“Our lives will get better if we just hold onto hope. Your happy ending may not be what you expect, but that is what will make it so special.”Snow White
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Michael Raymond-James, Jared S. Gilmore, and Robert Carlyle.
Well, Once truly outdid themselves this week. It’s a shame that it comes after most of this part of the season being treading water, but this episode is a testament to what Once can achieve when it’s on top form. What’s even more considerable is the fact that very little of the success of this episode derives from fancy graphic effects or supernatural forces. In fact, what makes this episode so successful and engaging are the time spent with the characters who the writers have invested so much time and energy into exploring fully. The entire episode had high stakes, as Pan’s plan was genuinely threatening, despite his lack of menace earlier on. What’s more, the episode also managed to close not only the midseason, but also take the entire narrative trajectory of the series in a totally new direction, which was entirely unexpected.
As a midseason finale, Once merely had to provide a conclusion to the story arc it has been juggling since the Season 3 premiere. The “Save Henry” arc could only really be tied up in one way: with the unceremonious despatch of Pan who, quite frankly, has held on for a couple episodes too long. However, since his ultimate end results in such a stellar game-changing instalment, it seems slightly churlish to complain. All this episode had to provide was an end to Pan, which it did. What was unexpected were the other twists and turns that it provided, including Rumple’s death, willingly sacrificing himself to protect everybody else from Pan, and the curse that erased Storybrooke from existence. While doing so, it also erased Emma and Henry’s memories of the place, and all of the people there, providing them with false memories of a shared life together.
If this was an ending to the entire series, it would be satisfying. It would be horrendously bittersweet, but it would be a satisfactory finish. It’s absolutely brilliant that the showmakers make this sort of a risk and an ambitious jump and, in the middle of its third season, it’s definitely the appropriate time to make things more fresh. While I do not doubt that Gold will soon be restored to life, and I’m confident that Storybrooke too will return (there’s a limit to how long we can hang around forests and CGI castles), that doesn’t erase how impactful this escapade has been.
Not only did the episode end on this massive, epic conclusion, but there was then an entirely unexpected flashforward to a year later, where Hook arrives on Emma and Henry’s doorstep and reveals that her family needs her. A new adventure is afoot, and it’s definitely going to be fresh and a massive departure. Hopefully they find a more creative way to approach this storyline than season 1 as that memory wipe dragged on for far too long, but there’s definitely a lot more avenues to explore than there were with Neverland. Ultimately, it also makes sense from a storytelling point of view, as Jared S. Gilmore has noticeably aged out of being Henry and speeding the time up a little to allow for the in-story timeline to catch up with puberty is probably a good thing. It might also be nice to see some decent maturity from Henry, as well.
It was brilliant to see some meaningful character development mixed in as well. The flashbacks helped to serve the story and explore concepts that weren’t especially appropriate to explore in the current storyline, mainly the concept of hope, which is ultimately what Snow and Regina leave Emma and Henry with as they flee Storybrooke to start their own new happy ending.
The finale also offered some notable character development for two of our “villains”, being Regina and Gold. Gold ultimately ended the storyline introduced last season by finally accepting Henry as being his downfall and accepting his fate heroically, much to Neal and Belle’s joint distress. It is a fitting way for Pan’s arc to end too, being taken out by his son who he abandoned. Similarly, Regina finally proves herself as a hero, as she sacrifices her own happiness in order to protect Storybrooke’s inhabitants from harm. Giving Henry up was a poignant loss, especially as she then gave Emma the false memories of a life with Henry that Regina actually got to enjoy. It shall be intriguing to see how her character fares in the Enchanted Forest without Henry, as that has certainly propelled her redemption arc. However, since Robin Hood is there, and we know his role as her true love, perhaps there’s more stories to be had there.
Part of the frustration of enjoying a programme like Once Upon a Time is that it flip flops between being categorically incredible and overwhelmingly average. It will spend multiple episodes with a stagnating storyline for it all to play out in epic, blockbuster fashion over the course of a few weeks. The end result is spectacular, but the journey to get there is more than a little meandering. Here’s hoping that when it returns for the second half of the third season it moves some way to reinvigorating the show. Hopefully, the flashbacks will be more purposeful and interesting and we shall not retread old ground for these characters, as well as continuing the emotional moments that are the more successful parts of the episodes. If the writers are sensible, they will also move back towards a less fixed story arc approach, like they employed in Season 2, so that we do not spend episode upon episode waiting for something significant to happen as they work to achieve a particular goal, but rather there are shorter-term ideas that need to be addressed, or more twists in the tale that emerge the further that the viewer delves. In terms of twists and turns, Pan’s storyline was more lacking than perhaps it could have been. The journey to get to him was certainly gripping, but the actual adventure with him was less than gripping.
- Pan casts his Dark Curse to turn Storybrooke into the New Neverland by ripping out Felix’s heart.
- Gold succeeded in swapping Pan and Henry back to their original bodies.
- Gold sacrificed himself to destroy Pan.
- Regina alters the curse so that it reverses the original curse, but sends Emma and Henry away and gives them false memories of a life shared.
- A year later, Hook knocks on Emma’s door and tells her that her family is in danger.
- Blue was so informed when she was revived after her death. How did she immediately know that Pan’s shadow had been destroyed? Does this mean that poor Greg, partially decomposed on Neverland is now magically going to be restored as well? Also, poor Pan’s shadow, callously tossed into the fire like thus.
- I’m pleased for Tink’s redemption story, but also, I really didn’t care that much about her as a character to waste too much time on her in this episode.
- Emma and Hook’s goodbye before leaving Storybrooke said all that we need to know about their pairing. It’s obvious that the two of them are the legitimate pairing compared to Emma and Neal.
- Belle, despite losing the love of her life, was barely featured in this episode, which was more than just a little bit of a shame. Hopefully she’ll be able to come into her own a bit more in the Enchanted Forest without Gold around.
- It’s very telling that Regina still considers herself to be a villain.
- I have a feeling that Ginnifer Goodwin is pregnant in these episodes? She was wearing a very triangular looking coat for the entire of this episode, including in the flashbacks.
- I wonder where the book came from, if it magically appeared in Snow’s closet. Who wrote it?
- Some of the flashbacks, I feel, were inserted merely just to fill up time between the Storybrooke sections. I’m not entirely sure what we were meant to learn from Hook’s first meeting with Tink, or from the original Emma giving up Henry plot, except for the fact that that rolls back around later on?
- I can’t help but feel that Regina cut it really fine to change the curse and that they also should have magicked the car over the border because those goodbyes took a really long time.
- I felt very bad for the poor additional characters who just had to awkwardly stand in the background of the goodbye at the town line. They looked very cold.
- I swear that every time we leave Storybrooke we see yet another exit. How hard can it be to find the same location in Vancouver?
- Literally have any of our main characters formed a meaningful relationship with Belle other than Gold? Ruby used to have a bond with her, but she’s nowhere to be seen in this episode, so they really need to give her some friendships with our other leads, please and thank you.
- The fact that Hook’s kiss didn’t break Emma’s curse makes sense, and it is nice for that not to be immediately undone. Hopefully she does get her memories back sooner rather than later, however, because I can see that being incredibly frustrating. I also don’t think that it reflects upon actual Emma’s feelings for Hook because, like Gold kissing Belle to try and restore her memories, you can’t have true love for somebody you don’t remember.
- I know Once has somewhat of a reputation for slightly dodgy-looking effects, but the curse advancing upon the fairytale characters as it turned into purple was quite atmospheric (even if I felt like the curse was “advancing” for pretty much the entire episode.
Once pulls a breathtaking midseason finale out of the bag, and completely reinvigorates the show as it moves into the second half of its third season.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.