May 19, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Once Upon A Time”


Unwise bargains were a staple of ONCE UPON A TIME from the very beginning, so it was sadly appropriate that series creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz entered into one themselves in order to convince ABC to order a 7th season for the show.  In return, the network demanded a slashed license fee, which meant heavy cuts in the production budget, in turn requiring the replacement of most of the regular cast.  To make this work with some semblance of continuity, Kitsis and Horowitz relocated the action from the show’s iconic Storybrooke to what was supposed to be a neighborhood in Seattle (actually the show continued to be shot in Vancouver), so that a bevy of new characters could be introduced and viewers wouldn’t expect to see the discarded personnel.

In the end, none of it was worth the enormous trouble, as ABC moved the show to the wasteland of Friday nights, and between that and all the changes, the ratings plunged and the series was canceled.  (The night’s other relocated drama Agents of SHIELD received a short order for Summer 2019, which is as close as a broadcaster can come to canceling a series without actually issuing its death warrant.)  The final season was an exhausting, confusing mess, cluttered with alternate-universe and alternate-timeline versions of characters, which wasn’t helped by Kitsis & Horowitz’s decision to try to sustain a single story through 22 episodes, rather than the mini-arcs the show had used in recent seasons.

That led to a succession of interchangeable villains, most of them evil witches or wizards.  For the endgame, though, the show returned closer to familiar territory, with an alt-Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) as the final Big Bad.  ABC did foot the bill for a more elaborate final hour, written by Kitsis & Horowitz and directed by series veteran Ralph Hemecker, that included a fair amount of CG, however low-rent.  The much-vaunted returns of the OG cast, though, didn’t amount to much, as most of the old faces only appeared for a scene or two, with onetime lead Jennifer Morrison’s Emma not showing her face until the last 5 minutes of the hour, and Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) not having much more to do.

As was Once‘s way all along, the finale’s battles mostly resolved through sentiment and heroic sacrifice, as Original Rumple gave up his own heart to save alt-Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), which caused alt-Rumple to perish, and didn’t work out badly for Original Rumple either, since post-physical death, he was finally united with his true love Belle (Emilie de Ravin, on hand for a minute or so) in the afterworld.  Alt-Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) also spared the life of Regina (Lana Parilla), ensuring everyone’s survival.  The upshot of all this was that somehow all the fairytale realms throughout the universe combined with Storybrooke, which in the CG shots that displayed the result made it look remarkably like a theme park.

There was a nice full-circle quality to the final sequence, with Regina back in the throne room of the pilot’s first scene, but this time acclaimed as the elected Queen of all, rather than the spurned one casting an evil curse.  In addition, along the course of the season, there were some engaging new characters and performers, notably Rose Reynolds as alt-Hook’s daughter, and Tiera Skovbye as Zelena’s daughter (the two became a couple), and one-time Reign star Adelaide Kane as a witch who retained some moral ambiguity.

It was definitely time for Once Upon A Time to end, and although the people involved must have appreciated their extra paychecks, for viewers it would have been better for the show to have concluded at least a season earlier.  This final appendage of a season was an ill-conceived experiment that never worked, and it colored one’s memories of a series that began as both ingenious and great fun.  If Kitsis & Horowitz only had some of the powers they write about, they’d concoct a spell and poof!, it would all go away.


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."