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 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![amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B009RX85N0,B0058YPL66]