TV REVIEW: ONCE’S Finale Enters a New Stage of the Hero’s Journey
By Meredith Loftus
Mission accomplished: Operation Mongoose completed the task of wrapping up the season in an epic 2-hour finale. The season-long mission came to a close in addition to changing the condition of Storybrooke forever. It showed the audience what it really means to be a hero and the sacrifices that come along with it. Serious question: is anyone still alive after that 2-hour episode? I don’t think I am to be perfectly honest!
The Author’s Happy Ending
Meet Isaac Heller. Back in the 1960s in our world, he was an eccentric television salesman with aspirations of becoming a famous writer. His far off dream seems to be going nowhere until he receives a letter from Star Publishing Company with a job opportunity. Under the guise of this publishing company, the Apprentice hires Isaac. He does so by allowing Isaac to choose his quill, which will determine what kind of author he will be, and then takes him to the Enchanted Forest. The only rule is that the Author cannot manipulate the story or write his own happy ending.
In the present, the heroes of Storybrooke look to find a way to stop Isaac’s new story from being finished. With information from August and help from the Blue Fairy, the heroes free the Apprentice from the Sorcerer’s hat. From there, the Apprentice, Emma, and Regina go after Isaac to lock him back up in the original storybook. They arrive too late. “Heroes and Villains” is completed and everyone, except Henry and Isaac, enter in an alternate Enchanted Forest.
Henry tracks Isaac to New York City. Because of the success of “Heroes and Villains,” Isaac is getting his own happy ending. However, Henry threatens Isaac with the page he was trapped in and the key that locked him there in order to get information on his family’s whereabouts. Henry’s family is, literally, in the “Heroes and Villains” book. Everyone’s roles have been reversed, except Emma; there was no room for the Savior, according to Isaac. Henry tackles Isaac, opens up one of the pages in the new book with the key, and enters the world of “Heroes and Villains.”
Rewriting the Story
Henry has limited time to fix the damage caused by Isaac. He and Isaac have entered one of the final chapters of the book. Henry has until the bell tolls in the book, which signifies the end of the story, making the events in “Heroes and Villains” permanent. The only way to stop Isaac is to bring back a happy ending to a hero-turned-villain. Isaac leaves Henry to die from an ogre attack, but Rumpelstiltskin, the ogre slayer, comes in to save Henry.
Isaac runs into the Evil Queen, Snow White, and her heartless black knight, Charming. He tells her of the dangers of Henry, in regards to her happy endings. In this book, Snow was in love with James, Charming’s brother, but he was killed by her mother because Regina accidentally told her about their forbidden love. Snow keeps Charming around because he reminds her of her lost love. Using this information, Isaac convinces Snow to focus her anger on killing Regina and Henry to ensure her (and by default, his) happy ending.
From there, Henry uses the new book to find Regina, who is a bandit and thief like Snow used to be. She’s running from the Evil Queen. He tries to convince Regina the truth about who she is and what her happy ending looks like; he uses the book to show her that he knows she will attempt to steal from a royal carriage later that day. She doesn’t trust the book and throws it in a fire but Henry manages to save one page.
Regina follows through with her original plan to steal from a royal carriage but the carriage turns out to be holding Snow White. Snow almost kills Regina before Robin Hood swoops in and saves Regina. Regina immediately feels the spark between her and Robin and remembers what Henry told her about him. He bandages her up and tells her that he’s looking for a new leader for the Merry Men, hoping she will be up for the challenge. Regina declines. Robin explains that he’s leaving the Merry Men so that he can marry his fiancée, Zelena, who happens to interrupt Robin and Regina’s bonding. Zelena even invites Regina to the upcoming wedding. Heartbroken, Regina leaves the happy couple, and Robin’s gaze lingers on her a little bit longer.
Henry finds Regina outside the tavern, and she’s angry at him for giving her hope in the possibility of true love and happy endings. She tells him that he needs to find his biological mother and leave her alone. Henry tells her that Emma might not be there but she is the Savior. Even though Emma wasn’t specifically written in the new book, the Savior, according to Regina, was locked away by Snow in a tower on an island.
Rallying the Troops
On his own, Henry finds The Jolly Roger at the docks, where a fearful Hook is under the command of Captain Blackbeard. Henry convinces Hook to sail out to the island and save Emma. Henry finds his mom in the tower and she remembers everything. Her curse in the book is knowing the truth yet being powerless to fix anything. Together, Emma, Henry, and Hook escape the island and Lily, the black knight/dragon that guarded Emma. She then teaches Hook how to sword fight, for the battle that lies ahead of them. The flirtatious lesson is interrupted by Snow and Charming, who demand that they hand over Henry. Hook attempts to fight them off but is fatally stabbed by Charming. Emma watches and is horrified; Henry leads her away from the scene in order to find Regina and stop Robin’s wedding.
Meanwhile, Rumple is living a pleasant and honorable life with his wife, Belle. He’s respected by all, he fights for justice, and he has a newborn son. Everything seems to be going his way until Isaac pops in and requests that Rumple kill Regina. Rumple is opposed initially, but Isaac reveals the truth about Baelfire’s death, a secret Rumple has kept from Belle. Conflicted, he vaguely discusses his dilemma with Belle; she assures him that he will do the right thing because he is a hero. Will that be enough for this alternative version of Rumple?
Emma and Henry find Regina and try to rally her to stop Robin’s wedding. She still thinks they’re crazy and it’s foolish to believe she could have a happy ending. Happy endings do not come from romance, but it can be a part of it. Emma proceeds to tell her that she just witnessed Hook, the man she loves, die. She can’t hold back the raw emotion of losing him. What’s worse is that she admits to Regina that she never told Hook because she was afraid of what that would actually signify. Confessing her love to Hook would mean that there are no more walls to block him. It means that her heart has finally healed from the heartache it has experienced in the past. It means that he is a piece of her happy ending that she can’t bear to actually lose. For the chance of taking this next step in her relationship, Emma asks Regina to stop Robin and Zelena’s wedding, and she agrees to help.
Passing of the Torch
Emma, Regina, and Henry make their way to Robin and Zelena’s wedding but Rumple blocks them from entering the ceremony. Emma and Rumple begin to sword fight, while Regina goes to stop the wedding. Instead of bursting in on the ceremony, she stands in the doorway watching him, held back by fear. Robin notices her but doesn’t leave the wedding. The wedding bells ring for Robin and Zelena, and time is running out. Emma gets knocked down by Rumple, Henry tries to fight him off, and Regina steps in and sacrifices herself to save Henry. As she lies dying, Robin and Henry are by her side. Isaac, who attended Robin and Zelena’s wedding, informs Emma that there is nothing he can do anymore; his work is done. Because he broke the rule and was locked away in the book, Isaac is not the author anymore. Henry steps in and takes the quill from Isaac, the quill responds to his touch, and Henry becomes the new author. Using the savior’s blood (in “Heroes and Villains” it’s Regina), Henry writes everyone back to Storybrooke with everything fixed and memories of their time in “Heroes and Villains.” When they return, Regina is healed and reunited with Robin and Henry.
Emma runs to the loft frantically to find Hook. There is a brief moment of panic, but he reveals himself upstairs in the loft. The two reunite and embrace with great emotion. After Hook reminds her that he is a survivor, Emma starts to tell him how she regrets not telling him something before he died. Instead of telling him that she loves him, she tells him that she wanted to thank him for his help in the Enchanted Forest. In this moment, Emma is like Regina, when she held back from entering the ceremony. Emma knows how she really feels about Hook, and she knows that Hook loves her. She holds back here because that fear begins to creep back in again. Hook doesn’t push her to tell him she loves him; he continues to be patient with her. He shows his love for her by being right where she is and appreciating the quiet moments together.
The Apprentice finds Henry in the mayor’s office with the original storybook and the one Isaac created. Henry tells him that he wants to write his father, Neal/Baelfire, back to life. Unfortunately, because he died in our world and not a fictional alternative storyline, Neal can’t come back to life. The Apprentice explains that the role of the Author is to record truth as it happens in the pages of the original storybook. There is power in recording these tales, and Henry break the quill because he believes no one should have that kind of power; coincidentally, this makes him the perfect person for the job.
Operation Mongoose is completed as Regina and Robin settle into their relationship. Zelena is still there in the picture, but that will not take away from Regina’s happiness found in belonging in Storybrooke with Robin, Henry, and Roland. Isaac attempts to run away from Storybrooke but Snow and Charming manage to stop him. Lily decides to stick around in order to find her father. Everything seems to be finally back in order until Belle comes to Emma and asks for her help with Rumple and the darkness that is to be released. The Apprentice uses the hat to remove the darkness in Rumple’s decaying heart in order to save him. The darkness proves to be too powerful for the hat to contain, as it attmepts to invade the Apprentice, which Emma stops. The Apprentice tells Emma and Hook that the Sorcerer dealt with the evil of the all the realms by linking it to a human life; this way, they can be controlled, and this is how the Dark One came to be. The only person who can stop the darkness, whether it’s latched to a person or floating around, is the Sorcerer himself, Merlin.
The darkness begins to look for a new host in a resident of Storybrooke. When it begins to take over Regina, Emma will not stand for it. She made her a promise that she would help Regina get her happy ending; Regina has fought so hard to get this and it has never gone unnoticed by Emma. She commissions her parents and Hook fight for goodness and find a way to defeat this darkness once and for all. They will need to find Merlin. Hook begs Emma to stay. Finally, in her last moments before doing what needs to be done, Emma tells Hook that she loves him. This moment has been building for the entire season. Those three little words have been behind key moments for Emma and Hook this half of the season; they were on display in the adoring looks, heartfelt conversations, and kisses exchanged between them. Now, in the darkness they face, there is no fear in telling Hook that she loves him. Emma is placing him in charge of protecting her heart for what is to come. She then steps away from him. For the sake of Storybrooke and the people she loves, Emma Swan, the Savior, makes the heroic choice to sacrifice herself to the darkness, thus becoming the new Dark One.
- Isaac was hired to be the Author in 1966. The Apprentice told him that the previous author recently died. Walt Disney died in 1966. Thank you OUAT for lining up Walt’s life in the canon of the Author lineage.
- One of my favorite moments is when Hook asks Henry how he knows how to sail a ship. Henry tells him that he, Hook, had taught him and was a good teacher. It was a sweet moment to remind us that Hook and Henry have bonded a lot this past season, even if the audience didn’t get to see it.
- Lily is still in town, but where did Maleficent go?
- Henry really held his own during this episode. He managed to drive out of Storybrooke and track down Isaac on his own, knock out Blackbeard and Lily, and save Storybrooke. I really hope we get to see more Henry action in Season 5, especially now that his biological mom is the new Dark One.
- Isaac is a man of simple tastes: he cares about indoor heating and proper healthcare, which is why his happy ending did not include being in the Enchanted Forest. However, after everything he’s done, he deserved that punch Emma gave him.
- Rumple and Isaac did a number on Hook’s character. They turned him from a confident, courageous pirate into a coward who’s allergic to rum. However, his shy interactions with Emma were adorable!
- After a heartbreaking cliffhanger, many of you are probably feeling hopeless for the protagonist. Since the Savior has gone dark, what hope is there for Emma? The fact of the matter is Emma took on the darkness of all the realms in order to save everyone from enduring it in its free form. This is part of the cycle of the hero’s journey. The hero is called away into where they are needed; they are tried and tested; they descend into darkness, come out of it, and return home. This is Emma’s story now. She came to Storybrooke and took on the role of bringing back the happy endings. She has been tested and tempted by darkness, especially in 4B, and has overcome it. Now she is going down a dark path, not by personal darkness but through selfless sacrifice. If we are to believe that Emma is still the hero and protagonist, then you need to believe that this isn’t the end of Emma’s goodness. It’s going to take some time but she will make it out of this. Her parents, her son, and her boyfriend love her and believe in her. You should, too.