[This is a review of Once Upon a Time season 3, episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
The midseason finale of Once Upon A Time is here and plot twist whiplash abounds as the writers wrap-up the last of the loose ends from the Pan (Robbie Kay) storyline and move the show in its new direction for the second half of the season. And the theme that is repeated over and over by various characters is simple: sometimes the happiest ending is the one you never saw coming. Using that logic, there are loads of happy endings to be found this time out.
For example, Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) finds his happy ending at the end of his own dagger. This is definitely not an end he sees coming as he starts the tale with his usual smugness, along with solutions for every obstacle they encounter. From the spell to swap the boys back into their proper bodies, to the bracelet that will keep Pan at bay, Rumple thinks he's got all his ducks in a row; and for a fraction of a second, he's right. But then he ends up having to take his own life along with his dad's, in order to solve the problem once and for all. Good thing "dead" never really means "gone forever," as the loss of Carlyle from the cast would be a true tragedy.
Next up on the "happy endings" docket is Pan's number one partner in crime, Felix (Parker Croft). The deer-in-the-headlights look on his face when Pan reaches for his heart makes it clear he never saw his loyalty being rewarded in such unique fashion. This is an interesting twist to be sure, though not surprising if one remembers that Regina (Lana Parrilla) once did the same thing to her father in order to set the original curse in motion. Points to the writers for continuity.
Meanwhile, Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) and Tink (Rose McIver) surprise themselves with their own actions. Hook proves that he can occasionally perform a good deed unmotivated by love, revenge, or self-preservation. Tink, on the other hand, discovers that she believes in herself after all, and her unexpected actions against the malevolent shadow resurrect the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy) and restore her own fairy status.
But the happiest - or perhaps most heart-wrenching - endings belong to Regina and Emma (Jennifer Morrison). In a way the story has always revolved around these two; going all the way back to the very first episode of the very first season. They are foils, yet each in her own way tonight demonstrates a mother's love. And right in the middle of the climactic ending, the writers hit to pause button so we can all remember their journeys thus far. Perhaps a little less reflection would have been better, but the scene between the two women is powerful and effective.
Regina has to choose between having the son that she's come to love, or giving him up to the woman she took him from in the first place. On the flip side, Emma must be separated from her family for the umpteenth time but she gets to keep the son she never thought she wanted but has grown to love. The catch on Emma and Henry's (Jared S. Gilmore) side of the equation is that they'll have to live with fake memories and will never remember that Storybrooke ever existed.
The final twist comes a year later when Emma and Henry's domestic bliss is shattered by the sudden appearance of Hook on their doorstep. Fans will have plenty of time to mull over the future for our heroes and villains alike and look forward to the introduction of the Wicked Witch of the West, beginning March 9, 2014, when the series returns for a consecutive run of the final 11 episodes in season 3.
Once Upon A Time returns March 9, 2014 with "New York City Serenade" @8pm on ABC.