In the present, Emma and Hook face a giant; in the past, Emma gets close to a fellow thief
Once Emma
Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Look at our Once

Isn’t it neat?

Wouldn’t you think that its cast is complete?

Wouldn’t you think it’s the show

The show that has — everyone?

Look at this list

Actors untold

How many players can one show’s cast hold?

As much as it warms the cockles of my heart to see Jorge Garcia in something better than Alcatraz, I’d love if Once could cool it with the new characters for a few weeks. Sure, it’s cool to see the show’s universe grow richer — but increased breadth can easily hamper increased depth, and at this point, I’d rather learn more about folks who have already been introduced (Cora, especially) than see even more fairy tales/nineteenth century novels/ancient Chinese legends/whatever get thrown into the mix. Well, unless the subjects of those additions are played by more Lost alumni. What will it take to get Josh Holloway on as Peter Pumpkineater, or something?

Tonight, our story begins at the foot of an enormous beanstalk. Hook explains its provenance to the Femme Four, a.k.a. Snow, Emma, Aurora, and Mulan: Back in the before-time, giants grew magic portal beans and traveled through the gateways in order to plunder other lands. An army lead by Jack the Giant Killer defeated all but one giant in combat — and that survivor, “the strongest and most terrible of them all,” is who’s waiting for our hero[in]es at the top. They’ll have to get past him in order to snag that all-important Magic MacGuffin Compass. Oh, and there’s one more wrinkle — the beanstalk is enchanted to repel intruders. Hook has a couple of enchantment-repelling wrist cuffs, courtesy of Cora, which means that only one other person can accompany him to the top of the beanstalk. Um, can I volunteer myself?

Guess not; though each lady has her reasons for wanting to scale the stalk, Emma is the one who wins a one-on-one date with Fairy Land’s most eligible bachelor. Before she starts climbing, Emma takes Mulan aside and says that if she hasn’t returned in 10 hours, she wants Mulan to hack the stalk down and get Snow safely home to Storybrooke. Why? Because… well, because the drama of a ticking clock, that’s why.

Speaking of time: Rather than a fairyback, “Tallahassee” features a good, old-fashioned, Lost-style flashback to Emma’s impetuous youth. When she was a 17-year-old refugee of the foster care system, our Ms. Swan acted out by wearing Hipster Ariel glasses and stealing cars. No wonder she wanted to go with Hook up the beanstalk; Emma knows robbery like Aurora knows pouting. As fate would have it, one of the vehicles she poached in Portland — a familiar yellow Bug — was already occupied by another thief: the mysterious man we first met in this season’s premiere, whose name is apparently Neal Cassady. (No wonder this Neal likes to be on the road; he’s named after a certain Beat Generation icon.)

NEXT: The only people for Emma are the mad ones

After their kleptomaniac meet cute, Emma and Neal made like an ’00s Bonnie and Clyde, crisscrossing the country and “earning” their livelihood with tactics like “The Loud (Fake) Pregnant Lady” and “The Sneaky Motel Room Occupation.” Though Emma tells Captain Hook while climbing the beanstalk that she’s never been in love, she’s clearly lying to him and to herself. Our Swan looks awfully cozy with Non-Beat Neal in those flashbacks — especially when her beau says that he wants to settle down with her in a new town. By closing her eyes and pointing to a map, Emma determines that she and her man will make their home in Tallahassee. Moving to Florida’s capital in the year 2000? I hope Emma and Neal like politics.

After a banter-filled, strenuous climb, Emma and Hook finally reach the computer-generated kingdom at the top of the beanstalk. A one-handed man must pay a lot of attention to other people’s extremities; the captain notices that Emma’s hand is all torn up from the climb, and he treats it to the most flirtatious wound-dressing in history. Man, this guy could make filling out tax forms seem seductive. Still, Emma manages to ignore his charms for now and focus on the task at hand: attracting the giant’s attention so that they can knock him out, then search for the compass. (But what will they use to guide them??) Their plan, which employs a bag of poppy powder — possibly sourced from Oz? — goes off without a hitch. Before he can let loose a single “dude,” Giant Hurley — Garcia, in case you didn’t recognize him in those wacky robes — is down for the count.

Back on the ground, Mulan fashions a makeshift clock and advises her cohort to get some rest. Snow volunteers to take the first watch, and Aurora says she’ll stay awake as well — ever since Phillip broke Maleficent’s sleeping curse, she’s stayed away from slumberland. The one time the princess did sleep, she had a horrible nightmare. Snow sympathizes; she, too, knows what it’s like to endure a sleeping curse. She offers to watch over Aurora while she sleeps, and the other princess graciously accepts. Sure enough, Aurora wakes up not long later, panting and gasping about her nightmare. Sleeping Beauty dreamed of being in a red room with no windows or doors, surrounded by crimson curtains that were on fire. While hunching in a corner, she realized that someone else was lurking in the shadows. Snow soothes her friend and says she’ll stay with Aurora until she falls asleep again: “Who else do I have to take care of?” Aww, Snow is totally the Wendy Darling of this group — she’s everyone’s mom.

In New Flashbackton, Neal breaks some bad news to Emma: He can’t go to Tallahassee because he’s wanted for stealing some watches that he’s stashed at a train station in Phoenix. The only solution now is for him to flee to Canada, alone. But bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, clearly-not-a-teenager Emma dismisses her boyf’s fears; she’ll simply head to the train station, procure the watches, then give them to Neal so he can use them to fund a trip for two. They are so the new Bobby and Whitney.

NEXT: “How are we gonna find a compass?” “By looking.” Point: Hook.

“How are we gonna find a compass in this place?” Emma asks Hook, staring at the giant’s enormous, treasure-filled Cave of Wonders. “By looking,” he answers cheekily, pointing out a skeleton that once was Jack the Giant Killer. It looks like his mom etched Jack’s name on his sword before sending him off to Monster Slaying Camp.

Teenage Emma has no trouble nabbing Neal’s stolen watches and delivering the goods to him. He promises her that he’ll trade them for $20,000 cash, then meet her at the outskirts of town parking structure by the train tracks. But Neal’s plans are foiled when he separates from Emma only to discover that he’s being followed… by none other than August W. Booth, the real boy formerly known as Pinocchio. Well done, Once — who could have seen that one coming?

August, or Pinoch, or whatever you want to call him assures Neal that he’s not a cop — “Think of me as Emma’s guardian angel.” He explains that the two of them were in the same home as kids, and that he promised once to take care of Swan; unfortunately, the real world’s myriad temptations proved too, well, tempting for Pinaug to perform his duty. Now, though, the ex-puppet is getting back on track; he’s spent the past two years looking for Emma, only to find her engaging in a life of crime with “some deadbeat.” If Neal really wants to take care of Emma, says August, he’ll have to leave her; only then can Emma perform her destiny.

At this point, Neal shakes his head and quickly walks away from August, muttering vaguely about “some psycho.” Just kidding! He goes with August to a second location, where the Fairy Land exile shows Neal something that makes the thief believe August’s crazy story. What’s in the booooox?! Henry’s storybook? Emma’s baby blanket? Marsellus Wallace’s soul? A plaque reading “EVERYTHING THIS PUPPET MAN HAS SAID IS TRUE”? Whatever it is, it’s enough to get Neal to listen to August. I don’t understand why at this point, the two of them didn’t go to meet Emma and just tell her the truth about her past — but hey, I guess Pinocchio knows he’s got 11 more years before he really needs to worry about the savior becoming a savior.

Two months later, Neal and August meet once more — this time in Vancouver, the city where Once is actually filmed. August tells Neal that Emma is serving an 11-month prison sentence; while waiting to meet Neal, she was arrested by a cop who claimed her boyfriend had set her up. Why, again, did Neal agree to this particular plan? In any case, the thief asks the guardian angel to do him a favor — give Emma that ultra-symbolic yellow Bug, as well as the money he earned by finally selling those watches. August agrees, then assures Neal that he’ll contact him should Emma ever fulfill her destiny: “I’ll send you a postcard.” Hooray, that’s one mystery solved!

NEXT: Giant Hurley has a Lennie Small moment

Once more, Emma and Hook are getting increasingly cozy — only to have the mood ruined by a newly conscious Giant Hurley. He roars and barrels toward them, causing poorly animated treasure to fall to the ground. Hook is pinned under some rubble, and Emma gets snatched in the air and nearly crushed to death — “I will name her George, and I will hug her and pet her and squeeze her” — before she frees herself with a strategic bite. Emma then slashes a tripwire with Jack’s mighty sword, trapping Giant Hurley in an appropriately giant cage. He’s sure that she’s going to murder him, since all humans are vicious killers — but Emma, realizing that there truly are two sides to every story, lets the giant live after he tosses over the magic compass he had conveniently been holding this whole time. As a thank-you, Giant Hurley shows Emma a way out of the treasure room and frees Hook as well. Victory is theirs!

Well, not quite. In true Once fashion, there’s a twist: Emma catches one of Hook’s wrists in a shackle, saying that she “can’t take a chance on being wrong about [him].” Translation: “Returning to the ground with you would just be too easy.” Great idea, Emma; all you need is a few more enemies. She hustles down the beanstalk just in time to rescue Mulan, who’s on the receiving end of a Snow White smackdown — the princess didn’t take kindly to the warrior sawing at the beanstalk once Emma’s 10-hour mark had passed. A relieved Mama Snow tells her daughter what’s what: “We go back together. Do you understand?” Chastened, Emma lets her mom give her a hug without even whining about how she’s making her look lame in front of Mulan and Aurora. They head off, conscious of the fact that Hook will be hunting them down once the giant frees him in 10 hours.

Flashback jailbird Emma has no such comfort. Though she’s just received a set of keys to her old Bug via a mysterious package sent from Phuket — so August camped out in Thailand for 10 years? — she’s also just discovered that she’s going to have Neal’s baby. True Life: I’m a Pregnant Incarcerated Teenager Who Also Happens to Be the Heir to a Magical Kingdom — coming in the fall of 2000 to MTV.

Oh, and remember Aurora’s spooky dream? Seems Henry’s having the exact same nightmare in Storybrooke — which makes sense, since he was also the victim of a Sleeping Curse. Only instead of dreaming about being trapped with a creepy male figure, he mentions a “she” who was staring at him through the flames. Curiouser and curiouser…

NEXT: Redrum-flavored Breadcrumbs


– So what’s up with that red room nightmare, anyway? I can’t be the only one who immediately thought Jane Eyre!” when Aurora first mentioned it. Maybe the ghost of Mr. Reed is the season’s real Big Bad! Update: A clever commenter points out that since Aurora saw a male figure in the room and Henry saw a female one, the two may have spotted each other in their twin nightmares. I’d certainly be creeped out if I dreamed about Henry.

– Mulan finally asked the question we’ve been wondering since last week — how do the Femme Four know that Hook won’t simply deliver the compass to Cora once he’s got his hand on it? His answer: Hook’s just looking for a way to get to Rumpelstiltskin, and he’ll pledge his loyalty to whomever gets him there first. Nice grammar, Captain.

– The most romantic pickup line ever: “I may be a pervert, but you’re definitely a car thief.”

– Also, guys, take note: Some casual sexism is all you need to avoid arrest, at least in Portland. Someone should tell Fred Armisen.

– Pay close attention to Neal’s apartment as seen in this season’s premiere, and you’ll notice that he’s still got the dreamcatcher he and Emma stole from that motel room.

– So many Lost references in tonight’s episode! My favorite: Neal stealthily stealing a couple of Apollo Bars from a gas station.

– If you asked “why is the rum gone?” when Hook poured that flask onto Emma’s hand, congratulations — you are officially a pirate.

– Though part of me is disappointed that all the treasure in the giant’s stash didn’t turn to lava as soon as Hook touched something he wasn’t supposed to, another part of me is relieved, because the CG tonight was baaaad.

– I’ve got a feeling that August funded a trip to Thailand with the money he was supposed to give to Emma. Pinocchio, your nose was definitely growing during that last scene with Neal.

– Giant Hurley wears a destroyed bean around his neck so that he’ll always remember the Giant/Human War. He says that it can’t open a portal — but if Cora can use the ashes of a magical wardrobe to open one, why can’t our heroes use the remnants of a destroyed bean?

Before next week’s episode — a Red Riding Hood-centric one, hooray! — let’s discuss this week’s: Did you, for a moment, believe that Jennifer Morrison was actually 17 years old in those flashbacks? What do you think was in August’s Magical Convincing Box? How long will it take Hook to get free, and what will he do to the Femme Four once he catches up with them? And finally, do you think Emma became a bounty hunter so that she could track down her lost love Neal?

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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