Warning: Spoiler Alert
Okay, so this is it. Probably. I mean I’m sure there’s going to be a gut wrenching cliffhanger and I’m going to spend the next few sessions with my therapist talking about unhealthy attachments to fictional characters. But at least, maybe, I’ll get a little closure. The suspense is bordering on torture. I was preparing my stuff/area for writing (laptop, phone/charger, drink) and wondering what I should drink, and I was having a hard time deciding between diet Pepsi and beer. Then I realized that I hiked seven miles today and tend to drink rapidly when I’m nervous, and combining those things with the fact that tonight is a double-length episode, and also the fact that I kind of broke my NO SPOILERS rule and peeked at some of the stills from the preview and Rumpel and Belle look happy and that is NEVER A GOOD SIGN. GAHHH! So, Diet Pepsi it is because otherwise I’ll be stinking drunk by the end of this episode.
Last week, we left with everyone holding their breath and white-knuckling the next step forward in the plot. Of course we start off with a giant leap back in time to see how Isaac, Lousy Television Salesman becomes The Author instead. He’s slinging TVs in what appears to be a 1950s American appliance store, and his boss is mad because he’s underperforming. Isaac, who fancies himself a writer but doesn’t get anything but rejected, wonders if his luck might change when he gets a letter from Star Publishing requesting a meeting.
He goes, and to absolutely no one’s surprise the office just looks strange and he’s not even sure if he’s in the right place. But then The Apprentice appears and bids him to sit, laying out a row of pens on the desk. Isaac nervously titters about being unsure about what to expect from a publisher, but The Apprentice, who just looks like a weird hairy guy in an uncomfortable suit, advises him that they do things differently around here, anyway. He bids him to select a pen. Isaac protests, but The Apprentice insists. Isaac choses, and a jolt of magic shoots through the pen. Startled, Isaac drops it, but The Apprentice is pleased. He’s found the new Author. He discloses the potential for such a job, paints a door into another realm, and Isaac, stammering, walks through with him.
The show shifts again to the Storybrooke Magic Brain Trust rifling through The Author’s book in The Sorcerer’s mansion. Regina is sweating hard because now that The Author has reunited with Gold, her “making-my-own-happy-ending” future is in serious jeopardy. Everyone who’s anyone is at the sorcerer’s mansion, going through the empty storybooks there, but the search yields nothing. August enters with a sketch of The Apprentice. Killian recognizes him, and since they now know who The Apprentice is (and where he is), they take The Sorcerer’s Magic Stealing Dream Hat to Mother Superior to extract him.
He’s pretty annoyed that The Author has been released and crossly informs The Heroes that he’ll need to be placed back in his prison to fix everything before it’s too late. Regina and Emma go to find The Author while Mary Margaret, David, and Killian escort Henry back to the Charmings’ loft.
But is it too late? Gold is gasping for breath as Isaac is finishing his story. There’s just one more detail he needs to know: does Rumpelstiltskin want to remember Baelfire? The Author can’t bring him back, but he can make it so Rumpel doesn’t remember him at all. Rumpel scoffs and refuses. He won’t ever want
to forget his son. But maybe, instead of remembering that his cowardice cost his son his life, he could remember that he fought valiantly but was unable to save him, and his son knew he was a hero at the end? Or something like that. I’ll be honest I was sobbing pretty hard at that point, because Rumpelstiltskin, Baelfire knew you were a hero. You died when you killed Pan to save everyone, and he was honored and moved by your sacrifice. He was so moved that he risked everything to bring you back, just like you did for him. And also this is really beautiful irony in a fairytale soap opera and this show does that so well. Anyway, The Author agrees, and the work is done.
He pens “The End” as Emma and Regina storm to the pawnshop. Everything seems unchanged, but it’s only the calm before the storm. Soon, everything shakes and rattles, and the world is overtaken by burst of golden light. The citizens of Storybrooke collapse, overwhelmed by magic.
Henry comes to, finding himself alone in the loft. He ventures into the street to find that the entire town has vanished. Panicked, he packs some things and tears out of town in Regina’s Mercedes (and seriously someone involved in the show’s production has a damn-near-car-fetish, that Mercedes is divine). He screeches into a diner/rest stop along the highway. Henry is not a good driver.
He enters the restaurant and asks the woman behind the counter if she’s seen anyone in the pictures that he produces from his backpack. She looks at him unsteadily and regrets that she hasn’t. Henry becomes a little desperate, and she offers to ask around for him. Except really she’s calling the cops because she thinks he’s a runaway. Henry is wise to be cautious of her, and turns away to exit through the rest stop’s gift shop. On his way, he notices a display of mass market paperbacks entitled “Heroes and Villains.” He picks up a copy and turns it over, seeing the author’s picture on the back. Or should I say, he sees The Author, Isaac Heller. Henry notices a sign promoting a nearby event with The Author and departs quickly.
In a theatre, with his name up in lights out front, Isaac Heller gleefully accepts his success and adoration. He gives a press conference steeped in villain-revenge to an enraptured audience. Henry gets in line for an autograph and confronts him. The Author tries to dismiss him but Henry produces the page that was his prison and suggests that the two have a talk.
Isaac takes Henry to the back of the theatre, which is filled with pallets of his book. Henry demands to know where his family is, and Isaac explains the whole caboodle: Henry’s family is in the original copy of the story that’s now a bestseller and has made him rich and famous. The heroes are the villains, and the villains have their happy endings. And, since there’s no room for a Savior in his story, Emma isn’t in it at all. Henry again demands The Author bring his family back, and Isaac, without a hint of remorse, explains that since he wrote his own happy ending, his power has been lost and so he can’t do a thing.
Henry is desperate. But, it’s fairly straightforward. His family is in the book, and so Henry has to be in the book. He uses the key to transport himself into the storybook after wrestling it away from Isaac.
He lands in a small hovel of houses in the Enchanted Forest. He finds a sword discarded in the yard and picks it up, smiling at the weight in his hands. The Author smiles behind him, asking if Henry feels like a
real hero now. Before Henry can reply, Isaac smashes him in the face with a shield and knocks him out cold.
When Henry regains consciousness (again. Poor kid probably has a concussion.), he’s tied up in the yard with an ogre roaring and bearing down on him. Isaac is beside him, giving the rundown of the situation. They’re both trapped in the book, now. They’re in the last chapter, and in order for everything to stay real for the characters involved, everything must continue to go as he has written it. Once time passes and the book has ended, Isaac will be able to go back to his world and continue enjoying his luxurious, famous life.
Isaac peaces out as the ogre approaches. Henry screams for help. The ogre gets closer. Henry (apparently not realizing that ogres are blind and go by their sense of hearing?) continues screaming. It looks desperate, but soon a knight on a white horse enters the yard.
“It’s the Ogreslayer!” shout some children who have apparently been hiding nearby. The knight kills the ogre with a blast of white magic and the townspeople emerge eternally grateful for his heroics. The knight laughs and lifts his face-shield. Robert Carlyle, The White Knight known as Ogreslayer, has come to the rescue. An old peasant woman asks how they can repay him, but he assures her good deeds are their own reward. He inquires as to Henry’s wellbeing. Henry, stunned at seeing his grandfather as a do-gooding white knight, gives his name. When Rumpelstiltskin asks if the boy has family nearby, Henry can barely manage to reply, as I’d imagine that his Truest Believer heart wants to say, “Yeah. You.” Rumpelstiltskin bids Henry and the village farewell, as he’s off to save another village somewhere.
Henry, still holding a paperback copy of Heroes and Villains, reads along to find where the story goes next. He avoids traps hidden in the woods and eventually finds a hollowed out tree trunk leading into a cave. This is the place he’s been looking for. But who’s he looking for, exactly?
Regina, sneaking up behind him, wearing leggings and a fir vest with a bow drawn on him a la Snow White Season One, demands to know what this child is doing at her home. Henry, of course, spills everything immediately.
And we’re off! We now get a compressed version of season one, with Henry now trying to convince Regina that she’s in a story, Snow White and Charming are evil and Regina is an outlaw, because Regina destroyed Snow’s chance at happiness and so Snow wants Regina dead. Instead of trying to convince Emma that she’s The Savior, Henry is now trying to convince Regina, set to lose in life and love again, that she can find True Love with Robin Hood. Regina throws Henry’s book into the fire, wanting no part of anything that could tell her the future. Henry is unable to rescue it. Regina storms off to raid The Queen’s Tax Collection carriage so she can get together enough money to take her to another realm. And Robin Hood? She’s never met him but all she knows is that he always gets the jump on her targets and it infuriates her.
Regina’s ambush of the tax carriage goes as pear-shaped as Snow White’s ambush of Snow White’s ambush of Regina’s caravan because The Author, upon realizing that the ogre didn’t kill Henry, has gotten himself captured by the Evil Dwarves and taken to Evil Snow White and Evil Charming for
sentencing. Trespassing or some shiz, who knows. He’s in trouble, but he informs of Henry’s presence and his aim to undo their world. The Author offers to barter his freedom for Regina and Henry’s exact location so that Snow can have her revenge on Regina. So, instead of a carriage full of taxes, Regina faces a carriage full of Evil Snow White. The caravan stops and Snow emerges, slowly squeezing the life out of Regina as Regina begs for mercy. The writers are basically fracturing their own fairytales at this point. This is OnceCeption. I love it.
So of course Robin Hood swoops in to save the day, much to Regina’s chagrin. He takes her to Sherwood Forest, dressing her wound and generally being a nice person, which Regina is shocked and a little flattered by. And, since Henry has put this idea of Robin Hood being her true love in her head, she can’t help but stare at him, looking slightly terrified and totally in love. Robin Hood is, indeed, charming. And valiant. So valiant, in fact, that he’s giving up his life of thievery and wants to know if Regina the Bandit would want to head up the Merry Men. Regina is flattered, but is certain this realm isn’t meant for her. She’s curious, though. Why does Robin Hood want to give it all up? Well, he sheepishly explains, it’s all for his bride-to-be. Regina’s hopes and dreams for true love literally splatter just behind her eyes as she hears the news. Convinced this is yet another unhappy ending for her, she thanks him for his assistance. She attempts to leave, but Robin’s betrothed has entered the tavern and she simply must meet her.
It’s Zelena. And she’s awful and fake and demanding and Robin doesn’t even look all that happy and Regina can’t bear another minute of it.
Outside the tavern, she immediately runs into Henry. She begins to berate him for dangling such cruel hope in front of her face—Robin Hood may be her true love but he’s set to marry another. Henry is confused, and he peppers Regina (who he keeps calling Mom, much to Regina’s initial horror) with questions and determines that Regina has been given Zelena’s fate. Henry is certain that if Regina breaks up the impending wedding she’ll be able to find happiness. Regina isn’t buying it, and tells Henry to go seek help from his other mother, Emma, if he needs to get back home. Whatever, she just wants him out of her hair.
Henry explains that Emma isn’t in the book he read. And he’s certain she isn’t in this realm at all, because she’s the most powerful sorceress in all the realms. She’s The Savior. Regina twitches and Henry knows immediately that she knows something she doesn’t want to tell him. Henry presses and Regina admits of hearing rumors of a woman, long ago, who called herself The Savior, but was captured by Snow White and kept in a heavily guarded isolated island prison. Well, I think we all know where Henry is headed next, eh?
And so the first half of the season finale concludes. My notes say, “HOW WAS THAT AN HOUR ALREADY OH MY GOD I AM NOT READY FOR ALL THESE FEELS ALSO WHERE THE HELL IS RUMBELLE.”
I get my answer in the next scene, and as a result I do not throw my drink across the room. Belle is waiting for him in their simple but safe cottage, tending to an infant and eagerly awaiting his arrival. Oh and Belle found The Author along the road and offered him a drink of water because hello, that’s just polite. Rumpelstiltskin recognizes The Author on some level and asks Belle for a moment alone.
She obliges, and Rumpelstiltskin wastes no time asking what The Author is doing in his home. Isaac explains he’s come to warn Rumpelstiltskin of a boy who just arrived in the realm and who will destroy everything good about Rumpelstiltskin’s life if he and Regina are allowed to interrupt Robin Hood’s wedding. Rumpelstiltskin, as a White Knight but also with that elegant mirth that we know from The Dark One, rebuffs The Author’s warning. How could a stranger affect his life in such a way? Isaac reminds him that none of this life is real, and it can all be undone if Henry interferes with the narrative before certain events happen. Rumpel accuses him of lying to trick him, but Isaac offers proof of his wisdom in these matters. He also knows of the White Knight’s first son, and not even Belle knows about him. And then Isaac twists the knife with the “truth” that Rumpelstiltskin feels about losing Baelfire again and again—he didn’t fight valiantly to save him, his cowardice lead to Bae’s death. Rumpelstiltskin is disturbed. Isaac leaves him with his thoughts.
Henry manages to find The Jolly Rodger docked in the ports of whatever the hell city they’re even in and sees Hook on her deck. He begins to explain that his mother Emma is trapped and he feels like Hook might have a very vested interest in rescuing her. Hook is impressed by Henry’s story, but can’t help him as the boy wants. Why? Well, Blackbeard shows up and announces that Hook is a cowardly deckhand and that Blackbeard himself is the captain of The Jolly Rodger. He begins to taunt Hook about his cowardice and handicap, and Hook crumples in despair. Colin O’Donoghue does an impressive job invoking Rumpelstiltskin’s pre-curse cowardice, shying away when Blackbeard offers him control of the ship if he can best him in a simple swordfight. Hook cowers, but Henry takes matters into his own hands and knocks Blackbeard out cold. Since Blackbeard has technically been bested, that means the ship is theirs, right? Good enough for me.
The two set out to save Emma in her Very Isolated Prison. They manage to get there through rough seas, and, upon seeing only one guard, decide to employ the old fake-prisoner switch to sucker-punch and incapacitate the guard so they can free Emma. Henry makes his way up to her tower, and she, in a disheveled mess on the floor, recognizes him immediately. Astounded that she knows him, he releases her immediately. She explains that part of Gold’s story and revenge on her heroism was that she’s known the truth all along but no one believes her. Also, she has no magic. Henry, wise to the powers of True Love, figures that won’t be a problem too long.
But, in this world, Emma and Hook are both a bit more bashful with their affections. The only thing more powerful than their instant attraction is their painful awkwardness. This might take some time, Henry. The three board The Jolly Rodger and sail away. Emma advises them to move as quickly as possible, because the guard is bound to be trouble when she wakes up. Yeah, the guard is a she. It’s Lily, actually, who regains consciousness and goes full dragon as Emma speaks. The trio manage to take the dragon down with a cannonball, though. So, they continue on their way to help Regina stop Robin Hood’s wedding.
Snow, furious with her failure to use The Author’s tip to kill Regina, gathers her minions (Dark Dwarves, Dark Granny, etc.) to debrief everyone and see what they have managed to gather for her. Everyone is empty handed. Snow, invoking a stunning Maleficent from the Disney animated film, slowly laughs at her minion’s failure before making an example of Doc and killing him. She sends the remainder of them back into the kingdom to find Regina and Henry.
Henry, though, is off looking for food in port while Emma instructs Hook in a few sword fighting moves down by the docks. It’s cute and flirty and still awkward. It gets worse when, just as Henry returns, Snow and her crew arrive with Lily-as-a-human-again in tow. Snow is displeased. A quick melee breaks out. It turns out this version of Hook is a swashbuckling savant. Which is good, because Charming soon engages him, although Hook manages to disarm him. With Charming on the ground without a sword, Snow advances on Henry, but Emma intercedes. Emma tries to tell Snow the truth, about their heroic and hopeful past, but Snow is 100% unmoved. As Killian moves behind her to escape with Henry, Charming leaps up and stabs him in the back. Hook dies. Emma is devastated. She grabs Henry and they narrowly miss a fireball thrown by Snow. Overall they manage an escape.
Back at Rumpelstiltskin and Belle’s cottage, Rumpelstiltskin is indeed troubled by The Author’s warning. Belle reassures him. It is the fluffiest, most adorable, baby-filled Rumbelle moment ever. Even with Belle’s reassurances, Rumpelstiltskin is worried about the decision he must make. He drops a teacup. More season one parallels that are ultra-adorable. But this time, even as Belle assures him that the chip can be fixed, he’s not so sure it can.
Across the Enchanted Forest, Henry and Emma manage to catch up to Regina as she’s packing up to get out of dodge before Snow comes to kill her again. Emma, of course, explains everything to Regina immediately. Regina, of course, doesn’t buy it. Emma is dead-serious about getting the right thing done, not just for Regina’s happiness, but also because Hook is now dead and unless they change the ending of the story, he’ll be dead forever. Regina is moved. She agrees to go to Robin’s wedding.
The three arrive and there’s a definite Fiona-and-Farquaad Shrek-and-Donkey feel to the moment as they try to figure out how exactly to interrupt the wedding. They stall just enough for Rumpelstiltskin to arrive on the scene, having apparently decided that he must kill Regina to stop her from interrupting the wedding to preserve the good life he and his family have. Emma sends Regina to the church and engages Rumpelstiltskin. There’s a split-sequence between the “I-Do’s” happening in the church and the swordfight. Eventually Emma is knocked out just as Robin lifts his eyes to see Regina standing in the back of the church. Lana Parrilla is a vision. He stalls before he swears himself to Zelena. Zelena chides him, nervously.
Then, Henry has taken up Emma’s sword to defend her against Rumpelstiltskin. He’s ready to slice the boy to ribbons, but Regina knocks him out of the way and take the deadly blow. Everything is chaos. The happy couple emerges from the church and Robin is horrified to see Regina dying in the grass. Zelena moves over to her and begins to freak out because Regina has bled on her dress. The day is ruined! And a patch of her hand turns green! Um, wait what?
Robin holds Regina as she’s dying. The Author appears, gloating over his triumph that his story has ended the same. Emma lays him out because she can’t even deal right now. She demands that he return the story to the way it was, but he insists he’s unable to since he lost his powers.
Henry rifles through The Author’s satchel and grabs his pen. A jolt of magic stabs through the air. Emma, shocked, turns to him.
HENRY HAS THE POWER TO BE THE AUTHOR.
But wait, that quill won’t do any good without the ink. But wait, they can use Emma’s blood! But wait, she’s not The Savior so it’s not her blood they need. But wait, Regina just sacrificed herself maybe her blood will work? It does!
AND EVERYONE’S BACK IN STORYBROOKE.
And now we have the Once Upon A Time We Defeated The Villain Mostly reunion scenes where the heroes gush over each other and take a breather before figuring out how they’re still screwed. Emma and Hook have a really awesome moment, but she still doesn’t tell him she loves him.
Isaac and Gold are back in the pawnshop. Gold is really in bad shape, and Isaac knows he needs to beat town before Rumpelstiltskin dies and only The Dark One remains. He crashes into Belle as he’s leaving. Gold is overwhelmed that Belle came back for him. She assures him she’s only there to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone. He tries to explain but the pain overwhelms him.
Isaac is trying to get away, but David and Mary Margaret find him and stop him. They want to know why he’s screwed with them so badly. It’s latent aggression at people like them, he spits. He’s been pushed around his whole life and wanted to be the hero. Mary Margaret doesn’t buy it. He became a villain, not a hero. And she knows what it feels like to be dark and she can barely even pity him for what he’ll face for his terrible decisions.
Henry is in his mother’s office, staring at the volumes of Once Upon A Time and Heroes and Villains, and the pen he used to save them all. The Apprentice finds him and approaches him about taking on the job. Henry considers, and wonders if he might be able to bring his father back. Alas, for Magic Reasons, Baelfire cannot be resurrected and can only live on in the stories we tell about him. He offers Henry the job of The Author, but cautions him that he must do it correctly and not follow in Isaac’s footsteps. He must only write the truth. The power to change reality is outweighed by the cost.
Henry pauses and snaps the pen in half. No one should have that kind of power.
And that, The Apprentice informs him, is exactly why he’s the right person for the job.
In the pawnshop, Rumpelstiltskin is growing weaker. Belle stays with him. The two have the Rumbelle moment I’ve been waiting for all season. The life they had in Heroes and Villains had always been within his reach as far as Belle was concerned, but Rumpelstiltskin can’t believe anyone would ever love him. He begs her to continue on and explore the world with Will. Belle replies that she doesn’t love Will. She doesn’t tell Rumpel that she loves him, but she leans in and presses their foreheads together. He begs her to leave before his body dies and The Dark One is unleashed. She sobs and holds him closer.
Granny’s is having its usual post-villains-almost-killing-everyone-bash. Regina and Robin Hood are flirting like teenagers and it’s adorable. Emma apologizes for being so hard on her parents, and then has a heart to heart with Lily about Lily’s future plans (which, if you’re keeping track, involve using a piece of her shell, which is the crescent-moon necklace Emma retrieved from Lily and Boyfriend’s flop house, to try to find her biological dragon father. And not even Maleficent knows who her baby daddy is because what happens when you’re a dragon stays dragon-ed. Or something). But the party’s broken up when Belle rushes in to beg for help saving Rumpelstiltskin’s life. Everyone with magic-slinging powers heads to the pawnshop to try to figure out how to save Rumpelstiltskin. The Apprentice attempts to suck the curse out of Rumpelstiltskin and put it into The Sorcerer’s Amazing Magic Stealing Dream Hat. The darkness is pulled from Rumpelstiltskin’s heart, which shines white as The Apprentice places it back in his chest. It’s a lot of magic for a very old body to bear. The Apprentice preserves him to keep him stable while they figure out if they can help him.
If? What do you mean, IF? Belle wants to know.
Before that gets answered, the hatbox begins to regurgitate Dark One all over the place. Tarry liquid swirls around the room, eventually possessing The Apprentice. Emma manages to intercede and force it out of his body. The liquid disappears out the mail slot and the group attends to yet another critically injured magician.
Gasping, The Apprentice explains that The Dark One is now on the loose, and the only one who can help them now is The Sorcerer. The Sorcerer is named Merlin. He’s the one who decided to control The Dark One by binding it to a human soul and the dagger. The Dark One is floating around Storybrooke right now looking for a host.
The crowd, minus unconscious Rumpelstiltskin and weeping Belle, heads into the street to see where The Dark One went. The goop flies around them and eventually tries to attach itself to Regina, who fights it off using the little White Magic she has. The dagger, now nameless, is in Emma’s hand. Everyone is shouting. Robin moves to save Regina but is instantly thrown back by the magic. Emma realizes what she’s gotta do. She bids goodbye to her parents and instructs them to bring the darkness out of her as they did before, only this time as heroes. She grabs her man, tells him she loves him, and gives him a kiss. Then, she plunges the dagger into the swirling cloud. Magic intensifies. Then, in a burst, everything is gone, except for the dagger that is rattling on the ground which now bears the name Emma Swan.
HAPPY END OF SEASON FOUR, ONCERS! HOPE YOUR PROZAC HAS ENOUGH REFILLS TO GET YOU THROUGH TILL SEPTEMBER.
Overall, though? This was a great season finale to a season that didn’t have a great start. The characters and their struggles have really developed and gained depth as well as earned closure in a lot of ways. Regina’s taking the high road and Belle doesn’t love Will (because she loves Rumpelstiltskin even if she’s not ready to go blurting that out right now). The angst for next season is high, but there were a lot of questions answered and plot twists revealed and explained. This season finale, in particular, was visually incredible and felt beautifully crafted. The retold and reworked storylines were downright delightful.
And, of course, Lana Parrilla, Robert Carlyle, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, and Colin O’Donoghue absolutely crushed and killed and slayed and destroyed every last bit of it. I am eager for next season’s storyline, because it seems like this show is still capable of pure magic (when corporate owners aren’t cramming narratives in unneeded and unwanted places).