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'Once Upon a Time' recap: 'Lily'

Emma comes face to face with Mal’s long-lost daughter, who’s got plenty of secrets of her own.

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Jack Rowand/ABC

Once Upon a Time

TV Show
Fantasy, Drama
run date:
Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla
Current Status:
In Season

Son (or daughter) of a witch!

It’s a good thing “Lily” ended with something of a bombshell—because otherwise, tonight’s highly-anticipated installment felt like a bit of an anticlimax. For any other show, an episode that has a plot you can easily explain in a sentence (Emma and Regina leave Storybrooke to track down Maleficent’s daughter; they do) wouldn’t necessarily be cause for concern. On Once, though—which is at its best when it’s being crazy-go-nuts-bonkers—these sorts of hours tend to land with a whimper rather than a bang. 

Even the fairyback was more snoozy than gripping—perhaps because a) it was a regular ol’ flashback rather than a B-plot set in the Enchanted Forest, and b) it hit all the same beats as the flashback sequence that introduced Lily in the first place, remixing them only slightly and concluding with a different twist. As a reminder: Young Lily and Young Emma met each other as 15-year-old delinquents, became fast pals, then separated—as far as we knew, for good—once Emma learned that her new BFF had lied about her home life. 

As it turns out, the two actually had one more encounter, apparently not long after the first. Sometime after running away from crazy Snow Queen Ingrid’s group home, Emma came to live with another foster family. (Which… how does that work, exactly? How’d she get from the streets to the Cleavers‘ place? And when exactly, did Emma come to live with the Swans? Were they the family she mentioned in the show’s pilot—the ones who adopted her, then gave her up at three years old because they wanted to have their own children? Also, who does that? Can someone get me a Carrie Mathison conspiracy cork board so we can plot this all out?)

Ahem. Anyway: Emma’s living with a nice, normal family when Lily somehow tracks her down, pleading that she needs her old friend’s help. What she doesn’t explain—until Emma happens to catch a news report, forcing her to come clean—is that Lily got roped into armed robbery, and she’s currently hiding from the cops. She needs to skip out of town for good—but before she goes, Lily persuades Swan to sneak into the cartoonishly graffiti-covered flophouse where she and her boyfriend have been squatting to retrieve the one belonging that has any meaning to Lily: the necklace she got from her birth mother. Suddenly, I’m picturing Lily in a red wig, belting out “Tomorrow.”

Lil’ Emma’s errand is successful—until she arrives home to an angry set of foster parents, who demand to know where she was and inform her that Lilly has disappeared… along with their entire vacation fund. Aww, man, now Wally and the Beav will have to wait weeks to make their s’mores! The scene ends with Emma exiting her new home, but not because she’s been kicked out—it’s because her foster father (whose name, apparently, is Bill) makes the mistake of accusing her of endangering “our” children. As in, his and his wife’s natural-born kids. As in, a group of which Emma will never be a part. That stings.

Angry as Emma is at her soon-to-be-former foster parents, she’s even more livid at Lily—especially when the bad seed slithers up beside her at a bus station, saying that the two of them can live like damn hell ass kings with all the money she’s stolen. When Emma rebuffs her, Lily tries a new tactic; she reveals that her adoptive family has kicked her out, and says that nothing in her life seems to go right anymore unless Emma is around. Aaand we have officially entered Heavenly Creatures territory.

Even so, Emma wants nothing to do with her cursed counterpart—and so she walks away from Lily forever. Little does she know that Lily’s about to get a crash course in why, exactly, her life seems to be on a downward spiral—from none other than the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

How did the Apprentice manage to cross over into our world and track down Lily? Why does Lily’s increased potential for darkness translate to Chris-Pine-in-Just-My-Luck Syndrome, especially when she’s living in a land supposedly Without Magic? If the Apprentice told Lily everything she needed to know about her true parentage and the Enchanted Forest, why, exactly, did she need to construct her own Storybrooke-related conspiracy cork board once she grew up and morphed into Agnes Bruckner?

All worthy questions, perhaps—but they’re not ones you’ll see answered in the episode’s A-plot. Instead, it finds Maleficent defecting from Rumple’s team and joining forces with the good guys… so long as they can help her track down her daughter. Who, Emma soon discovers (thanks to… microfilm?! Man, Storybrooke really is trapped in the Stone Age), just so happens to be her old pal Lily.

NEXT: Swan Queen road trip, anyone? (Yellow punch buggy, no punch backs!)