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‘Once Upon a Time’ Season 3 Finale Review: A Lost Girl Finds Her Way Home

ABC/Katie Yu

Last night Once Upon a Time outdid itself with its two-hour season finale, “Snow Drifts” and “There’s No Place Like Home.” Not only did the show find a way to use its own history to tie up the fallout from Zelena’s time travel portal, it also came full circle to where season three begin with a reminder that the most important thing anyone can do is have faith that there is always hope – all they need to do is believe.

While Emma and Killian did most of the heavy lifting throughout the finale, all of our main characters and couples played a part, both in the past and the present. As the first hour began, Emma was doing her best to keep her plans to run away from Storybrooke to herself, expertly changing the subject whenever it came up. As Henry read Prince Charming and Snow White’s story to their son from his storybook, Killian let it slip that Emma planned to run away (just like her mother did) and needless to say the news did not go over well with her family, including Henry and Regina.

Emma chose to walk out on everyone rather than talk about it, but Killian followed after her, taking Henry’s book with him after Henry suggested that he use it to remind Emma where she belonged. Emma explained that she believed home was a place that you missed when it was gone and she’d never had that (we learned later through a flashback that it was actually Neal who taught her that). She insisted that she would keep running until she found the feeling. Then the conversation was abruptly cut off when the two noticed the glow from Zelena’s time portal and went to check it out.

What followed was an epic adventure as Emma fell into the portal and Killian went in after her (even as he muttered that “one of these days I’m going to stop chasing this woman”). In a tale inspired by Back to the Future, the two had to be careful not to change anything or they’d risk destroying the timeline, including Emma’s existence. Naturally, they screwed up almost immediately by botching Charming and Snow’s fateful carriage robbery meeting. They sought help from Rumple, who said he would work on opening a new portal while they fixed what they broke.

Again, there was nothing smooth or easy as they worked on putting the pieces back together. As much as I’d love to sit here and relive every single second of their journey, I don’t think anyone wants this review to be 7,000 words. So let’s talk about the destination and what the trip to the past led to for each of our main couples, starting with Rumple and Belle.

ABC/Katie Yu

ABC/Katie Yu

“Sometimes the best teacup is chipped.”

I have loved this couple since Belle was introduced in episode 12 and it hurts my heart so much that Rumple is deceiving her. In present day, Belle was worried about holding onto the dagger because it was too much power, but Rumple insisted that it was the right thing to do (Easy for him to say since it’s a fake). Belle surprised Rumple with the news that her father had given their marriage his blessing because he believed he was a changed man (I hope that felt like a dagger to the heart, Rumple).

When the group discovered Zelena was dead, Rumple denied playing a part and altered the evidence so no one could prove he did anything. Again, this hurt because the truth is going to come out eventually. But then Rumple and Belle got married in a private ceremony and it was incredibly beautiful. Their vows to each other were perfect (as was the cutaway to each of the other couples when the quotes applied to them – hence why I have borrowed them for these paragraph titles). As I said, I love these two so seeing them happy and in love was a beautiful thing, even if Rumple is deceiving her in the worst possible way. I worry for the consequences that will come from this, but for now, let’s look the other way and raise a glass to Mr. and Mrs. Gold.

ABC/Katie Yu

ABC/Katie Yu

“You chased away all the darkness.”

Robin and Regina began the episode with a romantic night in front of the fireplace. They opened up to each other about the guilt they felt for the way their first loves died and Regina told Robin what Tinker Bell had said and how she’d run away, but she’d seen his lion tattoo. He pointed out that it was all about the timing and they resumed their adorable happiness. I think each and every person watching must have felt the anvil that fell from the sky at that point because we’ve all been waiting for it. Things have gone far too easily for this couple and that’s just not how this show works.

While Emma is in the past, she comes across a woman who is being held prisoner by the Evil Queen and decides to rescue her because she can’t bear to leave her behind to get executed. They were very careful not to mention her name, but in the age of the internet and sharp-eyed viewers, a lot of us knew exactly who she was because we remembered her from the first time we saw her in season two when she was pregnant…with Roland. That’s right – Emma brought Robin’s wife back to Storybrooke. Needless to say Robin and Roland were thrilled to see her and Regina was not amused by any of it.

Even though this seems really, really bad, I don’t believe this is the end of Robin and Regina by any means. The circumstances surrounding Marian’s past are murky and just because they were in love at one point doesn’t mean she’s it for Robin. True love needs to be fought for, but of course the question will be whether Regina will fight for her love or if she’ll put her walls back up and make it her mission to destroy Emma’s life. I’m guessing it’ll be a combination of both. But I don’t think Regina is going to backslide completely.

ABC/Dean Buscher

ABC/Dean Buscher

“I’ve spent my life finding you.”

Snow White and Prince Charming’s love has always been the heart of this show and if this was any other show, I’d say it was a risky move to alter the origin of their love story. But these writers know what they’re doing and these two characters love each other so completely that there was never any doubt they’d find each other one way or another. I love the way they mixed the season one scenes with the new scenes that included Emma and Killian (and sometimes Marian and Ruby). Throughout the adventure, they changed some major things (like Snow suddenly being burned at the stake and turned into a bug), but in the end, they got to the same place. Now we’ve got two fantastic tales of how they first fell in love.

In the present, they were blissfully happy – even more so when their daughter announced her decision to stay (more on that later). They also got to finally have a coronation ceremony for one of their children (even if it was subdued and not at all like The Lion King). They revealed that they’d decided to name their new prince Neal after the man who had been a hero to all of them. The camera cut to Rumple and the look on his face was enough for me to appreciate this name choice. After all was said and done, the shot of Snow and Charming cuddling with their son was absolutely everything. After what they went through this season to get to this point (Charming died! They literally share one heart!), it was more than deserved.

ABC/Katie Yu

ABC/Katie Yu

“My walls were up, but you brought them down. You brought me home.”

Emma has spent her whole life looking for her home and feeling like she’ll never belong anywhere. Before we talk about the time travel, I have to take a moment to appreciate the scene of Emma and Killian on the park bench and how perfectly it paralleled last year’s season finale. Back then, Killian had been the one who wanted to save himself and Emma had asked him to be a part of something – a part of the family, even if it wasn’t what they were calling themselves at that point. Now he’s offering her the same thing and she’s the one who still wants to run, the one who wants to look out for herself first. But that turned out to be impossible to do once they fell through the time portal and it was up to them to make sure everything survived intact.

The storybook came into play more than once. It was what brought them to that point in the past and in a nod to Marty’s family picture in Back to the Future, pages began to disappear once Emma and Killian started to mess things up. Watching them work together to fix things was just another reminder that Killian was right all along when he said they made quite the team. Not only that, Emma wasn’t as guarded as she normally was – she was a fish out of water in the land of magic and she wasn’t focused on her fears or running away. Instead, her mind was on her family and the absolute awe that crossed her face as she watched the stories she’d heard and read so many times come to life in front of her.

It was also fun to watch Emma spotting people from Storybrooke in their natural habitat including Rumple in all of his Dark One glory (her expression was priceless), Marco, Blue and Belle. She also got a chance to interact with Captain Hook, something that Killian was not a fan of at all. These scenes were great for so many reasons. Seeing Emma flirt shamelessly with a drunken Hook to distract him was so fun, but the best part was when Killian got to knock his past self out cold. Sure he was jealous that the past version was getting a little too close to Emma, but it was more than that. Killian has come so far since being that broken man, hell bent on revenge, and punching him in the face was the final nail in the coffin, so to speak, of putting his past firmly behind him.

Emma getting to experience her first ball and seeing what all the fuss was about was the kind of scene that the audience has been waiting for and it did not disappoint. Of course it was eventually interrupted by chaos and the Evil Queen and then Emma was captured, which led to Killian teaming with Charming and Snow to rescue her. Emma finds her own way out, but not before she tells Marian that her mother would want her to have hope and that gives her the strength to keep going (Snow would have been so proud of her in that moment).

Unfortunately, even after securing her parents’ future, Emma and Killian find themselves prisoner in the Dark One’s vault after he tells them that he can’t open the time travel portal. Killian urges her to use her magic, but Emma keeps insisting that it’s gone. She admits that she doesn’t want to run away anymore and he asked what changed her mind. Emma explains that it was watching her mother die and then having Snow look at her like she was a stranger after she’d saved her – Emma realized that was actually what she’d been doing to Snow since they met.

ABC/Dean Buscher

ABC/Dean Buscher

She also came to the realization that Henry hadn’t brought her to Storybrooke to break the curse – he’d brought her to Storybrooke because it was her home. Even though it wasn’t spoken, this was another parallel because Killian had done the same thing this season. Emma wasn’t the one who had to break Zelena’s curse, but she was the one who had to find her home. Emma’s magic returned and after a close call with Rumple, they returned to Storybrooke. Emma ran straight to her parents and hugged them. She told them that she wanted to stay and then she finally called them ‘Mom and Dad’ when the world wasn’t ending and told them she’d missed them. It was beautiful and the perfect way to close this chapter of their lives where Emma has been keeping them at arms’ length.

But something, or someone, was still missing. Emma headed outside to join Killian and the savior wanted to thank him for coming back for her in New York. He insisted it was the right thing to do (parallel to Snow and Charming’s ‘honorable’ thing to do when they saved each other). Emma asked how he got back and we finally got the answer that most of us probably suspected. Killian outran the curse (he’s a hell of a captain) and then he traded the Jolly Roger for a magic bean. He’d given up his home to get back to Emma and the look on her face proved she knew exactly how major that was. Then she kissed him, making it pretty clear that his intention of winning her heart without trickery had finally worked out. Emma has a home now, one that she had since the day she set foot in Storybrooke, but now she’s finally accepted it.

And then there was the tease for next season: guess who came through the portal from Rumple’s vault? Elsa – Frozen is coming to Once Upon a Time. Who’s excited? Feel free to hit the comments and share your thoughts on the finale as well as how you feel about the newest character introduction. Any suggestions for who should play her?


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.

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  1. What a great review!! Thank you so much…I really enjoyed every word about the couples but especially Emma and Killian.

    I am so happy about Emma and Killian. I’m actually at a loss for words. Their coming together was so much more than I ever dared to
    hope or expect. It was wonderful…perfect. So perfect it scares me a bit :)
    I’ve believed they were destined for love since “Tallahassee” and Adam and Eddy outdid themselves delivering their story. I hope they’ll keep delivering in that very same vein because never has a love story touched me more…
    All the love in the world was in that kiss at the end of the finale…

    Emma is finally home…the lost girl has finally found home thanks to her hero/pirate who loves her more than anything in the whole wide
    world. And he won her heart exactly like he said he would, without any trickery. I’m never getting over those two…

    I loved the homage to Neal…he was such an important part of the Once Upon A Time universe (considering that if it weren’t for him the dark curse would never have been cast) and now, through baby Charming, he always will be. Though I’d have preferred “Bae” :))
    I also enjoyed the Rumbelle wedding (despite the complications that lie ahead) – Rumple truly loves Belle – but he is the Dark One and what would be Once without him? The vows and the fact that each line fitted one of the true love’s couples perfectly, as you pointed out, was genius and heart-melting.

    Regina – I can’t wait to see how she handles Marian back. She has changed but there was a lot of darkness in the Evil Queen for a very
    long time and that doesn’t disappear as quickly as some would like. It was love that helped Regina change…the threat of it being taken away could tempt her to fall back to old patterns but I don’t think she will; at least not like she would have in S1 and 2.
    Rumple and Regina are the two characters I could never really enjoy if they didn’t have a bit of darkness in them…

    Can’t wait for S4! Bless Adam and Eddy for this incredible finale and hopefully they’ll be just as genius in writing the next season. I
    trust them with all my heart. What I’m looking forward to the most is Emma and Killian being in a relationship and what they are going to do with their happy “ending” now that they finally have it :)

  2. Thanks, love!

  3. WONDERFUL review :’)

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