Emma and Snow search for Fairy Land's last portal -- encountering old friends (hello, Lancelot!) and older enemies (Cora!) along the way

By Hillary Busis
Updated April 30, 2015 at 08:53 PM EDT
Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Alas, Arthurian scholars: Though tonight’s episode was called “Lady of the Lake,” it didn’t revolve around a queen of Avalon with a fondness for magic swords and water sports. It did, however, introduce yet another piece of eye candy — you can ride in my cart anytime, Lancelot — before cruelly revealing that he’d been dead the whole time. I hope that he and Sheriff Skinny Jeans are up in Attractive Dude Heaven right now, smiling down on us before going to play cards with the real Prince James.

This episode also marked the return of the dreaded Boring Storybrooke B-Plot — actually, a C-plot, due to the show’s new three-pronged approach. Since there wasn’t much to it, I’ll summarize the whole thing up front: Henry wants to help Charming find Snow and Emma. When Charming balks, Henry takes matters into his own hands, tracking down Jefferson and then sneaking into the creepy magic vault below Regina’s father’s crypt. Charming arrives there just in time to save his truant grandson from the snake that killed Henry’s Great Grandpa Leopold. He then resolves to let Henry be more involved in the rescue effort. There’s hugging, there’s learning, there’s play swordfighting. While nothing was really wrong with this portion of the episode, it didn’t do much to propel Once‘s master plot forward.

Unlike, say, the present-day Fairy Land segments. These begin right where last week’s episode left off: an incarcerated Emma is chatting with her fellow prisoner Cora, who doesn’t waste much time before coming clean about her identity. While Emma is immediately suspicious, Cora assures her that she’s not as wicked as her famously evil daughter: “The apple fell very far from the tree.” Somehow, that’s enough for the woman who once claimed to be able to tell when people are lying. Emma seems willing to take her cellmate at her word, even after Snow regains consciousness and tells her that Cora’s the worst thing since unsliced bread.

Their mother-daughter tiff is interrupted when the pair gets lifted out of their underground prison; the leader of their jailers wants a word. Snow is delighted when she sees that said leader is none other than Lancelot, a noble knight who does his shopping in Ye Olde Macy’s Big and Tall Armor Department. Snow explains to Emma that Lance is an old friend…

… though the two first met when Lancelot captured Snow and delivered her straight to King Charles Widmore’s castle. Timeline check: Tonight’s fairybacks take place soon after Charming awoke Snow from her glass coffin (and fought a dragonized Maleficent), but before they had wrested back Charming’s kingdom. Snow is defiant in the face of the king. That’s cool with George; he mostly invited Snow over so that he could reveal his own sob story (his wife drank a potion that made her barren; his adopted son proved difficult to replace). Oh, and so that he could poison her womb with the same tonic that kept his wife from getting pregnant. Come on, Snow — someone who was felled by a poisoned apple should know better than to eat or drink anything a villain offers you. Even though you ate that bad fruit willingly.

NEXT: Mulan: “Let’s get down to business… to defeat… the ogres!”

Back in the present day, Emma chows down on some delicious chimera — that’s part lion, part serpent, part goat — while Snow discusses her plans with Lancelot. She thinks she may know the location of another portal, although she’s reluctant to speak about it within earshot of Cora. Lancelot warns her that ogres are afoot, but he permits her to go — provided she bring along his bravest warrior.

Mulan doesn’t seem thrilled to be saddled with a long-lost princess and her overly snarky adult daughter. After her companions arm themselves, the warrior lays down the law: “Follow my lead. Step where I step. Do exactly as I say, and you might survive.” It’s absolutely criminal that she doesn’t break into “I’ll Make A Man Out of You.” Emma’s all, “Whatevs, I slayed a dragon three episodes ago,” but that doesn’t impress Mulan much. She scares the sheriff straight with a story about Fairy Land’s ogres — “Legend has it that when they kill you, the last thing you see is a reflection of yourself dying in their eyes.” Well, yeah… what else would you see?

The gals find a clearing to serve as their camp for the night. Emma, clearly going for the Miss Pain in the Ass award, snottily asks why they’re building a fire if they want to avoid being spotted by ogres. Snow explains that the ogres in this world are blind and hunt by sound alone. Oh good; at least they can still enjoy karaoke, so long as they know the words.

Fairyback: Snow, still suffering from her magical hysterectomy, is tossed aside by King George’s goons somewhere in the Enchanted Forest. But soon enough, Lancelot appears and tells the princess that he’d like to help her. The Round Table’s best-known knight still has a “small shred of honor”; he tells Snow that George is headed to the cabin where Charming has been hiding his mother, Ruth. The new friends journey to the cottage — but a cadre of George’s knights beats them there. Charming has no trouble dispatching of every one without so much as mussing his hair or spilling a drop of blood. (Thank you, TV-PG rating.) But Ruth isn’t so lucky — she’s been hit in the chest. By a poisoned arrow. Not exactly ideal circumstances in which to meet your son’s fiancee.

As night falls in present day fairy land, Snow’s slumber is interrupted by cold steel. Aurora has followed the others into the forest — and she wants Snow to pay for inadvertently causing her beloved’s death. That’s pretty unfair. Don’t hate the princess, hate the wraith! Snow easily disarms Aurora, but their scuffle — and Mulan’s late entrance — attracts Emma’s attention. So Snow’s daughter does the dumbest thing she could possibly do, shooting into the air and both 1) wasting a bullet and 2) attracting the ogres’ attention. I swear, Emma’s judgment gets worse the longer her hair grows. Coincidence?

NEXT: Disney’s take on the Shrek franchise: unflattering!

Ruth has been shot with the world’s slowest-acting poison; she’s stable enough to be taken to Lake Nostos, where Charming once slew a siren. Unfortunately, Charming’s heroics have left the reservoir looking like Camp Green Lake. Its healing waters seem to have dried up when the siren kicked the nautical bucket. Since Lancelot is du Lac — that is, “of the lake” — he can use his dowsing skills to find Nostos’s last drop of magic water. There’s just enough for one sip. Charming, obviously, means his mother to drink it. But Ruth is as noble as her biblical forebearer. On the journey to the lake, Snow told her that she can’t bear children — and Ruth would rather die than see her son unable to become a father. This episode is to childless couples as “True North” was to foster kids.

Emma’s gun can’t save her from the giant ogre that’s roaring in her face. Neither can her snark. (I sympathize, girl.) She’s about to become a midnight snack when Snow whistles to draw the beast’s attention — then nails it right in one of its sightless peepers. “You have to shoot them in the eye,” she explains nonchalantly as Emma looks on in amazement. She’s like a petulant teen who just learned that her mom used to work for the CIA.

Soon, the gals resume their journey to the portal — now joined by Aurora, who’s complaining that she’s not exactly dressed for a trek through the woods. “Then maybe you should have listened to me and stayed back,” replies Mulan. You just know she’s rolling her eyes and thinking, “I’m surrounded by idiots.” Soon enough, the quartet arrive at their destination: Snow White’s old castle, which contains the magical wardrobe that delivered Emma and Pinocchio to Maine 28 years ago. Wait, so none of Fairy Land was destroyed by the curse? Then what was the deal with Aurora’s bombed-out castle?

Charming has Lancelot deliver the single drop of magical water to his mother. Though she seems a little hesitant, she drinks it — but she’s not instantly healed. Somehow, Ruth is fairly zen about this turn of events; she tells Charming that her only true regret is not living to see his wedding to Snow. That gives the princess an idea. Knights of the Round Table are Fairy Land’s equivalent to Universal Life Ministers; Lancelot can bwing the couple togevah today, on the shores of what was once Lake Nostos. Good thing Snow happens to be wearing white.

That ridiculously slow-acting poison holds out long enough for the gang to either find or make a beautiful floral arch. Snow and Charming stand before it as Lancelot takes them through the ceremony, Camelot-style. He has them both drink from a cup, which represents the Holy Grail. The prince and princess kiss… and as soon as they’re wed, Ruth is dead, forever depriving Snow of the right to make mother-in-law jokes.

NEXT: Twist: He’s Lancenot!

Walking through Snow White’s old castle is an emotional experience. Snow sadly notes that Emma never got a chance to use her nursery; Emma realizes just what her life might have been like if the curse had never struck. And then they find the wardrobe, which could be the key to their journey back to Storybrooke — if they can figure out how the damn thing works. Maybe it’d do its thing if they tried playing a game of hide-and-seek?

Just as they’re wondering how they’re going to lug the wardrobe back to the village, Lancelot emerges out of nowhere and announces that he’ll help with the heavy lifting. But the knight seems strangely interested in the potential portal… and when he mentions Henry by name, Snow realizes that he isn’t who he appears to be. See, Emma has only told Henry’s name to one person in Fairy Land: Cora.

And with a puff of smoke, Lancelot transforms into Barbara Hershey. Cora disposed of the poor disgraced knight long ago; she’s been posing as him because the villagers would never accept her as their leader. Worth noting: Cora appeared in the cell when that messenger came to let Emma and Snow know that their leader wanted to speak to them. That means she has the power to appear in two places at once.

Cora has Snow in her magical grasp, but Emma’s got one last trick up her sleeve: her ogre-crushed gun. She shakes out some gunpowder and manages to spark it — thus torching the wardrobe. Cora disappears in a huff; the ladies face the land’s last portal, watching as it burns to cinders.

The moment is decidedly bittersweet. So is the instant when a gypsy necklace indicates that Fairyback Snow can, in fact, have a child; she realizes that Ruth must have asked Lancelot to give the healing water to the princess. It’s unclear when Ruth and Lancelot could have had this conversation, but no matter; Snow’s learned an important lesson about parental sacrifice.

And now the same thing has happened to Emma. She burned the wardrobe because she didn’t want Cora to get to Henry; she also realizes just how much her mother and father gave up in order to save her. (What took you so long, Em?) The quartet prepares to head back to the island, where they’ll try to find some other way back to Storybrooke — with Snow now acting as leader in Fake Lancelot’s stead.

There’s just one wrinkle: Cora, who sneaks back into the castle and scoops up the wardrobe’s ashes. The red light glowing above the remnants indicates that there’s magic in them yet. Redeemed Regina better watch her back — because soon, Mama’s gonna find her. And mama is pissed.

NEXT: A baking accident results in… breadcrumbs!


– Red gives Charming a Look when he says he’d never run from King George with his “tail between [his] legs.” Charming, in response: “No offense.”

– Here’s Cora-as-Lancelot’s explanation for why the safe haven island wasn’t affected by the curse: “The curse struck, and when the smoke cleared, most of us had been torn from this land. But some of us here, from this particular region, were left behind. We don’t know how and we don’t know why.” Given the source, perhaps we should take this with some magical salt.

– Why was King George’s wife cursed? Did she run afoul of Rumpelstiltskin? Did she steal a witch’s beans? Was it a baking accident?

– Oh, one more thing happened in Storybrooke: Jefferson and his daughter Grace were reunited. They’re going to have so much fun listening to Surrealistic Pillow together.

– Also, Regina has been asked to leave her mayoral office. Who’s taking over the post — Dr. Whale?

– What caused Lancelot’s fall from grace? A woman, of course. Got any casting suggestions for Guinevere?

– Aurora, puzzled by the leather jacket Emma lends her: “What kind of corset is this?”

– Henry must have been pretty freaked out, walking around in a crypt for someone who shares his name.

– I know it’s stupid to harp on these things, but — what store in this quaint Maine town sells wooden practice swords? And is it run by Syrio Forel?

– King Charles Widmore is back in the mix in Storybrooke, spying on his fake son from the safety of his car. Now there’s a coup attempt I’d like to see.

Next week, we’ll finally meet Captain Hook — and I know you’re all quivering in antici….

… pation. But in the meantime, let’s discuss tonight’s episode. How did you like “Lady in the Lake”?

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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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