The Evil Queen casts a curse; meanwhile, bail bonds collector Emma Swan has a terrible birthday
Once Upon Goodwin
Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

When I was little, my green felt copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales felt magical. I never thought the stories were real, and I never really clung to the whole princess thing, either. (I was a Pink Power Ranger type of kid.) Still, there was always something about those stories that felt ancient and mysterious, but also familiar and comforting at the same time. The good guy won, the princess was saved by her doting prince, they paid all of their bills on time, and the big bad disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.

Unfortunately for little Henry, this is not the case in the upside-down world of Once Upon a Time. If you didn’t have time to tune in last night, I apologize in advance if this recap sounds like an especially disturbing chapter from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. But I don’t think that Ken Kesey could have dreamed this one up. No, this is the kind of television that could only come from the minds behind Lost. Flashbacks and destinies? Don’t mind if I do!

It all began on a relative high note. The prince galloped through an enchantingly beautiful forest, searching for his missing princess. He found the immaculate Snow White dead in a coffin, surrounded by her grieving, vertically challenged comrades. It was sad, but Ginnifer Goodwin looked super fly in her virginal Snow White coffin gear. Well done! The prince sweetly kissed her, bringing her back from the dead as a burst of magic rippled through the forest. “You found me,” she said in a daze. “Did you ever doubt I would?” he puffed. “Truthfully? The glass coffin gave me pause.”

We then flashed to a castle chapel somewhere in Fairytale, where Snow and Prince were getting hitched. What joy! Snow’s castle was pretty, but it didn’t hold a candle to the stunning and intimidating Eyrie or even Winterfell on Game of Thrones. Captivating scenery can be important on moody, stylistic shows like this. We’re living in crazy times. But okay, it gets brownie points for the Lisa Frank-colored stained-glass windows.

So in stormed the Evil Queen, wearing a remarkable outfit that managed to incorporate a tall hat, a veil, pointy shoulder pads, feathers, and a bustier. Snow pulled Prince’s longsword on her longtime foe, but the Queen’s plan was already in motion. “You’ve made your vows, now I make mine,” she cackled. “Soon, everything you love — everything all of you love, will be taken from you forever. And out of your suffering will rise my victory. I shall destroy your happiness if it is the last thing I do!” The people of Fairytale panicked as the Queen turned into the Smoke Monster and exited the premises. Game on.

NEXT: Who says you can’t spend your birthday alone?

Now I don’t mean to get all Fringe here, but I don’t know how to make these frequent universe-shifts easily understandable without calling our universe the Prime. So, after the wedding, we made our first visit to the Prime universe. There we saw a little boy, Henry, reading a book of fairy tales in a cab, and House‘s Jennifer Morrison looking super, super fly at a swanky Boston restaurant. Date night! Conveniently, this little blind date provided a healthy dose of exposition. She told the guy that her name was Emma, that it was her birthday, and that she had no friends or family to spend it with. This would probably be a red-flag for most men, but Emma looked amazing in that dress. “You are the sexiest friendless orphan I have ever met,” he gushed. Before I had a chance to think that this was her happy meet cute, she revealed herself as a cutthroat bailbondsperson and took him down.

But despite the violence it was still her birthday, you see, and what good is a birthday without cake? Emma went home to light a candle for herself, and I think we were supposed to feel bad for her for being alone and sad and whatnot. The inherent problem in this was that Emma’s apartment was absolutely amazing. Floor to ceiling windows, stainless steel appliances, and a view. Also, it was a corner unit! She must be a very talented bailbondsperson. I wouldn’t need friends if that were my place, either.

Emma lit the candle, and enjoyed what would be her last moment of peace on this crazy, crazy show. Then, in came Hurricane Henry! Henry is sweet, but also seriously damaged and impressively direct and well-spoken for a kid his age. In other words, kids are probably brutal to him at school. He stormed in to Emma’s pad and said something like this: “Mom! Happy effing birthday. You gave me up for adoption ten years ago and now you need to come home to Storybrook, ME with me, or else I’ll call the cops and say you kidnapped me.” Then he drank her juice straight from the container. Emma’s face was an appropriate mix of “huh?” and “this is terrible.”

Despite the unfortunate nature of her situation and the legal closed-ness of her adoption, Emma decided to drive Henry all the way back to Maine. Her icy, single white urban woman female was melting already! She noticed the book of stories during the ride, and Henry casually mentioned that Emma was a main character. Right.

Back in Fairytale, a now very pregnant Snow expressed her concerns to Prince. Prince thought that the Queen’s threats were baseless, and besides, she wasn’t technically a Queen anymore, anyway. Snow wasn’t so sure. “She poisoned an apple because she thought I was prettier than her.” This was a reasonable argument. To be safe, Prince and Snow made a terribly cheesy visit to a terribly cheesy dungeon to see Rumpelstiltskin. At this point I don’t know what to make of him. The concept of the show is pretty silly to begin with, but the presence of solid actors like Ginnifer Goodwin and Giancarlo Esposito, as well as the Lost writing team, gives it a fighting chance. I just need them to tone down the stuff with the fairies and the ridiculous dialogue and the Rumpelstiltskin.

Anyway, Rumpelstiltskin explained that the Queen’s curse would take away their time, banishing them to someplace horrible. They would lose everything they had ever loved, and the Queen would laugh. Oh, she would laugh! I think it was Gore Vidal who said, “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” The Queen is a completely motiveless villain at this point. She wants nothing but Chaos, Absolute. She’s the Joker, but with a push-up bra. The outlook wasn’t good, but Rumpelstiltskin offered a glimmer of hope: if Snow would reveal the name of her unborn daughter, then she could save them on her 28th birthday. The child’s name? Emma.

NEXT: She’s a killer, Queen

Back in the Prime-verse, Emma (on her 28th birthday!) and Henry pulled up to Storybrook. Henry explained that the town’s Back to the Future-eque clock hadn’t moved in years, and laid out the details of the curse. “An evil queen sent a bunch of fairytale characters here?” Emma replied. “Frozen in time, stuck in Storybrook, Maine? That’s what you’re going with?” Yes, yes it was. Also, the cursed couldn’t leave town, lest “bad things happen.” Then, Henry’s psychologist appeared out of nowhere. He expressed concern for the boy’s well-being, and pointed Emma to his mother’s house. His mother, the mayor‘s house. This mysterious man’s identity, you ask? Jiminy Cricket.

… And then there he was, again, at an urgent roundtable discussion back in Fairytale land. “The animals are abuzz with the Queen’s plan!” Ha. A busty blue fairy flew in, explaining that a magic tree with a magic wardrobe would keep one citizen of Fairytale safe. This was obviously going to be Emma.

Back in Maine, Henry was freaking out about going home, because his adoptive mother didn’t love him. Emma wasn’t having it. When she arrived at the largest, most regal-looking house on the block, the Queen ran out. But of course! I’m curious as to why the Queen would include herself in this curse, since she made it so clear that she felt that Maine was a terrible, terrible place. Does she need to be close to them to watch over the whole thing, or did she just get bored all by herself in Fairytale?

“I found my real mom,” Henry spat to the Queen-slash-Mayor, whose name in this universe is Regina. Regina was angry, and most of it was directed at the child-thief Emma. “How would you like a glass of the best apple cider you ever tasted?” she said. Emma, still understandably freaked, declined in favor of something stronger. She sipped her drink, and mentioned Henry’s obsession with the book to his obviously uptight and controlling mother. Regina’s eyes were concerned, but her mouth said she didn’t know anything about it. So, at this point, it seems like the Queen is the only one in town who knows about the curse. Emma left for Boston, but she didn’t get very far. She noticed that sneaky Henry placed the book in her car, and then saw a beautiful wolf in the middle of the road. She swerved to avoid it, but crashed. Yikes; that’s a DUI.

The next morning, Emma ran into Gepetto and Grumpy at the local jail. Gepetto was now a sad old man with no children, and Grumpy was a grumpy local hooligan named Leroy. Emma was released by Regina when Henry went missing again, and their search led them to Henry’s teacher, Sister Mary Margaret Blanchard (Snow White). In cursed Maine, Snow White has short hair and a sad, wistful face. She’s a little bit depressing, maybe. Also, she was passive-aggressively rude to Emma about giving giving Henry up for adoption. She said he needs the stories; he only clings to them because he’s sad. In fact, he constantly wrestles with the question, “Why would anyone give me away?” Hey! Pot kettle, Mary Margaret.

But, hey, she didn’t know. In Fairytale, Snow went into labor as the Queen’s carriage, and the curse crept closer. Snow was initially going to enter the wardrobe to save herself and Emma, but it could only be one of them now. That, of course, would still be Emma. “Find us!” the Prince said as he locked his newborn in the wardrobe. She disappeared to New England, just as the Queen’s henchmen arrived to kill her dad. Snow cried over his corpse as the Queen made threats and the walls came tumbling down. And so it began.

NEXT: Hey, let’s stick around for a bit.

In Maine, Emma finally found Henry brooding in a different sort of castle — one of the playground variety. He asked her to stay for just one week, and she would see that he was right. She would see that she was the only one who could save the Fairytale characters. Emma agreed to nothing. When she dropped Henry off at the Mayoral Mansion, nasty Regina commanded her to do exactly the opposite. Leave, or “I will destroy you if it’s the last thing I do,” she snarled. This changed Emma’s mind real quick.

Emma checked in to Granny’s Inn, and announced that she would be staying for a week. Granny, for her part, was distracted. She was yelling at Red Riding Hood for “sleeping her way up and down the eastern seaboard.” Which is great! I know that this is a family show, but I still hope we see more of Red in the near future. She seems fun, unlike Sister Mary Margaret. Sister Mary Margaret spent her evening with unnamed comatose patients at a local hospital. One of them, the hot one, was Prince Charming. He’s a John Doe in Maine. Does this mean that he wasn’t dead back in Fairytale? He looked pretty dead.

Finally, Rumpelstiltskin arrived at Granny’s Inn to collect a sizable bundle of rent money. He instantly took interest in Emma. “Emma…. what a lovely name,” he said creepily. Granny clearly didn’t trust him, but she paid him anyway, and he was on his way. His name, Reds explained, was Mr. Gold. And he owns the place. “The inn?” Emma asked. “No. The town.” And that was it. She was involved now, never to look back again. Henry glanced out the window at the town clock, and saw it move for the first time in 28 years. He smiled.

So — what did you think? I saw some promise here, and they get many points for creativity, but I’m definitely hoping that they tone down the cheesy dialogue as time goes on. The show could use a large dose of self-aware humor, as the 100 percent sincerity will get old very, very quickly. Still, I’m excited to see what happens next week. What world did you like better? Whose story interests you the most? Let us know in the comments!


Episode Recaps

Once Upon a Time

Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.

  • TV Show
  • 7
stream service