The following recap, by the very definition of the word “recap,” contains major spoilers from Once Upon a Time‘s Season 4 finale.
Hey, remember that Once Upon a Time Season 4B promo from February that teased the possibility of a walk on “the dark side” for Emma?
Yeah, so…. They were not kidding. But more on that in a bit.
This finale took some risks, entrusting much of its opening thrust to young Jared Gilmore (who has never had nearly this much to do) and a quite new recurring character (in Patrick Fischler’s Isaac). But the storyline demanded it, and in my opinion it absolutely paid off, as optimistic-and-determined Henry hunted down and squared off against the best-selling author whose Heroes and Villains novel banished everyone in Storybrooke to a topsy-turvy Enchanted Forest.
Once in this alt-FTL, we got a variation on Season 1, where The Truest Believer struggled to convince his mother Regina, and then Hook, that they had been written into a new existence, removed from their actual lives — all while racing against the clock (i.e. Robin Hood and Zelena’s wedding bells) and avoiding the bloodthirst of Evil Snow White.
This set-up afforded the familiar cast new “roles” to play, such as Regina the plucky bandit, Rumple the do-right knight, Charming the guylinered henchman, Hook the goats milk-swilling deckhand, pissy Granny. And while that alone was pure entertainment — Lana Parrilla, for one, did a great job of changing up Regina’s disposition — the stakes were also very real, especially once Henry learned that his other mother, Emma, was being held captive in a remote castle, guarded by Dragon Lily.
One saving grace for Henry was that upon finding Emma (thanks to the trusty “Wookie prisoner gag”), she remembered him, because that was the very punishment handed down by Heroes and Villains dictator Rumple, that she know the truth but be powerless to act on it. We then got to see Emma “meet” Hook as they bumped into each other (for an amusingly lingering amount of time), and then go on to help the poor guy out with his fencing skills, which will come in handy very soon.
Meanwhile, we visit with Rumple and Belle, who are happily together and doting over a newborn. But then Isaac shows up to state his case — by relating the actual fate of Baelfire, and Rumple’s none-too-noble role in it — and warn that Henry’s plan to unite Regina with Robin Hood must be stopped, lest they all lose everything. Rumple confides in Belle the vagaries of his moral dilemma, but she assures him that he is a “hero,” and as such always makes the right choice.
Upon making it back to land, Henry, Emma and Hook run into Evil Snow, who has been relishing the chance to kill the “boy.” Subscribing to the wild notion that the greater good will offset any (mortal) setback, Hook offers to fend off Charming while Emma gets Henry to safety, but his sacrifice comes all too quickly when he is run through with a sword, as devastated Emma looks on. Henry rushes Emma to “meet” Regina, who’s still not entirely on board with the lad’s story and the “need” to crash Robin’s wedding. But when Emma shares her fresh pain of seeing the man she loves (yet never said “I love you” to) die in front of her, Regina agrees to give “true love” a shot.
Once at the church, Regina inches close to pulling a Dustin Hoffman, while Emma faces off against Rumplestiltskin, who after a bit of parrying uses magic to lob Emma against a rock. Henry picks up his mom’s sword and readies to face Rumple himself. Regina’s focus darts back and forth from nearly wed Robin and the drama going on outside, and as Rumple goes to slay Henry, she steps in between the men and takes the fatal blow herself. And just as the church bells ring, signaling the end of the book and point of no return.
Or is there a last hope…?
Henry reaches for Isaac’s quill, which glows upon his touch — signaling him to be the new Author. But, Isaac scoffs: You have no ink, so you ain’t writin’ nuttin’. Henry thinks fast and reckons that whereas the blood of a dark Savior worked before, in this down-is-up reality, the blood of a light Savior should get the job done. And after dabbing the quill in hero Regina’s blood, Henry writes away Isaac’s interference, returning all to Storybrooke.
Back home, Emma seeks out Hook, fearing his death had perhaps stuck — but when she sees him alive and well, she tackles him on a bed and says at long last, “I… want to thank you for sacrificing yourself.” Elsewhere, however, the drama is far from over: Rumple again lay dying of a near-solid black heart, meaning it is not long until The Dark One roams free, untethered to a human soul. With Belle at his side, Rumple uses some of his last breaths to reflect on when they were in love in the other reality. “I was already in love,” she corrects. “Everything we had in the book… you could have had here…. I knew what I was getting, I wasn’t going to pull back.” Lest there be any uncertainty about her feelings, she avows, “I don’t love Will… and I’m not letting you die alone.”
Belle rushes to Granny’s to bust up the latest “We Survived Another Cosmic Calamity” party and alert everyone to Rumple’s dire state. The Apprentice, having been extricated earlier from the Sorcerer’s hat, proposes they use the same magical gizmo to extract and capture all of the Darkness from Rumple’s heart. Alas, the hat isn’t able to contain the Darkness for long at all, and soon enough it escapes like a Spider-Man 3 symbiote and jumps into the Apprentice. Emma quickly uses her magic to rid the old man of the goo, after which the Darkness flies off, into town. Only one thing can stop the Darkness once and for all — “Find Merlin,” the Apprentice gasps.
But until then, Emma & Co. go hunting for the Darkness — but it finds them first, descending upon and swirling around and around Regina, gradually sucking the light from her. Robin makes a foolish attempt to free Regina from its grasp, to zero avail. Emma then declares that the Darkness needs to be tethered to a human host, lest it “destroy everything,” as the Apprentice foretold. So, despite pleas from Regina and Hook — to whom she finally says, “I love you” — and trusting that her loved ones can save her from darkness again, Emma uses the Dark One’s dagger to attract the cyclone of goo and invite it to attach itself to her. And after it blankets Emma and ultimately vanishes in a burst of light, all that is left behind is the dagger… now emblazoned with the name of the new Dark One:
Elsewhere in the two-hour finale:
* Props to TVLine reader A.D. for catching the date of Isaac’s flashback — namely, that December 1966 is when Walt Disney died, and the Apprentice said the previous Author had just passed.
* After Henry “closed the book” on Heroes and Villains, Regina made sure that pregnant Zelena was still locked up — and made clear that her sister will be no threat to her and Robin’s future together.
* After confirming that he can’t use his power as the Author to bring back his father, seeing as Neal died “in the real world” — and appreciating the temptation to tinker, as Isaac did — Henry snapped the quill in half.
* When the Charmings confronted Isaac about why he derailed their story all those years ago, he explained that it was because Charming reminded him of a “bad boss” he had :-|
* Lily revealed to Emma that her crescent-shaped necklace is actually part of the egg she was born in, and thus the only clue to who her father is. (Long story, but apparently dragons are morally casual.) Emma agrees that Lily should stay in town, and they’ll root around for her dad together. (Will Lily’s father turn out to also be Merlin? Regardless: Who should play the famous Sorcerer? What, did someone say Ioan Gruffudd is available?!)