Every May for the past four years, Once Upon A Time has left us with some serious cliffhangers to keep us guessing about the next big baddie all summer long. Season 4, which ended a little under a month ago, offered a bit of a different conundrum. Instead of teasing Storybrooke's latest villain, the writers instead kept evil closer to home in the form of Emma becoming the new Dark One. It was a twist that wasn't entirely a surprise, but was nonetheless devastating and will undoubtedly form the basis of much of Season 5. And while saving Emma may be the central focus for most of our main characters, I'm pretty sure there are bigger problems at hand — not to mention smaller ones that need to be solved before we can truly dedicate ourselves to the task of restoring the Savior to her former self.
It's clear that Season 5 of Once will be much, much different than all those that came before. Emma's current predicament is, at the very least, a chance for real character development for those she's left behind. Regina will struggle with guilt and likely step into the hero role. Henry will have to discover the true meaning of his new-found power. Hook will likely mope over losing Emma, Robin will focus on his new child with Zelena of all people, Gold will suddenly find himself plain old Rumpelstiltskin again... you get the drift. But if we're really going to give these characters room to breathe, we need to work out the minor stuff to make room for the major.
What's Going On With Belle & Rumpel
Belle went nuts when she realized Rumpel was about to die because of his blackened heart. He's alive, barely, and in a magical coma, but I have to ask: REALLY? Sure, Belle never truly stopped loving Rumpel, but does the fact that he was going to die really undo all the crap he put her through for years on end? And lest we forget, Belle seemed to be quite happy with Will... This needs to be addressed and Belle needs to not be a doormat.
What To Do With Zelena
It's all fine and well to have Zelena locked up in a prison cell with a no-magic-allowed bracelet while she grows Robin's child in her womb. But that's not going to last forever, and while Once is great at giving villains realistic, meaningful chances at redemption, I don't for one second think Season 5 will open with Zelena begging for forgiveness and turning over a new leaf. There's no in between with her character, so they need to commit to one direction and follow through.
Giving Lily A Purpose
Emma brought Lily back to Storybrooke to reunite her with her mother, Maleficent, and that's heartwarming and all, but what are they going to do with her now? "Operation Mongoose" gave us a tiny hint at what her real goal is — to find out who her father is — so we'll likely see that happen, but we need to see more of a reason for her even being there if we're going to accept her as part of our Storybrooke family.
Making Emma's Struggle Realistic
Emma becoming the Dark One is a massive opportunity for everyone, not least of which is Emma herself. But her struggle against the darkness that's overtaken her needs to be handled carefully so it remains true to who she is. Don't forget, Emma's the Savior, so it's not like becoming the Dark One is suddenly going to change her into an unrecognizable monster — at least not immediately. I'd love to see the complexity of her internal light and this new darkness battling one another.
Setting Some Guidelines
Let's get a few things out of the way here: True Love's Kiss is not going to break Emma's curse. From anyone. We're not talking about a sleeping curse, here — this is all the evil in the entire WORLD. It's gonna take more than a little romance (especially from the likes of Hook) to work this out. Also, Emma can't stab herself with the dagger to kill the evil and then magically survive. No easy ways out. This is going to be a long, hard road, but it needs to be traveled right.
Getting Rid Of Extraneous Storylines
If it's not important, don't bother with it. It was nice that we got the whole Queens of Darkness trio last season — they were a fun means to an end and the way to introduce some new characters. But this season is all about the Dark One, so anything that doesn't further that storyline needs to go or not even be attempted in the first place. I like a little diversion every once in a while, too, but sometimes it's just not worth it (looking at you, Frozen).