Review: Once Upon a Time 5.22 and 5.23

This finale was different than Once’s others in that there were no time jumps, memory wipes, or alternative universes, yet I found it just as enthralling as their past season closers. It being a little lighter on complications allowed for some great character work, especially for Regina and, to a lesser extent, Henry.

Did he make a foolish choice in trying to rid Storybrooke of magic? Yes, absolutely, especially since he wasn’t fully aware of the consequences of such a rash decision. But, unlike some of the questionable choices he’s made in the past, I absolutely understood why he did it. He’s lost his real father, he nearly lost another father figure in Hook, and he did lose one in Robin, all because of magic. He’s seen both his moms nearly destroyed by the grief that those losses caused, and he’s had a front-row seat to the painful internal war that Regina’s waged for the past five years. And then, to cap it all off, at the start of this episode he saw his parents fighting and, as he said later, worried that magic was about to ruin what I’m sure looks like a fragile bond to him, even if Regina and Emma undoubtedly know that their friendship is stronger than that.

So yes, I completely understood his motive here. What’s more, this didn’t feel like a kid mistake in the way that say letting himself be manipulated by Pan did, largely because then he needed to be rescued by his family, while here he rectified his mistake himself. He remembered his time with Emma in New York (an apt callback) and used that information to come up with a plan. In my book, that speaks to his maturity far more than the mistake itself did.

That moment with the wishes was a lovely reminder that Henry still has the heart of the truest believer, making him uniquely qualified to motivate the citizens of NYC with a very Elf-esque speech.  It was cheesy as all get out, sure (even Emma and Regina looked like they wanted to pretend they didn’t know him at first), but this show deals in fairy tales and hope, and yes, wishes, and it’s earned the right to be cheesy once in a while.

It’s especially allowed to do that when it’s offering achingly grounded moments like pretty much all of Regina’s in this episode, as she reeled from Robin Hood’s death and gave voice to her battle with darkness in a way she never has before. That wonderful scene in Robin’s apartment was one of the longest and simplest the show’s ever done, with no magic or crazy circumstances, just an honest display of emotion from someone who had just lost the love of her life. We’ve never seen Regina so vulnerable and open about her struggle, admitting that fighting her internal evil was exhausting, visibly torn apart by the terrible things she did as the Evil Queen, but coming to the conclusion that experiencing that pain and regret was worth it for her relationships with Henry, Emma, and the rest of her family.

That scene showed the complexity and strength of her friendship with Emma; Regina chose her in particular to bare her soul to, not her sister, not Snow, not Gold (though their fascinating dynamic was given time in this episode as well). She shared even her darkest impulses and showed her belief in their friendship by admitting that her first instinct was to kill Hook, knowing that Emma wouldn’t hold that against her. Emma was the perfect friend there; mostly silent and steady, she knew that she didn’t have the power to make Regina feel better with words or physical comfort. Instead, she mostly just listened, knowing it was what Regina needed in that moment. When the time came, she offered a simple “I believe in you,” expressing her trust in her friend and fellow parent in the kindest way possible.

Later on, I loved that Snow echoed Emma’s sentiment in a different way, telling Regina that everyone forgives her for what she’s done and don’t want her to suffer for her sins any longer. However, I’m a little torn on Snow suggesting the serum as the way to do that, largely because I’ve never viewed the Evil Queen as a person completely separate from Regina, and certainly not to the extent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Regina was the one who once said “Evil isn’t born, it’s made, and so is good.” All of the characters on this show, hell, all people, have darkness inside of them, and that complexity and duality is what makes them who they are. It manifests itself differently in different people. Emma, for example, has a hard time opening up to others, and for a long time she could be brusque and pessimistic, as she was when Henry first met her. In characters like Regina, who were fully consumed by the darkness, it reveals itself in snark and occasional cruelness, in a quick temper and a tendency to go with the darkest plan first, even if it involves hurting others.

It’s an attitude that she shares with Hook, a character whose darkness I also see as inextricably linked to his personality. But what matters is that both of those characters choose to do the right thing, just as Emma chooses to forgive her parents and chooses to let her walls down. In this episode, Robin Hood’s death threatened to push Regina back over the precipice, but even at her lowest moment, while experiencing her greatest pain since choosing to be a hero, she was still able to stop herself from her reverting to her old ways, she was still able to make the right choice.

That’s why, for me, her decision to take the serum and tear the Evil Queen’s heart out was symbolic more than anything; a visual representation of an internal war she won long ago, but not something that’s going to alter her outward personality all that much. Regina’s not about to become a goody two-shoes version of herself, that would be stripping all of her nuance away, in the same way it would if Emma forgot her time in the foster care system, Hook forgot that his father abandoned him, or Snow forgot about her mother’s death, and so on and so forth.

So, I had a feeling that that symbol was going to cause some trouble, and, sure enough, the Evil Queen was resurrected in the episode’s final moments. Look, I love the Evil Queen, and the idea of seeing her on a regular basis without sacrificing Regina’s character growth is basically a dream come true, but I don’t love that it makes Robin Hood’s death feel like a blatant plot device, something that needed to happen for Regina to tell everyone how much pain she’s been hiding, and thus make the decision to separate herself from the Evil Queen believable. I think there were other ways to get to that place without tearing apart a couple that many believed were endgame, so I hope it’s a decision that proves worthwhile.

My worry right now is that I’m not sure where the twist is headed. The heroes can’t really fight the Evil Queen as a typical villain because it’s such a personal fight; they’d basically be fighting a part of one of their family members, but then again, she’s not their Regina. The writers are also going to have to be very careful not to make it too much like the Emma and Hook as Dark Ones storyline, especially since that’s so fresh in viewers’ minds. The uncertainty does make me nervous, just because I hope nothing happens to undo or setback Regina’s character development, such as getting bonded to the Evil Queen again but with her evil side having the upper hand this time. There’s definitely potential for a very cool story, but also a high degree of difficulty.

There’s also potential in the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde story. I knew pretty early on who the characters were, but I was surprised by how quickly they separated. I thought for sure that the heroes would bring Jekyll along to Storybrooke thinking they’d left Hyde behind, only to realize that they’d unknowingly brought him along as well. But then, obviously to tell the Regina story they wanted to in the end, Snow and company had to know about the serum. I’m excited to see what “friends” Hyde brought along, folks from the Land of Untold Stories, perhaps? It’s a nice way to add some freshness to the show, especially because they’ve gone to the Enchanted Forest so often in the past. Plus, the storybooks Henry discovered quite literally open up endless storytelling possibilities for future seasons.

Other thoughts on this episode:

I’m curious to see if Mr. Hyde will actually help Rumple wake Belle and how he plans to do so. Also, in New York, Rumple diving for the crystal instead of the box was his character in a nutshell, right?

The Charming/Hook bromance was on amazing display here, from Charming giving Hook a hug when he returned to desperately trying to stop Mr. Hyde from choking him.

I was surprised that Roland left with Little John, not only because I’d assumed Robin would have wanted Regina to raise him, but also because it was my understanding that the Merry Men just lived in Storybrooke now. I’m glad Zelena at least mentioned Regina coming to visit (and the arrow Roland gave Zelena for her definitely made me tear up), but I doubt we’ll actually see it onscreen.

It seemed waaaay too easy that Violet suddenly mentioned that her dad is actually from Connecticut, but if it means that she and Henry get to continue their adorable puppy love version of dating, then I guess I’ll allow it.

There was some extra good snark in this one, from Henry’s “With all due respect, Grandpa” line, Hook/Zelena and Regina/Emma bickering, and Regina declaring that she had a fist and Gold had a nose.

This whole episode was definitely Emma/Hook light, something I’d be alright with provided their last scene had packed a bigger punch. Sure, it was very sweet that she told him she loved him, but it’s also the same declaration she made a year ago, so it didn’t feel all that momentous. They’ve made it through a heck of a lot this season, and it would have been nice to cap it off with something like an official move in invite or even a proposal.

What are your thoughts on this episode? Theories on next season? Let me know in the comments!


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