Caution: This review contains spoilers on the season 4 finale.
“Once Upon a Time” delivered a spectacular finale last night with “Operation Mongoose.” It wasn’t a perfect chapter, but it featured plenty of action, character development, and chilling twists to satisfy fans across the board. It’s arguably one of the best episodes in a while, holding true to Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis’ motif of subverting fairy tales. They add the extra layer of mirroring many elements from previous seasons all at once. Using an alternate universe as a plot device is a very risky venture that turns out to be a successful gamble here.Isaac (Patrick Fischler) was revealed to be the author of the storybook. We also find out that he used to be a salesman and aspiring (but failing) author. He gets the quill from the sorcerer’s apprentice (Timothy Webber). But he’s out for his own gain, as evidenced by the alliance he forges with an ailing Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) in our present time. He writes an alternate reality, “Heroes and Villains,” which casts Rumple as the hero in the guise of the Ogre Slayer. Other roles are reversed, with Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) as the Evil Queen and a cowardly Hook (Colin O’Donoghue).
What’s the reason for Isaac’s selfish streak? It all boils down to “one bad boss,” he reveals to Charming (Josh Dallas) and Snow later. Henry (Jared Gilmore) is not a fairy tale character, which leaves him all alone in Storybrooke. However, he displays a stubbornness that seems to run in the family; he goes to Isaac’s book signing and uses the key and portal to enter the black book, “Heroes and Villains.” He’s knocked out and in danger of being killed by an ogre, only to be rescued by his grandfather, the gallant and heroic Rumple. Isaac makes the error of writing off Henry as a boring and powerless figure, but Henry has the strongest weapon at his disposal: hope. It’s a mistake to underestimate Rumplestiltskin, so what more when it comes to his grandson, Henry?
Henry uses the book as a guide, channeling a bit of his step-grandmother Belle to find Regina. Regina is the bandit this time and she’s competing with Robin Hood in thievery, aiming to escape the Evil Snow. Henry uncovered that the way to stop the alternate reality from becoming permanent is to give a hero a happy ending. But first he embarks on a side mission with Hook to rescue Emma, the only fairy tale character who remembers the Storybrooke reality (and no longer has her savior powers). Essentially, the alternate reality works much like a curse, with Regina as the new Savior to break it with Henry. She has to bust up Robin’s wedding to Zelena (Rebecca Mader) before the bells ring.
“Heroes and Villains” Rumple has an intriguing view of a happy ending: he’s married to Belle with a child and he rides around as a gold knight, saving all the villages. Sadly, Bae is still dead, but it’s an outcome that “Storybrooke Rumple” could see himself living with. He’s warned by Isaac of the threat Henry and Regina pose, which almost seems like we’re revisiting the prophecy scenario from the third season. It wasn’t clear then whether Rumple would kill Henry, the boy behind “his undoing.” Rumple makes the wrong choice at end of this episode in trying to kill Henry, a total reversal from his actions in the Peter Pan arc.
Regina steps in at the last second to take the hit for Henry. When all hope seems lost, Robin comes out and is reunited with Regina. This time, Henry gets to save the day by taking up Isaac’s quill and using its magic and Regina’s blood to write a new ending. (Does anyone else liken Henry’s moments with the quill to Harry Potter’s decision with the Elder Wand?) Back in Storybrooke, an angry Belle confronts Rumple, but her frustration dissipates when he collapses. The darkness has almost entirely filled his heart, which will kill him but leave the Dark One intact. Rumple begs Belle to leave him and find her happiness with a nice fellow like Will. He’s astonished to find that she still loves him. He really should stop doubting her affection for him, because it’s always getting him into trouble!
The Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy) frees the Apprentice, who uses the Sorcerer’s hat to draw the darkness out of Rumple’s body. However, the Dark One’s powers need a host and a lot of black tendrils try to inhabit the Apprentice’s body. It’s a lot like Venom from the Spiderman comics. What a neat twist when Emma becomes the new Dark One to save Regina and preserve her happy ending with Robin Hood. The Apprentice charges everyone with the task of finding the Sorcerer, whose name is none other than Merlin!
There are many questions to ponder while you wait for season five. Rumple’s heart looks crystal clear, but what sort of man is he now? Does he have the ability to use magic? Will Belle help him along the way? I expect that he won’t stay knocked out for too long, because he knows the power of the Dark One more than anyone. Perhaps you thought the only way to have another Dark One was to kill the current wielder of the dagger. Now there’s the interesting scenario of a Dark One and a former Dark One.
Here’s another thing to consider: is “Once Upon a Time” going to end next season? The powers of the Dark One are central to series, being the darkest and perhaps most evil powers in the realm. What happens once that magic is expelled forever by Merlin, Emma, and the others?
“Once Upon a Time” returns to ABC at 8|9c this fall.