How did Rumpelstiltskin and Regina first meet -- and what exactly happened to Regina's Mommie Dearest?

By Hillary Busis
April 30, 2015 at 08:54 PM EDT
Jack Rowand/ABC
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Oh, what a tangled web Once weaves! Tonight’s episode reintroduced the Fairybacks before abruptly shifting to present-day Fairy Land, thus proving that the show has no intention of limiting itself to its old narrative structure. Then it revealed more of Regina and Rumpelstiltskin’s history, giving us tidbits that could wreak havoc on what we thought we knew about the show’s timeline. Finally, it ended with a humdinger of a twist that completely upset our assumptions — raise your hand if you were sure that Cora had been sent through the looking glass into Wonderland, where she became the Queen of Hearts — and raised a slew of new questions.

Once certainly has a lot of magical balls in the air, and I worry that this juggling act could lead to important questions not getting answered or, worse, being replaced by more and more questions. (Nobody wants the whole Lost connection to go too far, after all.) Thankfully, a resonant theme about parental control and some great acting by Lana Parilla’s hair helped things from getting too tangled tonight. We can only hope future weeks turn out the same way.

Enough preamble! Here’s that recap you ordered. After the return of magic and last week’s Dementor attack, Storybrooke is a shambles. Telephone polls have been toppled; cars have been flipped over; cute knit caps have been blown hither and yon, separated from their One True Scalps. A crew of fairy figures including Red, Jiminy Human, and the Blue Fairy are trying to help by running a crisis center. Kudos to Meghan Ory for keeping a straight face while directing victims like a werewolf FEMA agent at the Storybrooke Superdome: “If the wraith damaged your house…”

Meanwhile, Charming is having a supremely unsatisfying meeting with Regina. When he questions her about the magic portal hat — which is looking worse for wear after transporting Emma and Snow — Regina tells him that she’s long since forgotten where she got it, meaning that he’ll have to dig a little deeper if he wants to learn how to retrieve his wife and daughter. It’s unclear whether Regina is lying to throw James off the scent or she actually doesn’t remember Jefferson — it’s possible that the wraith snacked on some of her memories in last week’s episode.

Charming then heads to Red’s Red Cross station, where he’s immediately inundated with requests for help from various Storybrooke residents. They need somebody — not just anybody, but their prince. He can’t answer their queries, and he also can’t figure out how he’ll ever get to Snow and Emma. “You’ll find another way!” chirps Henry. “In the book, things always look worse before there’s good news!” Cue Grumpy, who immediately bursts on the scene with a blunt message: “TERRIBLE NEWS!”

See, he and the dwarfs have discovered that the town’s border is now sponsored by Lacuna, Inc. In plain English: anyone who tries to leave Storybrooke will lose all their memories of Fairy Land. And no amount of hand-clapping or heel-clicking will bring them back.

NEXT: Freakout city, population: Storybrooke

The townsfolk, naturally, aren’t too happy about this development. Charming tries to soothe his fevered bros by telling them that in just two hours, he’ll reveal an awesome, totally existent plan to fix everything. Because if James actually had thought of such a plan, he would obviously want to wait before disclosing it. Hey fairy tale characters, has anyone ever told you that the word “gullible” isn’t in the dictionary?

In Storybrooke, Regina has realized that her powers aren’t totally back after all. While she brought wallpaper alive with ease just hours ago, now she’s bending over backwards just to light a stupid candle with her mind. That’s like, Evil Magic 101. And in the Fairy Land of old, a younger Regina is also struggling — albeit with her mother rather than with her own abilities.

Even though Not Yet Evil Regina’s true love Daniel is dead, the future queen still yearns to flee from the loveless marriage her mother Cora has arranged for her — as well as Cora herself. But Regina’s Tiger Mom thwarts her every escape attempt, making Regina so angry that she’s even having visions of wringing poor little Snow White’s neck. This horrifies Regina, whose greatest fear is becoming a monster like her mother. And the cat’s in the cradle, and the silver spoon…. After venting to her father, Regina learns that Cora learned magic from a man — well, not quite a man — who gave her a certain spell book. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call it the Grimmerie.

Cora sleeps with the Grimmerie under her pillow. Regina deftly retrieves it and opens it to find a page with a name inked in. She’s got some trouble pronouncing the moniker — “Rumpelshtilts… Rumpelshtiltskin!” — but even so, everyone’s favorite imp soon shows up and merrily chides her pronunciation. I would have given a cow as white as milk to see Rump retaliate by calling her “Re-jai-na.” No matter; they’ve got more important things to discuss. Like the fact that he’s known who Regina was all her life — he even held her as a baby.

Small digression: We don’t know how old Regina is here. But if she’s, say, 18 at the youngest, that means Rumpelstiltskin has been the Dark One for at least that long. Snow White is eight years old, meaning that it’ll be at least ten (and probably more) years before she marries Charming and the Dark Curse falls. While we’re not sure when exactly Baelfire got sucked into a Land Without Magic,  he didn’t look too much older than 14 when he disappeared — so it must have been fairly early in Rump’s reign as the Dark One.

So by the time the curse went into effect, Baelfire had already been missing for at least 28 years. And that’s not even counting Gepetto’s lifespan; the wood carver has got to be at least 10 when his parents get turned into puppets and at least 60 when he and everyone else get sent to Storybrooke. Last week’s episode established that time moves at the same rate in both Storybrooke and Fairy Land; 28 years passed in both places when the curse was in full flower. All of this added together means that Baelfire must be around 92 years old (14 + 50 + 28) if he was, in fact, transported to our “real world” back when he threw down that fated magic bean. Oh, unless his portal spanned both time and space. In that case, all these calculations are moot. But hey, ain’t speculation fun?

NEXT: Back to our regularly scheduled programming

So! Rump knows everything about Regina. He also knows that she could be very great and powerful and Oz-y if she only embraced her potential. This is what magical peer pressure looks like. The imp presents Regina with a giant wrapped gift, which he says is a portal to “a specific, annoying little world.” All she has to do to break free is give her mother a little shove through the gateway. Please note that in her first appearance tonight, Innocent Young Regina was wearing her hair tied back in a braid. Now her hair is half braided and half loose, symbolizing her status as naive (the plait) but tempted toward eeeeevil (the rest of her hair). Or something. Shut up, I wasted a lot of energy on that tangent about Baelfire’s age.

Back in Storybrooke, Regina heads to the pawn shop to find the Grimmerie. Here’s more evidence for memory loss — why would she ever think that the book was on Gold’s shelves? Rumpelstiltskin appears, as he is wont to do, and smugly reminds her that the tome she’s looking for is actually locked in her underground evil fortress. But after the queen realizes that Rump can no longer force her to do his will just by saying “please” — as in “leave, please” — he waves his hand and conjures up that old black magic book. Rump lets Regina leave, but not before getting in an especially harsh dig: “I told you once you didn’t look like her. Now — now I can see it.”

After a consultation with Henry and his storybook, Charming realizes that he has to chat with the Mad Hatter. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know where to find the guy — but he might if he had the right potion from Gold’s shop. When James enters, Rump is apparently preparing to leave Storybrooke for good; he’s packing maps of Massachusetts and New York (where that Stranger from Episode 1 lives, hmm), which seems sort of unnecessary for someone with magic powers (or at least a GPS-enabled smartphone). The prince acquires a location elixir from the imp, promising not to interfere with Rumpelstiltskin’s business as long as Rump gives him the same courtesy. Before Charming leaves, he casually mentions that anyone who tries to cross over the Storybrooke border gets hit with a memory suck; looks like Rump won’t get to march along the Freedom Trail after all.

Now it’s time for both Regina and Charming to put their magic to the test. She sucks some power from her book, briefly going Dark Willow before heading to the town hall, where she smoothly steals Henry back. Not even Granny’s crossbow is a match for Regina’s firepower. Wait, where did Granny the inn owner get a crossbow?

James, on the other hand, is quickly led to Jefferson, who’s been trapped inside of his car since the wraith attack. After saving the Hatter, Charming asks if he can get the magic chapeau in working order again; Jefferson only laughs, since he’s spent 28 years trying to make the damn thing so much as spin on its own. And that was before the hat got destroyed. At this, Charming gets irate, grabbing Jeff’s fashionable scarf and growling, “Well, I’m the closest thing to a sheriff here, so I can just throw you in a cell until you figure out a way.” Yes, working at an animal shelter is just like being a sheriff.

NEXT: Finally, the Varsity Blues quote we all knew was coming

Jefferson takes off at a run, and Charming is about to go after him when Red stops him, revealing that Regina has Henry. Furthermore, everyone is freaking out because the queen has her power back; they’d rather skip town and lose their fairy memories than stick around and get banished to No Airtime Land by the queen. (That’s what happened to Hansel and Gretel.) In order to save Storybrooke, Charming’s going to have to nut up and deliver a big, stirring “live together, die alone”-type of speech.

And that’s just what he does, somehow beating everyone else to the town’s limits before emerging and saying these words: “If you cross that line, you’re gonna be lost. Everyone who loves you will lose you. But there’s something worse — you’ll lose yourself.” He tells the crowd that they are both their Storybrooke personae and their Fairy Land personae, meaning that characters will continue to drive me crazy by addressing each other by their old names. Furthermore, if they stay in town, they can do whatever they want. Options include living in the woods, living in a shoe, or eating frozen burritos and writing software. That was… weirdly specific. Anyway, his words do the trick; nobody crosses the border.

Henry, though, is still intent on escape. As soon as Regina brings him home, he runs to his room and immediately dangles one of those makeshift sheet-ropes kids on TV always seem to have out the window. He of course doesn’t get too far before Regina uses Cora’s proven branch-control method to stop her “son” in his tracks. She tries to ply the boy with promises of magic and a giant conjured cupcake; alas, he still do[es]n’t want her life. What’s the matter with kids today? All the cupcakes you can eat and, oh yeah, magic freakin’ powers sound pretty good to me.

Fairyback: Though Young Regina struggles mightily not to give into her worst impulses, she does end up pushing Cora through the portal, which happens to be shaped like a looking glass — thanks to some eleventh-hour encouragement from a Rumpelstiltskin apparition. Afterwards, she tries once more to leave the life her mother made for her, going so far as to ask Rump to take back the Grimmerie. Rump easily convinces her to learn the ways of eeeevil magic from him instead. And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me / He’d grown up just like me / My boy was just like me…

Then again, maybe even wicked queens can learn from their mistakes. When Charming shows up at Regina’s Storybrooke home wielding a sword — again, where did these small-town Mainers get medieval weapons? The pawn shop? — she tells him to put it down and calls for Henry. The boy appears, and Regina tells him that he can go with David — er, Charming — er, James. Maybe we should just call him “Gramps.” Regina tells the kid that she wants him to be with her because he wants to be with her, not because she’s using magic to force him to stay. She adds that she’s hoping she can “redeem” herself. Honesty or ulterior-ly motivated? We can’t know for sure, but Regina does get close to burning her old spell book… before changing her mind and locking it up instead. Old, evil habits die hard.

NEXT: Emma and Snow are in the dungeon with… wait, REALLY?

All that talk of Emma and Snow White made their absence tonight even more palpable. So thank Disney for the episode’s last scene, which shows the mother-daughter team being dragged behind horses like Dothraki prisoners before arriving at Mulan’s “safe haven.” Wait — why don’t Mulan and Aurora recognize Snow White? Even if she wasn’t their queen when they were frozen in time/put to sleep, it seems likely that they’d at least know who she is.

We’ll worry about that later. In any case: An escape attempt quickly lands Emma and Snow in a dungeon, where they’re soon approached by another incarcerated soul: Cora. Yes, that Cora. Did Regina’s mother not get pushed into Wonderland after all? Did the curse somehow bring her from her red throne to this dank cell? We won’t know for awhile — but I can’t wait to learn the whole story.

Breadcrumbs

– August/Pinocchio is alive and well and living as a giant puppet! Don’t worry, Geppetto — I’ve got a feeling it won’t be too difficult to spot a 6-foot-tall mobile marionette in a town filled with normal, non-puppet people.

– This is certainly not the most important thing to fixate on, but: Why is everyone in Storybrooke simply accepting Charming as their leader? By my count, there are at least three and possibly four other monarchs/rulers among the townsfolk: Cinderella’s husband Prince Thomas (remember him?), the villainous King Charles Widmore, Belle’s father Sir Maurice, and King Midas, provided he was alive when the curse fell. Shouldn’t there be more of a power struggle, considering how many royals are living in this town?

– Theories abound that Cora may be the wife who left Rumpelstiltskin before he had his dark transformation. Think they could be right?

– Was Regina’s yearning for her freedom meant to be a Brave callback?

– One definite reference: Regina doesn’t care if the spell book turns her green, as long as it helps her get her son back. Eleka nahmen nahmen ah tum ah tum eleka nahmen…

– Poor Sneezy lost his memory, and the other dwarfs are planning to get it back by digging up some fairy dust. They’ll be mighty surprised to find Snow White’s glass coffin in the mines.

– I’ve still got no idea who Dr. Whale is supposed to be, but I loved his lecherous cameo tonight: “Are the nuns still nuns, or…?”

– If poor Henry had an Old West outlaw name, it’d be The Latchkey Kid.

– Rumpelstiltskin, explaining the location spell to Charming: “So simple, even David Nolan could do it.”

– Jefferson evidently still hasn’t been reunited with his daughter — but how hard can it be for families to reunite now that everyone’s memory is back? How many people live in Storybrooke, anyway?

– Also: More than once tonight, characters referred to Fairy Land by calling it “The Enchanted Forest.” I’m not sure whether this title encompasses just the forest itself, Regina/Snow White’s entire kingdom, or the whole of Fairy Land, including all the other kingdoms. So for the sake of clarity, I’m going to continue calling the whole shebang Fairy Land unless you guys think The Enchanted Forest is more correct.

– My favorite moment of the whole episode: As Regina and Rump are having their final Fairy Land chat, her horse is really going to town on some leaves. Scene-stealer!

There’s a lot to pick through here — but on the whole, what did you think of the episode? And what are your theories about the various questions it raises?

Hillary on Twitter

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