Why Once Upon a Time season 7 hasn't worked

Ian Sandwell
Photo credit: Jack Rowand

From Digital Spy

Warning: Contains spoilers for Once Upon a Time season seven.

Once Upon a Time's fate was up in the air almost right to the end of season six - and it sounded like the showrunners were prepared for it to be the finale.

"I felt that as we approached season six, the time had come to close the chapter on a lot of stories we had been telling, which was the impetus behind this season finale, and open some new chapters," Adam Horowitz told EW. And so it proved.

The season six finale delivered a whole host of happy endings for long-running characters as main stars Jennifer Morrison (Emma Swan), Ginnifer Goodwin (Snow White), Emilie de Ravin (Belle), Josh Dallas (Prince Charming) and Jared Gilmore (Henry) either left the show or were dropped for season seven, while its coda with adult Henry (Andrew J West) teasingly set up season seven.

But after ABC confirmed in February that season seven would mark the end of the show, we're left wishing that the book had been firmly closed at the end of season six.

Photo credit: Jack Rowand

The final season certainly started off strongly as it followed through on the showrunners' promise that the soft reboot wouldn't erase season six's happy endings.

We were worried about how Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) could carry on without Emma, but the second episode's twist that this season's Hook is actually Wish Realm Hook – the boozy alternate Hook we loved in season six – was a welcome surprise.

And the season hit a high point that it's struggled to come close to in a heartbreaking fourth episode that focused on Belle and Rumple (Robert Carlyle) as they get sent to a different realm where time moves differently, so Belle grows old and dies in an outing that's basically the Up montage stretched to 40-odd minutes.

With those endings and guest spots out of the way, the season was free to concentrate on its almost entirely new cast and characters, but it quickly became apparent that compared to what we had before, some of them even made Snow White's sleeping curse sound thrilling.

As before, it's the villains who have made the most impact. Adelaide Kane has been the stand-out newcomer in season seven as Cinderella's step-sister Drizella and the second half has suffered from her absence.

Over on the good side, Henry as a child was irritating at best and adult Henry doesn't make it him any more engaging. Along with the likes of Cinderella (Dania Ramirez), the heroes are damp squibs you don't really connect with.

At least Emma had some edge to her, given her real-world background.

Photo credit: Jack Rowand

It's telling that the moments where season seven has been at its most entertaining have been when it focused on the established characters of Regina (Lana Parrilla), Rumple and Zelena (Rebecca Mader). They've consistently been the show's best performers, fully aware of the type of show they're in, but they're also characters we've built up a connection to over the seasons.

The show's tried to make us care about the new characters and, given time, maybe we would have. However, since it's been cancelled, it makes all the work and time spent on this aspect a bit pointless. Season seven needed to be bolder and make it a clean break from everything that's come before, because comparisons to the established characters who have stuck around do the new lot no favours.

But it seems that Once Upon a Time can't let go of the past, as a recent episode delivered the twist that this season's curse didn't just send Regina, adult Henry, Rumple and co to Hyperion Heights, but actually back in time, too. So everything in the present day has been taking place at the same time as just after the season six finale, meaning Emma, Hook, young Henry and co are still in Storybrooke as we speak.

Photo credit: Jack Rowand

It's a neat solution that explains why the original characters haven't just turned up and saved Henry when he's been in trouble this season, but it only adds to the complicated timeline of the show, something that even the show itself has been mocking recently.

Given that fans are used to the show's dual timelines, it's not a great sign when even they're wondering what the hell is going on. The twist, good though it is, needed to come earlier in season seven so that everyone watching knew exactly where – and, importantly, when – everything fitted.

What's more, it means we'll be seeing the likes of Emma, Hook and the Charmings again after they've already had their happy endings on the show, so surely the season seven finale is just going to end with another series of happy endings for the characters, unless the writers have something super bleak in mind aside from the major death we've been promised.

Photo credit: Jack Rowand

It adds to the feeling of déjà vu surrounding the whole season as its soft reboot nature has effectively seen it repeat season one. Someone who doesn't believe in magic or that they are connected to Snow White and Prince Charming is the key to saving a cursed town filled with fairytale characters, all they need to do is believe again.

As fans of the series, we don't want to add Once Upon a Time to the list of shows with disappointing final seasons, but we can't see even an unlimited amount of fairy dust in the finale changing things for the better.

Once Upon a Time airs on ABC in the US and Netflix in the UK.

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