Or IS it?
So, this is it: the season finale, the big finish that will keep us slavering for more over the desolate summer months. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm going to spend at least a little time speculating about the new direction Once Upon a Time will have to take next season. If you watched the finale, you know what I mean. If you didn't, well... you'll know by the end of this recap.
"A Land Without Magic" opens in a world that does have magic (just to throw you off!) as James tries to escape from Regina's castle. Two helmeted guards come to escort him to his death, but he manages to fight his way free. He's almost to the door when he's stopped by a guard with a bow and arrow... who shoots the guard sneaking up behind James instead of James himself. Because it's the Huntsman you guys! Big round of applause for putting both pieces of man candy in the same shot, and for bringing Jaime Dornan back in general. He only sticks around to attempt to cover James's escape, but Regina sees through his promises to recapture the pseudo-prince. She magicks James to the infinite forest (which is an awesome concept, any ideas if it's original?) from which there is no escape.
Or is there? Yes, in the form of Rumplestiltskin. After a hasty battle (I doubt I'll ever get used to the sight of R-stilts wielding a sword), James agrees to make a deal with R-stilts. In exchange for his mother's now-enchanted ring, he must deposit a True Love potion and its egg case in the belly of a beast. Did anyone else have a mild Harry Potter flashback? To book four? Anyone? ::slinks away to book-nerd corner::
The stakes are equally high in Storybrooke, where Henry is rushed to Storybrooke General (spinoff!) after consuming a poisonous turnover. Dr. Whale is at a loss for the cause of Henry's sudden illness but Emma figures out its MAGIC. Freaking duh, Henry ate a poison apple. Armed with her new belief and crazy eyes, she assaults Regina and gets the truth from her. Both women say their temporary farewells to Henry, but Regina's is cut short by Jefferson coming for his payment. Regina knows he won't kill her, but everyone knows that revenge killing is for suckers. You can see in Jefferson's eyes that slow, painful life is the best form of payback – who would know better than him?
Emma pays August W. Booth a visit before meeting up with Regina. She finds him on the bed, hard. Just kidding, guys, he's turning back into a puppet because he's been a bad boy. I'm almost glad this season is over so I can stop restraining my laughter at the obvious innuendo here. She tells him that she can't do it alone because no normal person could, but he points out she isn't normal. It's like she forgot she has super powers. August W. Booth turns all the way back into a puppet and I'm a little sad. Who will Emma date now? Archie? ...YES.
Regina and Emma approach Mr. Gold together, united for the moment to save Henry, and ask for his aid. He explains that true love is the only power strong enough to break the curse, and as the audience already knows he bottled some. The problem will be getting it back from the beast in which James hid it, but R-stilts planned for that. He knew that Regina would bring the beast to Storybrooke, and now Emma has to fight it with her father's sword.
But, who (or what) is the beast? Why, the beast is Maleficent (my favorite Disney villain!) played by the decidedly un-Joan-Crawford-like Kristin Bauer van Straten. She's blonde and doesn't have that smooth contralto voice I associate with my favorite villainess of all time. You might remember her the episode where we discover how Regina got the Curse. When James goes to see her she's in her human form, but in Storybrooke Regina has trapped her in her dragon form in the basement of the library. A few quick notes here: Emma can't see the building where Maleficent is trapped is a library despite the clear markings on the lintel, James has a great quip about needing a bigger egg, and the mural that hides the ancient elevator leading to Maleficent's dragon lair in Storybrooke is so freaking awesome.
James and Emma's fight scenes are shown simultaneously. James proves to be cunning by figuring out on the fly where to hide the egg (in the slits on Maleficent's throat) while Emma prefers to take the direct route. She drops the sword almost immediately and chooses to shoot the dragon with a gun. It is not effective! As the two battle on, Mary Margaret takes up the storybook and reads to comatose Henry. She explains that she gave him the book because she knows life doesn't always have a happy ending and BOOM Henry flatlines like that. Very subtle, writers, I almost didn't see what you did there. Derp.
While Henry crashes Jefferson drugs the nurse in the basement of the hospital and frees Belle. He tells her to find Mr. Gold and explain that Regina locked her up. I don't think I could have picked a better revenge myself, given that Regina made sure Belle would never return to R-stilts in the fairy tale world, but I was annoyed to see Emilie de Ravin return. Her accent will probably never stop bothering me, which is sad because she's not a terrible actress. Also I hate to be petty, but that wig is atrocious.
James manages to stick the egg in Maleficent and crash out the window into the waiting water below, which is as good an exit strategy as I've seen. Was it just me or was the destruction of the window oddly CGI'd? He meets R-stilts on a nearby island to retrieve his mother's ring, which glows brighter the closer he gets to Snow White, and to find out what R-stilts really wants from this whole endeavor. It turns out that R-stilts is a fan of true love... and what it creates: Emma, the key to breaking any curse and probably the most powerful person in the whole Once Upon a Time mythology. So once again it's really just all about babies for R-stilts.
James rides into the forest, his mother's ring glowing ever brighter until he finds the seven dwarves (no Stealthy) gathered around Snow White's coffin. After taking the lid off (that sounds so crass somehow) he leans in to say goodbye with a kiss. The kiss sends out a rainbow pulse (a sonic rainboom, perhaps?) that stops the snow falling and wakes our Snow up. They walk off toward the nearby stream, where James proposes and they plot to get the kingdom back. I guess we know what the major fairy tale plot for the first half of season two will be.
Emma is having worse luck with Maleficent in Storybrooke, until she picks up the sword and flings it at the dragon's heart. If you've seen the original Sleeping Beauty you will recognize this move: it's the one Prince Philip uses when he kills Maleficent. I kind of missed the lurid green paint and dramatic music but was happy enough that the dragon disintegrated into ashes. Emma recovers the egg and makes her way up the elevator. It stops near the top, where R-stilts is waiting. He tells Emma that Regina abandoned her and that he needs the egg now. Once she tosses it to him he leaves and she is forced to climb out of the elevator shaft.
Topside, she finds Regina bound and frees her. They're about to go after R-stilts when the hospital calls – Henry has died. His two moms rush to the hospital, where it looks like he is indeed dead. Emma kisses Henry on the forehead and another sonic rainboom pulses out, bringing Henry back to life and breaking the Curse. Because there's more than one form of true love: sometimes the bond between parent and child is as strong as the love between spouses. (I think someone else watched season five of Buffy recently.)
Thanks to Emma, everyone suddenly remembers who they are and James, who was about to leave Storybrooke, hurries back to reunite with Snow. The Blue Fairy, who was nearby to perform last rites (although I'm pretty sure only priests can do that...), recommends that the Queen hide herself. There's a weird moment where Regina leans over to tell Henry that she does truly love him before leaving the hospital, and I don't know how to feel about it. I guess I want to know why she loves Henry so much – is it because Emma loves him too? Is it because she named Henry after her father? Another question season two can answer.
But two storylines won't be enough for a whole season! We find Belle and R-stilts in the woods. Like the rest of town, Belle suddenly remembers who she is and that she loves R-stilts. I bet she was pleased to see him rocking a more normal look. He leads her to the well, the one August W. Booth showed Emma so long ago, and drops the true love potion into it. R-stilts explains that the well has the power to bring back lost things, but instead of wishing for his son R-stilts wishes for his long-lost magic. I know he must have done it out of fear, or a desire to revenge himself on Regina, but I was still disappointed in him.
A swirling purple fog emerges, looking more like the ooze from that one Power Rangers movie than anything else, and engulfs the town. Regina, smiling from the window of her mansion, knows that it's magic and she still has a fighting chance. Henry and Emma watch, afraid, as the purple smoke rolls toward the hospital (where Dr. Whale was probably asking himself: So, am I the whale from Pinocchio?) The rest of the town, including Snow, James, Archie, and all the rest are lost in the fog.
Things I'm looking forward to next season: deeper characterization, not having to use two names for the same person, more sword fighting, R-stilts finally realizing that he doesn't need power when he has the love of his lady and possibly his son
Things I'm not looking forward to next season: the lack of Huntsman, possible extraneous storylines, Henry being self-righteous the whole time, Emilie de Ravin's accent
See you in a few months folks!
Written or Contributed by: Tricia Long