Once Upon a Time season finale recap: Season 2 finale
So, was Once's second season finale as momentous as its first? The short answer: Not really.
The long answer: Last year's juiciest finale developments — Emma breaking the Dark Curse and Rumpelstiltskin bringing magic back to Storybrooke — changed the show's status quo for good, setting up a world of new and exciting possibilities. By contrast, Henry's kidnapping and his dysfunctional family's subsequent journey to Neverland aren't really game-changers. In the short term, at least, they're simply setting up a season 3 that's much like season 2: a sprawling exercise in world-jumping and cross-cutting that trades one big goal (break the curse!) for several smaller, slightly less pressing goals (find Henry! Protect Storybrooke from outsiders! Figure out what Red's been up to for the past six months!).
But even if "And Straight On Till Morning" didn't forever alter the fabric of Once as we know it, there was plenty here to satisfy the series's most avid fans. Regina apologists got to see the so-called "evil queen" sacrifice herself for the greater good, thus moving closer to sweet, sweet redemption. Diehard Rumbelle shippers finally got to see their favorite pair reunite, albeit ever so briefly. Hookers (look it up!) got to see their cap'n smolder, brood, and even show a bit of vulnerability in his very own fairyback — a subplot he shared with teenage Bae, newly transplanted to Neverland.
"Baelfire," it seems, isn't exactly the magical world's version of "Steve." As soon as his young charge reveals his unique name, Hook realizes that he's stumbled upon a child born of his lost love Milah — as well as her murderer. This knowledge is enough to keep Hook from immediately turning the boy over to the Lost Ones, a group of creepy bounty hunters led by a Jamie Campbell-Bower lookalike I'm going to call Rufio.
Over time, the pirate and Bae begin to bond. He teaches the kid the difference between "port" and "starboard;" the kid, in turn, gets comfortable enough to confess that his father is, in fact, the Dark One. (Bae also lets slip that Rumpel's dagger is the only weapon that can kill him.) They're well on their way to forming a weird sort of surrogate father/child of one's dead lover-type relationship… until Bae discovers a drawing of his mother on Hook's desk. (Wait, Hook has a desk? What does he do there, his evil taxes?)
Immediately, Bae knows Hook's own identity: he must be the pirate who killed Milah and destroyed the fragile 'Stiltskin family. And even after Hook patiently explains that the kid has his facts all wrong — he didn't kill Milah! He just committed adultery with her and watched as her evil husband ripped her heart out! — their bond has been irrevocably broken. Bae tells Hook he hates him ("you're not my real dad!") and demands to be let off the Jolly Roger. Hook complies… though he does so by promptly handing Bae over to the Lost Ones. On the "good dad/bad dad" scale, he just went from Danny Tanner to Darth Vader.
NEXT: "If he tries anything, I'll shoot him in the face"
The good news: The Lost Ones determine that Bae isn't actually the
droid boy their boss has been looking for, and they decide to let him live in captivity. (That boss? He is, of course, the one and only Peter Pan, though it's only now that Rufio dares speak his name.) The bad news: From their discussion, we learn who they've actually been looking for — a certain apple-cheeked moppet who's got a real affinity for clunky exposition.
But as the episode begins, Henry isn't in any immediate danger from Peter's goons. He is, however, thisclose to getting murdered by his very own grandfather — until Emma and the Charmings enter the scene in the nick of time. Though they save the kid's life, they're also there to pass along dire news about Bae (shot and lost through a portal) and the curse's failsafe (stolen by Growen and Tamara, who are activating it with a dwarf's ax as we speak).
The motley crew heads back to Snow's apartment. There, they consult with Regina and Hook, who's decided to switch allegiances once more. The gang decide that the queen will use her magic to contain the black diamond's wicked power, while Charming and Hook will ambush the villains and steal their magic beans. (How do they know that Hook won't attempt to double-cross them yet again? Simple: "If he tries anything, I'll shoot him in the face," the prince snarls. So much for bluebirds and whistling while you work!) Everyone else will gather up Storybrooke's residents; once Hook and Charming return, they'll all flee the town via portal.
At first, everything seems to go according to plan. The townsfolk gather at Granny's; Hook and David snag a single precious legume; Emma and Regina easily find the diamond working its magical voodoo in the mines. Soon, though, it becomes clear that there's one major wrinkle: Regina doesn't intend to escape with everybody else. Instead, she's going to finally take responsibility for her actions, sacrificing her own life so that everyone else may live. (Fantasy stories sure do love their Christ figures.) "Everyone looks at me as the Evil Queen, including my son," she tells Emma gravely before beginning to absorb the diamond's dark magic. "Let me die as Regina."
It's a poignant, moving moment of real character development… one that's made entirely moot by what happens next. Since none of the Storybrookites want Regina to die — wait, why is that again? She murdered an entire village, guys! — they decide instead to send the failsafe itself through a portal. At no point does the group pause to wonder whether doing this means sentencing another world to certain death.
And when Emma and her family arrive back in the mines to drop the bean — only to discover that Hook has, of course, double-crossed them by stealing the MacGuffin for himself — Regina still doesn't have to go through with her sacrifice. Instead, Emma suddenly realizes that she can use her own ill-defined magical powers to help the queen absorb the shock, instantly rendering the failsafe harmless. This "twist" wasn't nearly as frustrating as the midseason finale's dumb squid ink thing — but it was still a painfully obvious development that took way too long to actually, you know, develop.
And then Once throws us a genuine curveball.
NEXT: The Three Least-Liked Amigos
The diamond is deactivated, Storybrooke is saved… but when the adults turn to celebrate their victory with Henry, they realize that the boy is gone. It turns out that destroying the town's magic was just a red herring: All along, Growen and Tamara have actually been plotting to abduct the kid and bring him with them to another world. They toss down the last bean, barely pausing to twirl their metaphorical mustaches, and disappear into a whirlpool of computer-generated light — with Henry in tow.
If we subsequently learned that all three had accidentally been transported to a realm populated entirely with man-, woman-, and child-eating sandworms, I've got a feeling many of you would be delighted. Unfortunately, things don't quite work out that way. The Charmings, Emma, and Regina are determined to get their (grand)kid back, no matter the cost… and right on schedule, Hook shows up in the Jolly Roger, magical bean in hand. If you took a swig of rum every time this guy had a change of heart, you'd be drunker than Jack Sparrow right about now.
Yo ho ho ho, Henry's dysfunctional family is going on history's most uncomfortable cruise! And to make things a little more interesting, Rumpelstiltskin has decided to join them — even though he just, and I do mean just, restored Belle's memories via a potion that the Blue Fairy has conveniently been brewing all season. (Grumpy's explanation for why we're only hearing about this potion now: Blue needed a hair from Little Boy-ified Pinocchio before she could complete the brew.) At least he gets one more tender moment with his de-skankified princess, who's instructed to stay behind and cast a cloaking spell over Storybrooke in his absence.
Moments ago, Rumpel was attempting to murder the boy he's now risking everything to save. What gives? Good, old-fashioned parental guilt: "The boy is my undoing," he explains to a tearful Belle before boarding Hook's pleasure barge. "But he's also my grandson. I must do this to honor Baelfire. He's gone, and I didn't even get the chance to say goodbye."
Oh, Rump, you speak too soon! Because at this very moment, a wounded Bae is being tended to by a trio of familiar faces: Mulan, Aurora, and Prince Phillip, alive and well and living in Fairy Land. Nice! I'm down, as long as this storyline doesn't turn into a dopey love quadrangle.
Knowledge of Bae's fate will have to wait, because our heroes are currently busy making a quantum leap of their own. But where is Rumpelstiltskin's blood magic leading them — and who, exactly, are Growen and Tamara actually working for? Rumpel's happy to spill the beans: They're cogs in a machine, one run by Big Bad Peter Pan. And from his tone, it sounds like Once's version of Pan is going to give the Dark One and Regina a run for their money.
So they beat on, a ship against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Or, you know, Neverland.
NEXT: One last serving of Breadcrumbs
– Hey, have you seen my thorough season 2 postmortem interview with Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz? A highlight: They totally didn't realize how similar their version of Neverland is to a certain other island.
– And tonight's Clumsy Exposition Award goes to… Mr. Smee, who's saddled with this humdinger of a line in the episode's first few moments: "Don't worry, Captain, you'll avenge her. No matter what it takes, I know you'll find a way to kill Rumpelstiltskin."
– Honorable Mention goes to Regina, helpfully narrating the obvious: "The last bean! They've opened a portal!"
– Speaking of this "last bean" nonsense – are we actually supposed to believe that Growen and Tamara destroyed all but two of these invaluable magical objects? Or is there a cache of beans lying hidden somewhere?
– A nice nod at continuity: Grumpy tells Rumpel that he wants to help Belle recover her memory, since Belle "once helped remind me who I was." (Which reminds me: Nova, girl, where you been? Besides on Person of Interest, I mean.)
– Aww — in her greatest moment of crisis, Emma finally calls Snow and Charming "Mom" and "Dad." Sniff!
– We won't get a full look at Hook's backstory until next season — but the pirate tells Bae that he, too, was abandoned by his father as a boy. Think he was telling the truth?
– Gotta say, the way that Pan treats those who lie to him — "He rips your shadow right from your body," says Rufio; "Riiiiiip" — doesn't really sound that terrifying. But does this mean the shadow that came to the Darling house is actually someone else's, rather than that of Peter himself? Does he have an army of disembodied shadows to do his bidding? Now that's creepy.
– Huh: After regaining her memories, Belle didn't seem to care about all those savage beatings her boyfriend delivered while trying to impress "Lacey." Will this come back into play next year, or will that whole interlude just be dropped?
– 2nd Amendment rights are alive and well in Storybrooke! When Granny goes with Henry to the playground, she totes some serious firepower.
– Some news that may explain Red's absence: Meghan Ory's pilot, Intelligence, got picked up by CBS. This means we should expect even less of her next season. Jamie Chung (Mulan) and Sarah Bolger (Aurora) are also starring on new series that just got picked up, which may complicate that Bae storyline.
– Are you familiar with Bill Willingham's Fables, the monthly comic that Once has long been accused of copying? Either way, it may interest you to know that Willingham originally intended Peter Pan to play his series's Big Bad. Iiiinteresting.
Have a magical summer, Oncers! I hope to see you back here come fall — and with faith, hope, and a bit of fairy dust, that wish just might come true.
Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.