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Once Upon a Time - The Song in Your Heart - Review + POLL

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At every single convention featuring a guest from Once Upon A Time that I've been to there are two questions you can guarantee will be asked. The first is "What's your favorite fairy tale?" and the second is "When are we getting a musical episode?". While the former question has been answered to death, if you had asked me a year ago about the latter I would have told you "never". True that the majority of the Once Upon a Time cast has some musical chops in one form or another, but the idea didn't seem viable to me for a show like Once Upon a Time, given their shooting schedule. We've seen the concept performed as a parody of the show and other shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Grey's Anatomy have had their own jaunts in the musical realm, however it was my opinion that for Once the idea was better suited for a special on the DVD or something of that nature. The cast and scope of the Once story is huge, how would this work without derailing the whole season? I was happily proven quite wrong.

"The Song in Your Heart" is a delightful deviation that showcased the entire cast while providing a hope spot and breather before what's sure to be an intense and emotional finale. I grinned the entire time watching this episode, which was perfectly placed in the season since nothing else could build up to The Final Battle, so taking a bit of a break only to remind us in the last few minutes of what lay ahead was a very wise move. While much of the marketing for "The Song in Your Heart" hyped up the big wedding between Emma and Hook, this wasn't the strict focus of the episode and I enjoyed that. My one big problem with this episode is the pacing; it felt as if we were rushing from one musical number to the next, making sure everyone got a note in. That being said, "The Song in Your Heart" is a definite treat for long time Once Upon a Time viewers. Major spoilers ahead as we look at each musical number.

Most of the songs take place in during flashbacks to the Enchanted Forest, another wise move in my opinion. It's more satisfying and brings more gravitas to the musical numbers when we see the cast in full fairy tale mode belting out the tunes. It was a bit disappointing we didn't get Rumple singing, but the way they teased that in episode was perfect for his character. So, the first foray into music we see and hear is "Powerful Magic" with Snow White and Prince Charming. This was a wonderful way to set the tone of the episode; it felt like a number out of Enchanted by being very aware of the inherent silliness of breaking in to song, but also just rolling with it and bringing a Disney flair. Josh Dallas is a true Disney prince here, leaping on the furniture and belting out the lyrics with gusto. "Powerful Magic" also gives the raison d'etre for all the singing; it's weaponized love and just the thing to take down the Evil Queen. While the song mostly explains the plot of the episode, the soaring music and wonderful duet don't make the info dump feel like a chore. You want to listen and hum along, excited so see this version of Snow White and Prince Charming, the quintessential Disney story, finally engage in a song worthy of their story.

It's unfortunate that Snow and Charming's song was followed up by "The Queen Sings". Seeing Regina react to the singing spell is fun, but there is a dissonance between the lyrics and the music. It doesn't feel as if the music was written to be sung along to. However, it was great seeing the denizens of the kingdom getting in on the musical act. Obviously, not everyone can have a song given the short run time of a television episode, so giving us snippets of our favorite reoccurring characters was a nice way to balance this out. This song leads directly into the Queen's big number, "Love Doesn't Stand A Chance". This may be an unpopular opinion but this song didn't knock my socks off on the first listen. I greatly anticipated the idea of Regina as the Evil Queen belting out a song, but something about this number didn't hit me with the wow factor. Going over the soundtrack, I found I enjoyed it more the more I heard it, particularly the lyrics, but I was disappointed that my initial reaction wasn't that of awe. Lana Parrilla does nail the number, particularly the choreography, bringing the venom and attitude of the Evil Queen to a new height. I particularly enjoyed when she went out and terrorized Granny while singing. This song stands out to me as it's the only one that feels particularly "rock and roll", while the others all have a very musical theater quality. Befitting Regina's character surely, but perhaps this is why I didn't key into "Love Doesn't Stand A Chance" the way I did other numbers.

"Revenge Is Gonna Be Mine" is a song that gets stuck in your head with its rollicking beat and lyrics. This was the first musical number to be promotionally released, video and all, and I believe that was a good choice; it didn't reveal too much of the plot and gave an idea of the scope that these songs would capture. I particularly was pleased with Hook's aside that Snow wait for the second verse to hear his motivations. The level of awareness each singer has in their respective songs is perfect. Too much self depreciation and the numbers become snarky and unpleasant to watch, too little and seeing them sing becomes silly and out of place. Once Upon a Time hit the happy medium with how aware the singers are of their situation mid-singing. Obviously, Snow and Charming seeking help from Hook was a thin excuse plot-wise, just a way of getting a solo song for the pirate. However, Colin O'Donoghue delivers with a tune that is half Queen, half sea shanty. There was less rock and roll in "Revenge Is Gonna Be Mine" than "Love Doesn't Stand A Chance" which again is most likely why I enjoyed it more off the bat. With the music going, you couldn't help but get a chill when Snow, Charming, and Hook realize that their interests all aligned. Bloody hell indeed.

The next song also has a rather weak plot excuse for being in the episode, but "Wicked Always Wins" makes up for that by giving Rebecca Mader a chance to slip into Elphaba's shoes for a number worth of Wicked. The other thing that bothered me slightly about this episode, aside from the pacing, was the reasoning for bringing each of the more tertiary characters into the action. There could have been a better way for Regina to break the Charmings' singing spell than have Zelena to decide to mess with her sister (though her sudden aside to the camera cracks me up every time), but I'm not upset by that. It was a mild annoyance and it is true that Zelena was plotting in Oz before anybody knew she existed. "Wicked Always Wins" literally soared; the music was some of the most dramatic in "The Song in Your Heart", which made some of the more villainous lyrics catch you off guard. When everything drops to a softer and quieter tone as Zelena sings "Oh evil may be powerful, but wicked always wins", especially in the last verse, that gives me a chill. Balancing that softness with the Wicked Witch belting out her familial issues prevents this song from becoming overbearing. Placing "Revenge Is Gonna Be Mine" and "Wicked Always Wins" in the middle of the song line up keeps the energy high and the audience excited for what happens next, while allowing the Emma-centric songs to provide the climax.

"Charmings vs Evil Queen" is a mash up of the two parties' numbers and I have to say I enjoyed this better than either of their songs alone. The juxtaposition between the Charmings' grand theme of love and the Queen's aggressive attitude is fun to watch and listen to. Both parties going back and forth with music that is so essentially them, practically battling, works alongside the idea of this spell taking down the Evil Queen. Part of me believes that the stand alone songs could have been shortened a bit to allow more time for "Charmings vs Evil Queen", but that would have left the audience less satisfied. And it is without a question that this song, while technically a repeat, is essential to "The Song in Your Heart". This mashup is the only number that directly effects the plot with no work around, like Zelena or Hook's songs. Also the clash between Snow and Regina is what's driven Once Upon a Time for so long so not having a musical showdown would be a sin.

"Emma's Theme" is something special. I didn't realize it at first from just the humming, but Jennifer Morrison sings along to the theme of Once Upon a Time. It's the bit that plays over the credits. This may be obvious to some, but it didn't hit me as to why the music was familiar at first. It is most fitting that Emma is the one who sings along to the theme since she has been the keystone to the show for the past six seasons and that this was the song Snow and Charming gave to Emma all those years ago. Choosing the theme of the show for this makes it really seems as if Snow and Charming were with her all along. I also think this slower, more serious song befits her character. While it would be fun to see Emma dance around like her relatives did in the Enchanted Forest, this was an emotional moment as the Savior was realizing she was never alone. Also, Emma has always been grounded in reality and while she has happiness she isn't always the most joyful person. Her singing a song similar to the others would have taken me right out of the episode. There is something incredibly powerful and satisfying seeing Emma in her red jacket, tears in her eyes, singing defiantly at her greatest foe. It was especially sweet that she went to her parents first during her solo. And I was very impressed with how Jennifer Morrison sang "Emma's Theme". She brought great gravity to the moment. This is one of those songs that is better enjoyed as a performance rather than just hearing it on the soundtrack.

The final musical number of "The Song in Your Heart" brought me the most joy. "A Happy Beginning" is a prime example of an ensemble piece. Starting out as a duet between Hook and Emma, each family member adds their voice to the song with the entire town eventually joining in. It's a wonderful way of bringing the Storybrooke community together. Ending on a number that gives so many characters screen time was perfect, befitting the grand finale of a musical like this. I especially appreciate that the song isn't about happy endings like one would expect. Many fans of Once Upon a Time always wonder what the happy ending will be for their favorite characters and the message here is that there aren't happy endings so much as new beginnings, moving away from and conquering the obstacles that will always keep coming up, while letting old wounds heal. An ending is final but what we're seeing here is that these characters and their stories will go on. This is an important part of Once Upon a Time as each week we learn a little more about the past of these characters and each week is a step towards resolving the hurt and pain that can lie there.

It's funny that as this final number was going on I had completely forgotten the threat that was still looming over Emma and her family's heads, but as the clock tower chimed and the music flared I remembered just as the citizens of Storybrooke did that this chapter isn't over yet. I would have been sorely disappointed if Grumpy hadn't said his well-known line or if the clock tower hadn't once again been shattered. It can be tiresome that so many curses seem to hit Storybrooke, but here of all places, with all that we've visited before it seemed appropriate. This chapter of Once Upon a Time is ending. There are numerous articles about a potential reboot of the series, so wrapping up Once as we know it the way it began is perfect. I have no idea what is in store for the finale of Once Upon a Time. There has been so much emphasis on Henry and The Book this season, even in this episode, that I'm sure the Truest Believer will come into play. I do know that the creators of the show wrote the finale and the episodes they write are always spot on in terms of characterization and where the story eventually goes. With two hours to play around, I am incredibly excited to see what will happen next.

Tune in next week for the two-hour season finale "The Final Battle Parts I & II"!

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