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‘Once Upon A Time’ Winter Finale Review: (Dark) ‘Swan Song’

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The town of Storybrooke found itself overrun with Dark Ones on last night’s winter finale of Once Upon A Time. In order for the unwelcome guests to remain in the land of the living, the cloaked figures went around town and marked our heroes to return to the underworld in their place. Rumple suggested everyone say their goodbyes and make peace with their terrible futures, but Emma’s savior mode kicked in and she tasked Regina with helping her do what needed to be done: collect the darkness in Excalibur and sacrifice herself to save everyone else.

But of course “Swan Song” plotted a twisted course and several plans were thwarted throughout the hour, including the savior’s decision to undo her mistakes. Like most of the midseason finales that came before it, the episode gave our heroes a win, but also a major loss in the form of Killian’s life. In the final moments, Nimue attempted to take Emma out of the equation when she tried to fight back and no amount of darkness could stop Killian from protecting the woman he loves. So he made the sacrifice, gathered the darkness, destroyed all the old Dark Ones, and begged Emma to do what she should have done in Camelot: let him die a hero. This time, Emma granted his request and destroyed her heart (and ours) in the process. We’ll get back to this heartbreaking scene, but let’s talk about the other major moments of the episode.

ouat-511-swan-song-02Hello and Goodbye, Papa Hook

If fans hadn’t already guessed Killian would be the one making the ultimate sacrifice instead of Emma this week, the opening scene provided a big clue. We flashed back to an undisclosed number of years ago (the show can’t seem to decide just how old our favorite pirate is), and saw the moment Killian’s father abandoned his sons. He also sold them into servitude on his way out the door (or off the ship in this case). Flash forward to an undisclosed number of years later in the Enchanted Forest, and Regina wanted Captain Hook to prove himself before she sent him after Cora (can we all agree this scene does not fit into season two canon, but it’s also not the end of the world?). Papa Hook fell under a sleeping curse, a woman fell in love with him, and woke him up, but then she died. Hook felt bad for his father and decided to let him live (something else that’s a little iffy in season two canon because Captain Hook only cared about revenge pre-curse, but whatever). Then it turned out Papa Hook had another son named Liam so Hook killed him for thinking so little of original Liam. But he also apparently asked Regina to keep it a secret? The writers are pushing the suspended disbelief on all of this, but Hook and Regina are my favorite characters and this is a good parallel for them since they both sacrificed their fathers in the name of revenge. The important part of these scenes is the added layer to Killian and how he knew what kind of man he wanted to be, but he allowed revenge to blind him and bury that good part of him deep inside. We needed this clarity to appreciate just how far he’s come in present day.

Regina vs. Zelena Round: 246,446.466,779

Remember last week when Robin and Regina decided to allow Zelena time with her daughter? Zelena gave compromise some thought and rejected it. She liked the idea of Robin and Regina being sucked into the underworld and leaving her to teach the baby to be wicked. Between Zelena’s green paint samples for Regina’s office and her idea to name the baby a shade of green (pistachio), it’s hard to blame Regina for making the call to send Zelena back to Oz. As much as I love Zelena’s crazy, this is not someone who should be around an innocent baby unsupervised. Even better, we got to see Regina displaying some newfound self-confidence as she summoned the strength and power within to wield Merlin’s wand. Zelena disappeared into a tornado, but given Rebecca Mader’s series regular status, it’s a safe bet she’ll be back sooner or later. As always, sooner gets my vote. In the meantime, can we please, please, please get some Robin and Regina scenes that involve actual discussions and moments together and not just quick recaps of offscreen chats? Please and thank you, writers.

ouat-511-swan-song-05Fool Me 84,864,486,486,846 Times, Shame on You, Rumple

After five seasons, even the best shows get a little stale when it comes to their plot points. From the beginning, hope and redemption have been drilled into our heads almost as often as memory loss curses and true love. Once the darkness was removed from Rumple, it made sense that the writers would begin to redeem him. Maybe we’d never buy him as a hero or maybe Belle wouldn’t forgive him right away, but she would eventually because this is a show about fairytales and they’re true love. Rumple made the unselfish choice to send Belle out to see the world so she wouldn’t have to see her friends disappear and she could live the life she always wanted. A+ choice, sir, and my heart broke as Rumple watched her drive away. Then Belle came back because Henry called and told her the truth (he’s such a good kid). Belle was so proud of Rumple she kissed him and forgave him (and can we agree that bedroom scene likely indicates a pregnancy?). Now before we even had time to debate whether or not she forgave him too fast, Emma demanded a meeting and we learned the truth: Rumple spelled Excalibur so the magic would transfer back to him and he’s the Dark One once again with all the power of every Dark One ever. Are you f*@%ing kidding me, show??? Kudos for the plot twist I didn’t see coming, but seriously???? Rumple screwed over Belle again? Rumple ruined everyone’s lives again? Just because he can’t live without magic? Fine, if that’s how you want to play it, fine. But please don’t try and feed us another redemption story. Nothing he can do now will make me forgive him so just make him the un-killable bad guy. My sympathy is gone.

ouat-511-swan-song-04Emma Refuses to Give Up on Killian

Over the course of four and a half seasons, we’ve watched Emma lose Graham and Neal and then Killian to death and now Killian again (and yeah she almost lost him a few times in between). As selfless as she’s been in the past, Emma’s made it clear this man is the one she’s not willing to let go of without a fight. But unlike what she did in Camelot, Emma wants to rescue Killian the right way this time and that means taking a page out of her parents’ true love book. She blackmailed Rumple into opening the doorway to the underworld so the group can head down to Hades and rescue Killian. Snow correctly pointed out that there’s a life for a life exit policy, but Emma’s already planning on sharing a heart with Killian to skirt the rules. As she walked into the water, she repeated the family mantra of “I will always find you.” I have nothing but praise for Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue and all of the acting choices they’ve made over the past few episodes, but Morrison stole the entire show with her heartbreak as she professed her love, killed the man she loves to save everyone else, and then her determination when she seized the opportunity Rumple’s selfishness provided. It also made me happy to see Snow, Charming, Henry, Regina, and Robin at the ready, all prepared to journey to hell to save one of their own. No one showed any hesitation or expressed why it would be better to just move on—that’s not how this family works.

As our characters step into the underworld, we fans have to face our own personal purgatory: winter hiatus. The show won’t be back until March and that means we’ve got a lot of time standing between us and its return. In addition to being the spring premiere, the episode is also the show’s 100th, which makes it even cooler that so many familiar faces are returning. See you then…

About the author

Mandy Treccia

Mandy Treccia has served as TVSource Magazine’s Executive Editor since 2016, formerly as Editorial Director from 2012-2016. She is an avid TV watcher and card carrying fan girl prone to sudden bursts of emotion, ranging from extreme excitement to blind rage during her favorite shows and has on more than once occasion considered having a paper bag on hand to get her through some tough TV moments. Her taste in TV tends to rival that of a thirteen-year-old girl, but she’s okay with that. Follow her on Twitter at @SourceMandy.