All good stories have to come to an end. Same thing applies for TV shows, unless you are The Simpsons. After seven seasons, Once Upon A Time has come to an end. No, I am not crying, damnit. I just wanted desperately for this series to go on forever, but ratings rule when it comes to whether or a TV show survives or not. Anyhoo, Once’s last season acts as a soft reboot, taking the show back to its roots, with a mostly new cast but a familiar story to tell.
The end result was a bit of a rocky road, jumping around the plot a lot, and feels like it abruptly changes a lot along the way. Still, the final season managed to squeeze out a lot of charming moments, great characters, good acting (mostly), and even ended on an appropriate high note.
Contains spoilers for the whole of Once Upon A Time. Read on if you dare!
Taking place sometime after the perfect ending of the sixth season, Henry Mills (Jared S. Gilmore) leaves Storybrooke to find his own adventures. He sets off on a motorbike to explore an alternate version of the Enchanted Forest, cause apparently each version of classic fairy tales have their own realms. Cut to years later, where Henry (now played by Andrew J. West) is still looking for his story. After nearly getting run over by a new version of Cinderella (Dania Ramirez), Henry gets dragged into her fantasy rebellion against the evil Lady Tremaine (Gabrielle Anwar). Henry strikes up a rather wooden romance with Cinderella, later getting married and having an adorably sweet daughter named Lucy (Alison Fernandez).
But, like I said, this is a soft reboot and harkens back to the less complicated days where the Dark Curse trapped everyone with false memories in Storybrooke. The same thing happens here, allegedly cast by Lady Tremaine, and our heroes have been cast to Hyperion Heights, a downtrodden neighbourhood in Seattle. Henry is a failed author who thinks his family are dead, until Lucy knocks on his door to drag him to Hyperion to break the curse. Lady Tremaine, aka Victoria Belfry, rules the roost, hoping to gentrify the neighbourhood. She is also flanked by her miniskirt-wearing daughter Drizella (Adelaide Kaine), who had far better chemistry with Henry than he did with Cinderella.
While the new cast were a bit of a mixed bag, there were some familiar faces on hand to carry us through the story. Regina Mills (Lana Parilla), Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle), and the Wish Realm version of Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) appear in supporting roles, all under cursed personas. Regina runs a bar, whilst Rumple and Hook are both caught in a buddy cop partnership. Zelena (Rebecca Mader), the former Wicked Witch of the West, shows up as a guest star for a while. Other former members of the main cast show up to make a fond farewell like Emma Swann (Jennifer Morrison) and Belle (Emilie de Ravin) in moving episodes – even though they all come back for the big finale!
I did enjoy West as Henry. He managed to pull off Henry’s awkwardness and heroic syndrome, and even more so when cursed to be a practical, non-believing realist. Kudos also to Alison Fernandez as the plucky Lucy. Her optimism is sweet and heartfelt, even if Lucy did have a tendency to run off in tears every time someone talked down to her. Cinderella, on the other hand, is a bit of a bore as a character. In the fairy tale world, she is just Snow White in a new wrapper, and her romance with Henry feels forced and stiff. A dropped match in a petrol station has better chemistry.
Other heroic characters included Princess Tiana (Mekia Cox), whose role is a little lackluster. No wonder they promoted her to a main character at the last moment. She serves more as a supporting character, only has two focus episodes, and has no real character arc throughout. Then, you have Alice (Rose Reynolds), Hook’s daughter, whose is just delightful. It is nice to see a mentally ill person be portrayed in a favourable and realistic light. Of course, her madness is a product of the Dark Curse, but her portrayal is still great. Even more exciting, Alice is also in a romantic relationship with Zelena’s daughter Robin (Tiera Skovbye). Their relationship is just sweet and became my favourite in the series. It contrasts the rather abrupt throw-it-in relationship between Red Riding Hood and Dorothy Gale in the fifth season.
By far the highlight was the early villains of Victoria and Drizella. It turns out Victoria is actually Rapunzel, bringing back the show’s clever use of mixing characters together. Kind of like a female Tywin Lannister, Victoria wants to restore her comatose daughter Anastasia to life, and treats Drizella like garbage, because favouritism is an ugly thing. Consequently, Drizella is a bitter, envious young woman, and launches a number of surprising twists throughout the season to crush her enemies. The duo stole the show, and I had hoped they would stick around for the full season, until the old guard squeeze them out.
But, it turns out both are pawns for Mother Gothel (Emma Booth), the witch off Tangled, who is forming a coven of witches to do…something evil. Yeah, despite being quite hammy, manipulative, and having one of the saddest backstories in the series, Gothel’s motives let her down. Then, you have Dr. Facilier (Daniel Francis) show up out of the blue. While he is even more charming than Gothel, Facilier’s presence and goals are vapourware. He wanted Rumple’s Dark One dagger for some reason, but we never got to explore his backstory or motives. He also had a romance with Regina we never got to explore either. And then, just when it looks like he is about to ascend to the role of main villain, he is unceremoniously killed off.
I do feel like there was a change in pace for the season’s pacing and storytelling when the show was cancelled. The early episodes were quite clunky, but took their time, slowly revealing the motives of the new characters. Still, Victoria’s role in the fairy tale world was all over the place. First she hated Cinderella, framed her for murder for some reason, is apparently suppressing people, and collecting mass amounts of magic to revive Anastasia with. All of this goes out the window early on as things change and Drizella becomes the main threat. The show maintained that great sense of writing brought to the series’ more complex characters.
Still, it felt post-cancellation announcement that the writing changed a bit, wrapping up the stories building up since the first episode to build up to the big finale. The larger villains got boring or unexplored motives, and then things got even more confusing in finale when we were jumping from realm-to-realm, and apparently even backwards in time to before Henry left Storybrooke.
The ending was a bit weird. Regina casts a good version of the Dark Curse so everyone can live peacefully in their small, forgotten corner of Maine. The curse involves transporting every single magical realm to Storybrooke’s county, which brings all sorts of geographical questions up about how this works. What happens if a tourist arrives in Storybrooke? I was always confused by whether or not the town is known to the public, since Regina adopted Henry from another state’s orphanage, and the town sells postcards.
But, this doesn’t really come as a surprise. Once Upon A Time has always had its load of unresolved or conveniently forgotten storylines, broken rules, reliance on plot devices, and goofy moments galore. That, and a sheer delightful sense of frolicking in its own fantasy world. It had no sense of parody or self-deprecation when the characters preached about hope, love, and family – though the occasional snarky comment by sceptical characters were great. The appearances and mingling between unexpected Disney characters was a major reason to watch this show.
As the book closes on Once, I am glad I watched this show, and came to love these renditions of iconic characters. Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz both did a grand job as showrunners, even if the second and fifth seasons were all over the place. The cast were forever masterful in their acting, and the show strived with its charm, magic, storytelling, and music.
Farewell, Storybrooke. It was fun while it lasted.
What were your thoughts on Once Upon a Time’s last season and overall run? Miss it, or glad it is gone? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.