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‘Once Upon A Time’ Review: It’s Nature vs. Nurture in the Engrossing ‘Lily’

Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 4 Episode 20 – Lily:

Once Upon A Time has often explored the concept of nature vs. nurture. Are villains born bad, or do their circumstances shape them to become that way? Are heroes just naturally good, or is goodness something they acquire through experience? “Lily” suggests nature and nurture go hand in hand, and the result is an engrossing episode.

This was one of those rare situations where I was far more intrigued by the flashback story of the episode than the present day storyline, mostly because I was genuinely interested in seeing how the show would, once again, explain how each of these people seem destined to have their futures linked. Emma (Jennifer Morrison) learns that her childhood best friend Lily (Agnes Bruckner) is the long-lost daughter of Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten). To this end, Emma heads to New York with Regina (Lana Parrilla) to not only find Lily, but to help Regina reach Robin (Sean Maguire). This present storyline does the job of building on the question of whether or not Emma will continue down her dark path, since she essentially murdered Cruella last week (albeit in defense of Henry). Emma isn’t too worried about the darkness taking over, but Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) makes sure to advise her to cling to her purpose for living (Henry, her parents, himself) to keep from giving in to the darkness. That’s all well and good, but the present storyline is informed by the past, as we discover that Emma and Lily are inextricably linked by their destinies as The Savior and, as Lily calls herself, The Anti-Savior. Of course, this is a somewhat simplistic way of breaking down the conflict between Emma and Lily, since there’s an overarching sense of predestination in what’s happening between them.

Once Upon A Time - Recap and Review - Season 4 Episode 20 - Lily

Credit: ABC

In the past, Lily (Nicole Munoz) shows up at Emma’s (Abby Ross) new foster home, and essentially ruins her chance at permanent placement by stealing from the family and generally being a total nuisance. Lily explains that she did it to set Emma free, so they could hit the road together and be each other’s family. But Emma pinpoints exactly what the problem is, and has always been, with Lily: she’s playing the orphan when that’s never been her role to play. Only someone who’s really been orphaned, like Emma, can appreciate just how lonely the life of an orphan can be. Lily had a family that cared about her, but first, she ran away. Then, she went all-in on her bad behavior so that they had no choice but to kick her out. She plays the orphan card to get what she wants, but that’s not really who she is. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have forced Emma to give up a good home with a (relatively) caring family. Lily is consumed by a darkness that compels her to make bad decisions, each of which is masked as a good choice, in her mind. Lily believes she’s cursed, but Emma laughs it off as a lame excuse. It isn’t until she’s an adult, having endured her adventures in Storybrooke, that she’s come to recognize that Lily really had been cursed, in a manner of speaking. That would be bad enough, but it actually is much worse: when we meet her in the present, Lily knows all about her true heritage, having had everything revealed to her as a teen by The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Timothy Webber). She knows Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) and Snow White (Ginnifer Morrison) were responsible for sending her to this world and separating her from her true mother, and she knows they’re responsible for transferring into her the darkness that’s plagued her all her life, all so Emma wouldn’t become evil. So it makes perfect sense why Lily is on a revenge mission, and why that mission pits her in direct conflict with Emma, who’s more tempted than she’s ever been to embrace her dark side.

Once Upon A Time - Season 4 Episode 20 - Lily

Credit: ABC

And yet, it’s Regina, of all people, who prevents Emma from going over the edge. When Emma draws her gun on Lily, it seems as if Emma is poised to shoot. At the very least, Lily expects it, feeling this was the way it was always going to end between them. But Regina stresses to Emma that there might not be any way to come back from murdering someone in cold blood like this. She needs to be better than this, otherwise, she’s no Savior at all. It’s one of Regina’s best moments this season, and it illustrates just how far she’s come as a character, since I now can’t imagine how she could ever turn back to villainy. More than just about any other move this season, I felt this stressed Regina’s embracing of the hero’s path, and her rejection of a life of darkness. And she helps Emma to embrace the same. Lily is spared, but the vendetta seems far from over. It’s a development that parallels the story with Gold (Robert Carlyle), as he manages to return Belle’s (Emilie De Ravin) heart to her, entrusting Will (Michael Socha) with protecting it from here on out, since he himself is unworthy of being in Belle’s life. It’s a moving moment that shows that some semblance of a good man still resides within Gold. But I’m not entirely convinced he’ll ever truly be that good man, at least not in the way Regina has become a good woman. And that could end up becoming the tragedy of the season. Then again, it wouldn’t be the only heartbreaker we got this year, as the big reveal that closes the show is like a knife in Regina’s heart: yes, Regina gets to Robin, but she’s too late — Zelena (Rebecca Mader) is pregnant with his child. It looks like Regina is about to become an aunt to a child fathered by the love of her life.

Once Upon A Time - Season 4 Episode 20 - Recap and Review - Lily

Credit: ABC

Will this child be good or evil? And will that goodness or evil be determined by their heritage or by the environment in which they’re raised? You could argue Lily was as much shaped by her circumstances as she was by the biology of being Maleficent’s daughter. The irony, of course, is that Lily was accused of faking the role of orphan, but that’s exactly what she’s been all this time, since she was separated from her true parents. So one would assume her circumstances shaped her into a desperate, reckless youth…yet Emma was raised in those same conditions, and she turned out okay. Is it because she was always meant to be The Savior? Or did she have the good fortune of having people in her life to steer her down the right path? It’s a fascinating ethical quandary, and it resulted in an engrossing episode, as “Lily” is one of the better episodes of Once Upon A Time this season.

Follow me on Twitter: @NickRomanTV

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