Every time it looks like we can be happy, magic just comes in and wrecks it.Henry
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, Rebecca Mader, Sean Maguire, and Robert Carlyle.
Episode 22: Only You
Episode 23: An Untold Story
For the season finale this year, Once continues the trend of having a largely standalone story. Unlike the time travel adventure in Season 3, or the alternate reality in Season 4, however, Season 5 takes a much more grounded approach as Henry tries to destroy magic, while some of our heroes find themselves in a mysterious new realm.
The standalone nature of this tale was quite enjoyable, and it was nice to have one plot line nicely tied up by the end without too much left lingering. While the story arcs have been enjoyable on the whole, it can get draining for our characters to go from one long struggle to the next one. Hopefully moving forwards, Once continues to pursue such creative ideas within individual episodes instead of getting weighed down in the ongoing plot lines.
The main thrust of this episode revolved around Henry deciding to destroy magic once and for all, attributing magic to all of the trials and tribulations his family have been through. It’s strange, because Henry has always been the strongest believer out of them all. He’s always believed in the goodness of magic, and for him to suddenly go back on that in such a major way seems like a bizarre and inexplicable shift. There was no foreshadowing for his changing motivations, it just seemed to happen overnight, and his actions that followed were ridiculously impulsive.
The most irritating thing of it all was Henry completely ignoring what everybody else was saying. He’s always talking about the importance of teamwork and working together, but he shut everybody else out when he decided he wanted to destroy magic. Sure, it stopped Gold in his tracks, but Henry hadn’t considered the fact that Belle is still in Pandora’s Box, so getting rid of magic would leave her trapped in their forever, let alone his relatives trapped in another realm. If he’d been less dogmatic and just listened, then he wouldn’t have created such a ridiculously avoidable mess. For an already unlikeable character, he’s just putting the nails in his own coffin. If there were a feasible way for him to be removed from the programme, I’d take it.
Henry’s plan was also ridiculously convenient. What are the chances that Henry finds the anti-Holy Grail randomly in some sort of cellar in New York? Also, why does a reverse Holy Grail even exist? Surely destroying magic can’t be as easy as a cup? How did the Unholy Grail even get to Earth in that display case? It all just seemed far too easy for them to be able to get rid of magic, which really begs the question how Henry managed in one day to find an object to rid the world of magic, yet the likes of Neal, Greg and Tamara tried to find one for years and spectacularly failed.
It also led to what must be one of the most nauseating scenes that Once has ever pulled, as Henry shouts before a crowd about the importance of believing in magic. It’s easily the most skippable scene in Once’s history, and further proof that Jared Gilmore works best when he’s existing either off screen or in the background.
Elsewhere, all the elements were in place for Regina to undergo a major backslide into her Evil Queen days, but it’s unsurprising that this didn’t really happen. Emma was worried about it, which was apropos and led to one of the more disarmingly honest conversations between Emma and Regina as Regina acknowledges the struggle she continues to have with the darkness inside her, and the pull towards evil even though it’s been such a long time.
However, using magic to get the Evil Queen out of Regina felt a little bit like cheating. I’ve always conceived of the Evil Queen and Regina as parts of each other. It’s not as simple as them being two competing identities. That’s reductionist, and a handy way to compartmentalise some elements of Regina’s character. It would have been far more appropriate to go down the route of the Evil Queen as part of Regina’s identity, instead of making her seem like this entirely evil creation. The Evil Queen was never entirely evil. She was created from her circumstances, and she did terrible thing, but there is no disconnect between her and Regina. They are the same person, so I’m not even remotely on board with the idea that they are now separate beings, though I am excited to see what Lana Parrilla does with playing both Regina and the Evil Queen in Season 6.
The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde storyline was well done as well. The reveal of the two was a nice twist and it was hidden well. The Land of Untold Stories has potential, but I am confused at this point how this land differs from the Enchanted Forest where these stories were all underway and existing. Having read some interviews, it seems to be a land where characters go to get away from their stories, which seems remarkably meta. How do these characters know how the story will end up anyway?
Still, having these characters in Storybrooke hopefully opens up some more avenues of storytelling, though it does seem to be quite a departure from the original concept of Once Upon a Time as reinvented fairytales. With Jekyll and Hyde involved, who’s next? Jane Eyre? Elizabeth Bennett? Who can say? It’s genuinely unpredictable, but hopefully the writers continue to pull out creative and engaging episodes like this moving forwards.
Despite contributing quite a lot to this season, there was remarkably little from Camelot in the finale. Characters like Merida were written out by Zelena fashioning a magic door back to the Enchanted Forest. As it transpires, they needn’t have worried as a lack of magic wouldn’t have destroyed Camelot anyway, but it successfully rid us of Roland from the story, so that was a nice touch, even though I’m surprised that Regina didn’t take the opportunity to give him a proper goodbye.
I was also surprised that Merida wasn’t given more to do here. She was a brilliant and captivating character and, while returning to her kingdom made sense, she didn’t have anything to do or say in this appearance, other than to explain why she wouldn’t be seen again. It’s a big loss to the show, but hopefully she crops up again (then again, I’ve also been waiting for guest appearances from Anna and Elsa and have been sorely disappointed).
This finale does a good job of setting up the following season, with both Hyde and the Evil Queen on the loose. Hopefully Season 6 follows more of a fluid structure to its storytelling instead of falling back on arbitrary story arcs. Overall, Season 5 has been quite a hectic journey and much darker than the other instalments. Fingers crossed that Season 6 gives us a bit more of our characters having a fun and relaxed time, as that has definitely been lacking this season. What with Emma turning into Dark Swan and then journeying off to the Underworld, this season has felt unnecessarily angsty, and I’m looking forward to a bit more magic being involved.
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.