Once Upon A Time Comes To The End Of A Chapter
Is it a tale as old as time, or a neverending story?
Well, that was...a season of television that we watched. Look, long-running shows evolve over time, and go through ups and downs. I'm still watching Grey's Anatomy in its improbable thirteenth season, and there were some very low low points in there. But Once Upon A Time, for which I was once a fierce advocate, just feels to me like it has run its course. Its premise could maybe only take it so far. How many times could these people be cursed and lose their memories? How many gaps in the backstory were left to fill in? How many more people could move to Storybrooke before it would fill up?
I've been down on this season but I did like a lot about it. Jaime Murray brought the right attitude to her performance as the Black Fairy, even if the character didn't make a ton of sense. The separated Evil Queen let Lana Parrilla ham it up again like she did in the old days, even if the character didn't make a ton of sense. Jafar was a wasted opportunity but clearly I have a thing for the villains, and Aladdin was nice to look at, even if the character didn't...you get it.
What I liked best was the way the Final Battle seemed like it might be, well, final. The show seemed to be building to a natural conclusion, and with no renewal announcement, I was perfectly happy to let it go. Buuuut that's not what's happening, and as usual I have a lot of questions.
Why are these curses always so convoluted?
Everyone at the wedding knows that's the deal, that the curse will send them somewhere: "Wherever we end up, we're gonna win." They're not even very scared. Snow, David, Regina, and Killian (and baby Neal) end up in the Enchanted Forest, Zelena gets sent to Oz, and everyone else stays in yet another bizarro version of Storybrooke, where the Black Fairy, using her original name, is mayor and Emma is in the sanitarium for that time she believed in fairy tales. Oh, and Fiona is Henry's adoptive mother. How is any of this fun for her?! Just kill them! I know there has to be some maneuvering or there wouldn't be a show but it just seems so tedious for the curse-thrower. If I had that kind of power I'd use it to go back in time to see closed Broadway shows, always get a seat on the subway, and make Hillary Clinton president. I would not adopt a whiny child actor in the most boring town on earth.
Henry is fourteen?!
Between the various time curses and loops and trips to magical realms, the timeline of this show has always confused me, but this week we got confirmation that Henry is supposed to be fourteen years old. Which I guess explains some of his behavior. And it's not like Jared Gilmore is Luke Perry, but there's a pretty big puberty difference between fourteen and seventeen.
Wait, has this always been the mythology of the fairy tales?
Maybe it has been; Season 1 was a long time ago and I've read a lot of Stephen King. But I always thought the idea was that all the stories and lands were real in a literal sense. But now, as we learn that the Final Battle is in fact one for Emma's soul, belief, and hope, it seems that "as the Savior's belief fades, so do all the realms of story." So the Authors created them, they didn't just transcribe them? And Snow knows this and is totally cool with it? Does that mean somewhere out there there's a much darker, German version of the Enchanted Forest?
Oh god, this story isn't neverending, is it?
As cursed Emma's belief fades, a dark cloud consumes all the -- fine, I'll say it -- story realms. This is so close to being The Nothing from The Neverending Story that I expected Henry to start yelling "Atreyu!" at any moment.
No one thought to check the Mad Hatter's shop before?
Zelena escapes Oz using one of the Mad Hatter's hats. "One of," because he had several. Because it was, in fact, his job to make hats. This convenient plot device allows people from all over to seek refuge in the Enchanted Forest, and for us to see the destruction of their realms represented by disappearing doors, which is probably pretty inexpensive. But it would have come in handy so many times before now!
Are they doing this on purpose?
Killian and David go off together in search of a magic bean. Their friendship is totally plausible and there's really nothing gay about it but the writers have to know this is a thing now, right? Because we go from the silly ("Take a deep breath, calm down. Let's go get that bean together.") to the sublime, as they arrive in a giant's castle and Hook scales a table leg to come face to face with...a plate full of sausages.
We can dream.
How does falling work in the Enchanted Forest?
It turns out a dragon is living atop the beanstalk, not a giant (which seems like an awful waste of CGI, not to mention a tease that Maleficent might make an appearance), so after grabbing each other's magic beans (sorry) Hook and David have to make a run for it. Hook falls from what appears to be very high up, and seconds later the rumblings of The Nothing make the whole beanstalk topple. It topples very slowly, so I'd buy that David might be gently placed on the ground, but in fact Hook is unharmed and David is lightly dead.
How do these writers think real estate works?
Unable to believe in fairy tales (but totally able to believe that Henry would be so stupid as to fall down a flight of stairs for no apparent reason), Emma burns the OUAT book and heads to Boston. Where she hasn't lived for at least two years, even in curse-time. She opens the door of her perfect, improbable apartment as if nothing has happened. So she's been paying rent and a cleaning person this entire time? I guess she could own, but that seems unlikely and anyway there'd still be a maintenance fee. You'll recall this also happened with Neal's apartment in New York. It is by far the least believable thing on this show.
Isn't Henry the Author?
He snuck a book into Emma's bag to try one last time to jog her memory, or at least inspire her to want to be the person he believes she is. I know he's in a cursed town and doesn't have his magic pen and all, but...
Wait, so the Final Battle is a literal battle?
Emma starts believing -- at least in Henry -- in just the nick of time to stop the Enchanted Forest from being completely destroyed. So Fiona changes tacks and retrieves her wand from Gold's shop, using it to translate the doodle Henry made while he was in that trance a while back. She learns that "only light can snuff out light," so she sends Gideon (whose heart she still has) to kill Emma. "Once the Final Battle is won, the curse will be lifted. I'll have unchecked power." This makes her ridiculous curse make more sense, since it was designed to make Emma lose her belief and send the others away to be killed. But then she's just sending Gideon off to kill Emma like she spent half the season trying to do and it sounds like that will have the same effect, so really what's the point and what are the rules here?
Why would the Black Fairy betray Rumple (this time)?
She didn't necessarily know that he'd find a way to stay woke under her curse, but it was a decent bet. And for some reason she made Belle an agoraphobe and hid her away, making the curse backstory that she'd run off and abandoned them. Wouldn't she want Gold to be happy (as she had said she did), if only so he wouldn't have a reason to turn on her? He's been biding his time and now that things are coming to a head, he's had it officially. He kills Fiona with her own wand, breaking the curse.
Why are there never any consequences on this show?
I'm not saying I want Game Of Thrones-level deaths here, but is there anything True Love's Kiss can't cure? I mentioned that David died on the beanstalk, but of course Snow kisses him back to life. Now, the genius of Fiona's plan is that if Gideon kills Emma, he destroys light. But if she kills him, because he's basically innocent what with the heart-control and all, she'll turn dark anyway. But she realizes there's a third way: She sacrifices herself in order to give others hope, spreading the light around. (This still means she's dead so it's not really clear how this would work, but we're over 90 minutes in and I'm just going with it.) Somehow, Gold choosing to at least try to do the right thing by finding Gideon's heart and trying to stop him (it doesn't work because blah blah blah curse) rather than letting Emma die and reaping the evil benefits plays a part too. Good and evil coming together, yadda yadda.
Anyway, Emma makes this big sacrifice, and I snark but it's quite beautifully done, and seems like a very natural way to end the series and her journey from selfish to Savior. But then Henry gives her True Love's Incestuous Kiss on the forehead and she's totes fine.
Oh, and in the Enchanted Forest, the Evil Queen also sacrificed herself, holding off The Nothing long enough for the others to get away. It's not quite the same as if Regina had done something similar, since she's basically a spare, but she is all the darkest parts of her, and she did something purely good. Aaaaand then the curse is broken and she's fine too.
How much therapy is Gideon going to need?
Gideon turns back into a baby, giving Gold and Belle their "happy beginning." Which is all well and good, but Gideon wasn't aged by a curse, he was kidnapped and taken to another realm. So will he, on some level, remember everything when he gets older? Will anyone tell him? Will Belle finally cut her hair?
Why wasn't this the series finale?
I've never seen a season finale that was so clearly meant to be a series finale before, and that includes the time Buffy The Vampire Slayer prematurely killed off its title character. When the last page of Henry's book seems a little anticlimactic, Snow says, "This isn't the end. I mean, maybe of this book, but this isn't the end end. Now we get to see what's next." The clock on the tower restarts and all the realms are restored. In a sequence that's very Return Of The Jedi Special Edition, we see Arendelle, Neverland, Wonderland, Agrabah, and the Enchanted Forest. There's a montage of everyone living their lives (remember when living their lives in Storybrooke was supposed to be a punishment?) happily ever after. The dwarves change the sign on Regina's office from "Mayor" to "Queen." Gold and Belle dance to "Beauty and the Beast," and whenever they pay for that you know they mean business. Everyone gathers at the diner for some sort of party and a tableau right out of a storybook. The sequence goes on forever but I have to admit I got a little verklempt. It was sweet, it was appropriate, and it would have made a perfect ending. But...
What is this Cousin Oliver bullshit?
Throughout the episode are scenes of a girl in the Enchanted Forest, and her young father who gives her a book to protect at all costs. "Years later," she's in Seattle, reading the story we just watched (poor thing) in that book. She knocks on a door and her father from the flashbacks opens it. "Are you Henry Mills? I'm your daughter." Well, that explains the whiny line readings in every scene then! So...another curse? Another present/flashback structure? But now with a new, somehow even more annoying kid? Yay?
When is a spin-off not a spin-off?
If you've been following the news of the season's renewals and cancellations, you may know that this flash-forward is an excuse to dump most of the cast of Once Upon A Time. Which is all well and good on paper; I've been railing against the surfeit of characters on OUAT for years, and to return to my Grey's comparison, remember when they killed all those interns off and it was awesome? And while I know others will disagree, keeping Regina, Rumple, and Hook means they're keeping, in my opinion, the most fun and interesting characters, and dumping the most boring ones (Henry aside -- at least it's a new actor). But whatever I think of Emma, she's unquestionably the main character, so this feels like it will be The Good Fight to OUAT's Good Wife.
I guess we'll find out...or enjoy that final diner tableau and just stop. See you next season? Maybe?