Okay, first let me explain….I didn’t skip an episode. I know that says Episode 13 up there, and I know the last recap I did was Episode 11….but it turns out that way back at Episode 8, “Shattered Sight”, the two hour episode that didn’t end the Frozen story arc…well, I should have counted that as Episodes 8 AND 9. Anyway…
So, we’re back! After a long mid-season hiatus, Once returned last night with a pretty promising installment.
The episode opens in the Enchanted Forest, a long time ago (so, before the curse and all that), in a place called the Forbidden Fortress. Turns out it’s Maleficent’s house, and she’s not too happy that Ursula has come for a visit. Ursula claims she was sent for, Maleficent denies it, and just as things get really heated between the two villainesses, two snarling Rottweilers herald the arrival of our third new baddie, Cruella de Vil. She quiets the dogs with her magical green breath (???? Yep, turns out the is version of Cruella has MAGIC. She can talk to the animals, call her Dr. Doolittle. This is a pretty big liberty to take with my girl Cruella, although it makes more sense for her to be in the Enchanted Forest to begin with if she is magic….so I’m willing to keep an open mind. For now. Especially because most Once story lines are better when they take more liberties with the source materials, rather than faithfully reproducing every detail. Like they did with Frozen. Okay, that was my last mention of Frozen. I’m just so glad it’s done.) Long story short, they were all summoned by Rumpelstiltskin, who tells them they can work together to get their happy endings.
Naturally, we return to present day with a tight shot of the Storybrooke clock, followed by a montage of happy Storybrookers going about their mornings. Henry’s off to school, Regina is settling back into the Mayor’s office, Snow is back in the classroom with birds alighting on her fingers, Granny is Prince Neal’s nanny, Emma and Hook are kissy kissy……and all of this goodwill and cheerfulness is because Gold is gone. Right? No more darkness in Storybrooke. Except….Hook is not that cheerful, he’s all delightfully glowery and smouldery over the fact that the fairies are still trapped in the hat. Belle tries to reassure him that she is doing mad internet research to find a spell to release the fairies – she’s emailed all the experts!! – and the Apprentice, and they bond (you get the sense it’s not for the first time) over how much Gold hurt and betrayed them.
We find a pretty pathetic, banished-from-Storybrooke Gold slumming it in Ursula’s, you know, 5th floor walk-up somewhere in deepest NYC, slurping ramen noodles and suffering the slings and arrows of Ursula’s discontent. Of course, Gold is already machinating his return to Storybrooke, so when he gets an email, it’s not really hard to figure out that he is intercepting one of Belle’s emails, and is going to send her some sort of misinformation or something. Whatever the email is, it’s enough to convince Gold it’s time to move forward, so he and Ursula head out to Long Island. They arrive at Cruella’s estate, in time to see her husband being taken away by the Feds and all of her possessions being confiscated. She’s not thrilled to see Gold, but, you know, he’s hella persuasive, and they set off in her coupe for Storybrooke.
Pause for one second. YESSSSSSS, Cruella’s car. ALSO, Ursula’s outfit, black and purple and subtly scaly, is KILLER, and SO much better than the goofy green look she’s got when she’s magical. Ok, unpause.
Back in the Forbidden Fortress, the ladies don’t think Rumple can pull off the whole happy ending thing. Maleficent says no spell can do what he claims, but Rumple says they’re not looking for a spell, but a curse. Mostly a filler scene, but Victoria Smurfit proves she can do a pretty damn good Glenn Close impersonation. Flash forward to the coupe full of villains, still talking about the same thing, but pulling up to a drive-through. Random. Very Shrek Fairy Godmother, right?
Emma goes to visit Regina at the Mayor’s office, because Emma is all about Regina these days, and discovers the illustration of Robin and Regina having their happy ending. They are having a moment when Belle and Hook burst in with the news that they know how to free the fairies. Okay, HOLD UP. Belle is all, “I found and incantation, and it’s in gobbledegook ancient language that no one has ever heard of, but I FOUND A PROFESSOR OF LINGUISTICS that translated it.” HOW IS THIS NOT SUSPICIOUS TO ANYONE??? NOT EVEN EMMA???? Like, because, of COURSE there is a professor at Oxford University who specializes in the ancient languages of the Enchanted Forest???? HOW did not even one of these people stop and think, huh, maybe we shouldn’t just blindly trust that this incantation, translated by someone we don’t know, is a good idea?? Okay, deep breath. Stop thinking, it’s Free the Fairies Day!
Regina, Belle, Snow, Emma and Hook head out into the forest with the hat box, and Regina waves the Dark One’s dagger around it for a minute. Golden light shoots out, and voila! Fairies everywhere. Also some creepy black smoke, which no one seems to notice, which turns into Chernabog. Which no one seems to notice. Because they are too busy having a group hug.
Rumple is leading the three bad girls into the deep into the bowels of somewhere, where there are several obstacles that each lady must get them through, a la Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Cruella gets rid of some gnarly bugs, Maleficent sucks up all the dragon fire, and Ursula uses her tentacle to grab whatever this magical object is that Rumple is after. Then he breaks the news to them that he’s leaving, and they are staying to be lunch for Chernabog, who feeds on dark hearts. Good news is, he’ll seek out the heart with the greatest capacity for darkness first.
Cruella is driving like a bat out of hell through Maine, when Gold tells her to stop. He’s left a marker at the town line, and explains to them that they have to figure out how to get into the enchanted Storybrooke. The ladies are not impressed, and Cruella even goes so far as to pull a gun on him. He’s literally on his knees to this woman, trying to convince them to help. Is he this desperate to get back to Belle, or this desperate to get back to his magic? Anyway, of course he has a plan to get them into town….
Broody Hook. Broody Hook. Yessss. Doesn’t want to party with everyone at Granny’s, and it’s just as well because the party is very short lived. Before we get to the abrupt ending, though, Regina approaches Blue to ask her about the Author. Blue tells her that the Author and the Sorcerer are NOT the same person. They are just puzzling over this new mystery when all hell breaks loose outside. Chernabog has made his way downtown. Emma and Regina fight him off pretty easily with a Wonder Twin Power Blast, but they need to get rid of him for good. Belle tells them that once something is freed from the hat, it can never be recaptured.
The Bad Girls Club decides that the one who Chernabog picks as being the most evil will draw his attention so the other two can escape, and then those two have to save her. He picks Maleficent, naturally….and Ursula and Cruella manage to grab her right in the nick of time.
Gold’s plan to get back into town involves Ursula and Cruella using his phone to call Regina. She’s holed up in the Mayor’s office with Emma, hiding from Chernabog, when she gets the call. She trades some nasty remarks with Ursula, who tells her that she and Cruella are back together, that Gold told them they can find redemption in Storybrooke, and all they want is a chance to change. Regina is about to deny them when Chernabog screeches outside. Ursula says she can tell her what Chernabog is after, if Regina will let them in. Regina says she can’t, but Emma says that the Snow Queen’s scroll might let them through the barrier. Ursula tells her that Chernabog is after the heart with the darkest potential – Regina’s, right? Regina is all ready to sacrifice herself, but Emma’s a bit of a plan-maker herself. She and Regina hop in the bug and race for the town line, with Chernabog in hot pursuit. After a hairy ride, Regina poofs herself out of the car. Chernabog sees her ahead at the town line, and leaps for her, catapulting himself right into the barrier and disintegrating, since as a magical beast he can’t survive outside of town. Pretty nifty. Snow and Charming arrive, you think it’s to make sure Emma is safe, but really they don’t want Ursula and Cruella to come in. Regina and Emma disagree, and toss the scroll through the barrier to them, and Cruella and Ursula drive right into town.
An increasingly anxious Gold is standing in the dark at the town line. Just when it looks like he’s given up hope that Ursula and Cruella will return for him, they toss the scroll through and just like that, Gold returns to Storybrooke. He’s not even trying to be secretive about it, as the next scene shows him WALKING RIGHT DOWN MAIN STREET with the two ladies, telling them how HE answered Belle’s email, and the spell he gave her not only released the fairies but also Chernabog, so that Ursula and Cruella could use their info about Chernabog as a bargaining tool to get into town. So if he could manipulate all of that, from outside of town with no magic, they need to stop doubting him, right? And now it’s time to go find Maleficent. Oh, and by the way, Chernabog WAS chasing the person whose heart has the darkest potential, but it wasn’t Regina, it was Emma.
We close with a romantic dinner for Hook and Emma, fondly watching Henry studying the book. Except, maybe not so romantic, as Hook wonders why Emma’s parents haven’t joined them? Jeez, Hook, you’ve got the candlelight, some wine, and your lady fair…why do you want her parents there? And, okay, I’ll bite. Where are Snow and Charming, anyway?
Just for funsies, the episode really ends with an odd secret encounter between Ursula, Cruella, Snow and Charming, during which Snow threatens to rip their hearts out herself if they ever tell anyone what happened between them in the Enchanted Forest. Sounds like a fun plot twist ahead!
All in all, I was pretty happy about this episode. I was kind of surprised that Gold made it back into Storybrooke so quickly, and with fairly little effort, but hopefully that means they’ve got so much awesome storytelling to cram into the second half of the season that they didn’t want to waste anytime.
So, what did you think? Are you hooked again?