Once Upon a Time: Season 4 in Review


By Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

It has been a few weeks, but many of us are still reeling from Once Upon a Time’s epic finale. Indeed, Season 4 was an amazing one. While we are waiting for the latest news and spoilers and Season 5 to begin, let’s review some of this year’s finest moments.

Favorite Episodes:
“Operation Mongoose” was filled with splendid moments of sweetness, heroism, and true love for every character in both an alternate reality and the present day, concluding with a heart-wrenching twist that is sure to lead into an equally epic Season 5. “Poor Unfortunate Soul” was perfection personified with dynamic flashbacks featuring Hook and one of the most beautifully romantic scenes in series history. “White Out” gave us a rare but welcome David flashback and moments of teamwork, learning to believe in ourselves, and the importance in family with heartwarming poignancy. “The Apprentice” was all about love and how it motivates us: in the past with Anna’s determination to help her sister, and in the present when Emma and Killian share their very first date. “Fall” was a moving showcase of what is truly important. Amongst the threat of darkness, hold tightly to your loved ones and never lose hope.

Favorite Couples:
Emma and Killian have become the show’s most in-depth and beautiful love story, epitomizing the qualities that true love entails: passion, sweetness, friendship, understanding, and inspiring each other to be their best selves. Anna and Kristoff were absolutely lovely, also demonstrating true love with a sense of gravity and authenticity. Regina and Robin proved that second chances are always possible and that you can work through truly difficult obstacles with maturity and belief in love and each other. And Snow and David continue to showcase the type of love we all can hope to aspire to, staying strong and facing the world together with an unfailing faith in one another and the strength of their bond.

Favorite Friendships:
Emma and Elsa proved that you can find an instant kinship with someone and the two developed a lovely bond that will last forever. Similarly, David and Anna’s sincere and sweet acquaintance demonstrated how people can come into your life and change it forever. Emma and Regina have finally moved past their animosity and formed a great camaraderie and sisterly type of friendship; Killian and David show how well they work together, bonding over a common love and protectiveness of Emma; and Belle and Killian show that out of forgiveness and understanding can come something very unique and special.

Favorite Family Moments:
Practically every scene with the Charming family is golden but seeing Snow’s gleeful smiles and enthusiasm and David’s protectiveness over Emma and Killian’s first date was moving and sweet. Emma forgiving her parents was also quite touching, as was the knowing look between David and Killian when mother and daughter hugged. Likewise, when all was set right from the altered story and David and Snow apologize for Killian’s “death,” Emma simply smiles and lays her head on his shoulder. These scenes beautifully show not only how much Emma has accepted her parents, but that they have accepted Killian in to their family. For two people who were without family and acceptance for so long, this is incredibly touching. In perhaps the most moving moment ever for Henry and Regina, even with no memories of him, she felt a connection and unfailing protectiveness for her son, making the ultimate sacrifice and proof of a mother’ love by sacrificing herself to save his life. This mother and son moment surely brought many to tears. Lastly, the bond between sisters was sweetly brought to life though Elsa’s steadfast determination to find her sister Anna, and their reunion filled with hugs, relief, and excitement was absolutely perfect.

Favorite Romantic Moments:
Killian telling Emma she is his happy ending was one of the most beautiful moments of the series. With a single tear and tender kiss, Emma realizes not only that she is loved and cherished, but also that she is someone’s everything. For a woman who felt alone and unloved most of her life, and for a man who believed he would never find a reason to live again, I cannot imagine a more perfect moment for these two characters. When Anna and Kristoff believe they are about to drown, Anna tries to say her marriage vows. But Kristoff tells her not to lose hope. As they clasped hands and declared their love, many tears were shed for this moment that was undeniably heartfelt and affecting. Emma and Killian’s date was also the epitome of romance with hand holding, intense gazes, and a swoon-worthy goodnight kiss that left them both breathless. Many hearts surely went all a flutter. When Regina and Robin discover a Storybook page of an alternate past, they are given a lovely sign of hope that happiness for them is possible. This may be my favorite moment for the couple the season.
Lastly, even though it was a heartrending moment, hearing Emma finally tell Killian she loves him was incredibly romantic and touching as she held his hand over her heart, a symbolic gesture that he has won the heart he wishes to protect.

Favorite New & Returning Characters:
Elizabeth Lail’s Anna was a plucky, brave mix of smiles and a tendency to prattle on adorably so. Every moment with her was golden. Her “Frozen” counterparts Elsa and Kristoff (Georgina Haig and Scott Michael Foster) were equally delightful. Eion Baliey’s August, the motorcycle-riding enigma, not only had a dynamic a presence as ever, but is also a purveyor of important knowledge. And Joanna Garcia Swisher’s Ariel and Rebecca Mader’s Zelena were perfection personified in their vastly different personas. One is all spunk and wisdom while the other is deliciously wicked. Let us hope we see all of these fantastic characters again.

Most Underutilized Characters:
As a fan of Wonderland and Will Scarlet’s character, I was excited and intrigued to see how he would be incorporated into the show. He is cheeky, brave, and loyal, with a penchant for saying “Bloody Hell.” He reminds me so much of another favorite of mine, Killian Jones. But his greatness has had little chance to shine through. With hardly any screen time and no explanation as to why he is in Storybooke and what happened to his true love Anastasia, he deserves better than to be Belle’s rebound romance. I actually would have liked to have seen them become friends rather than love interests, and Belle, the other character vastly underused, is wonderful when interacting with other Storybrooke residents. While her and Rumple will and should always be connected, she deserves a story of her own.

Favorite Villains:
Cruella De Vil was absolutely fabulous, darling! She was sassy and psychotic and brought brilliantly to life by Victoria Smurfit. It was also refreshing to see a villain be evil just for the sake of it. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Elizabeth Mitchell’s Ingrid had a chilling demeanor but also a deeply tragic backstory and incredibly moving redemptive arc that was extremely believable and poignant.

Favorite Kisses:
After telling Killian that she can’t bear to lose him, our besotted Captain initiates a kiss with Emma for the first time, and the unbridled passion in this kiss was a loving promise that he will never leave her. Indeed, this was not the only kiss between the savior and the pirate that was swoon-worthy. A goodnight kiss after their first date was incredibly sexy and fervent as Killian is able to hold Emma the way he always longed to. And in perhaps the sweetest kiss ever for the couple, Killian’s confession that she’s his happy ending prompted tears in their eyes and a slow tenderness to a moment of exquisite beauty. Another couple also shared beautifully passionate kisses this season. Believing he is leaving Storybrooke forever, Robin gives Regina one last kiss, and it is filled with all the love they feel for each other, as well as what they wish they could have forever. The passion here was matched by the instant Robin and Regina could longer fight their feelings and spend their first night together. Lastly, it takes a special moment to make a kiss by a couple as strong and unwavering as Snow and Charming still feel magical, and their smooch after the spell of Shattered Sight was broken was undeniably sweet, affirming the two as Storybrooke’s sweetest couple.

Most Inspiring Moment:
The embodiments of heroism, we saw this season that Snow and David made a grave mistake in their past trying to protect Emma. But in true hero fashion, they decide to be their best selves not only for each other, but for their kingdom, to do good, and spread hope and faith to the people every day. It’s inspiring to see that a mistake need not define you forever, and that redemption is always possible.

Sweetest Moments:
The incomparable pairing of Emma and Killian also had an abundance of oh so sweet moments together such as their first real hugs after Emma nearly froze and a moonlit stroll with smiles more radiant than we’ve ever seen. But two moments in particular were the epitome of heartwarming. Killian asks for the honor of seeing Emma’s childhood mementos, and when he sees the sadness in her eyes over a video of her childhood friend Lily, he holds her hand and lets her rest her head on his shoulder, a silent but loving show of support, comfort, and understanding that Emma has rarely, if ever, found with anyone. And when everything from the alternate storyline is set right and Emma sees Killian is alive and well, she smiles brighter and hugs him tighter than she ever has as the two giggle and tumble down onto her bed. She may have lost her nerve to finally tell him she loved him, but her affection could not be more sweetly expressed as she cradled his face pressed her forehead to his. This scene completely stole my heart. Snow and Charming have always reigned supreme in the sweetness department and one of this season’s most heartfelt moments was with their newborn son asleep between them. Charming tells Snow how happy he is that her tracking down escapee Will Scarlet helped her to feel like her old self again. Their unfailing belief in each other, tender affection, and happiness in their individual strengths are what make the couple such a beautiful example of committed, everlasting love. Lastly, when Henry told the meek deckhand Killian that he had a great sailing teacher in him my heart both melted and grew three sizes. This may be a contradiction but it is undeniably true.

Funniest Moments:
The most laugh out loud moments for season 4 coincidentally both involved cars. The image of Henry driving down the street when he can barely look over the steering wheel was really funny. But nothing beats Cruella, Ursula, and Rumple driving up to the drive thru window in her infamous automobile!

Saddest Moments:
In the present, the Snow Queen may have been a misguided villain, but in the past, Ingrid was a lonely, isolated woman with a tragic history. Unable to fully control her ice powers, she accidentally kills her sister and her shock and devastation was heartbreaking. Moreover, when she realizes her mistakes and sacrifices herself, many tears were shed as she finds her happy ending in death, reunited with her dearly departed sisters. Despite being temporary, another sorrowful death was when Charming killed Killian in the alternate fairy tale reality. He willingly sacrifices himself for the woman he barely knew, and seeing him reach out to a horrified Emma who can only look on as the light leaves his eyes was utterly painful to watch.

Favorite Disney Moments:
In one of the Disney-est seasons ever, my favorite moments included the adorable and numerous nod’s to the Frozen film such as Anna’s love of sandwiches, and Elsa never being bothered by the cold, as well as the many Fantasia references, most especially the walking broomsticks which made me smile to no end. Similarly, it is difficult to imagine every single viewer not smiling at Belle and Rumple’s romantic dance to “Beauty and the Beast,” their glorious costumes perfectly matching their big screen counterparts. But the finest Disney moments were the references to the man who started it all: Walt Disney. When discussing the many authors of the Storybooks, we hear of a man named Walt. When we flashback to the current author’s history, it is around the time Disney passed away. The reference may be subtle, but it’s a lovely homage to one of history’s greatest storytellers.

Favorite Individual Moments for Every Main Character:
Emma: Emma Swan continued her beautiful, emotional growth in the season’s most profound moments. She accepted herself exactly as she is, helping her to control her magic, and in a truly heroic, self-sacrificing moment she becomes the new Dark One, saving everyone’s lives in the process. But it was the moments she finally found the courage to admit how much she loved Killian that were truly moving. It takes a brave form of vulnerability to tell someone you love them, especially in such a moment of uncertainty. Her sacrifice was indeed heroic, but the moment she finally spoke those three words to Killian, she displayed perhaps the truest courage and hope she ever has.
Snow: Realizing that her daughter must learn the truth about her and David’s past wrongs, Snow demonstrated what makes a real hero in one of the season’s greatest lines: “Heroes do what’s right, not what’s easy.”
David: It was poignant to see that brave, heroic Prince Charming once lacked courage and hope, and that his friendship with Anna allowed his true, inner strength to shine through. It is this past that helped him get through to Elsa that you must do more than just survive- you have to live.
Regina: Saving Henry’s life in the altered story was incredibly touching as we see a truth shine through- her love and protectiveness of her son. And she too displayed a tremendous amount of growth, most especially when she sought out Marco to sincerely apologize to him, and when she realizes that her happy ending does not have to be written for her. She can make it herself and she recognizes that it is feeling good about the person she is and feeling at home in the world. This was truly wonderful.
Killian: Our dear Captain Hook also furthered his character growth this season, demonstrating true heroism, even when he lacked belief in such. It was poignant to watch him furiously trying to save Emma’s life and one could not help but be moved by his courage in the altered story. The truth of his heart could not be denied and despite being written as a coward, he found his courage and helped Emma and Henry succeed. Having lacked belief in himself all season it was also touching to hear him finally recognize that valor in himself. Lastly, when he helped Emma toward forgiving her parents with a lovely understanding of both her and her parent’s feelings, we saw the gentle unselfishness of his character- a selflessness inspired by love but done through his own convictions.
Rumplestiltskin: So much of Rumple’s actions this season were difficult though compelling to watch. His best moments were when he was truthful, even if his motivations were unclear. When he tells Emma that she is a better person than he is, and when he urges Robin to run and cling to whomever brings him true happiness, lovely truths were revealed.
Henry: It was a joy to watch Henry become a true hero in the finale. Having been surrounded by them, he was inspired and learned from the best, and without his quick thinking, belief, and courage, our characters would not have been returned to where they truly belonged. I was moved when he became the new author. He not only saved everyone, but was wise enough to realize that this new power should be not be abused but handled with reverence and honesty.
Belle: Storybrooke’s librarian may not have had much screen time, but her best moments were when she found the courage to stand up for herself, especially when she discovered her husband had been lying to her. She saved Killian’s life, and was always concerned with keeping everyone safe. And when she did not leave Rumple’s side as he was dying, she was honest and forgiving without being weak.
Will: The cheeky thief also may not have had much time on screen but he was given one of the best lines of the entire season, delivered with sincerity and heart: “When you see the good in someone, you don’t give up on them, especially if they don’t see it in themselves. And if you’re ever lucky enough to find true love, you fight for it. Every day.”

Hopes for Season 5:
I hope to see continued growth for our main characters and that they are the true focus, with guest stars serving their stories. Regina and Robin are in a good place, so seeing their love story continue to develop would be lovely. Let’s make Sean Maguire a regular! And now that Rumple has been saved, it is time for him to truly earn redemption through his own actions and remorse. I also hope for backstories for characters who have had the least amount. We have barely scratched the surface of Killian’s past, and reappearances of his brother Liam and Blackbeard would be most welcome, as would finally seeing who his parents were. The same could be said for David and Belle who have had the fewest amount of solo episodes. And now that we have seen Emma’s childhood, more of her adult life would be a welcome addition to the story. Speaking of Emma, now that she has taken on this darkness, my greatest hope is for season 5 to focus on her and her relationships with Killian, Henry, and her parents. I hope to see them take the lead in helping to save her. She has grown so much and this will be her greatest journey yet. She has accepted her son, her parents, and herself. But as much as we have seen her romantic relationship with Killian develop, it has never really been the main focus. It is time to see the power of true love between the savior and the devoted man who has won her heart.


  1. SarahJune 3rd, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    This is one of the most concise and well written articles I’ve seen about Once Upon a Time’s season four. You hit everything right on point especially concerning Emma and Killian. (yes I’m a huge Captain Swan fan but everything you wrote about the other ships of the TL Armada was fantastic as well.) I can’t wait to read your reviews come fall and OUAT season five!!!!

  2. Clara HJune 3rd, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    Beautifully done!! Best season 4 review yet

  3. Lucky ScrunchyJune 5th, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    I have a question for the Nerd Machine… do you think that Rumple will be tempted to steal the dagger to control Emma?

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