Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 22 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," titled "And Straight On 'Til Morning."
The Season 2 finale of "Once Upon a Time" didn't quite have the climactic impact of the curse being broken or magic sweeping down upon Storybrooke in an ominous cloud, but the character-driven hour still proved a satisfying denouement for an ambitious -- if uneven -- year.
Greg and Tamara are still far too hammy for my tastes, with Tamara's motivations still unclear, but the revelation that the duo are somehow working for Peter Pan was an intriguing morsel, given that the pair are so vehemently anti-magic. Obviously there's an intermediary who gives the pair their marching orders, since they told Hook they don't know exactly who's in charge, but it's interesting that their holy crusade to eradicate magic stems from a decidedly magical source -- is Pan just trying to eliminate the competition by offing magical folk? And why the interest in Henry, prophesied so long ago that Pan's shadow was snatching kids from Victorian England in the hope of getting its hands on him? I can't wait to see how Rumplestiltskin's story ties into Pan's, since he sounds like an adversary that Rumple actually considers a threat (a consideration I don't think he's ever really given to Regina, given that he taught her all of her tricks).
It will be interesting to see how much screen time the show devotes to Neal, Philip, Aurora and Mulan next season, given that Sarah Bolger and Jamie Chung were both cast in pilots that were picked up (ABC's "Mixology" and NBC's "Believe" respectively) but since they're both part of ensemble casts, perhaps the timing will work out. Since Mulan's face was covered in their brief finale scene, it seems like scheduling conflicts may have already reared their ugly heads.
Still, from a storytelling standpoint, it was good to see Rumple galvanized towards a noble cause in his son's memory -- although the fact that he could flip from attempting to murder his grandson without hesitation in the episode's opening minutes to embarking on a suicide mission to rescue him by the finale's end was a little disconcerting. It's not so much that I don't believe that Rumple is capable of good intentions, so much as the fact that we've seen our villains attempting to be heroic and then changing their minds when the going gets tough numerous times over the past two seasons, so I don't believe Rumple is entirely reformed just yet.
The same goes for Regina, although finally seeing her take responsibility for her actions was long overdue, and her plea to Emma to allow her to die as Regina instead of The Evil Queen was a beautiful and well-earned moment. As repetitive as her storylines can be, Lana Parrilla always sells the emotion behind Regina's actions, and at her core, this is a woman who is truly desperate to be loved and accepted, but who never really had the tools necessary to achieve that happiness, thanks to her mother. She's always tried to take the easy, scorched-earth approach, but being willing to sacrifice herself for Henry and to prove that she has goodness in her heart was a welcome step in the right direction. I just hope she can maintain that path to redemption next season, since her decisions to erase Henry's memories, and, y'know, murder Greg's father in cold blood and then gloat about it, were pretty unconscionable.
One of the most fascinating aspects of "OUAT" is how willing we are as viewers to give villains a pass for their terrible deeds, despite some truly irredeemable behavior (both Regina and Rumple have murdered a whole lot of people, leaving aside all of the lies, manipulation and emotional blackmail). Is it simply because the actors are so compelling? Rumple's reunion with Belle and subsequent farewell were undeniably affecting, and Robert Carlyle had a number of stand-out moments throughout the hour.
While it was great to see such developments from Rumple and Regina, the episode really belonged to Colin O'Donoghue's Hook. While his intentions were far from honorable when he rescued Bae -- and later surrendered him to the creepy Lost Boys -- it was also an hour that showed us his humanity like never before.
While "The Crocodile" never really gave us enough time to invest in the relationship between Hook and Milah, subsequent moments have helped illustrate Hook's deep love for her, and the finale certainly emphasized that care when it seemed as though Hook genuinely wanted to try and be a father for Bae. Of course, his heartfelt offer to change was somewhat undermined by the fact that Hook had obviously arranged for the Lost Boys to come and grab Bae long before their parting conversation, so it's debatable whether he would've tried to fight them off or given Bae up regardless, had their talk gone in a better direction, but it was nice to see a softer side of our roguish captain. He was clearly affected when Emma told him of Neal's "death," enough to turn back to try and help save the day, so it would be nice to see him develop into a slightly less mercenary character next season, and I'd love to see more of his dynamic with Neal/Bae now that he's all grown up.
With our core characters on the way to Neverland, it will be interesting to see how next season is structured -- it seems unlikely that we'll be spending much time in Storybrooke (which I can't say I'm too upset about, given that the Charming family and its evil adversaries/in-laws have always been the most interesting part of the show), and watching the unlikely group dynamic should make for interesting stories. Unlike Snow and Emma's extended sojourn in the Enchanted Forest, which overstayed its welcome by keeping our main cast separated for too long, it will be nice to see the gang adventuring together in Season 3, especially if we get to see more of "Once Upon a Time's" decidedly ominous-sounding version of Peter Pan -- now let's get to dream-casting who should play him! (And with all this talk of mermaids, will we finally get to see Ariel next year?)
What did you think of the "Once" Season 2 finale? What are your hopes for Season 3? Who would you like to see as Peter Pan? Weigh in below!
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