Title The Final Battle: Part 1/The Final Battle: Part 2
Two-Sentence Summary After the Black Fairy casts her curse, Henry has to try to get Emma to believe the truth about herself and her family, who are trapped in an Enchanted Forest that is rapidly disappearing along with her belief. Meanwhile, flash-forwards reveal the next generation’s Truest Believer and her skeptical parent.
Favorite Line “Now we get to do what’s next. Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a powerful thing, but living with that kind of belief—that’s the most powerful thing of all. That’s hope. So you ask ‘What now?’ Now, we get to keep going on. We get to keep doing what we love with people we love. An ending isn’t happiness. Being together is.” (Snow White)
“Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing.”
Once Upon a Time has always been a show for believers and for those who want once again to believe. It’s a show that reminds its viewers that there is power in believing—in magic, in your loved ones, and in yourself. Belief—and the hope that comes from living out that belief even when others try to tell you that you’re crazy for it—is a saving grace in a world that all too often has forgotten that being hopeful isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength.
This chapter of Once Upon a Time was the story of a woman’s journey to believe in the face of incredible obstacles, and it was also the story of the boy who helped her find that belief. This chapter taught its viewers many lessons, but one of its most lasting messages , which was reflected in an important way in this finale, was that it’s okay to need help sometimes; you don’t have to do everything on your own—including believing in yourself.
The power of belief was at the center of “The Final Battle,” to the point where the titular battle wasn’t really referring to the swordfight that occurred near the end of the episode but was actually the battle for Emma’s belief, which began—as Rumplestiltskin predicted it would—when Henry brought Emma to Storybrooke on her 28th birthday with the goal of getting her to believe in her true self.
In the world of Once Upon a Time, belief is so powerful that a lack of it can literally destroy worlds. I thought it was such a fascinating twist to have the “realms of story” begin collapsing as Emma’s belief faded. Although when taken literally, it was a little disturbing to consider the lives lost if only that small circle of characters survived Emma’s crisis of faith (but maybe when Emma believed again everything that seemed lost went back to the way it had been), it served as a powerful symbol of what belief means to these characters. A lack of belief—cynicism, apathy, pessimism—can act as a dark, destructive cloud, wiping away not only magic but also love, family, and a sense of home. Those things can’t exist for us unless we allow ourselves to believe we can have them, so for those to be the things threatened by Emma’s lack of belief made perfect sense given this show’s ethos.
What was so interesting about the interplay between the Enchanted Forest and Storybrooke scenes in this episode was the way they balanced each other out—when Emma’s belief was at its lowest, her loved ones still believed they could help her. Whether it was Zelena, Regina, and the Evil Queen working together or Charming and Killian teaming up for another adventure, these characters chose to believe in themselves and in each other in their quest to get back to Emma and Henry.
Out of all the Enchanted Forest storylines in this episode, Charming and Killian’s beanstalk adventure was my favorite because of what it reminded us about these two men. They’ve come so far from the days when Charming saw Killian as nothing but a pirate to the moment when he called him his “son…in law.” But even from the start, these two characters have always been motivated by the same thing: love. They hate feeling helpless when they know their loved ones need them, so it seemed fitting that Charming would be the one to notice that Killian had struck out on his own to get back to his wife. (I smiled every time he called Emma that. THEY GOT MARRIED!)
It also seemed fitting that Killian delivered his heartbreakingly beautiful monologue about his relationship with Emma to Charming. Not only are Killian and Charming alike in their devotion to the women they love, Colin O’Donoghue and Josh Dallas are alike in the sincerity of their line readings, which has always made them such great scene partners.
Killian’s speech was one of the highlights of a great finale because, again, it was all about the importance of belief. He reminded Charming and the audience that he and Emma both had to believe in and work for their happy ending. Emma helped him believe he could change for the better, and he helped her believe the same about herself. They gave each other hope—the hope that their past didn’t have to define them, the hope they could be loved, and finally, the hope that they could be happy. They never had the assurance that their love would be strong enough to survive everything their journey threw at them, but they believed in it anyway. They believed their love was worth fighting for—even if they had no idea how their story would end. Killian and Emma’s vows were incredibly romantic, but I think this speech, delivered with O’Donoghue’s trademark sincerity, might have been an even better summation of why this love means so much—not just to Killian and Emma as characters but to those of us who watched it unfold as well:
Things changed. We changed. We made each other better. Emma and I were never a predestined love story guaranteed a happy ending. We fought for our love, and we won.
And that has been the most special thing about this love story—it’s not a traditional fairytale; it’s a story of two people who struggled to believe they could ever be happy and open their hearts again making the choice to believe in each other and in the strength of their partnership and love. They fought for their love when they might have lost hope in the past, and Killian continued to fight for that love by going back to the place where it all began—the beanstalk.
The beanstalk was initially a test of Emma’s faith, and it revealed that she had a long way to go before she would be able to believe in Killian. Now, though, it was a test of Killian’s faith, and it was one he intended to pass. He believed his wife was worth risking life and limb for, which was a stark change from his motives the last time he climbed that beanstalk—back then, his goal was getting back to Storybrooke to get his revenge, while now it was getting back to Storybrooke to save his True Love, his wife. And Charming could see the strength of Killian’s belief, which inspired his own belief in his son-in-law’s quest.
I was a little disappointed that their adventure turned out to mean very little to the actual plot of the episode, but it gave us two lovely romantic moments—Killian’s aforementioned speech and Charming and Snow’s True Love’s Kiss. I know they already did this exact role reversal in Season Two, but they could give each other True Love’s Kiss a thousand times, and I would never get tired of it. And thanks to the flashbacks to their first True Love’s Kiss in the pilot, we were reminded that Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin’s chemistry has been magical from their first moments onscreen together and has only gotten more magical with time. If this beautiful kiss was our way of saying goodbye to this love story, I can’t find it in me to complain about the logistics of it. (True Love’s Kiss can save people after falling from great heights now? Cool.)
In the end, the Enchanted Forest stuff was fun, but the heart of this episode resided in Storybrooke with Emma and Henry. For as important as Snow, Charming, Regina, and Killian have become to Emma, Henry had to be the one to encourage Emma’s belief in this finale (and not just because of how it ended). This story began because a little boy believed in magic and in his mom and his mom loved him enough to break a curse, so it felt right for this story to end with that same little boy—now a young man—and the love between him and his mother.
The first half of this finale was difficult to watch because of how well both Jennifer Morrison and Jared Gilmore played their characters’ struggles. Morrison made Emma seem so defeated and beaten down by memories of people telling her she was crazy for believing in Henry’s stories of magic. This lack of faith was different than what we saw from her in Season One; back then, Emma was hardened by life but still had a spark left in her that allowed her to believe, but now, that spark was gone. Even when she had brief flashes of memories of her wedding and when it seemed the image of Killian in the book might trigger a realization, the voices of the world telling Emma her belief was ridiculous and even dangerous were too strong. And Gilmore met that sense of defeat with his own desperation that felt very different from the young boy who once seemed so sure he could get his mother to believe. Now, his efforts were filled with a fighting spirit he inherited from his mother. Her defeated attitude only made him even more steadfast in his belief, which made for a more mature dynamic between them befitting the six seasons that had passed since Henry showed up on her doorstep.
Despite Henry’s best efforts, though, the Black Fairy’s curse seemed too strong. When Emma burned the storybook, I was devastated. That book represented hope, but it also represented her true identity—her story. Burning it was like watching Emma burn a part of herself—the part that was strong, happy, and able to believe she could be loved. However, that’s what made Henry’s surprise storybook so beautiful. Emma left because she thought it was the sacrifice Henry deserved, very much echoing her choice to give him up as a baby. But Henry wasn’t about to let her go without a fight. If he couldn’t show up on her doorstep again, he would do the next best thing—bring her story to her. By writing Emma’s story again even after the book was destroyed, Henry showed that he still believed in her—even when things seemed to be at their worst. He was never going to give up on her, even though it seemed as if she’d given up on herself.
Ultimately, Henry’s belief once again helped Emma find her own. I loved everything about Emma’s return to Storybrooke—from the way her outfit echoed her Season One wardrobe and hair to the fact that she did need a little push to help her believe again. There’s nothing wrong with drawing strength from other people’s belief in you; there’s nothing shameful about needing a reminder of your best self from those you love when you feel like that self is gone. That’s what love is all about—believing in someone even when they find it hard to believe in themselves. True strength comes from being open to that belief and using it to find your best self again instead of trying to stand alone all the time.
Emma’s return wasn’t perfect; she didn’t triumphantly say she remembered, but she did believe that she could be the woman Henry wrote about—even if she still had no proof that she really was that woman. And that’s important. Because showing up is more than half the battle; it takes more courage to believe than to remember. Emma’s journey has been about believing in the face of a lifetime of circumstances that would make anyone a doubter, and this was the ultimate moment of belief. She believed she could be the woman Henry wrote about—a hero who loves and is loved and found happiness—and that belief was enough to save all the realms of story.
What was so important about Emma’s statement of belief was that it was a distinct choice she made to believe in herself as the Savior. For so long, all I’ve wanted for Emma was for her to choose that path instead of feeling like she had to live out a destiny she had no say in. And this was her making that choice. She told Henry that she wanted to be the woman he wrote about—the Savior. And that was a sentence I’d waited six seasons to hear her say. This was Emma punching back one last time and defining herself on her own terms, and this time, she chose to define herself as all the things Henry said she was—a mother, a daughter, a wife, and a Savior. She was no longer someone who had a destiny thrust upon her; she was a woman who chose her own path because she believed in her ability to be a hero.
Emma’s choice to believe may have saved the realms of story, but her loved ones still needed a way to get back to her—and she still needed to remember the truth. That came from another character making a choice rooted in love and in belief—Rumplestiltskin. By choosing to kill his mother, he put love first and he allowed himself to believe that he didn’t need the power she was promising in order to have a good life with his family. That choice broke the curse, proving that Rumplestiltskin was truly the Savior destined to destroy the greatest darkness.
But Emma wasn’t out of the woods yet. The Black Fairy’s final command was for Gideon to kill Emma, which led to the literal Final Battle—a swordfight between two people whose parents gave them away to allow them to have their best chance but who actually grew up in worlds that broke them and left them alone and lost. Gideon and Emma’s similarities run deep, which was what made their battle so painful. Gideon didn’t want to kill Emma—he was an innocent whose agency was taken from him. And that was why Emma couldn’t kill him, why she ended up sacrificing herself instead. (Don’t get me started, though, on my confusion over why everyone just had to stand back and watch and why no one even tried to restrain Gideon or help Emma.) Emma Swan’s empathy has always been her secret weapon; she has always used the life experiences that could have turned her into a villain to instead fuel her desire to help others.
When Emma threw down her sword and prepared to sacrifice herself, it was the culmination of her entire story. She went from being a woman who didn’t believe in this identity as the Savior and then came to fear all that came with it—the responsibility, the tragic fate—to a woman who fully embraced her identity and her fate without running away in fear.
Emma was completely selfless in that moment, and that selflessness was met by a surprisingly selfless act from Rumplestiltskin. When faced with the ultimate choice between love and power—between having to work hard for something real and taking the easy way out—Rumplestiltskin chose love. He chose family. He chose to do the hard thing, to believe that his love for his family is more important than his power and that he can finally be the man they deserve. Watching him stare down the devil on his shoulder in the form of his worst Dark One self was chilling; Robert Carlyle was brilliant in that scene, and he made me believe in this character for the first time in a very long time.
Both Emma and Rumplestiltskin did the right thing, but initially it seemed not to matter. But that’s actually when doing the right thing matters most—when there’s no guarantee that it’ll lead to something good for you. However, just when things seemed at their bleakest, Henry reminded us all what really matters: True Love. He kissed his mom not to try to break a curse but just because he loved her, much like Emma did with him back in Season One. And just like it did then, that kiss—True Love’s Kiss—worked. Yes, Emma could have been kissed back to life by her husband or even her parents, but I loved the symmetry of it being her son, her first True Love, who brought everything full circle.
As Emma found herself surrounded by her family, it felt like the perfect way to close this chapter—with the woman who wished not to be alone enveloped in hugs from her friends, her son, her parents, and her husband. As Snow said in her perfect monologue delivered with such hopeful beauty by Goodwin, this isn’t the end of the story; they get to keep going on. True Love’s Kisses, weddings, and victories over villains may be happy endings in fairytales, but in life, they’re happy beginnings. They’re gateways to new adventures, and it was nice to see the writers acknowledge the original driving force behind the show—to explain what happened after “Happily Ever After”—as they closed this chapter of it
The final montage of this finale was some of the most beautiful work ever done on this show. Without any words—with only Mark Isham’s gorgeous score backing the vignettes—we were reminded of the lessons that each character has taught us over the years. In Snow and Charming’s farmhouse future, we were shown that happiness is found not in the big moments in life but in the little moments of peace and normalcy spent with your family. Regina and Emma dropping Henry off at school together reminded us that their journey has been about happiness being found when you put aside your differences and find common ground. The dwarves bowing to Regina—Queen of Storybrooke—showed us that forgiveness can be found and we can all find a place where we belong. (Not to mention the fact that even the Evil Queen found happiness with an engagement to Robin Hood.) And I was surprised to find that the most emotional I got during that montage was during Belle and Rumplestiltskin’s dance. Maybe it’s just the fact that the opening notes of “Beauty and the Beast” make me cry all the time, but I think it had more to do with the idea that no matter what we’ve done in the past or how unworthy we may feel of a happy ending—we can still get one. Rumplestitskin and Belle got a second chance to raise their son, proving that sometimes you can get second chances in life.
Did Rumplestiltskin deserve this chance? Probably not. But that’s not what this show is about. It’s about hope. And someone out there watching probably related to Rumplestiltskin’s story of bad choices, addiction, and fear and felt like his happy ending gave them hope for their own. Because Once Upon a Time is in the business of spreading hope, not serving up karma.
And what about Emma Swan? She rode off into the sunset with her new deputy who also happens to be her new husband. Two former thieves—pirates in their own way—finding a life in fairytale law enforcement, putting down real roots in the town they call home. Her happy beginning is rooted in the things she was afraid to even admit she wanted when we first met her—a home, a love that doesn’t leave, and a family by her side. She now has all of those things, and her sense of contentment in those final shots will warm my heart forever. Morrison did such a beautiful job of showing Emma’s happiness radiating off of her, leaving us with do doubt that this character has finally allowed herself to believe in her own ability to be happy.
The final tableaux of this part of the story—with all the characters we’ve come to know and love sharing a meal together at Granny’s—reinforced the idea that this show has always been, first and foremost, about family. This is Henry’s crazy extended family, the family Emma wished for on that blue star candle, the family Regina never believed she’d be a part of, the family Snow and Charming feared they’d always lose, the family Rumplestiltskin was never brave enough to fight for, and the family Killian feared he’d never be worthy of. They’re all imperfect, but they’re all bound together by love, forgiveness, friendship, and a belief that they’re stronger together.
I couldn’t have imagined a happier ending.
However, this isn’t a show about happy endings—it’s about what comes after them. And the story of what came after this moment is what will fuel the show going forward. For now, all we know is that Henry grew up to have a daughter but has somehow forgotten both her and his family. Now it’s his turn to rediscover his belief and save his family with the help of his child.
I’ll admit that the fun parallels between the pilot and the end of this episode made me much more eager to check out Season Seven than I was expecting to be. I most likely won’t write about it weekly, but consider my interest piqued. If nothing else, this episode reminded me that Once Upon a Time knows what kind of show it is and won’t do anything to take away hope from its viewers. That’s enough for me to believe in the story they want to continue telling.
And belief is everything.
I’m planning to write more about the conclusion of this chapter of the show and my relationship to it in the future, along with a revised letter to Emma for The Fan Mail Project, so stay tuned for even more feelings in the coming weeks!