I apologize for the delay in getting this post to you, fellow Oncers! I spent the last two weeks finding some magic of my own in Walt Disney World, which I will be writing about in great detail very soon. But for now, we have a finale to discuss!
Title Only You/An Untold Story
Two-Sentence Summary Growing weary of the pain magic has caused his family, Henry sets out with Violet on a quest to destroy all of Storybrooke’s magic, which brings both of his mothers and Rumplestiltskin to New York City to find him before he can put his plan in motion. Meanwhile, a portal gone awry sends Snow, Charming, Zelena, and Killian into the Land of Untold Stories, where they meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, whose separation tempts Regina to separate herself from her own dark side.
Favorite Line “I know how crazy it sounds, but magic is real. It’s all around us. You just have to be willing to see it. You have to be willing to believe.” (Henry)
At some point in your life, every one of you was once a believer. And at some point, you left that part of you behind. But you can go back to it—if you believe.
Once Upon a Time isn’t a show for everyone. It’s a show for believers. It’s a show that asks you to watch with an open heart and your cynicism checked at the door. And for those of us not-so-grown-up grownups who love it, it’s a show that called out to the part of us we left behind and reignited in us what it means to believe.
A lot of things happened in this two-hour finale event. New characters were introduced, new lands were visited, kisses were shared, conflicts were established, and families were separated and reunited. But for as important as the plot setup might have felt for next season or for as rich as the character development was, it all paled in comparison to the words of the Truest Believer reminding all of us why Once Upon a Time has touched so many of our hearts.
This is a show about hope, but I wouldn’t blame you if you’d forgotten that after the events of this season. Between Emma becoming a Dark One (and also making Killian one against his wishes), Killian dying more than once, and Robin being obliterated without the hope of his soul ever moving on, it’s been a pretty bleak season of a show that preaches the value of optimism. And that’s why Henry’s speech was so important—not just for Henry and the other characters, but for those of us who are fans of theirs, too. That speech was like a ray of sunshine breaking through the swirling vortex of sadness that this season has been. It was a reminder that even when things look hopeless, you can’t stop believing that something good can happen. Because there is power in optimism. There is strength in hope. And that was a bright, positive message that was sorely needed after such a dark stretch of episodes.
With the show going to such dark places this season, I completely understood why Henry would want to destroy magic—even if it was a horribly impulsive decision (which teenagers are known to make). Magic was the weapon that killed his father and two father figures (even if one is now back from the dead), turned his mother into a Dark One who betrayed his trust, and was wielded with deadly power by his other mother during the darkest times in her life. And while I found the connections the show was trying to make between Henry and his father both trying to destroy magic a little forced (We never had any hint that Neal was up to something like this.), I loved the idea of Henry going on an adventure—and going on one with Violet.
Like his maternal grandparents and both of his mothers before him (and many other characters on this show), Henry grew closer to the object of his adorable young affection on a journey to defeat a foe (in this case, magic). It was like a YA version of the other epic love stories this show has given us so far, and I adored it. Jared Gilmore and Olivia Steele Falconer have a very sweet and sincere rapport onscreen, and this relationship has been handled so well given their youth. Young love is the kind of love where a smile from the other person or the touch of their hand feels like the stuff of legend, and this show has gotten that feeling so right every time it’s dealt with these two characters. Theirs is an innocent kind of love, but that doesn’t lessen how important it is for both of them. Violet stands by Henry’s side in hard times, they’ve opened up to each other about painful parts of their past, and they make a great team. It’s not True Love (that we know of), but it certainly has all the makings of a story worthy of being in Henry’s book.
This was such an important pair of episodes for Henry, and Gilmore proved once again that he’s up to the task when given more challenging material to work with. And this was a finale that saw Henry come to understand one of the most challenging aspects of adulthood: Nothing is black and white. You have to accept that there is the potential for good and evil in both magic and people, and it’s up to you to choose to believe that the good is stronger than evil. Dark magic and light magic are connected; you can’t have one without the other. That’s how the world works. There’s always going to be good and evil, and things are hardly ever all good or all evil.
Regina, however, feels that things in her life are all bad at this point to compensate for the fact that she was once all bad herself. This finale gave us a fascinating look into her psyche at one of the lowest points in her life, and I loved that she was allowed to deal with everything happening to her in an imperfect but very human way. Regina isn’t good at grief, but who is? When she’s in a bad place emotionally, she becomes self-centered, bitter, self-pitying, and angry. She lashes out, especially at those who are happy while she’s suffering. And I actually love that about her. I love that Regina gets to be a real, flawed person when she’s in pain. I can throw a pretty raging pity party myself when I’m going through hard times (which are never even a tenth as hard as what Regina is going through), so I related to the part of Regina that got snarky with Emma and talked herself into believing she was destined to suffer. I’m not proud of it, but I’m human. And so is Regina.
Out of all the characters on this show, Regina is the one most at war with herself. Lana Parrilla plays her inner conflict so well that I was completely captivated by Regina’s monologue about her struggle against the darkness. She’s in such a dark place right now, and you could feel that it’s taking everything in her to keep her worst self at bay. And while I got a good laugh out of Parrilla’s offhand delivery of Regina’s understanding that she shouldn’t rip out Killian’s throat because she knows that’s wrong now, my heart broke when she said she would rather suffer herself than cause those she loves to suffer. That’s a huge step in the right direction for her, but it’s also still such a hopeless statement. I don’t want those to be the only options for her, and I don’t want her to believe those are the only options for her. Belief matters in this world, and Regina still believes that she’s never going to be truly happy because she’ll always be paying for what she did in her past.
That attitude is why I wish it would have been Killian in that room with her and not Emma. I get why it had to be Emma, but Killian is the best person to give Regina advice on coming to terms with a dark past. Both characters have walked the same path, and both had trouble believing they could be happy because of what they did at their darkest. Killian eventually faced his worst self again and overcame it when he was turned into the Dark One. I think Regina is going to have to do the same next season in order to grow into her best and strongest self.
One of my favorite things about Killian is that he understands one of the most basic concepts on this show: We are both. You can’t act like who you were and who you are now are two separate entities. You can choose to be a better version of yourself, but you also have to live with the things you did at your worst. And that’s something Regina is still struggling with. There is a part of her that sees the Evil Queen as a separate part of her identity, a part she can physically distance herself from so she doesn’t have to live with what she did and struggle with the possibility that she could go back to that dark place again.
There were so many things I loved about this finale, but the idea of separating your darkest self from your best self isn’t one of them. I felt no sense of victory in Regina seemingly destroying the Evil Queen. And I felt no emotion other than annoyance at Emma and Snow encouraging her to spilt herself in two. I understand why they might have wanted to help her do that: Emma is clearly still afraid of what the Evil Queen might do, and Snow has shown in the past that if given the chance to ensure that someone could have all the potential for evil taken out of them, she’d do whatever it takes to make it happen. But it felt like a direct contrast to the “We are both” theme so prevalent in the show’s early days. And it felt like they were taking the easy way out by using magic to solve a problem, which everyone should know never works in this world.
I know that Regina didn’t succeed in destroying the Evil Queen, and I’m sure it’s because she’s going to learn that you can’t kill a part of yourself. And that’s exactly who the Evil Queen is. She’s a part of her. Maybe she’ll destroy her once she lets go of all the anger, resentment, and bitterness that created her in the first place. Or maybe she’ll learn to accept that the Evil Queen is a part of her that she needs to live with. (Which is why one of my favorite moments in this finale was the moment when Regina corrected herself and called the Evil Queen “I” instead of “she.” One little pronoun change said so much about the potential for Regina to come to terms with who she was.) Whatever happens, I just want these characters to accept that you can’t act like your worst self and best self are independent of each other. This reminds me of everything I felt about “Operation Mongoose” and Regina wanting the Author to give her a happy ending. I knew then—like I know now—that the endpoint was going to be Regina learning a valuable lesson that matches the themes of this show, but I often found myself frustrated while getting there.
No matter what happens with this Regina/Evil Queen split, I am excited to see Parrilla sink her teeth into the darkest side of this character again. There’s something so deliciously entertaining about her work as the Evil Queen, so even though I might not love the reasoning behind the split from a character perspective, I am ready to love the acting that comes out of it.
There was already some excellent acting coming out of the idea of separating one part of the self from the other. The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde continued to haunt me long after I read it in high school, and it seems that will still be the case here, as Sam Witwer’s Hyde is definitely chilling enough to carry on the legacy of such a famous villain. (I also detected some definite chemistry between Witwer and Parrilla, but who knows if that will mean anything for the story going forward?)
All of the Jekyll and Hyde stuff was great setup for Season Six, even though I didn’t love the characters being pulled apart so soon after getting back from the Underworld. (But I did love Regina’s line about it happening again because this show is at its best when it’s self-aware about its plot devices.) Even more that the personality splitting, I’m intrigued by the idea of a Land of Untold Stories and what it will mean for the characters from that land to now be in Storybrooke. I’m hoping it means even more for Henry to do as he helps all of them tell their stories and get back to where they belong.
Some fun things happened during the trip to the Land of Untold Stories. We got to see Charming fight to protect Killian. (Everyone’s favorite bromance lives!) We got to see Zelena banter with the heroes. We got to see Snow be a badass and use a Taser to save everyone. But what mattered more to me was what was happening in New York that led to everyone coming back from that land.
I loved that Henry’s big moment of renewed belief was something he shared mainly with Emma. For as much as I love his relationship with Regina, the idea of believing in magic and getting others to believe has always been an “Operation Cobra” thing. It brought tears to my eyes when Henry talked about making a wish that his mom wouldn’t feel so alone back when they lived in New York. Even with Walsh in the picture, Henry knew his mom was missing something, and his wish led to her be reunited with the man who would become her other True Love, Killian. Henry brought Killian back to her, and Killian brought her back to the rest of her family. And it was all because of faith, belief, and the magic of a penny in a fountain.
As a woman who still throws pennies into fountains to make a wish, nothing on this show has ever touched me like the sight of all those pennies raining down and bringing magic back into the world. It was the kind of moment that harkens back to everyone clapping to save Tinker Bell’s life in Peter Pan or even the scene when singing Christmas songs makes Santa’s sleigh work again in Elf. It was a moment of shared belief allowing the impossible to become possible, blissfully devoid of cynicism.
Because magic does exist. And even though Henry might have been sad that the citizens of New York could only see what happened as a magic trick, Emma reminded him that what he was able to do was its own kind of magic: He made people believe again. There is real magic in that, and Emma knows it better than anyone. Henry was the one who helped her believe in magic; he’ll always be her Truest Believer. That progression from the little boy who was told he was crazy for believing to the Truest Believer who can make an entire crowd believe in magic again has been beautiful to see. Because Henry’s right: Magic is all around us.
There was plenty of magic in this finale’s last scenes scenes. Sometimes it was obvious—like Evil Queen crushing the Dragon’s heart. But other times it was a more intimate kind of magic—but one that is no less powerful. There was magic to be found in the first kiss between Henry and Violet and the hope it symbolized. And not too long after that kiss, another one was shared that also glowed with the hope of a happy future. When Killian kissed Emma with the kind of joyful passion reserved only for the most beautiful fairytales, it came on the heels of a hugely important moment for them: Emma’s first “I love you” said in a moment of happiness and not desperation. Those three words might not seem like much because they’ve already been said by this pair of True Loves, but when looked at in the context of Emma’s journey, they represent their own kind of powerful magic.
Belief was so important in this finale, and this was Emma’s moment to show that she’s now a believer, too. She believes that she can say “I love you” when she’s happy, and it won’t be taken away from her. She believes that she doesn’t need to protect her heart with Killian—that she can let herself be open and hopeful because the potential for good far outweighs the potential for pain. So those three words and that magical kiss represent the two of them starting the next chapter in their love story—a happy chapter after too many chapters filled with pain. The pure joy and love in that moment was palpable from both Colin O’Donoghue and Jennifer Morrison, and I can’t wait to see these two characters build on this lovely moment and finally start to live out their “happily ever after.” If anyone deserves the kind of happiness that kiss promised, it’s Emma and Killian, who’ve literally been to hell and back together this season.
Like any season finale on a serialized show, this one left us with a lot of questions: What’s going to happen with Hyde and Rumplestiltskin? How is Belle going to wake up? (Don’t even get me started on Rumplestiltskin still trying to get more power to wake her instead of giving his up to do it.) Who is the Evil Queen going to target first? How will she be defeated? How will all these new characters adjust to life in this realm? And—most importantly (at least for some of us)—will Emma and Killian finally get some alone time to enjoy being a couple (and to sleep!) before the next crisis?
Even though those questions will be stuck in my head until fall, what will really stick with me are Henry’s words and the magic he made with them. All of you have to do is be willing to see the magic around you in order to find it. And I’m so thankful that this show exists, reminding all of us that there is magic in the world for those who are brave enough to believe.