The Final Battle isn’t a war. It’s a battle for her soul, for her belief. Her hope.Snow
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, Rebecca Mader, and Robert Carlyle.
Episodes 21 & 22: The Final Battle
So, finally, after 6 seasons and 133 episodes, this story of Once Upon a Time has drawn to an end. It’s no mean feat to be able to draw a line underneath a tale that has included travelling to Neverland, Oz, Camelot and the Underworld, not to mention the host of curses and villains that have swept through the sleepy New England town. However, fortunately, season finales have always been a strong suit of Kitsis and Horowitz, and it provides a fitting end for Emma Swan’s storyline. The elements that set up the softly rebooted seventh season were intriguing, but fortunately didn’t detract too much from the goodbye.
Right from the beginning of the episode, where you see flashbacks all the way back to the series premiere, you know that it’s going to be an epic affair. It’s also a stark reminder of just how far we’ve come since the beginning, not to mention the startling growth of Jared Gilmore as Henry. He was objectively a child at the beginning, and we’ve seen him mature into a vaguely irritating young adult since then.
The fact that the “Final Battle” isn’t, in fact, a battle but more of a psychological deal is fitting, not least because Once’s network TV budget just wouldn’t allow for any sort of blockbuster conflict and would only result in audience disappointment. Having said that, if they wanted to save money, they could’ve just actually built a rooftop set or filmed on the roof, but I’m not their accounts manager so I suppose that’s none of my business.
To fight over Emma’s belief is a nice callback to how this show began, and brings us right back to the core of who this journey has been about. While we’ve had guest stars and other characters and movies appearing throughout the run, this journey started with Emma Swan and her journey from cynical loner to a woman with a family, who opens herself up to belief and hope and love. The fact that Emma’s losing of belief resulted in the extinction of the different “realms of story” (they act as if this is a phrase we’ve been hearing for the past few years, but it’s also something that Snow totally makes up on the spot) made the finale feel apocalyptic and gave the affair much more gravity, considering essentially all that was happening in Storybrooke is Fiona being vaguely sinister.
Once everybody is back in Storybrooke and safe, with Emma’s memories safely back in tact, her sacrifice felt hugely impactful, considering the massive foreshadowing throughout the season. Though, to be honest, did anybody actually realistically expect her to remain dead? No, they did not. It’s also not the only fake out they have on this front in this episode, with Snow using True Love’s Kiss to revive Charming. Apparently True Love’s Kiss is no longer limited to curses and appears to be just some sort of magical cure-all. Which seems pretty harsh for the characters like Neal who were not saved from death. I suppose that they get to be punished twice: one for not having a true love when they were alive, and then again by actually having to die, unlike seemingly everybody else.
The fact that Rumple played a large part in the finale was interesting, and it placed a lot of importance upon him doing the “right thing”. In fact, that’s how they managed to stop the Final Battle once and for all. Having said that, just because he did the right thing once does not actually make up for all of the other stuff that he has done before now, and the fact that it was then used as the reason for him and Belle getting back together was, frankly, criminal. Then again, I shouldn’t actually expect any more than that, since Belle wasn’t even in the musical episode, or the first part of the finale, and once she’s freed from Fiona’s curse she promptly twists her ankle within seconds.
There were also some lovely little character moments peppered throughout the two hours. The one that really got me was where our fairytale characters are facing their seeming demise, huddled together, waiting for oblivion. The way that Snow reaches out to Regina at this point, as they face the end as a unit was incredibly touching.
I suppose there are some ways in which the finale could have been even more impactful. It was a shame that for the largest portion of the episode, most of our characters were split up, but that’s an inherent danger of there being a curse in play, I suppose. What’s more, the sacrifice of Regina’s alter ego The Evil Queen didn’t hit quite as hard as it could have, especially since this death was ultimately reversed. That entire plot line, with seeing the Evil Queen find her happily ever after with the alternate Robin wasn’t entirely necessary, especially since Robin himself didn’t actually appear. Could this moment have hit harder if it was our Regina that sacrificed herself to make sure that everybody else made it out of there? Sure, they might have to change a couple of things, such as being able to recharge the bean, but it would have seemed much more apocalyptic, as opposed to our characters just making it through seemingly unharmed. Again, they could also have done something similar with Snow and Charming, where they were swept up in the darkness when she was finding him under the beanstalk. Obviously they would all end up alright in the end, but it would certainly be more emotional and climactic for the audience, to see all of the characters slowly picked off one by one.
There were, too, incredible flaws in logic. All of the heroes were sent to the Enchanted Forest, but for some reason the Black Fairy decided to keep Henry in Storybrooke, who retained his memories for reasons unexplained, but incredibly convenient (I’m guessing because he’s the Author?). Additionally, what did the Black Fairy have to gain by creating a curse in which Belle left Rumple and Gideon, but she was still in the town? Couldn’t she have just cursed her to the Enchanted Forest with everybody else? Ah, but then they actually would have had to write something for Belle to do, which would be inconceivable.
The Last Supper reference was slightly too much, in my view, but it was nice to see all of the characters happily living together in harmony, and a glimpse at what the future looks like for these characters even if we’re not going to see it. Having said that, I feel like parts of the finale could have been dedicated towards this happily ever after a bit more. We got a small glimpse of a montage: David becoming a farmer, Snow back to being a teacher teaching seemingly the one lesson she knows which is always about a blue bird, Regina as the Mayor/Queen still, Belle and Rumple raising Gideon, who has been magically returned to childhood, and Hook and Emma taking the role of law enforcement. Meanwhile, Henry is still going to school, apparently, and Zelena…well I guess Zelena is somewhere doing something with her perpetually tiny baby. It might have been nice to also have moments from some of the other characters we have met along the way: Elsa, Anna, etc. Sure, it’s not actually the end for many of these characters, but it might have made it feel like a more natural ending.
No finale would be complete, of course, without one of Snow’s signature Hope Speeches. This particular one fits in beautifully, and doesn’t tip us over the edge of being too saccharine. The fact that the characters have to reconceive what their lives look like is understandable. They have been fighting foe after foe for years now, and to finally reach a space of calm where they actually have to live with what they have cultivated is a wonderful, life affirming moment.
Throughout all this, there is also the small matter of setting up for the next series. We see glimpses throughout the hour of a little girl (Alison Fernandez) and her father (Andrew J. West) who are running from some unseen evil. It’s almost forgotten about, until the pair crop up again at the end of the finale, with the little girl now in modern Seattle, where she knocks on a door. Her father answers, but does not recognise her, and she addresses him as Henry Mills, and that she is his daughter, and that she needs his help. It’s yet another perfect callback to the original scenes of Once Upon a Time, where Henry turned up on Emma’s doorstep. To have the new series revolve around a grownup Henry seems like the perfect and natural continuation. It doesn’t hurt that Henry, grown up, appears to be quite attractive.
So, the storybook has closed on Emma Swan, but Once Upon a Time, for better or worse, carries on. Out of the main cast this season, only Lana Parrilla, Colin O’Donoghue and Robert Carlyle remain, though Emilie de Ravin, Rebecca Mader and Jared Gilmore are confirmed to appear in guest roles. Jennifer Morrison has also been confirmed for at least one episode in the new series, which will hopefully help to bridge the gap. Since it appears that some new curse has happened, seeing as adult Henry and his daughter have been displaced from the Enchanted Forest to Seattle, it appears that some of the residents of Storybrooke have been unfortunate enough to be caught up in that. I must say, I am slightly trepidatious about the new season, just because I feel like we’ve trodden this story before, and if it’s just a carbon copy of the first season, but with Henry as the jaded protagonist then I’m not entirely sold, not least because they would have removed Hook from his happy ending with Emma. Still, I shall reserve judgement.
“The Final Battle” draws a wonderful line underneath the story we have been following for the past six seasons. While not exactly perfect, it still sets our characters up for the rest of their lives, even if we don’t see them. With a soft reboot promised for next year, hopefully the new iteration of Once Upon a Time does not detract or undermine what has been created here.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. Seasons 1 – 4 are now available on Disney+ in the UK. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.