Tuesday, May 16, 2017

OUAT: The Final Battle

Photo: ABC, via TVFanatic
It's the end of the line if you want it to be, but it doesn't have to be. The final two episodes of "Once Upon a Time" season six provided a perfect capstone to the story they've told for the last six years...but if you want more fairy tale magic, you can hop along for a similar but different ride in season seven.


Despite many, many problems over the years, OUAT has fairly consistently managed good season finales. This is probably why they've survived so long. Each finale reminds you of why you loved the show, and provides a good cliffhanger to mull over all summer and whet your appetite for the next season. Although "The Finale Battle" doesn't reach quite the rewatchable levels of some other finales (Neverland, Time Travel, the last Curse),  it nonetheless provides a solid resolution for our favorite heroes and heroines.

One staple of the show has been to be unpredictable when we are most lulled into a sense of repetition. The Savior's final battle was not, after all, a huge physical fight (although there was combat). Instead, it was a mental battle, provided a beautiful full-circle from the first season.

"Once Upon a Time" has never been a very spiritual show, certainly not anywhere near LOST levels. And yet, the showrunners have strong LOST roots (we got another 316 reference in the final scene), and so some slight religious allusions are not, after all, surprising. While the "Last Supper" shot was overt and slightly jarring, there was a more subtle theme that rang very biblical notes. Hope, the show reminds us, is not resting on the truth we see, but rather the truth we know.

"Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see." So says the writer of Hebrews (11:1), and Emma, like many many people of faith over the years, chooses to give up her life in certainty of her hope. Of course, she is ressurected by her son in True Love's Kiss, a move that is cliche at this point for this show, and yet, how could it end any other way? In full circle in this story of circles, Henry follows the path of his grandparents and parents. (More on that in a bit.)

It was great to see Henry playing such a pivotal role again, especially with the promise of the next season, and for awhile I was really hoping that he would be the one facing down Gideon. Passing on the mantle to the next generation was definitely the theme of this episode, so I felt a little miffed when Emma stepped in. Of course, this is the end to Emma's story and she had to be the one fighting Gideon in her final battle, so it's not surprising.

The roles given to Snow, Charming, Regina, Zelena and Hook in this episode were perhaps the least satisfying part of the drama, as it all felt very peripheral and not tremendously interesting. Nothing they did really affected the main battle in any way. Their purpose was to provide the stakes of the story, and that function could have been fulfilled with a great deal less screen time. However, there were two episodes to fill and it would be lame to have such important characters doing nothing, so I can't blame the screenwriters for taking this tack. (Indeed, I don't really have a better solution for what they should have done.)

One review I read criticized the fact that Henry remained in Storybrooke while the rest of the family was deported (so to speak). Personally, I thought this made sense. This curse was supposed to mimic the first dark curse, and Henry very notably was not connected to that curse at all. He was the child of two people who escaped the first curse, so it made sense to me that he could not be touched by this second dark curse. He was the weakness in Fiona's plan, and her attempts to patch that weakness were not enough for our growing hero. (Supposedly still 14-year-old hero but COME ON.)

"The Savior" did kill the Dark Fairy, though not the 'true' savior. Rumple did a Voldy on Fiona and in doing so, ultimately rejected his powers. I, as many fans, did struggle with Belle once again accepting Rumple after his past abuse of her. However, the message of OUAT has always been that no one is beyond redemption, if they seek it. Over the past season, Rumple has been gradually moving towards redemption in new ways. Killing Fiona and rejecting her offer was not his moment of redemption--rejecting the opportunity to resurrect Baelfire after killing Fiona was. Rumple has always put power before family. Always. Now he was given the chance at ultimate power--indeed the power he has been fighting for his whole life--and he gave it up. Will he truly have broken his old patterns? We don't know. However, Belle has shown that she is strong enough to leave him if he strays, and Rumple just gave up the chance to control her fully forever, so this leads me (and I presume, Belle) to believe that he is intending to follow the 'straight and narrow' so to speak.

I completely respect that many will disagree with this analysis and wish to be very clear that outside of a fairy tale setting and story constraints I would have very different feelings.

The final montage was deeply moving and satisfying for me. Seeing Snow, Charming and Neal with their farmhouse (and dog!) brought me to tears.

Gideon reverting back to baby form was not terribly shocking, but we haven't necessarily seen the last of adult Gideon. Given that season 7 is making a twenty year jump to the future (thereabouts), this would be the exact timeframe for Gideon to be grown again, and, indeed, may be part of why they went with the baby reversion. After all, why would we want to see a fifty year old Gideon?

Which brings me to the big question: how will the show continue when so many actors are leaving? Well, first of all, Snow and Charming will be back for select episodes. Presumably, these are for flashbacks. Whether Snow and Charming are alive or not in the "Season Seven Present" (now referred to as S7P), doesn't depend on the actors, as the Charmings would all be 20 years older and could/should presumably be recast.

Indeed, this fact goes for all of the non-returnees. The confirmed returning regulars (Rumple, Regina and Hook) are all characters with proven anti-aging semi-immortality. There is no reason for them to look any different in 20 years. Just because Emilie de Ravin isn't returning as Belle doesn't mean that the character of Belle won't be back. She, like Henry, could be cast with an actor of the appropriate age for the S7P. This could also go for Emma and the Charmings, although I suspect that they will be in a different universe from Henry in S7P. After all, why would the show go through so much trouble to give out happy endings if they were going to take them all away? While possible, I don't think this would be a wise move and I think the showrunners have to know this. I could be wrong, of course, but I think there is enough evidence for such a move that I won't be panicking right now.

(If they prove me wrong I'll of course be disappointed and frustrated, but, personally, there's no point in negative emotions yet. They've given me plenty of good stories for the past six years, and I'll give them another chance next year.)

Other highly possible developments for Season 7 include the appearance of babies Neal and Robin as adults, which is something I've been hoping to see for quite awhile. Also, the showrunners promise that we will see the love story between Lucy's mother and Henry, and that it will be an epic worthy of Prince Charming Jr. Jr. We also don't know what other siblings might crop up. Will Emma and Hook have a child? Will Snow and Charming or Rumple and Belle add to their brood? What about Aurora and Cinderella's babies?

(Speaking of which, I love the choice of the name "Lucy" for Henry's daughter. It has delicious Narnian homage feelings, and seems perfect for her character.)

I'm really, really glad that the show gave our characters "Happy Endings." Part of my comic book burnout came from facing the fact that no superheros EVER get happy endings. They might get a few weeks here and there, but in the end, life sucks, they die, get resurrected, break up with their true love, go evil, die again, etc, etc. It's exhausting. OUAT dealt with the issue neatly by giving the core characters satisfying endings (and not all of them romantic!), but creating an intriguing premise for another season with a story and character that we care about. On the one hand, if you want to be done watching now, you totally can. The story is complete. You can leave the show with an idea of how the next adventure will play out because we've already seen it do so once.

However, if you aren't ready to be done, you can tune in for next season and more magical adventures. Furthermore, for any fan who is really behind on the show, they can skip watching the past season and dive right into season 7 if they so desire. (No doubt this is one outcome the network executives hope for.)

It's been a long, magical, sometimes cheesy and frustrating, and often emotional six years. I'm grateful for the closure, but also glad that it is not the end.)

Six years of blogging on one show? Even I cannot quite believe it. All of my posts on "Once Upon a Time" can be viewed here.

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