Once Upon a Time had its series finale a few weeks ago. Several of you just asked, “Didn’t that show end last year?” and the answer is, of course, no. Despite the fact that a good portion of the leading section of the ensemble called it quits at the end of the previous season the show rebooted itself a bit for one final run. The final season focused on an adult Henry and Regina under the effects of a new curse with new villains and new friends.
The season, by and large, was fine. It wasn’t noticeably better or worse than any of the previous seasons and maintained the same messages of hope, love in all forms, acceptance, and redemption that were common to the rest of the series. Once Upon a Time will never win any awards but in a day and age when many stories are darker and grimmer than ever and reality seems just as dark and grim it was nice to have a show where you knew the heroes would eventually prevail and even half of the villains could be converted to the side of hope. It’s frequently one of the stories I hold up when I tell people, “You can love a movie or TV show even if technically it isn’t very good.”
One of the issues that plagued Once Upon a Time through its entire existence was the fact that the stories were largely forgettable and tended to blend into each other. You might recall that Ariel spends a period of time on the show but chances are you have no idea which season she was in or exactly how her story played out. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Once Upon a Time was ever a great show or even really a good show. But it was a nice show and I’m going to miss it.
The finale, despite being one cohesive story, was split across two weeks – at least on Hulu, where I watched it. And, in the end, the story of the finale is largely as forgettable as the rest of the series but the strengths of the show were also in full evidence.
The themes of the show were rendered everywhere with gleeful abandon. Every kind of love you can imagine is on display – friendship, familial, and romantic – multiple characters who have sought redemption find it in their own ways. Hope was mentioned and paid off more than once.
The other strength of the show was always the large number of reimagined fairytale characters. The villains almost always had depth. The heroes had hopes and fears and flaws to go with their hope and strength. And the final episodes remembered the vast majority of the characters. Almost everyone of any importance who has ever appeared on the show reprised the role one last time for at least a few moments. Notable exceptions were Neal/Baelfire and Pinnochio who played large parts in the first seasons but hadn’t been around for some time and were either forgotten or whose actors couldn’t be enticed to return. Others were probably also missing but, honestly, the show has featured so many cast members during its existence that it was nearly impossible to bring them all back. Several of the characters who did make a return had no lines and only a few brief moments on screen.
So, yeah, Once Upon a Time wasn’t a great show. But it didn’t have to be. And when it came time to say goodbye they did a terrific job. Everyone gets some version of a happy ending and the realm was saved and restored. The whats and hows of this show have always been less important than the whos and whys and OUAT‘s team knew it. The creative team even remembered to say goodbye to the iconic locations as the final moments of the show featured the camera sweeping past Granny’s Diner, Gold’s Pawn Shop, and even Emma Swan’s little yellow beetle. The final shot of the show was the epochal “Leaving Storybrooke” sign. That’s an image that will stick with me for a long time. The same as the messages of hope, love, and acceptance Once Upon a Time stood for.