A rad flashback takes us back to Storybrooke's early days as Regina prepares to take her revenge
Credit: David Gray/ABC

Juggling work, childcare, a social life, gardening, high-tech surveillance, and an insatiable thirst for vengeance is no easy task. (Just ask the Internet!) But tonight, Regina discovered that it really is possible for a modern woman to Have It All — as long as said woman’s mortal enemy is kind enough to take care of the vengeance factor. Also, magic helps.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Tonight’s story begins a long time ago, in a patch of woods far, far away. Well, not really: We’re in rural Maine in 1983, where a father and son are bonding and making synergistic Star Wars references. Their quality time is rudely interrupted by what appears to be an electrical storm — one that covers their campsite and all that surrounds it in a weird, green and purple fog. If they were bigger Stephen King fans, the guys might know to be extra wary of that weather.

The next morning, Dad and Kid — a.k.a. Kurt and Owen Flynn — awaken to discover that the previously uninhabited wood near their campsite has transformed into a quaint little town, complete with its own familiar-looking hipster sheriff. (Graham!!) That’s right: The campers have stumbled onto a baby Storybrooke, currently muddling through its very first day of existence.

The town is new — but thanks to the curse, its ex-Fairy Land residents immediately find themselves playing the roles they’ve been assigned. Meek Mary Margaret teaches her elementary schoolers a loaded lesson about birds and cowers whenever Regina is near. Comatose John Doe lies in the hospital, completely oblivious even when his Twue Wuv brings him flowers. An exasperated Granny is constantly bickering with the scantily clad Ruby, a wolf in tart’s clothing. Sheriff Skinnyjeans is at Regina’s beck and call, not even flinching when she undresses him with her eyes in broad daylight. It’s all exactly as the queen dreamed it would be… except for those pesky interlopers Kurt and Owen, who threaten to throw off the equilibrium the Wicked One has worked so hard to achieve.

But the unease Regina’s feeling in the past is no match for the emotions she’s enduring in the present. Snow’s role in Cora’s death has sent the Evil Queen careening toward Vengeanceville, with stops in Murderdale, Homicide Hills, and New Retaliationsberg. In other words: She’s gonna kill Snow. Thankfully, the Charmings get advance word of Regina’s plans thanks to Rumpelstiltskin, who reluctantly agrees to pay his life debt to Snow by helping to save his savior’s hide.

A trip to Regina’s crypt easily reveals her big plan: She’s plotting to cast the Curse of the Empty Hearted, a powerful hex that has the ability to generate devotion. Regina will use the curse to force Henry to love her unconditionally. Casting it also allows her to kill two Charmings with one spell, since one of the curse’s ingredients just happens to be the heart of the person she hates most. Yeah, that’s got the stench of Cora all over it. (It smells like uneaten ballerina cake.)

NEXT: Where’s Ned Ryerson?

Uh-oh — Past Regina has discovered that life in Storybrooke is a lot like life in Punxsutawney, circa February 2, 1993. The repetition of day-to-day interactions isn’t what bothers her, though. Instead, it’s the fact that everyone in town is under her thumb just because she’s forced them to be that way. (Picture your girlfriend saying that she wants you to want to see The Vow with her.)

At least there’s one bright spot on the horizon: little Owen, who gives the queen a lanyard that warms the dark cockles of her black, black heart. Regina invites the kid and his dad to dinner — lasagna and apple turnovers, naturally — where she learns that the Flynns have recently lost their missus. What luck; there’s a Regina-shaped hole in this family, assuming the lady Flynn was fairly shapely! Because she hasn’t yet learned that Earth people are just a wee bit more naturally suspicious than Fairy Land folk, Regina goes ahead and asks Kurt if he and Owen would like to stay in Storybrooke and play with her… forever. Kurt, perhaps finally remembering his Stephen King, wisely lets her down easy and then moves to get the hell out of Dodge.

Regina gets wind of Kurt’s plan and quickly draws out Sheriff Skinnyjeans’s heart, ordering the bearded lawman to arrest Mr. Flynn and keep him from leaving town. You’ve got to love how she just talks into it, as though his left ventricle were a walkie-talkie. Unfortunately, Kurt walks into her office just in time to hear the crazy lady giving orders to a glowing, plastic organ… then gets confirmation that something seriously weird is happening when Graham bursts in and tries to tackle him. And that, folks, is why nobody should ever go camping.

Back to the future! Emma and Bae decide the best thing for Henry will be to ship him off to New York, where Regina’s magic can’t touch him (even though the Jolly Roger’s magic apparently works there. Eh, a technicality). Henry, however, has other plans. In his mind, people don’t kill people — spells kill people, meaning that the only way to stop the madness consuming his family is to get rid of all the town’s magic. And the only way for him to get rid of Storybrooke’s mystical powers is by… tossing some lit dynamite down the Wishing Well. Wait, what? Did Wile E. Coyote suggest this plan?

NEXT: Curse you, Warner Brothers!!

Thanks to a well-timed phone call from a concerned Stranger Greg, Regina gets to the woods just in time to prevent Henry from blowing the well and himself to pieces. (Don’t lie — some of you wish she had been too late.) Soon enough, the Charmings and Bae have also tracked down the boy. It looks like the two warring factions are about to engage in another epic brawl… until Henry walks between them, screaming that he won’t move, “not until someone helps me destroy magic!!” I love Once, I really do — but that line made me cackle like a madwoman, and I’m preeeetty sure it wasn’t supposed to be funny.

Anywho, Henry’s whole anti-magic crusade is over almost as soon as it begins. A chagrined Regina decides she doesn’t want to win her son back this way and burns up Cora’s evil spell. Everyone goes home. The blood feud seems to be forgotten for now, at least until one side steals the other side’s pig.

But the action’s still pulsing in Past Storybrooke. Graham, Regina, Kurt, and Owen are in a good, old-fashioned car chase, complete with hairpin turns and Chariots of Fire maneuvers. The Flynns are thisclose to leaving Storybrooke for good when Graham swerves in out of nowhere, blocking their exit. Kurt has just one move left in his playbook: screaming at Owen to run, run away, and never return! Though Regina could easily force him into submission, she elects instead to let the kid go. But since she’s still pretty evil, the queen does continue holding Dad hostage.

Owen escapes, arriving at the town’s limits a few days later with a couple of policemen in tow. This time, though, Regina is ready. She tosses up a glamour that hides both her and the road’s Storybrooke sign. (Note: A commenter points out that this can’t be the case, since Storybrooke didn’t officially have magic until the end of last season. Regina always had limited use of magic, though — notice her heart command of Graham in this very episode, for example. And if the town was simply hidden from outsiders for 28 years, how did the townsfolk get food and the supplies they’d need to slowly enter the modern world (cell phones, etc.) before the Savior arrived?)

Finding nothing but woods before them, the police just shrug and tell Owen that he’s been through a lot. Owen, however, isn’t so easily convinced. “I’ll find you, Dad!” he says, just inches away from Regina. “I promise! I’ll never stop looking!” Something about this plotline seems… familiar.

In the present, Snow goes to Regina and makes a peculiar offer: she feels so guilty about her role in Cora’s death that she wants the queen to just go ahead and kill her, then and there. After a brief moment of consideration, Regina obliges the princess by straight-up ripping out her heart. Whoa! If only the previews hadn’t spoiled this moment!

But before she crushes it into dust, the queen notices something — there’s a black spot on Snow’s ticker, thanks to the White one’s recent treachery. Regina then realizes that she doesn’t need to kill the princess at all. Instead, she’ll let her nemesis live in misery, slowly destroying her own family in the process. That’s some next level villainy right there. “You see? I can have everything! Suck it, Anne-Marie Slaughter!” Regina says, inserting the damaged heart back into Snow’s chest.

Little does Regina know that Stranger Greg has recorded her reverse hokey-pokey (you take the heart out, you put the heart in) on his phone… and that he’s actually none other than Little Owen, all grown up and thirsty for some vengeance himself. The characters on this show would definitely benefit from following Philip Larkin’s advice.

NEXT: So where’s Papa Kurt? Just ask Breadcrumbs!


– Whatever happened to Kurt? My guess is that he’s down in that secret Cuckoo’s Nest asylum, perhaps in a room right next to Sidney Glass. Considering the Lucasfilm acquisition, he may also be encased in carbonite.

– During Kurt and Owen’s last scene together, this video was all I could think about. OWEENNN! MY BOY! THEY WANT MY BOY!!

– The Storybrooke Daily Mirror‘s so hard up for stories that a couple adopting a dog is considered front-page news.

– I guess it makes sense that Regina immediately understands modern technology and currency and what have you, but it might have been funny to watch her struggle to work, like, indoor plumbing or something.

– Regina likes the sheriff’s uniform: “So… well-fitted.” Who wants to bet that she added a “Huntsman must dress all sexy-like” clause to the curse?

– Confused that Past Mr. Gold didn’t know he had been cursed? That’s because Rumpelstiltskin didn’t regain his pre-curse consciousness until Emma told him her name, way back in the pilot.

– Speaking of Rumpel: He tells Henry that his adoptive mother is “a complicated woman,” then explains that all Regina wants is Henry’s love and vengeance. So… not that complicated, then.

– His take on Cora vs. Regina was striking, though; the elder witch was dangerous because she had no heart. The younger witch is even more dangerous because she still has a heart.

– Stranger Greg Mendel/Owen is a nature photography nerd. He must particularly enjoy shooting pea pods.

– Oh hey, it’s dearly departed Mechanic Gus Gus! The only thing that guy is cursed with is excessive hotness.

– Lanyards: Providing symbolic resonance since never.

– Next week: Gregowen seems on the cusp of exposing Storybrooke, Bae’s fiancee clearly isn’t what she seems — guesses as to her fairy tale identity? — and we finally (finally!) find out what happened to poor Pinocchio, who, yes, is now a giant wooden puppet man. He must have excellent camouflage skills.

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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