Once Upon a Time Season Finale Review: There’s No Place Like Storybrooke

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By Marianne Paluso (Marianne_P81)

When the spellbinding show that is Once Upon a Time returned from a three-month hiatus in March, I was beyond excited to see what was in store for Emma Swan, Captain Hook, Snow White, Prince Charming and the rest of our favorite fairy tale characters. Having loved the first half of season 3, I had many hopes for the second and these hopes were more than met. There was so much to love: the introduction of Oz, the Witch Zelena (deliciously Wicked Rebecca Mader), the ever-evolving relationships, and the character arcs established in the Neverland episodes including the taglines from promotional posters and confessions made in the Echo Cave were beautifully fulfilled. Season 3 ended with an amazing two-part finale and those episodes are probably my favorite episodes of the entire series thus far. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

For Regina, her arc was to believe that a mother’s love is stronger than a dark heart. Undergoing a steady transformation, it was her love for Henry that proved the strongest. Having learned to be a more selfless mother, she was able to break the Storybrooke curse with True Love’s Kiss, giving her light magic and helping her to defeat Zelena. For any Regina fan, this was wonderful to watch. For Neal, his arc was to believe in second chances and he was given a second chance to do the right thing. Hastily bringing back his father with dark magic and not understanding the “life for a life” price, Rumple absorbed his spirit, which allowed Neal’s will to do two heroic acts. The second act was sacrificing his life for his father, which helped to save everyone. He told Emma to find happiness with someone else and his father to finally let him go – a common theme of the show. But it was his first act of heroism that really struck me. With the curse coming, his will was strong enough to separate from his father just long enough to write a message and send it along with a memory potion to Hook, knowing that if anyone could help, he could. This faith in his friend, and perhaps perception of how much Hook loves Emma, was touching and brought his character full circle. And For Snow and Charming, not only did their Echo Cave confessions come to pass, but also their character arcs came true in quite a moving way. In a surprising twist, we learn that the couple cast the dark curse in hopes of reaching Emma. Having to give up the heart of the thing he loved most, Charming sacrificed himself, proving that he will always save his family. Snow also fulfills her arc that hope is the strongest magic of all. With faith that her heart is strong enough for the two of them, Snow asks Regina to spilt her heart in two so she and her husband can both survive. And it works! The steadfast couple now literally shares one heart. You can’t get much more beautiful than that.

For my two favorite characters, Emma and Hook, their love story and character journeys were undoubtedly my favorite aspect of season 3. The character arcs were to believe that a pirate can be a hero and to believe that a lost girl can find her way home and were truly a thing of beauty. Killian Jones (which is how I will address him from now on) could already be deemed heroic, but he needed to prove to others, and especially to himself, that being a good and honorable man was still possible. Losing Emma was devastating to him, so much so that soon after their return to the Enchanted Forest, he tries to go back to his old pirating ways. So what happened when Killian tried to go back to this old way of life? Despite claiming to always be pirate, it is clear that falling in love with Emma changed him, as he has no desire to numb his pain with other women. He does believe that if he gets his ship back, all will be well for him again, even going back on his word to help Ariel save her true love Prince Eric in order to keep his vessel. As Ariel tried to convince him that he is still a good man and that love is more important than a ship, his pain is potent as he says, “She may be just a few planks of wood and a sail, but she’s mine. She’s all I need. Love brings nothing but wasted years and endless torment.” It was obvious he was trying to convince himself even more than Ariel of these things. His guilt plagues him in the present when Ariel shows up in Storybrooke without her memories, hoping to find Eric. When it’s revealed that this Ariel was Zelena in disguise, my heart broke for him. She is able to get him to declare how much he still loves Emma, and swear on her name, cursing his lips so that the next time they touch Emma’s all of her magic will be taken. He is left feeling trapped made especially sad when moments later, Emma seems to finally be opening up to him and he cannot the embrace the woman he so longs to share everything with. Tension builds between the two when she discovers this curse, but when he nearly drowns, she does not hesitate to save his life, sacrificing her magic in the process.

Which brings me to the two-part season finale, “Snow Drifts” and “There’s No Place Like Home,” in which Emma and Killian go on a fairy tale adventure together, thus fulfilling their season long arcs. When they are sucked into Zelena’s time portal, they land back in time in the Enchanted Forest. Accidentally altering the first meeting of Snow and Charming, Emma and Killian must fight to correct the timeline otherwise Emma will cease to exist. Besides the clever nod to Back to the Future, there was so much to love about these final two hours. Returning to the timeline of season one episode “Snow Falls,” it was wonderful to see that even when the circumstances are altered, Snow and Charming still meet in a similar way, still say the same things, and yes, still fall in love with each other as they were always meant to. We are also treated to Regina in her Evil Queen grandeur and Rumplestiltskin as his impish, flamboyant and truly entertaining self. But the real joy was for Captain Swan shippers who felt as if we’ve won the lottery. For as deep as the feelings between them are, so much has been under the surface with very little physical contact between them. In the finale, everything changes in glorious ways. Lighthearted and fun, romantic and poignant, their adventure to ensure that true love prevails solidified the love between the Captain and the Savior, while simultaneously lighting Emma’s path toward home.

It is nearly impossible to choose a favorite moment, as each one was golden. In “Snow Drifts,” Emma and Killian prove that they do indeed make quite the team. Needing to distract a past Captain Hook from returning to his ship, Emma is tasked with keeping him occupied. Emma slips into a flirty, seductive mode quite easily as she distracts Past Hook, clearly enjoying being in control of the situation and able to focus on a single facet of her attraction to him – the physical one. Despite getting him drunk, she can’t keep him from the Jolly Roger forever and they return before Killian can depart. So Emma kisses the tipsy and besotted captain much to the chagrin of Killian who watches on. Clearly jealous and not considering this the best version of himself, he punches his past self and they flee before Hook can awaken. Another favorite scene was something I dreamed of seeing but never expected to: a dance at a royal ball. We have been waiting to see Killian get a wardrobe change and it was worth the wait. He looked dashing and still completely himself, while Emma channeled Princess Buttercup and Cinderella in a stunning red ball gown. Using the aliases of Prince Charles and Princess Leia, the two shared a romantic and light-hearted dance, a sweet prelude to the drama that was about to unfold. For a moment they are able to smile and laugh in each other’s arms, allowing Killian to compliment her natural ability and hold her the way he undoubtedly has wished to, and allowing Emma the chance to feel adored and like a true fairy tale princess.

If “Snow Drifts” was the light-hearted prelude, “There’s No Place Like Home” was the touching conclusion to Emma’s season arc. And like part one, there was so much to love. In one wonderful scene, Killian helps to convince Charming that true love does exist, telling him that all it takes is meeting the right person. When you do (like he did), you will go to the end of the world for her. The duality and role reversal of this scene was very special. It was lovely to see Charming relate that any family would be crazy not to accept Killian, but it is also very moving that it is Killian (the man who was driven by vengeance but gave it all up for love) who helps Charming (the man with the steadfast faith in true love) realize that it is possible to find romantic happiness.

The climax of the episode also proved to be quite moving. After restoring the timeline, they return to Rumple who says that his wand can only create magic from those who entered the portal, so he cannot return them home. Instead, he traps them in his vault of dangerous and unpredictable magic. Killian has belief in Emma but thinks she still wants to deny who she truly is and return to New York. But Emma finally wants to stop running away. She knows where her home is. Opening up to him, we are given a poignant parallel to the scene in Neverland when Emma opened up to her mother how she has felt like a little lost girl, like an orphan. Accepting who she was allowed Peter Pan’s map to work, but the way it was achieved was heartbreaking. In this scene, it is Killian she admits her feelings to. When her mother stared blankly at her, she finally understood how she’d been pushing her parents away. Whether Emma realized it or not, Killian understood her completely as he felt the same way when he found in her New York – so happy to have found her and devastated that she did not remember him. Emma’s revelation about how much she misses her family and that Storybrooke is her home achieves something truly touching. It restores her magic and allows them to return home.

Bookending the opening of Season 3B, Emma rushes to see her parents, but this time all is well. She is home and for the first time in a happy, peaceful moment she calls her parents “Mom” and “Dad” who happily embrace their daughter. The Lost Girl had found her way home. But as happy as Emma is to be home with her son and parents, for a moment her expression drops as she is looking for that one missing person: Killian. Giving her space with her family, he is patiently waiting outside the diner for her. Although she begins their conversation casually, her purpose becomes quite evident. Amazed that they are now in Henry’s storybook, she wonders if everything else remains the same. Killian assures her that it is, because if he’d remembered kissing Emma, he would have gone after her. He says this with a sly smile but what he is telling her is touching – that no matter when or where, meeting and kissing Emma would change his life just as he revealed in the Echo Cave. He was always destined to fall in love with her. Emma then steers the conversation towards what we all have been longing to know. Thanking him for coming back for her in New York, she asks how he was able to get to her. When Killian reveals that he traded the Jolly Roger for a magic bean, her look of amazement is beautiful. True love was indeed worth more to him than a few planks of wood and a sail. Emma knows what this means. Killian gave up his home to bring her back to hers. And then Emma leans in and kisses Killian, a kiss so different than their one in Neverland that was full of built-up tension and passion. This kiss was equally passionately but so much more. They tenderly run their fingers through each other’s hair and he sweetly caresses her chin. When they pull apart, they smile serenely and this time Emma does not pull away. He leans in and kisses her again as they both are home, symbolically, with the Storybrooke sign illuminated in the background. It may not have broken a magical curse, but this moment for Emma and Killian was a True Love’s Kiss. Both were guarded, lonely people, but they broke down each other’s walls and found home within each other. And there is nothing more magical than that.

The final moments of this enchanting Once Upon a Time finale did what this show does best: move and amaze. Rumbelle fans were rewarded with a lovely scene where they are privately married (sweetly officiated by Archie). And even though he is keeping a dark secret from her, these characters deserved this moment of happiness. But what was so touching about the scene was the montage of all the “True Love Couples” during their beautiful vows, all of which brilliantly related to what they all have faced in life.

How long happiness and peace remains in Storybrooke is no doubt uncertain. Heartache seems to be on the horizon for Regina with Robin’s wife Marian being brought back to the present, but what are the ramifications of this change of fate? Will Belle discover that Rumple gave her a fake dagger and forgive her husband? How will Snow and Charming handle being parents of a baby for the first time? And what is next for Emma and Killian? They clearly love each other deeply but we have still yet hear them utter those three little words, and I for one am looking forward to that and so many more special moments yet to occur for the pirate and the princess. Perhaps they will get the Jolly Roger back on another adventure together! Whatever is next for our favorite fairy tale characters, one thing is certain: winter is coming as we saw in the last minute that Frozen’s snow queen Elsa has arrived in Storybrooke! Will she be a villain or simply misunderstood? Will someone’s heart be frozen? Will her sister Anna be revealed and will anyone want to build a snowman? For now we will just have to let it go and wait for Season 4!

Click here to see my favorite lines of the season

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


    One Comment

  1. Len84May 29th, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    It was a great finale esp for Emma’s character, and that she went on this journey and that too with a man who has been with her as a team and support and a rock. They always have these kind of journeys, and i for one am so glad Emma accepted her home, family and also love, that its Hook. And finally it happened, the kiss and what he did to find her.
    Like you say, he would of gone after, she changed his life, he was destined to always fall for her and he always comes back to her, even as Past Hook, he was drawn to her, Emma has complete power and his attention.

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