Jack Rowand/ABC
April 30, 2015 at 08:54 PM EDT

Reason #1 I had a feeling season 2’s premiere, “Broken,” would be a slam dunk: I knew that this episode would introduce a Once-ified Mulan, and Mulan, as we all know, is the best.

Reason #2: The advanced screener of the episode I watched began with this message: “As always, we kindly ask that you not reveal major plot points to your readers [before the premiere airs], and please do not reveal the ending of the episode or Regina will find you and curse you.”

Yes, OUAT is back in a big way. The stakes are higher, the special effects are more special, and the issues that plagued last season — repetitive plot lines, Storybrooke never being nearly as interesting as Fairy Land — have largely been dealt with. Sure, there are still a few flies in the love potion; the show seems to change the rules of how magic works whenever it’s convenient, and characterization can still be more than a little inconsistent. (Wait, so Henry really does love Regina? Since… when?) Regardless, the Once that returned tonight is a stronger, better show than it was in season 1, and I’m very excited to see where things go from here. Especially since my prediction that a group of characters would end up being trapped in Fairy Land came true — albeit an episode after I thought it would.

After a mysterious cold open — more on that later — we spy two warriors riding across what appears to be the Dothraki Sea. Who knew one of those doors in Jefferson’s portal central led to Westeros? Anyhow, Renly and Brienne — er, Prince Phillip and his unnamed companion, who, spoiler alert, is totally Mulan — are headed to an abandoned castle, where Companion stands back sullenly as Phillip cuts through some briars and awakens his somnolent true love, Aurora. Accent watch: She’s American; he’s British. Their glorious reunion is interrupted when a Dementor — no, wait, a ringwraith — er, actually, just a regular wraith — bursts out of the floor, spooks the trio, then flies away, leaving behind a pendant embellished with an extra-fancy yen sign. “What was that thing?” asks Aurora breathlessly. “Something bad,” Phillip answers. I hope he and his Brave Companion brought some fortifying chocolate in their Questing Satchels.

Back in Storybrooke, various fairy tale figures have exuberant reunions as they celebrate regaining their memories. In the interest of clarity, I’m going to refer to everyone by his or her fairy tale name; after all, their Storybrooke identities no longer really exist.  Snow and Charming finally face their grown-up daughter and pull her into a three-way hug — but the moment isn’t entirely ebullient. Snow looks deliriously happy. Charming looks wistful, as though mourning the years they’ve lost. Emma looks like she ate some bad shellfish. But understanding why Emma isn’t jumping for joy will have to wait. First, the gang has to question Rumpelstiltskin about double-crossing Emma and bringing magic back to Storybrooke. They’re sidetracked, though, when Jiminy Human rushes up and begs them to stop an angry mob that’s determined to kill Regina. Hey, remember when Regina had a dream that predicted this very incident?

NEXT: You’ve got Whale, whoever he is

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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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