Elsa from Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time: forgiving the final season

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A few days ago, I watched the last episode ever of Once Upon a Time – again.

You may think that, having done exactly the same thing almost exactly a year ago, with what was then supposed to be the concluding episode of the entire series, the emotional impact of the experience could not be quite the same this time round; well, you would be wrong. The finale was a good episode, at the end of what I thought was a good season. Considering the announcement, halfway though it, that the series would be cancelled after the end of season seven, I am aware this is a rather controversial opinion, but hear me out.

I had been expecting co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz to move the focus of the story, from Emma Swan and her family to her grown-up son Henry Mills and his family, for a long time. I knew that this decisive step, which they finally took at the end of season six, would allow them to go back to the original scheme that made Once Upon a Time so engaging in its first season. Introducing a new set of characters and a new set of stories after no more than three seasons would have preserved that freshness which, instead, the series all but lost as it kept on dawdling ad nauseam within the same dynamics, torturing its protagonists (and, more often than not, the audience) episode after episode to move forward what little was left of the plot. I am sure I am not the only fan of the show who believes the Charming family deserved the dignity of a much earlier happy ending.

…the time constraint forced the show-runners to pile up everything in the few episodes they had left.

Notwithstanding this delay, I did not find season seven to have come too late to be enjoyed. The idea of revisiting the tales that had already been explored in previous seasons (and by this time there were very few left that hadn’t) did not immediately convince me, but it did work reasonably well. I particularly appreciated the new take on the character of Cinderella’s evil stepmother, whose family dynamics became more and more intriguing as the season proceeded. Sadly, their story had to be wrapped up rather abruptly in the second half of the season, following the announcement of the show’s cancellation, clearly in order to give space to other subplots that needed be tied up. There were at least six or seven of these, which to the inveterate Once Upon a Time viewer appeared as many seeds sown to bloom into full-grown plots in future seasons. It was unfortunate that this metamorphosis could never take place, especially as the time constraint forced the show-runners to pile up everything in the few episodes they had left. Thus, the last part of the season was so dense with plot-twists and sudden character developments it became almost dazzling to watch, like a greenhouse filled with too many magical beans, grown overnight into much larger plants than it can take.

Apart from these weak spots originating from its abrupt cancellation, the last season of Once Upon a Time had only two real flaws. The first was the decision to move the setting from Storybrook to Seattle. The quaint small town in Maine where fairy-tale characters lived since season one undoubtedly represented half the charm of the entire show, a charm which Seattle was completely devoid of. The second mistake of this season was the casting of Cinderella (Dania Ramirez), whose perpetual look of bewilderment often made it hard for the viewer to focus on the plot; thankfully, someone in the production team must have noticed this, and by the end of the season she had no more than two lines per episode.

Yet, season seven deserved a better treatment that it generally received; much like one of its villains, it deserved a second chance. In many respects, it represented a step forward: it was far less white that the previous seasons, and even less heteronormative. Furthermore, Regina’s star finally shone as it never could with the Charmings always around. Her happy ending, as a powerful, confident, independent woman, stands for all that was captivating in the show – the idea that stories are important only in as much as they can change and adapt with their tellers and their audience, helping them hope and making them believe that “darkness never wins, it only fools you into believing that it does”.