Cinderella’s back! Ashley-slash-Ella has returned to Storybrooke, and while she’s still enjoying wedded bliss and mommydom, we’re about to learn a little more about her courtesy of some decadent flashbacks. Fun! Meanwhile, the Evil Queen is still rearing her ugly (oh, please, gorgeous) head, and our Savior dearest is still dealing with some serious hang-ups.
Great minds think alike, and Regina gets a tasty reminder of that fact when she, Snow, and Charming pay a visit to Mr. Hyde in lockdown with lasagna in tow. In theory, he should be so enticed by the scintillating smell of her delicious dish, as opposed to the prison slop he’s currently being offered, that he’ll cough up whatever intel she needs about the Evil Queen’s mysterious comeback. Is she a zombie? A ghost? In debt to Rumple? Or simply alive again? Who knows. And we don’t find out because Evil Queen’s already beaten her to the punch, with a room decor overhaul to match his fine cuisine prize for giving up information. The new price of access to Hyde’s mind, he informs our heroes, is removal of his cuffs.
Meanwhile, newcomers are flooding Storybrooke and Henry’s working his tail off to keep tabs on everyone. Ashley Boyd is back, sans the glass slippers, with her cute kid Alexandra, and she’s opened the doors of her daycare center to anyone with little ones in tow. She asks to see Henry’s list for the sake of scouting out parents in need of her assistance (and leaves her girl in Hook’s surprisingly capable and cute hands), but as soon as she sees Clorinda the not-wicked stepsister’s name on the list, she takes off with her handsome husband’s rifle to do goodness (or badness) knows what.
This is when the Ella-centric flashbacks begin, starting with the Cinderella story we all know and love-hate so well. Ella’s horrible stepmom wants her real daughters to rank tippy top of the eligible bachelorettes in the king-to-be’s list; they’re nasty and burn Ella’s late mother’s prized dress. Ella’s hopeless and sad and has only one friend in the world: an ebullient mouse named Gus. She does find a key like what her mother had described in such platitudes of optimism, but she doesn’t believe in magic, so she stows it away for another day.
Emma’s still dealing with her tremors and flashbacks, and she interrupts one of the seven dwarves’ therapy sessions with Archie to talk about her stifling predicament. The best he can figure, it’s just psychological stress of Hook wanting to shack up that’s taking on a physical manifestation or two (ughhh, shrink stuff), but he does leave her with the little nugget of wisdom that she shouldn’t give up on trying to accomplish her goals just because it’s hard. Maybe he should counsel dalmatians instead of people? Just a thought.
Dr. Jekyll tries to use his science skills to track down the cause of Evil Queen’s resurrection, but without his full lab and equipment, it’s all for naught. That is, until Snow White sees something that everyone else is overlooking among his stash of supplies from the downed dirigible … a partnership with one of the newcomers.
Like daughter, like mother, Snow White is also having something of an existentialist crisis. She’s got a touch of nostalgia going on about the olden days when she was a school teacher, and with so many new faces around town, now seems like the perfect time for her to revisit the profession. You know, after they do away with the Evil Queen. This “defeat and repeat” savior business is for the birds.
On Emma’s end, the situation is two-fold. Not only is she warring with herself and the bleak visions of her grim future, but she’s also afraid of taking the next step with Hook because she knows — or has been told, which is always so reliable — that she has no happy ending ahead. She’s willing to brush that debacle aside to help Ashley/Ella by setting a magic shoe on her trail (an operation tentatively named Operation Cobra, Part II), and that’s when we get another flashback that tells us the second familiar act of Cinderella’s story: the ballroom dance that she’s been readied for by her fairy stepfather Rumplestiltskin at which the prince falls madly in love with her over her unique choice of footwear and her supreme waltzing skills. Only, there’s a twist.
NEXT: Evil step-sister? Not so much …
For starters, worlds collide as they so often do on this show when Ella accidentally makes auto-besties with Princess Snow by being clumsy-footed in those awkward kitten heels (and the audience gets a clever fourth wall-ish wink about why we can’t call Cindy’s prince Charming because that name’s already taken, thankyouverymuch). More importantly, instead of flitting away as the clock strikes midnight for fear of her guise coming undone before the prince’s eyes, she actually leaves out of embarrassment because her wicked stepmother gamely convinces her that the prince only pretended to have eyes for her because he could see right through her, and everyone’s in on the joke except Ella. Ouch. It only bolsters her stepmother’s terrible story that the prince is spotted giving a rose to her seemingly also evil stepsister Clorinda, so that glass shoe on the staircase thing takes a dark turn indeed.
Charming’s also dealing with some inner turmoil as he decides to track down the origin of his father’s coin. Rumple’s got some information to share, but, as always, there’s a price for it. Thankfully, it’s not too onerous a task; all he has to do is deliver an audiotape to Belle on Rumple’s behalf, and whether she listens to it or not is up to her. (Spoiler alert: She does, and in it, Rumple’s putting on his best Jamie Fraser from Outlander impression with a sweet story for their bairn-to-be. D’aw.)
The twists continue in Ella’s backstory when we find out that Clorinda wasn’t really so bad after all. Just as Ella’s about to take leave of her cruel family with the special key that unlocks a portal to the land of wonderfully pure imagination and time-killing, Clorinda fesses up that she’s not after the prince’s hand at all. In fact, the gent she’s really set her eyes on is his foot-servant, Jacob, who’s asked her to marry him. The prince wasn’t giving her his rose as some Bachelor-esque gesture; he was merely passing along a message from his pal.
When we come back to present-day Ashley, as she’s toting a rifle on the docks, she’s not out for revenge against her former step-sister, as everyone thought. Quite the opposite, actually. As it turns out, it’s she who committed the biggest wrong against Clorinda by spilling the beans on her romantic getaway locale to her stepmother, who decidedly does not approve of her daughter ending up with the likes of him. To be fair to Ella, her confession of Clorinda and Jacob’s whereabouts was under threat of glass slipper murder, which happened anyway, but it’s not like she didn’t try to stop stepmother from getting in the way of their nuptial plans. It’s just her stepmom is so gutting with comments like, “You look like a trash bin and have the education of my cat,” in response to Ella’s suggestion that she could marry the prince and bring their family into money and esteem once more.
Speaking of sisterly drama, Regina is none too thrilled to discover that her not-better half, Evil Queen, has already got her claws in Zelena — having even offered up a priceless family heirloom to the baby as a token of solidarity. But Zelena’s sorry-not-sorry about making nice with Evil Queen because she’s still not totally thrilled that Regina ripped her own personality in half to get rid of the parts that resembled the Wicked Witch she calls sister.
Meanwhile, the Evil Queen does her best to eliminate the threat of Emma Swan’s magic coming into use by taking her and the boys off the proverbial “chess board,” and in another Cinderella-centric flashback, we watch as stepmother removes herself from the chessboard of her own life … with a heartbroken Clorinda in tow as she steps through the magic key portal, leaving Jacob to wallow in his loneliness without her.
Ashley eventually finds Clorinda hiding out in a pumpkin patch, but she’s not alone. She’s got wicked stepmother with her, and what’s worse is that all this time has allowed her stepmother to fill Clorinda’s head with stories of Ashley/Ella’s betrayal that day at the castle tower. Clorinda wants some homegrown revenge, which involves putting a stop to Ella’s happy ending by blunt force. See, the prince didn’t care that Ella was a nobody in rags or that her proof shoe had been shattered; he wanted to make her a princess, and so he did, but Clorinda’s spent this whole time pining for Jacob and what could have been for her.
Good thing the ground they’re standing on just so happens to belong to Jacob, and he’s still got a thing for Clorinda, because otherwise this could’ve ended badly. Oh wait. That’s right. Stepmommie dearest doesn’t give a Gus’ butt about Jacob, and she still wants her justice for not becoming the Queen Mom (think Cersei Lannister levels of power-hungriness, but without the haircut here), so she stabs Ashley anyway. Thankfully, Emma’s able to pull herself together long enough to heal the wounds, and voila! Evil stepmother finds herself working as a farmhand, and all is right in the world again.
Well, except for the fact that David/Charming finds out that his dad was actually murdered way back when. He assures Snow he’s got too much to live for to go off some epic revenge spree, but even he doesn’t believe that. Oh, and the Evil Queen has just freed Hyde from his shackles so that he can help stop all that pesky progress on figuring out how she got back.
But back to the happy bits. Emma musters up the courage to ask Hook to move in with her, which he accepts, and Dr. Jekyll finds a new friend in all-things-nerdy in the form of Dr. Whale (formerly known as Frankenstein), who’s got all the lab stuff a guy could want and whose only apparent hang-up is a peculiar sense of protectiveness over the contents of his fridge.