Somebody call Valerie Cherish, because the subtitle of tonight’s Once may as well have been “The Comeback.” The hour saw three—count ’em!—big resurgences, two in the main storyline and one in the fairyback… all of which involved villains, or at least morally ambiguous figures. (Remember when August tried to convince Rumple that he was actually Baelfire? Doesn’t that seem like it happened 75 years ago?)
Much as the episode’s actual title implies, the fairyback focused on the Enchanted Forest’s most draconian scoundrel: Maleficent herself. Though she’s not all that draconian the first time Past Mal appears onscreen.
Regina discovers this for herself when she takes a Rumple-assisted jaunt over to the wasteland surrounding Forbidden Mountain, where Mal’s castle looms. The future Evil Queen is on hand because she’s hoping the Mistress of All Evil may be able to help push along her magical studies, getting her that much closer to exacting her revenge on Snow White. Unfortunately, when she arrives, she finds Mal to be less willing teacher and more magically hopped-up floozy, a snarky, Sleeping-Curse-doped-up shadow of her former self. Why? Because King Stefan defeated her years ago, using True Love’s kiss to awaken the princess Briar Rose—and in the years since, Mal has decidedly lost her groove. She can’t even shape-shift into a dragon anymore! She can, however, shape-shift her hair into looking like Christina Aguilera’s in the “Lady Marmalade” video, so all hope is not lost.
There’s also the matter of a certain burning bush—er, tree. It’s been aflame ever since Mal, in dragon form, laid waste to the lands around her castle half a lifetime earlier—and Regina, newly incensed after learning that Briar Rose’s daughter Aurora is about to get her own happy ending, believes if the evil fairy can extract that fire back into herself, it’ll spark the embers of magic still within her. Or something. You’d think Mal may have had this idea herself over the past few decades, but whatever; she doesn’t fight Regina, instead heading toward the tree.
I half expect to hear Val Kilmer’s voice gently encouraging Mal as she holds out her arms and breathes deeply, inhaling all the tree’s burn-y goodness. The bad ladies can’t tell, at first, if their plan has worked, but before long they get a chance to find out—because King Stefan’s arrived to ensure that Mal doesn’t get in the way of his daughter’s special day. It’s showtime. She’s just gotta ignite… the light… and let… it shiiiiiiiiine…
Except, whoops, the dragon transformation ends up being a bust. Ah well! To the gallows Mal and Regina go! (Although: Isn’t Regina… a queen? Does Stefan really have jurisdiction over her? How do the principalities of the Enchanted Forest and the surrounding environs work, especially in relation to one another? These are the thoughts that keep me up at night.)
It looks like all is lost for our fair not-heroines—until Regina refuses to go down without a fight. She burns through the ropes Stefan’s goons have tied around her wrists, and gives Mal a shortened version of Jack Shephard’s old tried-and-true “live together, die alone” speech. It’s enough to re-reignite the dragon fire within Mal—and soon enough, she’s making like Drogon, or at least a version of Drogon as animated by the best computer programs of 1997.
And so begins Mal and Regina’s beautiful friendship. Regina accompanies Mal to Princess Aurora’s bedchamber, where the fairy lays down a wicked sleeping curse; Regina returns to her actual magic tutor, Rumple, with a newfound zeal for learning and a nifty draught of sleeping potion. No wonder present-day Maleficent seems compelled to believe present-day Regina when she waltzes over to the Queens of Darkness and lies that she wants in on their secret circle; these two obviously go way back, even if Regina did break up with her best pal by imprisoning her beneath a library for decades.
Before the Evil Pink Ladies will allow Mayor Mills to join the most exclusive club in town, though, she’s going to have to prove her mettle by doing some normal things: drinking heavily, getting into a vehicle with a bunch of smug costume party refugees who have also been drinking heavily, not blinking in the wake of an oncoming train (coming from where? Going to where? How does Storybrooke’s magical isolation accommodate a frickin’ enormous train?), wrecking a car. Beyond the whole train thing—it’s a game of Chicken Regina loses, but only just—she seems to be passing their tests with flying colors. Soon, she tells the heroes, she’ll know exactly what the Queens of Darkness are plotting.
NEXT: But when are they gonna invite Regina to join them for Jingle Bell Rock?