Tuesday, May 12, 2015

ONCE UPON A TIME "Operation" Successful

Article originally written for Seat42F.

ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME two-hour season finale is titled “Operation Mongoose,” but it could have shared Game of Thrones’ title this week, “Kill the Boy.” That’s because, with everyone else trapped in an upside-down version of the Enchanted Forest, Henry (Jared Gilmore) alone remains to save the day. The man in his way, Isaac (Patrick Fischler), doesn’t seem willing to commit murder directly, but wastes no time sending others after Henry when they both enter the fictional world.

“Operation Mongoose” is the best episode of ONCE UPON A TIME in quite some time, with rich, emotional pay-off and a lot of fun chances to see actors approach characters differently. Ginnifer Goodwin plays such a terrific villain and the story possibilities in this world are so ripe I find myself wishing this had played out over five or six hours, not two. It’s great, but kind of a squandered opportunity. Though, it’s nice the show doesn’t use yet another True Love’s Kiss to fix everything.

Henry gets to step up as never before, though! This kid not only drives a car and functions without parental units, but goes to a land he isn’t familiar with and battles evil, including wielding a sword against Rumple himself. Henry has been annoying at times in the past, and most fans of ONCE UPON A TIME don’t want to see a kid save the day. What Henry becomes here, though, is a full-fledged member of the cast, pulling his weight, and it’s awesome.

By the end of the hour, Henry proves himself again when he breaks the pen. He is the next Author, but rather than allow himself to be tempted to misuse the power, as Isaac does, Henry ensures he can only do what he’s supposed to do. It’s an impressive decision for the young man to make, but one would expect no less of him.

“Operation Mongoose” finally gives some explanation as to why Rumple’s (Robert Carlyle) heroic sacrifice mid-way through season three did not stick. The Dark One consumes any light taking root and eliminates it. The fact that Rumple manages to be good at all proves there is a very strong lightness within him, which I guess makes sense, being the opposite of the strong darkness we see. If only ONCE UPON A TIME had committed to this explanation earlier and showed Rumple fighting and losing the struggle to be good, the story would have been satisfying. Instead, the revelation comes too little, too late, even if there’s the opportunity to see Rumple have his happy ending next season, Belle (Emilie de Ravin) still being in love with him.

Speaking of happy endings, it turns out the whole rule that villains can’t get them is bull. At first, that seems a cop out, but upon further examination, it makes sense. Some characters are operating under false assumptions or incomplete information. Isaac sure isn’t reliable, so what he says can’t be trusted. Rumple looks for an outside source to blame for losing Belle, not realizing it is the Dark One that is costing him his love. The episode ends with Robin (Sean Maguire) and Regina (Lana Parrilla) right where they should be, so that proves the falsehood.

But is Emma a hero or a villain? Growing up in the real world, she has defied either to a certain extent. “Operation Mongoose” tests that by making Emma the new Dark One. Now, this woman who has untold power she’s only beginning to tap into is the most evil person in Storybrooke. It’s a great set up, since it will probably take everyone banding together to stop someone as dangerous as Emma, especially without hurting her. It will be interesting to see how Merlin plays into this, too.

ONCE UPON A TIME is far from a perfect show. It has good runs and bad ones. Ending a bad run with a good finale, though, is better than ending a good one with a bad, as the show does last year, and it makes me a little more optimistic for season five. The plot it teases is certainly tantalizing enough, and I’m excited about the series in a way I haven’t been in awhile. There are still glaring mistakes in “Operation Mongoose,” from Emma and Henry just standing there watching Hook die, to Robin’s hesitance at the altar ending in wedding bells and then immediately rushing to Regina’s side. But overall, I’m satisfied with this ending.

Oh, and based on Isaac’s flashback, it looks like Walt Disney was the Author just previous to him, which is kind of fun. Combined with a Wookie-like prison escape and a Jack Sparrow mention, “Operation Mongoose” has plenty of delightful references.

ONCE UPON A TIME will return next fall on ABC.

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