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‘Once Upon A Time’ Season 3 finale recap: If I could turn back time

Images from the 'Once Upon A Time' Season 3 Finale-slide0
ABC/Katie Yu/SpoilerTv

Sunday night’s (May 11) Season 3 finale was ridiculously good. It is arguably the best ‘Once Upon A Time’ finale so far in the series. “Snow Drifts” and “There Is No Place Like Home” delightfully exceeded my expectations because time-travel episodes can be hard to pull-off. I enjoyed every second of this magical two-hour time-traveling adventure and it instantly became one of my all-time favorites.

Emma is happy to be home with her family.
ABC/Katie Yu/SpoilerTV

This season we’ve talked a lot about how ‘OUAT’s’ villains have movingly evolved into heroes. Hook, Regina, and Rumple (to an extent) have made some significant changes in their lives, stepping out of the dark and choosing to live in the light. In a way, the only character who has been consistently holding back is Emma. She desperately clings to a life on the lamb instead of accepting Storybrooke as her home because she has never felt like she belonged anywhere.

Emma hasn’t had the luxury of a loving family and caring home, so when the Charmings, Henry and Hook picture a happy life with her in Storybrooke, she still feels like it is too good to be true. Emma’s lingering “Lost Girl” syndrome has been holding her back in the darkness of her past. Her instinct is to run before she gets hurt again. She has been wandering restlessly in search of a home and she fears she will never find one. As we all know, it will take something epic to make Emma aware of how much she has gained over the past three years.

In the finale, a journey into the past threatens everything in Emma’s life. One misstep can rewrite history completely and change everyone’s life forever. When faced with the possibility of losing it all, Emma finally realizes that she has found her home and she doesn’t have to run anymore.

Boston, 18 years ago: “You’ll find a home too, Emma.”

A little girl leaves a group home. She clings onto a little Mickey Mouse doll (nice touch) as she joins her new family. Pre-teen Emma watches the car drive away and is told that one day she’ll find a home too. Aww. Poor Emma.

Storybrooke, Present Day: “One of these days I’m going to stop chasing this girl.”

Emma wonders why it is taking the Charmings so long to name their baby boy. They say that the fairytale custom is to present the name at the grand coronation. Emma imagines Simba’s presentation in ‘Lion King’ and is relieved to hear that the Charmings are opting for a simple pot-luck at Granny’s Diner. While the royal family gears up for their big celebration, we are delighted to see that Outlaw Queen is still going strong.

Now that Regina has her heart back, she tells Robin Hood that it is stronger than ever. Their bond deepens when they discuss the loss of their first loves. They both blame themselves and couldn’t imagine feeling this kind of love again. Regina tells Robin the story about Tinker Bell and his tattoo. She confesses that she was too afraid to approach him back them. Robin totally understands because it took him a long time to get over Marion. They figure their destined love affair was just a matter of timing. Luckily, it is not only Outlaw Queen’s time for love. Rumple and Belle are getting married and they aren’t wasting any time. Yay!

After overcoming so many obstacles, they’ve decided to seize the day and get married immediately. Before going to tell her father, Maurice, about her big day, Belle asks Rumple to hide the dagger somewhere safe. Unbeknownst to her, Rumple has already hidden the real dagger in a magically protected secret spot in Gold’s shop, so it makes this moment extra hard to digest. Belle’s emphasis on her trust in Rumple also makes his betrayal so much worse. Unfortunately, Rumple isn’t the only one keeping a secret from the person he loves most.

At Granny’s Diner, Henry adorably reads the storybook to Baby Charming, specifically, the part about Snow White and Prince Charming’s first encounter in the woods (very apropos.) Everything is going so well until Hook accidentally slips Emma’s secret and the family learns that she wants to take Henry back to New York. Regina’s mama bear claws come out and she makes a very valid point. Emma can’t abruptly tear sweet Henry away from his whole family. Why wouldn’t Emma want to stay in Storybrooke? How can she break everybody’s heart like this? Emma is overwhelmed by the moment. She has her reasons and needs a moment to herself, so she rushes out of the Diner. Hook heads after her and Henry gives him the storybook in hopes of it helping Emma make the right the decision and realize she should be with her family.

After Hook leaves, people notice the massive beam of light shooting into the sky and they realize that Zelena’s portal to the past opened up. They rush to the police station to see if Zelena escaped and opened the portal herself. When they find an empty cell, David cues up the security footage to see what happened. As the tape rewinds, they suspect Rumple killed her. He uses Belle’s possession of the dagger as his alibi, claiming he could not have killed her even if he wanted to.

Oh, Rumple. He takes two steps forward and three steps back. I know it is a horrible thing to say, but Zelena’s death is probably the only murder on the show that I can be the most understanding about. After killing so many innocent people in vain, Rumple couldn’t let Zelena live. The Wicked Witch caused Neal’s untimely death and Rumple would never be able to find peace and move on without avenging his beloved son. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously do not condone murder. I really don’t like how Rumple is hurting Belle and deceiving everyone in order to get his revenge. I fear what consequences Rumple will face in the future when his secret is exposed (we all know this will come back to bite Rumple in his golden butt.) Will Belle stop loving him? Will the others turn on him? Will those who loved Neal dearly forgive Rumple? We will just have to wait and see. Regardless of how terrible this all is, Rumple’s quick save is pretty brilliant.

David plays the tape and Rumple fudges the film so that it looks like Zelena killed herself. Everyone believes the Wicked Witch was capable of committing suicide and Rumple is in the clear. Regina says Zelena’s death triggered the magic in the pendant, so her final spell to open the portal was fulfilled. David immediately calls Emma to warn about the portal’s imminent danger.

Emma sits on a bench and ignores her father’s call. Hook approaches and hopes to convince Emma to reconsider her decision to leave. She explains how she will keep on running until she finds a place that feels like home. Sadly, Storybrooke just isn’t that place. Hook is still perplexed by Emma’s behavior and her determination to remain distant from her loved ones in Storybrooke. He asks Emma if she even cares about her parents or anyone else (*cough* Hook *cough*) in town. Suddenly, she notices the portal and runs towards it, so Hook follows suit.

Hook warns Emma to keep her distance from the portal and get help, but the headstrong bounty hunter approaches the light and gets pulled in. Hook grabs on to her hand and tries to pull her back up, but it is no use. Emma gets sucked into the past. Hook begrudging quips, “One of these days I’m going to stop chasing this woman.” Then he plunges into the portal. Who else loves Hook more and more with each new episode? He is too precious!

Blast to the Past: “I will always find you.”

I’m going to precede this section of the recap by saying that this whole present/past mash-up was wonderfully done. It was a beautiful and creative way to reflect on how far we’ve come along on this journey over the past three years. I absolutely love how we get to see the past through Emma and Hook’s eyes. Really, I can’t stop gushing over how brilliant it all is. Okay, on with the recap.

Hook and Emma find themselves upon the scene of Snow White and Prince Charming’s first encounter. Henry was telling Baby Charming about how his parents met, so the portal took Emma and Hook to that moment in time.

Regina, err, the Evil Queen scowls at villagers demanding to know Snow White’s whereabouts. A mystery girl keeps mum and protects Snow’s secret, so the Evil Queen lives up to her name and makes an example of the girl. Anyone who helps Snow White will be executed. Emma jumps up to help her, but Hook holds her back warning that they cannot interfere. If they change a single second of the past, then their lives will be drastically altered forever.

Hook steals some old-time-y clothes for Emma, so that she can blend in. He watches with amusement as she adjusts her uncomfortable corseted bustier and they try to keep a low profile. They hide in the woods and look on as Prince Charming’s carriage rides by. Emma looks up and sees Snow sitting in a tree, prepared to make her move and steal Charming’s ring. One silly misstep changes their fate. Emma accidently snaps a twig, Snow White gets spooked and Emma’s parents miss out on their memorable first encounter.

While Prince James (aka David) prepares to be unhappily married to King Midas’ daughter, Princess Kathryn, Snow White meets with Black Beard in hopes of getting safe passage out of the Enchanted Forest before the Evil Queen finds her.

Emma and Hook need to make things right or else Storybrooke’s Savior will never have existed. There is only one person who can help them rewrite history, so they head to the Dark One’s castle.

As they near the castle, the Dark One appears before them. He sets his eyes on Hook and promptly starts choking the pirate. Clearly, Emma forgot about Hook and Rumple’s torrid past. She quickly comes to Hook’s rescue by telling Rumple that she can help him find Bae. He believes her and brings them back to his castle.

Once inside, Emma smiles in delight at the sight of Belle and when she makes a RumBelle slip, Rumple scoffs at the thought of falling for the help. How cute! Belle leaves and the trio gets down to business. Emma opens the book to show Rumple how the story is supposed to go, but the pages are blank. Emma has already changed the past and a ripple effect has set in. The storybook is being rewritten as Hook and Emma relive the past. As long asthere’s a happy ending, I’d say that is pretty awesome.

Since Bae’s fate is effected by Emma’s actions, Rumple has a stake in this whole adventure. He is more than willing to help them get Snow White and Prince Charming together. Luckily, they will have a second chance at King Midas’ ball. Emma and Hook need to get Snow to the ball, so she can steal David’s ring and recreate their first encounter. Hook comes up with a hilarious and clever plan to get Snow to play her part.

Snow White seeks refuge aboard a ship out of town, so Hook offers her just that. Emma must keep past Hook preoccupied long enough for present Hook to make a deal with Snow. The dashing pirate warns Emma that he was quite a cad in the past, but she can handle it. What follows is an intoxicatingly awesome sequence. Seriously, what could make ‘OUAT’ better than it already is? Two Hooks at once!

Emma flirts with past Hook and gets him drunk enough to forget they ever met each other. Meanwhile, present Hook boards the Jolly Roger and asks a hyper-vigilant Smee for some privacy. Hook offers Snow White safe passage aboard his ship in exchange for the prince’s wedding ring. Snow agrees to the terms and heads out to steal the ring during King Midas’ grand ball. Before Hook has a chance to slip away, Emma and past Hook return to the Jolly Roger. Once again, Smee senses something off about Hook; his different vests and attitudes don’t quite add up, but he keeps quiet and does as he is told.

Emma and past Hook go below deck while present Hook is still there. To make things even more fun, Hook gets jealous of his past self when Emma kisses him to offer the pirate a chance to safely get out of sight. Unfortunately, past Hook is a punk and over-steps his bounds with Emma. Present Hook does the honorable thing and punches himself out. What? He deserved it. Plus, now he really won’t remember meeting Emma in the past. Too funny! (Note to Emma: How many guys do you think would fight themselves to win your heart? Seriously, show this man some love already.)

With that matter settles, Emma and Hook reconvene with Rumple. The Dark One has found a wand that recreates magic which has already been used, so they will be able to re-open the portal and get back home. But they need to right the past first.

Rumple uses magic to get the pair dolled up for the ball and he uses a cloaking spell to disguise their faces. Emma attends her first royal ball and she finally understands what all the hype is about. She introduces Hook as Prince Charles and calls herself Princess Leia. (Nice shout-out to ‘Star Wars.’ It would’ve also been super cute if she went with Princess Buttercup from ‘The Princess Bride.’ Jennifer Morrison has said she’s a huge fan and it would’ve been a fun call-back to Hook saying “As you wish” after Captain Swan’s first kiss. Maybe that’s just my personal preference. What do you think?)

Hook takes mesmerized Emma’s hand and leads her in a waltz. She’s surprised to see a more reserved and dignified side to the swashbuckling pirate. As they dance he says Emma is a natural princess. Aww. Seriously, what more does Hook need to do to sweep Emma off of her feet? The audience’s knees are already buckling. Get on board, woman! Anyway, it is another adorable Captain Swan moment and it is pretty sweet to see Emma in her parents’ element. This trip is definitely helping her understand where everybody is literally coming from when they pine over the good old days.

Suddenly, the Evil Queen enters the ball and Midas is honored to be graced with her presence. While everyone worries about what kind of trouble Regina will cause, Snow White makes her move and sneaks into David’s room. The Prince catches Snow with the ring, but she escapes out of the window before he can grab her. Emma watches her mother make a clean getaway and discovers that she left the ring behind. David shouts the Charming mantra from the window, promising to always find Snow. Yay! The love birds are on the right track again. Unfortunately, there’s a major bump. The Evil Queen captures Emma for aiding Snow White (disrespectfully calling her Regina didn’t help either) and throws her in the dungeon.

Portland, 2001: “It's how you know you really got a home. When you leave it there's this feeling you can't shake. You just miss it.”

The second hour begins with a flashback to Neal and Emma’s blossoming romance. It seems like this is the first day they met. Neal breaks into an amusement park and shares a trade secret with Emma. Picking locks is all about the tumblers. (Keep that in mind, kids.) They head into a flying swing carousel ride for cover from the rain and they reveal a little bit about their pasts.

Neal left home after his father changed, but before that his dad was nice. Even when it took a turn for the worse, it was still home. Emma has never known what home feels like. Neal describes home as a feeling you can’t shake. Simply put, home is the place you miss once you’ve left it.

Blast to the Past Continued:It's OK Swan. Not everyone gets the chance to watch their parents fall in love.”

Emma meets her cellmate and it is the girl she wanted to rescue from Regina when they first arrived in the past. The mystery girl tells Emma the bad news: they’re going to be executed tomorrow. Uh-oh.

Hook teams-up with Snow White and David to help rescue Emma from the dungeon. Although Snow didn’t get the ring, her newly developing relationship with David is still echoing the same sentiments of their past encounters. (You have to love their quirky banter.) Snow knows the palace inside and out, so she can help them break in. Then she teases that she’ll never have to see Charming’s face again. Again, this is all so well done!

While riding to the Evil Queen’s palace, David notices the fairy dust in Snow’s necklace. She explains that it is dark fairy dust (it turns your foe into an easy to squish form) and she has big plans for using it. While prepares for the break-in, David and Hook have a little fire-side bro-chat.

David can tell how much Hook loves Emma. Hook says, “I’d go to the ends of the world for her.” Sigh. He’s just having a little trouble getting her parents approval. Ironically, David says her parents would be fools not to accept a man who goes to such great lengths for their daughter. Loving it!

Snow White enlists Red’s help to wolf-out and get the guys into the palace. As Wolf-Red, David and Hook break into the dungeon, Emma uses Neal’s advice to pick the lock and break out of her cell. She breaks the rules and takes the mystery girl with her. Fate or not, she can’t let an innocent girl die for nothing. Right?!

Emma and Hook collide in the dungeon corridor. Hook laments, “What the hell are you doing? You're depriving me of a dashing rescue.” Emma quips back, “Sorry. The only one who saves me is me.” (Hmm, girl power or a swoon-inducing rescue? I’m torn. How about you guys?) Once that punchy exchange is over, Hook warns Emma that the mystery girl’s freedom will have some severe consequences in the future. Emma figures no harm can be done if they take the girl into the future with them. Well, that actually makes sense, so we can still hope for the best. Moving on to Snow White’s face-off with Regina.

Snow White confronts Regina with the dark fairy dust. The Evil Queen demeans Snow by saying, “Dark magic is my strong-suit, not yours.” Snow vows that this kingdom will never be the Evil Queen’s. Regina makes an example out of Snow White. She eliminates her primary threat by burning the princess at the steak. Emma watches as her mother is consumed by the Evil Queen’s flames. Emma is overcome with grief and Hook tries to comfort her.

We assume Snow is dead, but there’s one problem. If Snow is really dead, then Emma would immediately cease to exist. Hook points this fact out to Emma and it gives her hope. Suddenly a bug pesters Emma. As Hook tries swatting the buzzing bug, David remembers what Snow said about the fairy dust and realizes that the little ladybug is Snow White. The Blue Fairy appears right on cue. She can sense there is something different about Hook and Emma, but she doesn’t really address it. She uses her light magic to reverse the effects of dark magic and Snow White returns back to her feisty self.

Emma tightly hugs her mother. It is super sweet to us, but kind of awkward for Snow since she just met this chick. Hook sweetly assures Emma that things are back on track between David and Snow. It is clear that these two are falling in love. But Hook is worried about another problem.

Hook argues that the mystery girl can change their future. What if her existence inadvertently kills one of the dwarves and there’s only six of them left when they go back to the present? That’s only one example of how things can go wrong. But Emma refuses to budge, she wants to take the girl back. Unfortunately, the girl doesn’t buy into Hook and Emma’s story and she isn’t prepared to willingly follow them into the future. So they knock her out and make the decision for her. Hey, it’s better than dying. But wait, that’s not the only hiccup.

Emma remembers that Snow used the fairy dust to rescue David from the trolls on the toll bridge. Emma fears that without the fairy dust, their love story won’t play out the same way. Well, it’s a good thing Snow is quick on her feet. When David is cornered by the trolls, she uses sand to bluff them. Trolls aren’t the sharpest, so they believe her and run away. Snow White saves the day and tells a grateful David that it was the “honorable thing to do.”

Emma tears up as she witnesses the exact moment when Snow White and Prince Charming fall in love. Emma usually doesn’t allow herself to be so vulnerable. She’s been putting on an especially brave face in front of Hook, even though he can see right through her. Hook says just the right thing in this moment, assuring her that it is normal to be moved by such a profound experience. He says, “It's OK Swan. Not everyone gets the chance to watch their parents fall in love.” So sweet!

This scene gave me major goose-bumps. It was so beautifully filmed with Emma watching from a distance as Snow and Charming recreate their blossoming romance from Season One. There’s so much to love about this episode! This is definitely one of my favorite moments in the whole series. Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue are phenomenal in this episode. They deliver raw, moving, emotional, engaging and memorable performances. So well done!

When Emma and Hook open the storybook again, it depicts Snow and Charming’s wedding. Yay! All is right again. The Evil Queen curses the trolls when she realizes Snow is still alive. She commands her bugged-out henchmen to find the princess, but it’s nothing to really worry about since we know the Charmings get their happy ending.

Hook and Emma return to Rumple’s castle, where everything has been prepared for their return to Storybrooke. Rumple explains that only those who used the portal can re-open it, so Emma will have to use the magic wand and open the portal. Rumple also says he created a forgetting potion for himself so that his memory of Emma and Hook’s journey doesn’t jeopardize his reunion with Bae. Rumple transports Emma, Hook and the mystery girl into his vault full of the dangerous magic he fears (the vault Belle referred to when she asked Rumple to store the dagger some place safe.)

Emma is afraid that she won’t be able to open the portal because she lost her magical mojo when she saved Hook’s life. The pirate rallies behind his beloved Emma and fills her with the confidence she needs. He tells her it is time to stop running. Emma admits that this journey through the past has made her realize how wrong she has been.

After saving Snow and almost losing her, Emma realizes that she has been doing the same thing to her parents. They finally found their daughter and she’s about to walk away from them. When Henry brought Emma to Storybrooke, he was bringing her home to her family. Emma finally understands that now. She recalls what Neal told her back in 2001. He said, “You don’t have a home until you just miss it.” Emma misses her parents. Storybrooke is her home. Well it’s about time! Hooray! Emma has seen the light. Literally.

The wand starts glowing in Emma’s hand. This epic realization rebooted her magical mojo. Emma opens the portal, Hook takes the mystery girl and jumps in. Emma is about to follow them when Rumple suddenly holds her back.

Rumple wants to know his future with Bae. He begs Emma to tell him, so she says the truth. Rumple and Bae are reunited. Heartbreakingly, his son dies. Rumple may be tempted to try to change things, but Emma pleads with him not to tarnish Neal’s legacy. Bae will forever be remembered as a hero. Although Rumple is saddened by the news, he knows that Emma is right. He releases her into the portal. Then Rumple drinks the potion, forgetting all about Bae’s future and his encounter with Emma and Hook.

Storybrooke, Present Day: “You're just like your mother. Never thinking of consequences.”

Hook, Emma and the mystery girl safely make it back to Storybrooke. Emma rejoins her family at Granny’s Diner and hugs her parents tighter than she ever has before. Henry flips through the pages of the storybook and he sees that Hook and Emma (aka Prince Charles and Princess Leia) have now become a part of fairytale history. Adorable! It makes you wonder if any of the other stories changed a bit after their trip. Maybe we’ll find out next season.

Snow and David grab everyone’s attention and announce their baby’s name. In another moving scene, the Charmings name their son after Neal. Nicely done, ‘OUAT.’ It is a great way to bring everything full circle. I’m sure this magical baby will have a great destiny ahead of him. After a bit of celebrating, Emma goes to see Hook, who has been silently sulking on Granny’s patio.

Emma asks Hook how he found her in New York. So he finally comes clean. Hook miraculously out ran the new curse. He traded his treasured Jolly Roger for a magic bean to open a portal to reach Emma in the Big Apple. Emma knows how much Hook loves the Jolly Roger. He essentially gave up his home to find Emma. I guess this was the gesture Emma has been waiting for. Emma passionately kisses Hook and reciprocates his feelings. Finally! I guess we can look forward to Captain Swan’s courtship next season. Yay!!!

Elsewhere, Rumple and Belle proceed with their private wedding ceremony witnessed by Dr. Hopper and Maurice beside the Wishing Well. Beautiful vows are exchanged as images cut back and forth between Storybrooke’s various love stories: Outlaw Queen, Captain Swan, the Charmings, and RumBelle.

Belle recounts all of the times she nearly lost Rumple to darkness, weakness, and even death. She realizes that she has spent her life not losing him, but finding him. In return, Rumple says how Belle always brought him home. She brought light into his dark life. He says, “I owe more to you than I could ever say.” Belle cutely adds, “Sometimes the best book has the dustiest jacket…the best teacup is chipped.” Aww.

Sure, I would like to have seen a proper wedding for RumBelle, but I have to admit this quiet ceremony fits their understated style. I only wish Rumple wasn’t marrying her while carrying a devastating lie in his heart. I really hope their marriage works out next season. I can’t stand to see either of them bear anymore heartbreak. Speaking of which, someone ends up with a broken heart in the midst of all of these seemingly happy endings.

When Regina and Robin return to Granny’s Diner with Roland, Emma pulls the former Evil Queen aside and tells her about the mystery girl. Emma says she had to spare her life and brings the young woman forward. Robin Hood lays his eyes on her and gasps, “Marian?!” Yup, Robin Hood and Marian are reunited. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel so good. Especially not for Regina.

Regina snaps at Emma for ruining her life. She bitingly says, “You're just like your mother. Never thinking of consequences.” Yikes! Hook did warn Emma that this action would have consequences. Let’s hope this doesn’t backtrack all of Regina’s efforts to be one of the good guys. Maybe she’s destined to have a different True Love. Who else could we pair her up with? Tinker Bell better get to work and point out a new match in Season Four. Poor Regina needs some love.

Of course, no season finale is complete without a game-changing cliffhanger. As the episode concludes, the camera pans back to the portal’s opening. The symbol lights up and a chilling figure emerges from the floor. It looks like Elsa escaped from Rumple’s vault of dangerous magic. That’s right…

‘Frozen’ is coming to Storybrooke!

What do you think, Oncers? Are you excited to see ‘OUAT’s’ take on ‘Frozen’? Did you love the season finale? What were your favorite moments? Did it feel like anything was missing? Are you bummed to see a curveball thrown at Outlaw Queen’s budding romance? Are you thrilled to see Emma jump on board with Captain Swan? Were you moved by Baby Charming’s name? Are you worried about RumBelle’s future given Rumple's shady behavior? What do you hope to see in Season Four?

As always, let’s give a huge round of applause to the writers, cast and crew of ‘Once Upon A Time.’ This season has been outstanding. There have been so many phenomenal performances and magnificent episodes. Kudos on a job well done!

There is a lot to discuss during the summer hiatus. Start sounding off in the comments below and stay tuned for new scoop.