Once Upon a Time's season finale, "A Land Without Magic," had more plot movement and revelations packed into its forty-two minutes than most of the back half of the season had in its entirety.
After struggling all season to believe in the fantastic events surrounding her, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) finally accepted what Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) has been telling her all year: that all the residents of Storybrooke, Maine are under a curse put there by The Evil Queen/Regina (Lana Parrilla) -- that they are in reality fairy-tale characters and it is her job as the daughter of Snow White/Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming/David (Josh Dallas) to save them from it. Getting Emma to believe in the curse was like pulling teeth, but apparently all she needed was to touch Henry's fairy-tale book in a moment of crisis -- the realization hits her like a shovel to the head. She teams up with Regina to save Henry's life (which was in danger because he deliberately ate a poisoned apple tart that was meant for Emma in order to prove to her that the curse was real . . . so good job, kid, I guess). The two of them run around Storybrooke searching for Mr.Gold/Rumplestiltskin's (Robert Carlyle) hidden jar of True Love (don't ask), which Charming hid inside a dragon-sized Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Staten) back in fairyland. They find dragon-Maleficent (whom Regina transported from fairyland in dragon form as extra revenge) hidden WAY underground in Storybrooke, and Emma slays the dragon with her father's sword, retrieving the hidden potion. Too bad Mr. Gold just wanted the potion for himself, and he leaves Emma and Regina hanging up a tree with no apparent way to save Henry. Sure enough, they get a call from the hospital telling them that Henry has died.
Both of them appear weepy-eyed beside dead Henry's bedside, but when Emma stoops to kiss Henry's forehead and whisper "I love you" in his ear, a magical energy booms out exactly like it did when Charming woke up Snow White with True Love's Kiss all those years ago. The magical boom expands outward and hits the whole town, waking them up from the curse. Charming and Snow rush to meet each other and make out in the middle of the street, and Henry is alive, as all the other characters hold their heads in their hands and try to figure out what the hell is going on. Regina makes a run for it after telling Henry that she really does love him, too. MEANWHILE, Rumplestiltskin, newly reunited with lost love Belle (Emilie de Ravin) drops the true love potion into Storybrooke's magic well, and a giant purple cloud of doom rolls over the town. "Whats that?" asks Emma. "Something bad," says Henry. Magic is coming to Storybrooke. And, curtain! Once Upon a Time season one comes to a close.
I'm glad all of the secrets are now out in the open, but because they waited so long, the episode had to be jam-packed full in order to fit everything in. Virtually every revelation and character moment had to be short-changed: Rumplestiltskin's reunion with Belle, Snow White and Prince Charming's finding one another at last, Regina's realization that she had lost . . . Even Emma's belief in the curse happened in a convenient magic-fueled instant, and she seemed to have no trouble adjusting to the weirdness that followed. Having slept on it and watched it a second time, it seems like Once chose plot over character, and missed out on so much because of that choice. Emma's battle with the dragon could have been so much cooler if we were treated to a glimpse of what was going on in her head. Where was the Pinocchio/Geppetto reunion? Where was the final scene between Emma and Regina? And perhaps they're saving it for season two, but a mother/daughter reunion between Emma and Snow White could have played out really nicely, but instead ends up being the biggest missed opportunity of all.
Once Upon a Time is is an enjoyable show, but it feels like they're trying to shoot for more than just enjoyable and keep missing the mark. It's great that season one has done away with the whole curse thing, and it's smart that the show realized that storyline could only go so far. The real test of whether or not Once Upon a Time will move from just being an enjoyable way to spend an evening to appointment television is how they handle the repercussions from this finale. It makes sense that showrunners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz would take such a show-changing chance, as that's something their alma mater, Lost, became infamous for doing. I'm excited about the possibilities for season two, particularly because I have no idea where they might want to take us without the curse as a storytelling backbone. That kind of uncertain possibility could be a very good thing for a show that had become a just a little too reliant on its formula.
What did you guys think of the finale? Were you disappointed, ecstatic? Are you as inexplicably excited for season two as I am? Sound off in the comments.