*This article contains spoilers: Once Upon a Time season 6 episode 11*
The first half of Once Upon a Time’s sixth season had a “back to basics” vibe that I appreciated. It was thematically rich, steeped in the show’s brand of hopeful optimism, and largely favored small character moments over expansive plot. One of my complaints, though, was that some storylines didn’t quite work for me; either they felt unearned, wrapped up too quickly, or were awkwardly paced. Luckily, this week’s midseason premiere (episode 6.11, “Tougher Than the Rest”), combined the best of both worlds, reminding me a lot of season one while also featuring cohesive storylines.
The hour began by adding to Emma’s origin story: namely, how she got the last name “Swan.” This reveal worked for me for a couple of reasons. One, it made total sense that a character so consistently full of agency would choose her own name. And two, the timing of the reveal was perfect. August and Emma’s fates have been intertwined from the beginning, so adding another layer to that relationship in a season so thematically reminiscent of season one worked very well. The moment at the beginning, coupled with Emma thanking August at the end of the hour, also provided two apt bookends for an episode focused on the Savior’s beginning and potential ending.
There was also a nice parallel in Emma returning the favor to Wish Realm August, believing in him and his abilities just as the real August believed in her. A large part of this season has involved Emma coming to terms with who she is as the Savior, and this was a great example of the type of saving she prefers. She’ll save Storybrooke from outside threats because she can’t stand to see her family and friends harmed. But, as August pointed out, she doesn’t talk about that with any real excitement. She prefers to help people save themselves, which is exactly what she did here with August.
This hour also saw Gideon, Rumple and Belle’s now freakishly full-grown son, make his appearance in Storybrooke, and I’m a little torn on it. I’m not terribly invested in Belle and Rumple’s toxic relationship anymore, so I’m not that interested in their reaction to him. However, I do like the idea of Gideon as another character whose fate is intertwined with Emma’s. Growing up under slightly similar circumstances, he offers a look at who Emma could have become and the evil that she could have chosen. Gideon’s motive is also interesting; doing something bad for the right reason—killing Emma to save a town terrorized by the Black Fairy—shows that he has both Belle and Rumple’s tendencies. Hopefully, his Belle side wins out in the end.
The other big piece of the hour was Regina’s kind-of-sort-of reunion with Robin, and I have thoughts. I always believed that killing Robin off was a mistake and doing so without him finding peace was too dark for a show about happy endings. It was also an unnecessarily brutal blow to a character who’d already lost one love of her life. Because of this, I was totally onboard for Regina talking to Wish Realm Robin, and their conversation in Rumple’s dungeon was indeed lovely. Bringing him back to Storybrooke, however, feels ill-advised. If his primary purpose is to bring Regina closure in her relationship with the real Robin, then I think he already did his job. Bringing him back makes me feel like Regina is going to try to have a relationship with him, and that’s just setting herself up for even more heartbreak. He may look like her Robin, but he’s not, and forcing a relationship because of that isn’t a good idea. It was Emma’s idea to bring him back, so at least Regina has someone to blame?
Other thoughts on episode 6.11:
In addition to Robin Hood, the Wish Realm gave us hilariously old and chubby—but still suave—Killian, whose appearance scared Emma enough to later suggest that her Hook switch from rum to water. His response? “What, for drinking?”
Wish Realm Rumplestiltskin also made an appearance and, as always, it was delightful to see Robert Carlyle in all his Rumple glory. Naturally, Wish Realm Belle was dead courtesy of the Evil Queen; even in a realm that technically doesn’t exist, Ms. French gets the short end of the stick.
In Storybrooke, the Charming/Hook bromance was on full display, which I will never, ever complain about. Looks like next episode is a big one for the two of them as well so, hey, something to look forward to.
What did you guys think of the midseason premiere? Let me know in the comments!