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Recap / Once Upon A Time S 4 E 21 Operation Mongoose

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Season 4, Episode 21 & 22:

Operation Mongoose Parts 1 and 2

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Isaac becomes a wild card in Gold's scheme to change everyone's destiny as Emma, Regina, Mary Margaret, Hook and David attempt to stop them. When Gold and Isaac forge ahead with their plans, they alter the destiny of everyone involved. Now it's up to Henry to reverse the outcome after he is drawn into the chaos and restore the destiny of his family before it is too late.

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  • Adaptation Personality Change: In-universe. In his book Isaac makes the villains heroes and the heroes villains. Belle and Robin only avert this because that would mess with Rumple and Zelena's happy endings.
  • A Day in the Limelight: The majority of the story stars Henry as the protagonist.
  • Adorkable: Hook is this in Isaac's story. Unlike their first meeting, Hook doesn't act suave and charming to Emma, and instead is rather shy and awkward around her.
  • All Deaths Final: If someone dies in the real world, no magic can bring them back, not even the reality altering powers of an Author.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Emma has one for Hook just before disappearing into the darkness as the new Dark One, thanks to her regret over not telling him before he died in the alternate reality (and again after she returned to find him alive in Storybrooke).
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  • Anyone Can Die: Because the world created by Isaac isn't real, and can be undone if the right actions are taken, the show pulls no punches in killing off characters.
  • Back Up Twin: In the alternate universe, David's twin James was Snow's true love. So she has made David her slave to replace him.
  • Brick Joke: A very subtle one combined with an audio form of All There in the Manual as it only become obvious to those who listen to DVD commentary on the previous episode, "Mother". In "Mother", the Author is sitting in Granny's and holds up a bagel rather scornfully, asking Gold "What is this?" and Gold replies, "A bagel." To which the Author says "Is it?" As pointed out in the commentary, the audience assumes that the Author, supposedly being from the Enchanted Forest, may not be familiar with a bagel (much as Hook was unfamiliar with Jello and the Frozen gang pondered over a Twinkie declaring it a "magic cake" in deleted scenes from earlier episodes). In this episode the brick subtly hits when it's revealed that the Author/Isaac is a New Yorker; as New Yorkers are inevitably familiar with bagels, this means in the earlier episode the Author is actually disrespecting the quality of Granny's bagels.
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  • Butt-Monkey: Alternate!Lily, in the course of about five minutes of screen time, is knocked unconscious, shot with a cannon and dragged into the ocean, and has a heavy storage shelf dropped directly onto her (human) head.
  • Call-Back: August/Pinocchio said that one of the Authors was "a man named Walt". The letter to Isaac from the publisher is dated December 15, 1966, the day Walt Disney died. Of course, Isaac got the letter because the previous Author has "sadly passed away."
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The "Long Live Regina!" badge a fan gives to Isaac at his book signing almost gets him killed in the alternate world.
    • Isaac tells Henry that he won't allow him to change any of the new heroes' happy endings; Henry asks why, would that destroy the book? He doesn't answer, but the truth becomes clear when Rumple, in order to preserve his happy ending, fatally attacks Regina, an unheroic act—this allows things to start unraveling, letting Robin rush to Regina's side and Zelena show her true colors, breaking the book's reality so it can be rewritten, selecting a new Author, and even providing the ink through Regina's Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The conversation Belle and Rumple have is not unlike the one he had with Lacey in the Season 2 finale. But here he decides to make the wrong choice instead of the right one. They also replay the chipped cup scene from "Skin Deep", only with Rumple chipping the cup and frantically apologizing.
    • Emma's situation in the "Heroes and Villains" world is almost exactly like Jefferson's back in season 1: unwillingly taken to a different world, separated from their child, locked away from everyone else, keeping their memories of their real lives and getting called insane when they try to convince people of the truth.
  • The Corruption: The Apprentice reveals that the Dark One is actually an ancient darkness first defeated by the Sorcerer and bound to a human soul to control it, and that it poisons its host's thoughts and actions with darkness and evil.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Belle tells Rumple that he could have had his happy life with her all along if he had just accepted that she loved him. He tells her he couldn't ever bring himself to believe in it.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: Inverted. It comes in handy for Killian.
  • Deus ex Machina: August reappears at the right moment just to reveal he had learned of the storybook from the Apprentice, and what he looked like, so that Hook would recognize him and reveal his being imprisoned in the Hat, thus letting Mother Superior free him. Subverted when they are too late to stop the Author, but Double Subverted when Henry, left in the real world, still has the key which it turns out will unlock any drawing in a storybook.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: When the darkness of Gold's heart cannot be contained in the Hat. However, it doesn't completely come out of nowhere since the Apprentice did warn this could happen. Having it go after first the Apprentice, then Regina, thus forcing Emma to absorb it instead, is a much straighter example.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Isaac is deadset on ruining David and Snow's lives, not because he hates them personally, but because their happiness reminds him of all the people he saw who were successful and had happy endings, while he himself wasted away as an unknown writer. Because of this, he's more than willing to tear apart entire worlds just so he can come out on top.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: Emma finally tells Hook she loves him as she takes up the dagger and steps into the darkness. Only she doesn't die, she becomes the next Dark One.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending:
    • Why Emma decides to let the Darkness consume her instead of Regina; Regina has worked too hard and suffered too much to achieve her happiness, and Emma isn't going to let all her hard work and suffering be in vain.
    • This is also essentially the lesson being taught by this entire season and the Author arc: that there are no shortcuts, no easy way to become a hero or get a happy ending, and instead of looking for a cosmic rewrite to fix things, the answer is to change yourself by overcoming great difficulty. Even the fact there really was someone who had enforced bad endings (or prevented good ones) doesn't undermine the Aesop, since a) removing Isaac from the picture (and Henry breaking the quill) simply sets things back to the proper course of events, without a Manipulative Bastard controlling everything, thus making it possible to earn a happy ending again, and b) the quest to remove Isaac could itself be considered one of the challenges which must be overcome to earn that happy ending.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Ginnifer Goodwin is having an absolute blast getting to play a villain for once.
  • Evil Is Petty: Rumplestiltskin's horrible punishment for Hook turned out to be making him a laughable, useless coward who was not a captain, didn't know how to use a sword and was allergic to rum.
  • Exact Words: Isaac said he created a world where the villains are heroes, and vice versa. Therefore, the minute a hero starts acting like a villain (killing an innocent person, and to protect their own happiness at the expense of the murdered one's), the story starts unraveling and a new Author is chosen to fix everything.
  • Face/Heel Double-Turn: This alternate reality puts Regina as someone being persecuted by Snow White - the reverse of their alignments in Season 1.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Isaac informs Rumplestiltskin that he is one in the alternate world because Isaac wrote him to be a hero. He proves he's fake when he (tries) to kill Henry in order to preserve the world Isaac created.
  • First Law of Resurrection: An Author can resurrect a dead character if they die in a story that has been written, but not if they die in the real world (the Land Without Magic, the real Enchanted Forest, etc.).
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In hindsight, the entire subplot about Emma's potential for darkness and the darkening of her heart was to foreshadow her becoming the new host for the Dark One.
    • The Sorcerer's Apprentice notes that Isaac seeing the door leading to the Enchanted Forest is a sign that the Author believes in magic. The next Author has the Heart of the Truest Believer.
    • For that matter, Henry's strong interest in and connection with the storybook, considering the above.
  • Freudian Excuse: For Isaac, his Bad Boss and envy over watching other people being successful and happy.
  • Genre Blind: Isaac forgets what he wrote in his own story and thus leaves Henry behind to be saved by Hero!Knight!Rumple.
  • Genre Savvy:
    • When Gold questions Isaac on if his happy ending lies in the Enchanted Forest, Isaac replies that he knows things are not as glorious as the stories make them out to be and will stay in the real world. He also comes back to make sure Henry has been killed by an ogre after leaving him to die.
    • Henry uses Isaac's book to avoid Regina's traps and find her hidden home.
  • Ghost Town: Storybrooke becomes one, save for Henry, after the Author changes reality. It's genuinely unsettling.
  • Good Is Impotent: Enforced on Emma as part of her Cruel Mercy punishment: to remember everything but be unable to do anything to change it, both because she is a prisoner and because she isn't the Savior any more.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: As hinted in the last episode it is shown that the Dark One is actually a powerful darkness that has been bound to the soul of a human.
  • Hands-On Approach: Emma showing Hook how to use a sword again.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Both Killian and Regina sacrifice themselves in the alternate world to save Emma and Henry.
    • Emma performs one of a different sort to save Regina from the darkness.
  • His Name Is...: Subverted, the Apprentice is able to reveal the Sorcerer's name before he dies. What he doesn't reveal, however, is where he is...
  • Hope Spot:
    • When Emma appeals to Evil Queen!Snow to remember how she had taught her to hope, and it looks like her Savior power still existed, enough to get through to her mother...only for her to say hope is the most horrible thing she could experience, and try to kill her for reminding her of it.
    • Emma undertakes her Heroic Sacrifice with the stated hope that Regina and the others will find a way to save her.
  • Hypocrite: Isaac starts this whole scheme because someone told him he was a failure. Then he taunts Henry in the same way. Later, he calls out Snow and David for declaring themselves heroes despite doing morally questionable acts; obviously, he doesn't exactly have the moral high ground to do such a thing.
  • Improbable Age: Thanks to Isaac switching Regina and Snow's stories, we are told Regina somehow managed to ruin Snow life's when she was a child, even though this would have been before Snow was born. It's also not explained who killed James and what their motivation was. Of course in real life, Lana Parrilla is only a year older than Ginnifer Goodwin, so it's possible Snow has been given a bit of an Age Lift in this universe.
  • Ironic Echo: A lot of familiar lines are reused, often with a dark twist thanks to the circumstances or just who says them. ("I will always find you" comes to mind.)
  • Irony: In the alternate universe, baby Neal is Belle and Rumple's instead of Snow and Charming's. Which technically means that Gold stole their baby, like they did Maleficent's. Also, baby snatching is what Rumpelstiltskin is known for in the original fairy tale.
  • Kick the Dog: Isaac not only makes the heroes miserable in their lives in his book but he also gloats about how he did it and how it can't be undone.
  • Killed Off for Real: The Apprentice at the end of the second part.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: When Isaac starts gloating over Regina's failure to undo everything, Emma punches him in the face. And after spending most of his time as the Author rewriting reality to suit his own ends (make a better story, become a bestselling author), he sees all his plans undone by Henry, the new Author, who returns things to normal, bringing Isaac back to who he truly is: a struggling writer who has no magic, and is relatively unknown in the world.
  • Legion of Doom: Like everything else, this is a reversal of the original Council of Good from the pilot, only with some of the same members, the dwarves and Granny. (Conspicuously absent are Jiminy and Geppetto, Red, and the fairies, though the fairies are mentioned as members, and rivals of the dwarves.)
  • Light Is Not Good: Rumple as "The Light One". Though this is only after he tries to protect his happy ending.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Emma keeps her memories in the alternate world but nobody believes her claims (not too unlike Jefferson, actually). For that, she's locked away in a tower on an island, bound in chains.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • Just as in the pilot when Henry first found Emma in Boston, he has to tell a mother who doesn't recognize him, "I'm your son"... except this time, it's Regina. Also, the ingenuity he showed in getting to Boston in the first place recurs in him being able to track down Isaac, and the waitress he encounters even believes him to be a runaway again.
    • Charming tells Snow "I will always find you" again, though this time in a much darker context.
    • After killing Doc, Snow says "Now you're down to six", which is very similar to what Doc said to Snow after Stealthy died: "Now we're down to seven".
  • Mr. Exposition: The Sorcerer's Apprentice returns and continues in this role.
  • No Man Should Have This Power: Invoked by Henry when he becomes the new Author after Isaac loses that status for writing his own happy ending. Henry decides to break the quill rather than become the new Author.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: The ending takes this to a whole new level: Henry is the next Author (but rejects it after fixing everything), Gold is saved but will only live if his heart is strong enough, the Apprentice apparently dies, the Dark One's power can't be contained in the Hat and is freed from control, and Emma becomes the next Dark One to save Regina (after declaring her love for Killian). Now the heroes are left with the task of finding the Sorcerer, as he is the only one who can defeat the darkness once and for all... except the Apprentice is dead so can't tell them where he is other than "far away", and the one who was able to find people is now a) the Dark One and b) missing.
  • Personal Gain Hurts: An Author loses their title and power to change reality if they write their own happy ending. Isaac gladly gives up his power to write his own. Later, Snow tells Isaac that this classifies him as a villain because all he has ever tried to do is make his own life better and nobody else's, and in fact at other people's expense.
  • Personality Swap: The alternate world Isaac creates sees Snow and Regina swap personalities and roles.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Isaac goes out of his way to give Rumple better memories of his past with Baelfire in the new reality.
    • It's a bit of a twisted version of it, but Lily, who was built up as an "anti-Savior" who has all of Emma's darkness, is relegated to Snow and Charming's side in the Alternate Reality, which by the book's rules would mean that it considers her one of the good guys. She's also able to control the dragon form at will, as opposed to her Power Incontinence in Storybrooke.
  • Pocket Dimension: What the Alternative Reality can be seen as - it is not the Enchanted Forest of reality, it is one inside the book. People from the Enchanted Forest are taken there, with their memories, histories and personalities changed, making it an Alternative Reality; but it doesn't affect the multiverse-at-large.
  • Race Against Time/When the Clock Strikes Twelve: Because Henry has to flip through most of the book to find an empty picture to enter, he and Isaac end up in the last chapter. Thus he has only until the end of the day, when Robin and Zelena's wedding bells ring, to change things before the story becomes permanent.
  • Reality Ensues: Why Isaac prefers to stay in the Land Without Magic instead of the Enchanted Forest: a world of magic and fairies may seem great on paper, but then one takes into account the short life expectancy of a medieval-style world, in addition to the lack of modern medicine... (Also, to be fair, he had been trapped inside the book for an untold number of years.)
  • The Resenter: Isaac's true motivations to make villains win is because Snow and Charming remind him of a successful boss long ago and other people he encountered who had happy lives.
  • The Reveal: The Sorcerer's name is Merlin.
  • Reveal Shot: Part One begins with what seems to be a Knight in Shining Armor in the Enchanted Forest...only for the scene to change to an image and then pan back to reveal it's a program on a TV screen. It does, however, act as Foreshadowing of how Rumple will look as the Light One.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Isaac attempts this after reality is restored to normal, but is stopped by Snow and Charming before he gets far.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The original way the Sorcerer defeated the darkness was to bind it to a human soul that could be controlled through a magical dagger. Subverted in that the Dark One could and did often possess his own control mechanism and remain unchecked in the world. Later Averted when the Sorcerer's Apprentice tried to strip the Dark One of his darkness and imprison it in the magic hat, but the power was too strong to be contained.
  • Sequel Hook: Befitting a season finale, this episode opened up even more plotlines than season 3's:
    • Lily's dragon dad. Even Maleficent didn't know who the dad was. It's a dragon thing.
    • Rumple's life after his Dark One's days. After the darkness was removed, Rumple's heart was pure white, suggesting not much life or health left within it, or that the only man capable of containing the darkness for centuries was a purely good being. This could open up a redemption/recovery arc for him.
    • The Darkness was set free; now the heroes must find the Sorcerer Merlin to fight it.
    • Zelena was still pregnant; Robin Hood decided to stay.
    • Lily still has a grudge against Emma's parents.
    • Emma is the new Dark One and the dagger is still unclaimed.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Henry gets himself and Hook into the tower where Emma is being held captive by having Hook claim he was there for a prisoner exchange "from the kingdom of Kashyyyk". He then calls it the "Wookiee Prisoner Transfer" ploy, only confusing the pirate even more.
    • The scene where Evil Queen!Snow kills one of her underlings after they have failed to kill Henry and Regina is filmed in the same way as the "Baseball bat scene" from The Untouchables, where Al Capone (Robert de Niro) walks around a table full of his under-bosses talking about baseball and teamwork, before bludgeoning one of them to death.
  • Spanner in the Works: Henry, who Isaac can't write out of existence because he comes from the real world and ultimately is the one who undoes everything Isaac did. Emma also proves to be one as Isaac either couldn't remove her from the story or left her in as Gold dictated and her fighting skills prove helpful in the long run.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace/Wedding Smashers: Emma and Henry think this is what they and Regina need to do with Robin and Zelena's wedding, and in fact there is a battle between them and Rumple (outside the church); it turns out the interruption needed is not what they thought.
  • Swiss Cheese Security: Subverted; while the island where Emma is being held captive in a tower is easily reached (once you find a ship to cross the Bottomless Sea) and is guarded by only one Black Knight, that knight is actually Lily.
  • Sympathy for the Devil:
    • Isaac relates to Gold, because they both had access to unlimited power and yet were never content with it.
    • Snow tells Isaac that trying to gain happiness at the expense of others is something to be pitied, not idolized.
  • Taught by Experience: In the alternate world, Killian has never swung a sword in his life, but quickly discovers he has a knack for it when he does get into a fight.
  • Wham Episode: Rumplestiltskin has the darkness drawn out of his heart before it kills him. The darkness seeks a new host body and chooses Regina before Emma saves her and sacrifices herself to become the new Dark One.
  • Wham Line: His name is Merlin.
  • Wham Shot: The very last shot of the episode: The dagger falling to the ground with the name of the new Dark One on it. Emma Swan.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Sadly, Lily's plot is never resolved and she fades away from the show altogether—until, finally, in one throwaway (but amusing) line in the Season Seven (and series) finale.
    • Also, despite everything he did throughout this season, in the end Belle chooses to stand by Gold and thus breaks up with Will Scarlet (offscreen, but presumably amicably). As a result Will vanishes from the show after this episode.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Isaac makes it clear that he wants Henry dead. Also, Evil Queen!Snow has no problem trying to kill him. Though Good!Rumple does attack Henry, he's more conflicted about it.
  • You Have Failed Me: Double subverted when after finding out the dwarves had failed to kill Regina and Henry for her, Evil Queen!Snow starts going on about leadership, setting a good example, and motivating her people because they are a team—then she pulls out Doc's heart and crushes it with a casual "Now, you're down to six."
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