May 12, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Once Upon A Time”


After a so-so fall spent mostly in Neverland, ONCE UPON A TIME rebounded strongly with its midseason arc, which brought the Wicked Witch of the West (Rebecca Mader) to Storybrooke.  The plotline effectively continued the process of redemption for former Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) that had started in the Neverland arc, integrating Regina, in particular, into the show’s band of heroes, albeit its snippiest.  Since she was no longer the series’ Big Bad, Once needed a strong new villain, and Mader proved herself a fine fairytale evildoer.  The ratings held quite well compared to most network dramas this spring at around a 2 (after falling behind ABC phenom Resurrection, Once surged as the newer show subsided), and in all it was a job well done by series creators/showrunners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz and their staff of writers.

The season could have ended with last week’s vanquishing of the Wicked Witch, but tonight’s 2-hour season finale (Hour 1 written by Executive Producer David H. Goodman and Supervising Producer Robert Hull and directed by Ron Underwood; Hour 2 written by Kitsis & Horowitz and directed by Ralph Hemecker) offered something a bit different.  As an early reference to Marty McFly made clear, it was an extended riff on Back to the Future, with Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Hook transported back to the Enchanted Forest past, where Emma interrupted her parents Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) and Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) from their first meeting, and had to scramble to get them back together, along the way coming into contact with Regina and with Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle), among others.

The set-up was a bit on the nose:  Emma had just finished declaring that she was planning to leave Storybrooke for New York because she didn’t really feel like part of the community there, since she hadn’t been around to take part in their fairy tale adventures, when suddenly–eureka!–there she was in the middle of those exact adventures.  (It wasn’t like there was a lot of suspense in the first place about whether she’d stay in Storybrooke, considering that she’s the heroine of the series and her contract isn’t up.)  It was clear that the Once budget was really struggling to contain the ambitious contents of the script, with lots of locations and multiple action scenes.  (Also noticeable:  the cuts between pregnant and non-pregnant Ginnifer Goodwin when the time-travel plot required extra footage of scenes originally staged in Season 1.)  Still, there was a lot of charm in what followed (having to identify herself at her first royal ball, Emma fumbled and said she was Princess Leia), and it was a showcase for Morrison, who’s often straight woman to the more colorful characters around her.  The finale also reached pleasing conclusions for the Emma/Hook romance, which is now officially on, and the character of Rumplestiltskin’s late son (and Emma’s former love) Neal, after whom Snow and Charming named their new son.  (Michael Raymond-James also got to make a brief flashback cameo.)

As for the hints about Season 4–a Once Upon A Time season finale tradition–we’ll see.  Having the woman Emma schlepped into the future in order to save her life at Regina’s hands be Robin Hood’s wife, who had died in the original past, immediately after Regina and Robin had fallen for each other in the present, will certainly bring tensions between Regina and Emma back to curse-era levels.  It also runs the risk of repeating emotional beats we’ve seen throughout past seasons from Regina, except with her hatred of Snow for ruining her love life transferred to Emma.  And the decision to bring Queen Elsa from Frozen into the series feels… opportunistic?  Too soon?  (Perhaps there were several layers of in-joke to the first shot of the season finale being a Mickey Mouse doll given to an orphan who was being adopted.)  Elsa was only seen from the back, so her casting is unclear, but if the show would give Idina Menzel a few new songs to sing, all would be forgiven.

ABC has had a lot of problems with its non-Shonda Rhimes dramas this year, but Once Upon A Time seems to be in good shape as it heads into Season 4.  Its creators haven’t made the best decisions all of the time, but they’ve been on target often enough to keep the series on course, and that has to be a relief to their network.

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."