Recap by Zach Van Norman - @TheZachVan
We begin with a flashback to December 1966, when Isaac first chose the quill and became the Author. In present-day Storybrooke, Isaac and Mr. Gold discuss what to do about Baelfire while Emma and the other heroes free the Apprentice from the hat, but Isaac completes the new story and everyone except Henry disappears. Henry finds Isaac at a book signing/convention and uses the magic key to enter “Heroes & Villains,” learning from Isaac that bells will signal the end of the book and the new reality becoming permanent. He is rescued from an ogre by Rumplestiltskin the Knight and finds Regina living as a bandit, convincing her to find Robin Hood so that True Love’s Kiss can end the new reality and send them all home. Isaac, who also entered the book, finds the Evil Queen Snow White and her dark husband Charming and warns them about Henry and Regina before demanding their deaths as payment for knowledge of their location. Later, Regina tries to rob a carriage but finds Snow White inside, who nearly kills Regina with a magical fireball before Robin Hood rides in and saves her. They go to a local tavern and Regina seems to have feelings for him, but Zelena arrives and it is revealed that she and Robin are to be married that day. Regina leaves and tells Henry that Robin is to be married, and Henry realizes that the wedding bells are the signal Isaac spoke of earlier. He begs Regina to try again and she tells him to go away, but when he mentions Emma’s nickname of “the Savior,” Regina reveals she’s heard of a woman with that name, locked away in a tower by Snow White. Emma is revealed in her tower, chained to the floor and in great distress.
Rumplestiltskin arrives home to his wife Belle, their new baby, and Isaac, who reveals knowledge of Baelfire before telling Rumple his true history and warning him to kill Regina if he doesn’t want to lose his happiness. Henry finds Hook on the Jolly Roger and knocks out Captain Blackbeard so they can find Emma’s island prison and free her; when they arrive they knock out the guard (Lily) and Henry frees Emma, but as they sail away, Lily chases them in dragon form before Emam defeats her with a cannonball. Emma, Henry and Hook are found by Snow White and Charming when they dock and Charming kills Hook in front of Emma. She and Henry escape and find Regina in the forest, where Emma convinces her to tell Robin how she feels and they leave for the wedding. Rumplestiltskin is waiting for them when they arrive, and after knocking Emma out during a sword fight, he moves to kill Henry, but Regina takes the blow instead. Henry is revealed to be the next Author and saves Regina by writing them all out of the story, returning them to Storybrooke. Henry meets with the Apprentice and learns he cannot write his father back to life, so he decides to break the quill to prevent anyone else from having so much power. The Apprentice goes to the pawn shop and uses magic to remove the Darkness from Gold’s heart and contain it in the Sorcerer’s hat. The Darkness breaks free, the Apprentice reveals that the Sorcerer’s name is Merlin, and that they must find him to destroy the Darkness or all will be lost. The Darkness overtakes Regina and Emma sacrifices herself, saving Regina and becoming the new Dark One.
This episode was a game-changer for many relationships involving Emma Swan. The stakes were raised for CaptainSwan in particular as Emma finally admitted to Killian that she loves him. Of course that declaration was immediately followed by Emma’s evolution into the new Dark One, and only time (aka season 5) will tell what effect this will have on Emma’s relationship with her hooked companion. Will her desires include new love, or anger over the loss of her past love Neal.
Emma’s relationship with her parents received some development as well. Her anger at their decision to deposit her potential for darkness into Lily had finally abated in the previous episode, but the finale allowed her to express an internal monologue when she admitted that her opinion had changed after seeing them as true villains, and that she had been too hard on them. This will likely be negated when season 5 begins, as her new role as the Dark One may bring her feelings of abandonment and anger at her fractured upbringing to the fore.
Likewise, Emma and Henry’s relationship will be dramatically altered by her sacrifice. Will she retain love for him, as Rumplestiltskin did for Baelfire, or will she be completely indifferent to the suffering of her son? (The former is more likely in my opinion, but we shall see.) It’s also worth mentioning again that Henry broke the quill to stop anyone from having enough power as to control their destinies. I think this could be an indicator of what’s to come with Henry and his role in saving Emma.
And how will Emma react to Regina now? They finally achieved a level of friendship and respect, but this, like her relationship with her parents, will likely be undone in the new season. Emma has never really given Regina her comeuppance for casting the Dark Curse, and I suspect such a confrontation will happen soon. This will facilitate an interesting change for the three of them: where season 1 saw Emma and Henry working together to stop Regina, it’s likely that Regina and Henry will work together to save Emma. “Operation Mongoose” wasn’t the end of the role reversals, there are surely more to come!
As far as continuing themes, the season 4 finale definitely furthered Emma’s role as the Savior: she sacrificed herself to the Darkness in order for Regina to retain her happiness, doing what she thought was right in order to save someone she loves. (It may be friendship-only, but Emma and Regina do have love for each other; they’re family, after all.) This sacrifice carries a theological weight to it as well, adding a new layer of metaphorical substance to the story. It also reinforced Henry’s role as the Truest Believer: his faith in his family never faltered, he remained selfless, brave and true until the end.
This episode is now battling “A Land Without Magic” for my Favorite Season Finale and Favorite Overall Episode. There were sword fights, a dragon guarding an island prison, and ancient magic; in short, it had all the familiar tropes of fairy tales and it was glorious. Though personalities and histories were switched, we were still able to identify with the altered versions of our characters because we know their stories and what makes their relationships complicated.
The new season will cause a major shift for every character interaction as they search for Merlin to bring about the destruction of the Darkness. Will Emma assist in their search so she can be freed, or will she undermine their efforts in order to retain her new abilities? Will Rumplestiltskin join the fight to eradicate evil, or will he once again have his own agenda and seek to reclaim the Darkness as his own?
My hope is that the “Dark Swan” storyline will include an abundance of quiet conversation scenes as opposed to loud action set pieces. This story could obviously include a lot of “show,” particularly when it comes to Emma’s new abilities, but this could be outweighed by including more “tell” scenes where characters vocalize what they’re thinking and feeling as opposed to a lot of action where they don’t get to express themselves. Season 5 can’t get here fast enough!