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‘Once Upon A Time’ winter finale recap: It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday

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Have you dried your tears yet, Oncers? ‘Once Upon A Time’ served up a gut-wrenching winter finale. In “Going Home,” we finally witnessed the ultimate showdown between Peter Pan and Rumple. Although it was epic, it definitely did not turn out the way we hoped. As if that wasn’t bad enough, ‘OUAT’ worked overtime tugging on our heart-strings. They orchestrated a heartbreaking series of goodbyes specifically engineered to make us cry. Suddenly, as the tears were rolling down our faces, ‘Once’ threw us a very welcomed curveball, setting up what will surely be a fascinating second half of an already surprising season.

I really enjoyed the use of flashbacks in this episode. We usually get the backstory on a specific occasion, giving us a little history that ties in nicely with the theme of the present day story. This time around, ‘OUAT’ gave us glimpses of various characters’ memories and each flashback enhanced what we’re seeing go down in the present moment. I liked the departure from the usual formula and think it added to the emotional impact of this roller coaster ride. With that said, grab your tissues and brace yourselves as we say goodbye to Storybrooke.

Picking up from where we left off last week, Panry and Felix begin executing his plan to turn Storybrooke into the New Neverland. Panry explains to Felix how his plan is worse than death. He cruelly says, “Death is final. Their suffering will be eternal.” Pan dumps all the ingredients for the curse into the wishing well, saving the key piece for last. He needs the heart of the person he loves most. Felix naturally assumes this means Rumple, but Pan never loved his son. Pan definitely wins the prize for being the most evil villain in ‘OUAT’ history. Even Regina always had a soft spot for Henry and he wasn’t even her own flesh and blood. Panry explains how love can come in many forms and mean different things. For Peter Pan, loyalty reflects true love. Felix has been Pan’s only loyal friend throughout the years, so Panry rips out his heart and tosses it into the well, completing the spell and activating the curse. Meanwhile, the gang works on a way to stop Pan and break his curse.

If Regina destroys the scroll that the curse is written on, then she will break both curses. Since the scroll is in Panry’s pocket, they need to swap the boys’ bodies. Rumple says that the Black Fairy’s wand is the only magic powerful enough to swap Henry and Pan back into their own bodies. The Black Fairy turned bad, so Blue cast her out and confiscated her wand. Hook, Neal and Tinker Bell go to the Blue Fairy’s wake and hope the other fairies can give them the wand. The others wait for their return in Gold’s shop.

In our first flashback, we see a despairing and pregnant Snow White standing in Emma’s nursery in the palace. The Blue Fairy tells Snow to have faith, even Charming assures her that things will turn out alright. They may not raise Emma together and have the future they planned on, but they can still look forward to an “unexpected future.” Snow’s gaze focuses on the adorable unicorn mobile over Emma’s crib and we flash-forward to the present, were the mobile now hangs in Gold’s shop (Seriously, where can I find that mobile. It is too cute!)

Snow pours her heart out to Emma again, apologizing for not being there to raise her. Emma understands because she did the same thing with Henry, both moms had to give their babies their best chance, so they let them go. Emma and Mary Margaret have a come long way since their bickering arguments and disagreements in Neverland. The Charmings are finding their groove as a family and it is sweet to see. But there is no time to get sappy, lives are at stake here people! So let’s get back to the action.

Pan’s shadow has been keeping tabs on the gang and he attacks Hook & Co. at Blue’s wake. Hook takes the initiative and is ready to fight the Shadow off, much to Tink’s surprise and a flashback reveals the reason why.

A long time ago in Neverland, Hook tells Smee his plan to get off the island and hunt down the Dark One’s dagger to get revenge on Rumple for killing Milah. Suddenly, Tinker Bell attacks. She knocks Smee out and holds Hook at knife-point. He is surprised by the fairy’s behavior, saying it is her job to help people find their happy endings. Hook tells Tink that he will be happy when he kills the Dark One. Tink is puzzled by his idea of happiness, after all, Hook could die in his efforts to kill the Dark One, so it doesn’t really sound like a happy ending. Hook doesn’t care because there are two things he would gladly die for: love and revenge. Hook already lost the first, so revenge is all he has left. Now Hook is willing to die for another reason.

He takes the offensive against the Shadow, telling Tink that he’s also willing to risk his life to save himself. Naturally, they can’t defeat the Shadow with Hook’s charm alone, so they ask Tink to have a little faith in herself and make the pixie dust glow again and use it against the Shadow. Magic kicks in, Tinker Bell flies and captures the Shadow inside of Neal’s coconut trap. She burns the coconut, eliminating the threat of Pan’s Shadow for good. Feeling a little empowered, Tink hits Hook with a dose of the truth. Hook risked his life for Emma, not for himself. Aww. Hook has become such a softie. Once again, sap gets set aside as we are hit with another surprise. The Blue Fairy is resurrected! Killing the Shadow undid the damage he caused. She apologizes to Tinker Bell and says that she earned her wings back a long time ago. Blue also gives them the Black Fairy’s wand, so the gang rushes back to Gold’s Shop in hopes of saving the day.

Rumple places Greg and Tamara’s magic blocking cuff on Henry’s wrist, so when they switch bodies, Pan won’t be able to attack him with magic. He puts Henry to sleep, when he wakes up in his own body, Rumple wants him to bring the scroll back so that Regina can destroy it. While the others head out to greet Henry upon his return, Rumple waits behind in his shop to deal with some unfinished family business when his father wakes up. Now it’s time for another walk down memory lane.

October 2011, young Henry has lunch alone at school and Mary Margaret asks what troubles him. Henry doesn’t feel like he belongs in Storybrooke. Nothing in town changes, except for him. MM begs to differ. She was cleaning out her home and stumbled upon the storybook, which seemed to have suddenly appeared out of nowhere “just like magic.” She saw hope in the book, so she wants Henry to have it. She sweetly explains, “Fairytales are a reminder that our lives will get better if we just hold onto hope.” She doesn’t want Henry to lose hope and assures him, “Believing in a happy ending is a powerful thing.” Henry looks down at the illustration of Snow White and Prince Charming in the storybook, then he looks back up and sees Mary Margaret as Snow White. Who else got goose bumps? This moment is exactly why ‘Once Upon A Time’ is a success. No matter how old you are, you always need to hold onto hope. We get drawn into tales full of fantasy, adventure, True Love and happy endings because deep down, despite however jaded we get by the obstacles we may face in the “real world,” we can always hope for something better. We really need to keep that lesson in mind as the episode continues.

Granny sniffs out Henry’s scent and a very happy reunion takes place in the middle of Storybrooke’s main street. Regina and Emma rush to embrace Henry. He says he just saw them a second ago, but like Regina says, seeing Henry in Pan’s body isn’t the same. Now Henry is really back. He hands Regina the scroll. The moment she holds it, Regina suddenly passes out. As we’re left hanging, wondering what happened to Regina, we see that Pan has awakened in Gold’s shop.

Rumple was hoping Pan would feel some sense of regret for his behavior over the past centuries, but he regrets nothing. In a disturbing revelation, Peter Pan tells Rumple how he really felt about his child all along. When Rumple was born, Pan saw him as a “little larva” who wanted to “eat his dreams.” (That is some super harsh imagery.) He couldn’t wait to be rid of Rumple then and even more-so now. Pan exclaims, “I can’t be free of you!” Wow, Pan’s villainy never ceases to amaze. He is so evil it makes my skin crawl. He should never have been a father. After dishing out an emotional thrashing on Rumple, Pan reveals that he created the magic blocking cuff, so it doesn’t work on him. He places the cuff on Rumple, leaving him defenseless. Pan taunts his son saying that without magic, Rumple has reverted back to the village coward. Oh that’s cold! Rumple is left alone, crippled by the cuff. It seems as though he has only one option left: to cut off his hand and remove the cuff. Will Rumple join Hook as ‘OUAT’s’ other one-handed, sharp-tongued, rehabilitated villain? How will Rumple find the strength to get back up and fight his father? Rumple looks within, thinks of his love for Baelfire and realizes what needs to be done.

Another Fairytale Land flashback reveals the Dark One’s vulnerability. Back when he had Belle in his palace, Rumple still maintained an annual tradition. Rumple lights a candle on Bae’s birthday and remembers how much he lost the day he abandoned his son. Belle catches him in this tender moment and apologizes for his loss, but Rumple explains that Bae isn’t dead, he’s just lost. Rumple admits to Belle that he had the chance to be happy, but he was afraid. He foreshadows, “Now my ending shall not be a happy one.”

Regina wakes up. Holding the scroll gave her a vision of the price she must pay to save them all. Before we find out what that price is, Pan appears and takes the scroll back from her. He freezes them all. Although they can hear and see everything, they can’t move a single muscle. Suddenly, Rumple appears and he has both hands. Phew! He says that he created the curse to find Bea. He looks at Neal and says how much he loves him. Rumple knows Bea doesn’t need him to be happy. He tearfully tells Belle that he deeply loves her too. This whole time Rumple has repeatedly said that he would need to die in order to defeat Pan for good. Rumple says he is ready to pay the ultimate price now. He summons his shadow to bring him the Dark One’s dagger. Rumple hugs Pan and pulls him in close. He stabs Pan in the back and presses the blade in deep so that it goes all the way through them both. Pan ages into his old self and Rumple quips, “Hello Papa.” Rumple’s final words: “I’m a villain. Villains don’t get happy endings.” He twists the dagger, kisses his father’s head and tightly holds onto him. Father and son vaporize in a cloud of magical smoke, leaving nothing but the scroll behind. Everybody unfreezes. Belle drops to her knees in heaving sobs. Poor Belle, she didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to the man she loves. Neal appreciates Rumple’s final selfless act saying, “My father did what he had to do.” Sadly, there is no time to grieve. With Rumple dead and Pan defeated, everyone turns to Regina to stop Pan’s curse before it’s too late.

Emma asks Regina what price she must pay to break both curses. Regina has to say goodbye to the thing she loves most: Henry. She explains that breaking the curse will destroy Storybrooke and send everyone back home…everyone except Henry. Since he was born in this world, he will remain here. Emma can stay with him because she is the Savior, so the same rules don’t apply to her. Emma and Henry want to be with their family and go back to Fairytale Land with them, but Regina says there is no way around it. It won’t work if they go back to Fairytale Land. (I guess the spell has a special clause or something because I don’t understand why Emma and Henry can’t be in Fairytale Land with the Charmings and just make sure Regina never sees Henry again to keep up her end of the deal. I know it’s not supposed to be that easy, but still, this sucks. Boo!) Regina says that all she really wants is for Henry to be happy. Emma and Henry have no choice but to leave Storybrooke before the quaint town disappears forever. Cue another flashback!

Emma gives birth to Henry eleven years ago in Phoenix. As we saw earlier this season, Emma made up her mind and wasn’t going to second guess her decision. She refuses to look at her baby, telling the doctor that she isn’t meant to be a mother. Again, ouch.

Everyone gathers at the Storybrooke border to say their final, teary-eyed goodbyes. Emma’s bug is packed and ready to go. The Charmings share a family hug and make their peace with having to part ways. Nothing will change the fact that they will always be a family and love each other. Henry steps away and apologizes to Regina. He says this is unfair and believes this is all his fault. He should have never doubted her love for him. If he didn’t go get Emma to break the curse none of this would’ve happened. (Henry should’ve known better than to have trusted Pan, but even then, the poor little guy shouldn’t take all that blame upon himself.) Regina comforts Henry and explains that she was wrong. She created the curse out of vengeance. She repeats Rumple’s words to Henry saying that she is a villain and villains don’t get happy endings. Henry assures her, “You’re not a villain. You’re my mom.” And there go the waterworks! You may have managed to suck it up during Rumple’s shocking death, but you don’t stand a chance at this point. Like I said earlier, this last drawn-out goodbye sequence was carefully crafted to make you weep. So grab a hanky, you’ll need it.

Emma apologizes to Neal. He tightly hugs her and vows this isn’t over, he’ll see both of them again. Then sparks fly when Hook approaches Emma. He promises, “Not a day will go by that I won’t think of you.” (Sigh.) Emma simply says, “Good.” Judging by Emma’s behavior in both goodbyes, I think Emma is aboard the Captain Swan ship, sorry Swan Fire fans.

Now for Regina and Emma’s surprisingly moving and fond farewell. You see, part of the catch is that once the curse is broken, Emma and Henry will not remember their time in Storybrooke or the fairytale characters they have come to know and love. When the town vanishes, their memories will die along with it. Storybrooke will have never existed. Henry and Emma will forget them all and they will just be stories again. So Regina offers to give Emma and Henry one last gift. She can’t preserve the memories they have made together, but she can give them new memories. Regina takes Emma’s hand and kindly says, “My gift to you is a good memories. A good life for you and Henry. You would have never given him up. You would have always been together.” Their past may not be real, but their future will be. Emma and Henry will have shared the life they always wanted. Emma is touched that Regina would do something so sweet for them and she accepts her gift. (Lana Parrilla and Jennifer Morrison are so good in this scene. This is such a beautiful and heartbreaking moment full of raw emotion. Both of them play it so perfectly. Very well done.) Henry gives Regina one final hug goodbye. Mary Margaret holds Emma’s tearful faces her hands and gives her a kiss on the forehead.

Regina tears up the scroll and magical fights off the green smoke from Pan’s curse. The purple smoke permeates through Storybrooke, floating through Henry’s room, where he left the storybook. Everyone and everything slowly begins to vanish in the purple haze. As Henry and Emma keeping driving farther away from Storybrooke, we see that Regina delivers the gift she promised.

A flashback returns us to Henry’s birth in Phoenix, except this time things are different. When the doctor offers Emma the chance to change her mind, she takes it and holds baby Henry. Aww.

One year later, Emma and Henry are living in a New York City apartment. The alarm clock goes off at 8:15 a.m. (nice touch). They wake up and start their day with breakfast, which includes a cup of coca topped off with whipped cream and cinnamon (another valuable memory trigger of their fairytale past.) Suddenly there is a pounding knock on the door. Emma opens it to reveal Hook!

Hook smiles at the sight of Swan. He steps in and says something terrible has happened. Emma’s family is in trouble. She is justifiably weirded out by the sight of a random pirate at her door. She also says her only family is right here, so what he’s saying makes zero sense. Hook tells her that he’s an old friend. He knows she doesn’t remember, but he can make her. Hook kisses Emma and she knees him in the groin. Hook admits it was a long-shot and he was hoping she felt the same as he did. Emma slams the door on his face as he begs her to believe in his crazy story. With that welcomed twist, we are left in suspense, wondering what will happen next when ‘Once Upon A Time’ returns from winter break.

Deep breaths, Oncers. So much heartbreak! So many questions and cliffhangers! My head is still aching. How about yours?

Afterthoughts:

· Rumple: Oh. My. God. They killed Rumple! But I think he’ll be back. This show would not be the same with Robert Carlyle. He is irreplaceable. Plus, he is arguably the best part of ‘OUAT.’ He has created a complex, engaging, fascinating and funny character that we have all grown to love dearly. I don’t think Team OUAT would get rid of their key player and such an amazing talent. Carlyle elevates this series to a whole new level. You can chalk it up to denial, but I don’t think that’s the last we’ve seen of him. I am very curious to see what happens now. Technically, he did not die as a villain. He redeemed himself and proved how much he changed, especially in Neverland. Surely, the fairytale laws of death can be amended. I’m sure there will be an interesting twist that brings Rumple back into action. Any early predictions or hopes on Rumple’s return?

· Captain Swan: Ever since their smooch, fans have been wondering if this is True Love for Hook and Emma. Clearly Hook is all in, but Emma has been guarding her real feelings. However, I think she’s made it pretty obvious in the past couple of episodes. She didn’t show up for Neal casual lunch-date and their goodbye at the borderline wasn’t very romantic. Hook on the other hand promises to carry a torch for Emma and she wants him to. So when he shows up at her door with a long-shot kiss, we all hold our breath thinking this could break the spell. Unfortunately it doesn’t. Does this mean their love isn’t “True”? Or maybe it doesn’t really count since Emma has no lingering feelings for him due to her memory wipe and all. Right now, Emma just sees a stranger making wild claims. In Season 1, came into Storybrooke and bent the rules of the curse, causing Snow and David’s true feeling to stir up again. Maybe Emma just needs a little nudge in the right direction to get in touch with her true feelings. What will it take to trigger Emma and Henry’s memory? Can Hook gain her trust and remind her of their shared past?

· Regina’s Redemption: Lana Parrilla was spectacular in this episode. Honestly, she’s the one who got me really crying at the end. She has done a superb job as the Evil Queen and reformed Regina. She has poured out her heart and she has won ours over in return. Giving Emma and Henry good memories was a great gift. Once again, she proved how much she loves Henry. She wasn’t spiteful. She put his best interest before her own. If she couldn’t be there as the mother who raised him, then he should at least have happy memories with Emma. I never thought I’d say this, but Regina really is a good mother, despite the crazy things she has done in the past.

· Panry: Once again, kudos to Jared Gilmore and Robbie Kay. They both did a fantastic job. They made the body swap story work way better than I could’ve ever anticipated. Each actor captured the essence of Henry and Pan perfectly. Well done! Kay’s performance is especially unnerving because he says such heavy and cruel things to Carlyle. Their scenes together were very powerful and always captivating, if not super disturbing to watch. I’m not sure if we’ll see Kay again on ‘OUAT.’ If this was his swan song, he left a memorable imprint on the show.

· Wicked is coming!: The embedded promo revealed Rebecca Mader’s new villainous character: ‘The Wizard of Oz’s’ Wicked Witch of the West! Show-runners said they would bring Oz into ‘OUAT’ sooner than later, so it doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The show needs a new big bad now that Regina and Rumple are good guys and Pan is gone. EOnline gives us a first look at the Wicked Witch and what we can expect. See the exclusive photos here.

What do you think, Oncers? Were you happy with the winter finale? What were your favorite moments? What surprised you most? Do you think Rumple will return? Will Emma remember her past and save the day again? What do you think everybody else has been up to back home over the past year? Did Snow and David have their Baby Charming? Did Regina give love another chance and meet Robin Hood? How did Hook find his way back to New York? How will he convince Emma and Henry of the truth? What does the Wicked Witch want with the Charmings?

Share your thoughts below and stay tuned for more news!

Subscribe to my ‘Once Upon A Time’ column and subscribe to my ‘OUAT in Wonderland’ column.

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‘Once Upon A Time’ returns with new episodes on Sunday, March 9 at 8 p.m.

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