It’s bloodbath week for the regular TV season—the week when we all find out what’s coming back, and what’s not. As has been its usual pattern over the past few years, ABC was particularly merciless, killing American Crime, Dr. Ken, and even a rare Shondland demise, The Catch. When Jennifer Morrison announced that she wasn’t coming back if and when there was an OUAT season seven, the series’ fate seemed sealed.
Then ABC announced that the show would in fact be returning, with only Colin O’Donoghue (Hook), Lana Parrilla (Regina), and Robert Carlyle (Rumple) as vets on board, along with new mysterious cast members Andrew West and Allison Fernandez. Watching this two-hour wrap-up tonight, a lot of that solemn finality appeared to have its hold on the show overall. After the Black Fairy’s curse envelops Storybrooke, we see that the real final battle is the fight for Emma’s belief, and if Henry, again, can try to convince her that Snow White and Prince Charming are her parents, among other things that sound totally crazy to a regular person. It was a nice throwback to the show’s beginning (and it’s almost startling how much Jared S. Gilmore has grown) even as it got rather bleak, with Emma stuck in the Cuckoo’s Nest sanitarium and Henry getting tossed down the stairs by his great-grandmother. Even the Enchanted Forest people couldn’t keep the giant gaping blackness at bay, although at least it brought a lot of other disparate stories together from the different “realms of story,” one of those phrases that the writers fall madly in love with for a few weeks until you’re sick of hearing it (see also: “happy beginnings”).
Throughout these six seasons of OUAT, the episodes ebb and flow, but I usually enjoy the finales, for some reason—the highlight being the Back To The Future time travel take of season three. A lot of this finale was a bit more dour than that (Good thing that true love’s kiss can bring so many people back to life! Not creepy at all), while ending up in a good place. But this ultimately made this effort all the more frustrating because it appeared to be set up like an OUAT ending, but it’s not the ending we’re actually getting.
Before we even get there, Rumple becomes the unlikely hero by demolishing his own mother, apparently by using her wand on her. You would think that having the person in charge of his heart now dead would mean that Gideon is now free—you know, like all the other people under a Black Fairy spell this episode, like Belle. But that wouldn’t leave us with much a cliffhanger, so the showdown between Gideon and Emma remained in play. Honestly, you want to like this show, and are willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, and then Emma sacrifices herself and turns into some kind of giant shining spire. Because Emma and Gold both did the right thing at the right time (I think I’m following this correctly), everything is rebooted—some more for some people than other people, because Gideon went all the way back to being a baby, in one of the most unlikely plot twists. The battle between dark and light is over, and Henry’s book finally ends.
It was kind of like the ending of Buffy: “Now what?” Snow is just happy that everyone can go back to enjoying whatever the hell it was that they did before, probably because she’s the only one with a job that anyone can remember. David goes back to being a farmer. Zelena hangs out with the miraculously staying-the-same-tiny-age baby she’s been hauling around for months. Henry actually goes back to school, for whatever grade he’s in now. We get a happy final dinner at Granny’s, complete with Emma in the Jesus position for the Last Supper portrait. About as subtle as a hand grenade, but you can’t say that all the loose ends weren’t tied up. Like, all of them, even the snow in Arendelle.
Except for one little snag, of course. The little girl we see inherit the book at the beginning of the episode, after talking to Tiger Lily, now marches up to a strange door in Seattle. It’s the home of the adult Henry Mills, for an intro fairly spot-on to Emma and Henry’s first meeting in episode one. “Your family needs you. Let’s go.”
I mean, damn. I was already up to about seven on my incense-o-meter that the show wasn’t just dying a decent, civilized death, but insisting on dragging out these three performers with a whole new crop next season like a revolving Zoom cast. But damn if that teaser didn’t hook me just a little. The casting of the adult Henry is pretty perfect, and there’s a palpable relief that Jared Gilmore can now go on with his life, away from the role that he got a lot of grief for at the beginning, but eventually grew into.
Also, If Henry Mills is the dad at the beginning of the story, that means that he existed in the Enchanted Forest or wherever that was? This adds a whole new time loop to the whole equation. I’m probably thinking about this too much, because who knows what dotted lines and arrows the OUAT writers have added already to the old dry erase board, but I’m intrigued. I’m intrigued against my own better judgment, because I was pretty vocal this week about the show coming to an end.
Maybe Kitsis and Horowtiz were trying to play it both ways. If you’re done with OUAT—and no one on earth could blame you, especially after this meandering, drawn-out season—this episode was a great way to sign off. But if you are an OUAT sucker, like I suspect some of us are, throwing an adult, mystical Henry into the mix seems like a pretty sly way to hook you into the nefarious season seven. Consider me suckered. Even as it brings up all sorts of questions. Jennifer Morrison has said she’ll appear in one episode, so how will the show explain her absence from Hook? Or Belle’s? Or the Charmings? When the book was getting torched this episode, I thought the show was setting up shop for a whole new realm. And maybe it is. With six main cast members not coming back, the showrunners appear to be eager to start over. But since they’ve been at this for six seasons already, let’s hope they’ve learned from previous mistakes.
Season six series grade: C
Season six finale grade: B
Final note: Just wanted to say thanks for reading and putting up with some late-night posts in this space. Honestly, I’m not sure if I’m up for discussion posts next season after 20-some meandering weeks of this one. But, this show has surprised me before.