The mid-season finale of "Once Upon a Time" ended up making good on its episode title's promise ("Going Home"), and though the battle with Peter Pan comes to a climactic, tragic ending for a popular character, the epilogue leads fans to excitement like, oh say, a yellow brick road.
To begin with, Peter Pan-as-Henry does it. He casts the spell at the wishing well that will ultimately take the memories of everyone in Storybrooke, making Pan the only one who knows what's going on, who everyone is and making him the only one who'd master magic. He could just kill everyone, but he'd rather they be clueless and under his power forever. To do it, he has to take Lost Boy Felix's heart, the one most dear to him -- and he does it with ease. In order to stop him, the heroes split up -- half go to the recently deceased Blue Fairy's house (a convent) to find the wand of the Black Fairy, while the others go to Rumpelstiltskin's shop to prepare Henry-as-Peter-Pan for a body switch. They'll need to destroy the scroll that the curse was written on, but the clock is ticking, though, since unbeknownst to them, the spell has been cast.
The group getting the Black Fairy's wand -- Neal, Tinkerbell, Captain Hook and Prince Charming -- are attacked by Pan's shadow once they reach the convent. They can't fight the airborne shadow unless they get airborne. Cue Tinkerbell, the fairy who didn't believe in herself enough to get her pixie dust to work, finally finds the strength and belief to power up. She easily captures the shadow and destroys it in a nearby fire. She and Hook are getting a bit chummy, but the Blue Fairy interrupts. She's been resurrected, her shadow returned to her body since Pan's shadow was destroyed. She welcomes back Tinkerbell to the fairy fold, and gives the group the Black Fairy's wand.
In a past Neverland, Captain Hook and Smee encounter Tinkerbell for the first time, and it seems that sparks flew between Hook and Tink. Flashback #1.
In Storybrooke past, Mary Margaret gave Henry the "Once Upon a Time" book that she just happened to find in her closet. Flashback #2.
With the Black Fairy's wand, Rumpel switches Pan and Henry, putting them back in their rightful bodies. The crew goes out to find Henry, leaving Rumpel and Pan, who has been outfitted with magic-canceling bracelets from Tamara and Greg, to have a chat. The group finds Henry, and he has the scroll that Regina needs to destroy in order for the curse to be reversed. She touches it, and is knocked unconscious.
The chat between powerless Pan and Rumpel was deeply revealing. Pan resented his son Rumpel for even being born to him, taking away his money and his chance at happiness. No paternal bones in his body, apparently. Rumpel's heard enough; there's no redeeming Pan, so it's time to ... watch as #PanNeverFails! Peter Pan was the initial architect of the magic-dampeners, so, of course, they would never work on him. He turns the tables, putting the bracelet instead on Rumpel's wrist. So now, we have both Regina and Rumpel taken out of the fight. Uh-oh.
In the past Enchanted Forest, Rumpel and Belle talk about Rumpel missing and feeling guilty over having lost Neal/Baelfire. Flashback #3. And now, we can say it: Though it was fun reminiscing, the flashbacks were wholly unnecessary this week. The only one that was mildly interesting was Mary Margaret giving Henry the magical storybook, but even that had very little to do with the current storyline. Viewers get it. It's the end of a certain era, the Storybrooke era, and we should look back. But, eh.
Back to Storybrooke now. Regina awakens, and knows exactly what she has to do to reverse the curse. Grumpy runs in to amp up the moment by yelling that the curse is on the way. As Regina prepares to counter it, Pan arrives, freezing them all in place. He was going to let them all just lose their memories, but now it seems that he just wants to kill them all, starting with his grandson, Neal. Before he's able to do it, Rumpel arrives and stops him. Then Rumpelstiltskin does the unthinkable and sacrifices himself.
In order to rid the world of Pan, Rumpel has to stab the one thing that can kill him (the blade with his name on it) through not only his heart, but Pan's. And, after telling Neal and Belle that he loves them, he does it. Why Pan just stood there while Rumpel did it is a little beyond me, but if Rumpel cut off his own hand just to save the town, he'd probably have fought Pan magical tooth-and-nail. The moment was great in that it was unexpected, and though we're dealing with magic, it looked like a resolute thing to do. But it's not finished yet. Regina must still destroy the scroll to stop the curse.
It should be a big deal that a major character like Rumpel has met his demise, but magical deaths in "Once Upon a Time" never seem as final as they could be, and who knows what the combination of the magic used to kill them and the magic of the curse together does to magical beings. It would be a shame if he was actually gone, though. He and Regina have some of the greatest one-liners on television.
In order to stop the curse, Regina must sacrifice the thing she loves most -- and that's Henry. But the sacrifice will also get rid of the town itself, and losing the memories and the time that she spent with Henry. She has to let him go to save everyone, and entrust him with Emma. They are the only two who can go. So, Snow must say goodbye to her daughter -- again. With tears in their eyes, Emma and Henry jump in Emma's yellow VW bug and drive outside the city limits. Soon their memories look as if they're fading.
Eleven years earlier. The past. The real world. Instead of giving up Henry for adoption, Emma keeps him. Not only were they saved from the curse, they lived their lives together. In the present, they seem to be happy and living in a nice place -- pancake and hot chocolate for breakfast and everything. A knock on the door, and Captain Hook comes calling. Emma, of course, doesn't know who he is, and knees him in the groin when he tries to kiss her. Love's true kiss? I think not. Convincing her once took half a season, and without Henry's all-powerful belief this time, might be even more difficult. The door is slammed on the good captain as Hook yells that her family needs her.
And why is that? In the promo for next year's continuation of the show after the hiatus, it looks like the denizens of the Enchanted Forest have a new evil to combat: The Wicked Witch of the West.