It’s pretty much taken for granted that in a show based upon fairytales, there’ll be more than a few magical moments. What ‘Once Upon A Time’ managed to do, however, was provide us with some great scenes in fantasy AND reality. The real magic of the show, for a lot of viewers, was found in the relationships between characters: those moments when the interactions between them cast a spell over us as we watched and ensured that we came back week after week.
Here are my top five truly magical moments from Season 1:
“Your move” – 1.02: The Thing You Love Most
The opening episode of the show quickly established a level of conflict between Emma and Regina. One was the long lost birth mother, coming into an environment where she began to fear for the wellbeing of her estranged son. The other was Henry’s adopted mother, the woman who, despite her efforts, had failed to establish a mutually loving relationship with her child.
With tension between them quickly established, Regina begins a series of actions designed to make Emma Swan leave town. But our hero is not to be deterred and, in a moment that is both daring and pretty badass from the second episode, Emma takes a chainsaw to Regina’s beloved apple tree.
One of the things I love about this show is that it has three women front and center as protagonists (Emma, Regina, Snow/Mary Margaret). The men are important, but it’s the women who move the story forwards, especially in the early part of the season. The adversarial relationship between Emma and Regina takes center stage and there’s a level of sheer bitchery that I personally appreciate and revel in. But the way that these two interact immediately clued me in to the amazing chemistry that Lana Parilla and Jennifer Morrison have in their scenes together. Whatever they’re doing, it works because the screen fairly crackles when they’re both on it.
This moment was wonderful. Emma, impassioned and rash, unwittingly hits Regina where it hurts the most. The apple tree is, in a way, a physical representation of all that Regina holds dear from her previous incarnation in Fairy Tale World. For the Evil Queen, her apple tree is the one thing that’s never left her; she’s cared for it and nurtured it and it’s become a prized possession. In a life where everyone she ever loved went away, it remains symbolic of Regina’s past, flourishing under her care in a way that Henry never has.
Emma slices through that care in a manner that typifies her character: brash, upfront and unafraid of anything – even the Evil Queen herself. It was a fabulous way of instilling a firm idea of who these women were and served to precipitate all the clashes to come throughout the remainder of the season. You can’t help but love these two women standing their ground the way they do. And lo, a thousand fanfics were born.
The right thing to do – 1.06: The Shepherd
In a world where their happy endings are taken away from them, it was hard to see how David and Mary Margaret would ever find something remotely comforting, never mind fulfilling. We’d already been given their defining moment in Fairy Tale Land: the kiss that woke Snow from her enchanted sleep and reunited her with her Prince Charming.
Storybrooke, however, threw so many obstacles in their way that it was difficult to imagine Mary Margaret finding her true love. And what the show accomplished really well was to create an alter ego for Prince Charming who was made up of all the frailties that are the complete opposite of what we perceive as “heroic”, emphasized and accentuated to make David Nolan the sort of man we all wanted to slap. Repeatedly.
Realizing he had feelings for Mary Margaret, David decides to leave Kathryn, and give in to the confusing emotions that waking from his coma had engendered. He arranges to meet Mary Margaret by the Toll Bridge (Troll Bridge to those of us in the know) and manages to bypass Regina’s attempts to divert him from his decision. In fact, it’s only when he stops by Mr. Gold’s pawnshop that David begins to recall his fake memories wherein he fell in love with and married Kathryn.
Arriving at the Toll Bridge, David tells Mary Margaret that he has to honor the commitment he’d made to Kathryn and breaks our poor schoolteacher’s heart in the process. It was a wonderfully painful moment for us viewers, as Mary Margaret tells him that the “right” thing to do would be to NOT give her false hope. And even though we knew they were destined to be together (and were crossing our fingers that they would be one day), the scene appeared to be rooted more in the modern day than in the fairytale we’d been told.
Life in Storybrooke is messy, complicated and generally disappointing. I know that’s something we viewers can relate to – how often have we all wished that life was indeed like a fairytale where people fall in love and get to live happily ever after? I loved how stark this scene was in contrast to the unquestionable love that Snow and Charming share in Fairy Tale Land. And I don’t mind admitting to wanting to give Mary Margaret a massive hug.
“Tell. Me. Your name.” – 1.12: Skin Deep
One of the most enjoyable things about this show is the villains. In fairytales, bad is bad and good is good. We’re given very clear, linear representations of good and evil that tend to stay with us as we grow up. Disney capitalized on this in their animated movies and until this show started, there was nothing more enduring than the images of evil that films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and Sleeping Beauty gave us.
The Evil Queen and Rumpelstiltskin are exceptional villains, not only in that they are complicated people who experience complicated emotions, but also because they are portrayed by actors who are accomplished enough to give us nuance, variety and a hell of a lot of impressive (and wonderfully camp) posturing.
In Fairy Tale Land, the Evil Queen and Rumple are as much at loggerheads as Regina and Mr. Gold are in Storybrooke. But they do it with an extravagance in their performance that is compelling and entertaining to the extreme. In Storybrooke, both Lana Parrilla and Robert Carlyle rein that in and give controlled performances that are in direct contrast with their fairytale counterparts.
One of my favorite scenes between these two (and it’s so, SO hard to choose just one) is when Regina demands to know Mr. Gold’s real name. Her suspicions about him aroused, she forces him to reveal his true self and it’s a wonderfully tense exchange between them. “Such hostility,” Regina says, and it’s clear that there’s no love lost between them; that the animosity that characterizes their relationship in Fairy Tale World is alive and well in Storybrooke, hidden beneath the layers of propriety that this world demands.
What I loved most about this scene is that Robert Carlyle has the most incredible expressions running across his face as he faces up to the Evil Queen. He’s so very sinister and threatening, even though he’s behind bars, and I can’t help feeling like this is a defining moment for both of them. When Gold calls Regina “Your Majesty”, there’s a shift in their relationship and we as viewers know that the game is most definitely afoot.
“Do you wanna be alone?” – 1.12: What Happened to Frederick
Eddie and Adam (yes, we’re on first name terms now) have said that the show is largely about mothers and daughters. And we see that play out in a variety of ways, none more so than the growing relationship between Emma and Mary Margaret. They started out as friends and became roommates, but even then their connection to one another was evident and more meaningful than simply two women who live together.
This bond between the two is one of the things I think the show does very well. Ginny Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison have an off-screen friendship that translates successfully to their characters’ interactions onscreen. There’s a natural ease between them that makes us believe that these two women could actually be friends, even in the confines and oddity of Storybrooke.
There’s a multitude of great scenes between Emma and Mary Margaret, but this one was possibly the most touching. Mary Margaret has been let down by David’s inability to step up and end his relationship with Kathryn properly, and she decides that if he can’t be honest with her, then there’s no point in them being together at all. Returning home, Emma finds Mary Margaret lying on her bed, crying silently. She asks if Mary Margaret feels like talking about it, to which the answer is “nope”. Then Emma asks if Mary Margaret wants to be alone, and receives the same reply. In a gesture of compassion, Emma climbs onto the bed and lies beside her friend (and mother).
What I loved most about this scene is the genuine care that Emma shows towards Mary Margaret. For someone who is emotionally prohibited, it’s a real step forward for the character. But I think what I enjoyed more was Jennnifer Morrison’s performance. I’m not a massive fan of hers, it has to be said, but there are moments when I just adore what she does. This was one of them. Emma is SO awkward and SO hesitant to offer Mary Margaret what she needs, but she does it anyway because she cares. JMo was great here: there’s a look of relief that crosses Emma’s face after Mary Margaret says that she doesn’t want to be alone, almost as though Emma was expecting rejection because that’s all she’s ever really known. It’s a wonderful character note and this is one of those scenes that made me want the curse broken so that Emma would know that she had parents who loved her before they gave her up.
When Emma lies down on the bed, her position mirrors Mary Margaret’s even though there’s a space between them. And it feels like this is as close as Emma can allow herself to get for now. It’s a gorgeous, touching little scene and one of their best in the whole season, for me.
“You did this.” – 1.22: A Land Without Magic
You know, I really wasn’t sure whether the season of this show was going to end with Emma still ignorant of the curse and failing to put her faith in Henry’s belief that it was real. I went back and forth on wondering if, when and how Emma might discover what was REALLY going on in Storybrooke. Imagine my delight, then, when right at the very beginning of the season finale, Emma figures out who she is and has a series of flashes that inform and motivate her.
“Like magic,” she says, before picking up Henry’s story book. She’s jolted through memories of her parents, of how they hid her away to protect her from the curse and also how Regina is really responsible for all of this. As Regina rushes into the hospital room crying for Henry, Emma gets this LOOK on her face and it’s angry and vengeful and resentful and all the things we wanted her to feel, all at once.
This is the culmination of the entire season, really. It’s the moment when Emma, who has been the staunch non-believer even in light of Henry’s insistence and August’s attempts at persuasion, FINALLY understands that everything is true. And it’s written across her face in pretty plain colors, to be honest.
I just adored this moment – mostly because it gave rise to the awesomest fight EVER between Emma and Regina. As you all know, there’s really nothing I love more than those two going at it in a closet space. But it’s more than that: I thought JMo managed to convey so much in a single look. We really get a sense of the utter disgust that Emma feels for Regina, for the anger that she’s been holding in for most of her life when it comes to not having what everyone else seemed to. Honestly, I’m kind of amazed that Emma didn’t just tear Regina apart in the scene that followed.
This moment, more than any, is probably what prompted Emma to be the hero Henry always assumed her to be. And it’s an interesting contrast to the conversation she had with Mary Margaret and August where she quite firmly stated that she didn’t want anyone relying on her and didn’t want to be responsible for others. Here, that all falls by the wayside and Emma steps up to the role of hero without even a second thought. It’s brilliant and affirming and I have to be honest with you, I kind of clapped and cheered because, at heart, I think we’re all waiting for our hero to come and save us.
Missed your favorite? Got any suggestions for YOUR magical moments?
Ruth Francis was born a fangirl and likes to write both fanfic and commentary on her favorite shows. She is whimsical at best; rambling at worst. She lives in London, but secretly hopes to have homes all over the world if that winning lottery ticket ever works out. When it comes to TV, she is a glass swan of emotion and is unashamed of sharing that with whoever will listen.