The epic two-part finale to the hit show’s fourth season depicted an alternate universe like no other: one in which the villains lived out their Happily Ever Afters.
This review contains spoilers! Proceed with caution.
The finale opened with one of Once’s trademark flashbacks, which revealed Isaac’s humble beginnings as a struggling television salesman in the 60s. It was here that Isaac first met The Apprentice, who swiftly proclaimed him the next Author. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Back in Storybrooke, the Charmings et al. scrambled to put the brakes on Gold’s plan, but found themselves too late to save the day. Cue Henry waking up alone in the loft and going outside to discover that the entire town was deserted. Creepy.
Luckily, Henry knew to track Isaac down, finding him living in luxury as a best-selling novelist. A heated confrontation ensued, culminating in Henry using the magical key to transport both himself and Isaac into the ‘Heroes and Villains’ book – the one in which all of Storybrooke’s residents were trapped.
The first character we encountered in this alternate universe was Rumple. Upon saving Henry’s life, he assured him that ‘this comes with no price’, cementing the fact that this version of the Enchanted Forest was a far cry from the one we were accustomed to.
Next up was Bandit Regina. Henry’s attempts to convince her that her reality was fake and that she was actually his mother basically went like a replay of Season One. Which is to say, not very well. Regina was even more sceptical of the notion that Robin Hood was her True Love. That seemed to change, though, after he rescued her from a run-in with Evil Queen Snow and her loyal henchman Charming (how great was it to see Mary Margaret using magic?!).
The chemistry between Robin and Regina was palpable, and the pair were blatantly paralleled with Captain Swan through a hand-bandaging scene that had Outlaw Queen shippers flailing. Things seemed to be taking a turn for the better. Then Robin revealed that he had fallen for Zelena and their wedding was set for later that day. Talk about a mood-killer. A distraught Regina made a hasty exit, only to be found by Henry. Regina insisted she was done with True Love and Happy Endings, instead imploring Henry to search for Emma. Who, it turned out, had been locked up years ago by Queen Snow.
A sidenote here: having the show’s protagonist be absent for the first half of the finale was a risky move, but one that paid off beautifully. The decision allowed for more storylines to be developed as well as giving the other characters their chance to shine. Four for you, Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis. Well played.
Upon learning of his mother’s imprisonment, Henry sought the help of the adorably shy deckhand Killian (who also happened to be allergic to rum – it can’t get much more AU than that, folks). The two of them managed to break into Emma’s ‘impenetrable’ prison and free her with relative ease. Honestly, I was just relieved that Emma remembered everything. A repeat of last season’s New York ordeal would have been painful to watch.
Killian was obviously smitten by Emma even without the benefit of his memories. In fact, he was so devoted to her that he willingly sacrificed his life to protect her and Henry from Dark!Snowing. It wasn’t a true death since it took place in an alternate universe, but it was a gut-wrenching moment all the same. Emma’s feelings were later made heartbreakingly apparent when she confessed to Regina that she had never had the courage to tell Killian she loved him. In a nice bonding moment for the two, Emma urged Regina to tell Robin how she felt before it was too late.
Meanwhile, Rumple’s determination to ensure his Happy Ending with Belle had prompted him back to villainy. This led to an epic showdown between Rumple and Emma while Regina tried to work herself up to staging her very own ‘Speak Now’ moment at Robin and Zelena’s wedding. Emma displayed some impressive sword-fighting skills which she no doubt picked up from her pirate boyfriend, but ultimately was disarmed by Rumple. Just as he was about to strike Henry with a fatal blow, Regina threw herself in front of her son, once again reinforcing the show’s theme of familial love.
Rumple then vanished, leaving Regina to die surrounded by her loved ones (including Robin – take that, Zelena!). It was at this point that Isaac decided to show up, resulting in one of the most satisfying moments of the entire two episodes when Emma punched him straight in the face. As Emma demanded he put things right, Henry picked up Isaac’s pen (cue dramatic gasp), signifying that he was the next Author.
Before the shock of this reveal had fully worn off, Henry was using his newfound power to write everyone back to Storybrooke (using Regina’s blood – ick). Once home, there were tearful reunions abound, followed by a party at Granny’s. The merry-making was interrupted by Belle, who called Emma’s attention to a more pressing issue at hand: Rumple’s rapidly blackening heart (Rumbelle seriously cannot catch a break).
The Apprentice’s attempts to contain the darkness were unsuccessful. Although Gold’s life was spared, the pure force of the Dark One was unleashed upon the town. Following the finale’s theme of self-sacrifice, Emma made a truly heroic decision in the episode’s last scene. Captain Swan shippers got the ‘I Love You’ they’d been waiting for, but the moment was shattered when Emma drew the darkness into herself, effectively becoming the next Dark One. The final shot of the dagger was a haunting image that is sure to keep fans talking until the show returns this fall.
We were promised Dark!Emma at the start of Season 4B, and the show definitely delivered. Emma’s battle against her inner darkness is sure to bring an element of intensity to her character. Lily’s search for her father also hints at some exciting new twists, as does the revelation that Merlin is The Sorcerer. There is certainly a lot to look forward to in Season 5. Before that, though, I’d like to take a few moments to pay homage to the amazing performances that made this particular finale so riveting.
Jared Gilmore – It was awesome to see him finally get his own storyline and a decent amount of screen time. These two episodes were very much Henry-centric, allowing Jared to showcase his acting talents and prove that his character is a lot more than just the Saviour’s son. It also provided a nice lead-up to Henry’s larger plot arc as the new Author. His decision to break the all-powerful quill already indicates that he will be better at the job than Isaac. I’m interested to see how Henry goes about his literary pursuits, particularly as he comes from a family of doers rather than thinkers. The pen is mightier than the sword, after all.
Ginnifer Goodwin – Queen Snow was just so much fun! Seeing her channelling her dark side and crushing hearts like it was no big deal was one of the finale’s many highlights. Ginnifer put on a performance to rival Lana Parrilla’s, so props to her. I also thoroughly enjoyed the dynamic between Snow and David. Dark!Charming’s derisive and unfeeling delivery of their signature ‘I will always find you’ gave me the chills.
Patrick Fischler – Isaac has fast become one of my favourite villains. His personality is just so darn likeable! Patrick was absolutely killing it with his one-liners: ‘Do you think I like dysentery and a forty-year life expectancy?’ will never not be funny. Although Isaac has been stripped of the Author title and is probably looking at a long sentence in Storybrooke’s jail, this undoubtedly won’t be the last we see of him. Personally, I cannot wait for all the mischief he’s bound to cause next season.
Lana Parrilla – Last season’s finale saw her reprising her role as the Evil Queen, and this time around we had a complete role-reversal. Lana brought a believable vulnerability to Bandit Regina. She managed to tap into her genuine compassion while still retaining the wit and snark that we all love. Portraying a character who is so multifaceted is no easy feat, but one that our beloved Mama Regal pulled off seamlessly as always.
Jennifer Morrison – Although her initial appearance wasn’t until the halfway mark, JMo’s performance was outstanding – but what else is new? Jennifer has a knack for portraying the subtleties, and this episode was no different. We could almost feel Emma’s emotions, from sorrow at Killian’s death to joy when they were reunited. Jennifer played our Saviour beautifully, which only made her ultimate decision all the more heartbreaking.
The finale was nothing if not exhilarating. It was fast-paced and bursting with action, yet still managed to develop characters and strengthen relationships. Bravo to Adam and Eddy for crafting this two-hour masterpiece. We laughed, we cried, we got hit right in the feels. All before being left on the edge of our seats. Knowing this show, we can expect to hit the ground running come fall. Until then, Oncers!