May 14, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Once Upon A Time”


As everyone knows by now, although ONCE UPON A TIME has been renewed for a 7th season, tonight’s 2-hour “Final Battle” episode marked the end of the series as we’ve known it.  Only 3 members of the core cast are returning–Lara Parrilla’s Regina, Robert Carlyle’s Rumplestiltskin, and Colin O’Donoghue’s Hook–and as we learned in the closing seconds of the finale, Andrew J. West will be playing an adult version of Jared S. Gilmore’s Henry.  The rest will be banished to occasional guest appearances or gone for good.

It’s hard to argue with the idea that Once needed a makeover, if it wasn’t going to be canceled altogether.  Series creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz have worked unflaggingly to come up with new fantasy realms and mythological twists every year, but the show has felt like it was running on fumes for the last few seasons, and as the plots have grown repetitive and creaky, the ratings have cratered.  (Although no one is saying this out loud, cutting so much cast will also lower next year’s budget, which will help ABC and its in-house studio live with the declining ratings.)

Aside from the prologue and epilogue sequences (and one brief scene in the middle featuring Tinker Bell and adult Henry’s young daughter), the two hours–written by Kitsis & Horowitz, and respectively directed by Steve Pearlman and house director Ralph Hemecker–were presented as a straightforward series finale, symmetrical to a fault with the events of Season 1.  Once again, there was a curse on the inhabitants of Storybrooke that wiped out their memories about being fairy tale characters.  The wrinkle this time was that the evil curse-maker was the Black Fairy (Jaime Murray, a much more interesting villainness on Syfy’s Defiance), who had taken on Regina’s roles as town Mayor and Henry’s adopted mother.  The stakes were made higher by the fact that the continued existence of all the fairy tale realms depended on Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), the town Savior, believing in fantasy again, but the dynamic of her biological son Henry desperately trying to convince her of the truth was familiar.  Where the original curse was lifted by Emma giving Henry true love’s kiss, this time, it was Henry who brought Emma back to life after she sacrificed herself for those she loved.  That cleared the way for everyone to have an official happy ending (or “happy beginning,” as the dialogue insisted), and thus be ushered off the show’s stage.

The epilogue, too, was essentially a re-enactment of the series opening, as the little girl who now had the “Once Upon A Time” story book turned up at adult Henry’s apartment to inform him that he was her father, and that he was urgently needed.

It was comforting to see all the old characters get their happiness, and Kitsis and Horowitz included plenty of callbacks to earlier episodes and characters.  As was the case with much of this season, though, there was a heavy feeling of retread over most of the proceedings, and no twist to give a new perspective to scenes we’d mostly seen before.  It’s hard, too, to be very excited for what amounts to next season’s spin-off, given that the set-up is almost exactly the same as the one we saw six seasons ago.  (In truth, it’s also not necessarily great news that Rumplestiltskin is coming along, since his Trust-Me-Aha-Fooled-You-Again storylines have become among the show’s most tired.)

Once Upon A Time is a useful show for ABC, not only because it has developed its own valuable brand, but because its existence is a weekly commercial for the parent company’s fairy tale products.  But even with today’s relaxed attitude toward ratings, it doesn’t have far to fall before its status will be in real trouble.  The season’s real cliffhanger wasn’t what’s going on with adult Henry and his mysterious daughter, but whether the series itself has enough of a pulse to survive its new iteration.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."