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TV Review: Once Upon a Time Season Finale “A Land Without Magic”

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And so end the first season of Once Upon a Time. And did they live happily ever after? It certainly seemed so—at least fleetingly as Emma (Jennifer Morrison) finally believes in the reality of Henry’s (Jared Gilmore) book. The curse is broken, and interestingly the one thing that most critics and fans have believed—that to break the curse is to end the series—has not meant the end of Once Upon a Time or Storybrooke.

One window closes and another opens. The land without magic, with all its fairy tale characters, has now become a land (or rather a village) seeping with it. All due to Rumplestiltskin’s (Robert Carlyle) powerful potion and magic wishing well.

This week’s elaborate end to a great freshman season begins with Henry at death’s door, having eaten the poison apple turnover mean for Emma. Neither Regina (Lana Parrilla) nor Emma knows what to do to help him as the two collaborate, working together to find something to save his life. With Emma finally believing in the curse and the power of magic, she and Regina turn to the only man in town with access to it—Mr. Gold.

Gold is only too happy to help; what she needs, he explains is hidden “in the belly of a beast” where he’d stashed it back in Fairy Tale Land long ago.  The potion, containing true love, will break any curse. But to get at it, Emma must fight Malifecent, now a dragon held captive by Regina in the basement of the Storybrooke library.

Mr. Gold gives Emma Prince Charming’s (Josh Dallas) sword, necessary to slay the dragon. (By the way, I loved that sword fight between Rumple and Charming—two classically trained actors doing swordplay is very sexy—but I digress!) She accomplishes this quest, retrieving the potion from the dragon. But Gold steals the vial, having tricked Emma and Regina. His motive is not to save Henry, but to keep the potion for his own reasons. But Emma doesn’t really need the potion to save Henry; she merely needs proof of her true love—true love’s kiss.

So why the elaborate scheme to retrieve the vial from Malifecent? Read on.

In the meantime, Regina has double-crossed Jefferson. She’d promised to help him forget his daughter Grace in exchange for retrieving the poisoned apple from Fairy Tale Land, but dismisses him. Bad move, Regina!

Revenge is best served cold, they say, and Jefferson is about to get his. Knowing where Regina has Belle (Emilie deRavin) stashed in the hospital, Jefferson frees her, telling the bewildered prisoner to find one “Mr. Gold” and tell him Regina is the one who’d locked her up.

As Mr. Gold unlocked the golden container holding his magic potion, a disheveled Belle walks into the pawnshop, stopping Gold in his tracks. He turns, and seeing Belle, doesn’t quite believe she’s real. I have to wonder how many times he’s seen her—a fleeting vision, a hallucination. Stunned and speechless, he touches her shoulder, and finally he is convinced she is no apparition. “I was told you would protect me?” she asks the stunned Gold. Although Belle is confused—dazed, Gold is overcome, embracing her, assuring her that although she doesn’t remember who he is, she will.

Back at the hospital,  with Henry apparently dead, Emma goes for a kiss goodbye. Of course, it brings the story back full circle to the pilot, in which Prince Charming kisses Snow White, rousing her after finding her via his mother’s ring, which Rumple had enchanted. Emma’s kiss breaks the curse, and all of the fairy tale characters begin to recall their pasts: Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming are back together and the rest of the town begins to awaken as if from a dream. Happy endings seem to abound.

Alas, this is but the season finale, not the series finale, and a true happily ever after cannot quite yet be. Indeed, the curse may be broken, but Rumplestiltskin, now reunited with his beloved Belle, seeks out a magic well through which may be recovered things that are lost.

And thus we are brought to the next level of this journey as into the land of Storybrooke—but a weigh station in this world without magic—is brought the power of magic. But why?

As Rumple drives the narrative, we must follow what he seeks. Of course his quest is to be reunited with his son Baelfire. Belle, of course, he’d believed dead, and her presence now in his life is something he’d never expected. He loves her, and with love now back in his life, how will that alter his quest for Bae? How will that alter him?

Bringing magic into the realm of modern day Storybrooke, it allows Rumple to stay in the realm of this “world without magic” (outside Storybrooke, that is) and continue his search. Except now with magic at his disposal—and the curse broken—he can come and go as he pleases, explore other realms, and perhaps one day find Bae.

Had the curse been broken without his using the potion, they would have all returned to their lives in Fairy Tale Land and Bae would be lost to Rumple forever.

I’ve always believed that at its heart, Once Upon a Time is Rumple’s story. His life touches all the other characters and the land itself. His love for Bae, and his internal struggle between the good and evil that co-exist within him is the most complex in the series narrative, brought into high relief by Robert Carlyle’s nuanced characterization. Now that Rumple has been reunited with Belle—and knows what happened to her, and that Regina is responsible—will he be driven by taking real vengeance on Regina? And who will be her allies? Will she find them amongst the fairy tale characters now longing to return to Fairy Tale Land? Will the real battle rage between Rumple and all of Storybrooke out for his blood? Or, as the fairy tale characters begin to remember what Regina has done to them, will they be out for revenge? Will she be run out of town? Or will the town be after both Regina and Rumple, causing them to forge an alliance?

How will Rumple use the magic now returned to him (and to Regina and the other magical beings, for that matter). And how does that play into his search for Bae, which (in my opinion anyway) has been the one thing that has driven him from the start?

What is Henry’s role going forward? And what of Emma? Will she be thrilled to suddenly and finally have a family? Will season two focus on Snow and Charming getting back to being a family with Emma and Henry?

Of course, season two is months away, with lots of time to speculate about what’s next. In the mean time, I would not be surprised to see a couple of Emmy nominations magically touch the series. Certainly art direction and a writing nomination for Jane Espenson’s wonderful “Skin Deep.” In the acting department, I would say it’s a fair bet to believe Robert Carlyle will receive a nomination for his dual role of Rumple and Mr. Gold. And perhaps others beyond those. But it’s all a guessing game for now.

Stay tuned during the coming months for continuing Once Upon a Time coverage, plus a few surprises!

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out 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)."
  • Kay

    I suspect the lack of return to fairy tale world and their original forms, is because there isn’t enough magic on earth at the time, to power the transformations and interdimensional transport.

    Besides, its doubtful whether getting put on another world would count as a curse to begin with.

  • Action Kate

    Did we notice that Morrison’s hair actually is that long, or at least that she kept in the extensions, on the House finale?

  • Goldenkey

    Barbara, do you really think the curse is broken? While Emma did restore everyone’s memories she hasn’t managed to get them back to FTL yet. I think there’s much more to it than what we’re seeing.

  • Action Kate

    A solid hit. I was very pleased that the curse was broken (the tension was getting old) but that there’s a new obstacle to face.

    It will be very interesting next season to see if the couples who were forced apart in FTL (Belle/Rumple, Dreamy-Grumpy/Astrid-Nova) because of what they were IN FTL can make it in our world as “humans.” Particularly Dreamy and Astrid. Nothing keeping them apart, really, right? She’s not a fairy or a nun; he’s not an enslaved dwarf.

    I thought the parallel storylines of Charming stuffing the egg into the dragon while Emma was trying to get it out were amusing, especially with Emma’s long flowing hair whipping about in the darkness.

    (Slightly off-topic: I had picked up the BBC miniseries “The Last Enemy” because Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch stars, and one of the other leads is… Robert Carlyle. Who has no lines in the entire first episode but still glitters with menace, and then speaks in a Scots burr thick enough to slice. Great mini. Carlyle is awesome. Several great shots of Cumberbatch’s, ah, finer assets, au naturel, since British audiences are less prudish than we are.)

  • Sharon

    This finale really ramped up the stakes. Just as we thought everyone could live happily ever after with the curse being lifted, Rumple throws a curve ball. Of course he did, but I was surprised and excited by the ending. I loved everyone’s performance, but Robert Carlyle has got to be the best actor ever!

  • At first it bothered me that Rumple and Belle never kissed. But (ah, subtlety of performance or writing or both). What would happen if they kissed? Rumple would become a “normal” man again–no magic and no chance of ever finding Baelfire.

    Another thing to play out next season!

  • Terri

    One of THE most unbelievable season finales I have ever seen. I laughed when Emma told August “I just talked to the Evil Queen and Rumplestiltskin about a quest to find magic.” I cried when Mr. Gold saw Belle in the shop and when they hugged on their way to the Well. This show is unbelievable. How will we all survive until September? Robert Carlyle is an amazing actor. I love when says “Please,” or when he refers to Regina as “Your Majesty.” If he doesn’t win an Emmy for this performance we should start a campaign to boycott the Awards ceremony!

  • Barbara Barnett

    Dee–Robert Carlyle is mostly a film actor. He has done mainly indies. Art house films for some of the best directors on the planet. Check out imdb. I would recommend the following to start: full Monty, face, riff raff, Carla’s song, might Celt. His forthcoming film California Solo is magnificent. It debuted st sundance injanuary.

  • Dee

    I have never really seen Robert Carlyle in anything before and i don’t really care for tv much. Once Upon a Time should be the exception for everyone. But from the very beginning of the series Carlyle captivates and impresses me every time. His acting is magical and just amazing to watch.

  • Great reviews of House and Once Upon A Time. Laurie and Carlyle are mesmerising actors and for once they have material worthy of their talents. Carlyle may finally get the recognition he deserves for his long list of complex performances. His Rumplstiltskin justifies my life-long passion for the character. Long may the series reign!

  • sara2

    Fantastic, amazing perfect show! I love all of them, especially Jennifer Morrison / Emma (of course) but they are all the best! Best show forever and ever.

  • I’m not quite sure, Nancy, who Dr. Whale is. He could be the whale, but I’ve not quite got the medical connection.

  • Do you know if Dr. Whale is the whale from Pinnochio in Fairy Tale land? Nothing has been seen of him in FTL yet, but it would make some sense.