In a gamechanging midseason finale, Once wraps up Peter Pan's plot --then hits the reset button.

By Hillary Busis
April 30, 2015 at 08:38 PM EDT
Jack Rowand/ABC
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Remember how season 2’s winter finale brought an entire half-season’s storyline to a satisfying end by conclusively returning Snow and Emma to Storybrooke? Well, Sunday’s episode went about a hundred times farther, effectively tying a pretty white bow on the entire show‘s storyline — at least, until that handy “One Year Later” tag (Captain Swan lives!) and a preview promising the imminent introduction of the Wicked Witch of the West. (Just what Once needed: Another villain who’s more compelling than any of the show’s heroes.)

Seriously, though: As the Charming clan clung together for what could be the last time, and Emma and Henry drove into the horizon while Storybrooke and all of its onetime inhabitants slowly disappeared into that thick magical mist, and we traveled back in time to see Emma give birth to Henry once more — and, in this reality, decide at the last minute to keep her child — did anyone else get the sneaking suspicion that they were watching scenes beamed in from Once‘s series finale? Ending the entire show by sending every fairy tale character back to their home realm while leaving Henry and Emma alone on Earth would have been pretty darn ballsy — but it also seems like it would have been pretty darn fitting.

Of course, that line of thinking is totally moot because “Going Home” wasn’t the end of Once Upon a Time — it was merely the end of the show’s latest chapter, an oft-frustrating string of episodes that wasted too much time running in place and then decided to launch an all-out sprint to the finish. Luckily, that sprint largely worked — shoehorned-in Tinker Bell redemption plot and all.

As our story begins, Felix and Panry have made it to the Wishing Well with Regina’s old curse. And, as many of you predicted, the demon boy has completed the hex by adding in its last essential ingredient: The heart of the one he loves most. Or, in this case, the heart of the one who loves him most. Ta-ta, Felix! Of the characters who died (or “died,” as the case may be) in tonight’s episode, I think it’s safe to say that you’ll be mourned the least. Except by members of the Gross Hair Club for Teens.

So Curse #2 is coming — but lucky for our heroes, its advent is just about as slow as an arrowful of dreamshade. That means there’s just enough time for the gang to cook up a new Pan-stopping plan, which naturally involves an all-important magical object that we’ve never heard of before and likely will never see used again.

NEXT: Just call it this season’s enchanted compass

Tink, Hook, Charming, and Nealfire head off to Storybrooke’s fairy convent, where dearly departed Blue has been stashing said object: the Black Fairy’s wand. (What, Dumbledore’s grave was too much of a schlep?) But before they can snag it, they’re rudely interrupted by Marilyn Manson’s shadow, swooping around like some sort of possessed fighter kite. Good thing Nealfire thought to bring along his coconut shade-catcher! Dumb question interlude: The coconut thing works because the shadow is drawn to fire, right? So why isn’t it also drawn to the bowls of open flames in the fairy chapel? The answer, I’m sure, is something along the lines of “Y’know… magic!

Anyway. The last time the shadow was captured, Emma pretty much just lit a candle and stood her ground until the task was done. But this time, things are more complicated for… reasons; the shadow’s up too high, or something, and only someone with the power of flight can stop him. You can see where this is going, and go there it does: Tink thinks happy thoughts and miraculously gets her pixie dust working again. In the flick of a fairy’s wings, the shadow is captured; she then tosses the coconut into one of those bowls of flames, easily incinerating the demon. Oh, and also, Blue comes back to life. Why? Because magic, that’s why!

With wand in hand, our heroes have enough power to switch Henry and Pan’s bodies — boo! cry the Robbie Kay fans — and get the real Henry to bring them Regina’s curse scroll. Regina can then destroy the scroll, undoing Pan’s curse… as well as her own. But there’s no time to worry about the consequences of that last bit. For now, let’s just watch as Rumpel takes out Greg and Tamara’s old anti-magic cuff — remember, the one filled with “the toughest metals and machinery known to man”? — and slaps it on Pan’s body as a precaution. Then he uses the Black Wand to un-Freaky Friday his grandson and his father. Not even halfway through the episode, and everything is going just according to plan? You know that means something crazy is about to happen.

Ahh, there we go. Everyone has raced out of the pawn shop to find the real Henry… except Rumpel, who stays close to Pan’s side as he awakens. And hey, he’s got a sword! (You idiots — we’ve all got swords!) Will Rumpel finally get the chance to commit the patricide he’s long been dreaming of? Once really knows how to lay on the holiday season sentiment.

NEXT: Sins of the father

Yeah, not so much. Pan performs a short monologue titled “Why Some People Aren’t Meant to Be Parents” before explaining something that Rumpel really should have seen coming: Pan created the cuff, and formulated it specifically so that its powers wouldn’t work on him. He then slaps the spell-blocking snap bracelet onto Rumpel’s wrist and saunters out of the shop. Oh Pan, I  think I’ll miss you most of all!

And now comes the most terrifying part of the episode: Pan appears in the middle of town, freezes our heroes in their tracks, and starts gleefully chatting about which of them he’s going to kill first. His scenes are interspersed with shots of Rumpel back at the pawn shop, desperately trying to remove the cuff… then picking up his sword… then darting his eyes between the sword and his wrist… ACK! RUMPEL! NO NO NO NO NO! I did not sign up to watch 127 Hours: The Desolation of Pan tonight!

Luckily, Rump ends up electing to keep his hand. Instead, he strides into the street to meet his father, declaring that he doesn’t need magic after all. Why? Because Rumpel’s detached shadow has just flown in from Neverland, bearing the one weapon that can defeat Pan once and for all: The Dark One’s dagger.

I’m blanking on when, exactly, it was established for sure that if Pan dies, Rumpel will die as well. But that’s apparently the case — and Rumpel has grown strong enough to accept his fate. So he says a touching goodbye to Bae and Belle before stabbing Pan in the back, forcing the villain to transform from an eternal boy into the sad, bedraggled man he was before ever setting foot on Neverland. There’s a brief bit of pleading on Pan/Malcolm’s part — if Rump spares him, he promises, they can have a fresh start and a happy ending! But Rumpel’s mind is made up: “I’m a villain. And villains don’t get happy endings.”

With that, Rumpel twists the knife some more, finally bringing Pan’s reign to an end — and disappearing into the ether, along with his father’s body. Belle is weeping. Bae is stoically devastated. Evidently, they don’t remember that another Once character just came back to life like, ten minutes ago. If this was indeed the end of Rumpel, I’m going to need some time to deal with my feelings — but I’ve got a hunch that the Dark One is about as dead as Brian Griffin.

NEXT: Say goodnight, Storybrooke

There will be time to speculate about Rumpel’s inevitable reintroduction. In the meantime, Storybrooke’s residents have a curse to stop — though naturally, their actions will come with a price. Specifically: Regina reveals that because she cast the curse in the first place, the only way to halt its sequel is to say goodbye to the thing she loves most. Which means that if she undoes the curse, she’ll never be able to see Henry again. But wait, there’s more: Breaking the curse altogether will send every fairy tale character back from whence they came. It’ll also make Storybrooke itself disappear. But because Henry was born on Earth, he’ll have to stay there… albeit with Emma, whose special savior powers will keep her by his side. Oh, and also, when the town goes, Emma and Henry’s memories of it will vanish as well. Phew! That’s a lot of information to get in 30 seconds.

And so we’re back to that emotional goodbye sequence I mentioned at the top of the recap. There’s just one silver lining to this whole situation: Regina is going to alter Emma and Henry’s memories so that they can live as though she never gave him up for adoption in the first place. Their shared past won’t be real per se, but the emotional core of it will be — allowing Emma to have the life she always wanted. Funny how a mind-altering curse in one context can be a kindness in another.

Emma and Henry embrace Snow and Charming; Nealfire promises they’ll see each other again; the savior and the pirate who loves her share a moment, though not another kiss. Mother and son climb into that yellow Bug and drive off… and just like that, it’s as if Storybrooke never existed in the first place.

At least, until we flash forward a year, and the Swans’ balanced breakfast is rudely interrupted by a familiar face they don’t remember: Hook, telling them that their family’s in trouble. Who else expected him to follow that with a cheeky “where we’re going, we don’t need roads?

Breadcrumbs

– I haven’t mentioned tonight’s multi-character fairybacks because although some included nice character beats, they were largely irrelevant to the plot. Some highights: One illustrated how Hook and Tink met (when he was trying to find a way out of Neverland ), and another sort of revealed where Henry’s storybook came from. (Short answer: Mary Margaret’s closet. Long answer: Magic magic Blue Fairy magic magic.)

– In the last scene, Hook tries to bring back Emma’s memories by kissing her… and she responds by smacking him. Just like Snow and Charming once upon a time!

– That capper also, of course begins at 8:15 a.m. Another callback: The song Emma’s playing during the sequence is “Charley’s Girl” by Lou Reed, which you may remember from grown-up Bae’s introduction in season 2.

– How well does bail bondspersonship pay? Emma and Henry’s New York apartment is swank.

– So how did Rumpel call his shadow back to him if he didn’t have the use of magic?

– How long do you think Hook is going to have to spend convincing Emma that fairy tales are real etc. next year? I’m hoping the answer is one episode, max. (We already had a whole season of that.)

– Once returns… in three months. Three months! However will we while the time away?

– That’s Rebecca Mader of Lost and, er, Work It as the Wicked Witch. Idina Menzel must be green with envy.

– And finally: Rumpel can’t be dead. Right? Right?

… Right?

Episode Recaps

Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.
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