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Once Upon a Time – Operation Mongoose Parts 1 and 2 – Review

For years fans have wondered what would happen if things went topsy turvy for our heroes and villains and now as the season closed we’ve all be inching towards the satisfaction of learning that result. This after all was the motivation for Regina to cast that very first curse all the way back in season one, to see to it that she the villain was content and all the other denizens of the Enchanted Forest were robbed of their happy ends. This super-sized episode explored the idea marvelously and was so engaging to watch. The time flew by and I found myself wishing it was longer than two hours. The parallels that Once Upon a Time does so well were out in full force as well. I admit I audibly gasped at more than a few moments and that ending set the audience up for a long hiatus as we will pine for what happens next to Emma and the rest. The thing I love most about this episode is that Henry is finally truly coming into his own. The Truest Believer was front and center and has officially proven himself to be a hero. Many fine performances were in this episode and the music I think was some of the most breathtaking we’ve had in the series to date. This finale was one for the books.

The episode opens and we see a gallant knight riding through the forest on a steed. Only this isn’t a flashback to the Enchanted Forest, it’s a television program displaying the wonders of Technicolor. What we are actually flashing back to in this scene is the Author’s origin. We see that he is selling televisions sets in our realm circa 1966. As the Author displays a model to prospective buyers, he waxes poetic about television, philosophizing on the nature of it all until the scribe’s boss swoops in to close the sale. The Author’s boss takes him aside and chides him for not selling the product. The scribe was hired because he said he wanted to be a writer, to sell with a story, but it’s clear from the abandoned, rejected manuscripts he leaves in the break room, that the Author isn’t great shakes at his craft. At least not to the people of 1966. His boss doesn’t mince words; the Author doesn’t tell stories people want to hear. The Author looks hurt as his boss walks away, and begins grumpily sorting through the mail. He comes across a letter from a company called Star Publishing (very clever) that wishes to see him immediately.

The Author goes to Star Publishing right away and the office is a bit unusual. It’s a wide open warehouse-like room, with a small desk at the end and the whole thing appears to be empty at first. But then the Author’s host appears and it’s none other than the Apprentice. The Author is confused, still believing he is landing a publishing deal, but the Apprentice ignores this, laying several pens of different shapes and sizes before him on a desk. Cryptically, the Apprentice asks the Author to choose a pen, whichever pen “calls out to him”. He is to think of this as a test to find out what kind of a writer he is. The Author’s hand stalls over one pen or the other before picking up the enchanted quill. The quill glows with a bright blue light, startling the Author. It is a sign; he is to take up the mantle. The Apprentice explains that the most recent author died, so they needed a replacement. It’s a nice shout out to Walt Disney, building on that line about a man named “Walt” being one of the authors because Disney died in 1966. Nice detail there, writers. However, the Author is still very confused, so the Apprentice conjures a door in the middle of the room. The Author can see the wooded land beyond the door’s frame, a new and different realm. And because he can see it, the Author is suited for his task since that means he believes in magic. It’s time for the Author to meet his destiny.

In Storybrooke, our heroes are at the Sorcerer’s house, tearing through the secret library that held all those other storybooks. They so far are all blank, so our heroes are unsure as to where the Author and Rumpelstiltskin’s new story is being recorded. Regina has a pessimistic outlook knowing Rumple won’t be particularly kind to her in his retelling and Hook even more so considering his and the Dark One’s shared history. Lucky for all, Emma gave August a call since he knows of someone who can shed some light on the situation: the Apprentice. It was the Apprentice that told August about The Book in the first place out in Phuket. Now, what was he doing there, hmm? No one knows where the Apprentice is, but August has a drawing of the man and Hook recognizes him immediately as the person he helped Rumpelstiltskin trap in the Sorcerer’s hat. We jump over to Blue Fairy’s place, since it is she who is able to release the Apprentice for our heroes. Blue just needs something personal of his. Hook brings forth the broom from the earlier half of the season and Mother Blueperior works her magic. A bright, golden light pours forth from the hatbox and the Apprentice is tossed free, jumping right into action. He proclaims that the Author has abused his power for far too long and they need to trap him back inside The Book. All they need in order to do this is the page with the illustration of his door and the key. The Apprentice is sure to stress that none present will be foolish enough to let the Author loose again. It seems the only one allowed to meddle in other’s affairs is the Apprentice. The page is back at Casa de Charming and Emma is worried Rumple may go for it.

However, Rumpelstiltskin isn’t fit to go anywhere, his heart failing him fast. We see him propped up on the floor of the pawn shop as the Author puts the finishing touches on this new book. Rumple questions as to why the Author is still helping him. He has the ink and no longer needs to align himself with the Dark One. The Author explains that he too struggled for happiness all his life. He watched Rumple become the Dark One, but not “The Content One”, which is a great assessment of how Rumple has acted most of the time. Rumpelstiltskin never seemed confident in what he had before him, always doubting and trying to ensure everything was stacked in his favor and often hurting those around him. The Author knows what it’s like to be dissatisfied while watching others’ happiness bloom. The scribe declares that now is the time where villains get their happy endings. The Author is also quick to point out that his happy ending is not in the Enchanted Forest. He much prefers the comforts of modern life. Rumpelstiltskin begins to fade faster, so the Author hurries up in putting the last details into place. He only needs to know one thing from Rumple and that’s about Baelfire.

Magic can’t bring back the dead and the Author can only change a past he created. This new story moves on from this moment forward, but what the Author can do is make Rumple forget his son. The Dark One resists this, preferring to keep his memories of Baelfire, but with one adjustment. Rumple wants to remember doing right by Baelfire, that even though his son is gone he wants to remember Baelfire seeing him as a hero. Then maybe the Dark One can live with that loss. This brings to mind what Grumpy said all the way back in season one; his pain makes him who he is. With that last detail the Author is finally finished writing his masterpiece.

While this is going on, Emma, Regina, and the Apprentice approach the pawn shop in order to stop Rumpelstiltskin, as the rest of our heroes tear apart Casa de Charming searching for the missing page. Hook manages to find The Book, but it’s too late, the Author as already written the words “The End”, sealing the new story. At first nothing happens. Then those words glow with a brilliant light that pours forth from the new book.

A while later Henry slowly comes to on the floor of Casa de Charming, as if the wave of magic had knocked him out. The key is in his hand, but the loft is empty. Henry wanders outside to find all of Storybrooke abandoned. He slowly makes his way down the empty main street, shouting out for anyone. We get a neat call back to the pilot as Henry passes a picket fence, similar to how Emma did when she first arrived in town. This whole scene is deliciously eerie, the silence of the town pressing in and showing just how alone the Truest Believer really is. As Henry enters the pawn shop, the music remains suspenseful and creepy, but when he stops a record player whose needle is off track, all that’s left is silence.

We cut to a car speeding down the road. Henry, surprisingly, is the driver. I guess those driving lessons with Charming paid off. Henry pulls in to a nearby diner, poorly parking the car. He brushes off the waitress at the counter’s remark on this, instead intent on learning where his family has gone. The waitress claims she is going to ask around, but seems to be calling the authorities on Henry. The Truest Believer needs to get out of there fast, but a rack of books at the cash register catches his eye. Or rather, one particular book, entitled “Heroes and Villains”. Henry sees the picture of the Author on the back and knows what his next move must be.

We then move to a signing event, with Author as the guest of honor. He has become a famous writer and is just eating up the crowd’s attention. This is almost like a convention, with fans in costume ready to celebrate the thing they love. The Author is at a podium, addressing the crowd. He coyly explains that this novel has been a passion project of his for longer than anyone can know, a project close to his heart. He wrote the book because he believes readers are sick of the tradition that heroes always win, hence the new endings. Later on, the Author is signing copies of his book rather carelessly. He may love the fans adoration but doesn’t really seem to adore the fans. One fan in costume comes up and gives the Author a present, a pin declaring “Long Live Regina”. She is especially moved by Regina’s story in this new book and asks for a hint or two at any upcoming story lines. The Author is quick to tell her “no spoilers”. This is such a funny gentle jab at the Once Upon A Time fan base and as a convention goer and avid online spoiler hound I think it’s hilarious.

The next item placed before The Author at his signing isn’t his book, however, but the page with the door. Henry has arrived and he wants answers. The Author is actually shocked to see Henry and concedes to a private meeting after the boy pulls out the key and threatens to warp the Author back into the page right then and there. This is the start of Henry showing so much authority in this episode and it carries on throughout all of “Operation Mongoose”. The Author reveals that Henry’s family is in the book. He shows Henry the master copy of “Heroes and Villains” and explains that it’s a sort of alternate reality for them. Henry realizes that the Author has made them all miserable, but the Author is playing God here and says they are the endings everyone deserved. Well, except for Emma. There was no place for a savior in his story. Henry threatens the Author to bring everyone back or else, but the Author can’t. The number one rule those who bear the quill must follow is to not write their own happy endings and the Author did, so his power is gone. Henry tries to snatch the “Heroes and Villains” book and ends up tackling the Author to the ground. The book opens to an illustration of a farmhouse and Henry quickly presses the key to the page, warping himself into the story.

Within the book, Henry finds himself at a cottage, marveling at the medieval-ness of it all. Unfortunate for him, the Author got trapped in the book as well. The scribe knocks Henry out and ties him up. When the Truest Believer comes too, the Author is livid that they are in the book; he doesn’t want Henry to change anything. If the heroes get their happy endings it could destroy his work. The Author explains that they are in the final chapter and when bells toll at sunset, the book will end and everything will become permanent. There is a roar in the distance and the Author let’s Henry in on the fact that this chapter of the book begins with an ogre attack. He leaves Henry, tied up and defenseless, to be snacked upon by the ogre. At the last minute the Truest Believer is saved by a literal knight in shining armor. The peasants come out to thank this knight and it is revealed to be Rumpelstiltskin. Rumple is such a goody-goody here you can practically see his teeth gleam as he flashes a winning smile, saying his good deeds come at no price. Nice twist on a familiar line. Henry naturally is shocked by all this as Sir Rumple rides off in a dramatic flourish of music.

A bit later, Henry is thumbing through his paperback copy of the Author’s book, using it as a guide to avoid traps hidden in the woods, when he finally comes across a hovel. Before Henry can really investigate it, he is held a bow and arrow point by the hovel’s owner, Bandit Regina. I love that Regina is wearing the exact same costume we’ve seen Snow White wear in numerous flashbacks. When asked what he wants, Henry stutters out his name and that he’s her son. This is exactly what Henry said to Emma in the pilot when they first met and in fact, Bandit Regina’s attitude towards Henry and in general is very reminiscent of bail bonds person Emma. In the hovel, Regina is skeptical of everything Henry is saying, despite Henry’s best efforts to get her to remember. Regina becomes hostile when she thinks that maybe Henry is working for the Queen, but Henry insists that all he wants to help Bandit Regina find her happy ending. She thinks Henry is nuts until he shows her his copy of the book, wherein she reads of her future plans to rob a tax carriage. Regina is now ill at ease since the book knows what she will do next and throws it into the fire. Henry can only rescue one page. The Truest Believer then follows Regina through the woods, unwilling to leave her alone until she finds her true love. He explains that in order for him to leave she must give Robin Hood True Love’s Kiss. Regina finds this hilarious as Robin is her competition, always beating her to every robbery she plans. I think the call backs in this scene are fantastic because they are nice and subtle. Regina calls Henry “kid”, a very season one Emma thing to do. There’s also the flip flop of Bandit Regina and Snow White’s stories, where Regina repeats word for word Snow White’s dialogue about ruining the Queen’s life. There are almost too many call backs and nods to the Once Upon a Time story we are so familiar with to keep track; this episode is a long time viewer’s dream.

Meanwhile, the Author is wandering around the woods. He had returned to the cottage hoping to find Henry dead, but instead remembered too late that he wrote Rumple the ogre slayer into the scene. The Author doesn’t really seem to know his material well for he also falls into one of the various traps Henry was able to avoid. Here is where we get a very amusing take on familiar characters when the Queen’s black guards shows up, only it’s the Seven Dwarves, each in dark armor and wielding pick axes. The Author begs for his life as he is searched and wouldn’t you know it, the dark dwarves find the “Long Live Regina” pin from that fan at the book signing. Believing him to be a traitor, Grumpy gives a great twist on the traditional “it’s off to work we go” line before knocking the Author unconscious.

With a wonderful creeping music intro, we jump to the Queen’s castle where we finally get to see Dark Snow White. And it is glorious. Seeing the squeaky-clean Snow all decked out in the Evil Queen’s wardrobe, with the hair and the make-up is everything I could have wanted in a finale. Grumpy explains about the pin and how the Author was found. Snow Dark has this quiet, slinking evil about her that is just so fun to watch. Evil Queen Regina tends to get a bit shout-y, but Evil Queen Snow is calculating. The Author, every the quick talker, tries to buy his freedom by telling the Evil Queen about Henry, claiming the boy wishes to ruin what she has. Snow Dark shouts into a heart and summons Huntsman Charming, complete with guyliner. We get another twist on familiar line, this time the Charming family favorite, “I will always find you”. To avoid being beheaded by Huntsman Charming, the Author reveals what he knows about Snow Dark. Snow fell in love with James, Charming’s twin, who was quite a jerk in the main timeline if you recall. There was a tragedy and he was lost to her, so Snow took Charming’s heart and forced him to love her. The Author claims Snow Dark can have her happy ending because he know where to find the person responsible for that tragedy, Regina, and Snow can get her revenge. All the scribe asks in return is that the Evil Queen kills Henry, which Snow will gladly do.

Jump to the forest and we see Bandit Regina ambushing a tax carriage, just as the book said she would. Only there are no tax collectors within the carriage, only Snow Dark. Huntsman Charming pops up and disarms Regina. Snow gets right in the bandit’s face, eager for her head. Regina tries apologizing for what she did, again a flip flop on their story, but the Evil Queen will hear none of it and sticks her hand in Regina’s chest, ready to crush her heart. Charming interrupts, thinking it would be better to ask after Henry first. Snow Dark wiping her hand off on her dress after taking it out of Regina is hilarious. Regina mirrors the dialog Snow White once said to her in seasons past, about hatred leaving a hole in one’s heart, but again Snow Dark is deaf to anything but her revenge. The Evil Queen prepares a fireball, but an arrow stops her. It’s Robin Hood, come to steal the riches for his own use. Regina quickly jumps on the back of his horse and escapes.

In a tavern later on, Regina is busy reminding Robin that she didn’t actually need rescuing, soon realizing that her savior is actually her competition. Robin is kind enough to doctor Bandit Regina’s injured hand. The pair are sassy with each other. You can really see shades of their relationship from the real timeline come through even though they only just met here. The pair share a pint of ale and toast to new friendships. Robin admits he always admired Regina’s skills and confides in her that he wants to get out of the thieving business. Robin asks if Regina would like to lead the merry men. Regina is flattered but declines, the forest being too dangerous for her with the Evil Queen running around, and asks why Robin is giving up the bandit life. It’s because he met someone and is to be married. Ever a man of his code, Robin feels it wouldn’t get fair to his new bride, who he is to wed later that day, to live such a life. Regina is struck as if suddenly realizing her feelings for the thief. And speak of the devil, Robin’s bride arrives and it’s none other than a bright and bubbly Zelena. This must be the wicked witch’s happy end, to have everything her sister had in the real timeline. Zelena is excited to meet Regina and invites her to the ceremony, but the bandit makes her excuses. Robin is hesitant to let Regina go. He must have been struck with love at first sight just as she had been. After shaking Robin’s hand and thanking him for saving her, Regina leaves the tavern.

Collecting herself outside, Bandit Regina is interrupted by Henry, much to her annoyance. Henry was able to track her down with his knowledge of his mother’s story and her need to find her true love. Regina is exasperated and shows the boy that Robin is already with someone else. Henry is confused, this turn of events to be all wrong. Still hopeful, Henry doesn’t believe Regina felt nothing when she met Robin and takes her silence as proof that she does love the thief. Bandit Regina truly believes, though, that she will never get a happy ending or true love and that Henry gave her the worst thing of all: hope. Regina wants to put as much distance as she can between herself and Robin’s wedding bells and here is where inspiration strikes Henry. He realizes that those bells are the ones the Author spoke of, that signify the end of the story. They have to stop Robin Hood’s wedding if they want a chance at setting everything right. It’s here that Regina recalls Henry saying she was supposed to be his step-mother and suggests that if they find Emma, is birth mother, she will be able to solve their problems. Henry explains that Emma wasn’t in the book. If she was they would have heard of her since she goes by the title of “savior”. Regina pauses and Henry knows his mother well enough to see she is hiding something. It turns out there were rumors in this land long ago of a woman who called herself “savior”. Henry demands to know where to find her, but Regina tells the boy they can’t. Snow Dark locked the woman up in a stronghold and no one has seen her since she went into that impenetrable fortress. Once more there is some haunting, atmospheric music and we see the tower Regina speaks of. In it, Emma is chained to the floor, desperately gasping and screaming. And so ends the first hour of “Operation Mongoose”.

The second half of the Once Upon a Time finale picks up with Sir Rumpelstiltskin riding home in heroic slow motion. Belle greets him at the door of their cottage with a kiss and we see that they also have a newborn baby to complete their family. It’s everything Rumple ever wanted. Too bad the Author is there, waiting for the Light One. Once he and Rumple are alone, the knight realizes that the Author is up to something, even if he doesn’t know who he is. The Author is there to warn Rumple that his happiness is in danger. He tells the knight about Henry and Bandit Regina and explains that if the boy succeeds this happy life of Rumple’s will disappear. Rumpelstiltskin must kill Regina and Henry so they can’t stop the wedding. The knight thinks the Author is here to corrupt him, but the scribe quietly tells Rumple he was already corrupted. He goes on to explain how Rumple was the worst villain of all and how he, the Author, used magic to rewrite the Dark One’s tale. The Author knows things, revealing secrets Rumple kept from Belle about his first son, Baelfire. Despite Rumple insisting that he as honorable and protected his son, the Author tells Rumple of what really happened, how Rumple’s cowardice was Baelfire’s undoing. Rumpelstiltskin shouts for the Author to leave, but deep down he knows this stranger is right. He’s no hero. And if he doesn’t kill Regina, everyone will know this as well. The Author leaves but not before telling Rumple that he’ll make the right choice, he always does. What a dig against Rumple. We’ve seen Rumpelstiltskin make the wrong choice many times, yet the Author is so desperate, so twisted up in his own fantasy that he has no regard for anything other than making this alternate reality last, even if it’s at the cost of the happiness he wrote for others.

Elsewhere in this unfamiliar version of the Enchanted Forest, Henry has come across the Jolly Roger. He finds Hook and wants to book passage into the treacherous waters surrounding the fortress where Emma is said to be kept. Hook can’t help the boy though; he’s not the captain of this vessel. The true captain appears and it is Blackbeard, forever a thorn in Hook’s side. Our one-handed pirate is nothing but a deckhand in this reality and a cowardly one at that. Rumpelstiltskin really saved the best, or rather, worst, for last, giving his ultimate weakness to his greatest enemy. Henry wants Hook to face Blackbeard, but when the pirate runs away from the fight, the Truest Believer takes matters into his own hands and knocks Blackbeard out cold. Despite this obstacle out of their way, Hook can’t sail the ship by himself. Again, Henry steps up to task. After all it was Hook who taught him how to sail.

And so the pair approach the island fortress. Henry concocts a plan to sneak in and avoid fighting the elite guards by pretending to be a prisoner. Here’s a wonderful Star Wars reference for those in the know. Henry has become adept at knocking people out and takes out the black knight guarding Emma’s prison without a problem. He rushes to save his mother while Hook locks up the guard. Henry quietly enters Emma’s prison, where the savior is crumpled on the floor. She looks up and immediately recognizes her son, teary eyed but overjoyed as she was certain he would find her. They hug and Henry unlocks her chains. The Author lied; Rumpelstiltskin punished Emma by having her know the truth and be helpless to do anything about it. He even stripped her of her savior magic in this story. Rumple certainly had all his bases covered. As mother and son escape, Emma collides into Hook who seems flustered at meeting the savior. The pair have a bit of a moment before jumping on the Jolly Roger and sailing away with Henry. Emma is keen to put as much distance as possible between the boat and the fortress because the black knight guarding her as no ordinary guard. It was Lily, who has regained consciousness and bursts out of the tower in dragon form, less than pleased at being thwarted. I love the dragon CGI as she erupts out of the tower here; it looks so dramatic and is really well done. Emma takes charge on the Jolly Roger, getting Hook to load the cannon and successfully uses it to sink Lily into the ocean. Hook produces a flask to celebrate this victory, but instead of rum it’s goat milk. Rumple made it so the pirate was allergic to his favorite drink. Oh, Dark One, you are evil. As they sail back to civilization, Hook questions why Emma trusts him. The pirate seem smitten with the savior here, and it goes to show that like with Regina and Robin, these pairs fated to be together can’t be torn apart by the Author.

Back at Snow Dark’s castle, the Evil Queen is having a bit of a war council with the dwarves and an evil version of Granny. These minions were unsuccessful in capturing Regina’s heart, thwarted by the Blue Fairy and her dark army of fairy sisters. I would have really liked to have seen this scene play out instead of just hearing about it. The dwarves and Granny insult each other back and forth, passing the blame while Snow Dark circles the table, too calm for comfort. The Evil Queen tells her war council that she must lead by example and they all must now go to extreme lengths to succeed. And Snow has to show them and motivate them. And she does this through fear for without warning Snow sticks her hand in Doc’s chest and crushes his heart into dust. The evil queen then commands her minions to find Regina and the boy and kill them both.

Elsewhere, Hook and Emma have come ashore. Henry is off finding food, so Emma takes this moment to show Hook how to defend himself. The pirate is unsteady with a blade, in disbelief that he is an expert at such things in another reality, but Emma assures him that he’s a “real Jack Sparrow”. Excuse me, there should be a “captain” in there somewhere. Emma gets close to Hook, rather flirty like, and shows him the proper technique. Hook is so unsure and wants to know more about their relationship in the other reality. It’s so odd to see the pirate be so passive, allowing Emma to steer their interactions where for most of season 4B Hook has been the one guiding Emma, especially through her struggles with her parents. Suddenly, Lily and Snow Dark arrive, with dwarves and Huntsman Charming in tow. Grumpy disarms Hook easily, but Emma knocks the dwarf back. Snow recognizes Emma as the “mad hag” she locked away, but Emma insists that isn’t who she is and this evil isn’t who they are. She is their daughter and they are heroes, the people who taught her to believe in hope. Snow comments on how hope is a powerful thing and for split second the audience believes that the savior’s words got through to her parents. Unfortunately, Snow Dark goes on to tell Emma how she will have to snuff out that hope. I just want to point out that Hook ineffectively waving his sword around in the background cracked me up in the midst of this tense scene. Henry returns and Hook bids Emma go protect him. The savior knows the pirate is no match against Charming with a sword, but Hook tells Emma that if she succeeds in undoing this story, whatever happens to him won’t matter. Emma rushes for Henry as Hook and Charming square off. The pirate manages to hold his own and even knocks Charming off his feet. Hook holds Snow Dark at bay with his blade, but Charming isn’t done yet and rises to his feet, running Hook through. Emma’s face is a mask of broken emotions as she watches Hook die, forced to retreat with Henry as the evil queen readies her fireballs. How many times has Emma lost a loved one? This is her worst fear coming back again and again to haunt her.

We jump to Belle having tea in her cottage, rocking her newborn. The scene is one of bucolic bliss. Rumpelstiltskin enters, looking worried. The Light One tells his wife of how he just learned of a threat to the realm, one that could take away the happy endings. Eliminating that threat is proving to be a difficult choice for Rumple and he worried that whatever course of action he picks might be the wrong one. Belle believes Rumple is sure to choose wisely, he is a hero after all. But the Light One still has the Author’s words in his mind and wonders out loud if he isn’t. Preoccupied, Rumpelstiltskin breaks a tea cup and it is Belle who remains calm this time, telling her husband that it’s only chipped and can be fixed. Rumple isn’t sure it’s as easy as that. This scene is a wonderful reference to Belle and Rumple’s history with that cup. Things will always be complicated between them, but they will forever have that chipped cup, a symbol of making the best of something damaged, of not throwing something away just because it’s a bit tarnished. This pair is destined to mend, to repair what is broken. I just wish Rumple would have taken this to heart and done more to deserve Belle this season. He has been incredibly selfish.

At Regina’s hovel, the bandit is packing her things to make a hasty exit from the forest. She is less than thrilled to see Henry has found her once again, but then Henry introduces Emma. The savior and the bandit have a private moment, where Emma informs Regina that Henry is telling the truth. She think’s Regina’s happiness is possible if she is willing to go after the man she loves. Regina, rightful so, reminds Emma that her happiness isn’t a man, and Emma agrees. However, love is a part of happiness. I am glad Once Upon a Time is still reiterating this message that happiness isn’t found in another person, that it’s within ourselves. This, I think, is the completion of Regina’s healing from everything from season one to now. She is no longer fixated on Daniel and her revenge; instead she knows that it is she who is responsible for her happy ending. However, Regina is hesitant to get that happy ending here, she is nervous that she will tell Robin Hood how she feels and he might not feel the same. Emma understands this fear, but it has to be a risk Regina is willing to take. Emma just watched the man she loved die and she never told him how she felt. The savior was too afraid of everything changing if she said the words out loud, but now she will never have the chance to do so. Regina is touched by this story and realizes that their only chance is if she doesn’t make this same mistake.

Quickly Henry, Regina, and Emma rush to the wedding. The bells haven’t begun to toll so there is still time to stop the ceremony. Inside, Zelena looks the picture of a happy bride as she walks down the aisle, while the Author is sitting in the back, looking a bit out of place. The Knave of Hearts is also there as Robin Hood’s best man, and sadly this is his only contribution to the finale. I really wish that the Knave could have been used better this season and if there is no place for him in the current Once Upon a Time story, he should be written out and his character’s happy ending from Once Upon a Time in Wonderland preserved. Before they rush in to save the day, Emma pauses and lets Regina know that even though she doesn’t remember it, Emma promised to help her friend get her happy ending. The savior is glad to be present and see Regina get it. That’s easier said than done, for Sir Rumpelstiltskin has arrived to prevent the trio from crashing the wedding. Emma squares off against Rumple, shouting for Regina to go and stop the ceremony. Emma isn’t half bad with a sword and there is much swashbuckling as she and the Light One clash. The focus jumps back and forth between the quiet of the wedding and the din of the battle outside as Regina hesitates in the doorway. Before Robin says “I do”, it’s as if he can feel Regina’s presence and sees her at the door. This reminds me of an early line of his where Robin speaks about being lost in someone’s eyes. Emma has been holding her ground outside, but Sir Rumple uses magic to knock her back, so Henry takes up the sword. Henry is confident that Rumpelstiltskin won’t hurt him since in this reality he is a hero. Rumple tells the boy that this is why he must do what he must do. Even in the Author’s alternate version heroes aren’t as black and white as they seem. Human nature trumps the hold that this fabricated story has on their fates. Rumple swings his sword mightily, but Regina jumps in front of the blade at the last second and is cut down by Rumple. The Light One poofs away, his job done, as Regina lies bleeding on the ground. She couldn’t let Henry die.

The wedding bells toll, signifying that the story is finally over. They are too late and Emma is afraid the story can’t be changed now. As the wedding party departs, Robin spies the injured Regina and rushes to her side. Zelena is more concerned with the attention, as well as the blood that’s splashed on her dress, and complains that this was to be her day. Then she begins to turn green, just as before, and runs away. Robin tries to comfort Regina, telling her she will be just fine, but the bandit knows that isn’t true. The least Robin can do is promise she won’t die alone. I don’t know about you, but I was practically screaming for them to use True Love’s Kiss at this moment. The Author is in the crowd and makes a sarcastic comment, which earns him a punch in the face from Emma. This is not only incredibly satisfying, but allows for the contents of the Author’s satchel to spill to the ground, revealing the quill. Emma demands the Author use it and change everything back, but like he said before, since the scribe wrote his own happy end, he is powerless. Henry, desperate for someone to do something, grabs the quill himself and it flashes blue. Henry is the new author! The Truest Believer can feel the power of the quill flow through him, but he can’t fulfill Emma’s request to fix everything since there is no ink. Emma isn’t the savior here so her blood won’t work. But Emma reasons that in this world they don’t need someone turning dark, but someone turning light. Regina fits the bill after all she’s been through, so Henry delicately dips the quill’s nib near Regina’s wound. He jots down a quick note and with a flash of white light undoes all of The Author’s work.

Instantly we are transported to the streets of Storybrooke, where Regina is healed. She leaps to her feet and hugs Henry. Everyone else is there, recovering from being sent back to reality and there is much hugging as they realize everything is back to normal. Emma suddenly remembers the state they left Hook in and runs to Casa De Charming. Her parents are there, just waking up, but there is no sign of Hook. The expression on Emma’s face is heartbreaking; it’s as if her entire world has just dissolved at her feet. Then Hook pops up from the upper loft area, cheeky as hell. Emma is so relieved that he is alive that she literally tackles the pirate, who gently reminds the savior that he is a survivor. Emma starts as if she is going to finally tell Hook she loves him, but chickens out at the last minute. Hook looks slightly put out that Emma didn’t say those important words. Despite everything, Emma is still afraid of losing another loved one.

The Author wakes in the pawn shop, quickly realizing the score. Rumple is back on the floor, much worse for wear. The Author grabs Rumpelstiltskin’s car keys and makes a break for it, nearly running down Belle in the process of escaping. The librarian rushed to the pawn shop when she came to, intent to stop Rumple from hurting anyone. However, she quickly sees that she has nothing to worry about; Rumple is near the end. The Author leaves this scene behind, screeching away from the town, only to be cut off from his escape by the sheriff’s cruiser. Charming and Snow White drag the Author out of the car, the scribe upset that he is no longer a national best-seller and his happiness is gone. Before his is dealt with for good, Snow needs to know one thing from the Author; why he set them on their path to hurt Maleficent in the first place. It turns out that for the scribe, it wasn’t personal. The Author was against what Snow and Charming represented. They reminded him of that boss he had back in 1966, of a lifetime of people who thought they were heroes who pushed around people like the Author. It was his turn to be the hero. The Author’s ego must be out of control if this is his excuse for doing what he did. Granted, to be a writer and be so limited, that would be irritating. But there’s something about this reasoning for the Author that doesn’t sit right with me. Snow White corrects the scribe, telling him that all he ended up being was a villain, a person who got their happiness at the expense of others. She knows what a dark heart feels like now and it’s simply something to pity.

As things return to normal all over Storybrooke, we come across Henry in the mayor’s office. He has both his book and the “Heroes and Villains” book side by side. The Apprentice appears, as he does, and remarks that the power Henry now wields is very tempting. Henry has been thinking, wondering if it wouldn’t be so bad to use the quill one last time and bring back his father. The Apprentice explains that even the Author can’t bring back the dead. With Hook it was different, his death was a fiction undone by Henry. Even now the “Heroes and Villains” book stands blank, everything wiped clean by the boy. Because Nealfire died in the real world, this death can’t be changed. The Apprentice gives some sage advice, telling Henry the best way to show love for those gone is to tell their stories and that Henry must continue the Author’s tradition and write the truth. The Apprentice hopes that Henry can resist the quill’s power to change reality; such a thing is only outweighed by its cost. Henry seems to be contemplating the quill for a moment before suddenly snapping it in half, making the best choice. No one should have that much power. The Apprentice is actually impressed by Henry’s action, thinking they have finally found the right person for the job.

Back at the pawn shop, Belle is comforting Rumpelstiltskin, who explains that the last flicker of light is going out in his heart. The Dark One reflects that at least in the alternate reality he and Belle were still happy and in love. Belle lets it all out and I am so glad she is finally telling Rumple what a fool he’s been. Everything they had in that alternate reality they could have had here. Rumple could have been a good man with a good marriage, but Belle wasn’t good enough for him since the Dark One didn’t believe anyone could love him. Belle assures Rumpelstiltskin that she knew what she was getting into, that she wasn’t going to pull back from him, but Rumple’s actions, his lies, made her. If Rumple only realized what was right in front of him he would have been happy, but his cowardice got the best of him once again. Rumple was so unsure of his and Belle’s connection that he sabotaged it because he felt he was unworthy. The Dark One gives his blessing for Belle to go with the Knave, but Belle doesn’t want to, she doesn’t love the Knave. Rumple is insistent that Belle leave before he fades and only the darkness remains. That darkness is unimaginably dangerous and as Rumple utters this warning he finally falls unconscious.

While all this is going on, there is a party at Granny’s Diner, as tends to happen once the town has been saved from the latest crisis. We see Regina looking over The Book with Henry when Robin slides into the booth they are sharing and asks after Zelena. The wicked sister is still locked up and still pregnant, but that is a problem the pair vow to deal with together. Over by the bar, Emma is making amends with her parents. After seeing them as real villains, she is sorry she held her grudge for so long. Then Emma looks over and see’s Lily alone at the counter. Lily shows Emma the crescent moon necklace. It’s a piece of her egg and the only clue she has to her father. Maleficent doesn’t know who he is because I guess what happens in dragon form stays in dragon form, but Lily wants to stay in Storybrooke for a while and look for him. I am so on board with this because I like Lily as a counterpart of Emma, as well as the fact that Emma can always use adult friends who aren’t family members. Suddenly, Belle crashes into the diner, asking for help.

Our main heroes retreat to the pawn shop with the Apprentice, who plans to pull all of the darkness from Rumpelstiltskin’s heart with the Sorcerer’s hat. He is wary since this is more darkness than the hat as ever has to deal with. The Apprentice utters an incantation as he removes Rumpelstiltskin’s heart and uses the hat to clear it of its darkness. The CGI for this darkness makes it seem almost sentient as ropy black tendrils struggle to cling to the heart. With the darkness trapped in the hat, the Apprentice returns Rumple’s heart, which has turned a pure white. I wonder if this means that Rumpelstiltskin is a blank slate, capable of either good or evil. Do you think he will stay on the straight and narrow, or will his thirst for power take over once more? Rumple is barely breathing. He was the Dark One for so long his return to just a man is not going to be easy. The Apprentice puts him in a kind of stasis until they can help Rumple. Just then, the Sorcerer’s hat shutters and grows dark, the evil pouring forth and enveloping the Apprentice. As it forces itself into the Apprentice, his eyes go completely black and I have to say, the representation of darkness and what it did to the Apprentice is a little disturbing. Emma hits the sentient cloud with a bolt of light magic and it backs off, escaping into the night. Snow and Charming go after the darkness to track it down while Emma and Hook help the Apprentice who is weak and has collapsed. The Apprentice explains that long before their stories began, the Sorcerer battled the darkness and stopped it from taking over the realms by binding it to a human soul, creating the first Dark One. The Sorcerer is the only one with the power to stop the darkness, but he’s far away. Our heroes must find him, their only clue being his name: Merlin.

Snow White and Charming are out in the streets looking for the billowing evil when Hook, Emma, Regina and the rest join them. Emma realizes that the darkness hasn’t disappeared, it’s simply surrounding them, engulfing them, biding its time until it strikes. It soon does, going straight for Regina, wrapping her in its inky tendrils as it begins to snuff out the light in her heart. Robin rushes forward, not content to lose his love yet again, but is knocked back by the tendrils. Emma knows that they must tether the darkness to a person to keep it in check. And so the savior steps forward. Regina, despite her struggle, tries to think of another way to end this, but Emma is firm and resolute in the fact that Regina worked way too hard to get to this point only to have everything taken again. Emma turns to her tearful parents, telling them that they found a way to remove her darkness before; they can do it again, this time as heroes. And finally Emma tells Hook that she loves him. The savior turns, the Dark One’s dagger raised. There are flashes of light as the darkness engulfs the savior and a slow motion shot of Emma peering through the black tendrils at her friends and family. The darkness dissipates, taking the savior with it and leaving only the Dark One’s dagger, now inscribed with “Emma Swan”.

Wow, that was “Operation Mongoose”. How did you like that for a finale?

I found the alternate take on our familiar Once Upon a Time characters to be a fun diversion from the norm. I especially enjoyed Evil Snow White. Ginnifer Goodwin’s performance was fantastic, and definitely not too campy. She was dramatic without being so over the top that I rolled my eyes. This flip flop was a real treat for long time viewers and a great way to cap off a season that focused on heroes, villains, and the grey area in between.

I’m very glad we have some solid resolution with Regina and Robin. This pair has been on such unsteady ground for so long that seeing them decide that in spite of something as world moving as Zelena’s pregnancy they will stay together and sort through their problems is so satisfying and I think really brings to a close Regina’s struggle with happiness. As for Rumpelstiltskin and Belle, I love that Belle finally said what we were all thinking. She set Rumple straight on what he was doing wrong and assured him without a doubt that their love could survive. Now that Rumple’s heart is a blank slate seeing their relationship get a second chance will be interesting. Belle fell in love with the Dark One, how will she fair with Rumpelstiltskin as a man?

I’m a bit disappointed there was no Knave of Hearts aside from a small cameo and absolutely no Maleficent, especially after the strong reunion she had will Lily. Lily’s search for her father will be interesting and if he isn’t Merlin I will eat my keyboard. Speaking of Merlin, I’m wary of Arthurian legend being brought into the show, but we have seen Lancelot before, so I am willing to reserve judgement until the season 5 episodes air. However, the more I think about it, the more I see potential for some fabulous story lines.

What I am most intrigued by and looking forward to is Emma Swan as the Dark One. She is going to be the most formidable foe, knowing all of the hero’s moves. I wonder if she will be as impish as Rumple was or if Once Upon a Time will go in a different direction with this new character interpretation. What I do know though is that this is the ultimate game changer and it’s going to be difficult to weather the hiatus knowing something as interesting and threatening as the Dark Savior waiting for us in season 5.

Now, dear readers, it’s time to go under a sleeping curse until next fall. Thanks for reading, see you soon for season five!

About the Author – Ashley B
Ashley is as serious as a sleeping curse when she says television is her life. Professional event planner, avid movie viewer, convention enthusiast, and resident sass master, Ashley writes reviews for ABC's Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and Galavant, as well as Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. She looks forward each week to the weird and wonderful world her favorite television programs provide.
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