There are two competing themes in this Once Upon A Time double-episode finale, and one is leagues more successful than the other. Just when you get the feeling that OUAT can do little else but beat a dead horse forever (Hades’ blue hair! The River Of Lost Souls!), it pulls out actual insight about the duplicitousness of personality, handily personified by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as the Evil Queen herself, Regina.

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Regina and Emma’s conversation about Regina’s efforts to squelch the Evil Queen goes on for awhile, but it’s imperative for the character. Regina’s fate , not unlike Angel when he was cursed as a vampire with a soul on Buffy, is to be an Evil Queen who knows the difference between right and wrong. She’d rather squash every malevolent impulse than to see pain on the faces of the people she cares about. Instead of going the rote route of having the death of Robin undo all of Regina’s character development, the show uses the death to show even more layers of her personality. After five seasons, it’s masterfully done, mostly due to the effectiveness of Lana Parilla, who can go from complete camp to soliciting empathy in a matter of moments.

Jekyll tries to explain what someone’s dark side can be: a mirror image of the other side of their personality, or a monstrous view, like his. By separating himself from Hyde, he has only himself to blame for Storybrooke’s grim season-ending fate. As far as the show’s CGI effects go, the splitting of a single soul in two is nicely done, as much as it brought up Incredible Hulk allusions (himself a character based on the original Robert Louis Stevenson story). Most of us can not be characterized easily on a “good” or “bad” scale: We all have our moments, particularly when stuck in a DMV line, or faced with a family member who refuses to put the toilet seat down. Whether or not we’re “good people,” gauges how awful our momentary moments of frustration and anger make us go awry, but let’s face it, we all think we’re good people. Regina’s knowledge that she isn’t one, but she’s trying to become one from the opposite side, has been one of the series’ most interesting arcs. (Especially since the same path was much less successful for Rumple, who was a total snooze as a stand-up citizen. But his explanation to Regina about how much he likes the darkness was helpful, even as much as he wanted to try to change for Bae and Belle.)

Not as interesting, by a long shot, is Henry’s “I want to destroy magic/I need to get magic back!” circular plotline. Putting Henry front and center is always tricky, and here he leads his moms on a wild goose chase that ends with nothing but a cheesy, eye-roll worthy finale. It’s a nod back to the moments in “Firebird” that refer to the magic in our everyday lives: our superstitions, good-luck charms that we believe bring us some form of magic. Here, Henry makes a wish and throws a coin into a fountain, and who among us hasn’t done that? As with Tinker Bell, Henry needs everyone to believe, even for a moment, which somehow opens a portal to the realm where Snow et al. are being held prisoner by Hyde. It all seems highly improbable (I mean, even more so than usual), especially since it’s pretty standard in these OUAT finales for a group to get swept away for a double-episode, then swept back.

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And swept back they are, along with new Storybrooke overlord Hyde, and his various minions, Next season looks like prospective fun with all the lesser stories that showed up tonight, even for a moment, like Paul Bunyan, Don Quixote, Gulliver, and the Three Musketeers. The brilliance of OUAT lies in its origin: There is no shortage of tales and fables to choose from, and we can’t help but want to learn more about beloved characters from our favorite stories. Where OUAT often falters is in its execution: turning Henry into a syrupy Tinker Bell type, for example. It’s much better when the show piles on extra layers on formerly two-dimensional characters like the Evil Queen, and leaves us wanting even more.

Stray observations

  • Cool map trick.
  • Why does everyone keep thinking they can outsmart Rumple when he has the power of all the magic in Storybrooke and every Dark One that came before him?
  • I feel like I rag on the hair a lot on this show, so I’d like to point out that Regina’s hair looked magnificent throughout both episodes.
  • Nice Rick Springfield shoutout in the hotel waiter’s ear buds! And that was about the most menacing tip anyone has ever received.
  • You know, Emma got a timeout in the Underworld too.
  • Sam Witwer, the actor playing Hyde, has a wonderfully creepy voice. Am assuming that the others he’s bringing are all those untold stories, but it would be great if it was a bunch of vampires and werewolves and the like.
  • Emma and Regina bickering on their road trip ftw.
  • How adorable was little Roland? Sure, that’s the character you want to get rid of?
  • Rumple isn’t paying that toll, yo.
  • “You’re just saying that because you feel bad about ripping out her heart in Camelot.”
  • My young son, on the hunt for Henry and the Olympian crystal and magic grail and whatnot: “They keep having to find stuff! Once Upon A Time is basically a scavenger hunt.”
  • I thought for sure this finale was going to lead us to Olympus. We’ll see how well the show manages with these prospective new characters and the continued battle between light and dark in season six (although ratings have been sinking slowly). See you then, and thanks so much for reading!

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