Okay, first things first: if you haven’t watched the Once Upon a Time season 4 finale yet, TURN BACK NOW! It was a massive game-changer, and I don’t want to spoil it for you!
Still here? Okay, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. The two-part finale “Operation Mongoose” saw Isaac fulfill Rumpelstiltskin’s request of writing a new story where the villains could get their happy endings. Titled Heroes and Villains, this new book featured Snow White as a surprisingly effective Evil Queen, Prince Charming as her number-one lackey controlled through his ripped-out heart, Regina as the forest-dwelling object of Snow’s wrath, Rumpelstiltskin as a cheesy knight in shining armor known as the Ogre-Slayer or the Light One (I know, it doesn’t have quite the same ring as the Dark One), and Captain Hook as a bumbling, nerdy deckhand (seriously, he doesn’t know how to fight and drinks goat’s milk instead of rum because he’s allergic to the latter). Basically the heroes and the villains have swapped places and backstories, with the notable exceptions of Robin Hood and Belle. Robin Hood is still stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, and Belle is just as sweet and kind as ever.
Of course, no one remembers the truth of the situation except Emma, whom Snow has locked in a tower to prevent her from undermining her rule. Fortunately for Emma, Henry finds a way to enter Heroes and Villains (after the book was finished, he was left in an abandoned Storybrooke as he had not been born in the Enchanted Forest, so there was no place for him in the story), rescue his birth mother, and convince his adopted mother that he and Emma are telling the truth.
In the end, Henry becomes the new Author and uses his power to undo everything Isaac has written. All’s well, a happy ending is in sight…except for Rumple, whose heart is quickly turning black. The Dark Curse is about to completely consume him; the good in him, the part that Belle loved, is almost gone. Rumple is about to die, and there will be nothing left of him to fight against the Dark One.
Here’s where things get crazy–the Sorcerer’s Apprentice attempts to save Rumple’s life by sucking the darkness out of his heart and trapping it inside the Sorcerer’s Hat, effectively shearing Rumple of his power–long story short, he is no longer the Dark One. But the darkness is too powerful for the hat to contain, and it breaks free and seeks out a new host.
At first it targets the Apprentice, but Emma uses her magic to drive it off. It then seeps out into the night and targets Regina as a suitable candidate, but Emma refuses to watch Regina become evil again after her struggle to regain her goodness. Instead, Emma offers herself to the darkness as its new host.
As the darkness eventually fades, Emma is nowhere to be seen…but the Dark One’s dagger is lying in the road, and a new name is engraved upon the blade: Emma Swan.
So that was the big cliffhanger for season 4–Rumpelstiltskin is no longer the Dark One; Emma now possesses that power. Oh, and apparently the Sorcerer is Merlin; he’s the one who bound the darkness to the dagger in the first place so there was a way of controlling it, and our heroes have to find him because he’s the only one who can drive the darkness from Emma and destroy it completely (never mind that we know from season 1’s “Skin Deep” that True Love’s Kiss is powerful enough to break even the Dark One’s power). Season 5 should certainly be interesting!