Once Upon A Time 5×20 “Firebird” Recap

Spoilers Ahead

To quote the 80s classic, The Princess Bride: “death cannot stop true love, it can only delay it for a while.”

Episode Summary: In Flashbacks, while Emma’s searching for her birth parents, a Bail Bonds woman, Cleo, manages to convince her to let go and after her death, Emma pursues the same career. In the underworld, True Love’s kiss restarts Hades’ heart and the quest Killian and Emma are sent on doesn’t go as planned forcing the heroes to once again say goodbye as they return home without the man they set out to rescue.

Review | Analysis: Once Upon A Time deals with incredibly real situations with fantastical elements, but despite the fact that magic and myths are a prodigious part of this series, the issues our heroes face can often be unbearably difficult at times. Nevertheless, we’ve come to learn that the hard path is always the right path and in the midst of the journey, it’s key to remember that the choices made today, pave the road for tomorrow. Emma Swan is the character that’s made her way into countless hearts for a number of reasons and the love story she’s a part of needed to be just as unique as her role in this fantasy world.

“Firebird” tragically epitomized what it truly means to be brave revolutionizing the notion that where there’s bravery, there’s always love. It is apparently possible to have an episode even darker and more heartbreaking than “Swan Song,” but Once Upon A Time is a series about hope, and when it comes to Emma and Killian’s love, there’s never a single doubt that it will prevail.

“Firebird” explored a theme we don’t often see in Once Upon A Time, and it’s the importance of letting go. As human beings, we have a tendency to hold on too tightly and while there’s strength in determination, sometimes, we must let go in order to let the universe take its course. Sometimes, we need armor in order to get through the things that burden us. And sometimes, armor isn’t about protecting ourselves, but rather protecting those we love. Ultimately, it all comes down to selflessness and the fact that while it’s okay to choose ourselves every once in a while, we must be able to tell which of our choices will lead us toward the good life we’re destined for.

In our review for season three’s “New York City Serenade,” we called Emma’s red leather jacket an armor, and to hear that it is actually just that unsurprisingly triggered a lot of tears. And prior to knowing, the reason we had our beliefs was due to what leather jackets meant to us. As women, when we’re broken or uneasy, it doesn’t feel right to wear a floral dress — it’s as though there’s an instinctual need to dress in a certain way that’s going to protect the entrance into our hearts. And while the armor is often worn to protect ourselves, sometimes it is also worn to protect those we love.

The moment Emma put on her noted red leather jacket, everything changed — a moment which Jennifer Morrison delivered with effortless grace managing to showcase Emma’s newfound dedication to helping people beautifully. Emma Swan was a type of savior before she was even granted the title in Storybrooke — her innate desire to continuously make lives easier is radically inspirational, for it stemmed from inexpressible heartaches.

When it comes to Once Upon A Time, we’ve come to find that the darkest villains are those who have had everything taken away from them, but when it comes to Emma, despite the inability to grasp why she was given up, the betrayals, and the heartbreaking childhood she’s had, her empathy has always spoken louder than her frustration. And it is that same empathy that’s governed her actions from the moment she chose to stay in Storybrooke, to the instant she left the underworld.

Emma’s choice to find Cleo’s daughter Tasha wasn’t surprising. Just because she never got to learn what happened to her parents, she couldn’t bear the thought of another being in the same situation. And the choice to be honest not only changed Tasha’s life, but in a sense, perhaps Cleo now knows as well. We like to believe that the ones we love never truly leave us and wherever they end up, they’re watching over us. Emma’s choice to hold on too tightly had consequences, and Cleo’s death changed her in a plethora of ways, but most importantly it taught her what it means to be selfless. Our actions have consequences and where another person is concerned, we must make sure our choices are honorable. Emma had good intentions, but breaking into a government facility wasn’t a noble choice.

But Cleo’s death wasn’t in vain, for it taught Emma how to be wiser with her choices. It taught her how to let go of the things she cannot change. And it taught her how to leave a life of crime behind in order to pursue a career that’d change lives the way Cleo changed hers. And in telling Tasha, Emma gave her the opportunity to move forward in peace. However, as Amanda pointed out, Cleo’s impact on Emma could’ve also played a role in Emma’s detachment from people. Her heart has always wanted to help others, but with everything Emma’s been through, she’s come to learn that attachment leads to heartbreak, and it’s easier to be less invested.

However, after her 28th birthday, Emma’s journey has been primarily focused on her desire to help others while learning how to help herself. And a vast part of that journey has been about letting her armor down in order to welcome love into her heart. While empathy has been great strength residing in Emma, she needed to allow herself to be vulnerable as well, and that took the greatest fortitude of all.

For Killian and Emma, it all started with an adventure to find a compass that’d lead them home — a journey where they would discover they’re kindred spirits. But a happy ending immediately after that would’ve been too easy and though it’s how most couples on Once Upon A Time fall in love, it took time with these two. It took time because they were both broken, burdened lost souls who hadn’t found a place where they belonged. And that immediate connection came with a plethora of fears for Emma — fears and an inability to trust which forced her to leave Killian behind. Fundamentally, it was that very adventure that remarkably illuminated the magnetic connection between the two allowing us to instantly see that wherever this love goes, it will require a fight. A fight where both parties would continuously need to put each other first. Love is strength. And we’ll never get tired of saying that strength isn’t the absence of vulnerability and fears, but rather the acceptance of reality, which can sometimes be dark. Thus, true strength comes from bearing all of life’s adversities with honor.

Lost souls can always recognize each other — it’s as though the moment they meet, they attach themselves to one another in a kind of matrimony we’re incapable of understanding. An attachment that leads us on a quest to find ourselves, love ourselves, and accept ourselves. In many ways, love is unearthly and indescribable, and when it’s true, it passes each and every test in its path. Killian immediately saw the truth in Emma — he saw light and passion in her hidden behind the sadness in her eyes. And from that moment on, he fought to make sure she found a home. He fought to make sure she welcomed love into her heart while burning her walls down with his steadfast faith and fervent belief in her. He fought to make sure she’d find serenity. And when she finally gave in to love and a future with the man who traveled through realms for her, he heroically sacrificed himself for the sake of an entire town. From that moment on, the roles were reversed and it was now Emma’s moment to ensure he has the serenity he deserves. Emma’s journey into the underworld was about reiterating Killian’s value and anchoring the fact that he’s not only worth saving, but he deserves the chance to live a happy life.

Though she was able to let him go in “Tallahassee” because she was afraid of taking a chance, in “Firebird” it’s impossible to. Goodbye isn’t an option for Emma — it’s not an idea she can bear with because Killian’s touched her heart in profoundly immaculate ways. Goodbye is not enough. When you find True Love, the impossible is possible and that will be the case when Killian’s soul finds its way back into his body again. It is easy for True Love to do its job in the lives of other couples, but because Emma Swan is a new character and because she’s original, her story needs to be special. As much as Emma’s accepted fairy tales and magic as a part of her everyday life, True Love is somewhat foreign — not because she doesn’t believe in it, but because as Killian states it’s the rarest of all. (Except writers have been giving them out like candy this season.) And thereby, instead of a kiss, it’s impeccably beautiful that Killian and Emma are fortified as True Love through a choice.

Emma’s choice to save Killian as opposed to her own heart brought to light the very fact that they’re two souls who’d perpetually fight for one another. They’d die for one another. And most importantly, they don’t know how to give up on one another. In “Snow Drifts” Killian states that “one of these days he’s going to have to stop chasing this woman”, and even then we all knew that was the biggest lie he told himself. A kiss did not need to seal the deal because the truth is, what Killian and Emma have surpasses logic, and it seems only fitting that when the “Product of True Love” finds love, it’d be incomparable to anything else. Sure, there are plenty of pairs recognized as True Love, but Killian and Emma undeniably give it a whole new meaning. True Love’s kiss can break curses and restart hearts, but today, it epitomizes selflessness.

When you find your True Love, giving up isn’t an option — letting go is heartrending and unbearably difficult. In what may have been the most tragically poignant goodbye in Once Upon A Time history, Emma and Killian said their goodbyes as he convinced her she needed to let go. There are quite a few remarkable scene partners on television right now, but the emotions Colin O’Donoghue and Jennifer Morrison are able to evoke are incomparable. And the two once again showcased their phenomenal gifts as actors making their goodbye scene that much more groundbreaking.

O’Donoghue has mastered the art of sincerity in indescribably gorgeous forms, but when his expressions and body language match the tenderness in his voice, Killian’s adoration is felt through the bones. Their final scene in “Swan Song” was horribly heart-shattering, but it does not prepare for their scene in “Firebird.” It does not matter that audience members are certain this is not the end because their inability to let go is haunting. Killian’s final request is that Emma promises him she won’t put her armor back on after losing him, once again solidifying that her happiness is everything to him, and the choice to remind her how desperately he needs that from her was breathtaking. And in the same way, Emma chose to ask him to move forward — he should not wait until they’re united again, he shouldn’t suffer, and he should be free.

They have shared numerous kisses at this point, but we have never sobbed through any of them the way we did in “Firebird.” Distinguishing this kiss from the rest was the numbing and heartrending inability to let go. We can’t stress it enough, for the difficulty in the task is what ultimately showcases the most impeccable form of selflessness. And while it would have broken our hearts on its own, Killian’s choice to kiss her hand was the tip of the ice burg. The same hand, which once abandoned him on the beanstalk in “Tallahassee”, is now the hand he cannot bear to let go. And that inability to let go of one another was showcased with overwhelmingly poignant performances. O’Donoghue and Morrison bared it all in a way no two people on this series ever have. 

In what may have been their most evocatively intimate moment yet, the small gesture illuminated the colossal love that’s burning through Killian for Emma. And O’Donoghue made sure the audience could see that despite his collected demeanor, he’s not only deeply terrified of losing Emma, but he’s afraid of what lies ahead. The familiarity of her skin wasn’t something he was ready to let go of. You felt it in the kiss, but perhaps the most haunting moment is when he desperately tried to find her hand again as the elevator pulled her up. And it’s in that moment where Morrison and O’Donoghue were at their strongest. Gone was the unparalleled bliss in their eyes when they realized their love was indeed true, and as their bodies grew further from one another, the lost little boy and girl returned.

O’Donoghue and Morrison conveyed palpable heartaches weaved with childlike brokenness and perplexity brilliantly. And in doing so, they were able to manifest a kind of colorable adoration that transcends all understanding — when such love is broken, the vulnerable situation they’re left in, for the first time in forever, seems bleak. They’re both individually strong and resourceful characters who’ve conquered a great deal, but together that strength made them braver, and of course, where there was bravery, there was hope. It’s easy to be in awe of such scenes because the sincere vulnerability the actors bring to the table is as breathtaking as it gets. O’Donoghue and Morrison exhibited the desperation to hold onto that hope they’ve tirelessly searched for, and in the most beautifully intimate way, they bared it all for each other — with everything in them they made sure there was not a single doubt that their love is true. 

The choice to respect Killian’s wishes wasn’t easy for Emma, she may have been able to let him go in the past, but today, she not only cannot, but she doesn’t want to. But the hard path is always the right path, and the acceptance to let go is what will set everything in motion. Just as she needed to let go of searching for her parents, she needed to let go of the love that changed her life. Emma’s decision to let go reminded me of my absolute favorite prayer:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

And tying this prayer with the Greek Mythology presented makes this episode that much more fascinating. For those who aren’t familiar with the story of “Orpheus and Eurydice,” when Eurydice dies, Zeus allows Orpheus to travel to the underworld in order to negotiate with Hades about Eurydice’s soul. Hades agrees to let Eurydice go, but he tells Orpheus that he must not look back until she passes the light or her soul will remain. Growing impatient and believing that it’s all a lie, Orpheus looks back dooming Eurydice forever as she was indeed following behind him. Now we aren’t entirely sure if Hades actually sent them on their True Love’s quest knowing that this is how the story ended with Orpheus or Eurydice, but Emma did let go and kept her promise — she didn’t look back. She didn’t put her armor back up but rather came to the realization that it’s now something she’ll wear to protect those she loves as opposed to herself. And the choice to follow her dad while stating she won’t lose anyone else could be the bonus answer on the test that lands her an A+.

Killian’s soul will return, how, we aren’t sure, but what this means for Emma is that once again it comes down to their relationship being completely and remarkably selfless. She was the compass that ceaselessly pointed him toward the braver, honorable road while he was the anchor who kept her heart at home. Whatever standpoint we look at the serenity prayer from, it all comes down to one thing: letting go and keeping hope alive.

While we can change certain things in our life, when another being is considered, we need to take into consideration whether or not our choices are selfish. When it comes to love, it’s understandable how one can be selfish, and we’re certain that if the roles were reversed, Killian would do the same exact things to save Emma — no sane person would ever want to lose the love of their life. But as Hades states, there are forces even more powerful in the world, and we’re certain this will play a role in Killian’s resurrection. At the end of the day, Killian and Emma authenticated the fact that they’re True Love through the selflessness that allows their hearts to beat to the same rhythm. He is hers and she is his — two lost kids who matter more than anything to one another. Souls that’ll choose to suffer if it means the other will be happy. Souls that’ll die for one another. And souls who’ll always come back to each other.

Some things are simply written in the stars. If Emma continued to search for her parents as opposed to making a life for herself, it would have made it more difficult for Henry to find her on her 28th birthday. She needed to let go because she needed to find herself away from the history that was written for her. She needed to write her present and that meant being the kind of person that ensures others have the happiness she wasn’t fortunate enough to find. (Until she turned 28 of course.) That’s why Emma’s choice to become a Bail Bonds person is so incredibly fitting for her and to have seen the woman who inspired it made for a wonderful, thematically powerful episode reminding us of the strength found in the Pilot and “Tallahassee.”

Raise your hand (though no one can actually see if you do or not), if you lost it once again with everyone’s reactions to Killian’s fate? And Henry’s especially was downright heartbreaking — he wanted so badly to restore happy endings, it’s depressing. But Once Upon A Time isn’t a show that leaves us hopeless, Henry’s choice to leave the book behind in order for residents of the underworld to find it was beautiful. Henry is the truest believer, and his faith has brought incomparable light and love into this world. If it weren’t for Henry’s belief in the book’s abilities, if it weren’t for the pureness of his heart, none of this would have ever happened. And though he’s heartbroken, it’s great to see him manifest it into something that will bring others joy. Like mother, like son — rewriting happy endings one honorable fight at a time.

On another note, it was great to see that Rumple didn’t actually kill someone because Pan wanted him to, and when we learned he had returned Robin’s heart without anyone watching, it was a pleasant surprise. It’s unexpected of Rumple to do anything decent nowadays so moments like this thankfully don’t induce eye rolls.

And lastly, something about Hades is still fishy and we’ll just have to wait until we have a bit more detail to discuss that, but while we felt Zelena’s genuine heartache about leaving Regina behind, at this point, it just feels like Hades may be a bad influence. We want to believe in the good, but it all seemed too easy. And as Regina states, the Blind Witch suddenly having so much power is uncanny. Hades had to have done something as well. Ultimately, last week’s episode showcased just how powerful sibling bonds can be, and if this is any indication then we’re certain Zelena will be able to choose the hard path with or without a romantic love in her life.

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