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Once Upon A Time: “A Land Without Magic”

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been complaining about the general lack of forward movement in this show’s first season. However, writer/creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz pack this finale with story developments. The revelations come fast and furious; but while this episode is heavy on plot, it comes at the expense of character. The result is a finale that rushes to hit all the necessary points to set up next season, and we never get to feel the personal impact that all these massive changes have on the people. If they parceled out the events in this finale over the course of the season, they could have created a much more engaging series. The end of this episode has me genuinely excited to see what this show becomes in the next year, but the journey getting there has been a rough one.


This is the season finale, so Kitsis and Horowitz throw in as many callbacks to past episodes as possible, beginning with a short cameo by pretty boy Huntsman/Sheriff Graham, who helps Prince James escape Regina’s castle. This is a special-effects-heavy episode, and while the CGI animation looks pretty good for network television, the same cannot be said of the green-screen environments. God, those castle backgrounds suck. No matter how well a fight is staged, it’s hard to actually take notice when the figures clash so heavily with the backdrop. Does it cost that much more to build a castle set that they could use all season? It would probably look better than the digital effects the show relies on now.

Back in Storybrooke, Emma and Regina are at the hospital waiting to find out what happened to the comatose Henry. Dr. Whale can’t figure out what has caused Henry’s sudden ailment, and when Emma contemplates the possibility of magic while touching Henry’s Once Upon A Time book, her mind is flooded with memories of the fairy-tale world. She conveniently believes now, and the first thing she does is grab Regina and violently throw her into a supply closet. It’s amazing how quickly everyone adapts to the changes this episode, and other than her initial violent outburst, Emma has a surprisingly easy time accepting that everyone she knows is a fairy tale character. Inside the supply closet, there’s some nonsense magic talk as Regina says she used the last bit to get the apple, and that magic is unpredictable in this world. There are no rules regarding magic on this show, as we will learn very soon.


James runs into the forest after escaping the castle, and he encounters Rumpelstiltskin for a brief, non-green-screened fight. After they’ve burned off their testosterone, Rumpelstiltskin gives James an enchanted ring and the true-love magic potion made from James' and Snow’s hairs. James has to hide it within the belly of the beast, who is Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent, where it will be saved for a rainy day. That rainy day has come, and Mr. Gold offers the potion to Regina and Emma when they go to him for help in bringing Henry back from the brink.

It’s time for magic exposition as Mr. Gold tells them about how he put a drop of true-love extract on the Dark Curse he gave Regina, making it the key to breaking the curse. Like the potion, Emma is the product of Snow White and Prince James’ love, giving her a magical connection to the potion that makes her the person to retrieve it from the dragon that lives under Storybrooke. Regina takes Emma to her secret lair underneath the library, where dragon Maleficent and Snow’s glass coffin (remember that?) have been kept hidden from the rest of the town.

This episode is heavy on the swordplay, and James' and Emma’s dragon fights play side-by-side as daddy plants the egg and daughter retrieves it. Emma tries to use her gun for way too long before realizing that it's useless, and ultimately ends up just throwing her sword and luckily hitting its heart. Emma slays the dragon and retrieves the potion, handing it off to Mr. Gold when he tricks her in the elevator. (Emma’s apparently never seen Aladdin.) When she realizes she’s been duped, she gets out of the elevator and finds a tied up Regina, setting her free as they both receive messages from the hospital: Henry’s dead.

Oh man, I was really hoping Henry’s death wouldn’t be a cop-out, and then I remembered that this is a show about fairy tales and he ate a poison-apple pastry. But still, deep down I thought that maybe, just maybe, the writers would write him off the show. It could happen right? Wrong. Instead, Emma kisses her son, and true love’s kiss revives him, sending a shock wave through Storybrooke that awakens everyone’s memories of their previous lives. So Emma just had to kiss her son to break the curse? Or did she has just have to kiss her son while believing? Did she not kiss him at all after he was brought to the hospital? That seems hard to believe. There are lots of plot holes, but who cares? Now everyone remembers the fairy-tale world, so this show suddenly became a lot more interesting.


While this is all happening, the show’s latecomers August and Jefferson get their little moments of glory before the season ends. August has his final moments with Emma before going full-wood, offering those words of encouragement that Emma needs to get through every goddamn moment of the day. Jefferson returns to collect on his end of the deal with Regina, but because Henry, not Emma, ate the apple, she takes back their agreement. This doesn’t settle well with the Mad Hatter, and he breaks into Regina’s secret hospital lair to set Belle free and pit Mr. Gold against Regina in full force.

It’s appropriate that Claire from Lost is with Mr. Gold when he dumps the true love potion into the wishing well, because the vial totally looks like some glitter he got from Claire’s. A giant purple cloud rushes from the well and engulfs the town, signaling the return of magic to the world, a return that is welcomed by Regina. Now that the fairy-tale and Storybrooke world have fully intersected, I’m continuing to hold out hope for an Angel-like evolution for this series, delving into the more fantastic elements while balancing the soapy drama with more humor. It’s a hefty wish, but if this show has taught me anything, it’s that dreams come true. Sometimes.


Stray observations:

  • So that cliffhanger makes any of the David and Mary Margaret drama irrelevant now. We can forget that entire Kathryn murder investigation story ever happened.
  • Regina sure does have a lot of secret lairs.
  • Emma’s face after the dragon reveal is priceless.
  • I’ll never be able to hear people say “Rumpelstiltskin” seriously without thinking it is utterly ridiculous.