Once Upon a Time is back. At the end of last season we had a dramatic ending – Regina had been exposed for what she was, the whole town remembered who they were or who they had once been. It looked like Regina was doomed – but then, Rumpelstiltskin/Gold had his own plan and managed to bring magic to the world.
It’s from there that we start with a man in New York having a bad bad day where everything goes wrong – who gets a carrier pigeon with a Storybrook postcard with one word on it: “Broken”
In Fairy Land we follow a man, Prince Phillip riding across the wilderness all noble-knight like with his mysterious companion, to cut his way through thorns to a woman laying, asleep, princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). He tells his companion they don’t need to tell Aurora absolutely everything (uh-huh), before waking her with a kiss. She wakes happily (and the mysterious companion walks away to avoid having to watch them tongue wrestle) but is concerned by the castle being in ruins and her people apparently fled. Prince Phillip reassures her without giving her any answers, just basking in love and optimism that everything will be ok.
While they’re being twee, a wraith appears, knocking the mysterious companion (ok, I’m just going to call her Mulan from here because the mystery isn’t that mysterious if you’ve seen the sneak peaks) aside until Philip runs to fight it, cutting off a chain with an amulet attached – an amulet engraved with a T-shaped symbol.
Mulan takes off her helmet and Aurora has a little “zomg you’re a woman” moment (well she says “girl” and Mulan corrects her, because Mulan is already looking kind of awesome) and Phillip says Mulan has helped him a lot while Aurora has been snoring (she asks again, in disbelief “a woman?!”) Mulan tells them that the Qi Shen – the wraith – sucks souls, marking its victims first, but they all avoided the mark – except, Prince Phillip picked up the amulet and now has it branded into his palm. Aurora asks him what is wrong, but he lies and hides it from her.
They camp for the night at Mulan’s suggestion (with Aurora questioning but Philip, ultimately, supporting Mulan’s wisdom) and we have more lovey tweeness – but Phillip is still disturbed and leaves ostensibly to get fire wood. After a time Aurora comes out of the tent looking for him and finds Mulan making a fire and no Phillip. They realise he has left and Mulan guesses he has been marked – and is determined to go after him. Aurora wants to come as well but Mulan runs ahead, believing Aurora will just slow her down.
Aurora catches up and they have a little argument – Mulan saying that everything Phillip does he does for Aurora and he is sacrificing himself for her – in honour of his wishes she doesn’t want Aurora to put herself at risk. She also points out that she, Mulan, has much better chance against the wraith than Aurora. Aurora protests that she thinks Mulan loves Phillip as well.
They catch up with Phillip and Mulan offers to take the talisman, mark herself so Phillip can live (having previously said that love is sacrifice). Phillip refuses, he’s doing this to save both of them. He says “I love you” (who to I wonder? Aurora, Mulan or both) and the Wraith arrives, sucking his soul, collapsing.
Together, they lay Phillip to rest on the pedestal Aurora was laid upon and they seem to have learned some respect for each other. And Mulan tells her they have to leave – and tells her the full truth that Phillip was keeping from her. Regina cast a terrible curse that ripped everyone away from the land, leaving only this corner untouched. They were frozen for 28 years – and time only just started again, but the land is ravaged and more dangerous than before except for the safe haven they created.
In the real world of Storybrook, David/James and Wet Lettuce Mary Margaret/Snow are surrounded by magical purple magicy stuff and meet up with the celebrating Ruby and Grandma, the Seven Dwarfs – everyone with their memory back, the curse broken. Snow announces her intention to find her daughter – but she’s there, Emma Swan, looking more than a little bemused with the broken curse that she only half believed in and not entirely comfortable with Mary/Snow and David/James pulling her into a parental hug. Henry’s quick to leap into it though – calling David/James “grandpa”.
Leroy/Grumpy asks why they’re actually still in Storybrook though and why there were purple swirls of magic in Storybrook which is supposed to have none. Henry likes the idea and urges Mother Superior/The Blue Fairy to use magic – but she doesn’t have her wand or fairy dust. Leroy/Grumpy says they have to confront who is responsible – Regina, but Emma objects. It’s not Regina who brought magic to the world. Emma leads the small procession to go find Gold/Rumpelstiltskin, what he’s been planning and why he double crossed them. Mary/Snow and David/James want to talk family but Emma is shelving that conversation until she has a bottle of wine or two.
Any more family drama is interrupted by Jiminy Cricket/Archie telling them that Dr. Whale has incensed the crowd into a mob charging at Regina and they need to stop them killing her. Leroy/Grumpy wants to watch, but Jiminy/Archie urges them not to stoop to her level and Henry speaks up that, no matter what, Regina is his mother (at LAST Henry, ye gods that was a long time coming!). James/David also points out that if magic is back, the mob could be running into a slaughter in the face of Regina’s powers.
They arrive just in time to see the crowd confront Regina – Regina starts to use her magic on them but it doesn’t work – she’s powerless. Dr. Whale pushes her back against the wall, ready to strangle her when Emma, Mary/Snow and James/David arrive to intervene. Dr. Whale protests that James isn’t his prince to which James asks my question “who are you?” We get no answer but Emma and Mary/Snow insist that Regina be locked up for everyone’s safety.
In the prison they ask her why they haven’t returned to fairy tale land and Regina says they can’t – because there’s nothing to return to. Fairy Land is gone.
To Rumplestiltskin/Gold and Belle and Gold is learning that Belle has been there the whole time, imprisoned in the asylum by Regina. Rumplestiltskin turns his thoughts to revenge (oh Regina, what an enemy to make!) but Belle demands he let it go and not succumb to hatred. At his pawn shop he gets some clothes for Bell and puts on some gloves and opens a box with an amulet inside – with a T-shaped symbol on it (the same as the one the spectre wore in fairy land).
He goes to see Regina and informs her that magic is different here. We have some of the best lines of the show “I assume this is your doing,” “most things are.” So, perfectly Rumplestiltskin/Gold. He tells Regina that Belle made him promise not to kill Regina, but also makes it clear that he is Very Not Pleased by Belle’s treatment. So he won’t kill her, he’s going for a fate worse than death – and presses the amulet into her hand. He calls it “destiny” which can’t be escaped and is particularly unpleasant.
In the woods, Rumpelstiltskin/Gold uses his dagger to summon the wraith – and Regina feels it through the dark mark on the palm of her hand.
Back with Emma, she has only avoided the Big Family Talk for so long and, despite David/James urging her to wait, Mary/Snow begs to talk to Emma, since they’ve never talked as mother and daughter (and expresses some awkwardness since they have talked as best friends – including things like one night stands with Dr. Whale, much to David/James’s surprise). Mary/Snow asks why Emma is unhappy and Emma points out that for 28 years she has been alone and living with the fact that Mary/Snow sent her away. She knows they did it because they’re princes and princesses and heroes and for everyone, but she was still alone – she escaped the curse but if she had been cursed they would have been together.
Time to leave family drama and confront Rumplestiltskin/Gold. Bandying words with him doesn’t go well, as you’d imagine because he is just awesome like that. And yes he brought magic back and no he’s not going to tell them why. That’s when a storm starts, the ground starts shaking and lots of dramatic special effects happen outside which they have to deal with – but Gold/Rumple reminds Emma she still owes him. they leave –but Bell heard everything and comes out, crying. Gold/Rumple is mincing words, finding ways round his promise to her, he hasn’t changed – he’s still a man who makes wrong choices. She leaves in tears.
At the prison, the wraith moves to take Regina’s soul until the cavalry arrives – David/James throwing a chair and Mary/Snow using an aerosol and a lighter as a makeshift flame thrower to drive it off (looks like Mary has lost her Wet lettuceness). Regina tells them they can’t kill it, it will be back and it cannot be killed. David/James is pretty happy with that – let it eat Regina and then it goes away, but Mary/Snow objects and Emma makes it clear she has promised Henry, Regina will not die. The new plan is to send it far away. But first, when they’re alone, Regina asks Emma if Henry truly asked Emma to protect her – she says yes and Regina smiles (so much emotion and good acting in that smile).
The plan, use the Mad Hatter’s Hat (which Emma recognises as belonging to Jefferson who Regina claims not to know) to send the wraith back to fairy land, a place that no longer exists which should banish it. The Wraith arrives and they fend it off with fire – but Regina can’t make the Hat work because magic is so different in Storybrook. She keeps trying – but it only works when Emma grabs her arms and leans over her shoulder to look into the hat. A portal opens and the wraith falls into it – but in the last second it drags Emma in with it and Mary/Snow follows because she refuses to lose her daughter again.
David/James turns to Regina and demands to know where Emma and Mary/Snow has gone – Regina doesn’t know. David/James threatens her and she uses magic to throw him against a wall and entangle him in roots. She prepares to kill him until Henry enters the room. She stops and runs to him, but Henry won’t listen to her – he doesn’t want to see her again until she brings Mary/Snow and Emma back. He leaves with David/James. At home, David/James promises Henry he will find them.
Rumple/Gold meets with Belle and they have a touching reunion over the teacup he kept for her. He urges her to leave because he’s still a monster but she insists that’s exactly why she has to stay.
And Regina and Emma are unconscious, through the portal, in the ruins of a castle. With Mulan and Aurora standing over them – Mulan angry because the wraith that killed Phillip arrived through that portal…
Regina and Emma are in fairy land! We’re going to get an Emma/Regina/Mulan/Aurora storyline! Oh I am so looking forward to that I can’t even begin to say
And Mulan! At last, Mulan, this show has another POC which it has needed for a hellaciously long time. I’ve been thinking about the contrast between the active, militant Mulan and the passive, frilly Aurora but a) the demure Asian woman seems to be as much a trope as the martial artist Asian woman and b) Once Upon a Time has a long history of active, weapon wielding white women as well – Snow White, Emma, Ruby/Red Riding Hood, Grandmother – so I think it’s going to be something to watch to see who it develops
I loved that Emma was uncomfortable with the grand revelation of Snow and James as her parents. After all, she already has a friend relationship with Mary Margaret – and they’re about the same age as well, how do you go from best friends to mother/daughter especially considering what they’ve discussed in the past (relationship woes abounded). Add in Emma’s abandonment issues with being adopted and it’s not something that can simply be addressed.
I also loved that Regina was finally recognised as Henry’s mother and we had some more overt recognition of the actual relationship between them. We need some more of that.
All in all – an excellent first episode, I can’t wait to see more.