Season 6 Review
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, Rebecca Mader, and Robert Carlyle.
Once’s original appeal came from bringing the realism to the fairytale world. It was like the Avengers: Infinity War of Disney. Where else could you see Snow White and Red Riding Hood converse on a weekly basis? While the first season was hugely cohesive, as it existed within the bubble of the original Dark Curse keeping everybody’s real memories at bay, since then it has had to evolve. Where could the show go once the fairytale characters remembered who they were? Since that point, our heroes have been thrown from adventure to adventure, featuring not just The Enchanted Forest, but also Neverland, Oz, Arendelle, Camelot and the Underworld. These outings have been delightful, for the most part, but has taken away from the everyday element from Season 1, where characters were not permanently plagued by a suspiciously half-season long threat.
With its sixth season, Once Upon a Time takes its storytelling back to a more basic point and is far more reminiscent of the original season that captured the audience’s interest. The first part of the season did a brilliant job at juggling the ensemble cast, giving everybody important character development and things to offer, even if they weren’t always in the spotlight.
Throughout this season, all of our characters are forced to confront uncomfortable truths about their own lives. Regina is still confronted with her evil self, both metaphorically and literally as her Evil Queen doppelgänger comes to menace Storybrooke. This is Regina’s self acceptance journey come to life, as she learns to accept and embrace that level of darkness. Gold struggles with winning Belle back and being true to himself, especially now that Belle is pregnant with his child. Charming confronts terrible secrets from his past, and he and Snow find themselves put under a curse even worse than the last one; Hook realises he did a terrible deed in his past that he can never come back from, and Emma struggles with the knowledge that her title of Saviour has put a ticking clock over her head, with the unsettling visions of death that plague both her sleeping and waking moments.
The theme that runs throughout this season is the concept of how to come to term with an ending. It’s about being present within all aspects of the now, and not letting yourself be dictated by what’s come before, or suppressed by what’s to come. This is best shown through Emma, who has to come to terms with her own mortality, which is shown to completely cripple her from totally committing herself to the life that she has left. Emma has always been a complex character, and this storyline only gives her more opportunity to demonstrate her growth, as she fully throws herself into her relationship with Hook, and also builds up her inner resilience and hope to believe that she and her family can overcome insurmountable odds.
The arrival of the Evil Queen in Storybrooke saw some really brilliant character exploration work done early in the season, demonstrating the commitment of this outing to properly base plot lines in the emotional implications for the characters. It feels more mature and more adult to be delving into characters’ personal issues and demons, instead of relying upon spectacle. The flashbacks also injected some level of novelty into proceedings by focussing upon new characters and interweaving this with the established history that we have of our main cast.
Through ridding themselves of the trappings of having half-season story arcs, this season allows for more nuanced and gradual storytelling, and the pacing in general was better. Having said that, there were some plot points that ran on for a bit too long and got tired. The Evil Queen storyline could easily have been wrapped up sooner, as Regina’s need to accept her evil half had been fairly obvious since the Jekyll and Hyde episode, yet it still dragged on into much of the second half of the season.
The Black Fairy story was also strange. It lasted for a while, yet it was also strangely underdeveloped. New plot elements were introduced as though the audience should have already known them, and considering the number of villains who had swanned into Storybrooke, it seemed strange that this was the one responsible for the Final Battle. Even with that as a shadow cast upon the entire season, that Emma would have to fight in the Final Battle against a great evil, Fiona’s main justification was that a prophecy had said that they must have one. There was very little else that she gained from it, especially since the entire reason why she became the Black Fairy was to protect Rumple. Her character motivation was flimsy and it just wasn’t well conceived or adequately foreshadowed.
Season 6 sees Rumple and Belle’s love story become its most real and painful. There was finally a sense within that relationship that Rumple’s actions had a definite consequence. Throughout the entirety of their love, Rumple has always been more devoted to his power than to his wife, which is a fact that broke them up during Season 4, only getting back together once Rumple had been stripped of his Dark One powers, for him to promptly take them back without telling her. The fact that his kiss did not wake her in Season 5 because she didn’t love him anymore felt impactful. This trend continues with Season 6, with Belle trying to move away from Rumple and escape, with him dogmatically following and ultimately putting her in more danger and harm. The relationship even escalated into downright abuse, with him tracing her and ultimately her having to send their baby away to protect them from Rumple’s influence.
Yet, despite this promising beginning, with Belle holding Rumple to account for his actions, this storyline ultimately fizzles out after the revelation that the Black Fairy has abducted their child. With this news, Belle falls back towards Rumple through her self blame at this act, even though it’s not her fault. Though there is some reference to the pair mending their relationship and reuniting, it is far from the focus in the latter half of the season and requires very little repentance or palpable change on Rumple’s end, which is a massively disappointing end to what could have been a great opportunity to properly delve in and fix the issues in their toxic relationship.
This season continued to explore the concept of good and evil, in a much more nuanced way than before. Regina’s impulsive decision to remove her evil half in the season 5 finale definitely felt like a quick fix, and the entire audience knew that there was no way for self acceptance to be cheated. Sure enough, through the character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we really saw a reflection of Regina’s battle with her own past darkness. There was a brilliant subversion with this storyline, with the revelation that Mr. Hyde was all that Jekyll suppressed. Even though the two were separate, Jekyll still had the potential to do great evil, even while Hyde was capable of great harm. Even though Hyde was the untamed aspects of Jekyll, he was ultimately more predictable because of his acceptance of himself, while Jekyll fought against these aspects of his own being.
A standout episode is “Page 23”, in which we see Regina confront her problems and her acceptance of her whole self in a more head-on way. It really brought her story and development to the fore. We have seen Regina grow from a villain and grapple with her ability to be a true hero. It’s understandable that her faith is shaken after what happened between her and Robin and an idea that she is somehow being punished. Ultimately, the greatest development that Regina has undergone, however, is the ability to love herself. She has grown in her love of others, and letting herself be loved, but truly embracing all that she is is a tricky skill to master. The emotional moment of learning that the person that Regina most hated in the Enchanted Forest was not Snow White but herself really illuminates a lot about her character within the series, and for her to be free of that self loathing is a massively touching moment. It was definitely remarkable in the context of the Evil Queen storyline as a whole, but did not necessarily justify the vague meandering nature this plot point had become.
A character whose journey was less than thrilling this season was Zelena. This isn’t to say that the character doesn’t continue to be delightful. Rebecca Mader is consistently on form, but she is written into a corner by the direction that the creatives want her to take. It seems out of character when bearing in mind some of the previous events, and ultimately she isn’t used as much as she could have been.
Season 5 invested a lot of time into repairing Regina and Zelena’s relationship, in some key, emotional moments. Zelena even sacrificed her True Love in order to protect Regina and, even though they ended that season on very close terms, Season 6 saw Regina decide (seemingly arbitrarily) that she still didn’t forgive Zelena for her role in Robin’s death. Not only is this egregiously unfair, considering that Hades had everybody, not just Zelena, fooled, and she could have had no way of knowing what Hades planned to do, it feels like a convenient way to create more drama between the sisters, and also just for the Evil Queen to have an ally in Storybrooke. While Zelena has never exactly completely conformed to the side of good, having her child has definitely tamed her, and it was an unnecessary plot point when it was always fairly obvious that Zelena and the Evil Queen’s alliance wouldn’t last.
Furthermore, the rift between the two sisters and Regina’s grief would have been a brilliant jumping off point to examine Regina’s own sense of guilt at Robin’s fate. It’s clear throughout that it’s not logical to blame Zelena for what happened, but clearly Regina is angry and needs somebody to blame. This is rife with dramatic and emotional potential, but it’s never really uncovered, even when a different version of Robin returns from the Wish Realm.
Quite surprisingly, this season uses the Charmings quite successfully. Though their new sleeping curse starts to wear a bit thin, it’s nice to see the two acting separately again, and to see Snow settle more into a kind, considerate ear in the community instead of the slightly whiny, nagging version of Snow we had been seeing. The show has never really known what to do with Snow and Charming after breaking the curse, but they find a quite comfortable groove here. Charming gets some meaningful development as well, as they uncover the secrets of his father’s fate and, for once, it’s development that isn’t completely forgotten about a couple of episodes afterwards.
The musical episode towards the end of the season was surprisingly good, as long as you don’t really question its necessity. Still, these moments are used quite well and at least the music is integrated into the plot and used to further the emotional parts of the episode, especially in regards to Emma’s character and her history as an orphan.
The setting up of a new chapter of the Once Upon a Time story in the finale is highly intriguing, and the decision to base this season around a grown up version of Henry feels right somehow. In losing the vast majority of the cast for the next outing of the show, to base it around a coming of age narrative for Henry seems apropos as he breaks free from the constraints of the Charming clan and forge on by himself. Hopefully a change of scene and new blood will help invigorate the series and inspire the creators with bold new ideas and avenues.
The brilliant thing about Once Upon a Time Season 6 is just how satisfying of an ending it provides for our characters. There’s really a sense that this is a closing of one chapter. It nicely tied everything back to the first season, in the ways that it refocused upon Emma as the Saviour, reinvested in Snow and Charming’s romance and really got to grips with Regina’s character and her battle against darkness. Even though the past six seasons have seen great disparity in quality, the emotional journey that we have gone on with these characters makes it a bittersweet farewell.
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.