Big, awesome changes are coming to Storybrooke -- thanks to a certain savior and her eleventh-hour dragon battle

By Hillary Busis
April 30, 2015 at 08:55 PM EDT
David Gray/ABC
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When you wish upon a star, it makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires will come to you.

Want proof? Well, last night I spotted a shower of sparks shooting over Manhattan. After squinting to make sure it wasn’t, say, a flaming bag filled with something icky, I squeezed my eyes shut and made a few wishes: Please let Emma finally drop her Scully act and start believing in the curse. Find a way to restore Storybrooke’s citizens’ memories. If you can, bring back Kristin Bauer van Straten’s sexily malevolent Maleficent — and Sheriff Skinnyjeans for good measure. And most of all, please find a way to make Storybrooke’s story lines as absorbing as Once Upon a Time‘s fairybacks.

Okay, fine, one more thing: It’d be really cool if Prince Charming could take over my viEWer duties for just one night.

Lo and behold, earlier this evening I found that all my deepest desires had been granted. As executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz promised, “A Land Without Magic” was a total game-changer — and Once will be an even stronger show next season, thanks to its revelations. For several episodes, it’s seemed like this series was rejecting forward momentum on principle; tonight, though, our master plot took a great leap forward. And it’s all thanks to the power of Twue Wuv.

As the finale begins, Charming is doing his darndest to escape Regina’s dungeon. Though he manages to take down a few masked guards, he soon finds himself outnumbered — until one lackey shoots his supposed comrade with an arrow. Who is this masked man? Why, it’s our dearly departed Huntsman — and he’s happy to do whatever it takes to help James find Snow. Aww, good dog! Have a biscuit.

Meanwhile, a puzzled Dr. Whale is examining Henry in Storybrooke’s one hospital room. (Seriously, isn’t that the same set where David once languished in his coma?) The kid’s totally still and unresponsive, but he has no symptoms suggesting a neurotoxin. It’s almost like his catatonia was caused by… “magic,” finishes Emma. Then she picks up Henry’s story book… and suddenly, she finds herself believing in the crazy tales he’s been spinning. Does this mean Emma actually remembers her own exodus from Fairy Land, or simply that she no longer thinks Henry is cuckoo bananas? Who knows — either way, Emma is onto Regina. And she. Is. Pissed.

As soon as the Evil Queen shows up at the hospital, Emma drags her into a storage closet and roughs her up a little while revealing that 1) she’s worked past her skepticism and 2) Henry ate The Apple Turnover of Doom. Regina is horrified about what’s happened, but has an idea about what to do next: It’s time for a trip to Gold’s pawn shop.

NEXT: Battle Magicale

Cue Rumpelstiltskin popping up in Fairy Land as well. He tells Charming that he’s there to aid the prince as he searches for Snow in the Infinite Wood — but that the imp’s help will, of course, come with a price. At first, James isn’t willing to play Rumpel’s game. But soon, he finds that fighting a magically endowed dark creature with nothing but a pair of puny, un-magical blades isn’t exactly easy. Finally, the prince acquiesces, and Rump pulls out his glowing vial of Love Potion #9. He needs Charming to help him store the elixir in a safe spot — like, say, the belly of a beast. Pro tip: Never play Hide and Seek with Rumpelstiltskin.

Emma and Regina trek down to Goldtown, where the shopkeeper instantly senses that Emma’s become a believer. He exposits once more that true love is a powerful potion with the ability to break any curse — and that he imbued the Dark Curse’s parchment with a drop of that potion, which is why Emma is the only one who can break it. (She, like the concoction itself, is a product of Snow White and Prince Charming’s love.) To end the hex once and for all, Emma will need to retrieve the rest of the potion. And though Gold doesn’t explain exactly how she’s going to do that, he does say that having her father’s sword will help. Now that is a handsome Mother’s Day present.

Before she can embark on her quest, Emma has to tie up a few loose ends. She heads back to the hospital, where she apologizes for not believing Henry, then goes to August’s room in an attempt to enlist his help. Unfortunately, August isn’t exactly a real boy anymore. Emma gets there just in time to see her would-be caretaker transform back into a man-sized puppet. I’m going to ignore any possible dirty jokes and go back to Regina, who’s making her own apologies to Henry.

Are we supposed to feel sorry for the queen, or believe that she really has the capacity to care for her adopted son? Because I still feel a bit like Once‘s writers want to have it both ways: they characterize Regina as the absolute embodiment of evil most of the time, then try to make her a three-dimensional person when it’s convenient. Maybe this will be sorted out in Season 2. In the meantime, Regina’s got another problem to deal with.

Jefferson has appeared at the hospital, intending to collect on Regina’s promise to reunite him with his daughter. Regina, who’s selfish to the core, snarls that their deal is null and void since Henry ate the apple rather than Emma. She smarms that even if he wants to kill her for this, the Hatter doesn’t have the guts, then stalks off to meet Emma. Jefferson doesn’t take this lying down. Instead, he creeps into the hospital’s secret underground asylum, bypasses Nurse Ratched and mute Chief Bromden, and swans into a certain cell… where crazy Belle waits, wondering why she speaks with an Australian accent and wishing she had a nice squirrel baby for company. Jefferson gives the girl her freedom and a mission: to find Mr. Gold and tell him that Regina locked her up.

NEXT: Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus

It’s go time for Emma and Regina. The queen/mayor/HBIC leads Ms. Swan to a mysterious room beneath the clock tower, where she reveals a Get Smart-esque apparatus that hides a manual elevator. She’s going to stand at the top, working the lift’s controls; Emma’s must descend in it alone. Once she gets to the bottom, she finds herself face-to-enormous eye with one of Regina’s old pals: Maleficent, who has been trapped beneath Storybrooke in her giant dragon form.

As Emma does battle with her new foe — switching to her trusty pistol when Charming’s sword doesn’t seem like it’ll do the trick — we flash back and forth between her fight and her father’s own duel with Maleficent. Rumpel has tasked James with hiding the potion (safely stored within a Triwizard Tournament-style golden egg) inside of the sorceress. Fairy tale logic: gotta love it. James manages to succeed by launching himself onto the dragon’s back, tossing the egg within her, and then propelling himself straight out of a stained-glass window and into the lake below the witch’s castle. Well, they say that the best solution is often the simplest.

Emma, meanwhile, finally ditches the gun and uses a fairy tale weapon to fulfill a fairy tale quest. She tosses the blade at the dragon’s heart — and it hits its target, reducing Maleficent to a pile of ashes. The only thing left is the golden egg she was so helpfully incubating.

After Charming drags himself to dry land, Rumpel hands over his reward: the prince’s mother’s engagement ring, which he’s enchanted so that it will lead James to his one true love. After Rump Prince Ali‘s James some more fetching duds, Charming sets off in Snow’s direction. There’s a glass coffin; there’s a final kiss; there’s a miraculous resurrection. Hurrah, Twue Wuv wins! Charming steps things up after the rescue by proposing; Snow White does him one better, suggesting that they go ahead and take back their kingdom. Technically, I think they’ve got two kingdoms to conquer — but something tells me these crazy kids just get it done.

As Emma’s riding back up to the surface, the elevator abruptly stops. But when the sheriff calls up, it’s not Regina who answers — it’s Gold, who claims that the mayor has abandoned Ms. Swan in the shaft. Since Emma can’t climb while carrying the egg, he suggests that she throw it up to him, then shimmy out of this tight spot. Proving once again that her instincts are top-notch, Emma does as Gold says… and promptly discovers that she got played. Regina’s been tied up outside the elevator; Gold is headed back to his shop with the stolen elixir.

There, Gold removes his prized Potion #9 from the golden egg. Before Gold can put the next phase of his plan into action, though, he faces a surprise visitor: Crazy Tangle-Haired Belle, who repeats the lines Jefferson fed her in the hospital. Gold is utterly shocked — the lady is real! She’s alive! She’s still questionably Australian! Now he’s got a buddy to bring along on the next phase of his plan.

NEXT: Sometimes I am frightened / But I’m ready to learn / Of the power… of looooove!

Regina and Emma are ready to search for that two-timing Mr. Gold when fate throws a heartbreaking wrench into their plans. They get simultaneous calls from the hospital, then trek back to Henry’s resting place… only to find that their son has apparently succumbed to his apple-induced injuries.

Both women are crying. Emma slowly approaches her kid’s body and brushes his hair away from his forehead. Then she leans down, whispers that she loves him, and kisses him. Looks like she didn’t need that Twue Wuv potion after all. Her kiss and her declaration are magic enough to revive Henry — and send shockwaves throughout Storybrooke. Each one of the town’s residents suddenly regains all of their Fairy Land memories. That’s right — Henry is alive, and the curse is officially over! Ding-dong, the false identities are all dead — which may make it difficult to distinguish between Storybrooke and the fairybacks, should they continue into next season. But who cares — in any case, Maine just got a whole lot more interesting.

Even though they’ve all suddenly remembered who Regina really is, the folks in the hospital — including Dr. Whale, Mother Superior/the Blue Fairy, and Emma — don’t immediately accost the cursed witch. Instead, they let her run back to her mansion, where she buries her face in Henry’s pillow and starts crying. It’s a little late to be trying for the sympathy vote, Mayor.

Get your hankies out, folks — next up is the reunion we’ve been waiting to see since October. David is on his way out of town when he realizes he’s not really David. But as soon as it all comes back to him, he turns his truck around and finds Mary Margaret — er, Snow White. The two recognize each other and come together for a massively romantic, camera-spinning kiss. He found her! She never let go! He had her at “Hello”! It wasn’t over; it still isn’t over! Swoon.

Gold — or should I say Rumpelstiltskin? — leads Belle into the woods. (Sorry that I just got every song from that musical stuck in your head.) There’s a brief pause when she remembers who she really is, and that she loves him — but before they can enjoy a real reunion, Rumpel has Belle press on to the wishing well where August once brought Emma. He reminds us that the well’s waters can return that which one has lost. It seems pretty clear that the imp is finally going to do what he came to Earth to do: find Baelfire.

But then Rumpelstiltskin dashes our expectations once again. He drops the love potion into the well. Soon, a giant cloud of purple smoke comes billowing out of it. The smoke monster rolls through the woods and into the town, engulfing each character in turn. As Regina sees it approach, her frown slowly turns into a satisfied smirk. Because she knows what Rump has just done: He’s bringing magic to Storybrooke. And why? “Because magic is power,” he tells Belle as the monster creeps up the town’s clock tower — and the minute hand moves once more. SCENE.

NEXT: Season 1’s last breadcrumbs. Tasty!

Leftover Breadcrumbs (great for making meatballs!)

– Charming isn’t just a good fighter — he’s freaking brutal when he wants to be. Witness, for example, the way he breaks one of Regina’s guards’ arms with his bare hands. Didn’t Snow Dark do that once as well?

– And speaking of fights: There were so many action sequences in this finale! Which was your favorite?

– The Huntsman’s appearance was short but sweet. Like you, I’m still hoping Kitsis, Horowitz et al can figure out a good way to revive him in Season 2.

– I loved when Rump tossed Charming’s ring in the air and then announced, “This ring is now enchanted.” Next on his agenda? Getting two tickets to that thing you love, then transforming those tickets into diamonds.

– Gold says he’s saving True Love for a rainy day. Emma: “Well, it’s storming like a bitch. Where is it?”

– Emma, trying to ask a gradually petrifying August for help: “This is all too much. I just talked to the Evil Queen and Rumpelstiltskin about a quest to find magic!”

– Maleficent shares the caverns under Storybrooke with Snow’s busted-up glass coffin. What other magical treasures might be lurking below?

– Also locked up in the Cuckoo’s Nest Asylum: Sidney Glass. Methinks the Mirror won’t be too pleased with how he’s been treated, now that he knows who he really is.

– Unnecessary Henry Line of the Night: “The curse. I think you broke it!”

– So what happens to Pinocchio now? Is he a sentient, man-sized puppet, or has the end of the curse and the influx of magic transformed him back into a real boy — er, full-grown adult?

Well, that’s it for now, Oncelers. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to recap this series for you — and I hope to see you all back here come fall. In the meantime, share your feelings on “A Land Without Magic” below. Was it all you could wish for on a star? And what are you looking forward to seeing next season?

Hillary on Twitter

Episode Recaps

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