Where do I begin?
That was the question I asked myself at the ending of Once Upon A Time’s winter finale, which was a game changer in ways I would have never predicted nor expected. In fact, as a dedicated fan, I had been so focused on wondering how everyone was going to stop Pan I didn’t stop to think of other possibilities the show could offer up – including a possible death. All I had thought was, there’s no way we could start this all over again.
But, in fact, that’s exactly what Once more or less did, pulling a LOST-like reset by sending most of our heroes back to their respective fairytale lands – save for Emma (the savior) and Henry (because he was born in the real world), who were sent back to their lives, albeit without any memory of Storybrooke. While Regina was able to use the scrolls to stop the curse, it didn’t change the fact that all magic comes with a price: and hers was the steepest one of all, because it meant giving up the one thing she loved the most. By giving up Henry, Regina also gave up a place initially created out of a desperate need for love and vengeance. And although the Emma and Henry drove off at the town line in Emma’s trusty yellow bug, filled with new memories of a happier past thanks to Regina’s emotional parting gift, they now have no recollection of anything they’ve experienced over the past two seasons.
For Emma, it’s square one all over again in learning to believe. But the difference is that she always had Henry, the eternal believer, to force her to look at things more carefully and push her in the right direction. Now, it’s everyone else’s turn. The last shot of the episode showed Hook reappearing at Emma’s New York apartment (interesting that Emma would have gone to New York, where Neal was living, as opposed to Boston) begging her to come save her family. Of course, this Emma has no idea who Hook is (nice touch with the kiss…which I have a feeling Hook was waiting a year for), and that means that this time, the struggle to convince Emma will fall on her family and friends rather than her son. Likewise, the struggle to convince Henry of his parentage will this time be coming from Regina, not Emma. It’s a really interesting shift, and one that I actually think is extremely clever as it sets up a lot of new emotional direction for our characters.
Once has struggled a bit with footing in its past two seasons – season one was decently strong with many character-driven episodes and plot building, while season two lagged in places as the series attempted to find stories that didn’t revolve around the same old conflicts. Season three was primarily based in Neverland (while I personally enjoyed it, I’m well aware it didn’t sit well with everyone) and it seems like the rest of the season will be a cross between the real world and Enchanted Forest, as we deal with new conflicts…and a new villain. (That new big bad? LOST’s Rebecca Mader, whose character of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, was kept under wraps until tonight’s preview.)
With Mader’s casting, it’s my feeling that we’ve effectively closed out the Regina-As-Master-Of-All-Evil storyline, and “Going Home” only seemed to confirm that. In fact, tears and emotional confrontations aside, the entire last act was essentially a culmination of Regina’s arc from Evil Queen to Reformed Woman to Loving Mother – and one of the strongest scenes I’ve seen all season. I admit to getting more than a little choked up when Regina and Emma shared their goodbyes, mostly because the exchange made me realize how much the two have grown since their first scenes together. I personally can’t wait to see where we go with the character when we return, and I’m curious to know how different Regina and her relationships will be.
Taking a page from LOST, the show, for the first time, invoked the use of multiple character flashbacks – in this case, showing how each character (or pair of characters) looked at hope. In Hook’s flashback (which also showed how Tink and Hook first met in Neverland) we saw how he only risked his life for love and revenge, because he thought they were the only things worth living for. In Snow’s flashback, Blue talked her and Charming into putting Emma into the magical wardrobe, thus giving her a chance at life. In Henry’s flashback, Mary Margaret bestowed him with the now infamous storybook in order to give him hope, which also was a clever way to show how the book got into Henry’s (and Mary Margaret’s) hands in the first place. In Rumple’s flashback, Belle offered kind words as he grieved over his son on his birthday, even though he tried to push her away. And while Emma, in her flashback, abandoned hope by giving up Henry, Regina’s renewed memories changed all that, giving her a second chance at happiness. Hope and happy endings have always been at the core of Once’s heart, and this episode seemed to tie all of that together with character redemption, acceptance, and love. To say that everyone was in a better place by the episode’s end would be a lie, but our characters have grown in ways that I never would have expected, and it’s been entirely gratifying to watch these themes play out over the course of the season (I sound like I’m writing a series finale review or something…)
Although the mantra across the board was “Pan never fails,” it turns out that Pan CAN fail – thanks to Rumple, who may or may not be dead after tonight’s actions. Personally, I think it would be a waste to kill off one of the show’s strongest characters, not to mention one of its strongest actors. In that sense, I don’t believe Rumple is truly dead (who remembers Neal seemingly dying by being pulled into the portal, and then resurfacing in Neverland?) But for the first time, I have no idea where this show plans to go in its next “chapter” and I have to admit, I kind of like it. I’ve become used to predictable finales and interactions, and after this episode, I feel like the show has upped its game considerably – and that I’m back in season one where everything felt fresh, new and inventive.
After swapping the bodies of Henry and Pan back via the wand of the Black Fairy (which was retrieved after some awesome pixie dust usage from Green that allowed her to capture the shadow), Rumple attempts to “do good” by working things out with his father. But when Pan wakes up back in his own body, he has no intention of trying to reconcile, much less forgive – he saddles his father with the “no magic” cuff that Rumple had gotten from Greg and Tamara and leaves him alone after beating him up (great father skills, Pan. Really.)
But Rumple gets his revenge when Pan confronts the gang after stealing the scroll back from Regina, summoning his shadow from Neverland to bring back his dagger which he promptly uses to stab both himself and his father, in an attempt to bring an end to both their misery. Conveniently frozen by Pan’s spell, Belle and Bae could only watch helplessly as Rumple said his goodbyes, made his peace with his debts and deeds, and sacrificed himself to get rid of Pan once and for all. I loved the use of Rumple’s “villains don’t get happy endings” which is something we’ve heard multiple times this season, notably from Rumple and Regina. And perhaps there are no happy endings for our fairytale gang in the way that we’ve been lead to believe – with rainbows and roses and happily ever afters – but being loved and accepting your flaws in order to live a better life is certainly a step in the right direction.
- Some nice Easter Eggs in tonight’s episode, notably the 8:15 time at the end of the episode which then led into one of the staple openings of LOST: catchy music, following the morning routine of a person but not knowing who the person is, and then being entirely thrown off guard, as well as Henry’s Tron lunchbox. I also enjoyed the parallels to the first few episodes, including Grumpy’s warning of the curse (almost identical to the first time), the purple, billowy smoke, and Henry’s preference of hot chocolate with whipped cream and cinnamon.
- The “one year later” time jump was a clever way to deal with Jared Gilmore’s unstoppable growth spurt – there have been a number of times this season I’ve taken notice of this fact (hopefully we won’t be dealing with a Walt-like situation at any point.)
- Tinkerbell and Hook. Yeah, I ship it. And I really tried to not be that creepy person after last week, but this week completely did me in.
- Every single actor was on their game tonight, especially in the final moments of the episode…and for the first time, I truly felt cohesion between the characters and their storylines. Well done.
- I was a little amused no one seemed to bat an eye when Charming casually mentioned Blue being resurrected, but hey, stranger things have happened and I’m sure in the grand scheme of things no one really cared that much.
What did you think of the finale? Were you shocked at the turn of events? Are you excited for the show’s return on March 9th?