Well, folks, we’re in the home stretch now, and rather than things being emotional or wrapping up the various loose ends of the ever-winding story line that is Once Upon a Time, the twists just keep on coming. Honestly, would we have it any other way at this point?
Let’s walk through what wrinkles the penultimate episode of the series had to offer and what it might mean for the endgame ahead.
Once upon a time, Henry Mills was not such a blessed beau as he is now. One flashback to the wish realm, as he rode valiantly to rescue the princess from her otherwise eternal slumber but was beaten to the job of slaying the dragon and left loveless once more, reminds us of as much. But now that the Hyperion Heights curse has been lifted — well, for everyone except Alice and Hook — he is free to enjoy is re-found family.
Back in wish world, though, Rumple laid the foundation for something very sinister to follow the young hero throughout his later days. He offered Henry a chance at true love and a castle and all the wonderful things his heart desired … but, as always, there’d be a price. Henry knew better than to make a deal with the dark one who preys on such desperate souls and vowed, “I’ll find my happy ending the right way.” Meanwhile, Rumple muttered a promise to the contrary.
Flashforward to now, when everything seems hunky dory for Henry & Co., they make a collective cupcake wish to make up for lost time. Although they have nothing to ask for — ’cause, ya know, everything they could possibly want is right there, d’aw — they each blow out their candles to keep Lucy happy, and poof. Lucy and Ella are gone, and Rumple’s there to antagonize Henry instead. He’s sent them back to the wish realm, he reveals, and won’t let them return to Hyperion Heights and Henry until he’s obtained the Dark One’s dagger. Rumple has to stop Gold from giving the source of both of their power away to the Guardian — “love has poisoned him; love is a weakness, and he’s infected” — and he did warn Henry that true happiness would be out of reach without his help.
Regina also gets some swell news when she goes to visit Facilier and finds his place wrecked, with Gold locked behind a fake fountain fixture, with the news that not only is her lover done for, but her worst enemy has joined their realm to ruin everything.
Henry barrels in to to alert Regina and Gold to his missing persons case, and they formulate a plan. They won’t give up the dagger, as Rumple wishes, because they “don’t negotiate with villains.” Instead, they’ll fight magic with magic by returning to the wish realm. Captain Hook has an idea up his sleeve, so to speak.
They go through the portal and find themselves separated. Rumple’s already anticipated this move and sent Hook and Gold to Gold’s former home, a place that’s full of terrible memories, like the moment he used a mallet to injure himself out of wartime duties. Meanwhile, Regina and Henry find themselves in Rumple’s castle, warned by a locked-up Peter Pan that they’ll not come out of this place alive. They’re willing to take their chances.
Hook takes Gold to his old and unfortunate stomping grounds as well, remembering a time not so long ago when he too was existing under a cloud of depression and disappointment and only survived it to thanks to a friendly neighbor. That’s when he summons Ariel to ask her for some spare squid ink. She’s upset to see Gold standing there, unaware there’s a version of the Dark One that isn’t a terrible mass murderer and whatnot, but our mer-friend acclimates pretty quickly, gives them the goods, and sends them both good cheer in taking down the Crocodile on behalf of everyone.
Henry and Regina ignore Pan’s warnings and proceed to search the place for Ella and Lucy. Instead of finding them, however, they run into Cruella de Vil, who’s laid a trap hoping something tasty (or at least fun to wear) would come scampering into the castle on her watch. She takes a shine to Henry but is so insulted by his rejection that she challenges him to a
dogfight duel. Henry easily disarms her, and puts her back in her cage as they command her to speak — pun intended — up as to the whereabouts of Henry’s family. Luckily she hasn’t eaten or skinned the ladies; instead, they’re down in the dungeon awaiting rescue. But there’s a catch….
Instead of being shackled up, Ella and Lucy are trapped in a snow globe, and Rumple arrives just in time to let Henry and Regina know that no amount of magic will get the girls out without his help. To up the ante and make sure Henry gets motivated to do Rumple’s bidding, he starts filling the globe with actual snow, promising that his family will either be frozen or buried by night’s end if the Dark One doesn’t get his dagger.
Of course, Regina still gives it the old college try to pry it open with her newly reclaimed magic, because that’s just what she does, but it’s no use. Hook and Gold arrive just in time to stop Henry from deciding to hand over the dagger — although Henry does rightly call Gold out for his hypocrisy in being unwilling to make such a sacrifice for Lucy when he would’ve done the same for Gideon. Gold has another plan, though. While Regina sends Henry and Hook off to the library to look up spells (in other words, to do busy work because she still treats him like a child sometimes), Gold returns to his childhood home and confronts Rumple.
He tricks Rumple into believing he’ll hand over the dagger in exchange for setting him free to be with Belle. Gold reasons that he’s never been able to defeat Rumple, and anyone he’s tried to pawn the dagger off to has suffered as a result, so why not just let him have it and endure all his darkness alone and forever? It seems almost genuine, but of course the piece has been covered in enough squid ink to temporarily paralyze the Dark One as he grabs it. Killing Rumple may cost Gold his future with Belle, but getting rid of his darkness is a favor to all the world, so that’s the price he’ll just have to pay.
Timing being everything, though, Regina runs in just before Gold can plant the piece into Rumple’s heart, and the Dark One’s able to free himself and steal the dagger anyway. Despite his apparent victory, there’s still one thing he needs, and it looks like he’s already got Henry well on his way to completing his plan, whether the kid knows it or not.
Indeed, Henry grows frustrated with homework and sees a quill, which reminds him of his place in this world. He’s the storybook writer. After knocking Hook out for threatening to join him on this next leg of his journey, Henry ventures out into the woods and convinces the old blind pen-keeper that he’s the true author and deserves to have his instrument returned to him. Upon touching him and reviewing his memories, the old man agrees and gives the pen to Henry. This offers the real writers of this story — that is, whoever’s writing these scripts — the chance to poke fun at themselves with the very meta line: “It is indeed a complicated story. The timelines alone would make one’s head spin. Only a true author could weave such a tale.” Har har. But then, our new pal brings it right back to the narrative and warns Henry that his job isn’t to create stories, as he obviously intends to do, but rather to record them. With time running out on Ella and Lucy, he’s become exactly the right amount of desperate to ignore the sage warning and falls right into Rumple’s trap, though.
Henry steals the ink he needs from Cruella’s hair, much to her chagrin, and goes to pen a new chapter in this fairy tale … but then he finds himself face to face with, well, himself, as Rumple introduces him to the wish realm version of Henry. That earlier scene with Rumple taunting young Henry wasn’t just a relic of the past, after all; it’s also a piece of a present person who’s given up on trying to carve out his own happy ending and wants to instead do whatever Rumple wants so that he can have his own way. That means being the author of the new story Rumple wants to commit to magic paper, starting with the simple line, “The powers of the Guardian are no more.”
With that, Rumple’s status as an eternal figure is no longer threatened by Gold’s do-gooder virtuosity of late. Despite winning, he still vanquishes Hyperion Heights Henry and everyone else into the snow globe with Ella and Lucy and leaves only Regina standing in the castle. She’s been spared here, he reveals, because it’s one of wish realm Henry’s requests. This Henry recognizes her not as the gentle Regina but as the Evil Queen who killed off his family, and he’s ready to avenge their deaths.
Back in Hyperion Heights, Alice feels something has happened to her father, and she and Robin rally the help of Tiana. Tiana hasn’t been feeling very queenly lately — in fact, she’s been up to her elbows in flour and sugar making beignets just to have something to occupy her mind — but she rises to the occasion of summoning her people to help. Remy, it turns out, does have a little bit of magic saved up in the form of a bean he’d been saving for a rainy day. With it, Alice and Robin are able to ride off into a magic portal using the now-unnecessary food truck, and instead of heading straight for Rumple’s castle, they’re heading off to Storybrooke to recruit a few old friends to help. You might recognize a few of them when the second part of this series finale airs next week …
Alice’s magic has become very important in this sense, especially in recent episodes, but it’s clear that it’ll take the heroes standing up to Rumple en masse to finally do away with the Dark One. With Charming, Snow White, and Emma all featured in the look-ahead, it’s going to be a reunion like no other and a battle of the grandest scale this show has to offer. How the new Henry factors into that remains to be seen; is he so jaded as to be irretrievable, or will the trio’s return help change his mind? This week’s episode might’ve thrown in one more wrinkle just for old time’s sake, but the path forward otherwise looks like a pretty cut-and-dry battle between good and evil. It’s time. Let’s do this.
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