it sounds trite and cliche, but I've found that the best cliches are cliches because they are true. So many times I've pulled through a bad spot because I had a good story to cheer me up - to show me that good things could still happen, even though I felt like there was no stinking way.

So what happens next? Snow and Charming do their whole Meet Cute thing (with great peril added in for flavor), Emma realizes that she does belong in Storybrooke, that realization reawakens her lost powers (long story), they get back home (with one more person in tow, but give a minute for that one) - even more, Emma realized that she belongs in Storybrooke with Killian (when he finally tells her how he found her in the first place - oh my poor fangirl heart...) and finally - FINALLY - they kiss!

Now, kissing's important in Once Upon a Time. True Love's Kiss can break all manner of curses and it's usually a pretty epically big deal. Except - this kiss isn't. It's a lot more real and personal and intimate. Which is exactly what Emma and Killian's relationship has been - they've had conversations about each other's pasts and how they both understand each other and they've found out that they're not so different. Doesn't matter than Emma had to make her way on the streets and Killian was a pirate captain with a ship and a crew - at their core, they're both looking for home. And they finally found it with each other. Everything just fits together so well from the start and we got such a great payoff!

Other Things -
- I knew that lady they brought back to Storybrooke with them was Maid Marion. Given the relationship budding between Regina and Robin Hood... uh-oh... (well, we gotta have conflict come in somewhere. And that ship was having too easy of a time of it)
- Killian punching out his past self for making out with Emma (even though Emma was trying to distract past!Hook)... that was hilarious!
- Killian as a prince. Be still my fangirl heart!
- Rumple and Belle's wedding at the end! And Rumple's monologue over Killian and Emma kissing.
- The very, very, very end!  Well... remember this post? I guess we won't be needing that (at least, not quite yet).

I've gotta go watch these episodes again! (not like I won't have watched them twenty zillion times between now and Season 4, though).

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