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Once Upon a Time - The Final Battle Parts I & II - Review

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You have to hand it to Once Upon a Time. Despite its faults, it knows its history and uses it well. That was the greatest strength in “The Final Battle”; revisiting the past and playing with what we know about Once Upon a Time. When I first started watching the show years ago I was surprised that they would break the curse at the end of season one. I’ve always wondered what would happen if magic didn’t return and Emma didn’t begin to believe after Henry succumbed to the apple turnover. The bleak outcome presented in “The Final Battle” gives us these answers, plus the perfect setting for an event as important as the Savior wrestling internally with her belief. With Once Upon a Time renewed for a seventh season despite many factors, “The Final Battle” served as a perfect good bye to the show we’ve been with for six years. Whatever flaws I found in this episode were mitigated by the sense of nostalgia and satisfaction that the happy endings were finally secured.

Creating a mental Final Battle rather than physical was a great plan for this episode. Any onscreen war or battle wouldn’t live up to the audience’s expectations. I’ve said before that season six of Once Upon a Time felt like a sequel to the very beginning of the show. By having the focus on Emma and belief, the crux of everything to do with Once Upon a Time, it was the culmination of this most recent season’s reexamination of season one. They did a respectable job of showing this cursed Emma as someone who is recovering and deeply affected by what the curse made her believe had happened. There was also a delicious sinister aspect to this whole cursed realm, particularly with the Black Fairy being its mayor. I wish we had seen this level of sneaking malice throughout season six because she was just chilling in “The Final Battle”. It’s not even so much that the Black Fairy casually pushed a teenager down the stairs; it’s the tone and intensity she was using with Henry in the hospital. Very akin to an abuser threatening someone while gaslighting and lying to those that could help, which gave the interaction an edge we haven’t seen before.

Rumpelstiltskin finally doing the right thing for the right reason even though it could be a detriment to him and his family was perfect in this episode. It’s one of my favorite moments in “The Final Battle” and such a relief to see that this character has finally broken through and learned from his mountain of past mistakes. Rumple and Belle’s inclusion (for the first time I can remember) at the end of the episode and their welcome as family by the others really signals that it’s no longer “Rumple vs the world”, but that he’s found peace. And I know I just said that an onscreen battle wouldn’t live up to expectations, but seeing Emma swing a sword and defend herself while shouting affirmations was an exciting moment. Even her sacrifice caught me a bit off guard knowing that Jennifer Morrison won’t be returning to the show next season. I thought for a moment Once Upon a Time had gone there and made the Savior give the ultimate sacrifice.

Most of the Enchanted Forest portions of the story were very enjoyable to me, though they felt lacking when compared to the cursed Storybrooke parts. I liked seeing the other realms revisited and I loved bringing back the beanstalk. The acceptance Hook got from Charming, as well as the fact that Hook stated he knew his romance with Emma wasn’t some preordained love like Snow and Charming’s was, really stood out to me as superb character moments. Hook and Emma had to work at it, and I appreciate that. I also really enjoyed the smaller subtle things, Like Zelena’s voice faltering when she realizes Oz is gone, or Snow White reaching out for Regina as their world is obliterated.

However, the inclusion of the Evil Queen that Regina reconciled with could have been done without. Her sacrifice didn’t pack the impact it could have because this Evil Queen was the spare. If it had been our Regina who had held back the curse, flipping the script on her actions from the pilot, it would have packed a greater emotional punch. I wish the writers had gone there, especially since the sacrifice wasn’t permanent for the Evil Queen, so our Regina would have been just fine as well. And as nice as it was to see the Evil Queen get her happy ending, the ring on the arrow felt too much like fan service. In the last episode she appeared in, we saw the Evil Queen meet up with Robin of Locksley, so we know they are happy. The rest could have been left to our imagination. If anything they at least could have brought back Sean Maguire for that short scene instead of just relying on a voiceover.

Another moment I felt could have benefited from more cast involvement was the montage of realms that came at the end of “The Finale Battle”. I did love seeing all the places we have been in the past six years, but this montage would have carried more passionate and weight if we could see glimpses or hints of the characters our heroes had met and been influenced by over the years. They did it for the Agrabah scene; it would have made the other parts of the montage all the more special. I’m picking on this so much, especially since I’m quite aware that the cost to bring some of these old characters back and their availability played a factor, because “The Final Battle” is really the end of Once Upon a Time. It was a very sweet ending, I especially loved Snow White’s speech as the episode closed and I did tear up when we finally got to see this dysfunctional extended family sit down together (the Last Supper imagery went just a hair over the line from sweet to corny though). I just feel that a bit more effort could have been given since this is this chapter of the show was closing.

Now, we did get a teaser for what’s to come in the seventh season, with Henry and his daughter Lucy mirroring Emma and young Henry’s first meeting. But I’m not excited for another season. The older Henry and Lucy interaction would have been perfect as the end of the whole show, a way to let the audience know that the adventures will continue to go on even though new episodes aren’t airing. It’s the idea that Once Upon a Time won’t be Once Upon a Time in this new season that turns me off to the continuation of the series. When Jennifer Morrison announced her exit I felt that the show couldn’t go on without Emma Swan, that she was an essential component, but I wanted to wait and see what the writers would do and how they would make it work. After all, main characters exit shows all the time. Then it was revealed that a large number of the cast were also not asked to return despite a few of their characters still having ample amounts of story and development to explore. Now, we’ve found out the new premise of the show has Regina, Rumple, and Hook returning “but with new identities in a new city, facing a new curse”. This isn’t a seventh season so much as the first season of a spin-off and I’m a little insulted as a long time viewer that the show doesn’t own that status, that I’m expected to embrace the next season without a thought even though it bears a small resemblance to the show I’ve committed myself to for six years. The emphasis and focus Once Upon a Time put on relationships like Hook and Emma’s and Regina and Zelena’s won’t mean much in this seventh season due to the absence of Emma and Zelena. The emphasis on family comes on to shaky ground when half the family is missing and will need to be explained away. I know that there is potential for many dropped characters to come back, but that’s not the same as having their stories develop week to week.

I could be completely wrong and the seventh season could be a renaissance, but I’m feeling like we might see a situation similar to the ninth season of Scrubs, a season many hardcore Scrubs fans go so far as to deny exists. I really enjoyed “The Final Battle” and it felt right that this double episode should be the culmination of Once Upon a Time as we know it. We went back to the start, to the “once upon a time” and proved that hope is a powerful thing, that family aids that power, and that “happily ever after” can be earned if you believe. It feels undignified to try and keep going after this finale if everything will be changed. Embrace that this seventh season is a spin-off and that Once Upon a Time ended with the Final Battle won. Still, I’m glad for all of it, all six seasons. The happy endings were achieved in this finale and it brings a smile to my face every time I picture all the fairy tale characters we know and love together at the table as a family.

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