'Once Upon a Time' Season Four Finale: A Key Sacrifice Sets Up Season Five's Big Bad

The ABC drama capped off its fourth season with a trek to an alternate reality, and revealed the foe they'll be facing next.
Jack Rowand/ABC

[Warning: this post contains spoilers for the Once Upon a Time season four finale, "Operation Mongoose."]

For the second season in a row, the Once Upon a Time finale took place in a world that was different than the norm.

While last season's conclusion took Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) back in time to the Fairytale land that was (and they altered things as they went on their way), this season's two-hour "concept movie" showcased the fallout of the Author (Patrick Fischler) rewriting the story and turning the villains into heroes.

Henry (Jared Gilmore) is initially stuck in the real world, but he finds the Author ― aka Isaac Heller ― on a book tour, and Henry is able to take the two of them to the altered world.

The show had some fun transforming the characters into different people from the ones we've known for the past four seasons: Rumple (Robert Carlyle) ― who became aware of what his new reality is thanks to the fixing of the Author ― became "the Light One," an ogre-slayer, and happily married (with a child!) to Belle (Emilie de Ravin); Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) turned into the Evil Queen, brokenhearted over losing her true love James (Josh Dallas), so she is set on revenge towards Regina (Lana Parrilla), whom she blames for his death; Hook was made into a meek pirate on Black Beard's (Charles Mesure) ship; Robin (Sean Maguire) was set to marry Zelena (Rebecca Mader); and Emma was locked up by Snow ― and being watched over by Lily (Agnes Bruckner). 

But Henry was determined to make things right, and the Author informed him that he had a set amount of time to fix things. If Henry wasn't able to course-correct by the time the bells started ringing, the events of the alternate universe would be set.

The Author tied Henry up, hoping he'd get eaten by an ogre, but Rumple saved the day. Rumple warned the youngster that he should go home to his family. Henry then encountered Regina, who was baffled that he thought he was her son. He showed her the new version of the book, which said she robbed a carriage to buy passage out of the kingdom ― and she freaked out that it knew her future and burned it. Undeterred, Henry continued with Regina and told her she had to find Robin and kiss him. After all, true love's kiss can fix anything. Unfortunately for Henry, in this world Robin is Regina's "competition," and Regina left him to commit her robbery, and Henry, having learned Emma was locked up, set out to find her.

Elsewhere, the Author was captured by the dwarves, who brought him to Snow. She spared his life when he revealed he knew she lost her true love and promised to help her get revenge on Regina. Snow and the Huntsman set a trap for Regina, and while they were successful at threatening her, Robin saved her before they could do any more damage. Regina was taken with Robin, but she was thrown when he introduced her to his fiancé, Zelena ― whom he planned to marry later that day. (And whose wedding bells would signal the events of the alt-universe sticking.)

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Henry, meanwhile, continued on his quest to fix things, and found Hook. The pirate wasn't convinced he could be much help ― he can't captain the ship. But Henry knocked out Black Beard and said he'd help. They found Emma, who instantly recognized her son; her "punishment" was to know the truth of what was going on, but have no magic to fix anything.

Though Hook had no memory of Emma, he pieced together that they were close. She taught him to use a sword, something he immediately put to use when they encountered Snow and the Huntsman (aka James' twin). Hook offered to fight them off so that Henry and Emma could try and fix things, and though he held his own for a few moments, Hook died in front of a shaken Emma.

Elsewhere, Rumple's concern about what was going on began to eat at him, and he talked with Belle. She was confident her husband would do the right thing because he's the Light One.

Emma and Henry found Regina, and Emma encouraged Regina to stop Robin's wedding if she had feelings for him. Emma shared that she had just watched the man she loved die, but she was "too scared" to ever tell him that she loved him. The trio set out to stop the wedding.

Once they got there, however, Rumple wasn't having any of it and was set on keeping this world. He fought Emma as Regina opened the door to the church where Robin and Zelena were getting married. But when Rumple turned on Henry, Regina sacrificed herself to save her son, forgoing the possibility of stopping the wedding.

Though the church bells rang, they were able to figure out a solution: Henry touched the Author's quill, and was able to become the next Author. He used Regina's blood as ink, and undid the new reality with his writing -- everyone wound up back in Storybrooke.

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Emma, after hugging Henry, went searching for Hook. But instead of telling him the truth of her feelings, she thanked him for his help.

Things were less positive for Rumple, who was dying. Belle admitted she loved him, and they could have had the perfect marriage of the alternate universe if he had trusted in their love. She vowed not to let him die alone, but she looked to the rest of the town for help, and to warn them that they were in danger. The Apprentice (Timothy Webber) said they could try capturing his dark essence into the Sorcerer's hat, but that it would be a risk.

At first, it seemed to work ― though the damage to Rumple's heart was significant, and they would have to "preserve him" to see if he could be saved ― but then the dark essence escaped, attacking the Apprentice. Emma saved him using her magic. The Apprentice told them that "long before your stories began, the Sorcerer battled the darkness," and to save the world, he tethered the darkness to a human soul who could be controlled by the dagger (like Rumple has been for the past four seasons). Only the Sorcerer could now stop the darkness, so they must find him. He exists "far, far" from there, and he goes by the name of Merlin.

The darkness left, and they attempted to find it. It attacked Regina, and when Robin was prevented from saving her, Emma realized the only way to save Regina was to tie the darkness to herself. Regina objected, but Emma told her, "You've worked too hard to have your happiness destroyed." Emma reassured her parents they would find a way to save her, and she told Hook she loved him before the darkness overtook her. The dagger now had the name Emma Swan written on it.

When Once Upon a Time showrunners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis spoke with The Hollywood Reporter before the finale, they hinted that the final hours of the season would lay the groundwork for what would be in store for season five.

"We certainly are setting up for what next season would be at the end of the finale this year, but we're doing it in hopefully a different way than we've done before," shared Kitsis. "It's probably a little more reminiscent, in a way, to season one, where a condition [was set out] that magic is coming, versus having a new villain of the year or a journey to a different world. It'll be in a slightly different way, but hopefully just as earthshaking or changing than we've ever done, if not more so."

With the events of the finale, it leaves a few key characters in interesting positions:

Emma: Season five will arguably have the most personal Big Bad the show has had so far. Though Regina and Rumple have been Big Bads, when that happened, many of their relationships with the people of Storybrooke were complicated, at best. For Emma, she has been the savior. She has her parents, her son, Hook, and friends. How will they deal with trying to save her? And what will Dark Emma be able to put them through?

Henry: What will his new position as Author mean? Initially, he wanted to bring his father back to life, but was told his powers won't allow that. Aside from that, he seems content to write the things that occur… so will that cause any noticeable shift in his character?

Rumple: Who is Rumple when he's not tethered to being the Dark One? Once he comes out of the state he's in, will he mourn the loss of power? Or can he try to be happy with Belle? And will he even attempt to help Emma?

Lily: She's sticking around in town, and is determined to find her father. Since Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten) doesn't know who the man is (it's "a dragon thing"), and she just has a part of her egg to go by, will her quest lead her to a familiar face?

Merlin: The Once Upon a Time bosses said that the finale wasn't setting up new characters for season five, and it's possible Merlin won't come into play for a good portion of the year (much like it took the series more than half a season to introduce the Author after they first mentioned him) ― but surely he'll be there at some point in season five? Merlin has been mentioned in passing before ― in season three's "Lost Girl" when Charming told Snow that Merlin was a mage from Camelot who forged the sword, Excalibur and ― from the King Arthur story― Lancelot (Sinqua Walls) appeared (and quickly died) in season two. How deep will the show dive into the realm of Camelot next year? Or will the show be too busy with Dark Emma for the foreseeable future?

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Zelena: What the heck are they going to do with her? You can't kill off a pregnant villain. Is she just going to stay locked up and knocked up for the foreseeable future? It's understandable that Robin and Regina will deal with the situation together, but even if they opt to raise Zelena's kid, is there any way Zelena could be redeemed? Or is she doomed to being locked up for the rest of the show?

What did you think of Once Upon a Time's season four finale?