That’s how you know you’ve really got a home: When you leave it, there’s that feeling that you can’t shake. You just miss it.Neal
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Michael Raymond-James, Jared S. Gilmore, and Robert Carlyle.
If there’s one thing that can be said for Once Upon a Time is that they know how to pull together a satisfying finale: even the overwhelmingly subpar Save Henry story arc ended spectacularly. This season finale breaks free of the shackles of the Wicked Witch story to give us a fun, Back to the Future-inspired time travel tale, which largely stands upon its own instead of being bogged down in overarching plot lines. Time travel storylines can always be fun, when used sparingly and creatively as it is here. It’s also a delight to see Emma having to problem solve and navigate the Enchanted Forest, as she’s certainly a character who hasn’t really embraced that side of her heritage.
Part of the fun of this storyline was much of the humour derived from having a character from the normal world inserted into the land of fairytales. Emma’s consistent putting her foot in it was amusing, though she was a little slow on the uptake that people who she knew in the present would be, unsurprisingly, entirely unaware of her existence in the past. Her and Hook masquerading as Prince Charles and Princess Leia was a wonderfully funny touch.
The episode was certainly enhanced by the winning chemistry between Hook and Emma. If she had to be stranded in the Enchanted Forest with anybody, it’s certainly appropriate for it to be Hook. The two characters have been on somewhat of an inevitable collision course ever since Hook turned back to return the magic bean at the end of season two. Though Hook has grown and developed and has been incredibly, disarmingly honest about his attraction and commitment to Emma, she has certainly been more reserved and never really fully accepted or confronted her feelings with him, until this episode helps her realise that Storybrooke, with her family, is where she truly belongs. It’s certainly a hugely earned moment when they two of them have their passionate kiss towards the end of the two-parter.
Hook continues to be captivating to watch. He’s probably come on the most marked journey since being introduced. Though initially presented as a villain, who was incredibly self-serving, he has grown in his ability to be selfless and make more heroic choices. In most part, I think that’s due to his relationship with Emma and the effect that she specifically has had upon him.
This episode largely revolves around Emma and her coming to accept her place within the mad, magical, fairytale world that she has found herself in. We are quite used to Once telling these stories about family and love, but for once the storyline nicely complements the character journey, instead of the storyline being dictated by the moral, which can often be the case. The fact that her idea of home was informed by a comment from Neal was a delightful touch and it shows the enduring impact that he has upon the characters even if he is no longer a present part of the show. Emma’s trajectory during this episode completely made sense. Her growth didn’t seem forced, and didn’t undermine the feelings of abandonment and ostracism that have defined her character since the beginning of the series.
Choosing to flashback to this particular period of Once Upon a Time history was a wise move – not just because of the storyline potential that it afforded to the writers in having Emma and Hook attempt to reunite her parents. Having them miss each other definitely injected a new sense of jeopardy to the past storylines, which have generally been absent, considering the viewer has always been certain of Snow and Charming getting together. Here, it seems less of a given, and it makes the audience genuinely fear for Snow when she faces down Regina’s fireball.
Having Emma integrated within it, and seeing her parents at the beginning stages of their relationship – before the nauseating codependence sets in – absolutely helps her embrace who she is and where she comes from. Experiencing it from the inside, instead of feeling at an aside to those adventures, are a huge step and development for the character. Having her dance with Hook at King Midas’s ball was an absolutely classic fairytale moment, and it’s a wonderful story beat. Jennifer Morrison kills it this episode, in perhaps a series best performance.
That’s not to say that everything about this two-parter was delightful. The pacing was slightly off in places. When Zelena’s magic activated the time travel spell at the close of “Kansas”, it might have been more appropriate to immediately dive into the story. Even better, it might have been intriguing for one of the Storybrooke inhabitants (probably best to be Emma) to wake up to discover that the world around them has changed because of the meddling in the past, therefore necessitating them following Zelena’s magic into the past and righting the wrongs. I suppose that might have been tricky to make into a story about Emma, as Emma likely wouldn’t have existed if Snow and Charming hadn’t met, maybe it could have been Hook who had to stalk her through the past and put a stop to her plans. I think that would have been highly captivating and given a sense of jeopardy that there was somebody purposefully messing with history instead of Emma and Hook bumbling through.
All that to one side, the pacing at the beginning did take too long to pick up. The scenes in Granny’s were merely there to clue the audience in to what Snow and Charming’s backstory (as if we haven’t been paying attention!) so that then when Emma and Hook go back they can get on in the past without having to explain what should have happened constantly.
There were also some dangling plot points left over, I felt. For example, the Wicked Witch’s magic was the one responsible for activating the time travel spell, yet the possibility of her still being alive was never really mentioned. Sure, Rumple showed them all the doctored footage that suggested that she was dead, but surely it must have crossed somebody’s mind, as opposed to the flimsy explanation that “the magic fulfilled her last wish”. Something about the look on Zelena’s face when Rumple menaced her suggests to me that this was all part of her plan somehow. She seemed too clever to have been so easily bested.
It was wonderfully refreshing to have Meghan Ory back as Red Riding Hood. She’s been gone from the show for far too long, but it is frustrating how she just shows up and has little of consequence to do. In the episodes focussed upon her, Ory has demonstrated that she is a fabulous actress and the character herself is highly interesting, so it’s frustrating that she’s being so badly treated like this. Hopefully now that Ory’s other programme has been dropped, she’ll have more time to dedicate to the show.
Speaking of characters that Once enjoys not fully utilising, Rumple and Belle’s wedding was fifty shades of frustrating. While I understand that this is a show that constantly extols the benefits of love and family and how true love conquers all, it just doesn’t work in a programme that also strives to contextualise and add realism to fairytales. Rumple and Belle may have true love. That doesn’t mean that they should be together. Sometimes love is simply not enough, and Rumple continuing to manipulate and lie to her is beyond the pale. While Rumple has had heroic moments, and there is some good inside of him, he is not committed to mending his ways in the same way that Regina is. While Season 3 has been a tale of Regina’s redemption, Rumple simply hasn’t used the opportunities that he has been given in the same way. It makes sense, as not every villain can be redeemed, but it’s frustrating when it also drags down Belle’s character. Hopefully, this is one step too many for Belle and this spells the end of their toxic relationship.
The finale gave some promising hints as to what the future of Once Upon a Time holds. Firstly, it was a lovely and emotional touch for Snow and Charming to have named their baby Neal. It’s a nice way to honour the character. Emma and Gold’s reactions to the news were also wonderfully performed. Belle and Gold’s wedding also gives a clue as to where his character is going to go now that he is free of the Wicked Witch’s influence and his journey to reunite with Bae has reached its conclusion. I can only hope it doesn’t last too long, because taking Belle for a fool would be simply unforgivable.
Marian being brought back is endlessly infuriating. It’s peak drama, but, in my opinion, wholly unnecessary. The only thing it’s going to cause is a whole lot of contempt within Storybrooke. Regina is going to be angry, especially at Emma, and she will probably fall back towards her Evil Queen persona, which would be a crying shame considering all of the important work that this season has done in building her into a credible heroine. Hopefully the series finds a way to defy expectation with this love triangle, as it can be a hugely overplayed trope – and we’ve already had that happen with David, Mary Margaret and Kathryn, and Emma, Neal and Hook, so they need to do something interesting to resolve that plotline. One which doesn’t result in Regina going dark…again…
The shot of Elsa at the end is, however, deeply exciting. She certainly meets the show’s remit in being a highly nuanced and well-realised villain – especially since she isn’t generally even considered to be a villainous character. A misunderstood villain would certainly be interesting to unpack, and something which would have been an interesting concept to dive into with Zelena, in fact. Fingers crossed the writers have something creative up their sleeves for how to make this storyline stand out from the constraints of the film, but knowing their track record for fiddling and twisting, I’m optimistic that Elsa’s representation will be well-realised.
Ultimately, this two-parter is a very strong ending to the entire season. While the season itself has had giddy highs (The entire Wicked Witch story arc, in which we were treated to the delectably evil Rebecca Mader) and calamitous lows (Those same three trees in Neverland). The Pan storyline in particular had really muddy, slow sections where the plot seemed to stand still for episodes at a time, and fell foul of the new half-season storytelling device that Once has employed this season. Stretching/condensing stories out to fit a set number of episodes is certainly a dangerous game, but it’s one that worked out tremendously well for the second half of the season. Every single episode of the Wicked Witch arc progressed the story beautifully, with each instalment giving us something captivating or intriguing to make us tune in for the next episode. The twist on the curse, with each of the characters having forgotten the past year was a brilliant touch, and helped make the flashback sections interesting once more. Three seasons in, the flashbacks can run the risk of revealing too much of our characters’ lives, making it seem as if they never had a quiet day in their entire existence, and frankly giving the audience a bit of a headache as they try to wrap their heads around where these particular events sit in the history of the show.
This finale demonstrates the mileage of having storylines that last just a couple of episodes, and that maybe the show may benefit from adopting more of a standalone “monster of the week” approach, with light links between the instalments, instead of these story arcs. Having said that, if they continue to craft well-structured and well-paced narratives like the Wicked Witch, then they make for some hugely epic moments, so keep it up!
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.