*This article contains spoilers: Once Upon a Time season 6 episode 17*
This week, Once Upon a Time delivered another strong episode (6.17, “Awake”) in a run that I’m largely enjoying. This hour was quintessential Once: hopeful, romantic, and more than a little bittersweet. It also burned through a lot of plot while still leaving time for great character beats. We have a decent number of episodes left, but this may end up being one of my season six favorites.
The flashbacks were a big part of the reason why, as we saw a new time in the show’s history: Storybrooke, ten years into the Dark Curse. I’ll admit to being slightly confused during the first scene. For a moment I thought it was a pilot or season one moment that had happened offscreen, but then I remembered the circumstances of David waking up and realized it must be something Snow and Charming ended up forgetting. I’m actually glad they left the timeline a little fuzzy at first because it made the reveal that they were only ten years into the curse that much more impactful.
The flashbacks benefited from their newness; until Snow and Charming stood in front of the door, it was hard to predict what would happen next. They were similar to last week’s also excellent Black Fairy flashbacks in that regard, but unlike the Enchanted Forest ones where you know Snow will inevitably escape Regina’s clutches.
The scenes also worked because of how effortlessly the cast slipped back into their season one alter egos, with little touches like Regina’s smirk as she left a still confused Mary Margaret and Mary Margaret’s general skittishness, so unlike Snow’s overwhelming bravery. It also served as a reminder of just how cruel Regina was in that first season and just how big of a leap the town made in forgiving her. Additionally, the flashbacks tied into the present-day plot really beautifully, with Snow and Charming choosing to go back under a sleeping curse of sorts for the good of the town, while in the present Regina and the citizens of Storybrooke took the sleeping curse for the good of the Charmings.
Snow and Charming seeing ten-year-old Emma for the first time may go down as one of the most heart-wrenching moments in the show’s history—Charming’s reaction in particular really got to me. When they made the choice to drink the potion, however, it was Snow’s tearful “I didn’t expect to say goodbye so quickly” that affected me the most. It was also just really, really great to see Snow and Charming back together again; their love story represents the spirit of the show better than any other character or relationship.
The flashbacks also showed how far the product of that love story, Emma, has come. Six years ago, she may have been resentful about her parents’ decision; now she understands the sacrifices heroes and Saviors have to make. One of those sacrifices has been being away from her own true love, which tied in perfectly with Snow and Charming’s past and present-day storylines. I’ve always loved the idea of Emma and Hook as the next generation Snow and Charming, and Emma asking Charming for tips on how he and Snow make it work, as well as Snow giving up reuniting with Charming so Emma could be with Hook, spoke to that really wonderfully.
I’m sure being separated so often is terrible for Emma and Hook, but man does it lead to some great reunions. I love that they adopted the “let’s not waste another second” mindset, with Hook apologizing and proposing on the spot and Emma immediately forgiving him and saying yes. I wasn’t shy about how much I disliked the context of the first proposal, but this one nearly made up for it. Would I have loved for it to be their one and only? Sure. But with Hook spewing lines like “There’s one thing I want you to be certain of” and Emma joining him on the floor to say yes, it’s hard to complain about what I’ll now call the “real” proposal. And, to tie it back to the Charmings for a moment, I love the idea of Emma and Hook’s “I’ll always be by your side” being their version of “I will always find you.”
Other thoughts on “Awake”:
I enjoyed visiting Neverland again; the season three arc there was one of my favorites. It was fun seeing Pan’s magic back at work—this time in a far less sinister context—and I liked the twist on Tiger Lily’s character. It was also cool to revisit the place where Emma and Hook had their first kiss just before they took another big step in their relationship.
Zelena was actually helpful this episode! Her presence in Storybrooke still feels largely unnecessary to me, but her involvement here teed up what looks like a Zelena-centric hour next week.
It was a small thing, but I loved Regina very smoothly ushering Henry away the minute Hook started to propose.
Rumple vowing to destroy the town in order to save his kid’s heart provided an interesting contrast to Snow and Charming’s flashback decision.
With Emma and Hook’s reunion, the Charmings finally waking up, and Rumple figuring out that the Black Fairy is controlling Gideon’s heart, this episode tied up quite a few loose ends. Some storylines, especially Snow and Charming’s, were starting to feel stale, so I’m glad we’re heading into the final battle with a new status quo.
What did you think of “Awake”? Let me know in the comments!
More Once Upon a Time articles: Once Upon a Time 6.14 review: Regina and the Evil Queen face off!