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Once Upon a Time - Lily + Mother - Double Review: "Peeking through an amazing finale"

I couldn’t review “Lily” without watching the follow up “Mother”. That’s what I thought last week as I tried and tried to make sense of how should I grade the episode and what approach I should take on it. The thing is that Zelena’s pregnancy is such a cheap storytelling device that it seriously bugged me and I couldn’t make sense of how I felt about the episode based on that revelation. I mean, aside from that, “Lily” ties “Fall” for one of the best episodes of the series, but with the Zelena reveal I just rolled my eyes. So I’m happy I waited.

“Lily” is a wonderful episode that takes us back to the world outside Storybrooke, with Regina and Emma going on a roadtrip to find Lily. It’s a wonderful episode filled with callbacks, revelations, interesting flashback and outstanding performances. “Mother”, on the other hand, is an interesting hour of television, but just far too scattered to actually consider it an standout on what’s been a really strong season of OUAT. So let’s start from the beginning.


Let’s talk about Abby Ross for a moment: She’s been playing young Emma since the season 3 finale, and ever since I’ve been amazed by her performance. I’d say she does a better job at portraying Emma than Jennifer Morrison - which is not to insult Morrison who has done a good job, but to point out how awesome Ross is. Whenever she is in a scene she just lands this whimsical show into its drama genre, it brings layers of complexity over Emma, she portrays her in a way that is just bright and sad at the same time.

She’s probably one of the most talented young actress I’ve seen on TV.
The magic of Abby Ross come from the actress understanding of how a young Emma should be, broken but yet full of hopes for the future, still looking a place to fit in, still hoping that she’ll find it. Her portrayal of Emma is really spot on because she manages to bring a sad gaze around her while at the same time she is trying her best to look up, which makes her performance all the more brilliant an outstanding. ABC has some of the best child actors on television (see no further than The Middle, Modern Family or Fresh off The Boat), but Abby Ross has come to top tier child actress in her performance of Emma.

During the whole flashback sequences she just nails every scene. It’s incredible to watch a story about a little girl trying to fit in around her new family and how her friends tricks her so she can have it all to herself. Because that’s what Lily wanted, for Emma to be with her and the two of them to be free to roam around the world doing whatever they want, but Emma never wanted that, she just wanted a family, and she had this strong connection with Lily, which is why she also wanted to be her friend.

Sadly for her, Lily’s plan strip her from what could have been a nice family to be around and she decides it has been enough suffering at the cost of Lily and she cast her aside. It’s a tough moment for both girls, especially for Lily who is left alone, and we can see in Ross’ performance the exact moment in which Emma starts to close up as she tells Lily she can’t help her anymore.

In present time, Maleficent offers her services against Rumplestiltskin as long as Emma can find her daughter, which Emma figures out is the very same Lily she met as a child. And as she figures it out, Regina steps up with a golden line: “Ain’t fate a bitch?”

Emma and Regina’s friendship is steadily one of the best aspects of OUAT; they play each other greatly, they understand each other and they both want the best for each other, even if they don’t say it out loud. Their friendship is so natural that it just feels right that they bond, and as they spend time together it allows for funny dialogue as they allow to mock each other a little bit while also showing care, which is why this friendship works so damn well.

Having an episode almost entirely dedicated to Emma and Regina is a winning combination on OUAT. It worked wonders on “Breaking Glass” and it works wonders here. It is incredibly interesting and engaging to see Regina being the one trying to get Emma to stay on the righteous path. She, more than anyone, knows how easy it is to step out of it, and Emma says something that’s both true and worrisome:
This is real life Regina, there are no heroes and villains, just real people with real problems.

The tricky thing about OUAT is that in its simplicity it is an incredibly hard show to approach: this is a show about fairy tale characters on our world, where they are supposed to be more grounded and layered than the stories we’ve known, but the tags of “heroes” and “villains” stick with them, making it difficult to approach a middle ground or to get to grey areas. Regina is the character who has been most exposed to those grey areas, but even then there is always a right and a wrong, and life it’s not like that. So as the show outright addresses that it poses the question of through which lens should the show be looked at.

OUAT can be many kinds of shows, whimsical and silly, serious and dark, hopeful and light, it all depends on what the writers want to deliver each week and through each story arc, so one has to approach the show with some suspension of disbelief in order to fully grab what the show is trying to do, and for the most part I think I manage to do just that - since I enjoy the show immensely, especially this season -, but then again the show poses questions that makes me wonder if it wants to be taken more seriously overall.

I’d say that Emma’s dialogue up there is a way to establish later on that there is always a right and a wrong, even when it’s hard to see it, and those dubious grey moral areas are may be hard to see, but the right and the wrong are still there. I may not agree entirely with this, but what I got from the episode is an interesting approach.

And it’s more interesting when Emma finally catches up with Lily and she is faced with the choice of killing her or letting her live, to which Regina convinces her to let her live despite the dangers of doing so. Regina knows firsthand what murder does to someone, and she doesn’t want that from Emma, it’s hard to make a comeback from it.

The fact is Regina will never not be a murder; she has done a 180 and gone good, but she will always be the evil queen who killed many people, and that’s something she has to own. But that’s not a path Emma has to go through; she already killed Cruella to save Henry, which were her first steps to darkness, and killing Lily would only have made her sink deeper.

Emma didn’t kill Lily because it was Regina the one who was doing the talking, if it would have been anyone else she may have shot her with the excuse to protect her family, but she didn’t because she knows where it leads to, and the fact that it was Lily also helped, since they share a strong bond despite all their past conflicts.

It’s an interesting episode that manages to build some more layers of complexity around Emma; Jennifer Morrison steps up to the task, but Abby Ross steals the whole thing by displaying her acting prowess as she nails down what a young Emma should be.

If that was it, the whole episode would have been an easy straight “A”, but as often happens, there are some things there bugging the whole thing:
I was incredibly happy to have Rebecca Madder back in the show and Zelena as well, but the pregnancy device was far too cheap for me to like. It was there for mere shock value and as we saw on “Mother” it was mostly another test that the writers put Regina up to, but I’m honestly a bit fed up with her tests, since she has already gone through plenty already.

Also, I wasn’t a big fan of Will and Rumple’s quest to have Belle’s heart back. For one, it makes Regina look bad since she obviously took her without her consent - proving my though on the previous episode wrong -, but mostly it is just a way to give Will something to do, steal Belle’s heart from Maleficent… and that’s it.

It was also a way to show that Rumple still does care about Belle, but it just doesn’t land. He’s been so concerned with being a villain that he is seemingly blind that his happy ending was always in front of him, but instead he has to go for the author.

But those are minor hiccups to an otherwise outstanding episode… now, if I could just say the same thing about “Mother”.

Grade: A-

Stray Observations:

-The pilot callback with the wolf and the accident was my favorite part of the episode: it hit me right on the nostalgia button.

-Regina: “I knew Gold couldn’t keep the dragon on a leash for long.”

-Regina: “Ain't fate a bitch?”

-Regina: “Why did I go through all the trouble of making Storybrooke when I could have banished everyone here?”

-Emma: “Tell me your majesty, what were your plans for Zelena? A nice chat over tea?

-Lily: “Ok Yoda, enough riddles. What’s the truth?”

-Sadly, the reign of the queens of darkness is officially over. It was fun while it lasted.


“Mother” is not a bad episode. I’d say it’s average, but there are some really strong scenes around there to just call it that. I’d say it’s disappointing follow up from such a strong episode as “Lily”, but still I wouldn’t be so sure since there were some very interesting directions and ideas around here.

I wasn’t such a fan of this week’s flashback since I’m a bit fed up with Evil Queen’s storyline. Having her ripping out a heart just because someone was getting married on her land? That’s a bit too much. Not to mention that her feud with Cora has been more than explored already.
To its credit, it does parallel with the theme the episode tries to build around oneself being the only obstacle through happiness.

If they wanted, everyone could be living happy lives on Storybrooke; if Lily was willing to move forward, she and Maleficent could be happy, if Rumple wasn’t so desperate about power, he could be happy with Belle, and if Regina actually gave herself more credit, she and Robin Hood could make things work, which is exactly what happens by the end of the episode, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

One thing I’m super happy about is that Emma is finally able to forgive her parents: after talking with Hook and seeing Snow hurt made her realize that enough is enough and that she had to forgive her parents eventually. She simply couldn’t be mad at them forever and I was starting to get really tired about her attitude towards them.

It’s difficult to figure out how I feel about Lily and Maleficent’s storyline: Maleficent is a great villain since she is just like Regina, looking to move forward and leave the pain behind, which makes her character compelling, and reuniting with her daughter brings some vulnerability that makes her all the more relatable. But Lily is so set on revenge that it is hard to see her past her hatred towards Snow and David… and then she turns into a dragon for most of the episode.

After Regina took her blood to make ink for the author - smart move! How didn’t Rumple think of that? -, Lily goes berserk as she transforms into a dragon… whom for some reason is not really willing to kill David and Snow as she claimed she would do.

Here’s where my suspension of disbelief starts to fall apart. The best she can do as a dragon is slam Snow against a stone? Like, seriously? And we know Lily is filled with darkness, so there’s no real excuse to have her not killing them, aside from keeping the story spinning (obviously). I just feel they lose too much time on chasing dragon Lily to get to the point they wanted to go: to have Lily to open up to Maleficent.

Now, that scene was poignant, honestly, but the way there was more than just clunky. And yet, Maleficent’s acceptance towards Lily, showing unconditional love, is really poignant. It can’t be help, the scene just works and the actresses make it work. It’s the same with Emma and Snow reconciliation, it gets there through clunky storytelling devices, but it just works. After all the suffering we've seen Maleficent go through this meeting just manages to be really touching.

I should be a bit frustrated, but I’m not, I’m just happy to see these mothers and daughters finding some peace and some love through each other; the actresses make it work, the script while sappy gets there and the eyes just get teary. The whole season build up towards these moments make it work even if the preceding scenes did not.

Finally, we have the ending, which I’m a bit skeptical about.
While I’m glad Regina decided to take her happy endings with her own hands and not write Zelena out of the story - thank god! Otherwise bringing her back would have been for nothing -, the author’s choice was.... weird. Why all of the sudden would he decide to turn his back on everyone and help Rumple? He wasn’t really looking forward to do so when they first met a few weeks back.

It struck me as something really weird, but it set ups what could be an outstanding finale. The promo for next week’s episode looks amazing and we could have as much fun with this finale as we did last year, but there’s a certain air of something not working just quite as it should.
The ideas are good, the directions are interesting, but something is lacking in the execution. I don’t fully understand the author’s sudden motivation to help Rumple, and even when it takes us to an interesting direction, I’m not fully sold. Yet.

Grade: B

Stray Observations:

-The way Evil Queen says “Daniel” is kind of annoying. Far too melodramatic.

-Regina’s dad is a total pushover. More so this week than in any of the other flashbacks on the show so far.

-Where is Roland? Robin Hood’s son is briefly mentioned but never featured during this episode.

-Emma: “He was many things to me. Now he is just gone, thanks to her.”
Zelena: “Sorry?”

-Keeping Zelena on the psychiatric Regina kept Belle was genius.

-Regina to Rumple: “Goodbye, dearie.”

-Best visuals: Regina turning the lion tattoo into a miniature lion. It was reminiscent of Wonderfalls.

-Lily: “You’re out of your mind!”
Regina: “Welcome to Storybrooke.”

-Maleficent: “Why don’t you stay for a week? And I can teach you about being a scary dragon bitch.”

About the Author - Pablo
I'm currently studying Psychology while also writing fantasy books (one already published in my home country, Chile, you can check it out on the facebook icon). I watch many different types of shows, including my favorites Revenge, Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time and about 23 more. Currently writing reviews for Once Upon a Time, The 100 and Community
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