Henry, Aurora, Snow, and Charming, that's who -- since slumber holds the key to defeating Cora

By Hillary Busis
Updated April 30, 2015 at 08:51 PM EDT
Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Sweet dreams are taking over. Wait a minute — strike that. Reverse it. Nightmares are the name of the game on Once tonight, as our fearless heroes finally realize what you commenters figured out long ago: Dreamers who are stuck in the fiery netherworld can communicate with each other, meaning that Henry and Aurora may be able to facilitate Snow and Emma’s return to Storybrooke. (As long as they’re conveniently asleep at the same time.) After the duo’s first real dream communiqué, Henry awakens with a start and gives Charming and Regina a recap of what he’s learned. The good news: Emma and Snow are alive! The bad: They’re in big trouble, thanks to Regina’s old lady. Henry doesn’t embellish this information with snark and links to random YouTube videos, which makes me think he should leave recapping to the professionals.

Regina treks over to Granny’s, where she interrupts Belle and Rumpelstiltskin’s long-delayed hamburger date to relay the news about Cora. Their talk reveals that Cora was Rump’s student long before Regina got into the magic game, and that the Dark One and the Helicopter Mom from Hell engaged in a climactic battle that Rump thinks he won. Also, Regina apparently told Rump awhile ago that Cora was dead — confirming that she had seen her mother’s lifeless body. Curiouser and curiouser! Now there’s a fairyback I can’t wait to see.

Aurora and Henry are preparing to meet in the netherworld one more time, though going there again won’t be easy. Mulan, who becomes more like Brienne of Tarth with every breath, notices a burn on Aurora’s arm and urges her not to return to the red room of pain. But Aurora is stalwart, and so is Henry — “I’m done reading about heroes. I wanna be one,” he tells his grandpa as he rests on a cot in Rump’s pawn shop. Will he settle for being a glorified messenger? The boy’s task is to tell Aurora that the Femme Four can stop Cora as long as they secure some magic ink stashed in Rumpelstiltskin’s old jail cell. If I were keeping an official “Once‘s MacGuffins” count, I think I’d need a new notebook by now.

Unfortunately, the meeting doesn’t go as planned. Aurora, who’s wearing a lot of very flammable layers considering she willingly journeyed to a room that is on fire, can’t hear Henry’s message. Then she’s rudely awakened by Mulan, who just wanted to let her know about the zombies that are suddenly attacking the Femme Four’s camp. Wait, if Cora can command zombies, why didn’t she try sending one of them to get the compass? (For that matter, why didn’t she have “Lancelot” lead an expedition to the beanstalk before Emma, Snow and co. returned from Snow’s old castle?)

No matter; though the useful members of this band of kickass broads manage to fight off the undead, they discover after the fight that their mostly useless companion has been stolen away. If the Walkers who kidnapped Aurora are after brains, I’ve got some bad news for them.

NEXT: Snow’s gotta crow

Aurora soon finds herself in Cora’s dungeon, where the wicked one has decided to amuse herself by playing happy homemaker. But Aurora’s no patsy… or, at least, not that much of a patsy. She kicks away Cora’s stew, which is probably brimming with all sort of magical nastiness, and proudly declares that she’ll never help the witch — not even if she promises to try to bring Prince Phillip back. Cora just rolls her eyes and uses good, old-fashioned blasty magic to shut the princess up, then has her pet crow deliver a message to Snow, Emma, and Mulan. Wait, do Cora and Queen Ravenna run in the same evil circles?

As the crow flies, the Fearsome Threesome aren’t so far from Cora’s lair. The animal lands on Snow’s shoulder and starts squawking. Then, with a completely straight face, Snow translates the message from Carrion Bird to Human English, a.k.a. Fairy Land’s universal language. Come on, Emma — you’re seriously not going to comment on the fact that your mom really can talk to forest creatures? Anyhow, the gist: If they don’t bring Cora the magic compass by sundown, Cora will treat Aurora to the Big Sleep. Mulan’s all for turning the device over, but Snow has a different plan: As a former victim of the Sleeping Curse, she too has the ability to travel to the netherworld. If Snow can ask Henry how to defeat Cora, they may be able to keep the compass and save Aurora as well. If every character took charge (and spoke fluent Avian) as well as Snow, our heroes might not be in such a pickle right now.

The nasty burn on Henry’s forearm is easily healed by Rump’s magic, but it’s also enough to convince Regina and Charming that it’d be child abuse to send the kid back to flamesylvania. Luckily, Charming’s True Love ESP informs him that Snow will be waiting in the netherworld — and if he goes into a cursed sleep, he’ll be able to talk to her himself. It’s a plan so crazy that it just might work, although it also might end with Charming being stuck in that hell dimension forever. (Cue tasteless joke about marriage.) The prince’s snappy holster has given him an extra boost of confidence; despite everything, he likes his odds.

Aurora awakens to a sight for sore eyes: Captain Hook, fresh from a confrontation with Cora. After he stole her protection spell and helped Emma get the compass, the witch decided to punish Hook by cutting him off; the pirate is repaying his ex-partner by using some fancy hookwork to set Aurora free. All he asks in exchange is that Aurora deliver a message to the blonde. Spoiler alert: That message is not “You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how.”

Apparently, Mulan’s poppy powder wasn’t sourced from Oz after all. She made it from the seeds of one of the rare flowers that grows in the Woods of the Dead, conveniently located near where the Fearsome Threesome was already walking. Mulan fashions some more homemade opium, then prepares to drug Snow with it so she can sleep. Please let there be a bonus PSA about sleeping powder abuse before Revenge begins.

NEXT: Speaking of PSAs: Here comes Regina Mills, magiholic

At the same time, Regina is seriously compromising her rehab by whipping up a quick Draught of Living Death in the pawn shop. When she assures Henry that this is totally, totally going to be the last time she does magic, she reminds me of pop culture’s worst deadbeat dads — “I’ll stop casting spells when the Angels win the pennant. I’ll make it to your Little League game next week, sport, I promise this time!”

So Snow inhales the powder, and Charming pricks his finger on a potion-dipped spinning needle — who else had major issues envisioning what the hell a “spinning needle” was when reading “Sleeping Beauty” stories as a kid? — and both fall into magic-induced slumbers. While Snow is immediately transported to Inferno Central, Charming instead finds himself in a dark hall of mirrors — since only those who have been awoken from a Sleeping Curse go straight to New Flamington when they doze. Resist the urge to Narcissus yourself, Charming!

Luckily, the fire station isn’t too hard to find. Using his powers of deduction and a handy torch, the prince discovers that all he has to do is break through the mirror room’s flimsy floor. And just like that, Charming and Snow are having the reunion they’ve yearned for all season — minus, you know, the towering conflagrations.

The fires roared too loudly for Aurora and Henry to understand each other easily, but noise is no match for Twue Wuv. Snow and Charming have no trouble communicating; he tells her about the magic ink, she gets all sorrowful when she realizes he’s cursed himself so that he can speak with her. Charming figures that to wake up, all he’ll have to do is kiss his wife. He didn’t count on the fact that he and Snow aren’t currently corporeal — meaning that a real, curse-breaking smooch will have to wait. As she begins to wake up and starts slowly fading away, Snow sadly wonders if they’ll always lose each other. Charming just repeats that Snow has to have faith… and with that, they’re separated again. Shh, don’t worry — it’s okay if you’ve suddenly got something in your eye.

Snow is understandably frenzied when she jolts awake, telling Emma that they have to get back to Storybrooke at all costs. She follows her Jack Shephard moment by tackling Mulan, who’s trying to escape with the compass — and nearly killing the warrior when Mulan declares that getting Aurora back is more important than defeating Cora. Good thing Aurora shows up right in the nick of time, dragging that dusty shawl and explaining that Hook set her free. And by the way, she thinks that the pirate’s got a thing for Emma and her curious corset.

The setup for a happy ending? Not exactly — before Aurora escaped, Hook managed to yank out the princess’s heart. Now the plasticky organ is in Cora’s possession, making Aurora the wicked one’s unwitting pawn — and proving once and for all that Hook is well and truly eeeevil. Also, that he evidently learned how to do magic sometime over the past 300 years. Moral of the story: Never trust a guy who looks better in your makeup than you do.

NEXT: “Harvested from the rarest species of squid…”


– “Into the Deep” was sort of a throwaway episode, important only insofar as it sets up the events for next week’s explosive-looking winter finale. I might have a different opinion if the hour hadn’t included so many filler-y heart-to-hearts (Mulan and Aurora; Regina and Henry; Emma and Snow), or had toned down some of its most unintentionally funny lines. The worst offenders, in this Special Bonus Breadcrumbs-Within-Breadcrumbs List:

— “Oh yeah, princess. You’re going back to sleep.”

— “Harvested from the rarest species of squid, from the bottom of a bottomless ocean — impossible to find, unless you’re a mermaid. Or me.” (Though this does remind me to get excited for Ariel’s imminent arrival.)

— “Hey, I climbed a beanstalk for this! You go get your own!”

– I will say, though, that I appreciated a break from the fairyback format; it’s rare that an episode of Once is this cohesive, with each storyline directly affecting every other storyline. I also like the focus on the here and now — we don’t always need more backstory. Unless it involves mermaids.

– Rumpelstiltskin tells a besotted Belle that condiments “are this world’s most powerful magic.” Off the top of my head, here is a list of magics more powerful than even Heinz’s flagship product: penicillin, the Mars Rover, contact lenses, the DVR, magnets, gel manicures…. Also, Rump has clearly never tried sriracha, which is about nine gabillion times more magical than plain old ketchup.

– So wait, did we ever learn how one kills a Fairy Land zombie?

– Cora tries to ply Aurora by telling her that souls stolen by wraiths aren’t destroyed — they’re merely transported to another realm. Anyone itching to see Prince Phillip again?

– Emma and Snow’s conversation about blame and guilt is very “Your Fault/Last Midnight.” All I want for Hanukkah is a straight-up Once/Into the Woods crossover.

Next week, Once will air “Queen of Hearts,” its winter finale — an episode that apparently features Cora and Hook joining forces, Storybrooke’s wishing well getting a moment in the spotlight, and Emma punching Hook in the face. Even if I wasn’t very impressed by tonight’s penultimate hour, that last one alone is enough to make me excited for Sunday. How did you feel about “Into the Deep — was it engrossing, or a little too shallow for your tastes?

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