Once Upon a Time isback and begins with a flashback – way back when little Emma was living on the streets and a kind young man who is obviously Pinocchio (who was sent back to watch her, remember) mangles the story of the Ugly Duckling to get her back on track: basically that you can be whatever you want so long as you believe in yourself
Ugh I forgot how utterly saccharine Once Upon a Time can be. Can I also say how really awful this is to do that with this story? I mean, don’t get me wrong “Ugly Duckling” is terrible anyway – since it still upholds beauty as necessary and not loving yourself: but “if you have no self-esteem and you try really hard you can be someone other than your worthless hideous self” manages to be worse
Anyway, having baby Emma’s head filled with the worst lessons ever, she chooses Swan as a second name to tell us that she’s truly internalised them
Also, this is why you should never let me tell fairy tales to your kids.
So back to the present and Regina and Emma are caught in magic mirror land which is all a bit weird and I rapidly begin to lose patience. Since they missed their previous portal they need a new way out. Emma finds Pinocchio; since his dad was the one who created the last portal cabinet. She talks to him, manages to convince him super super super easily that he lives in a mirror world and nothing is real (really, everyone in this episode is so quick to believe their world isn’t real). We have a brief interlude from an older Killian who has let himself go and, via a broken chisel, Pinocchio has a sudden crisis of faith and that means Emma has to feed him his own message – if you believe in yourself you can be a master capenter too!
See, never mind skill and practice and talent, it’s just belief! Yes, I’m a terrible cynical person but I do so hate the fluff
Also, no matter how damn powerful your belief is, if you think you can make a cabinet by hitting a tree with a chisel then you’re not going to become a master carpenter. And this is me saying this, the closest I get to carpentry is separating chopsticks.
At this point I’m losing patience, why are we even in this mirror world
So we join Regina who is with fake!Robin and Regina is having a bit of an angst attack. Because everyone in this world seems to be deliriously happy without her and it looks like we’re lining up for a whole Regina’s pain storyline which can we please not, pleaaaaaaase not again.
She catches up with Robin and gets all sad when she realises he’s all happy as well: everyone is happy without her. After which they’re both captured which allows more heart-to-heart in which Robin is, as I said before, bizarrely willing to accept that he’s in an alternate world. Of course he is.
He also reveals that in this world he’s not Robin Hood – because though he steals he never gives it away (this would make sense if we accept that the Kingdom of Snow and Charming is actually fair and just. There would be no need for a vigilante. Of course, I call horseshit because I’ve seen how competent these two are and their kingdom would collapse into a hot mess of awful faster than you could say “disaster” “apocalypse” or “Brexit”). He also reveals Marianne is still dead (because she would be hella inconvenient) and no, he’s not happy
Lifeline Regina! One person’s life is better with you in it. Sure he’s dead. But he was happy before he died!
They make their escape and join Emma with her dubiously created magical cabinet. And Emma suggests bringing Robin as well – because maybe some part of the original Robin may be part of him. Regina is wary – but she’s wary because it’s her; because she never catches a break, because she never gets her Happy Ever After. Because she always has the painful ending.
Emma convinces her and they go through the cabinet - and make it back to Storybrooke.
And for a moment I thought Robin didn’t come through and I was ready to curse out Once Upon a Time again… but he makes it!
Of course, how close this Robin is to the other Robin remains to be seen. Also, what about his kids? Lots of questions here
In Storybrooke another thing happened – Gideon appeared, Rumple and Belle’s missing son, now 28 years old. Raised by the Black Fairy… he claims he didn’t have a terrible childhood but she “toughened” him up which pretty much says he did have an awful childhood. It didn’t do his moral compass any good – he’s decided he needs to be the hero, the Saviour, to save that world from the Black Fairy. And to become a hero/saviour he needs to kill another hero/saviour. Hence his aiming for Emma
This… is not how heroism works.
Rumple and Belle try to explain it to their son but he’s not very receptive to reason. Rumple even tries to confront him, to show he’s incapable of killing by provoking an attack (no small part of this is probably due to his guilt over what happened to Gideon and thinking he deserved to be attacked). Gideon sidesteps this by disappearing – it seems to be something he does whenever confronted and needing to talk
Belle in particular appeals to David (who has decided to protect Emma by doing all the work himself and leaving Mary Margaret to sleep. Which is really patronising because it assumes a sleep-deprived David is more capable than Mary Margaret. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not waving the flag for Mary’s competence, good gods I am not – but David is in the same boat here. At least he recognises how ridiculous his wish was) and Killian for peace: David wants Gideon dead because he’s a threat to Emma while Belle hopes there’s a peaceful resolve for this.
Everyone meets up in the main square – where Gideon and Emma have their confrontation. Everyone else is frozen by Gideon’s magic (Rumple and Regina have, like so many other times, completely forgotten they have magic) and it comes down to a sword fight between Gideon and Emma, just like her visions.
Gideon manages to disarm her, and her hands shake just like in her visions. And then she has a whole BELIEVE moment and zaps him with her magic (oooh magic, it exists) breaking his sword as well
Really, a whole season of ominous foreshadowing is over in a moment because Emma belatedly remembered a mangled Ugly Duckling story. I am disappointed Once Upon a Time you don’t build a story for this long and end it so casually. Booo.
Gideon flees – again this seems to be a pattern with him – and everyone gathers to celebrate except Rumple and Belle who are obviously very torn about this. This is understandable as they gather at the well to discuss what they’ve done wrong, their son’s fate and whether they did right to sever it or let it develop naturally – it’s a very civilised argument with a whole lot of pain. And with Rumple owning a lot of his flaws – he insists he would have allowed Gideon to grow up naturally (I call shenanigans). But he sees his own flaws in Gideon – being a being of darkness reaching for people of the light, not understanding, trying to get more power no realising it’s just poisoning him more. Constantly trying to save himself but only making things worse. While Belle is coming to see how easy it is to rationalise doing the wrong thing
There’s a lot these two are going to have to unpack. And it looks like Rumple is stepping back on that Redemption Train again.