I have been a big fan of the Once Upon a Time (“OUAT”) series. I have loved most of its re-imaginations of classic characters, the crossover between the fairy tale universe and reality, and the brilliant storytelling. However, the show has lost some of its magic for me in Season 4. In the first half, the Frozen storylines feel forced on to OUAT. On the other hand, I actually like the ideas for the second half of the season. First, I agree with the blurring of good and evil. It is consistent with the concept of the show which is to provide a realistic interpretation of classic fairy tales. A quote from Mary Margaret during a conversation she has with Regina in the first half of the season best sums up this idea: ““You are not all evil and I am not all good. Things are not that simple. Your story’s gone poorly because you’ve made bad choices but now you’re making good ones. It may not happen as quickly as you want. But if you stay the course, your happiness will come”. OUAT has done an excellent job with the character development of Regina and Rumpelstiltskin (Rumpel). Their unique journeys as villains trying to reform and seek redemption has been intriguing. While Regina has made an honest and long effort in her attempt to transform into a hero, Rumpel has reverted back to his old villainous self. Despite the divergence in their paths, both characters are very much trying to find their happy endings. The main focus in the second half of the season is on the villains trying to find their happy endings. In the standard fairy tale formula, the heroes always win and we only think about their happy endings. As a result, it is an interesting perspective to concentrate on the villains and their happy endings. For this purpose, the show also introduces the Queens of Darkness at the end of the first half of the season: Ursula (Merrin Dungey), Cruella De Vil (Vitoria Smurfit), and Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten). In addition to portraying a lot of the redeeming qualities of the villains, the show also delves into the dark side of the heroes. They are not infallible. For this purpose, the plot of the second past includes exploring the sins of Snow White and Prince Charming/Mary Margaret and David. It also experiments with the idea of their daughter, Emma, turning dark. As we know, she has been the savior since the beginning of the series. As a result, a potential Dark Emma is an interesting twist.
While I love the ideas for the second half of the season, I have mixed feelings about the execution. Specifically, I have thought the show’s unique interpretations of fairy tale characters have been brilliant. However, I am not blown away by the portrayal of Ursula, Cruella De Vil, or Maleficent. They are decent characters but not amazing. On the other hand, their stories are used pretty well in developing the themes of the second half. In terms of the heroes, I appreciate the attempt to make their purest characters dark to show that a few decisions or breaks could turn an individual to good or evil. Unfortunately, I am left unconvinced by the portrayals of the dark sides of the heroes. The twist had a chance to be great. However, it is a Disney show so it is constrained by the need to stay relatively G-rated. For this reason, I do not believe the show could really ever fully develop this idea. Despite my mixed feelings, the second half of the season does have some good high points and an exhilarating, redeeming season finale.
At the end of the first half, Rumpel’s scheme to use the Sorcerer’s Hat [to cleave his dependency on the dagger and extend his power to the real world to conquer it] completely fails. Moreover, Belle discovers his deception and banishes him to the real world where there will be no magic and he will have no power. Of course, Rumpel is one of the best characters in the series and no fan really believes that he would be out of Storybrooke for long. However, I believed that the show was going to milk the plotline of him being in the real world and trying to find his way back into Storybrooke for a little bit. I would have found it interesting to watch him slowly but surely struggle to make a triumphant return to Storybrooke over the course of a few episodes. Unfortunately, he returns in the first episode of the second half. As a result, the thought of him being stuck in the real world never sinks in because it seems like he never left for the viewer. Nevertheless, the way Rumpel weasels himself back into town is very clever. Although his powers are obviously important, he only needs his mind for deception. As we know from the end of the first half, the fairies are still trapped in the Sorcerer’s Hat due to Rumpel’s scheme. As a result, Belle is in contact with a professor who guides her in freeing the fairies. Unbeknownst to her, the anonymous professor is actually Rumpel. Although the fairies are freed, the menacing Chernabog is also released with them and causes chaos in the town.
Rumpel also recruits the Queens of Darkness for his scheme. At the end of the first half, we are introduced to the Queens who are Ursula, Cruella, and Maleficent. They draw the ire of Rumpel when they kidnap Belle to blackmail him. During the first episode of the second half, we also learn that Rumpel had tricked the Queens into helping him steal a curse within a magical orb which was protected by Chernabog. The creature attacks the person with the greatest potential for darkness. As a result, he used them as bait to draw it out. Obviously, there are trust issues between the Queens and Rumpel. Nevertheless, desperation results in unlikely partnerships out of necessity. As we know from season 1, Maleficent was slayed by Emma. He finds Ursula and Cruella, who were previously banished to the real world. He informs them of the existence of Storybrooke where there is magic. More importantly, he sells them on his greater plot. Before his expulsion from Storybrooke, Regina tells him about her plan to find the Author of Henry’s story book so he can write her a happy ending. Accordingly, Rumpel adopts her plan so the Author can rewrite history to give happy endings to all the villains. Of course, Ursula and Cruella are interested despite their rocky past with Rumpel. He utilizes Ursula and Cruella as Trojan horses. As the heroes try to figure out a way to stop a loose Chernabog, the two Queens give Regina a call. In exchange for information about Chernabog, they ask for an opportunity to enter Storybrooke so they can seek redemption. Although Regina justifiably distrusts them, she ultimately accepts the offer. Ursula and Cruella inform them that the Chernabog is pursuing Regina because of the darkness in her heart. With this knowledge, Emma and Regina draw the creature near the town’s lines where it flies past the border and turns to dust since there is no magic outside of the town. Accordingly, Regina throws the Snow Queen’s scroll past the town lines so Ursula and Cruella can enter. Afterwards, the two Queens return to the border and throw the scroll out again so Rumpel can enter. Moreover, Rumpel tells his accomplices that the Chernabog was not actually chasing after Regina. Surprisingly, it is Emma who contains the most potential for darkness. This moment is important foreshadowing.
Naturally, there are justifiable reservations about allowing Ursula and Cruella to enter the town. They are villains who should not be trusted. Before Regina and Emma go to fulfill their end of the bargain, Mary Margaret and David attempt to intervene and adamantly argue against allowing the two women in. In response, Emma is shocked because her mother has always seen the best in people. Nevertheless, Regina makes the best case for the two villains. In her past as the Evil Queen, she was even worse than Ursula and Cruella. If she deserves a second chance, they deserve the same opportunity too. It is a compelling question that weighs trying to do the morale thing in giving others a second chance to atone for their mistakes and being optimistic in seeing the good in people against being practical and intelligent by keeping out potential threats. In reality, Mary Margaret and David have a dark secret that they tried to bury and Ursula and Cruella know about it. Before the birth of Emma, Snow White and Prince Charming discover a horrifying prospect: their daughter has the potential to be the darkest villain the world has ever seen. However, it is not a certainty since she has the capacity to be good or evil. Nevertheless, the possibility of such a fate for their progeny would terrify any parent. For this reason, they consult the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. He informs them they can ensure that Emma will be good if they transfer her capacity for darkness into another vessel. For this purpose, Snow White and Prince Charming perform an unforgivable sin of stealing and condemning Maleficent’s unborn egg. They rationalize that Maleficent’s child will be a monster anyway. After the transfer is complete, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice also takes the additional step in banishing the unborn child to the real world. At the same time, Ursula and Cruella were aiding Maleficent and tried to recover the egg. As a result, they were also sucked through the portal and sent to the real world with the egg. In the present, the Queens and Rumpel utilize their desperation [to keep that secret hidden] to manipulate them into resurrecting Maleficent.
I have mixed feelings about this twist in the past of Snow White and Prince Charming. I love the concept because it is very compelling. When it is noted that Emma had the potential to be either good or evil, I scoffed at the thought because that statement describes every person. As true heroes, Snow White and Prince Charming surely must have faith in their ability to guide their child to the path of good. However, it is understandable that they are scared as first time parents and be desperate to guarantee that their child has a bright future. Nevertheless, condemning another individual’s child to do so is unforgivable. Assuming that Maleficent’s child will be a monster is not fair. With the same logic, their child would definitely be good so they would not need to do anything. Instead of both children having an equal opportunity to be good or evil based on their own actions, they manipulate fate so that their child would surely be good and another child would definitely be evil. Nevertheless, there are very critical points that are made with this twist. The most important relates to free choice and decisions. The show does an excellent job in highlighting decisions that made characters heroes or villains instead of having characters as black and white heroes and villains. While it has done a great job in showing the redeeming qualities in villains throughout the series, it finally shows how heroes can and have done terrible things. Even the purest of heroes, Snow White and Prince Charming, can make terrible decisions and do evil deeds out of fear. However, every person makes mistakes. One moment does not define him unless he allows it to. If a person responds in a positive and right way, he can still have his happy ending and be a hero. On the other hand, succumbing to darkness and continually making terrible decisions makes someone a villain. Since that awful choice Snow White and Prince Charming made, they have dedicated their lives in being good and heroes so they can redeem themselves.
While I like the ideas and themes behind that twist, I did not like the execution. I never felt the anger and contempt I should have at Snow White and Prince Charming for committing such an appalling act. Of course, the couple have been the show’s ultimate symbols of true love and good. As a result, the viewer wants to search for an explanation that excuses the poor discretion. The fact that Maleficent is a villain and her unborn child is a dragon egg provides a feasible justification for the action. Moreover, Emma ultimately becomes the savior and has done countless amounts of good. The results appears to justify the means. Furthermore, the show fails to clearly demonstrate how the action ruined Maleficent’s child’s life. The identity of the child is hidden for a bit but reveals herself to be Lily Page. She was introduced last season and Emma’s only friend during her childhood as an orphan. As a refresh on the events from last season, Emma ran away as an orphan because she did not get adopted. She runs into Lily and they become close friends and bond over being orphans. However, Lily’s adoptive father finds her. Since she lied, Emma cannot forgive her and ends the friendship. I enjoy the twist that the two women’s fates have intertwined. I also appreciate that the seeds for it are planted within last season.
In the current season, there is another flashback to their past. When it appears Emma is finally adopted by a loving family, Lily reenters her life. After their first encounter, Lily gets kicked out of her adoptive family. She continues to find trouble and asks Emma for help. In Emma’s attempt to aid Lily, she gets pulled into her issues. After Lily steals the vacation money from Emma’s adoptive family, Emma knows she lost her chance at a family as they will never trust or love her. Accordingly, Emma is heartbroken and also ends her friendship with Lily for good. When we encounter Lily in the present, she still constantly has things go wrong for her in life. However, I question whether a lot of her misfortune is due to her own decisions. Emma and she have traveled similar paths. At a point, Lily was better off than Emma when a family adopted her. Her own actions ruined it. Furthermore, she also destroyed Emma’s opportunity. Lily continued to have a negative view on life and made poor decisions so she does not have the life she wants. It is not like she became a monster like Rumpel. For these reasons, I just cannot link a specific tangible tragedy affecting Lily’s life that can be directly linked to Snow White and Prince Charming’s decision. In my opinion, her story could have been much darker. However, Disney needs to keep their stories relatively tame. Again, I really the idea of showing the dark side of Snow White and Prince Charming and demonstrating how heroes also have the capacity to be villains if they made different decisions. Unfortunately, I do not think the execution works. It had the potential to be a very powerful story. I felt the pain of Snow White succumbing to darkness when she killed Regina’s mother, Cora, in cold blood during the second season. The twist with Lily is not even close to as good.
Next, I also did not love the stories and character development of the Queens of Darkness. They are not as memorable as other villains during the series. The actresses do not do a bad job portraying their characters but they also did not knock it out of the park either. Nonetheless, I did like how they support the themes and overall story of the second half. For example, Ursula’s story emphasizes the point that outcomes can be determined by decisions rather than relying on fate or an Author who can change it. In her past, she is a beautiful, young mermaid with a stunning singing voice. Her father is Poseidon who tragically lost his wife to pirates. As an act of vengeance, he instructs his daughter to sing as pirates pass. Like sirens in mythology, the pirates are mesmerized by the voice and distracted so that their ship eventually crashes into the rocks for their demise. On one occasion, her singing lures in Captain Killian Hook and his ship, the Jolly Roger. However, she stops singing when its gets close and spares them. As a punishment, Poseidon exiles Ursula from his kingdom. However, she steals a magical bracelet that allows her to walk on land. Accordingly, she runs into Hook at a tavern. He is enamored by her beautiful voice because it is one of the few things that gives him joy in his lifetime of pain. For Ursula, her voice is the sole thing that reminds her of her mother. Consequently, she cherishes it the most. Since he encourages her to sing, they quickly bond and initially become friends.
Unfortunately, Hook is bent on revenge against Rumpel. For this reason, Poseidon approaches him and offers to give him squid ink that will paralyze a magical being, such as Rumpel, in exchange for his help in using a magical seashell to steal Ursula voice. Without it, she will have no reason to stay on land and will return home. While Hook apparently accepts, he tells Ursula about Poseidon’s plan and enlists her to help him steal the squid ink. However, their plan goes wrong as Poseidon catches them and destroys the squid ink. In Hook’s rage, he uses the seashell to take Ursula’s voice. As a result, she is a victim of two men trying to seek vengeance. She is an innocent, hopeful girl who is turned into a villain. She eventually takes her father’s trident and uses the power to change her beautiful mermaid fin into tentacles. The resolution of her story is critical to the themes of the season. Of course, she gets in a direct confrontation with the heroes in the current timeline in Storybrooke. During the battle, she has her tentacles hooked onto the neck of Mary Margaret. However, Hook is able to track down Poseidon and the seashell that contains Ursula’s voice. Accordingly, Poseidon restores her voice. More importantly, the rift between father and daughter is healed and they return home. It is a significant event in the season because it proves that the villains can find their happy ending and do it without the Author changing fate. Ursula’s story is also similar to Regina’s story. Regina started out as a good person who is victimized by her mother and turned into a villain. She has been fighting for redemption and her happy ending. Ursula’s happy ending foreshadows Regina’s happy ending. Before Ursula departs, she informs the heroes of Rumpel’s plan to find the Author and change fate. In addition, she warns that he also intends to fill Emma’s heart with darkness. Emma is the savior who gives happy endings. As long as she exists, the villains cannot win.
While a viewer can empathize with Ursula’s past, it is impossible to feel sympathetic to Cruella de Vil. Out of all the villains in the series, she is the most psychopathic in my opinion. In a flashback to the Author’s past, he visits the home of Cruella in search of a great story. However, her mother Madeline is protective and instructs the Author to stay away. Instead of heeding her warning, he helps Cruella sneak out of the house and go out for a night on the town. The Author is seduced by Cruella’s beauty and charm. She manipulates him by stating that she is locked up in her home because she has witnessed her mother kill her father and subsequent husbands. The Author is horrified by the thought of such an innocent, lovely girl condemned to such horrors. He feels a need to help and reveals to Cruella his ability to change reality with his magical pen and ink by simply writing anything. He also asks her to run away with him. As proof of his power, he writes and grants Cruella the power of persuasion on animals which allows her to control them. Unfortunately, he is conned. In reality, Cruella is an insane murderer. She killed her own father and her mother’s other husbands. With the new powers granted to her by the Author, she confronts her mother and commands her mother’s Dalmatians to kill her. Naturally, the Author is horrified by the actual truth and his part in the murder of Madeline. However, he mitigates his mistake by writing that Cruella can no longer kill another person again.
In Storybrooke, Cruella is an instrumental part of Rumpel’s plan to turn Emma dark. Cruella wants to kill the Author because he took away her ability to kill. Since she cannot kill him herself, she kidnaps Henry in order to blackmail Emma and Regina to kill the author for her. When the heroes search for Henry, Rumpel manipulates the situation so that Emma is split from the rest of the group when she encounters Cruella and Henry. Of course, Henry is Emma’s son and she will do anything to protect him. Foolishly, Cruella continues to threaten Henry’s life on the premise that Emma is a hero and will not kill. However, there may not be a stronger bond than the one between a mother and child. As a result, she acts and uses her magic to push Cruella off a cliff to her doom in order to save Henry. Unbeknownst to Emma, Cruella is unable to kill. Technically, Emma kills Cruella in cold blood. I agree with the need for a trigger event to start Emma’s path to darkness. On the other hand, it is another example of a situation where the story could have been much more powerful if it were not constrained by Disney’s G-rated style. In my opinion, Emma’s actions are completely justifiable. Her child appears to be in imminent danger from a maniac. Consequently, she needs to do whatever it takes to protect him from her. I believe a better way to tell this story is having Emma confront Cruella one on one after Henry is able to run to safety. Afterwards, the writers could have had Emma truly kill Cruella in cold blood as a preventative measure after deciding that Cruella is too dangerous to Henry and cannot be allowed to live.
Before we get to the third Queen of Darkness, the Evil Queen is still riveting. In my opinion, she is the best character in the series. At the end of last season, Regina selflessly allows and helps Robin leave Storybrooke with his wife, Mariam, and their son in order to save Mariam’s life. Obviously, her hopes of getting her happy ending take a serious hit. In the past, she would revert to her evil self and inflict her pain onto others. When the heroes realize that Rumpel has retuned and the Queens of Darkness are indeed up to no good with him, she suggests that she should infiltrate the villains. Since she just lost Robin, it is plausible that she has succumbed to her darkness again and is willing to do anything for her happy ending. As we saw with the death of her first love, Daniel; the loss of her love is a trigger to her dark side. Nevertheless, it is a risky plan because it is like putting cocaine in front of a coke addict. There is a chance for a relapse. Fortunately, Regina truly is a changed person and a hero now. She gains the villains’ trust by passing their test. They have her kidnap Pinocchio because his older self, August, has information about the Author. The young Pinocchio knows nothing. As a result, Rumpel restores him to the older August. Furthermore, Rumpel turns him into his wood form which includes his nose extending if he does not tell the truth to act as a lie detector test. Of course, Regina walks a very fine line in allowing the torture of August to keep the trust of the villains while also protecting him and informing the heroes to rescue him. While her loyalties are eventually revealed and her cover is blown, she does get the critical information the heroes need about the Author. He is trapped in a magical page and the heroes must race the villains to get to it and him.
In real life, Regina would probably never see Robin again after he leaves with his wife and child. However, OUAT is fiction and there is no chance the story ends there when Robin is fated to be her true love. Unfortunately for Regina, things actually get even worse before they get better. Robin’s wife, Mariam, is actually not Mariam. When Emma and Hook went back in time at the end of season 3, Zelena survived Rumpel’s murder attempt and followed them. She kills Mariam then masquerades as her. I was really pumped to see Zelena return. She is wicked, driven completely mad by her envy of Regina, and totally fun to watch. Her master plan is to have Robin fall in love with her to steal Regina’s happy ending. In addition, she instructs Rumpel to have Regina call Robin. When Regina does, she is terrified when Zelena answers since Robin’s life is in danger. As a result, she launches a rescue mission to New York and Emma joins her. When they reach New York, Zelena reveals her true identity to everyone. However, he cannot leave her and return to Storybrooke with Regina. To the delight of Zelena and shock of Regina, Robin informs them that Zelena is pregnant. The baby will always link Robin and Zelena. Since he is also a man of honor, he will always do what he feels is right for his child so he will always keep the mother in its life. In addition, it is a bond that Regina can never have with Robin. In the past, Regina’s mother, Cora, tried to redeem herself after killing her daughter’s love, Daniel. Cora searches for Regina’s true love. When she figures out it is Robin, he is not up to her standards and she has another man pretend to be the “man with the lion tattoo”. When Regina realizes the deception, she is incensed. In addition, Cora compounds her mistake by trying to command Regina to have a child because she will need an heir to have a dynasty and keep the throne. In Regina’s rage, she takes a potion that makes her sterile. Accordingly, Zelena will always have this leverage for Robin’s affection even though she killed his actual wife. It is a ridiculously complicated situation. At this point of the story, it is very difficult to figure out any way to remedy it.
Rumpel’s story has been as compelling as Regina’s story. He is still very devious. He finds a way back into Storybrooke without his magic. Once he returns, he deceives his ex-wife, Belle, again when he shapeshifts into Hook in order to trick her into giving him his dagger for safe keeping. However, he does feel guilt for all the pain he has caused her. In addition, Belle has started dating Will Scarlett. I really do not understand how he fits into the OUAT universe. In the Once Upon a Time in Wonderland spin-off, he finds his happy ending with his true love, Anastasia. It just feels like OUAT is cramming him into its main universe with no logical link to the spin-off and no clear vision on how he can add value to the main story. Nevertheless, he does serve a purpose for Rumpel’s regret. As the Dark One, the sight of Will with Belle would usually put him in a murderous rage. While he is obviously not happy about it, he knows he has hurt Belle enough. It proves that the good Rumpel is still trying to fight the impossible battle against the darkness that comes with being the Dark One. Moreover, the evil deeds he has done over the ages has been slowly darkening his heart. Once it is completely dark, Rumpelstiltskin will be dead and only the Dark One will remain. As a result, his mission to find the author and force him to write him a happy ending is as much about survival as it is about being happy. However, his death would present a grave danger to everyone else. As terrible as the Dark One has been, he would be worse with no ounce of good left to restrain him.
Although the heroes get to the Author first and release him, he flees from them. We learn that the Author (or Issac) grossly misused his power. His job is to only record the stories and not change them with the power of his pen. He used it to manipulate Snow White and Prince Charming into condemning Lily and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice into exiling her to the real world. When the Sorcerer’s Apprentice realizes the Author’s treachery, he traps him in the page. For these reasons, he runs away from the heroes. He comes under the protection of Rumpel and agrees with the scheme since he is sympathetic to the villains and wants to write a happy ending for himself too. However, they need to turn Emma dark to use her blood to activate the magic ink for his quill. The key to Rumpel’s plan is Lily. Before Regina and Emma arrive in New York to confront Zelena, fate intervenes and they run into Lily. Of course, Emma greets her old friend. However, Lily pretends not to care about their past. She fakes her happiness and even asks a little girl to pretend to be her daughter. In reality, Lily knows everything and wants revenge on Mary Margaret and David for cursing her. Her act is a trap. When Emma and Regina go to Lily’s home to investigate, they come to scary revelation that she already knows everything. They are also blindsided when she steals their car that also has the scroll which will allow her to enter Storybrooke and exact revenge on Emma’s birth parents.
Emma eventually catches up with Lily. When Lily outwardly promises vengeance, Emma pulls out her gun and aims it at Lily. This moment partially corrects the scene when Emma kills Cruella to protect Henry. In this situation, Emma would definitely be killing another person in cold blood with full awareness of her actions. More importantly, there is no loved one in imminent and immediate danger to excuse it. Shooting and killing Lily would definitely be the heartbreaking moment that effectively transforms Emma into a dark character. It is a very tense and dramatic moment in the season. In addition, it is made more powerful when Regina pleads with Emma not to go down that path. If there is anyone that knows about the fall from grace and how difficult it is to recover from it, it is Regina. When I first watched this scene, I honestly did not know what Emma would do. If the show runners wanted to make the story much more mature and the tone of the series more serious, they would have had Emma kill Lily and explore where that sin takes Emma’s character. Changing the savior of the story into a true villain in a shocking twist would have been an ambitious endeavor. It could have also been an incredible story if they did it well. Retrospectively, I should have known they would never go down that path. Disney wants the show to be family friendly and G-rated. As such, Emma heeds Regina’s warning and brings Lily back to Storybrooke to reunite with her mother. This decision is consistent with my overall feelings about this half of the season. The concepts are great but the execution just does not measure up to their potential.
The third Queen of Darkness is Maleficent. Of course, she is one of the most notorious villains from fairy tales. However, the show decides to focus on her loss of desire to be a villain as well as her role as a victim in the events of the season. During the flashbacks, Maleficent loses her ability to breathe fire and turn into a dragon. The strain of constantly losing to heroes has taken its toll. At the same time; a young, zealous Regina is apprenticing under Rumpel. In addition, she explores the possibility of having Maleficent as her mentor instead of him. While she obviously decides that Rumpel was already the perfect teacher, she is also able to give Maleficent a pep talk that reignites her fire to be a villain. In fact, Maleficent goes on the cast the legendary sleeping curse on Princess Aurora. I like seeing how Maleficent and Regina’s relationship start. Unfortunately, I am disappointed to not get OUAT’s version of how or why she became a villain in the first place like it does with Ursula and Cruella. It seems strange not to go down that path as well since she serves the biggest role among the Queens of Darkness. Instead, the show decides to immediately lay the groundwork to portray her as a victim. When she becomes pregnant, her whole perspective changes. Rather than focusing on her evil ambitions, she only cares about the well-being and future of her unborn child. In addition, she even teams up with Snow White and Prince Charming in an attempt to stop Regina from casting the Dark Curse. Of course, they eventually betray her. When they steal the egg from Maleficent’s cave, she fails to defend her child. Instead of being filled with anger and hate you would expect from a villain, it is out of love as a mother that she helplessly pleads to them for the return and safety of her child.
Even in the current timeline, it is clear that her motivations have changed. When she is first resurrected, she obviously wants a degree of revenge against the Charmings. Nevertheless, it is not her primary goal. Even though she helps the villains in their plan, getting a happy ending written for her is also not her main objective. She is helping Rumpel in exchange for the knowledge of what happened to her child. She is clearly a victim of a terrible deed who just wants closure rather than a villain looking to inflict pain on to others. When she finally meets Lily, there is a sharp contrast in their mind sets. While Lily wants revenge and expects to team up with her mother to exact it on the Charmings, Maleficent pleads with Lily to not waste their time with vengeance now that they have each other: “We can be happy in the future or we can be angry in the past”. After wasting a lifetime as a villain, Maleficent does not want her daughter to make the same mistake. This thought is very critical to the theme of the second half of the season. It is about the happy endings for the villains. However, a happy ending is not taking away the happiness of others. It is why villains have been unable to be happy because they are consumed by hate. Lily is Maleficent’s chance to find her happy ending because she allows her to hope and love instead of being consumed by darkness. While Lily initially rejects this premise and is infuriated by her mother being a “pushover”, she eventually comes around because of her mother’s love. Interestingly, Maleficent has no experience being a parent so she turns to the Charmings for guidance which also gives them their chance at redemption. Again, I fail to see how their actions condemned Lily. She lived a similar life to Emma. Emma’s life turned around when she met Henry and the rest of her family. Likewise, Lily meets her mother and will also search for her father. The love of a family seems to be the turning point for Lily too. For these reasons, I just do not see how Lily’s life was drastically damned by the Charmings. When you also consider that the Author manipulated them into doing it, they simply did not commit an unforgiveable sin. They are completely absolved of their actions.
The end of the season is excellent. With Rumpel slowly but surely succumbing to the blackening of his heart, he is too weak to make any moves. As a result, Regina takes the quill from him and works with the Author to write her happy ending. A remaining problem is the magic ink. It requires the blood of a dark savior. As we know, Rumpel’s plan to corrupt Emma failed. However, Regina realizes that Lily has Emma’s darkness and takes her blood to activate the ink. At first, Regina plans to have Zelena written out of the story completely. However, her ultimate decision is a great moment in the development of Regina’s character. When Regina sterilized herself, her mother remarks “The only one standing in the way of your happiness is you”. Regina had a self-destructive past that was a self-fulfilling prophecy because she would respond negatively and vengefully whenever she suffered a setback. At the end of her conversation with Zelena, she tells her the revelation that “Robin isn’t my happy ending. My happy ending is finally feeling at home in the world. Robin’s just a part of that world”. In the end, she asks the Author to write nothing because “she already has everything she needs”. Regina has worked to redeem herself. She has finally done enough to prove herself and is seen and respected as a hero by the world. Moreover, she is also with her true love, Robin. While the situation is not ideal, it is manageable because Zelena will have the “most restrictive visitation rights in history”. It may not be the perfect love story of Snow White and Prince Charming but that it is their dream. She will have her own dream and be happy living in that one. She is no longer so cynical and negative that she does not recognize it. I think it is a good parallel to real life. We may believe that things have to happen in a certain way because we see them occur that way in entertainment or in other people’s lives. However, each individual’s paths are different. We also should not be envious of others’ happiness. Otherwise, we become so distracted that we do not even recognize our own happiness when it walks right by us. Regina’s story mirror these ideas. There are many opportunities even though she missed a few and she finally seized an opportunity.
Although Regina decides not to use the power of the Author, it does not deter him from abusing his powers to change destiny. He runs back to Rumpel to collaborate. Rumpel instructs the author to flip the roles of the characters. Heroes become villains and villains become heroes. For example, Rumpel becomes a valiant Ogre slayer that lives happily with Belle. Snow White becomes the Evil Queen. Prince Charming becomes her Huntsmen and the seven dwarves are her henchmen. Naturally, Regina takes on the role of Snow White. Of course, Rumpel still has plenty of disdain for Hook. As a result, he has the Author change Hook into a cowardly pirate that scrubs the decks for the captain of the Jolly Roger, Blackbeard. Furthermore, the Author writes his own happy ending which is becoming a best-selling author who is known for the altered story book “Heroes and Villains”. When all the characters are transported inside the story book to live in this perverted universe, Henry is left in the real world because he was not born in the Enchanted Forest. Nevertheless, he is resourceful. He tracks down and confronts the author to get answers before transporting both of them into the story book to correct things. This two hour season finale is exhilarating. I feel it has real stakes. The show writers could have gone in two very different paths. They could have the universe restored to how we know it or make the changes semi-permanent and be the theme of next season. As a result, there is real concern that the heroes could actually fail in this finale and be villains for a bit. In addition, I loved seeing Regina in the Snow White role. Again, it showcases the versatility of Lana Parilla’s acting abilities. She made me hate her in the beginning of the series, feel her sorrow for her tragedies, empathize with her struggle to redeem herself, and love her for the strength to battle her demons and become a hero. It is incredible that she is able to make you experience all these powerful yet very different emotions with the same character. On the other hand, I did not really buy Ginnifer Godwin’s version of Snow White as the Evil Queen. While she is a perfect Snow White who is absolutely adorable and pure, she has way too sweet of a personality and demeanor to ever successfully capture the cruel and mean spirited demeanor of a true villain. Again, the show is much better at making villains into good guys than turning heroes into villains.
The key to reversing the Author’s changes [so they do not become permanent] is to prevent his final chapter from finishing. The final chapter is the wedding of Robin Hood and Zelena. In this reality, Robin is still a bandit but he is in love and engaged to Zelena. Henry tracks down Regina to help him. Naturally, she is totally skeptical of Henry’s story. It is also disturbing to Regina that he would call her mom because all her memories of him have been wiped clean. It is a good plot line to have Henry trying to convince Regina of the truth. It is reminiscent of when he tried to convince Emma that magic is real during the first season. He also pushes hard to convince Regina that Robin Hood is her true love. While Regina and Robin obviously share an instant spark, Regina immediately loses hope upon hearing about his engagement. As a result, Henry searches for and frees Emma for help. Interestingly, Emma is the only character in the altered reality that retains all her memories of the past. Since she is the savior, her punishment is knowing everything but having no power to stop it. Moreover, she is locked in a tower and the guard protecting her prison is Lily, who can turn into a dragon. Nevertheless, Henry and Hook successfully rescue Emma. As the finale progresses, it becomes obvious that the heroes will prevail. After the rescue mission; Henry, Emma, and Hook are confronted by the evil Snow White and David. In a selfless act of sacrifice, Hook distracts Emma’s corrupted parents while she protects and flees with Henry. Sadly, Hook is killed by David while Emma watches. Of course, it is clear that the show would not go down the path of having Emma’s parents actually killing her true love. In addition, Hook is too much fun to be killed so unceremoniously.
Regardless, Hook’s temporary death is utilized in a brilliant conversation Emma has with Regina to motivate her to fight for the man she loves, Robin. Emma begins to break down as she speaks about having to watch Hook die. Even worse, she did not have the courage to tell him that she loved him. Now, she will never have the opportunity unless Regina takes a chance and tells Robin that she loves him. Emma has been emotionally guarded for the entire series. She does not like to embrace or show her feelings. As a result, it is a huge moment when she finally admits her affection for Hook. Of course, it strikes a chord with Regina as they go to stop Robin’s wedding to Zelena. On the other hand, the Author visits Rumpel and informs him that he is actually a villain who had the Author change the story. If he does not stop Henry, Emma, and Regina; he will lose his happy ending. As a result, Emma and Henry battle Rumpel outside of the wedding while Regina tries to intervene with the wedding. However, she turns back when she sees Henry in danger and sacrifices herself to save him from Rumpel. With the completion of the wedding, it appears fate has changed permanently. However, the story has one more twist. Since the Author violated the rules of affecting the story rather than just record and writing his own happy ending, he has lost the power of the Author. As a result, the magical quill chooses the next Author: Henry. Nevertheless, he still needs ink to write. The “Heroes and Villains” story book needed a dark savior to be written. Since the world is now turned upside down, the ink needs a light savior to be activated in the alternate reality. For this reason, Regina’s blood is used to power the ink and Henry undoes all of the Author’s work. It is a great touch since everything is reversed and further confirms that Regina is now a hero.
After the characters return to Storybrooke with reality restored, they get a moment of peace. However, one more significant twist awaits them before the end of the season. With the main timeline corrected, Rumpel’s heart continues its trajectory to total darkness which will lead to his death. He shares a tragic but beautiful moment with Belle. He laments losing the happy ending he had with Belle in the artificial reality. However, she tells him that he already had that happy ending. Unfortunately, her love was not enough for him. He admits that he just could not believe it was real. It is a good link back to the idea that villains stand in the way of their own happiness. Although he tells her to run away with Will to escape the wraith of the Dark One once his heart goes completely dark, she does not love Will. She still loves Rumpel despite all his sins and will not abandon him. She also alerts the heroes since a Dark One untethered by any good would be a catastrophe for the entire town. As a final ditch effort to rid the world of the Darkness, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice removes all of it from Rumpel and attempts to imprison it in the Sorcerer’s Hat. However, the Darkness’s power far exceeds capabilities of the hat. We also learn about the history of the Darkness and Dark One. In the past, the Darkness threatened to destroy all the realms. However, the Sorcerer (who turns out to be Merlin) combated the Darkness and was able to tether it to a person [the Dark One] and a dagger. This revelation makes Rumpel’s story even more sympathetic. For him, Darkness is a disease that has been corrupting and killing him for centuries. More importantly, the role of the Dark One is to sacrifice his own humanity in order to be a necessary evil that prevents a much greater evil.
Without a host, the Darkness attempts to possess another person and sets its sights on Regina. However, Emma does not allow it to happen. She has seen Regina work extremely hard to be a hero and earn her happy ending. As the savior who is in charge of giving everyone their happy endings, she sacrifices herself to be the Dark One to save Regina despite the pleas of her parents and Hook that they can find another way. Before Emma’s sacrifice, she finally makes a confession to Hook. Even after returning from the alternate reality where she watched Hook die, she still could not admit her love for him even though she appeared to come close before changing course again. Only at the prospect of condemning herself to eternal darkness does she finally tell him she loves him. It makes the end of the finale even more emotionally charge. The commitment to turn Emma dark is an important one. The concept of a corrupted savior is a captivating one. However, it is a G rated way to turn Emma dark. She has no trigger moment where she succumbs to darkness and voluntarily commits evil. In the finale, she actually commits an act of absolute selflessness in order to save Regina from the Darkness. A fall from grace tale would have been a much better story. Again, I love the concepts of the second half of the season but the execution of them leaves a lot to be desired. It only scratches the surface on big ideas that could have been an epic story. As we look forward to the future of the series, I am still intrigued by how OUAT will handle a Dark Emma Swan. However, I am not overly optimistic by it after a season of so much lost potential.