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TV Review: ‘Once Upon a Time’ Season Three Finale

I have mixed feelings about tonight's two-hour Once Upon a Time finale. Most of the double-episode I found overly straightforward and simplistic. The point of the finale seems to be three-fold: proving to Emma (Jennifer Morrison) that home is with family, and little to do with geographic location, giving loads of screentime to "CaptainSwan," or the relationship between Emma and Killian Jones, AKA, Captain Hook (Colin O'Donoghue).  Maybe I miss the complexity and nuance of Once Upon a Time's early days; something that has been absent in this latest demi-season. It says something when the most subtle, complex moments happen towards…

Review Overview

Reviewer's overall score

Summary : The season finale is a mixed bag, but a wasted opportunity to do a "consequences of time travel" narrative really well.

User Rating: 2.45 ( 27 votes)
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I have mixed feelings about tonight’s two-hour Once Upon a Time finale. Most of the double-episode I found overly straightforward and simplistic. The point of the finale seems to be three-fold: proving to Emma (Jennifer Morrison) that home is with family, and little to do with geographic location, giving loads of screentime to “CaptainSwan,” or the relationship between Emma and Killian Jones, AKA, Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue). COLIN O'DONOGHUE

Maybe I miss the complexity and nuance of Once Upon a Time‘s early days; something that has been absent in this latest demi-season. It says something when the most subtle, complex moments happen towards the end with Rumplestiltskin’s (Robert Carlyle) decision to take the “forgetting potion,” that will make him forget the knowledge that although he knows he and Baelfire will reconcile, his son will die.

At the end of last week’s episode, Rumple uses his dagger to kill Zelena, having tricked Belle (Emilie de Ravin)  into thinking she has his powerful magical weapon. There is no heroic agenda here to rid the world of the Wicked Witch, for he tells no one, keeping secret both the murder and the fact that he has lied to Belle, essentially betraying her trust in him. We know this should come back to haunt him next season, but given how on-the-nose the series has become, I wonder if it will ever be mentioned again, even as Belle and Rumple marry (in one of the episode’s most emotional moments as it underscores a montage of transitions for the people of Storybrooke).

A year ago, I would have speculated that Belle and Rumple’s wedding, blessed by Belle’s father Maurice and laced with language about how much Rumple has grown and how much he owes to Belle for making that come to pass, has formed the basis for a meaty story arc for season four. I would imagine it flavored with moral dilemmas and difficult decisions and internal struggles for both Rumple and Belle. But now, I would doubt it, as the characters have both become supporting players in the grand scheme of a story headlined by Emma and Hook.

I like the finale’s arc: proof to Emma that her home is, indeed, in Storybrooke, and proof as well that Killian Jones is devoted to her. But to get there, they take the most straightforward route through the time-travel narrative. It is so cut and dried, so on-the-nose that I found my thoughts wandering through much of the episode. I love the idea of time travel and using to further the Once Upon a Time narrative. The notion that some fundamental law of magic has been broken and time travel is now possible is fascinating. Of course there will be consequences, as we know from an entire body of literature. One small change can eradicate history, start wars never intended, let loose beings never envisioned.

It’s been done, and done so very much better. And I guess that’s why the finale so disappointed me. There were few surprises, and little complexity. Yes, the idea that Maid Marian has come back to destroy Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) first real chance at happiness since the Death of Daniel is compelling, and I loved the idea that Emma, like her mother Snow White causes Regina’s pain. But I feel so much more could have been done with it.

From the moment we see Maid Marian as the prisoner, we know exactly what’s going to happen. It’s telegraphed immediately just as we see Regina and Robin find themselves and Regina open up to him. We know the jostling of history by Emma and Hook will be put to rights. But how much more intriguing would it have been if this story had bigger consequences. I suppose I expected more from the series.

I admit, I’m a Rumple fan, and this should be no surprise to my regular readers. I’m not even necessarily a RumBelle fan, although I like the pairing. But I hate what the series has done to the character. After relegating him to prisoner for the entire second half, only to have him reunited with Belle, and then turn around to betray her trust in such a fundamental way (for whatever reason) just doesn’t set right with me (as I said last week). It destroys the character for me. Yes, he is flawed and has a streak of darkness in him, but he doesn’t think twice about this betrayal. And while he might be justified in getting his revenge on Zelena, it seems gratuitous to me, with little thought of what the action does to the character of Rumplestiltskin. To me, I think it was a way for the writers to get rid of Zelena, full stop.

In some ways, I think what’s happened is that the creators have written themselves into a corner. They’ve come full circle, redeeming the Evil Queen, making her heroic and a good guy. They’ve done the same with Rumple, bringing him back to much of what he’d been before the dagger, but with the benefit of experience and love. He, too, had become heroic. So, where, then, to go with them, if not to do a reset? Regina’s will happen with the return of Maid Marian, and Rumple’s with the betrayal that taints his marriage to Belle.

And then there is the wild card, which escaped through the portal in Rumple’s cellar (BTW–tell me how that portal managed to be in his castle?) and into Storybrooke. Of course it is the Ice Queen, come to do mischief. She is the next villain to do battle against Storybrooke. Undoubtedly, Emma will once again prevail (or if she’s popular enough, make her into a good guy).

The finale wasn’t all disappointment for me. There were many things I enjoyed during the two hours. I did love that Snow and Charming named their son Prince Neal. It was a sweet gesture, and it clearly touched Rumple. I really liked the parallel of Snow screwing up Daniel and Regina’s relationship and Emma screwing up Regina’s budding relationship with Robin Hood.

I did enjoy the Princess Leia and Prince Charles monikers. Clever. As I mentioned, I believe one of the episode’s most poignant moments was when Rumple decides to take the forgetting potion. He needs so much to know, but fears the harshest consequences of changing history through time travel. I adored the Belle/Rumple wedding. Belle looks lovely in her 1930s vintage white and Rumple completely dashing in a tux.

I’ve thought a lot since the airing of the episode about whether I’ll continue writing about Once Upon a Time next season. There is a lot of brilliantly written, powerfully acted stuff out there, from Game of Thrones to Hannibal, Fargo to Turn, Penny Dreadful to Sleepy Hollow (and next season’s new Fox treatment of ITV’s Broadchurch, called Gracepoint, and starring David Tennant). I’ve not quite decided, but it’s increasingly hard to write more than a simple recap. The meat of Once (and the delight of writing about it) has always been in exploring the gray area between good and evil, right and wrong, nobility and stubbornness. I’m finding less and less depth these days to plumb. The jury is still out for me about next season. I’ll do a re-watch over the summer and decide sometime after Comic-Con in July.

In the meantime, I’d love to know what you thought about the finale. Good or bad? Agree with me or disagree? Are you sticking around for season four or calling it quits? Let us know in the comments below and please vote in the poll at the top of this article!

Tune in tomorrow night for this week’s Let’s Talk TV Live on Blogtalk Radio where we’ll unpack the Once Upon a Time season finale and more!

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her debut novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse comes out October 11 from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • WML

    I watched the first five minutes and the last ten minutes of the show. When they relegated, seemingly permanently, the Rumbelle romance to a lie, I was worst than furious. And then, they relegated the Robin/Regina romance to an unfortunate interruption of the Robin and Marion tale? Pathetic. Way to go, OUAT overlords. Treat your two best assets like they are there to serve the almighty Emma and Hook. Please. This was a continuation of last week’s disastrous episode. A show that shows a distinct disdain for continuity does not merit unbridled love. In this case, I have no intention of watching the rest of the two hour special.
    Unbelievably condescending. That’s what OUAT has become. Naming the baby Neal, instead of keeping the real Neal alive. For what? To satisfy the legion of Hook lovers and those who want to stand in Emma’s shoes? When did OUAT become a teenage girl fantasy show? PATHETIC.

  • Heidi

    Yes, this season has primarily focused on the Hook/Emma storyline; however, we quickly forget that season one was all about Mary Margaret and David. That storyline sizzled and then basically fizzled once they regained their memories. They are a total snoozefest all season with her actually being pregnant. Same will happen with Hook/Em or ANY hot romance once it has been consummated (Meredith Grey/Sheppard, Bill/Sookie, etc). It’s the nature of the beast, art imitating life. And let’s keep it real…Neal wasn’t very appealing from day one on the show, both physically or emotionally. I think his character overstayed his welcome, same as Brody from Homeland.

    • WML

      I disagree. The writers never developed the potential of the Neal character. They are mesmerized by the pirate and made a mockery of the show while pursuing their boyhood swashbuckling fantasy.

      • heidi

        Really? I thought we viewers spent WAY too much time in NEVERLAND. Talk about a boy’s fantasy. Idk, I think the fact that they took the ultimate bad guy-Hook-and somehow gave him redemption, appeal, etc, took a lot more thought than writing whatever they wrote for Neal. Again, I think the actor is just not appealing to begin with, so it was tricky to get past his whispery gravel voice. I don’t think it comes down to piracy, I think it boils down to sex appeal. Neal was not sexy. His death was cheesy though, I’ll give you that.

        • Heidi

          I couldn’t stand him on True Blood either lol.

          • Lexi

            You weren’t supposed to like him on True Blood..he was a serial killer after all. His Cajun accent was dead on though. Even true Cajuns have said they couldn’t tell that he wasn’t.

          • heidi

            No one knew it was him till the end, so he was supposed to be likeable. Accent was great. Not a fan of the gravely voice. Nails on chalkboard to me.

          • WML

            MRJ is a better actor than the OUAT overlords allowed him to be. He was underused and his character was underwritten. Tallahassee was a great episode and MRJ was very responsible for making that a success. I was looking forward to MRJ and RC playing off one another. But what do the overlords do? They knock Neal off and relegate Carlyle to a supporting role. Not the best of decisions, OUAT overlords!

        • WML

          The show, for me, was not about romance. It was about hope, sacrifice, redemption and love. That people fell in love because they saw in others what others did not see (Rumple and Belle, Robin and Regina) made it compelling. Not the silly romantic fantasy that inspires so many Captain Swann shippers.

          • Heidi

            Excellent point. That definitely kept me tuned in too. I guess the tigress in me just wants Hook. I don’t know why he’s always chasing Emma anyway she’s cold. I think they wasted a great storyline with Zalena. She could’ve been fleshed out more. That was a storyline that could have addressed redemption and love. Not to mention possible love triangle with Rump/Belle.

          • heidi

            And I think you’re right…its jumped the shark this spring. It has one or two seasons left. I’m just thankful OUAT Wonderland was iced.

          • WML

            You mean Kill Alice? If I didn’t know better, I would have thought they really wanted to cast Uma Thurman as Alice. The Knave of Hearts, however, will be jumping realms right into OUAT.

          • Heidi

            Haha, yes Uma straight out of a Tarantino flick. Wonderland is a particular taste, very surprised they thought people would want to be in a perpetual trippy state of mind. Not me.

          • WML

            It was a disaster, a harbinger of the disaster that befell OUAT in the later half of season 3. While the first half was too long, it was full of great performances, especially from Carlyle and Robbie Kaye. Zelena started off fine and Rebecca Mader was fine. All the Hook/Emma stuff, however, was an example of writers being out of touch with their own show.

          • Heidi

            Lol to OUAT Wonderland! Yes, it felt like two completely different shows this year post winter break. To watch Rumple in a cage for second half was wasting Carlyle altogether. Hook and Emma…yeah, ok…they essentially killed off Neal to make it “ok” for Captain Swann (great moniker) to set sail. BUT I think that the writers responded to viewers’ reaction to that episode where Em met Hook and he took her to the giants. Idk if anyone thought Hook would have the affect he did in that episode. I’m really hoping they punch it up more with Belle/Snow/Charming. All 3 were once so pivotal and are now just si