After 22 episodes and eight months, it’s time to say goodbye to season four of Once Upon a Time. Let’s dive right in to our final Storybrooke Sound-Off. Here we go!
The Author is up to no good. In his rewritten version of the characters’ stories, which he calls Heroes and Villains, the villains get their happy endings.
When Henry is literally thrust into the middle of the Author’s new tale, he must rise to the occasion for an adventure fit for the likes of the heroes he’s read about for so long.
Before we begin, glance up at the above poster that graced the start of each Storybrooke Sound-Off post since March (when the second half of season four began). Next, watch the teaser trailer below, which aired on ABC in February.
Which leads me to observe: for better or for worse, this season’s conclusion was not what the network promoted. The ‘Queens of Darkness’ theme faded fast and really only pertained to the first few episodes. Rather than a self-contained, 11-episode arc that used all 11 of its episodes to tell one huge story of a villainess trio – like the past few seasons have led us to expect – this spring was more like an ebb and flow of continuous threads that ran in and out of the overall story interchangeably. Some connected, some didn’t, and overall we are left with a hodgepodge of unfulfilled expectations. After the events of tonight, a variation of the teaser trailer would be better suited to air now, as a promotion for the fall, and certainly not as a promotion for the episodes we’ve just seen. It seemed odd that the writers didn’t fully flesh out the whole Dark Emma idea, and now we know why.
This season might have been better touted as a return to old habits. The idea of self-contained arcs is a relatively new trend for Once Upon a Time. This new trend started with season three. What we had this spring was, instead, pilgrimage of many returning faces and constant changing stories rather than one cohesive tale. While it was a nice change of pace to see flashbacks geared toward different characters each week, it also made everything that was still up in the air difficult to keep track of. The way the Queens of Darkness anticlimactically fizzled out also made it cumbersome to keep tabs on what we were supposed to remember and what knowledge could be disposed of. Ursula peaced out with daddy, Cruella died, and Maleficent was very strangely 100% absent from the season finale (although its plot initially revolved around her). Bizarre.
When comparing season four’s two primary parts (Frozen and Queens of Darkness) to each other, one is left with two very different spectrums. The former focused heavily and exclusively on Anna and Elsa in a way that taught us more about Emma’s past. The latter brought back basically every character known to humanity and ultimately taught us more about Regina’s present. As an entire season, compared to other seasons, Once‘s fourth year is a sensory overload of synergy and “mindblownage.” Whiel seaon four contained many moments when one wanted nothing more than to fist-pump the air and scream, “This is awesome!” it also, perhaps, had too many awesome trees to see the forest.
One constant since the very beginning of the season, beginning all the way back in September, was the hunt for the Author and the search for happy endings. For this season’s finale, this concept reaches its peak with the biggest action-oriented spotlight Henry has ever had. This is his time to shine and, in the debate regarding whose internal change this season focuses most prominently on, tonight is certainly a good case for Henry’s. In a plot that has shades of season three’s finale (Emma and Hook changing the Enchanted Forest’s past), Henry is sucked into the alternate reality of the Author’s new book and we see some role-playing as characters clash from their typical personalities. It’s fun, I suppose, but would have been more excited has we not just experienced the Spell of Shattered Sight a few months ago that basically served the same purpose and made the characters different from who they are. (Which reminds me: I request a venn diagram of the differences and similarities of the Dark One and the Anti-Savior. With extra mayo.)
Things kicked up a notch and got interesting once Robin and Zelena’s wedding arrived. From there, it’s full speed ahead toward wrapping up the season. We’ll discuss more below, but things actually don’t really wrap up at all, and next season will be more of a continuation of this season’s story. As a whole, this is a solid season finale with just a few hiccups. It falls short, only because of the standards set for it when compared to the show’s past conclusions. Nothing will ever quite top Elsa’s reveal or Peter Pan’s departure.
The What-the-Heck Moment: When Grumpy said, “Heigh-ho, boys. It’s off to work we go” in his scary dwarf voice. No. Just no.
The Magic Moment: Connecting the dots at the very beginning of the episode… December 1966. Okay, got it. Wait. December. 1966. DECEMBER. NINETEEN. SIXTY. SIX. THAT MEANS… “The previous Author just recently passed away.” WHAAAAAAAAAT? After it was hinted at earlier, this all but confirms that Walter Elias Disney himself is part of this story. I could gripe about this fact or I could consider it a nice, clever touch. I’ll do the latter. Good job, Once.
The Whoa Moment: In an episode full of surprises, the heavy hitters came fast and furiously in the show’s final 30 minutes. Rather than choose just one, let’s dissect them all.
The reveal of Henry as the Author was semi-predictable if one really sat down and thought through the whole thing thoroughly. I read this theory online beforehand and wished I hadn’t because it was a satisfying twist otherwise. Then, he goes all Elder Wand on the quill (lolllllll).
The reveal of Melin as the Sorcerer was something I thought would happen, but hoped wouldn’t. Meh, Okay. Deep down, when the Apprentice was about to reveal the Sorcerer’s name, I hoped he would say “Aladdin.”
The biggest “whoa” moment for me had to be Emma becoming the Dark One. I thought we were done with that thread, and now it appears it’s only just begun. The intensity of this sequence was well done, with the growing dynamic between Emma and Regina at its center. The characters were excellent.
Pretty much as blatantly as possible, the final moments of this episode tell us exactly which beats to expect when the series resumes in September (ABC just confirmed this week that Once is renewed for a fifth season). 1.) DARK EMMA. 2.) The search for Sorcerer Merlin. 3.) The search for the identity of Lily’s father. 4.) Rumpelstiltskin finding his place in the world, now that he’s no longer the Dark One, and how Belle will (or won’t) fit into the picture. Also, Will Scarlet (lol). 5.) Eventually, Zelena will give birth to Robin’s child. 6.) Is the Author still part of everything? He’s locked up, but does this mean he’s out of the picture? Regardless, I’m sure Pinocchio will show up when – and only when – everyone else is confused. Then, he can divulge an important piece of information which he, for some jerk reason, never told them before. Ahem.
Anyway, next season is shaping up to be one that, unlike like year’s opener, takes us deeper into Once‘s existing story (rather than one that gives us a completely new palette). And that’s okay. With Merlin comes the possibility to delve into uncharted territory in terms of the show’s connection to another animated property: The Sword in the Stone. How much the film, or the original story its derived from, will play into season five’s plot remains to be seen. The show still shines its brightest in its emphasis on family and the intensity with which it approaches this subject. As long as these moments stay at the core (and they can be trusted to), we’re in for another fulfilling ride.
For the last time this year, sound off below! Thank you for joining us on this journey. Whether this is your first time here or if you were with us when Grand Pabbie made his primetime debut, I hope you had a magical visit. Now, everyone encourage Morgan to catch up so she can sound off with us, too!
How did this finale stack up? Were you satisfied?
What did you think of the reveal of Henry as the new Author and his breaking the quill?
Thoughts on the reveal of Walt Disney as the previous Author?
How do you feel about the reveal of Merlin as the Sorcerer?
Do you prefer 11-episode blocks of one consistent storyline, or do you prefer when storylines ebb and flow like they’ve done lately?
Blake is a scriptwriter at Elevation Church, where he develops documentary shorts and creative elements as part of the film team. He graduated Appalachian State University studying Electronic Media Production and is an alumni of the Disney College Program. Blake’s favorite films are Mary Poppins, The Lion King, and Toy Story 3. You can find him on Twitter (@blake_242) and visit his blog at blakeonline.com.