It’s taken me a while to get my thoughts in order when contemplating the Season 2 finale of Once Upon A Time. You see, I generally describe this show as “cracktastic”, but there comes a point when even I have to do a double take and become a general mess of “huh?” There were certain things about this final episode of Season 2 that were pleasing: the full circle of Emma and Regina’s magic; the redemption of our Evil Queen; Henry finally telling Regina that he loves her and meaning it. I suppose I can also get behind the Rumbelle storyline reaching a conclusion (sort of) and Hook proving that he’s not just a sexist, selfish pig of a man, as well as The Charmings finally accepting that family isn’t just made of the people you are related to, but that it’s more about the people you have a responsibility to.
But one of the biggest problems with this show is that I feel like, somewhere in Season 2, whatever was originally planned shifted. I can’t be sure, of course, and I can only speculate on the reasons why, but what made Season 1 so strong: a focus on characters, their relationships, the way they lived and existed in Storybrooke, became a move towards the dramatic, the epic, the overly heightened stories that the creators want to tell.
I’d never tell someone else how to write their story, but the culmination of a season that’s suffered from cast bloat as well as fragmented storylines with regards to the core group of characters has left me feeling a little bereft. Or, at the very least, like I’m watching an entirely different show.
That said, it’s pretty clear from the outset that Hook has become an integral part of the cast, and we follow his experiences with Bae throughout the episode. What is originally seen as an opportunity to enact revenge on The Dark One turns into a rather touching story, all told. You see, Hook is selfish – and we see him indulging in self-preservation in Storybrooke as he steals a magic bean to protect and preserve his own life when Greg and Tamara activate the diamond trigger down in the mines beneath the town. But as his backstory plays out, so does his current predicament, and I think this is an example of the show playing to its strengths. Hook is popular, so giving him more depth as a character will only serve the show well, even if it’s another example of adding characters to the main cast in an effort to glean more viewers. If I sound cynical here, it’s because I am. I’ve watched enough television to know that it’s a business first and foremost, and while I don’t necessarily resent Hook, this sudden change in his behavior and his “nobility” towards the end of the episode warrants note, mostly because I feel it’s a definitive play into the hearts and minds of those of us still watching.
We’re told that Hook’s feelings for Milah basically transfer themselves onto Bae. So when the Lost Boys from Neverland come looking for him, Hook protects the boy in order to use him to get to Rumple. But in talking to Bae and teaching him to sail the ship (remember how Neal said he’d done that before?) there’s a change in his perception and in his feelings. This show likes to focus on the relationships between parents and children, and this storyline for Hook underlines that. It’s contrasted with the current Storybrooke plot in how Regina is prepared to sacrifice everything for Henry – “the things we do for our children” – and bridges the gap between who Hook has become and the memory of what he might have been, should Bae have opted to stay with him.
What bothers me the most about this development, however, is that even though Hook tells Bae that it was Rumple who killed Milah and Bae confesses that it was Rumple who left him, the only person getting the blame is Hook. If he hadn’t taken Milah away, then Rumple never would have become The Dark One and never would have left Bae, etc etc. It’s funny how Bae seems to have become the Alternate!Henry, in that he’s created a firm set of beliefs in his own mind about what’s right and what’s wrong. He uses these to fixate on the betrayal of his mother and to use Hook as a scapegoat, even when he’s told that Milah thought about him every day and wanted to find him again.
But, as ever with this show, the underlying interpretation I can take from this is that Rumple, once again, comes out of this smelling of roses. Look, I know he’s a really popular character but seriously, can we stop giving him a pass? Where is his retribution for what he’s done? Where is the responsibility that he necessarily needs to shoulder in order to pay for his crimes? Sometimes it feels like the show is so busy shoving us towards those they deem more “guilty” that Rumple becomes a special snowflake of innocence and honestly, how the hell is that even remotely true?
Interesting, then, as the first time we see Rumple, he’s trying to kill Henry. His own grandson, I might add. HIS FAMILY. I might have been rolling my eyes a little too hard during this scene, but not so hard that I didn’t notice Granny being the MOST AWESOME BABYSITTER EVER. The woman will look after your kid, but she’ll bring her crossbow. You know, just in case. I want more Granny, please, because she’s amazeballs and badass and why the hell hasn’t the show done an episode about her yet?
Anyway, Rumple is interrupted in his murderous rope trick by Snow, Charming and Emma, who tell him what happened to Neal. It’s funny how in the same scene, Rumple goes from not wanting to hear anything about Neal to crying and saying it’s all his fault. “They didn’t kill my son. I did….magic always has a price and this is it.”
He tells The Charmings that he’s made his peace with dying because of the self-destruct diamond and doesn’t listen to their entreaties for his help. Well…that’s nothing new. One thing I’ve noticed about this show is that the men in it are inherently self-serving. I hate to imagine quite what that’s telling me about the world, to be honest. Probably nothing I didn’t already know. And let me be clear – I don’t hate men. I’m a feminist with a small “f” but sometimes, when I see the sort of male characters who are worshipped by audiences, it feels like I’m watching Grey’s Anatomy rather than Once Upon A Time. Maybe this show is becoming Once Upon A Shonda. God, that’s terrifying.
In the background, during this scene, we see Emma telling Henry about Neal. Have you noticed how Emma seems to be sitting Henry down on a convenient bench to tell him that his parents are gone, evil, disappointing or otherwise? The poor kid. All he ever hears about these days is how the adults in his life that he loves and trusts are failing him completely. Can’t help thinking that must be offering a very bleak view of grown ups. Henry probably deserves a trip to Disneyland where the sun always shines and pretty people dress up in costumes and act like they should in the fairytales, right?
Maybe next season. Or, you know, NOT.
Down in the mines, Greg has a magical GPS on his iphone. Hey – I want one of those! I bet it beats the crap out of google maps. They use a dwarf’s pickaxe to activate the diamond/trigger/whateverwe’recallingitnow and inform Hook that everyone’s going to die. Well, everyone not born in this world anyway. But here’s my problem with these two – they don’t know who’s in charge but are following orders anyway. I can see the metaphor here with…well, every cult in the world, ever, but god, it’s a hamfisted way of showing it. “You don’t know who commands you,” Hook says with a smirk. Oh, you smug bastard. Stop being so pretty; it’s distracting.
“Unlike you, Hook, we believe in something,” Tamara tells him. “We have faith in the sacredness of our cause.” You know, I understand that “sacredness” is an ACTUAL word, but it sounds kind of odd. I wish the writers would check out thesaurus.com and find a synonym that doesn’t make me want to slap Tamara silly, to be quite honest. Sacredness. Pshaw.
But, hey ho, they’re willing to die for their cause in blind faith and so the metaphor goes on. I have to wonder, is this something the writers are trying to tell the world, or us? I’m just saying. Because I was raised as a Catholic so I have zero problems understanding the sort of language they’re using here and how it permeates into society. Right and wrong, you see. Good and evil. That’s basically what this show likes to keep ramming home. But who knew that quasi-religious activists could be harmful? Oh. Wait. EVERYONE.
The trigger is activated and we’re treated to a CGI shot of the clock tower being overrun with vines as the forest that was originally where Storybrooke is starts to grow back. Do we call that reforestation? Does this mean that Greg and Tamara are nature’s terrorists? So many questions!
At Snow’s apartment, Regina dresses, zipping up her boot. I mention this because a) it has a really pleasing sound and b) Regina’s wearing boots. I take my small pleasures where I can, people. But the truly pleasing thing about this scene is the way Henry hurls himself into Regina’s arms and calls her “mom”. About bloody time, kid.
As the whole place shakes and they all realize that the diamond’s been activated, Regina tells Henry that he won’t die because he was born in this world. But he’ll be alone. Ugh. That’s basically the emotional content of the show, for me. Because all these characters have been alone at some point in their lives and I think, in essence, it’s that lack of a loving, steadfast connection to other people that has ruined them all in some way. But mostly Emma and Regina – Henry’s mothers. They, out of everyone, know how it feels to be isolated from others and I really love how the show underlines that concept in this episode.
Emma tells Regina to figure out a way to stop the diamond because “it’s your fault”. Mature, Sheriff Swan. There’s this default behavior Emma has when it comes to Regina where she’s willing to turn into a 12-year old boy and make Regina the instigator of everything bad. And yeah, Regina’s done some appalling things but you know what? Some consistency in Emma’s emotional development might help here. Thank God for Henry being the voice of reason and telling his moms to stop bickering, which sets us up nicely for that sitcom spin-off “Henry Has Two Mommies”. I want to see him roll his eyes and be all “Honestly, you two, can’t you just kiss and make up like you usually do?”
Hook turns up and Charming punches him. Oh stop it, boys. “Tell us why you’re here before I use something other than my fist,” Charming says. Oh my. Is this what passes for flirtation in Storybrooke? I’m totally buying it. Those two go off to find Greg and Tamara (and the beans – the beans!) and, I’m pretty sure, a thousand slash fics were born. What would you call that ship, by the way? Chook? Harming? Answers on a postcard, please. The plan is to use the beans to get everyone away from Storybrooke. You know, to a land that’s been ravaged by Regina’s curse and is basically empty. Charming is so blithely optimistic that I think I want to punch him now.
Before she leaves, Regina apologizes to Henry. I’m not crying; I have something in my eye. She tells him that she won’t let him be alone and that she loves him. He says it back. Damn these allergies, making my eyes stream. Honestly, I could watch an entire episode of Regina telling people she loves them; Lana sells it every single time.
What the episode DOESN’T sell, however, is the Deus Ex Machina moment in Gold’s shop. Apparently the Blue Fairy has figured out how to return Sneezy’s memories (that’s basically an entire season for the poor guy being clueless and bewildered…you know, like the rest of us). “So she found a solution to the memory problem. Today, in the nick of time before we all die,” Rumple says. Oh god, I am SO with you there. Because these sorts of “solutions” are bad writing and appear from nowhere. Rumple’s incredulity is surpassed only by my own at this point. But basically if someone drinks the potion from an object important to them, they’ll get their fairytale memories back. Sigh. Okay…let’s see where this goes, shall we? Clue: I THINK WE ALL KNOW.
Grumpy gives some of the potion to Rumple, for Belle. Uh huh. A selfless act that is given for Belle’s benefit. But you know, isn’t this just another way of Rumple getting what he wants? Without even really trying? Without having to do anything himself? I might have taken a break from watching at this point to stomp around the house and throw my hands up in the air because…come ON. This show has gone from women proving their own agency to men being given stuff just because they’re in pain. So the moral of the story is that man!pain beats female strength every single time? Boo.
Hook and Charming prove to be the most ineffective pirate and knight EVER. Greg and Tamara easily best them and run off with the beans. Yeah, I like typing that almost as much as I like saying it. But Hook has one. Hurrah! An escape route for all! Magic beans all round!
But not really. Because, down in the mines, Emma and Regina find the diamond. Regina tells Emma that slowing the device will “require all the strength I have.” Emma finally gets a clue and realizes what’s happening. This is, essentially, suicide. But Regina justifies it by accepting blame for everything that’s happened and tells Emma that she should let Henry know that it wasn’t too late for her to “do the right thing”. Oh god. You know what I love about this scene? EVERYTHING. Regina is so accepting of her fate and Emma understands that she really does love Henry. Remember back in the early part of the season when Snow and Emma had that conversation about putting children first? That’s kind of what this reminds me of; the ultimate sacrifice a parent is willing to make for their child. It’s a telling, gorgeous moment when Regina tells Emma that everyone sees her as the Evil Queen – even her own son – and asks that she be allowed to die as “Regina”.
I think a lot of us have been waiting for this moment of redemption for two seasons now, and what the show excels at is exploring who this character is. I know a lot of it is contained in Lana’s portrayal of Regina, but ultimately, this is a beautiful moment between The Evil Queen and The Savior. It’s where the show started, after all, and if they chose to focus on this relationship then I think the complexities of being “good” and being “evil” would be more fully exposed than through other characters. Self-knowledge is a wonderful, terrifying thing, but now that Regina has it, she is able to understand and accept that this is a solution. There are also some nice parallels with Emma’s character here, in that The Savior has made a life out of running away from her life. Regina is going to do precisely that here. And while it’s not the answer to dealing with her issues and problems, it represents a connection between the two that Season 1 established so well. They’re like two sides of the same coin and, if anything, that’s the sort of currency this show should be using more often.
However, it’s Emma’s character that gives me pause here. You see, in the following scenes in Granny’s diner, she’s the one willing to do the running too. Snow’s plan is to use a magic bean to send the diamond to another realm and save Storybrooke. Um….what? Snow argues that it’s a way to do the right thing and save Regina. Again, I’m struck by the fact that these acts of magnanimity are done in an effort to make SNOW feel better about HERSELF, rather than to truly indulge in generosity. But what’s at play here is the morality of the character. You see, if they send the diamond to another realm, won’t that then be destroyed by it? And wherever it goes, isn’t that…you know, genocide? So tell me, how is that anything remotely resembling “good”? Emma’s notion of survival is to remove herself from the dangerous situation. Snow’s notion of it is by making someone else, somewhere else suffer instead of her. It’s an interesting conflict between who they are and what life has taught them, especially when you consider the legacy of Snow’s relationship with Regina and the rights and wrongs of Fairy Tale Land.
I’ll just leave you pondering that while I watch Rumple give Belle the potion from Chip (no! Off to the cupboard with you now, Chip; it’s past your bedtime…) and indulge in a bit of a snogathon as she gets her memories back. Yep. Because that’s fair. And also? How can someone like Belle not feel like crap for having been a person who encouraged Rumple to beat a man to death, shove his shoe in Whale’s face, talk about killing Henry and living forever? Not to mention that now she remembers exactly who he is and what he’s done. It’s just…blah. Loving someone is about accepting who they are, at heart, and Belle’s ability to disregard exactly who Rumple really is bothers me beyond the telling of it. “I’m so sorry…I’m sorry I didn’t want to wake you up to die, but I needed you.” Yeah. Just going to leave that there. Man!pain, ladies. It’s the future.
The Charmings and Henry go down to the mines to save Regina. Hurrah! Family! Committing genocide so they can all be together! I’m with Regina when she looks at them like they’re all completely bonkers, to be honest. But the magic bean (that word never gets old, seriously) that Emma took from Hook isn’t there. Because he’s a pirate, Emma! He’s merrily sailing off in his ship with a yo-ho-ho while you lot are stuck down in the mine watching Regina literally die in front of you. What’s the plural for “doofus”?
Back in Storybrooke, it’s like Day of the Triffids as townspeople run from the encroaching forest. I do like a bit of mayhem, especially if it involves creeping vines and unruly branches. I mean, quite how Charming was going to open a portal and get all these people through it is beyond me, as those portals don’t stay open forever, do they? He’s such a dinkus sometimes, I have to wonder if Snow keeps him around because he’s pretty and has nice arms.
“I can’t contain this much longer,” Regina tells The Charmings. Oh dear. With impending destruction quite literally on top of them, Emma calls Snow and Charming “mom” and “dad”. Yes, I KNOW this is her “moment” but I’m more concerned about the way the three of them squish Henry than the emotional context. It feels a little off, for me, and I wish that Emma had come to this conclusion before now because in the external drama, it’s almost lost.
Regina watches them all cling together and there’s a lovely underscoring of that notion of being “alone” again. Emma has previously told Hook that he can either “be a part of something, or you can do what you do best, be alone”. I like the threads of this idea that are drawn together in this episode, particularly as loneliness is the motivation for making these adults who they are. And yeah, I don’t mind admitting to letting out a pterodactyl cry of joyous pain as Henry runs to Regina because the look on her face is…oh god, GLORIOUSLY HURTY.
“I know you wish I was strong enough to stop all this. I’m just not.” More pterodactyl noises that I’m fairly certain are now waking the neighbors. And this is what happens when you watch episodes of this show at 5.30am. Time zones are a bitch. But yes, this is what the show does best. Well, it’s what Lana does best, too. You see, Regina is all full up now with Henry’s love and with her acceptance and I kind of want to roll around in this moment and smear it all over myself because it’s just THAT good. For all that’s wrong with the show, I’m going to keep watching it because these little scenes are what keep me interested. See? My 12-step Once program is really kicking in. God give me the grace to accept the things I cannot change and to flail insanely over Regina’s FACE. Or something.
“You may not be strong enough. But maybe we are.” Emma suddenly remembers she has magic. About time, Savior. Cutting it a bit fine, aren’t we? But this is a lovely parallel with the first episode of the season, only now when Emma and Regina do magic together (I feel like I should be typing “magic” because I used to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I know what it means, okay?) it’s purposeful and with intent. And intent, as we know, is EVERYTHING.
I can’t help feeling like this scene is a bit of a ploy to keep the Swan Queen shippers happy. The cynical part of me (that’s the part that didn’t truly appear until a few days after the episode aired when I’d finally stopped dancing around and giggling over the fact that they made MAGIC together) wonders if, by making the most of the chemistry between JMo and Lana, the showrunners are deliberately reeling in a part of the audience who have quite vocally aired their views on these two characters. Plus, considering they’ve been kept apart for much of the season, to see them in a scene like this together reminds me of all that goodness we saw in Season 1. And you know what? If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it. If this is what works, then do more of it, show.
The other thing that occurred to me is all the background to magic that we’ve been told outright so far. Magic is power. Magic is freedom. True love is the most powerful magic of all. Emma’s made from true love and she has magic that can repel Cora, create protection spells, guide her towards what’s “right”. This is what the show has told us, okay?
So here we are with an unstoppable magical device and Regina’s magic alone simply isn’t enough to save everyone. However, once Emma joins her magic with Regina’s, all that we’ve been told about the device is moot. Their combined powers are enough to deactivate the diamond. Now, I’m pretty sure I’m not overthinking this but given what the show has told me about magic and ultimate power, is it so wrong to make some logical conclusions about Emma and Regina? Following the show’s guidelines, I might even suspect that the inference of this scene runs far deeper than Emma merely being the font of all power or something like that. Am I right? Am I reaching? And if we take these ideas as fact, then doesn’t it seem coincidental that the writers are giving us this little moment between the two of them that suggests so much more?
Whatever the explanation, there’s no doubting the fact that together Emma and Regina are stronger than ANYTHING. I’m going to take this as a positive sign that perhaps now they can start to co-parent Henry in the ways they SHOULD and CAN. If nothing else, it’s about time they reached some sort of détente. And if that involves kissing, then hurrah, right? Just putting that out there.
Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing and now all I wonder when I watch this scene is just how long JMo and Lana had to stand there wobbling their hands and looking strained with absolutely nothing between them except the promise of some CGI in post-production. The magic of television could give Emma and Regina’s uber-power a run for its money, that’s for sure.
There’s a lovely little gesture after Emma and Regina deactivate the diamond where Charming reaches out for Regina. I want to believe that this engenders some sort of hope that his bullheaded dismissal of her is over. It really needs to be. Point proven, and all that. But I’d like to see this bunch as allies now, rather than enemies. Difficult allies, sure, but working together nonetheless.
Also? How crap are Snow and Charming as grandparents? They had ONE job. One: to keep Henry safe. But he’s missing now and clearly the deactivation of the diamond means that Snow and Charming lost the use of their limbs, eyes and brains. Or maybe they were too busy hugging one another to notice that Henry’s been kidnapped. I mean, they do that a LOT, right?
Greg and Tamara take Henry down to the docks where they throw a bean into the water and open up a portal. “We came here to destroy magic, Henry,” Greg tells him. “But we found something more important; something that changed everything: you.” Hm. Now this plays into the Seer’s prediction to Rumple about Henry being vital to the overall story of his life. But it seems that Henry’s existence is now vital to everything, everywhere. Which, you know, is okay really as he’s been the focal point of Emma and Regina’s progress in the show. But it feels rushed, like this was decided as a “cool” development in the latter part of the season and, without having had this clearly explained or pointed at, it’s up to us as the audience to make our own supposition. While I think that television doesn’t necessarily need to spell things out for me (no pun intended), I do believe in the notion of “show” rather than “tell”. I’m being told far too much here without having had the benefit of seeing it play out in previous episodes, so the links I’m making are, I think, more to do with me than they are the writing of the show itself.
The Charmings and Regina chase Greg and Tamara down only to see them leap into the portal with Henry. “The last bean,” Regina says. “They’ve opened a portal.” Yes, thank you, Exposition Sally. For those of us not keeping up, or those of us who wandered off to make a cup of tea after you and Emma made MAGIC together, this brings me up to speed. Appreciated.
Just as they’re all standing around on the docks, Gold turns up with Belle. Well…clearly it’s Bad Penny Sunday on Once this week. He tells them that there’s no way to cross between worlds so finding Henry will be impossible.
Except…not. Hook comes back with the REAL last magic bean and tells them that they can and will create a portal to find Henry. Oh, joy; everyone’s doing the right thing and being all noble and amazing. If they’re a guy, right? I mean, even Rumple does a complete 180 and says that he has to go with them and that he can help. Um…didn’t he just say that he COULDN’T? Show, get your act together and stop throwing things at me that make no sense whatsoever, okay?
Rumple gives Belle a cloaking spell to hide Storybrooke from the religious zealots – sorry, any INTRUDERS that might still be looking for it. He tells Belle that he needs to go with the others in order to “honor” Baelfire. Ha. Okay. I mean, this is just an opportunity to have him kiss Belle in a tearful goodbye and for her to blab on about destiny or whatever. It’s meant to be a touching moment, but I’m still so mad at him for being a selfish ass that this might be an opportune moment to make another cup of tea.
Using the pricky-finger-globe-thing, Rumple discovers that Greg and Tamara have taken Henry to Neverland. Oh dear. No wonder Hook looks all disconcerted. Because you can’t come back from Neverland, right? Just like you can’t cross worlds and create portals and….oh. Right. Forget that, then.
And here’s where the show sets us up for Season 3. In Neverland, the Lost Boys have Bae but he’s not the boy Peter Pan is looking for. They have a picture of the boy he wants to find and it’s…yeah, Henry. Nice drawing, by the way. And back on board The Jolly Roger (snerk) Rumple tells the others that Peter Pan is someone to be afraid of. Well, I suppose it must take ultimate evil to pull off those green tights and that spiffy little hat, right? I know I’m scared already.
On the shores of a distant beach, Philip, Aurora and Mulan (except it’s not Jamie Chung because Mulan has her face covered and we all know she wasn’t there for filming) find a body washed up. It’s Neal. Insert various sounds of dismay here. Luckily, he’s unconscious so he’s not waving his hands around although he HAS brought his dreadful scarf with him. Michael Raymond-James was recently promoted to regular cast member so I can only assume that this means Season 3 will feature Neal more prominently. Son of Rumple appears to be a hit. Quite with whom, I don’t know as most of the opinions I’ve seen in fandom don’t think much of Neal.
And here’s where I’m seeing that shift of focus in the show. You see, this season also saw the departure of Meghan Ory as Ruby/Red and she’s got a gig now on another show, Intelligence. A recent interview with her told us that she was disappointed in the fact that the writers simply weren’t giving Ruby any scenes – and remember, this is after she was made a series regular early on in Season 2. In addition to this, how many female characters have appeared only to die in the same episode that sees their debut? To my mind, there’s a willingness to introduce male characters and keep them around, while the female characters are used as plot points and easily discarded. What I liked so much about Season 1 is that there were interesting, strong women whose lives we became invested in and who drove the story forwards. Now, it seems, we’re back to that tried and tested television cliché where the men glean more attention than the women and, ultimately, remove the female sense of agency or make the women dependent on them to have any plot at all. This isn’t the show I started watching, and although I thought this final episode wasn’t dreadful (come on, we’ve all seen worse this season *coughTallahasseecough*), I have to express some concern about where it’s going.
To Neverland, obviously. Fingers crossed that we discover I’m Tinkerbell in the meantime. I’m going to sit right here and wait for my wings to grow. To quote J.M. Barrie: “So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!”
You may now scoff and roll your eyes. See you next season.