And we have officially reached the final part in season 1’s three-part finale. However, this season finale sets up Once Upon a Time’s tradition of having things end on a cliffhanger. On the plus side, I do feel that is a good tactic, as it encourages people to come back for the next season. On the other hand, I’ve seen quite a few TV series that end on a cliffhanger because the show’s staff has a season finale all set up and then find out too late they won’t be able to get renewed for another season (i.e. Caroline in the City, Sonic SatAM, and the short-lived TV series version of Ten Things I Hate About You). Here’s hoping the show writers for OUAT will have enough warning if the show ever fails to get renewed for a new season so they’ll be able to end things on a satisfactory note.
The Enchanted Forest subplot for this episode concludes the story of Snow White and Prince Charming. Evil Queen Regina’s guards escort Charming up from the dungeons to bring him to be executed. Um….wasn’t Evil Queen Regina supposed to spare him if Snow bit into the Poisoned Apple? You really are a double-crossing slimebag, aren’t you, Regina? However, Charming overpowers the guards, but then runs into one of the Black Knights, who turns out to be the Huntsman. (Oh, Graham; how we’ve missed you! It’s such a shame you’re gone.) The Huntsman helps Charming to escape the castle, but Regina magically transports him into an inescapable forest, where Charming once again runs into Rumpelstiltskin. Because Rumpelstiltskin wants to ensure that Charming reunites with Snow, which will of course ensure Emma will eventually be born (remember, she’s the key to breaking the curse Rumple wants to see broken), he enchants the ring Charming’s birth mother had given him before leaving to live his life as Prince James back in ‘The Shepherd,’ so it will help him track down Snow. In exchange, Charming must agree to hide Rumpelstiltskin’s Essence of True Love (which was created from the hairs of Snow and Charming), within the body of Maleficent. Charming agrees to the terms, and after a pretty well-choreographed battle scene with Dragon Maleficent, he succeeds with a rather clever move by shoving the egg through Dragon Maleficent’s…um…ear gills? I don’t know, really. Never actually studied dragon anatomy in school. Once he succeeds in his mission, Charming sets off to find Snow White, which brings us full circle with the flashback scene in the pilot episode.
Back in Storybrooke, Emma has taken the unconscious Henry to the hospital, but when Dr. Whale cannot find an explanation for Henry’s current state, Emma’s eyes fall upon Henry’s book. The moment she touches it, she gets an instant flashback to her childhood. More specifically, the day she was born, when Charming sent her through the magical wardrobe. (So, why didn’t that happen before? She touched that book so many times before this. Did she just have to be open to the idea of magic for that memory-trigger to work? The rules of magic make my brain hurt sometimes.) When Regina charges in, a rightfully irate Emma drags her into a supply closet, where she angrily confronts her over the turnover. Regina then confirms to Emma that everything Henry had ever said about fairy tales and the curse was true, but then states she cannot do anything to wake Henry up, and if they can’t figure something out, he will most likely die. And may I just say, give these two women Oscars for this scene. Or whatever the TV equivalent is. Emma’s rage and growing despair as well as Regina’s shock and visible sorrow and regret; their acting and reactions to everything is just spot-on and so very believable.
In order to save Henry, the two women call a truce and pay a visit to Gold/Rumpelstiltskin, who somehow already knows about what happened to Henry. (Does he have a crystal ball in the back room or something?) He tells them that the only thing that can save Henry is true love, and tells them his vial of Essence of True Love had been hidden within Maleficent’s body, which is currently lying in an underground chamber beneath Storybrooke’s library. After he gifts her with her father’s old sword, Emma ventures out into the underground cavern where she faces off with Maleficent in full-blown dragon form. The scene that follows is really fun to watch, and not just because we see it being shown side-by-side with Charming’s battle with the same foe, in order to highlight the obvious parallels. And I’m not really all that surprised that Emma decided against using her father’s sword at first and went for her gun instead, and not just because I gather this is supposed to indicate she’s still not completely ready to accept her role as the Savior. I’m sure that pretty much anyone would show preference for a ranged weapon over a melee one when facing a flipping dragon. Plus, this is undoubtedly the first time Emma has held a sword in her entire life. If you were facing any opponent, it’s only natural to go for the weapon you’re actually familiar with over one you’ve never even touched before, let alone know how to use. In the end, however, Emma manages to defeat Dragon Maleficent by imitating the moment in the animated Disney film, when Prince Phillip throws his sword straight into Maleficent’s heart. (Ah, I see what you did there, show writers. Nice touch.) And I just have a mental image of Emma, years from now, telling this story to the grandkids and then turning to Phillip (because next season confirms he does exist in this show’s universe) and saying ‘thanks for the example, by the way,’ and Phillip being all confused because he hadn’t had a chance to see Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty and has no idea what she’s talking about.
However, I do have a minor question about this scene. Right before she finds Dragon Maleficent, Emma chances across the glass coffin that had once held Snow White when she was under the sleeping curse. But hadn’t we seen in a much earlier episode that the glass coffin resided in the mine tunnels beneath Storybrooke? Was this a continuity error, or is the secret hidden elevator within the town library a backdoor entrance to the mines? I’m leaning to the second conclusion, particularly since we’ve already seen the main entrance to the mines is now caved in. On the other hand, it begs the question of how extensive these mine tunnels are.
Anyway, once Emma obtains the vial of Essence of True Love, Mr. Gold tricks her into giving it to him by making her believe that Regina had double-crossed her. Emma finds out too late that Gold deceived her, but before she and Regina can go after him to get back the Essence of True Love, they are contacted by the hospital staff, who inform them that Henry didn’t make it in a very heartbreaking scene. Grief-stricken, Emma places a goodbye kiss on Henry’s forehead, which instantly breaks the curse, and also proves that Frozen of 2013 and Maleficent of 2014 weren’t the first times something associated with Disney tweaked the whole long-accepted rule of True Love only existing between people who were romantically in love (this episode first aired in 2012). Now that the curse is broken, Regina realizes that she has to find a place to hide, since everyone in Storybrooke now remembers who they are, and more importantly who she is. Before she leaves the hospital room, she begs Henry to remember that no matter what anyone might say, she really did love him.
While all this is going on, Jefferson/the Mad Hatter is naturally ticked that Regina has gone back on her promise to help him reunite with his daughter Paige/Grace. To get back at her, he sneaks into the psychiatric ward beneath the hospital to help break out the amnesiac Belle. (Wait, is there a plaque on the door that states Sidney Glass is also down there? Is this because he confessed to kidnapping Kathryn? I never actually noticed that before!). It was at this point that I was rather disappointed to see my previous prediction that Belle had somehow remembered her past was proved to be incorrect, but oh well. Anyway, Jefferson instructs Belle to find Mr. Gold and tell him that Regina had kept her locked up, no doubt knowing that that information would lead Gold/Rumpelstiltskin to want to get back at her for a) keeping Belle a prisoner for who knows how long and b) leading him to believe she had died. And while I’ve never been all that invested in the pairing between Bella and Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin, I do admit I loved seeing their reunion, as it’s glaringly obvious in his face upon seeing her alive again, and when she regains her memories once the curse breaks, that he does indeed love her dearly. However, getting Belle back isn’t enough to prevent him from dropping his vial of Essence of True Love into the well that pretty much leads to Lake Nostros back in the Enchanted Forest. In doing so, he conjures up a large purple cloud that quickly engulfs the whole town, declaring that the cloud is bringing magic back to Storybrooke.
Another potentially tearjerker scene involves Emma’s final visit to August/Pinocchio before she travels down to battle Maleficent. The scene is even more emotional to see when you remember the last time they spoke, Emma was telling August that she didn’t want the town to need her and practically called him crazy when he tried to convince her of the truth. I imagine she originally came to him in order to apologize for that, but instead arrived just in time to see him revert completely into an inanimate wooden puppet. I really do like this scene because it not only is a good illustration of how important it is for Emma to succeed (because if she doesn’t, August/Pinocchio will be stuck in this inanimate state forever), it also proves that these two really were developing a good friendship. Just think about it for a minute. Emma knows her son’s life depends on her obtaining this Essence of True Love, and that time is off the essence. But she still chooses to take a few moments to seek out her friend and apologize for not believing him.
Of course, because they’re the show’s main couple at this point, the season cannot end without resolving the Mary Margret and David story. David approaches Mary Margret to once again apologize for thinking she might have killed Kathryn. He tells her that he loves her, but if she doesn’t want to be with him, he’ll accept her decision and move into the apartment Kathryn had leased when she’d been planning to relocate to Boston. Mary Margret admits she can’t give David a reason to stay, still clearly feeling that the world will always conspire against them. Thankfully, the curse breaks mere seconds before David can cross the town line, and he returns back to Storybrooke, where he has a wonderful reunion with Mary Margret/Snow White, right before the town is enveloped by the purple smoke.