‘Once Upon A Time’ Season 5 Finale Review: Regina Is Finally Free of Darkness — But at What Cost?

Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 5 Finale – Only You / An Untold Story:

Last week, I was pretty miffed about Once Upon A Time and its treatment of Regina (Lana Parrilla). While I ultimately liked the episode, it felt like the show was continuing to use her as a punching bag to move the plot forward. Need something bad to happen to one of our characters? Just take it out on Regina! Granted, it’s a formula that has served Once Upon A Time in the past, but at this point, it just felt repetitive. That’s why “Only You” and “An Untold Story” provided such a fresh change of pace for a season finale that not only sets up the next phase of the story, but also promises to put Regina in a more central role.

One of the things I enjoyed about Regina’s arc here is that we get to see how much she’s changed right from the start: when she discovers that Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) has survived, meaning Emma (Jennifer Morrison) gets what she wants once again, Regina doesn’t linger on it too long, because there are bigger issues to take care of in that moment. And, honestly, she probably could have lingered on her anger a bit longer than she did, considering how ridiculous it was for Emma to suggest she stay behind on the mission to take down Gold (Robert Carlyle). Say what you will about Emma’s heroism, but I think Regina was right to point out the hypocrisy of Emma’s directives: when she loses someone she loves, they all go to the Underworld to get him back, but when Regina loses the love of her life, she gets benched. It shows that while Emma is still a hero, she doesn’t always know what’s best for the people she cares about. It’s a story that comes to the fore once Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) goes venturing off with Violet (Olivia Steele Falconer) to New York City, to pick up where Neal left off before his death, and find a way to destroy magic for good. In theory, it’s a story that’s a long time in coming, especially when you consider how frequently these characters’ lives are adversely affected by magic. And yet, part of it feels out of character for Henry, if for no other reason than because it feels like Henry would have more thoroughly considered the consequences of eliminating magic from the world. Even though Gold’s claim that Storybrooke would vanish turned out to be a lie — meant to galvanize Emma and Regina into helping him track down Henry and retrieve the Olympian Crystal — magic still has its uses in this world, even in spite of all the harm it invariably causes. Henry and the rest of the team learn this firsthand when it’s revealed that David (Josh Dallas), Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin), Zelena (Rebecca Mader) and Hook have been sucked through a portal and whisked away to The Land of Untold Stories, where non-fairy tale stories go to hang out. It’s there that the gang meets Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and discover a potion that allows a person to separate himself (or, as we see later, herself) from the darkness within.

'Once Upon A Time' Season 5 Finale Review Regina Is Finally Free of Darkness -- But at What Cost

Credit: ABC

I’ll say this about the Jekyll and Hyde business. While I didn’t feel Hank Harris was given enough to do as Dr. Jekyll, I really loved the malevolent, regal quality Sam Witwer used in his portrayal of Mr. Hyde. His plan to bring the entire Land of Untold Stories to Storybrooke isn’t exactly anything we couldn’t have seen coming after his introduction, but it’s the kind of story that unites the characters against one unquestionably villainous force. I mean, I can definitely appreciate a shades of gray approach to the characterization of the villains, but sometimes, it’s just plain refreshing to see a villain be a villain, without being asked to also feel some measure of sympathy for him. Despite his love for Zelena, I never felt an ounce of sympathy for Hades, which is why I enjoyed his run on the show as much as I did, because it allowed for a more focused story with a clear-cut goal. And character growth came from the struggle of accomplishing that goal rather than internal squabbles among the team. I feel as though Hyde will allow the show to head in the same direction, while also offering a new approach, since it will feature one of the heroes facing a mirror version of herself. Yes, Regina is finally free of the Darkness, having used Jekyll’s potion to physically separate the Regina and Evil Queen halves of herself. And yet, while Regina thinks crushing the Evil Queen’s heart means the end of her Darkness, it turns out destroying her evil side isn’t that simple. The Evil Queen is still alive and planning war against her other half, and I’m hoping the battle ahead makes the rivalry between Regina and Zelena look like child’s play. Sure, Once Upon A Time isn’t the most mature show on television, but its occasional forays into the darker nature of its characters and their alter egos (see: Ruby and her wolf side) can make for some solid television. And I think Hyde and The Evil Queen would be a terrific pair.

'Once Upon A Time' Season 5 Finale Review Regina Is Finally Free of Darkness -- But at What Cost

Credit: ABC

Naturally, Regina wasn’t the only character to get the spotlight over the course of these two hours. I was surprised by how much I cared about Henry’s connection with Violet, and how years of constant bickering between his two mothers has finally taken its toll, to where he chastised them both for not trusting each other. It all culminates in a segment that, by all rights, should have been corny. But Gilmore really made it work. While addressing a crowd of jaded New Yorkers, Henry delivers a rousing speech about why magic is slowly fading away from this world. It’s the equivalent of the “claps if you believe in fairies!” speech from Peter Pan, but with a bit more urgency, since he needs the New Yorkers to make faithful wishes with him if he’s going to bring his family back from the Land of Untold Stories. It’s a really good performance from Gilmore, not just the inspiring nature of his speech, but also his disappointment when he discovers that the crowd, despite believing just enough for the wishing plan to work, thought he was some street performer pulling off a trick. I think the show might be better served by utilizing Henry more frequently, particularly since he’s older now, and can have more mature stories than he had before. Then again, maybe the reason this worked as well as it did was because Henry isn’t all over every episode. But I think we can find some sort of balance for Season 6. With that said, I do feel less is more with Gold. He had some great moments here tonight, particularly when Hyde casts a spell and steals Pandora’s Box — which contains Belle (Emilie De Ravin). One of the most compelling things about Gold right now is that he accepts that he can’t be a good man, at least not in the way Belle expects him to be. It doesn’t mean he loves her any less, it just means he can’t keep denying who he is, to himself or to others. This realization frees up Gold from the obnoxiously cyclical “Can he be redeemed?” storylines. I’m looking forward to seeing how he’ll clash with Hyde in Season 6, since we’re overdue for a good, knock-down, drag-out villain vs. villain clash. Until then, I enjoyed this season finale quite a bit. While there weren’t any bombshell twists (Robin remains dead, sadly), we got a solid ending to this season’s story, and a compelling kickstart to next season’s narrative. Once Upon A Time really managed to stick the landing here, I thought, on a season that had as many highs as lows.

But what did you think of the Once Upon A Time Season 5 finale? Sound off in the comments!

And for more on Once Upon A Time, read our review and analysis of last week’s episode, which examines whether or not Regina will ever catch a freakin’ break!

TV 2016Once Upon A TimeRecapReviewSeason Finale

Got Something to Add?