Once Upon a Time 100th Episode Celebration: Top 10 Best Episodes


By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

The beautiful and magical series Once Upon a Time returns on March 6th with the second half of season five and its 100th episode, which is quite the crowning achievement. In an age filled with cynicism, Once Upon a Time embodies hope and the belief in happy endings and true love. Remarkable in itself, the show’s true magic is in its ability to engage, move, and inspire people from all corners of the world. To celebrate the 100th episode, I decided to rank the top ten best episodes of the series. With so many wonderful ones to choose from, this proved quite difficult, so I chose them based on significance to the characters and overall story, quality of the writing, directing, and performances, and overall enjoyment of the episode. Let us revisit these remarkable television moments.

1. “Snow Drifts/There’s No Place Like Home” (Season 3, Episode 21/22)
Written by Robert Hull & David H. Goodman/Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by Ron Underwood/Ralph Hemecker

If any episode could be described as magical perfection, it would be the two-part season three finale. An epic, romantic, exquisitely poignant fairy tale adventure if there ever was one, it had everything: time travel, sword fights, romantic waltzes, intrigue, a wedding, magic, and true love as Emma and Killian are pulled through a time portal and help Snow and Charming find each other after their first meeting is accidentally altered. We are treated to Rumple and Regina as their villainous selves contrasted with their present day happiness, Snow and Charming proving that some love is simply meant to be, and Emma experiencing the fairy tale world like never before: seeing her parents fall in love, realizing just how much they mean to her, and mirroring her own journey of opening her own heart to Killian. Emma accepting Storybrooke as her home was a poignant symbol of the journeys of everyone’s path towards their happy endings. The beautiful montage of the four couples could have been a series ending, with the moment Killian revealing that he traded his ship for Emma rivaling the most romantic moments ever. He gave up his home to bring her back to hers and in a show about shared hearts and true love’s kiss, this moment of sincerity and love was just as pure and magical. This episode fulfilled that theme Once Upon a Time demonstrates so perfectly: true love is indeed the most powerful magic of all. 

2. “Birth” (Season 5, Episode 8)
Written by David H. Goodman & Jerome Schwartz
Directed by Eagle Eglisson

Dramatic, fast-paced, intense, romantic, and filled with visceral performances, “Birth” is the type of episode that makes you believe in television’s remarkable ability to move you deeply. The title refers to Zelena giving birth to her daughter, but in an unexpected twist, it’s also a reference to the birth of Killian as another Dark One. The fact that the entire time he had been cursed was shocking as the episode brilliantly built up to this conclusion with tension, sweetness, and utter devastation. This episode had everything that makes this show so wonderful: levity in the form of Dr. Whale’s return; excitement and inspiration in the scene where Merlin and Emma face off in an unwitting duel of the greatest magic ever; heartwarming moments in Henry revealing a plan he and Killian had devised called “Operation Light Swan;” a house in Storybrooke that represented the promise of a future together; romantic scenes of Emma and Killian, most especially their kiss igniting the Promethean flame as Emma was ready to begin that future and give up the darkness; and lastly, family drama as all our heroes surround Killian as he laid dying, telling Emma not to be hasty in her actions, Emma angry and desperate refusing to let the man she loves die. The grippingly poignant scene where Emma transports herself and Killian to the field of Middlemist flowers was so powerful in an episode that is truly and potently affecting in a way that is sure to stay with many viewers for years to come.

3. “New York City Serenade” (Season 3, Episode 12)
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by Billy Gierhart

The midseason premiere of season three was one of the most different and yet beautifully familiar episodes ever. With significant and lovely parallels to the pilot, this episode reinvigorated the series in such a dynamic way and it was fantastic to watch. With flashbacks to our heroes just after they’ve been transported back to the Enchanted Forest, we see how far they’ve come especially for Regina, Snow, and Charming. As they work their way back to their home united and determined, we bear witness to the wonderful, hopeful new chance at love when Regina meets the dashing outlaw Robin Hood as well as the truly touching moment where Regina and Snow share the heartache of leaving their children behind. The present-day scenes of Killian finding Emma in New York City were equally fantastic – amusing in their fish-out-of-water scenario, and poignant in the undeniable connection we see between them in the moment where she takes the leap of faith, trusts him, and has her memories restored. And in the journey back home to Storybrooke complete with dialogue, music, and camera angles that perfectly parallel the pilot, we see that just like her other true love Henry, Killian was bringing her back to Storybrooke with the hope of breaking the curse, but was actually bringing her home. This episode was amazing in every way.

4.”Going Home” (Season 3, Episode 11)
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by Ralph Hemecker

Many an episode can make us cry and then restore our faith and “Going Home” does this many times over in this stunning conclusion to the first half of season three. In one of the many flashbacks, we see the moment Mary Margaret first gave Henry the Storybook that sparked his imagination, belief, and journey to find Emma and it was a profound way of reflecting the present day drama and foreshadowing what was the come. Rumple made the ultimate sacrifice, laying down his life to save everyone from Peter Pan, while Regina had to say goodbye to Henry to stop the curse and was able to spare Henry and Emma with the gift of a new and happy life but one that erased Storybrooke and the memories of all them from their minds. In these moments where Emma said goodbye to her friends, to Killian who promised to think of her every day, and finally, with a heavy heart, to her parents, I openly wept as they crossed that town line and our fairy tale heroes and Storybrooke vanished in a cloud of magic. But in a brilliant stroke of unexpected genius, they flash forward one year to Emma and Henry in New York City with Hook showing up at her door, trying True Love’s Kiss to restore her memories, and I literally leapt from my seat, my heart so full after having been broken moments before. It was a perfect representation of the theme to never lose hope and that no matter the distance, love will always find you.

5. “A Land Without Magic” (Season 1, Episode 22)
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by Dean White

Every character went through a season-long journey and every story reached their gripping conclusion with the promise of more to come in the beautiful and compelling first season finale of the series: from Emma finally believing in magic, Rumple reuniting with Belle, Regina admitting the curse is real and displaying real vulnerability at the thought of losing Henry, to Snow and Charming proving how magical a true love reunion can be. The exciting and lovely flashbacks revealed David’s heroics to find and awaken Snow and bookended the pilot in a lovely way, most especially paralleling Emma’s heroics to save her son Henry. Both father and daughter were aided by Rumple (with him having ulterior motives) fought Maleficent in dragon form, and woke a loved one with true love’s kiss. So many bold and compelling choices were made, from the curse being broken to showing that true love need not only be romantic. Indeed, a mother’s love is deep and endless, and Emma’s journey of belief in magic was matched in her journey of learning to open her heart to her son. This episode was beautiful and poignant and the perfect way to end an amazing first season. 

6.”Operation Mongoose” (Season 4, Episode 21/22)
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by Romeo Tirone/Ralph Hemecker

Much like the season three finale, season four ended on an emotional high note, taking our characters to new places and giving each truly gripping material while allowing our actors to explore new territory. Literally inside a book, it was fantastic seeing Henry in hero mode working to make sure everything was set right in this topsy-turvy world. And how wonderful was it to see our characters in these reversed roles – Snow and Charming as the Evil Queen and Huntsman; Regina the bandit running for her life; Robin Hood about to marry Zelena; Rumple as the “Light One,” married to Belle and a great hero; Killian as a lowly and meek deckhand; with only Emma retaining her memories, but trapped in a tower, powerless and nearly going mad. What was moving was seeing their true hearts emerge in their interactions with Henry, especially Regina and Killian. Both made heroic sacrifices and this heroism was matched by Henry taking Isaac’s pen and becoming the next author. In the end, it was the truest believer who saved everyone and restored the characters back to normal. Of course, as is always the case, it was Emma’s journey for the season that also came to a beautiful conclusion, culminating in such a dramatic and gripping way that left us in tears. The pain of losing Killian in the alternate universe was potent, her joy in finding him alive beautiful, and heart ache when she finally tells him those words poignant as she sacrifices herself and becomes the new Dark One. This was one of the best endings of a season ever as she disappears and all that is left is the dagger with her name engraved upon it. That’s taking dramatic cliffhanger to a new level.

7.”Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by Mark Mylod

The episode that started it all is not only one of the best of the series, but also one of the best pilots ever. Establishing the tone of the series perfectly, we see that mystery, magic, family drama, epic love, hope, and belief are abundant and showcased exquisitely with each character in different ways. The approaching of the dark curse was intense, evocative, and dramatic. And the beginning of Emma’s story was sad but hopeful as we see a woman who is strong but deeply wounded. She may be cynical but still buys a cupcake on her birthday and makes a wish. And then her life irrevocably changes. The belief that love and happiness are possible and that things can get better is the theme of the show and is demonstrated touchingly by Emma’s wish as well as the final image of Henry as he sees the Storybrooke clock tower move for the first time in his life. These images epitomize that beautiful and timeless theme of hope.

8.”Swan Song” (Season 5, Episode 11)
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton

Possibly the most emotional and heartbreaking episodes of the series, “Swan Song” is so special in the power of its emotion. It stems from down deep inside of us and taps into issues of abandonment, betrayal, forgiveness, and true love. The flashbacks to where Killian meets his father centuries after being abandoned and sold in to servitude were devastating but paralleled his present day struggles as the Dark One. And our hearts were broken right along with Emma’s seeing Killian completely overtaken by the darkness, and when her entire family is marked for death to go to the Underworld and forced to make difficult decisions, Emma, being the noble and brave woman she is, decides to make the ultimate sacrifice for her loved ones. But in the end, it’s Killian who fights back against the greatest evil by channeling all the darkness into Excalibur, asking Emma to kill him. It was one the most heartbreakingly moving and brilliant acted moments of the series, but also one of the most beautiful as the couple proves that True Love is indeed stronger than darkness. Killian loses his life but Emma, who learns that Gold has betrayed them again by becoming the Dark One once more, finds hope once again, vowing to march into the Underworld to share her heart with Killian and bring him back home. And as we hear Emma embrace her family’s motto saying, “Hook I will find you. I will always find you,” the character and the series are brought full circle in way that is deeply profound and meaningful.

9.”Lady of the Lake” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Written by Andrew Chambliss & Ian Goldberg
Directed by Milan Cheylov

A beautiful and poignant episode, season two’s finest hour was about love in all its forms – romantic love, familial love, and all its joys and sorrows. There were so many moving moments that warmed our hearts and made us cry from David bonding with Henry, determined to find their loved ones and partaking in a play sword fight that one cannot help but smile at; to Jefferson reuniting with his daughter Grace after finding the courage to find her; to David’s mother Ruth willingly letting Snow be cured rather than herself, sacrificing her life for her son’s happiness; and Snow and Emma finding what was to be her nursery and Emma breaking down confessing she’s not used to people putting her first. All of these heartfelt moments showcase the strength of that familial bond in truly touching ways. Seeing that Snow and David were married by Lancelot, the man who, along with Ruth, is the reason Emma was able to be born was so sweet and moving. But most especially, it was that journey and discovering of that last drop of mystical healing water of Lake Nostos, a drop that made Emma’s existence possible, that was such a beautiful symbol of love and its ability to heal, to restore, and to give strength even when all hope seemed lost. 

10. “Fall” (Season 4, Episode 9)
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Mario Van Peebles

Fasted-paced, emotive, and engaging, “Fall” is brilliant in its ability to move and give each character their time to shine with moments of villainy and true love that left us crying and completely captivated. Sometimes it’s the build up to something that is more intriguing and such is the case as our heroes prepare for Ingrid’s Spell of Shattered Sight which will turn them into their worst selves. And the love filled moments were nothing short of breathtaking. Regina and Robin sharing a lovely goodbye, wanting to remember this moment as true, real, and filled with looks of love; Elsa and Anna’s strong sisterly bond with Elsa’s wish to find her sister being so pure it miraculously reunites them; Anna and Kristoff swearing their love, hands clasped believing they’re about to drown; Emma and Killian saying goodbye in a heart-wrenching moment with Killian believing it to be for the last time, kissing her as he never has before and Emma proving how love can make you brave as she becomes a “tearful goodbye kiss person;” and finally Snow and David not only demonstrating unfailing faith in their love for each other, but also in Emma’s ability to always succeed. The episode flies by and the ending montage with the emotional musical score was the perfect example of how Once Upon a Time can be so beautiful aesthetically and dramatically. And the final shot of Snow and David as their expressions change from love to utter disdain was absolutely chilling!

Honorable Mentions:
“Good Form” (Season 3, Episode 5)
Written by Christine Boylan & Daniel T. Tomsen
Directed by Jon Amiel

From the wonderful, emotional flashbacks to Killian and his older brother Liam, to “Team Mom” working together to get a message to Henry, to the unlikely friendship formed between David and Killian, this episode was thoroughly engaging. And of course who could forget the passionate first kiss between the Savior and the dashing pirate! We have not looked back since.

“Snow Falls” (Season 1, Episode 3)
Written by Liz Tigelaar
Directed by Dean White

A perfect fairy tale adventure, the tale of how Snow White and Prince Charming fell in love set the tone for love stories and adventure on the series. Sometimes true love begins with hitting the other in the head with a rock! But somehow their hearts awakened and it was a lovely start of a journey not only for them, but also for the series as a whole. 


  1. RainMarch 5th, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    Most of them are great so personally I wouldn’t have been able to choose but if I HAD to choose I’d say you guys pretty much covered it. 🙂

  2. Sab LeeNovember 4th, 2016 at 11:16 pm

    This list is perfect! But for me, switch New York City Serenade with the Pilot episode!

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