Meet Hansel and Gretel, noted navigators and witch murderers extraordinaire

By Hillary Busis
Updated April 30, 2015 at 08:43 PM EDT
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Credit: Jack Rowland/ABC
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As the gingerbread house in tonight’s title sequence implied, “True North” focused on the story of Hansel and Gretel. And while Emma Caulfield’s superbly creepy Blind Witch didn’t get nearly enough screen time, the episode was fairly fun all the same. I will say, though, that I wish it had done more to move the show’s master plot forward, especially since watching it meant missing the first hour of the Golden Globes. (That Ricky Gervais — simply incorrigible!)

In Storybrooke, Hansel and Gretel’s alter egos are Nicholas and Ava, doe-eyed moppets who are one pair of fingerless gloves away from Fagin’s gang. The parentless pair squat in a random house’s basement, surviving only on candy and graham crackers they swipe from the local convenience store. Like the Boxcar Children, minus both the boxcar and the uncanny ability to solve mysteries.

Emma first encounters the kids in said convenience store: They’ve been caught stuffing an unsuspecting Henry’s backpack with chocolate and other essential supplies. (Even in the real world, they sure love sweets.) Apparently, in Storybrooke, this counts as an arrestable offense. But soon enough, Emma discovers a bigger problem than the pair’s literal and metaphorical sticky fingers: Their mother is dead and they’ve got no idea who or where their father is.

Our first Fairybacks show that real Hansel and Gretel are in a similar situation. After an opening scene establishing their warm relationship with their father, the Teutonic Twins suddenly find themselves alone in the woods. They follow the sounds of a scuffle to a nearby road, where the Wicked Queen is waiting — sporting a jaunty chapeau and a saucy weave that’s about three shades darker than her actual hair. Hansel and Gretel quickly try to escape her clutches, but the Queen uses her powers of CGI to stop them in their tracks. See, she needs some kids — and not because she’s trying to start up a pee-wee Quidditch league.

Back in the real world, Nick and Ava happily munch on real food as Emma and Mary Margaret discuss their fate. Emma hasn’t yet reported them to social services because as a former foster kid, she can’t in good conscience put the pair at the mercy of The System. Instead, she wants to look for their father. Emma believes that if he knew about them, he’d want to take them in. Hoo boy; methinks this case might be striking a bit too close to home.

So Emma sets off for Storybrooke’s office of records, only to find that the kids’ birth certificates have already been pulled by someone: Regina, of course. In her Cruella cave, the Mayor lays out the facts for the sheriff: There’s no record of Ava and Nick’s father, so they’re going to have to be put into the foster system. “Storybrooke has a foster system?” Emma asks, in a tone that’s so contemptuous and bitchy that I can’t help but like her about 50 times more.

NEXT: Yeah, no, it doesn’t.

Storybrooke doesn’t. But Boston does; Regina’s arranged to have the kids sent to two separate group homes there. And Emma’s the one who will have to personally escort them to Beantown. Why? Because “this is what sheriffs do,” says Regina. Yup, carting minors across state lines; totally in the job description.

Back in Ye Olde Faerieland, the Queen notices that Gretel’s carrying something pretty. It’s her father’s compass; he gave it to her just before he disappeared, but now it appears to be broken. No matter — the trio has just about arrived at the home of the Blind Witch, a beastie in possession of something Queenie needs to defeat a “very wicked and powerful enemy.” The Queen (when will we learn her true name? I hope it’s Minnie) tells the kids to wait until the Witch is asleep, then sneak inside and steal a certain satchel. There’s just one rule: Don’t eat anything. That shouldn’t be a problem, since the Witch’s house has apparently been constructed from pure binary code.

We get a temporary reprieve from Hänsel und Grëtël in the next scene, when Henry uses talk of Ava and Nicholas to segue into questions about his own father. Though Emma’s reluctant at first, she eventually tells Henry that his dad was a trainee fireman who used to frequent the diner where she worked. The two of them “hung out” a few times, resulting in a pregnancy — nice euphemism, ABC — and then Emma went to jail. Once there, she tried to tell Fireman about Henry, only to discover that he had died while saving a family from a burning building. He was one of the real heroes.

When she’s done, Henry asks Emma if she could give him anything of his father’s. Emma doesn’t have any mementos — but the question gives her an idea. She heads back to Ava and Nick, shows them her baby blanket — one of the only things she has from her own parents — then asks if they’ve got any similar keepsakes. Turns out that Ava does have something: an old, ornate compass. One that looks suspiciously familiar.

Emma takes the instrument to Mr. Gold’s shop, hoping he can tell her where it came from. As luck would have it, Gold tells her it’s one of his own pieces — Ava and Nick’s father bought the compass from him years ago. Gold sifts through his records and yanks out an index card, then reveals Deadbeat Dad’s name to Emma. It’s only once Emma’s gone, though, that we learn the card was blank. So how much does Gold really know about the curse, again?

Back in the Magic Kingdom, Hansel and Gretel slowly sneak into the Witch’s candy-covered lair. Suddenly, I’m craving 50 CCs of straight icing, stat. Even though they have literally one instruction to obey, it’s too much for Hansel — like Abu in the Cave of Wonders, he can’t help but reach out and grab a goodie. Just as Gretel snatches the satchel, her idiot brother takes a giant bite of an inviting cupcake. Come on, dude, you couldn’t just take it to go? This, of course, awakens the Witch. (Oh, Anya, how I’ve missed you!)

NEXT: Butter or gravy? Why choose?

Ava and Nicholas’s father turns out to be a mechanic named Mike who has no idea he’s got two kids. Emma says if he doesn’t claim Ava and Nick, they’ll be shipped off to Boston and he’ll feel guilty for the rest of his days. Mike says maybe this lady he’s never met should back off and stop demanding extraordinary things from him that he’s sorry, but he doesn’t know anything about being a dad. And just like that, it’s time to make a trip to Boston.

You know who wishes they were in Boston? Hansel and Gretel, that’s who. The sight-impaired hag has them locked in a cage that is, regrettably, not made of candy. Gretel has a plan: When the Witch comes to take Hansel to the oven, he can remove the cage’s key from her pocket and toss it to his sister. But because Hansel is utterly useless — albeit so hot right now — Gretel ends up having to do even this herself.

As the witch dithers between basting the children with gravy or butter, they set Gretel’s plan in motion. Well, Gretel does, at least. She tosses Hansel the key; he lets himself out and promptly falls down, drawing the Witch’s attention. Damnit, Hansel, can’t you do anything right? The Witch decides to kill two children with one oven and is about to stuff the twins into the fire together… and then, somehow, the kids manage to push her in instead. Ding-dong, the Witch is dead!

Well, not quite yet. The Wicked Queen, who’s been watching this entire spectacle via her magic mirror, sends a fire bolt into the oven, thereby roasting the Blind Witch but good. “I would have gone gravy,” she says smugly and awesomely.

Soon enough, Hansel and Gretel arrive at the Eeeevil Palace bearing the prized satchel. So what did they risk their lives to steal? An apple — one that’s shiny, red, and certainly poisonous enough to take down a certain fair maiden. As a reward, the Queen tells the kids that they can live with her; half-baked Hansel is into the idea, but Gretel refuses. So the Queen magicks them off into the middle of the vast forest, then summons their father — he’s been her prisoner all along, of course — and does the same to him. Man, I bet the Queen is the one who killed Bambi’s mom, too.

Thankfully, the Storybrooke story has a much happier ending. As Emma’s driving Ava and Nicholas away to Boston, her car suddenly “breaks down.” She calls Mechanic Mike for help — and once he’s seen his children, he’s immediately fine with taking in a pair of strange 12-year-olds. I think Once should come with a warning: “To avoid getting totally bummed out, do not watch if you are an impressionable adopted child or a person who once gave a child up for adoption.”

After Emma delivers the news to Mary Margaret — and, in the process, reveals that Henry thinks she’s her true mother — she has a final sweet moment with her biological son. And then, just after Henry tells his mom that she’s changing things in Storybrooke, something amazing happens: Another stranger motors into town. And he’s carrying an enormous, mysterious box with him. The plot thickens!

NEXT: Introducing “Breadcrumbs”

Because this show is packed with storylines and details, I’m going to start listing observations, questions and notable moments at the end of each recap. And in honor of tonight’s episode, I’ve decided to call this section Breadcrumbs. So here we go:

– At the top of the episode, Henry’s reading a “Hulk vs. Wolverine” comic book. Hey, guess who owns Marvel Entertainment? Oh, that’s right: Disney.

– Mr. Clark, the guy who runs the convenience store, is awfully congested. Have we met Sneezy?

– The prize for Silliest Line of the Night belongs to the Woodcutter, who let loose this gem: “A fine specimen! The wood it provides will keep our family’s hearth warm this winter.” Thank you, good sir, for explaining how wood works.

– Is the Blind Witch dead for sure? I don’t see how she could have survived being roasted, but I also remember that she was one of the baddies who showed up for the Evil Convention in Episode 2 — unless there’s another Blind Witch in Fairy World. I’m crossing my fingers for her survival, since Emma Caulfield is certifiably awesome. I love the Drusilla vibe we got from her tonight.

– The Queen, watching Snow sadly walk with a crew of very short men: “Now she’s cavorting with dwarves? When did that happen?” She has a point; dwarves are very upsetting.

– Was that a flash of recognition on MM’s face when she touched Emma’s baby blanket?

– Oh yeah, so that story Emma spun about Henry’s father? Not at all true. What do you think his deal is — and do you reckon he had something to do with why Emma wound up in prison?

Next week is heavy on Snow/Mary Margaret and Charming/David. Having seen it already, I can promise that you won’t be disappointed. (Unless you’re a fan of Abigail/Kathryn. Honestly, though, is anyone?) But before we start talking about next week, let’s stick to the matter at hand — what did you think of tonight’s show?

Episode Recaps

Once Upon a Time

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

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