That is indeed a complicated story. Only a true author could weave such a tale.The Apprentice
Starring Lana Parrilla, Colin O’Donoghue, Andrew J. West, Dania Ramirez, Alison Fernandez, Mekia Cox, and Robert Carlyle
Episode 21: Homecoming
So we have finally reached the last chapter in Once Upon a Time’s storybook. Following on from last week’s surprise appearance of a new version of Rumplestiltskin, still scaly and fresh from the Enchanted Forest, he puts his devious plan into operation, affecting all of our heroes’ lives.
As it transpires, Wish Rumple’s plans are deceptively simple. He doesn’t want our Rumple to give up being the Dark One, as this would take away his power as well. To this end, he kidnaps Ella and Lucy to persuade Henry to hand over the dagger and put an end to the whole sorry business. Obviously, however, as we want our own Rumple to be reunited with Belle, giving over the dagger is a definite no-no.
Travelling to the Wish Realm to try and save Ella and Lucy enables a couple of fun fan favourite appearances that are, in a way, simpler than where we actually left these characters. While Pan wasn’t exactly well received by audiences, Cruella is a much more welcome appearance, and she’s just as delightfully devious in the Wish Realm as she ever was in Storybrooke.
The episode is mainly just an opportunity for our characters to actually get back to the Enchanted Forest and immerse themselves in an adventure once again, but Wish Rumple’s evil plan definitely takes too long to actually make an impact. The major sting at the end of the episode gives more of a hint of how dangerous he is, but it’s almost too little too late by that point.
Wish Rumple manipulates the Wish version of Henry into removing the powers of the Guardian, which stops Rumple from handing over the dagger and having the darkness taken out of him. Additionally, Wish Henry swears that he will have revenge on Regina, for killing his grandparents and kidnapping his mother (remember that? It feels so long ago).
The problem is, this finale just sort of feels like a bit of a mess. The wish realm taking more of a role still feels quite awkward and strange, and having Rumple be the main villain in the final episodes is forced and out of nowhere. What’s more, after the massive world changing plans that we have seen take place in this season, with Gothel trying to destroy all of mankind last week, it seems strange to go from that to Rumple trapping Ella and Lucy inside a small snow globe and trying to take away a small knife.
There’s no real sense of stakes here. Rumple isn’t made to appear very terrifying, but just his regular impish self, and since we’ve become so desensitised to the Dark One over the course of the series it’s quite difficult to have to actually consider him a fully fledged villain again. What’s more, the show hasn’t really adequately explained Rumple’s quest to get back to Belle. Obviously he is immortal while he is the Dark One, but there seems to be needless specificity about how he dies and how he lives his life. Perhaps this is something that’s been established, or merely feeds into the whole “good guys go to heaven” idea, but Rumple’s quest to be back with Belle, in a season where last episode it was made to seem like Henry’s journey, seems confusing and just isn’t a strong enough premise to base a season finale on, let alone a series finale.
When we compare this ending to the most successful season closers, it is evidently one of the weaker ones. Season 2 ended with Tamara and Greg whisking away Henry, after they tried to destroy Storybrooke and return it into forest land. That is a large action with far reaching consequences, from two established characters that we knew and had been present throughout the season. There was a build to that finale moment.
Season 3 saw Zelena’s time travel plan finally take shape. This, again, was something that had been heavily foreshadowed. There was the sense rocketing towards that finale that something major was going to happen. What’s more, it was a finale that had those high stakes: the prospect of all of time changing. Of Snow and Charming not meeting and the huge repercussions of that.
Season 4, similarly, saw reality rewritten by Isaac the author, and Henry needed to get everybody out of the story before it reached the ending. The Author storyline had been simmering away throughout the entire season, and this finale felt earned. Even Season 5, which was comparatively a bit of a quiet season, had a strong premise behind it, and was far more cohesive as to that one act (Henry destroying magic) and why it was important to stop it. And Season 6, obviously, is the final battle, and features a major curse and possibly the destruction of all of the realms of story.
But what do we really have here? Rumple fighting Rumple? What’s more, a version of Rumple who we’ve not really seen before and had no sense that he was working against him? And all he wants is to stop Rumple giving away his power, which doesn’t even make sense because there’s no reason why both of their power should be derived from the same place as they are, in fact, two completely separate human beings who are not connected. In the same way that the events that occur to the regular Hook do not impact Hook in the wish realm.
It just feels lazy. It feels like they couldn’t actually think of a finale that had some impactful and cataclysmic result, at least not directly after a curse, so they had to figure out something different that could have happened. It’s unnecessary, but it really doesn’t hold up to what we could have had had Gothel or Facilier stuck around.
There’s also a horrendously meta moment where Henry, trying to get the author’s pen from the Apprentice, shows him the entire story so far, to which the Apprentice says, “Only a true author could have weaved that tale”. Well, I’m not sure what show Kitsis and Horowitz think they’ve been writing, but Shakespeare it is not. A tongue in cheek reference to the timelines does not excuse an entire season bereft of emotional investment or depth.
The episode does, at least, end with the promise of a better following episode, as Alice and Robin head into Storybrooke, promising the appearance of more of the original cast for the final ever outing. Quite why they are going to Storybrooke, however, when it’s been quite clearly established in the previous episode that the curse not only moved the group back to Earth but also back in time (for reasons best known to Gothel, I suppose), and therefore they cannot seek anybody’s help is anyone’s guess, but I suppose the internal logic of the show shifts depending upon the demands of the episode in question.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix and Disney+ in the UK. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.