It’s time for a world up is down, where villains can have happy endings.Isaac
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, Michael Socha, and Robert Carlyle.
Last season, we journeyed back in time and altered the past of the Enchanted Forest through time magic, for a frankly delightful, Back to the Future-inspired adventure with Emma and Hook taking centre stage. This year, we are treated to an alternate Enchanted Forest, where the lives of our heroes and villains have been swapped for each other in what becomes a truly fun outing.
Unfortunately, the finale comes out of a second half of Season 4 that has felt quite meandering and convoluted. When first introduced, the so-called Queens of Darkness appeared to be the villains of the tale. So much promo and attention was given towards the iconic team up of Maleficent, Cruella and Ursula, and yet, ultimately, this storyline went absolutely nowhere. Ursula found her happy ending and went skipping off – well, swimming off, technically – back to…whatever realm she came from I can’t quite remember. Cruella got unceremoniously launched off a cliff face when trying to murder Henry, not that she could actually murder Henry, but she wanted revenge against the Author, and Maleficent stopped being any sort of threat once she set her sights on getting her daughter back who, it just so happens, used to be Emma’s childhood best friend who was cursed by Snow and Charming to absorb all of Emma’s potential for darkness.
Head spinning? No kidding. I’m not even finished yet. So amidst all of this distraction with the Queens of Darkness, the actual story of this Season 4B is the quest to find the Author – one which has actually been running since the Season 4 premiere. Not only is Regina after a way of securing her happy ending, but so too was Rumple, who sought to change the story so that he wouldn’t die of his blackened heart. Why is his heart blackened? Because he’s spent his entire past because a complete arsehole to everybody and only caring about himself, that’s why.
So anyway, in the quest to find the Author, we discovered that he was trapped inside a picture within his own storybook, having manipulated real events, which is against the rules of being the Author. For some reason that I’m sure she thought was logical, Emma releases him from his inky prison and, predictably, he teams up with Rumple. But there is a snag, because for the Author to be able to write happy endings for our villains, he needs his ink and the only way he can get his ink is by turning Emma, the Saviour, dark. The reasons for this are not entirely clear. Something to do with the fact that the happy endings in Storybrooke were granted by Emma, so only her darkness will allow new happy endings? It’s flimsy, guys. Even by Once Upon a Time standards.
So, Rumple sets about trying to turn Emma evil. And by trying to turn Emma evil, I mean he pretty much doesn’t do anything and just stands around watching the events that occur to her anyway. First, she slides down a bad path because of the betrayal of her parents, and then she kills Cruella in an attempt to protect Henry. Gold is then confident that this is enough to taint her soul forever, and Emma entertains the concept for a while, even pulling a gun on her childhood friend – and Maleficent’s daughter – Lily, but Regina manages to talk her round to not being evil. So, without an evil Saviour, how on earth will Rumple be able to change all of happy endings?
I’m glad you asked. Well, Regina is now rededicated to her goal of having a new happy ending after discovering that Marian is not in fact Marian but Zelena, Regina’s villainous half-sister, and also the Wicked Witch of the West. What’s more, she’s pregnant, with Robin’s child, a bond that will scupper Regina’s happy ending forever. Using her intellect, Regina procures some of Lily’s blood, reasoning that she possesses Emma’s darkness, and uses that to activate the Author’s ink, preparing to use it to erase Zelena from existence. Ultimately, she decides not to, and claim her own happy ending, but the Author, now with the means to rewrite the fairytale characters, disappears and returns to Rumple, ready to grant the villains their happy endings.
So, that’s how we arrived where we are. That only took me just shy of a thousand words, so you know that the narrative has been cohesive and not at all rambling up until this point. Having said that, despite the many false turns that Season 4B has taken, the finale is actually quite fun. Seeing an alternate Enchanted Forest is diverting enough to dive into, and giving all of our characters different origins is a nice way to imagine them in new scenarios. Ginnifer Goodwin is clearly having a ball here, playing the Evil Queen version of Snow White. She doesn’t pull it off nearly as well as Lana Parrilla does, but seeing her be evil is perhaps the most interesting that Snow has ever been. Similarly, Parrilla is beguiling as the vigilante thief Regina, who is on the run from Snow White for having scuppered her happy ending.
Choosing Henry as the anchor for these episodes was a wise move. Personally, I find Henry quite irritating more often than not, but since he’s growing up, it’s starting to make more sense for him to fill those heroic moments instead of just fading into the background like he is sometimes known to do. It’s also fitting, as the original believer, that he’s the one to enter the book and try to put everything back to the way that it was. The fact that Henry was ultimately the one to write them out of the situation is wonderfully fitting, as is the exciting nature of his role as the new Author. Unfortunately, this plot point was somewhat overshadowed by Henry’s decision to reject the position, claiming that it’s too much power for anybody to wield. It demonstrates Henry’s maturity, and his purity at refusing to be corrupted by that opportunity, as well as providing a neat reason why Henry won’t be able to write our characters out of every situation they face from now on.
Introducing Emma at the midpoint was a sensible move. It kept the plot moving forwards, even if it was overly convenient that Emma had her memories in the alternate universe. It was also necessary for Emma to be included in rescuing everybody from the fairytale world so that her sacrifice at the end of the two-parter would make meaningful sense. It was a valiant move, if a little frustrating, but at least she was protecting Regina from becoming the Dark One. There was a moment there where I feared I’d have to sit through a fifth season with a heart-stealing Regina at large, and my heart couldn’t handle it. It makes sense that it’s Emma. Just when we thought we were free of Dark Swan, here she comes, the darkest force in the universe. Bet they’re wishing they’d just kept it in Rumple now.
While the new, alternate Enchanted Forest was fun to delve into for these episodes, I was slightly taken out of it by the fact that it just doesn’t make sense. This entire time for Season 4B, we’ve been talking about the villains getting their happy endings, but Isaac’s rewrite didn’t give the villains the happy endings. It just made them into the heroes, once again proving what Ariel observed correctly. It’s not the fact that the villains can’t get happy endings, it’s that they go about it the wrong way.
There were also some moments that needed to be explained away with exposition just to emphasise how this new universe deviated from the original. To explain how Regina had ruined Snow’s life, for example, the Author had to, semi-clunkily, explain that Snow was in love with Prince James before he was killed, which is why she keeps David as her pet, in a similar way that Regina kept the Huntsman.
Part of Rumple’s story, in fact, is how he doesn’t want to compromise and have it all. If the new version of reality didn’t grant him all that he desired, then was it really his happy ending at all? I thought it would be something a bit more like when the villains had won and the heroes had lost. Especially when Isaac spoke at his press event, he spoke about how the heroes: Snow White, Prince Charming, etc had drastically different stories to the familiar ones, but really Isaac’s book is just a role reversal tale between the heroes and villains. It literally just swaps the names, so I’m not sure how it became such a phenomenal success when it’s so derivative.
Fortunately, the trajectory for Season 5 looks promising. Having Emma as the Dark One, and Rumple potentially as a force of goodness, is a compelling one. It’s not focussed upon yet another new fairytale character coming into the fold, but instead rooted in the characters that we already know and love. The quest to Camelot and Merlin to solve the Dark One situation looks like it could be quite exciting, as well as exciting to see Emma devolve into full dark mode. If they continue to put her in makeup that makes her look like a sleep deprived cocaine addict, I won’t be impressed though.
Once Upon an Additional Brainthought
- I liked that Isaac became the Author the day that Walt Disney died. That was a nice Easter Egg, and quite a sweet touch.
- How have they only just released the Apprentice? He’s been trapped in that hat for a ridiculously long time. Why didn’t Hook mention the fact that he was in there?
- There was quite a nice reference to the fandom here. It was nice to see fans of the book almost like fans of the TV show. I think the writers had quite a nice time coming up with all of that.
- The Author was quite hilarious. “Oh I see you’ve read my book”. So sarcastic. Obsessed.
- One bizarre thing in the Enchanted Forest was that none of the characters seemed remotely phased by all of the modern inventions that Isaac and Henry brought there. A paperback book? Sure, no problem. A plastic badge? I’ll just throw this away. The fact that they’re clearly wearing modern clothes? Doesn’t phase them in the least.
- Snow pulling one of the dwarves’ hearts out from the back makes me question everything I know about biology. What happened to his spine? Is he okay? Snow you could have paralysed him, that’s just too far.
- How come the only time when Snow is interesting is when she’s evil? As soon as she was back to her regular self she was insufferable again, and yet Regina as Snow as a pure delight.
- I love how Prince Charming being evil is just him wearing eye liner. Make up on boys is evil, folks. You read it here first.
- How come Rumple is still annoying even when he’s a hero? Still manages to turn up and ruin things, even as a good guy.
- Can I just question the logic of Rumple clearly swiping with his sword and Regina just having a single stab wound? That’s not how this works.
- Zelena aggressively proclaiming “There’s blood on my dress!” was hilarious, but her transition into green once more was perplexing, since Isaac had already made clear that the end of the book signalled no reversing.
- Did Henry seriously use Regina’s blood to write the ending? Gross.
- The phrase “temptation of the quill” sounds highly enigmatic, and potentially slightly smutty?
- I don’t blame Henry for breaking the quill. If Authors are just there to record the things that have actually happened that’s hardly interesting. Watching Once Upon a Time is difficult enough the first time without actually having to explain all of the plot points.
- I honestly don’t understand why Belle was suddenly so eager to save Rumple. I’m annoyed by the whole Dark One thing, actually. They seem to be suggesting here that the influence of the Dark One was the problem with Rumple the whole time. I refuse to believe that’s the case. In Storybrooke before magic came back he was still motivated to get the power back, and that was without the Dark One’s influence. You can’t just invalidate everything as being the result of that darkness. They should have kept the Dark One in Rumple, and then they could have destroyed it when he was weak.
- Belle shouldn’t have gone back to Gold. That’s annoying.
- Hey they finally found a new word for “cleave”.
- I was frustrated when Emma had the opportunity to tell Hook that she loved him but she didn’t take it until literally becoming the Dark One. Did she learn nothing?
- Will literally did nothing in this finale. He appeared in the background approximately once, and had no lines. It must be really frustrating to be a series regular but be given nothing to do. Robin and Zelena were given more of consequence, and they were just co-stars. Honestly, what were they thinking when they added Michael Socha to the main cast?
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.