Grading the Season Finales 2013: Once Upon a Time

Title And Straight On ’Til Morning (2.22)

Written By Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz

What Happens? Picking up where last week’s “Second Star to the Right” left off, this episode begins with the characters dealing with two tragedies: one recent (the shooting of Neal and his disappearance through a portal) and one impending (the destruction of Storybrooke and all of its residents born in the Enchanted Forest, meaning everyone but Henry). Regina believes she has the power to slow down the destruction of the town enough for everyone else to escape, sacrificing herself in the process. In order for the townspeople to escape, though, they have to open another portal, which means getting at least one magic bean from Tamara and Greg. Charming is aided in this quest by Hook, who believes in self-preservation rather than dying for his cause as Tamara and Greg do.

Once Charming retrieves a magic bean, he and Snow decide to take a chance and send the self-destruct mechanism to another realm through the portal instead, saving Regina in order to do what’s good even though it might not be easy. However, once the Charming Family reaches Regina, Emma discovers that Hook took the bean for himself, leaving them with no option other than to prepare for their death and leaving Henry alone without his family. While Emma says goodbye to her parents and Henry shares a moment of understanding with Regina, Rumplestiltskin prepares for the destruction of this world by restoring Belle’s memories (thanks to a magical potion made by the Blue Fairy and given to him by Grumpy, who never forgot the kindness Belle once showed him) and allowing himself to grieve for his son.

Before Storybrooke is demolished, however, Emma realizes that while Regina may not be powerful enough on her own to stop the destruction, her magic may be able to work with Regina’s to stop it—and she’s right. But as soon as the moment of relief ends, panic sets in when the Charmings and Regina realize that Henry has gone missing. It turns out he’s more valuable to Tamara and Greg than the destruction of Storybrooke, and they take him through a portal to another realm.

Just as all hope appears to be lost for Henry, Hook returns with his ship, a magic bean, and a change of heart. It turns out he has a soft spot for abandoned boys with selfless streaks and big hearts, as we discover his relationship with Bae through flashbacks. What was at first a chance for Hook to find family and redemption in raising Milah’s son and keeping him safe from the shadow hunting him, turned into one of Hook’s darkest moments when he let the “Lost Ones” take Bae after the boy learned the truth about his mother, Hook, and his father. In the present, Hook wants to redeem himself for what he did to Bae by saving his son since everyone believes that Bae/Neal is dead (although we see him at the episode’s end being discovered by Aurora, Philip, and Mulan). Hook’s knowledge of Neverland will surely come in handy on the journey to rescue Henry, as Rumplestiltskin sees that’s where the boy is headed. Leaving Belle behind to keep Storybrooke safe and hidden as he goes to rescue his grandson (although Henry was once said to be his undoing), Rumplestiltskin sets foot on Hook’s ship with Charming, Snow, Emma, and Regina to save Henry from Peter Pan—the shadow who has been hunting a boy who looks just like Henry since Bae was a child in Neverland.

Game-Changing Moment Following last week’s big moment where Neal was sent through a portal, this episode also used a different realm to change the course of the show in a major way and set the stage for a very interesting Season Three. I definitely thought this season’s cliffhanger was going to be Henry going to Neverland somehow, but I honestly believed Hook was going to kidnap him for some reason. I didn’t see Tamara and Greg’s involvement coming at all (and I can’t say I’m thrilled about it). However, the quest to find Henry has the potential to create some fantastic storytelling and powerful moments between the men and women who I feel are the best actors on the show. It unites all of these characters against a common enemy, and that can only be a good thing after a season of so much fighting and so many fragmented stories. Also, the introduction of a new realm and a new villain have me excited for next season to start already—and isn’t that exactly what a finale should do? I think the choice to make Peter Pan evil is fascinating (and actually pretty believable—his story was always darker than it looked at first glance), and making a beloved fairytale character a kidnapping shadow creature is exactly the kind of twist on a classic story that makes Once Upon a Time compelling television. This is how you create a mysterious, interesting villain—not the haphazard way Tamara and Greg were thrown into the show. With Henry and his family’s journey to Neverland setting the stage for Season Three, I feel optimistic that this show, which has felt disjointed for some time now, will find its direction and heart once again.

Finale M.V.P. Colin O’Donoghue was a revelation for me in this episode. I thought his performance was beautifully nuanced and quietly powerful. I especially loved his scenes with young Bae. There was such a sense of internal conflict in those moments, and O’Donoghue played Hook’s complicated mess of emotions about Bae with impressive restraint. Yes, he was charming and roughish as always, but there was an undeniable softness to his performance as well, which caught me off guard. That same softness and sense of moral conflict came out again in his scene with Jennifer Morrison where Emma revealed that Bae is Neal, Henry’s father—and that he’s possibly dead. O’Donoghue made Hook’s multiple changes of heart—both the good and the bad ones—believable, which was no easy task. That kind of ambiguity is wonderful to see onscreen when it’s done right. Near the beginning of this season, I loved Hook and the potential in his relationship with Emma, and I was so happy to be reminded of both of those things in this episode. Hook works best as a character when he’s a conflicted, tortured soul with a pirate’s swagger rather than a one-dimensional villain, so I like that the complexity seems to be returning to this character and to O’Donoghue’s performance.

Most Memorable Line “Everyone looks at me as the Evil Queen, even my son. Let me die as Regina.” (Regina)

What Didn’t Work If you guessed that I was going to start this section with “Tamara and Greg,” then you win! I really hoped they were going to die in this episode, but, alas, sometimes when you wish upon a star, you dreams don’t come true. I don’t want them to be any more involved in this story than they already are—with their horrible dialogue, stilted acting (especially from Tamara), and ridiculous mentions of the “home office” that I can guarantee 99% of us don’t care about. I don’t understand why they were so willing to abandon their plan to destroy magic and jump to another land that is far more magical than this one. I understand that the point of a finale is to raise questions, but this doesn’t feel like one I even want answered.

There were some other questions raised in this episode that seemed by-products of less-than-stellar writing rather than intriguing cliffhangers: Wouldn’t sending the “Diamond of Self-Destruction” to another realm be just as “evil” as letting Regina die? (Or would the destruction not happen anywhere other than Storybrooke? Sorry—I’m not well-versed in the rules and regulations of all these curses.) Did Belle even have a moment of anger with Rumplestiltskin over his “relationship” with Lacey (aka the total opposite of her)? Was sending Henry swinging into a sharp rock the weirdest way possible for Rumplestiltskin to attempt to kill him? Wouldn’t Cinderella’s daughter also be left behind with Henry if the town was destroyed (because she was born in Storybrooke rather than the Enchanted Forest)?

Speaking of Henry, I’m still having trouble working through the finale’s big cliffhanger. Yes, it was cool. Yes, it was a shock. But I’m still trying to figure out how it could possibly make sense. How did Peter Pan know about Henry years and years before his birth? Is this going to be a LOST-esque time-jumping thing? Because I’m scared of Henry meeting the child version of his father. I don’t think that’s actually going to be the case, but I’m still more confused that intrigued by the whole situation. I love having Peter Pan as the villain, but I don’t understand why he wants Henry, who doesn’t seem to possess any magical abilities right now (unlike his mother). There are already so many prophecies and predetermined events surrounding this family that I’m not sure I’m ready for another one.

What Worked This scene—all of it:

This is when Once Upon a Time is at its best, when it focuses on the relationships between the characters we love and the family dynamics that made this show so beautiful in its first season. Morrison was incredible in this scene. When she finally called her parents “mom” and “dad,” I broke down in tears on my couch; I’d been waiting for that moment for two full seasons, and it was executed perfectly. She sounded like a little girl who finally got to call out to her parents when she was scared and have them be there to hold her. I was especially struck by the way she called for her dad as her voice cracked. We’ve seen her relationship with her mother building for a long time, but to see her finally accept her father—the man who almost died to keep her safe as a newborn—was perfect. The other beautiful thing about this scene was Henry’s interaction with Regina. He didn’t want her to die alone, so he went to her. Despite every evil thing she’s done, he could see that she really did try to save him from being alone in the end, so he wanted to do the same for her. For the first time in a long time, I believed in the goodness still inside Regina, and I loved that Henry and the rest of his family saw that goodness too. Lana Parrilla is so good at showing Regina’s struggle between light and darkness, so it felt like a real victory to see her do something so selflessly good in this episode. The whole season had been building to that moment of self-sacrificing love, and it was worth it.

The whole season had also been building towards Emma using her magical abilities to do something hugely important. I loved that, in a show that is at its best when its characters are morally complex, magic was at its strongest when dark magic (Regina’s) was paired with magic born of pure love (Emma’s). It was a lovely callback to them getting the hat to work in the season premiere, and I’m excited to see them work together more to save Henry.

While I liked the Peter Pan cliffhanger and other aspects of the plot, what made this episode so good (and it really was good—better than most of the other episodes this season, even the stronger ones) was the emotion behind almost every scene. It was there in Hook’s desire to form a bond with young Bae. It was there in young Bae’s tears of anger over Hook’s role in the destruction of his family. It was there in Henry’s faith in his mother’s goodness and in Regina’s love for her son. It was there in Grumpy’s desire to help Belle find herself again and in Belle’s ability to bring the humanity out of the Dark One. It was there in the way Charming and Emma looked at each other—the daughter needing her father’s stability when her world was coming apart and the father never wanting to lose his daughter again. And it was there in the way one broken and very dysfunctional family came together to save the child who is the tie that binds them all together.

Burning Questions to Keep Us Guessing All Summer What does Peter Pan want with Henry? How will Neal get back to his family (and will he even live to see that reunion)? Who are Greg and Tamara working for?

Final Grade B. While I found some of the dialogue clunky, some of the twists confusing, and some of the characters I wanted dead still alive, this was still one of the best episodes of Once Upon a Time’s second season. In a season that seemed at times to lack an emotional core, this finale returned to the relationships and heartfelt scenes that make this show something special. With an intriguing new villain, a united cast of main characters, and a clear direction for at least the start of Season Three, this finale set up the next season in a smart way and was an emotionally satisfying hour as well.

 

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5 thoughts on “Grading the Season Finales 2013: Once Upon a Time

  1. OK, I reviewed this one as well. I agree with your final grade but was not as connected to this finale as you were. After thinking about it some more I think that my overall disappointment with season 2 clouded my ability to really enjoy the finale. (Or maybe I was just saving all my emotions for Castle) Too much water had flowed under that bridge. That said, I do agree that they have set the table for a potentially very interesting season. What gives me pause is that I was right and Neal is in Fairytale land. It felt like an unintended afterthought which coming off of the emotional thrust of last week’s episode was disappointing. The prediction I was pleased about was bringing together of good and evil to survive. That was for me the truest moment of the episode. Survival requires both. Am I alone in my absolute love of this “Dysfunctional Family Love Boat” that we are left with at the close of the season? I like that 90% of the pivotal characters that I care most about are rallied together for a common cause and that we have a new villain who is surrounded by mystery. Go read EW’s recap. I think she hits the nail on the head that Season 1 had a focused purpose that was sorely lacking this season. In the same token I think you hit on something also pivotal we need a villain who remains so to give our beloved characters something to fight against (and with Henry missing to fight for). I wholeheartedly agree it was great seeing Hook back to form as a character who impulsively acts on his deep emotions. He and Rumple aren’t so different. Both can be quickly driven to action by impulse and in the case of Rumple prior to becoming the Dark One it resulted in paralyzing inaction. I think the parallel of he and Rumple being allies along side Regina and Emma will be intriguing. I do hope that Henry being Gold’s undoing is him ceasing to be the Dark One.

    My list of gripes are as follows:
    1) Tamara and Greg – I hope Peter Pan does more than rip away their shadows next season.
    2) How is it that T&G just happen to still be in the mines to snatch Henry?
    3) Those magic beans – has there been a worse mishandling of a key magical power?
    4) Lacey to Belle – Not since Dallas erased an entire season by making it a dream have I seen such a poorly handled transition of bringing a character back. While I think your questions are good ones, I don’t think she, the writers or we are suppose to care.
    5) What’s with the pivot from destroying Storybrooke being the end game to stealing Henry. T&G are pawns, I realize that but they take insipid no one thought it could go.
    6) For a show that barely managed 2 worlds I worry about adding a 3rd

    • Your gripes and worries are all incredibly justified, in my opinion, and I share most of them. I think my overall enjoyment of the finale came from the fact that I love when TV shows make me feel—and this one did that for some reason. The actors on this show are just so good at even the smallest moments of emotional connection that I can forgive a lot of this show’s sins when it gets those moments right. I can only hope that the number of people (and critics) expressing their belief that the show is at its best when it’s focused on the relationships we already care about has some effect on the writers because I’ve missed that clear direction and heart more than I can say.

  2. Pingback: TV Time: Once Upon a Time 3.16 | Nerdy Girl Notes

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