Credit: ABC/Jeff Weddell

We’re just a couple of episodes away from Once Upon a Time‘s series finale, and, yes, the feels are starting to set in. In tonight’s particularly emotional episode, Henry Mills’ family pull out all the stops to help him remember so that he can finally defeat Gothel’s curse, but there’s only one person who can snap Henry out of it: Henry … just not in the way you might be expecting.

When stories begin with this show’s title, there’s usually a “happily ever after” tagged onto the end, and tonight, we get a taste of what that kind of closure might actually feel like. Let’s take it from the top.

The episode begins with Lucy in full panic mode after seeing that Henry and Jacinda have their first (well, not first, but you know) kiss, and it doesn’t rid the town of its curse. In fact, the place is even more doomed than ever as the sky ignites with the fire of the flower child, Mother Gothel. The head witch herself arrives to tell little Lucy and Regina that the balance of nature is resetting, and humanity will not survive it. Regina and her loved ones can escape the world’s wrath if she agrees to be Gothel’s eighth witch, but Regina wants none of it. She’s still betting on Henry to pull them through, even though Gothel assures her that her son, who still doesn’t even know he is her son, is too far gone in disbelief.

In a flashback to Storybrooke, Henry heads off for senior year of school and decides he wants to apply to colleges outside of Storybrooke. He’s the only one in his class who isn’t a magical creature from Fairy Tale Land, so maybe he should give the outside world a shot.

Rumple has had a change of attitude about helping Henry. Although he doesn’t have any magic to give her to finish the potion, he did manage to siphon off some memory juice from Nick that might help Henry get his thoughts together. Rumple’s ready to play nice now because he’s starting to get it that he may never get back to Belle, and at least if he helps his family here, he won’t be alone.

Meanwhile, Tilly’s still lockstep with the rest of Gothel’s coven, even though Rogers/Hook tries his best to convince her to stop casting the evil witch’s spells. Our new friend the Sergeant isn’t one bit phased when one of the chanting witches shrinks into a tree right in front of them, explaining she’s now fulfilled her duty and has been rewarded with a place in the “Eternal Grove.” If the height of the stakes wasn’t already obvious, that sure does the trick, and Rogers decides to grab Tilly to make a break for it. Unfortunately, he’s still cursed and is unable to move her, literally shocked by whatever’s keeping them apart. He promises to come back for and runs for help.

Back in Storybrooke, once Granny’s done schooling Henry on the importance of proper vehicle maintenance, Regina sends her away to fetch some grilled cheese sandwiches. As a token of solidarity with his wanderlust, she brings him a bunch of college applications outside of the area. She’s not totally delighted when he suggests he’s interested in going to film school in Los Angeles (podcasting clearly wasn’t on his radar at the time), but as Regina admits, “being a parent also means learning to let go.”

Little does this version of Regina know, her mirror is trying her best not to let go of her child. In Hyperion Heights, Roni/Regina tries to jog Henry’s memory by offering him a grilled cheese sandwich and spiking his coffee with Rumple’s memory serum. She’s disappointed when nothing happens, and he can read the reaction all over “Roni’s” face. He’s decided, once again, that they aren’t fairy tale characters and, while he can’t explain away Cinderella’s glass slipper, he’s choosing to believe in the real Henry and Jacinda (and Lucy) that he can see and touch and remember right now.

“I’m done searching for answers in our imaginary past,” he insists.

Lucy, however, is not. She alerts Jacinda and Sabine, who are worried about Drew being MIA all of a sudden, that Dr. Facilier a.k.a. Mr. Samdi might have something to do with his disappearance, since he’s left a tarot card as his own sort of non-Hansel-related breadcrumb.

Back at the station, an injured Rogers demands information from Weaver/Rumple about what’s happening around town. The sky is falling, and witches are turning into trees, and he knows his partner knows something about it. Rather than beating around the bush (pun intended), he decides to just lay it out clean. “Magic is real,” he tells him. “All of it, everything you read in Henry Mills’ book. We are all from another realm.” Rogers is initially flushed with disbelief, of course, but he can’t deny what he’s seen — on top of the impossible way which Nick was stabbed, of course — so he can either believe he’s mad or that Weaver is right. His next question is simple: If all this is true, which of these characters was he? In due time, Cap’n.

The two pay a visit to Margot at that bar and ask for her help talking Tilly off the proverbial ledge. They don’t get into all the details, so as not to scare the poor girl, but they do tell her she’s having another of her bad days.

Lucy joins Regina at the graveyard where Victoria is buried, and her real grandma reveals that since the potion is a bust, and the memory juice didn’t take, she’s got another idea. If Henry’s reacquainted with the second book, perhaps that will be the wake-up call they’ve been looking for. Sure, it means exhuming the Evil Stepmother, but … eh. That’s not much of an obstacle, morally at least.

Storybrooke Henry is having a hard time with the fact that he’s gotten into every single school he applied to. [Insert tiny violins GIF here.] The problem isn’t that he has such a wealth of choices ahead of him, of course, but rather that his admissions were all predicated on personal essays that had nothing to do with his actual life among so many fairy tale creatures. Like a good mom, Regina refuses to agree that he should stay home in Storybrooke just to be on the safe side, so he won’t lose himself, even though there has to be a piece of her that wishes he would do just that.

The effort to reintroduce Henry to the book is ultimately in vain, though. As much as Regina and Lucy might hang their hopes on this being the thing that jars his memory, Henry’s mind is too dead set on his own, curse-induced sense of reality. He’s got a whole lifetime of memories as this Henry Mills, and the hurt of losing his family here to bear as well. It’s too real to not be real… (Recap continues on next page)

This is a moment when the acting chops of Lana Parrilla and Andrew J. West get put to the test, and they pass with flying colors. Letting Henry flit off to have his own life way back when was hard enough, but she must’ve never imagined it’d come to this, where he doesn’t even recognize his own mother.

Similarly upsetting is the moment when, despite a sweet plea from Margot for Tilly to give her a chance to turn this terrible day into a good one, she casts her aside and reduces her and Rogers and Weaver to bite-sized bystanders who have to watch as witch after witch becomes a sapling for the sake of Gothel.

When Sabine and Jacinda show up to Samdi’s office, it doesn’t take long for the girl’s to be reunited with Drew. Trouble is, they’re locked into the same containment closet as him, thanks to the magical shoe-enhanced voodoo doll he stabs to incapacitate Sabine. It’s not clear what he wants from them, or why he’s cruelly locking them up, but Samdi does Samdi things, and we aren’t supposed to ask questions about it right now, apparently.

Back at Jacinda’s house, Lucy melts down over Henry refusing to let his mind budge. She wishes he really was a Toys-R-Us kid who never wanted to grow up because his adulthood his making him an intolerably unimaginative guy. Just as Regina struggles with his refusal to remember her, Lucy doesn’t want to be thought of as just his stepdaughter ever again.

After she locks herself in her room in a fit of frustration, Henry sees the adoption papers “Roni” has sworn belonged to them in another lifetime. Her barside song and dance about how they were transported to this time period — the past, to them — for a reason and that they’re really adoptive mom and son might’ve had him wondering if she stumbled into her stash of wormwood that night, but Lucy’s reaction challenges him to take a closer look at the evidence. Beside his name, there’s a number, and he decides to dial.

Storybrooke Henry is readying for graduation when the phone rings. Upon answering, the sound of his own voice stirs up every memory adult Henry has lost in Hyperion Heights. He remembers his mother(s), he remembers his time with Ella, he remembers his friends and his family, and all of the experiences that had been thought for lost. He even remembers being on the other end of this phone call.

One thing he definitely remembers is hearing a key piece of advice before, that he’s ready to share with his younger self (again?): “Home isn’t a place. It’s the people in it. And they’ll always be with you.”

Now that he remembers, at last, there’s work to be done. See, Regina has decided to try to take matters into her own hand by fighting Gothel one-on-one. Sure, her magic might be gone, but she’s still got her trusty baseball bat and the fury of a mother scorned. She’s easily defeated, of course, but once Henry arrives with his fully restored memory and emotions in tow, he plants one on her and, since it’s technically true love’s kiss, the town’s curse is instantly lifted.

Now out of her trance, Tilly becomes Alice again, as Margot remembers herself to be Robin. The two share a sweet kiss, as Rogers realizes he’s Captain Hook and that the fates have been hilarious enough to have him partner with the one he calls Crocodile all this while.

Lovely as the moment is, there’s still work to be done. Gothel is quickly transforming the town into her own little tree village, and only Alice can stop her. Gothel thinks her daughter is now on her side, but she stands hand in hand with the ones she really loves — namely, Robin and Captain — and decides to fight the evil that birthed her. “You want to ruin me the way the world ruined you,” she says. “You chose hate. But I choose love.”

The two fight Harry Potter vs. Voldemort style, but it doesn’t take long for Alice to defeat her. Gothel is transformed into a dark, twisted, and ugly tree, but Alice sprinkles the base with some nice blue flowers to pretty up the place before bidding her mom-tree farewell (read: good riddance).

Happiness abounds. Families are reunited. The storm is broken, and Storybrooke Henry leaves a lovely note for his mother that tells his real personal essay **… and, yet, we know all is not fully well just yet.

Sabine, Jacinda, and Drew reclaim their identities as Tiana, Ella, and Naveen, but are unable to serve up any payback to Facilier before he takes off. Similarly, Rumple finds that his precious memory book has been stolen by the witch doctor, who has somehow brought Rumplestiltskin back into the world so that Rumple can, at long last, face his biggest enemy: himself. Dun dun dunnnnn…

** Henry’s personal essay is cute enough to be repeated here:

Dear Mom, this is the personal essay I wanted to send but couldn’t. It’s titled ‘Once Upon a Time,’ and it’s the story of us. Sometimes, you have to leave home. And you’ve been there for so long, you don’t know who or what you’ll be outside of it, but then you realize every experience, every triumph, every moment has shaped you. And you take that place with you no matter where you go next. I’m lucky, I have an incredible home. You won’t find doubt here. In it you will find magic. You’ll find love and hope and something to believe in. You’ll find the family who fights for one another, who never gives up on one another and even when they’re separated by curse or distance or time. They find each other. They always find each other. I wish the world could know the story of my family. How it was all true, how every moment of it happened. And you may think this is just a story, but that’s the thing about stories, they’re more than words. They live inside of us.They make us who we are. And as long as someone believes that, there will always be magic.

Two more episodes, everybody.

Episode Recaps

Once Upon a Time

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

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