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Once Upon a Time - Operation Mongoose Part 1 & 2 - Review: "The show lives up to its potential"

I’m going to be honest with you: Season 4 is my favorite season of Once Upon a Time. I can already hear the uproar of the fans who hold a candle for the first season and who say it can’t be beaten; I beg to disagree. While season 1 was pretty fresh and innovating, season 4 has done a big development of characters and has gone through some really creative directions, while delivering great humor. I understand the season 1 nostalgia, but I’m really glad OUAT evolved and became what it is now: one of the most entertaining shows on TV. And by the way season 4 ended, it looks like the show will stay on that path.

The one criticism about this finale I can already see coming is saying that it is essentially the same thing as the season 3 finale. And you are not wrong, the similarities are obvious. But you know what? It doesn’t matter, because the finale is crazy fun! We got time to enjoy the role reversal and we got our first steps on season 5. Every single step of the way in this finale was truly great for me.

Visiting this alternate universe in which the hero and the villains roles have shifted is pretty fun as it allows to see sides of the characters we wouldn’t see otherwise. For instance, it’s pretty darn amusing to see Snow White playing The Evil Queen and Charming being his forced servant. It pushes new dynamics that are fresh and pretty fun to watch.

I have to give it to Jared S. Gilmore for being able to anchor the whole finale; he is the weakest link acting wise on the show, but he has steadily improved. While some of his scenes are still unconvincing, for the most part he has grown into a more believable actor, and I foresee that he will only get better and better.

Talking of which, it’s nice that for once Henry has the spotlight, as he is usually a character that is either forgotten or not used as well as it should (Neverland, anyone?). Just like on season 1, he is the only one who knows what’s going on in this world and he is the only one there who can make sure things change back to normal. It’s a race against the clock and Henry has to make a whole journey to change things backs to the way they were.

It’s interesting how his relationship with Regina hits the reset button and how they quickly develop a rapport even while Regina only wants to leave Henry behind; the more time they spend together the more chemistry these two characters have. Lana and Jared become a great team, and Lana is able to draw the best acting bits from Jared. Having spent so much time together on the show certainly shows when they share scenes, and these one are especially interesting since they are creating a whole new dynamic.

Regina is in the same place Emma was on season 1, with a kid behind her telling her to believe. It’s really interesting to see because this whole season Regina has undergone a redemption arc that has essentially left her on the heroes side, and now she gets to be the savior, without really knowing it. It’s fitting and Lana Parrilla, as usual, nails it.

The finale explores plenty new dynamics: we get to see Rumple as the light one, and the author gets him to admit his true nature, but we get to see how conflicted he is and interestingly he sways to the darkness in the end. Robin Hood is under Zelena’s spell before realizing she’s not the one for him, and he gets to be Regina’s rival for a while. Black Beard controls the Jolly Roger, Hook is a coward, Emma is trapped and she is guarded by Lily.

All of these new dynamics make for more than enough material for half a season and the show could have had fun with it for a while, so it’s a bit of a shame that we only get this alternate universe for 2 episodes. Every actor seems to be having fun playing new sides of themselves, and it should be. It’s pretty fun to watch as they say lines they would never say otherwise.

But the finale also offers opportunities for character exploration, most notably Emma, who after being captured and watch Hook die, she gets to tell Regina that she was always afraid of getting close and she never had the chance to tell Hook that she actually did love him. It’s a beautiful moment that showcases how Emma has become able to open up with Regina, and even while she doesn’t remember her, Regina does feel for her, and her words inspire her to stop Robin Hood’s wedding with Zelena.

Which brings us to OUAT’s best choreographed sword fight ever. Emma vs Rumple has to be the best sword fight the show has ever made; the movements flow nicely and the pace feels natural, which makes it entertaining to watch even while short.

Emma gets beaten and Regina sacrifices herself to save Henry, which makes Robin Hood get out of the chapel to check on the injured Regina, making Zelena become green of jealousy (literally).
For a moment there Isaac thinks he has won, that everything will stay the same and he gets to be rich and famous, but then Henry goes for the quill and becomes the next author.

This is a natural progression and a great place to put Henry as a character. He gets to save everybody by destroying Isaac’s fiction and he becomes immensely powerful.
And with great power, comes great responsibility, which is essentially what The Apprentice says to him when he says that he has to resist the temptation to use the quill.

Henry decides no one should have that much power and he breaks the quill, but he is still the author and I'm wondering if he could get another quill later on and if he could fall into temptation. If so, I’ll be more than happy that Henry gets more layers and become more human by deciding to make adjustments of his own, but that’s for the show to decide. He has a great deal of power right now - quill or no quill, he is still the author -, and it’ll be interesting how the show manages that.

The episode allows for many of our characters to be on a nice place: Lily stays put on Storybrooke to find about her father, Regina decides to deal with Zelena’s pregnancy and be happy with Robin, and even Rumple gets a pure heart by pulling the darkness out of him.

Now the cliffhanger of having Emma becoming the dark one is great not only because of the storytelling possibilities it brings, but also because it is a development that came from love. She made a promise to Regina to give her a happy ending and as she has come too far to lose it all, Emma decides to take in the darkness for her, becoming the dark one instead of her.

That’s love; I don’t mean it in a shipper way, I mean it in a way that Emma simply cares too much about her, she’s probably the closest friend she has ever had, and she is not letting her fall when she can do something about it. That makes the sacrifice all the more poignant. And it makes the following storylines all the more interesting since Emma is going to be the most powerful character on the show besides Henry, as she now has her standard magic + the dark one magic. Saving her is not going to be an easy feat.

But that makes season 5 all the more promising!
This season has grounded OUAT in the way that it made its hero character more complex and more interesting, allowing for much more interesting dynamics with the already complex villains on the show. It has allowed for depth and character development, while also bringing great entertainment via lines and references, and as a whole it took a creative turn that revitalized the show and proved how much it has to offer. And I’d say it has plenty to offer; this is why OUAT is among my favorite shows, because its creativity allows for amazing turns.

Episodes Grade: A
Frozen Arc: B+
Heroes and Villains Arc: A
Season 4 as a whole: A-

Stray Observations:

-So ABC had me watching 3 straight hours of television. My head ached, but after the amazing season finale and the very satisfying Revenge series finale I can say this: I regret nothing!

-It never ceases to amaze me how The Apprentice shows up everywhere.

-The process of choosing a new author is remarkably similar (if not outright based on) to the process of choosing the Dalai Lama.

-Isaac prefers this world with room services and indoor plumbing. I honestly can’t see myself living in the Enchanted Forest either!

-Let’s assume that Isaac wrote fast because of magic, otherwise Emma and the rest would have caught up with him pretty quickly.

-Henry walking alone in the streets had a vibe of 28 days after. Oh, and his driving lessons with David payed off.

-If Henry didn’t go to the Enchanted Forest because he was born in this world, then Neal shouldn’t have gone either, which raises the question: who was taking care of him while this was going on?

-Isaac: “You don’t have to be faster than the ogre, just faster than the other guy.”
Ok, who else felt a TVBTN vibe here? Anyone?

-Rumple: “Good deeds come with no price.”
That is so weird to hear coming from him!

-Love to see Robin Hood and Regina as competing bandits! Such an amusing dynamic.

-Grumpy as he smacks Isaac: “Hi, ho, boys, it’s time to work.”

-Evil Snow: “Long live Regina? Not very likely”
Ginnifer Goodwin’s nonchalant voice killed me. Spot on performance!

-Evil David: “You don’t have to yell Snow, I will always find you.”
Evil Snow: “You will always find me, what?”
Evil David: “I will always find you… your majesty.”

-Even while posing as a good person, Zelena always has a creepy look on her face.

-Seeing Emma so haggard while she was trapped on the tower was pretty affecting.

-I have bragging rights as I said from almost the beginning of the season that Henry would wind up being the author at some point!

-The Dark Swan rises for season 5! God! I want it already! See you next season guys :)

-Subtle brag: I made a much better job bringing the reviews on time this season. I'll keep it up ;)

About the Author - Pablo
I'm currently studying Psychology while also writing fantasy books (one already published in my home country, Chile, you can check it out on the facebook icon). I watch many different types of shows, including my favorites Revenge, Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time and about 23 more. Currently writing reviews for Once Upon a Time, The 100 and Community
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