Slaying a dragon, the Evil Queen taken down a peg, true love conquers all and Emma Swan finally believing in magic, the season finale has it all. Let me begin with telling you that I love this show, I know that it’s terribly cheesy most of the time and it’s kind of part of the charm. Once you accept the cheese and are ready to enter the world where true love conquers all, where subtlety goes out the window and the budget constraints are very apparent in the special effect, then you’re ready to sit down and really enjoy the little town of Storybrooke.
Once’s first season was uneven, hitting some bumps in the road as it careened through the back stories of a vast array of fairytale characters as it struggled to find a centre around the primary story, and perhaps even decide what that was going to do. In the premiere it seemed like the heart of the show was going to be Emma Swan, the savior of Storybrooke, and her immediate family; Henry her son and her parents Snow White/Mary Margaret and Prince Charming/David Nolan. Through the season the show veered off track it eventually found its centre again in the latter episodes, the finale tying together the key plot points of the season and wisely leaving out many of the less relevant tales. These stories weren’t wholly useless, just executed in a way that dragged the pacing of the season. The use of the Mad Hatter and Belle in the finale was excellent and wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t already know where they were coming from.
Once is anything but subtle but it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s what happens when a magical fairytale realm gets stuck in our world without magic or memories. In this fairytale the world can be cruel, mean and terrifying, characters die and people get hurt, and every spell, every curse no matter how evil has its price, but it can also be overcome by true love. A point that has been hammered home tirelessly throughout the series and it pays off big time. “A Land Without Magic” is sparked by the events of “An Apple as red as Blood” when the Evil Queen’s plan to feed Emma a poisonous apple takes a tragic turn when Henry eats the magic apple turnover to prove a point to his mother, convincing her that magic is real. Henry spends the finale in the hospital with a magical ailment that our world’s medicine cannot heal as Regina, his adopted mother, and Emma his biological one fight to save him.
“A Land Without Magic” stuck to the usual format having events in this world mirror those in Fairytaleland, though this story took a slightly different spin on it. Emma Swan’s actions mirrored those of her father’s in the Fairytale. As she fought Malficent in our world equipped with her father’s sword, sent to slay the beast and retrieve the “pure true love”, we saw Charming sent by Rumplestiltskin to visit the dragon and hide that magic in her belly. Both succeeded in their quest and both arrived at the side of their loved ones in what they thought was a moment too late to save them. Prince Charming’s kiss of true love woke Snow White from her deathly slumber in her glass casket, and Emma’s kiss of motherly love awoke Henry once the hospital staff had declared him dead.
This story was perfect and exactly what I love about Once, unfortunately it seemed like there was so much jammed into this episode that there was hardly any room to breathe, for the audience, and the characters on screen to actually absorb what was happening and to react.
Laura Prudom points out in her review of the finale that this episode may have benefited from a two hour block, in some ways I agree but only if they were executed with the right amount of care and pacing, something that Once is not known for. There was so much “stuff happening” that there was no room for extraneous scenes or characters not directly related to this specific story so every beat packed a punch. However, many moments did feel clipped and it would have been nice to spend a little more time with Snow White and Prince Charming after spending a season wishing for them to finally find each other again, or with Emma and Henry, or even with the Evil Queen once she realizes the tragic mistake that she’s made (Lana Parrilla always delivers). We got minor nods to supporting characters when the curse is broken like Ruby and Granny and Archie Hopper though I would have like to see the town revel in that very significant moment just a little longer.
The beauty of “A Land Without Magic” is that it took everything that was set up in the pilot episode, any hanging threads of the first season and wove them into a resolution. Emma had finally fully and completely come to terms with being a part of her son’s life and her love for him. The curse that plagued Storybrooke had been broken, Snow White and Prince Charming finally got their moment together, and the Evil Queen/Regina got her comeuppance. Even Mr. Gold/ Rumplestiltskin got back his beautiful Belle before he poisoned the magic well covering the land in a ominous purple smoke, a curse that I imagine will provide a new premise for an intriguing second season
Overall I enjoyed the hour; it was full of wacky fairytale adventures, true love and characters that I had become invested in finding true love, even if it was just for that rushed little moment.
What did you think of Once Upon a Time’s season finale “A Land Without Time” and the first season overall?