I am writing another blog on the same day within 20 minutes of the first because I want to talk about the 2-episode season finale of Once Upon a Time. I will go into it in detail so there are spoilers here if you haven’t seen it.
This has become one of my favorite shows. Perhaps because I’ve always loved Disney movies as some of my favorite movies. Many Disney movies will rate right up at the top of my 10 favorite movies list. So having a show featuring slightly different spins on some of my favorite fairy tales (as retold by Disney) was of course going to be something I enjoyed.
That said the show has it’s weak spots. With they forced in the girls from Frozen I found that season severely lacking. It was clear they just wanted Anna and Elsa in the series to drive more people to watch it, and I don’t think it worked well. The series itself isn’t overly creative or witty or intelligent, but it’s a good fairy tale romp for those that enjoy them.
The heroine of the tale is Emma Swan, the “Savior.” But though she is the main character, is often occurs she is not the best character, the most interesting, or the one that keeps you watching.
It might begin that way at first, with her fighting to believe what her long lost son is telling her, fighting against evil, and really coming off as a strong hero, but by the end of the current season she has almost been relegated to the back seat behind the more fascinating characters of Regina, Rumpelstiltskin, Captain Hook, and even Emma’s parents, Snow White and Prince Charming. One article I read that a friend sent me talked about Morrison’s choice to leave the show because she had been relegated to the love interest of someone else in her own show, which is entirely accurate. The dashing and handsome Captain Hook steals every scene he is in, has a much more interesting past and a strong character development from loving husband to revenge seeking pirate, to selfish cutthroat, through the long slog back to loving and loyal husband.
Likewise Regina and Rumpelstiltskin reveal themselves as far more complex characters as the show explores the idea that villains can become good.
We see Regina (the evil queen), Rumple (also The Beast and the son of Peter Pan and the Black Fairy, and also Hook’s Crocodile), Captain Hook, The Wicked Witch (also Regina’s long lost sister), all struggle to be good despite the heavy oppressive role of “villain” that it is strongly believed never get a Happy Ending.
It is these characters who outshine all of the good guys in the show, and how Emma Swan, her doting parents, and everyone else often take back seats to characters like Mr. Hyde, Peter Pan, and the aforementioned Regina, Rumple, and Hook. It is precisely because their characters are not cut and dry, not black and white, and going through struggles of their own against selfish desires and overcoming the way they are perceived as villains that make them the stars.
The show begins strong in season one, when the every day lives of a bunch of people in Storybrooke Maine are paralleled with their former selves in a place called The Enchanted Forest, all while Emma comes to terms with the truth of the town, her son, her family, and the existence of magic. In some opinions this period ends too quickly, and far too soon everyone realizes what has happened and are breaking out of the spell and regaining themselves. It trivializes the “Dark Curse” which will plague them more than once during the show’s course.
But by this last season it has waned, as each season they face some great threat that is meant to be more scary that the one before but always amounts to just another bad guy to defeat, or another spell or course splitting up their family to try and weaken them. The theme of family, and being stronger together, and the power of love is strong throughout this show, but it always comes off as shallow when it triumphs not just time and time again, but relatively quickly each time. It makes all the threats really trivial, which just underscores the more interesting emotional journeys of the villainous side characters.
Once more, one of the most compelling characters is Regina, the “Evil Queen.” She starts as the major villain, the one who cast the Dark Curse that caused all the fairy tale people to find themselves living magic-less lives in Storybrook, but over the course of the show we see her grow as a person.
We see her struggle against the belief that she is a villain and that villains cannot have happy endings. Time and again she fails due to her own lack of belief in herself, something we can all relate to. We watch her struggle even until this most recent season with the belief that she can ever be happy, or that she even ever deserves happiness. And when the Charmings finally accept her as one of them, and embrace her as part of the family we the audience really feel she has earned that acceptance and earned her happy ending (which she hasn’t quite gotten by the end of this most recent season).
Knowing all this, and how the show is beginning to ware thin as it’s main characters and heroes come off as predictable and boring, the two part season finale I watched last night gave me a slight twist, and a strong hope for a future season (something I am finding more and more rare as I get tired of shows being stretched far beyond where they should have ended [such as Supernatural, but that’s en entirely different blog]).
Last night ended in what appeared to be an exceptionally happy ending. It was a sweet series of scenes showing the main characters happy and at peace with their lives in Storybrook. It ends with a scene almost reminiscent of the Last Supper painting with everyone sitting on the same side of a long table with Emma the Savoir sitting in the middle wearing red.
I felt at the time that I was happy with this ending. That if this was actually the Series finale and not the Season finale, I would be perfectly okay with that. But there was a loose end not tied up.
In the midst of the 2-part finale there were scenes were a little girl, presumably in the Enchanted Forest, is awoken by her father and told to flee with the Story Book, which we’ve seen throughout the show in the possession of Henry, Emma (and Regina)’s son. He tells her to flee while he holds “them” off, whoever they are, and so she does.
Peppered through the finale we see this girl’s story, as she wakes up among the rubble of her former home, with one of the fairies there to tell her she has a destiny to fulfill and that she was right to save the book.
She is told to bring it to someone, and the final scene of the show is the young girl knocking on an apartment door. A young man opens it and she asks if he is Henry Mills, to which he says yes. She claims to be his daughter, he says he doesn’t have one, she pulls out the book, and the episode ends.
So, we know a few things.
First, at some point Henry got to the Enchanted forest, had a daughter, and presumably died protecting her and the book? Perhaps not, as we didn’t see him die there is every chance he lived.
Second we know that in the new present he is older, so the child actor playing him before is off the hook.
This ending opens us up to an entirely new cast if they want, or to bring back certain characters if needed, and to work around the fact that the actress playing Emma, and those player her Parents have all pulled out of the show.
This is basically a clean slate. What they do now could go in a multitude of different directions. They could continue to trot out favorites like Regina and Rumple, or they could explore entirely new tales and stories, starting almost fresh. Which if done well could save the show, but if done poorly could ruin it.
If you ignore/forget that last scene with the little girl and the book and a grown up Henry, then the series has a satisfying ending. And the thrown in scene at the end (which does kind of feel like a quick effort to nullify a bunch of actors quitting) could easily just be ignored, as it doesn’t grip me strongly with a “I need to know what happens next feeling.”
So if they were to not renew the show for another season I would be fine with that.
But if they do, I will be interested to see what they do with the virtual blank slate they’ve created for themselves.