Funny, how that Douglas Adams quote wouldn’t leave me as I sat down to write this review. This is not truly the end of Once Upon A Time, but in all the ways that matter, it is. Emma’s story, which we’ve been following for six seasons, is over. Our savior saved everyone, got her happy ending (beginning) and metaphorically rode into the sunset.
Once 2.0’s reboot doesn’t change anything, not about this tale. This is the end of the journey we started six seasons ago. Anything coming after is a new one.
And so I want to say thank you for all the metaphorical fish. For all the lessons I learned, for all the joy this show brought me, and yes, for all the friends. You guys, yes, you who are reading this, the fandom, have been the best part of my experience. Getting to share my point of view with you all has been a true highlight, and I wouldn’t trade the past few years covering Once Upon A Time for anything. I also wouldn’t trade the wonderful artists and writers I met, and more importantly, the friendships I made. For, that – for us – this is not the end. There is no end.
We might all move on to new shows, new loves, but friendships will remain, and so will this – I’ll be here, telling my truth, expressing my opinions, about other shows, about other couples, about the things TV is doing right or wrong. Its thanks to all of you and your support that I get to do that. I hope you still follow me on to new adventures (and hey, even recommend some!).
Okay, sappy moment over. Let’s go back to Emma, her family and a subpar episode that was, nonetheless the end of this journey – the good end, the happy end, the one with the weirdest family in history, a family of people who chose each other, who sometimes traveled down the wrong path, who argued, who, at times, wanted to kill each other, but who, in the end, fought, not just for themselves, but for the rest of the family, as hard as they’ve fought for anything in their lives.
A family that, today, gets a happily ever after. A Thanksgiving-type reunion. A happy beginning.
So, let’s discuss the end of this journey, and, perhaps, the beginning of a new one?
We talked a lot about Emma’s journey last week, about how far she’d come, and it only makes sense that if we could see it, the Black Fairy could too. That’s why her curse took away, not just all the people that Emma loves, but essentially, the journey. Emma Swan is back to Season 1 Emma and we all remember what Season 1 Emma believed in.
Like that time, the key to breaking down Emma’s walls of self-protection, the key to allowing her to live a full life, to be strong, to fight for her family, the key towards setting Emma on a path where she can not only win but really and truly find that elusive happy ending…is Henry.
One Upon A Time has always focused on family – and though in the past few years it’s given Emma’s romance with Killian, and even her relationships with her parents more of a spotlight, this all started with Henry, the son she loved from the first instant and the son she gave up, not because she didn’t want him, no – but because she wanted him to have more than she ever had. She wanted him to have everything, and she didn’t think she was enough.
But Emma was – is – enough. For Henry, for her parents, for her one true love, for her friends. Emma is more than enough, Emma is…the savior. She’s the reason these characters woke up, the reason they found happy endings. And even if she needed Henry to basically write her a new storybook, in the end, Emma realized that …perhaps, she could be the person Henry saw in her all those years ago, and again now.
She could be the savior, she could be Henry’s mom, Snow and Charming’s daughter, Killian’s true love, Regina’s friend …she could be all those things. She just had to believe.
THE FINAL BATTLE
We expected the final battle to be an actual …well, battle. And yet, in the end, it was good that it wasn’t, not only because a two-hour battle is not the kind of thing Once Upon A Time is good at, but because, this felt like it spoke to the heart of what this show always was …what it always wanted to be.
Emma’s most important battle was always internal – the battle to believe that she was worth it, the battle to believe that she was loved, the battle to believe that she was enough. And those were the same battles she faced today, and those are the battles she won today – by herself, because she believed.
No, Emma didn’t break the curse, but she believed without the need for the curse to be broken. No, Emma didn’t beat Gideon, but she did the right thing, and that’s why, in the end, she won. They both did.
Her family, meanwhile, faced a different battle – one of believing that they had no way of helping, not just Emma, but Henry. They faced a battle of helplessness, of fear, and they did not just sit idly by, no. That’s never been the Charming way.
And all these people are – in a way, honorary Charmings. They’re a family, as the final (ignoring grown up cranky Henry and Emma’s granddaughter) scene showed us. And family never gives up on each other.
Which is why Regina tried her hand at magic, why Zelena came back from Oz, while the Evil Queen sacrificed herself, why Rumple finally made the right choice and why Hook and Charming climbed a beanstalk. Because that’s what you do for the people you love.
Anything and everything.
In the end, that’s the message of this episode – the message of Once Upon A Time in general. Love is the most powerful magic of all. Never give up on hope. Never give up on family.
It won’t give up on you.
A NEW BEGINNING
Back there, on the beanstalk, as he faced insurmountable odds, Killian Jones, former pirate, summoned up his journey with Emma, and everyone’s journey, really, with these words “We fought for our love and we won,” kinda like saying, this can’t be the end. Not after everything we’ve gone through.
“We made each other better,” he added, and once again, he was speaking about his relationship with Emma, but he was really talking about everyone. This family fought for each other. They made each other better. Their love won. And now, they get to live their happily ever after.
Emma Swan, lost girl, and Killian Jones, lost boy, found happily ever after with each other, and we found an OTP that will forever be with us. We won’t forget the journey, or the lessons, or the happiness Emma and Killian found with each other, no matter what happens next.
We also won’t forget the lesson Snow and Charming taught us – the lesson of always fighting for your love and your family, or the message of family and love that this show embodied, a lesson that, in the end, translated in a happy ending for Rumbelle and even for Outlaw Queen, in a way.
Life isn’t always about happy endings, no. But life can be about happy beginnings. This is the happy beginning for all these characters. And, wherever they go next, we have to believe that they’ll continue to love each other, continue to fight for each other …continue to be who we’ve always known them to be.
WHERE WE END UP
This is the epitome of a happy ending – and in a way, that’s what a show like Once Upon A Time had to give us. That’s the message they were sending. So let’s take stock of the happy endings, starting with the ships …
Captain Swan: What Hook and Emma got is what they always wanted …a life together, hopefully without monsters every day, hopefully with a family to call their own in the future. They fought and they learned and they get to be partners every day in this journey we call life, and they get to do so while surrounded by people they love, people who love them back. They ride off into the metaphorical sunset, but as the song clearly told us …this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.
Snowing: The Charmings haven’t really had a chance to live, to be a family, to raise a kid, to do the normal things together, and this happy beginning is just that …a chance for them to be the family they always dreamed of being. A chance for Snow to go back to teaching, for David to do …whatever it is he wants to do. A chance to get a dog. A chance to be …normal.
Rumbelle: Did I ever think we’d get here? No. Did Rumple deserve this happy ending? No. Is the whole point of fairy-tales, of this fairy tale in particular, that sometimes people love you even though you don’t deserve it and that can be the greatest gift and the greatest form of grace you can ever experience? Yes.
Outlaw Queen: Not our Outlaw Queen, but still …isn’t it nice to see the not-so-Evil-Queen get a happy ending with Robin? Steal from the rich to give to the poor? That sounds like a story I’d want to see. I’d also like to see her wedding dress – is she even capable of wearing white? I would really like to know.
And, of course …there are those characters who didn’t get a romantic happy ending, but who still ended up in a good place, who still got some measure of happy, like …
Regina: Of all the characters, it seems Regina got the worst hand, and yet …Regina isn’t alone. She doesn’t have Robin, her Robin, but she has Henry, she has Zelena, she has the Charmings, and she has hope …hope that this isn’t the end of the story. Hope that there’s more out there for her. She also has the respect of everyone in the town, something she didn’t even know she wanted until it was finally hers.
Zelena: What did Zelena want most of all? A family. What did Zelena get? A family – and that is a happy ending in and of itself, even if it involves no romance. One day, hopefully, Zelena will find the love of her life. Meanwhile, she has baby Robin, she has her sister and she has quite an extended family.
Henry: This is where it gets complicated – we see Henry with his family, all of it, in the scene at Granny’s, and then we see a different version of Henry …one standing in a door like his mother stood six years ago, and staring at a kid he had to give up. We knew the Henry from Granny’s, we don’t know this Henry. This is a new adventure…one that some of us might follow, or not, but one we hope does credit to the person we know Henry to be.
OUR RETROSPECTIVE: WHY I LOVED IT
I remember watching the Once Upon A Time pilot live, ages and ages ago, and completely falling in love with it. Six years later, I get to sit here and look back on why I fell so completely with the show and what kept me watching all these years …what kept me engaged.
The characters did. Emma Swan and her journey from lost girl to happy woman, in love and with a family did. Snow White and her unending optimism did. Charming and his goodness did. Killian Jones and his love, his desire to be better did. Regina and her journey towards peace did. Zelena and her path to acceptance did. Henry and his faith did.
And, in the way, Robin, Ruby, Mulan, Elsa, Anna, Jasmine and many others did too. That was the beauty of Once Upon A Time, there were many characters to fall in love with, many stories to relate to.
But, overall, the thing I loved the most about Once Upon A Time, was its message of unending optimism, of hope. Life is complicated and tragic and often not what we want or expect, but, as the song that pretty much encapsulates this whole ride kindly reminds us …past the clouds we’ll find the stars…and that was the point of this show. That was the message it always tried to send.
Did it always succeed? No. Was the writing always perfect? No. At times, it was nonsensical, at others it was just plain wrong. But the tone continued, the message didn’t waver, and that, for me, made it easier to call out the bad things, recognize them, and yet, still enjoy the show.
Am I going to miss Once Upon A Time, this Once Upon A Time? You bet I am. I am going to miss Emma Swan, a role model, a heroine, a Disney princess. I’m going to miss her love with Killian Jones, her relationship with her parents and her son. I’m going to miss Regina and Zelena and the family they’ve found with each other. I’m even going to miss what was, arguably, my least favorite character in the show – Rumple. I’m going to miss Belle and her unending belief that here’s something good out there.
But I am content with this ending. I am content with what I got. It’s all come full circle. My love for Once Upon A Time remains intact after this ending, and that’s why …
WHY THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE END
I wrote about this earlier this week, but after watching the episode, the answer is even clearer. It should have been the end because it is. Yes, we could and we would watch more of these characters and their adventures. But if we’re not going to get this cast, this family, together in a way that makes sense, then what’s the point in continuing?
Emma’s story is over – and that means that Hook’s story, at least his story going forward, shouldn’t be told without her, as their stories are now more intertwined than he and Rumple ever were. And that’s not even going into Henry, and how you could ever tell his story without his mother, Emma, or his maternal grandparents.
Because, the thing is …Rumple’s story doesn’t make sense without Belle or Gideon. Regina would make more sense, yes, but her story still revolves around all these people, and of all the characters on the show, Hook and Rumple are the two I least care to see her interact with.
Point is, when you invest on a show for six years, you invest not on the plot, but on the characters. You enter into an agreement of sorts with the writers. You’re willing to accept that they’ll sometimes break your heart and that there’ll be up and downs, and all you ask in return is that they don’t betray the characters and that they make sense.
Continuing this story without Emma doesn’t make sense. Telling the same story with her kid, but without her, doesn’t make any sense. And that’s why, for better or worse, Once Upon A Time should have ended today.
THINGS THAT DO NOT MAKE SENSE, A LIST
I usually make this list about the little things, but I want to focus on two big things tonight, since this is the end – or an end, of sorts.
- Rumple’s redemption. Because – what is even that redemption? Am I supposed to believe it? Hook and Regina had to fight for years and years and Rumple makes one right choice and we’re all like – yeah, Rumple, we all knew you could? How does that even work? Why does it work? WAIT – wait …IT DOESN’T.
- Henry Mills, the truest believer, turning into that man from the end of the episode, the man described as a cynic. Look, I know it’s been ten years and there could conceivably be an explanation for it – but right now, it just feels like a cop out, a way for the show to do a full reboot, with the same idea.
OTHER THINGS TO NOTE
- The moment the Previously On… took us back to Season 1 I should have known that what was coming was going to be an avalanche of parallels.
- I had this conversation on Twitter, but it bears repeating – they said the words “final battle” so many times that if you’d been doing a drinking game, you’d be in the hospital right now.
- I love how Once Upon A Time is totally done with trying to give us exact times for anything.
- What’s with this show and parents having to give up their kids?
- Henry was legit like – Did the curse change my clothes too?
- I never thought I’d miss Season 1 Regina, but when forced to choose between her and the Black Fairy, I really, really missed her.
- The curse ALSO gave Baby Charming Enchanted Forest Clothes.
- Gave everyone S1 clothes!
- And it moved everyone from one wedding venue to the other! Talk about poetic!
- “Curses have never stopped us before. Today will be no different.” – I’m going to have to agree with Snow on this one. I almost wanted to say: Been there, done that.
- If the Black Fairy had only given Rumple a real happy ending, with Belle, he might not have made the right choice.
- Villains always underestimate people.
- Emma’s upper arm strength remains enviable, no matter the realm.
- No, seeing the beanstalk didn’t give me any special feels. I normally bawl at the TV.
- Especially when characters refer to the other half of the OTP as “my wife.” Tears are completely normal then.
- “I’m going to trust my SON …in-law” I will miss Captain Charming adventures more than I can say.
- Worst job of Photoshop ever, Fiona.
- “True belief is believing even when you can’t see.”
- Henry and Emma re-creating that conversation from the car in the Pilot ALSO gave me feels.
- Fiona, really, you had to serve Henry the ashes in a meal tray? That’s dark.
- “Get to Emma. Make her believe again.” Snow, the shipper.
- HENRY WROTE THE BOOK AGAIN. HE WROTE IT AGAIN.
- “Darkness never wins. It just fools you into thinking it does.”
- Rumple, no one actually believed you were under the curse. No one.
- Someone wants to give me a deleted scene or 35 of the Captain Swan honeymoon? No?
- I’m still here for Once Upon A Captain Swan. We can make it a webseries.
- “Emma, you of all people should know there’s always a third way.”
- “Sounds like you’re talking about hope.” “Something you taught me all those years ago when you didn’t give up on me.”
- “Now we get to see what’s next…” IRONIC, BECAUSE WE DON’T.
- But hey, happy endings all around. That’s good.
- Except for the part about the ending and that being Henry and Henry somehow being a cynic. That makes no sense.
- It might make sense some day, but right now, I really don’t want it to.
Once Upon A Time aired Sundays at 8/7 on ABC. It’s currently on hiatus. The show will return for a Season 7 that’s been labeled a reboot of sorts.