Once Upon a Time: Operation Mongoose Review

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By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

Every so often we are given a gift in storytelling that reminds us why they are so meaningful to us. Perhaps it is a new song that moves you to tears or a novel that you read voraciously from cover to cover. Once Upon a Time is one of television’s finest shows, and much like last year’s finale, the season 4 ender was a beautiful reminder how this series can thoroughly captivate and move with its unique storytelling. To say everything changed in these two hours would be an understatement! In this stunning conclusion there were moments of sweetness, adventure, and heartbreak leading to a shocking ending that changes the series forever. The episode begins in December 1966. We see the origin of the author, Isaac Heller, an unsuccessful TV salesman destined for grander things when the Apprentice summons him under the guise of a publisher and tells him he is meant to be the next author, as the last one had recently passed away, a nod to the passing of Walt Disney. In the present, as we know, Isaac abuses his power and begins to write a new Storybook, “Heroes and Villains,” to give Rumple and himself a happy ending. Despite our heroes’ best efforts and freeing of the Apprentice from the Sorcerer’s hat, they could not stop him in time, and when Isaac writes the very final words “The End” everyone is sent into this alternate story- all except Henry. Though it was sad and eerie to see Henry walking through the streets of Storybrooke completely alone, I loved seeing the boy with not only the heart of the truest believer, but also the heart of a hero, finally get the chance to become one. He tracks down Isaac who is living out his dream as a best-selling author, and manages to trap them both into the book. They arrive in the final chapter and Isaac says once the bells toll everything will remain the same. He then leaves Henry at the mercy of an ogre attack, forgetting that the story’s hero would soon arrive. In this topsy turvy world Rumple is a brave knight, the ogre slayer, and the “Light One” who is a noble hero living happily with his wife Belle and new baby. Rumple saves Henry and he sets out on a quest to get a hero a happy ending. Only then can the book be destroyed and everything restored to normal. But a hero’s journey is never easy and in this story Snow White is the Evil Queen, and Charming her heart controlled husband and substitute for his twin brother James who tragically died because of Regina. She is a bandit living in the woods, while Robin, whom she has never met, is her thieving competition who is set to marry Zelena. When Henry finds his adoptive mother and relays the truth, she naturally does not believe him especially when he says that if she shares True Love’s Kiss with Robin they will all be saved. Of course in true romantic fashion, and a touch of fate, Robin saves Regina’s life when she attempts to rob Snow’s carriage and the two share a sweet moment where their undeniable connection is felt in their longing looks. Perhaps she didn’t want to believe Henry, but her disappointment is clear when she leaves the moment she learns of Robin’s impending nuptials. She finds Henry waiting outside and despite telling him he is a sweet kid, she says if he wants help perhaps he should find his other mother. But Emma isn’t in the book as far as he knows; it’s only when he says she is the Savior that Regina suspects who she is- a mad woman who called herself such that Snow had locked away in a tower across the bottomless sea.

With this knowledge, who better to help rescue Emma than the pirate captain who truly loves her. But in this story Killian is a shy, lowly, and often cowardly deck hand for Captain Blackbeard of the Jolly Roger. Henry quickly takes charge, knocking out Blackbeard, and telling Killian he can help him sail the ship because he had a great teacher- him. Cue one melted heart. And I cannot express how much I adored the following little adventure for Henry, Killian, and Emma. They arrive at the tower, and after the Wookie Prisoner trick allows them to get past the Black Knight standing guard, Killian gets them out of the way while Henry races to find Emma. And when she sees her son her face lights up as she says “I knew you’d fine me.” In this book her punishment is that she knows the truth but is completely powerless. Now that mother and son were reunited, hope was restored. Emma races down the tower and falls into Killian’s arms, leaving them both awestruck. Emma is so happy to see his face looking up at him like he is the sun, while Killian is so immediately and adorably smitten he must shake himself out of his mesmerized gaze. Much like when Killian found Emma in New York, full of hope and love for the woman who could not remember him, now Emma was the one with memories of their relationship. As they escape on his ship, fighting off Lily in dragon form, and proving how they always make quite the team, we see a sweet moment as they share a drink of goat’s milk because he is amusingly allergic to rum. In this alternate reality Killian may have been written as shy and insecure in his fighting abilities, but much like the connection between Regina and Robin, we see that no author can alter the truth of someone’s heart. In these scenes it was as if we were witnessing what their love story may have looked like if Emma had met earnest and innocent Lieutenant Jones. It was absolutely adorable seeing how nervous Killian was as Emma gave him a rather sexy sword fighting lesson, standing so close and guiding him through the muscle memory motions of what this entails. But this sweetness was soon followed by devastation. Snow and Charming approach, threatening to Kill Emma and Henry to preserve their world, and Killian proves that even though he was written as a coward, his true nature could not be denied. No doubt inspired by the beautiful woman he so instantly feels a kinship with, Killian finds his courage and tells Emma to save Henry while he holds them off. You can see the fear in his eyes as he fights Charming but his natural ability shines through as he disarms him. But when his back is turned to face Snow, Charming stabs Killian while Emma watches in horror. And no other death, temporary or otherwise, has ever been so devastating on the series. And poor Emma doesn’t even have time to grieve as she and Henry must rush to find Regina and make a final plea. Heartbroken, Emma asks Regina to follow her heart and go to Robin because love is a part of all happiness and is always worth the risk. Jennifer Morrison played the scene with such touching honesty, tears streaming down her face as she says she just watched the man she love die and deeply regrets never telling him once how she felt, always so scared of taking that next step. Her only chance with him is if Regina can be brave and take the chance that Emma was denied. And in the end Regina does show true bravery and love, but in a different way. For remember that so many character’s true natures shine through in significant moments. Rumple arrives prepared to kill them all in order to preserve his story, showing a much more in character selfishness. Emma tries to hold him off while Regina peers into the church, love in her heart as she and Robin’s eyes meet. For a moment it seems is if all will be well again, but when Emma is knocked out and Regina hears Henry in danger she rushes to save his life, mortally wounded in the process. Robin and Zelena depart from the church and Robin rushes to Regina’s side. Zelena manages to show her true green with envy colors at this sight, while Robin promises to stay with her till the end. It was heart wrenching to see Henry cry over his wounded mother when all hope seemed lost, as Isaac boasts that he is no longer the author so nothing can be changed back. But then Henry has a stroke of genius- perhaps he could write a new ending. The pen’s magic ignites in his hand, signifying that Henry is the next author, and with a drop of Regina’s heroic blood Henry is able to save the day.

There were so many wonderful moments in this alternate reality, visually, emotionally, and performance wise. Though I adore the nobility of Snow and Charming, seeing them so dark was deliciously fun and Goodwin and Dallas were fantastic is these altered personas. In my favorite episode for Henry’s character, I loved seeing Jared Gilmore shine in the role of steadfast believer and true hero. Maguire’s Robin retained his undeniable charm and was able to convey a spark of deep emotion with great subtlety. Parrilla’s Regina was very different and yet still familiar, showcasing the warmth her younger persona embodied, and her scenes with Gilmore were especially touching. O’Donoghue once again was brilliant displaying a gentle earnestness that Killian does indeed possess, but seen through a very different lens- one where he is unsure of himself, but can still find bravery and a fighting spirit. It is amazing how subtle changes in performance can make a character feel so different while remaining true to their essence. And Morrison, being the only one with her memories intact may not have had the luxury of portraying an altered personality, but it allowed her to instead beautifully showcase Emma’s miraculous growth. From imploring her parents to believe in hope, to her playful, confident flirting with Killian, to her tearful confession that she never told him how much she loved him, Morrison was astounding. What I loved most of all was how evident this story demonstrated that the true hearts of our characters will always shine through. Rumple still acted selfishly, Charming would always find Snow, and Regina was willing to sacrifice herself to save Henry just like Killian broke through his written cowardice and sacrifice himself for Emma and Henry. I would have loved to have seen an entire season arc in this alternate storybook world, but was overjoyed to see everything restored to the way things should be. Little did we know how short lived this happiness would last.

When everyone wakes up in Storybrooke Emma rushes to the loft and for an instant thinks Killian may still be dead, until he appears upstairs. She runs into his arms with such elation and hugs him so fervently that they tumble down onto her bed, both laughing out of pure joy. Emma is so overjoyed and relieved that he is alright telling him she was so scared she would never get a chance to tell him something. He sweetly smiles and you can see the happy, nervous anticipation on his face. He knows what she wants to say- it is what he has longed to hear pass from her lips for so long. But once again Emma is afraid to say those three special words and simply thanks him for his sacrifice, showing her love for him rather than saying it as she cradles his head and rests her forehead against his. Killian’s reaction is very touching. It was sad to see his face fall, but lovely to see him remain steadfast in his willingness to wait. Most importantly, he says that his sacrifice is all in a day’s work for a hero, demonstrating how he at long last sees himself as such. After so much self loathing and doubt, hearing him speak of heroics with such natural ease was wonderful. He finally believes in himself the way Emma believes in him. This is a truly significant moment for his character and a sure sign that this newfound confidence will play a role in what is to come. Belle finds Rumple and is very honest with him as he lay dying saying how she won’t let him be alone. But even though our heroes prevailed, they were still in danger. Rumple’s heart is nearly black which would mean only the “Dark One” would remain, so the Apprentice removes all of the darkness from his heart and preserves him in a weakened state. Belle seems to be on a road to forgiveness but I hope to see Rumple truly earn that because he was not healed through his own actions. Importantly, the darkness he removed could not be contained. It attaches to the Apprentice but Emma is able to cast it out. He then tells them that only the Sorcerer can destroy the darkness once and for all. They must find him. They must find Merlin! Meanwhile, the darkness surrounds them all looking for a person to consume. It latches onto Regina and Emma then makes the ultimate heroic act, knowing the darkness must be tethered to a person to contain it. She tells her parents they found a way to cast away the darkness from her before, so they can do so again as heroes. Killian begs her not to do this, and in this heartbreakingly beautiful moment she finally says “I Love You” to him. But what was truly heart wrenching was that he doesn’t even get the chance to say it back before she raises the ‘Dark One” dagger into the air letting the darkness envelop her. Her eyes never leave him until she disappears leaving the dagger behind with the name Emma Swan now inscribed on the blade. It all happens so quickly but with gifted actors like Morrison and O’Donoghue we are given an added layer of depth and emotion to an already powerful scene.

As devastating as Emma sacrificing herself may be, there is always a sense of hope and beauty in this type of epic storytelling. What happens when the lightest light and the darkest dark reside in one person? Emma became the “Dark One” not out of a quest for power but as a truly heroic act. She did so to protect her family, Regina and Robin, and Killian. It is that remarkable love story between Emma and Killian that has captured my heart in an immeasurable way and this finale was an exquisite affirmation why. Beautifully filmed and performed their scenes in the altered Storybook and their final moments together solidified the depth of their bond and intricacy and symbolic beauty given to their story. The moment they meet each other again for the first time they run out of the shadows and into the light just like the light they represent in each other’s lives. Despite knowing her for such a short time their connection was strong enough that he was willing to risk his life for her. Just as he had told her that he would have gone after her in the past, we see that no matter where or when they meet, these two souls will always fall in love. Fate may play a hand, but love is an indescribable mystery, and importantly a choice. Emma may have been scared to tell him how she felt when she was overjoyed to find him alive, but when it mattered most- when the future was uncertain and about to be filled with darkness she chose hope. She chose to confess her love. Before her sacrifice, Emma and Killian clasp hands and she places his hand over her heart, furthering the exquisite emphasis on these entities entwined. It is clear their hearts, which have both been threatened, have always been entwined, and he vowed that he would win hers without any trickery. Moreover, since the very beginning we have seen this lovely hand motif, outstretched or held in care or reverence. Now as she held his hand over the heart he said he would protect, she is letting him know that he has won her heart. She loves him and believes that no matter what, their two hearts combined can endure anything. Emma choosing to part from her those she cares for, especially Killian is a beautiful example of why Emma is such a remarkable character. She has learned how to believe in hope, to believe in others, and to believe in herself. Can True Love’s Kiss break the curse? It may not be that simple. But there is something profoundly poetic about a man who spent 300 years on a quest to destroy the “Dark One,” who now finds himself in love with her. Killian is the last person she gazes upon before she disappears and the last one we see before the newly inscribed dagger is revealed, signifying that perhaps he was always meant for this journey. Come what may, we know that True Love is stronger than darkness and that this is the kind of epic and poignant storytelling that the greatest fairy tales are made of.

Favorite Moments:
There were so many amazing moments in this fantastic season finale that I absolutely loved. It was wonderful seeing Henry in true hero fashion, working with Killian, and his two mothers to save the day and becoming the next author, not to mention driving himself to safety. That one lesson with David certainly paid off. Regina and Robin’s connection in this altered story was very sweet and their longing looks were lovely. Regina’s heroic final moments with Henry also brought me to tears. And most especially all of the beautiful moments for Emma and Killian, from their engaging adventures and flirtations, and the devastating though incredibly moving moment he died to protect her, to their joyful reunion and her tearful confessions of her deep love for him, every single moment felt like precious gifts that will be cherished always.

Favorite Lines:
Emma: I just watched the man I love die. The worst part is I never told him I loved him, not once. I was too scared. Too scared that somehow saying it would make it real and change everything. But now I’ll never have the chance to take that next step with him because he’s gone.

Emma: When I watched you die, I was so scared I would never get the chance to tell you something.
Killian: Tell me what?
Emma: That I- want to thank you for sacrificing yourself. Henry and I wouldn’t have succeeded without you.
Killian: Of course, love. It’s all in a day’s work for a hero.

Emma: (to Killian): I Love You.

Charming: Is she worth your life, pirate?
Killian: I’m willing to find out.

Killian: How do you know how to sail a ship?
Henry: I had a great teacher- You.

Henry: Why didn’t you go into the church?
Regina: I couldn’t let you die.

Robin (to Regina): Have you ever met someone that you would change your entire world for? Someone whose eyes you knew you were born to gaze into?

Emma: You’re a regular Jack Sparrow.
Killian: Is that a good?


    14 Comments

  1. Leighanna RoseMay 13th, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    How about we have a fairy tale that isn’t about straight people for once? What’s the point of questioning the values of fairytale romance if you only regurgitate them?

    It might feel like it means a lot to you, but it’s just one out of thousand and thousands of “magical” het relationships out there. Meanwhile the sizebable queer fanbase of OUAT has been ignored and largely marginalised and demonised.

  2. KatieMay 15th, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Absolutely beautiful review!! You have such a way with words 🙂

  3. ButtercupMay 15th, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Wonderful review, Marianne! I always love your articles. I thought the finale was beautiful, especially the second hour with Emma finally opening up about her feelings for Killian. I adored the bedroom scene, even though Emma chickened out on saying “I love you” at that point. I also agree with you that it was wonderful to see Henry come into his own. He’s a hero now, and the author to boot! Breaking the quill gave me major Harry Potter feels. : )

  4. KimMay 15th, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    This is a stunning review as always <3

  5. LMay 15th, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Wow, great analysis. So intelligent and insightful. Couldn’t agree more.

  6. KatMay 15th, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    About the comment above (or below): I don’t think it works like this. Love doesn’t know genders. I’m sure if any other characters shared this kind of passion as Emma and Killian people would rot for them. And maybe instead of looking at it through your preferences, you should admire the story the writers chose to tell.

  7. Victoria WhaleMay 15th, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    ^ she says as she completely marginalizes and ignores reviewer’s thoughts and feelings.

  8. ElizabethMay 15th, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Such a beautiful post. I can’t wait to see what next season has in store and to read more from you. I’m excited for the beautiful love story even more for Hook/Emma cause of the whole dark one thing.

  9. Caterina LeistikowMay 15th, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    this is a beautiful review. This truly was an epic finale with such ups and downs that when you think you have got your breath the last five minutes happens. I can’t wait to see what is in store for Killian and Emma, Regina and Robin. I can’t wait to see what #DarkSwan brings or the adventure to save Emma. Again beautiful review for an epic finale.

  10. ElissaMay 15th, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    No need to be nasty. The reviewer isn’t responsible for the writing on the show, and doesn’t seem to be hateful towards the LGBTQ community. It’s just one person’s viewpoint. Let her enjoy her show how she wants to enjoy it.

    I agree that the LGBTQ community should be represented more, in *all* forms of literature, art, and entertainment. Personally, I would have liked to see the Mulan/Sleeping Beauty storyline explored, which had a lot of potential. So, I’m not trivializing your feelings or opinions, but I wish you would express them in a nicer way. The author of this review was really upset by your comment and meant no harm to anyone.

  11. Kris mattinMay 15th, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    Hi I love your reviews of Once Upon a Time. I enjoy how you break down the reviews. I also find myself going back to read your previous reviews to go over all of the little gems you pick up throughout the show.
    thanks again!!!!

  12. Duckling-SwanMay 15th, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Your review is fantastic as always. A great pleasure to read it every week. You know how to give me/us all the emotions felt while watching the episodes. I am rewatching the season finale again thanks to your beautiful words. Never stop writing your reviews, they are perfect.

  13. TammyMay 15th, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    Beautifully and honestly written! You always so perfectly own the truth of the emotion of the characters and their motivations. I not only appreciate that as a viewer and fan,…. But I applaud it as someone who values insight as well. Like you, it is the ever evolving love story between Hook & Emma that has captivated & I dare say CAPTURED my heart. For their romance, while often painfully a slow burn, is unlike any others in the world of OUAT. I am so grateful for that time & care the writers invest into it. Well worth the wait and simmer. For in that significance is the beauty of their bond.

    The finale in all its aspects was lovely, moving and just plain fun. You hit all the high points right on the head. (As usual).

    Hoping for more of the Hook & Henry relationship next season. Would love to see them explore that further. But we shall see…

    Anyway, thank you for sharing! Loved every single word! It’s like you looked into my heart and put it perfectly onto paper. Amazing!

  14. KarlieMay 15th, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    I’m a CS shipper through and through, and your words about Emma and Killian’s love for each other are as wonderful and spot on as usual! 🙂 I totally agree that there’s something poetic about Killian being in love with the Dark One after having spent lifetimes hunting the last Dark One down. It’s so sad, but is just gonna become another part of what makes CS such an epic love story.

    Ugh, I don’t know how I’m gonna be able to wait for season 5, but seeing a review like this just helps to reaffirm my love for many of the relationships on this show that make it so beautiful and keeps my excitement up for the things to come! Can’t wait to read any and all insights you have on OUAT next season! 🙂 have a great hiatus!

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