Once Upon a Time recap: The Return
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children play / But there is no joy in Fairy Land -- mighty Rump has lost his Bae
After a seemingly interminable three-week wait, our grown-up Faerie Tale Theatre came back with a vengeance tonight. And honestly, if long stretches of Once-lessness always lead to Rumpelstiltskin-centric, Jane Espenson-penned episodes, I think I might be on board with the show taking more breaks. (Just kidding, Once gods — don’t push back the finale! Do we have a deal?)
There’s a motorcycle in tonight’s opening title card, which can mean only one thing: “The Return” will get us up close and personal with August W. Booth, the guy who’s lying when he tells you he never lies. (Lemurs in Nepal my foot.) After staggering out of bed with legs stiff as tree trunks, the writer calls Henry and lets him know that it’s time to “accelerate the plan.” Regina won’t let the kid hang out with his biological mom, but she apparently has no trouble leaving him alone with a 30-something dude. In no time flat, Henry has come to meet August outside of Gold’s pawn shop.
The kid strolls in and lets the shopkeeper know that he’s looking for a gift for Mary Margaret; she deserves a present, he explains, “since she didn’t kill that woman.” Hey, there’s tons of people I haven’t killed! Where’s my trinket? As the wily elementary schooler distracts the store’s owner, August sneaks into Gold’s office and starts poking around. But all the writer finds is a suspicious pair of eyes — once Gold appears and realizes what August is doing.
Kathryn, meanwhile, is recuperating in the hospital under the not-at-all creepy care of Dr. Whale. She tells Emma that she can remember being held captive in a basement, then getting drugged and left at a field near the edge of town. Unfortunately, Kathryn can’t remember anything about her captor. The woman has been through a lot — which is why it feels sort of wrong to criticize her for what happens when David shows up at her hospital bed. But even so — really, Kathryn? You’re seriously going to just exonerate the man who cheated on you, and lied to you, and was indirectly responsible for you getting kidnapped and chained to a basement wall? No wonder Prince Not-So-Charming thinks she’s “kind of amazing.”
Regina, however, isn’t amused. Alone with Gold, she hisses that he broke their deal. Gold replies that he’s only ever broken one deal; technically, since Regina never asked him to kill Kathryn, he still fulfilled the terms they established. As he calmly talks, he rests his hand on a ball that looks like a brown quaffle. Regina gradually realizes that now, all the evidence for Kathryn’s disappearance and MM’s framing will point to her. She can’t understand why Gold has screwed her over: “We’ve been in this together from the start,” she tells him. Of course, as tonight’s Fairyback will prove, that isn’t strictly true.
Speaking of: In Fairy Land, Rumpelstiltskin’s son Baelfire plays a grounded game of Quidditch with some young pals. But the fun is cut short when Bae accidentally runs into a townsperson’s donkey cart and scrapes his knee. The Dark One doesn’t take kindly to anyone hurting his boy, even by accident. So he swoops in, transforms the poor guy into a snail, and — despite Bae’s loud, urgent protesting — squashes him flat. Great, now Bae’s never going to be invited to join the team.
NEXT: “We’re so glad that you didn’t kill Mrs. Nolan!”
Remember how Henry told Gold he wanted to congratulate Mary Margaret for not murdering anyone? Well, apparently the whole town feels the same way. They’re celebrating “Way Not to Commit Homicide” Day by throwing MM a party in her own apartment. Henry even gives her a card signed by his entire class; inside, it says, “We’re so glad that you didn’t kill Mrs. Nolan!” Greatest card of all time, or what?
In Fairy Land, Rumpelstiltskin gears up to heal Baelfire’s boo-boo with a bit of magic. But Bae isn’t interested in magic; in fact, he thinks that Rump should give up the whole Dark One gig altogether. He asks his father if he’s tried to rid himself of his curse, and Rump reminds us about the Dark Dagger and its magical properties; whoever kills him with it will inherit the Dark One’s powers himself. Ah, but if there were a way to get rid of the Dark Powers without hurting himself or Baelfire — in that case, says Rump, he’d do it to make Bae happy. That’s all his son needs to hear. Baelfire gets his dad to make a deal with him: If he can find a way to erase the Dark Curse, Rump will go through with it willingly.
Back in Storybrooke, Gold is feeling mighty suspicious of August. He’s certain his name is fake, and he’s also discovered a drawing of the Dark Dagger on the writer’s desk. And then, after following August to the local convent, he discovers another bit of info about the stranger: Apparently, he told its Mother Superior that he’s recently found his long-lost father. Could August actually be a grown-up version of Baelfire, as commenters have been speculating since he first rode into town? Either way, August is certainly doing his best to make Gold think that’s who he is.
A character we’ve met only briefly before — Morraine, a child veteran of the Ogre Wars — tells Baelfire that she knows who could help him save his father: an ancient being who’s more powerful than even the Dark One. It’s impossible to understand the name Morraine assigns this being; thank the gods for closed captioning, which tells me she’s called Reul Ghorm. (Both are Gaelic words, evidently; the first means “star,” the second means “blue.”) After learning that his dad killed a mute maid simply because she overheard some sensitive dagger talk — “Even a mute can draw a picture!” Rump tells Bae cheerfully — Baelfire has a renewed resolve to get rid of Papa’s dark passenger.
Reul Ghorm turns out to be the Blue Fairy’s less pronounceable real name. That night, Baelfire summons her, and she says that while she can’t make Rumpel fully human again, she can send him somewhere he can’t use his powers. To get to this land without magic, Rump and Bae will have to use a bean — a special bean! (She let him go, she didn’t know he’d stolen her bean!)
NEXT: Well, that’s another story. Never mind. Anyway…
In Storybrooke, Emma and MM both have unsatisfying interactions. The former confronts Sidney, telling him that she’s finally figured out his deception — and that he can either help Emma, or go down with Regina. Matters are complicated by the fact that Sidney is totally butt-crazy in love with the Mayor. Mary Margaret, meanwhile, gets stopped by David on the street. He wants to apologize for not believing her; she, understandably, doesn’t think this changes anything, and says that there’s clearly “something in this world” that doesn’t want the two of them to be together. To Once‘s credit, the show doesn’t immediately cut to Regina standing in the shadows, scowling and stroking a long-haired white cat.
Discovering August’s supposed identity has really thrown Gold for a loop. He stops by Archie’s pad for a free therapy session — and even though Gold tells Hopper that he has a long-lost son who, oh yeah, might have come to town just to kill his father, the therapist remains remarkably unfazed. He advises Gold to just be honest, and let his conscience be his guide, and maybe wish on a few stars just to be safe. Nobody says anything about an Oedipus complex, which is probably for the best.
Bae comes home to his cottage, proudly bearing the magic bean that may hold the answer to his family’s problems. (And he didn’t even have to sell a cow to get it.) When he hears that the bean is a portal to a world without magic, Rumpelstiltskin is less than enthused; he went through a lot to get his power, and he doesn’t relish the idea of being weak again. Still, he follows Bae into the woods, where his son drops the bean on the ground. Instead of turning into a giant beanstalk that leads to a cloud city, the bean creates a giant, swirling vortex — the same sort of wormhole Jefferson once made with his hats.
When the Beansuck appears, Rump immediately loses his nerve. Bae tries to get him to jump through the hole, but the Dark One digs his dark dagger into the ground and refuses to leave. Bae reassures his father, then shouts that this is the only way for them to stay together, then screams that Rump is a coward, and finally resorts to invoking their deal — but Rump just can’t bring himself to leave Fairy Land. So he lets go of his son’s hand, and Bae goes through alone. Though Rump immediately regrets his decision, what’s done is done; the last link to his humanity has disappeared.
NEXT: True Life: I’m Pretending to be Rumpelstiltskin’s Son
But Rumpel’s Storybrook self believes he may have found the key to righting that long-ago wrong. He takes a trip to his Log Cabin of Torture and finds August waiting nearby. He tells the writer outright that he knows who he is, and August replies, “Well then, I guess all the lying can stop… Papa.” Gasp! Somebody please fetch Aunt Pittypat’s smelling salts!
Gold takes August’s words at face value, and launches into a speech he’s had planned for years and years: “I was a coward, and I never should have let you go… Ever since you left, ever since you crossed the barriers of time and space, in every waking moment, I’ve been looking for you.” Aww, Baelfire is Rumpelstiltskin’s Constant! The father and his supposed son tear up and embrace. All seems to be right with the world.
And then Gold leads August to the place where he buried his Dark Dagger. (He stashed the object way back in episode 7.) August says he was looking for the dagger in Gold’s office, because he feared if he found it, that would mean his “father” still valued power over everything else. Gold proves he’s changed by offering the knife to August and saying that he’d like him to destroy it. August takes the dagger, and for a moment, it seems like Gold might get stabbed. But no: August is simply trying to use the weapon to force the Dark One to do his bidding.
Of course, since there’s no magic in Storybrooke — unless you’re Regina, I guess — August’s plan doesn’t exactly work out. Instantly, Gold gathers that August isn’t really Baelfire; August then ‘fesses up, revealing that while he’s not Rump’s son, heis a native of Fairy Land. Gold doesn’t take kindly to being played for a fool. He takes the knife back and savagely shoves August against a tree, demanding to know who he is and who told him about the dagger.
According to August, the culprit was “a little fairy;” I love how that’s a perfectly rational, logical explanation on this show. He explains further that he’s sick, with a disease that only magic can cure; when getting Emma to believe proved to be a dead end, August decided to try to force Gold/Rumpel to help him instead. Though Gold could easily murder August right then and there, he decides to let him go; maybe he can convince Emma to believe before he dies of this mysterious, leg-stiffening disease.
Back in Fairy Land, Rumpelstiltskin angrily calls for the Blue Fairy. After she appears, she scolds that he’s lost his chance to follow Bae; there are no more magic beans. Rump says wildly that there must be another way: a realm-jumper! A time-turner! (Wait, seriously?) A mage! A curse! At “curse,” Reul Ghorm freezes, and Rump realizes he’s stumbled onto a possibility. Though she warns him that the price will be great and that such a curse is beyond his abilities, a now all-dark Rump declares that he will do nothing else, and love nothing else, until he finds the kid. “YOU TOOK MY SON!!” he shouts. “AND I WILL TAKE HIM BACK! MY SON! MY BOY! WAAAAAAAALT!!“
NEXT: Sad sack Sidney, plus Breadcrumbs
Emma enters her office and finds that Regina is waiting for her — and she’s not alone. Sidney is also in tow. On Regina’s signal, he takes the fall for Kathryn’s disappearance, the tainted DNA test results, the skeleton key — because he would do anything for love, including that. Emma, thankfully, isn’t buying a word of his crap. She pulls Regina into the hallway and tells her that she knows the Mayor’s really behind everything. Regina has “set the board so that nobody else can win.” But Emma’s going to start playing an entirely different game — Yahtzee! Oh, and taking Henry back. Hooray, the sheriff finally found her groove!
– Need more proof that August is actually Pinocchio? Well, his legs are seizing up, as if they’re transforming back into wood; he’s got a donkey paperweight, probably from the gift shop at Pleasure Island; and also, next week’s preview includes scenes of Gepetto and his favorite puppet. Unless this is all massive misdirection, The Stranger’s identity issue seems to have been solved.
– It’s too bad Jefferson has disappeared through a hat-rabbit hole — otherwise, he and Mr. Gold could form a two-man support group for dads who lost their kids due to unfortunate realm-jumping incidents.
– The camera seemed to linger on that old shoe-shine box in Gold’s shop. What story could it relate to?
– Emma, on August: “He’s a typewriter wrapped in an enigma wrapped in stubble.” If the stubble can be found across his entire body, does that mean he’s really made of sandpaper?
– I really want to hear more of Morraine’s Tales of the Trenches.
– So this explains why Rumpelstiltskin hates fairies. Remember what he did to Cinderella’s godmother?
– Though Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas must be pretty tired of doing the same scene each week, they’re still selling their material. I especially loved the way Goodwin delivered this line: “And that is what makes it all so sad.”
– Also great was this glimpse at the monster within Gold: “It still cuts through flesh quite nicely.”
– So, wait: What’s the deal with magic in Storybrooke? It’s not true that it doesn’t exist there, right?
There are only three episodes of Season 1 left, folks — and it looks like next week, Emma’s really going to take steps toward shedding her skepticism. In the meantime, did you think this was a welcome “Return”? Are you convinced that August is Pinocchio, or are you still clinging to another theory? Oh, and how many people have you not killed today? I need to know for this card I’m making.