The Jolly Roger Six (plus a few stowaways) receive a hero's welcome upon their return -- but the war for Storybrooke is just beginning

By Hillary Busis
April 30, 2015 at 08:40 PM EDT
Jack Rowand/ABC
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After two and a half years, 54 episodes, and countless reminders that magic always comes with a price, I think it’s time for Once to officially make a royal decree: No more fairybacks.

Think that’s too harsh? Perhaps instead, the show could simply try cutting way back on glimpses into the pasts of Snow White, Prince Charming, Regina, and Rumpelstiltskin — unless those glimpses convey crucial new information that’s actually relevant to the show’s main narrative arc. (Lil’ Rumpel’s trip to Never Land with his dad would count; Regina’s brief encounter with Tinker Bell wouldn’t.)

At this point, we’ve already seen nearly every important beat from each of those four’s pre-Storybrooke lives. Additional flashbacks just seem to keep reiterating things we’ve been told over and over again (hey, did you know Regina and Snow are enemies?!). And at this point, those gratuitous subplots are starting to feel less like mirrors of the show’s present-day action and more like filler. Once‘s network ancestor Lost made a game-changing, groundbreaking shift from flashbacks to flash-forwards at the end of its own third season; the fairy tale crew would do well to follow in its forefather’s footsteps by shaking up its formula sooner rather than later.

What brought on this mini-rant against fairybacks? That’d be tonight’s entry, a detour unnecessary enough to have me wondering if one segment might feature Bai Ling giving Charming a set of bitchin’ tattoos. The plot, as it were: After Snow and Charming’s wedding, the prince is eager for some dwarf-free, non-G-rated alone time with his new bride. But Snow just can’t let her hair down — or, unfortunately, take her wig off — because she’s too worried about Regina’s wedding-day threat (presented once more in a helpful replay of a scene from Once‘s pilot: “I shall destroy your happiness if it is the last thing I do”).

Snow’s solution? Take a trip to her family’s old summer palace, conveniently located near the cave where, according to legend, the snaky computer-generated gorgon Medusa lives. (Don’t complain at this late date about Once mashing together Greek mythology and Grimm’s fairy tales; remember King Midas?) There, Snow plans to cut off the cursed lady’s head and use it as a weapon against Regina. Spoiler alert #1: Medusa’s cave is actually a fairly expansive underground house with a well-marked, man-made entrance. Spoiler alert #2: The Charmings nearly fall prey to the Gorgon — Charming, of course, gets himself turned into a statue for a few minutes — until Snow remembers her Ovid and presents Medusa with a shiny shield, promptly causing the monster to turn herself into stone and reversing David’s petrified fate.

NEXT: Anything can happen in the woods!

The moral of the story, as Charming himself will later paraphrase: “Any moment, big or small/Is a moment after all/Seize the moment; skies may fall/Any moment.” (Disney’s Into the Woods: Coming to a theater near you on Christmas Day 2014!) In other words, don’t let your fears about the future interrupt your enjoyment of the present. Unless, that is, your sense of impending doom turns out to be totally justified.

Which brings us back to a certain harbor in Maine, where the Jolly Roger has just landed — and the MBC is receiving a hero’s welcome. There are hugs! There are cheers! There are further indications that the dwarfs, the Blue Fairy, Belle, and Granny are the only people who still live in Storybrooke! Even Regina gets some recognition, sort of, when Snow magnanimously tells the assembled crowd that her stepmother played an integral role in the rescue of Henry. Hurrah, non-poisoned turnovers for everybody!

Well, not quite. Everyone believes that Peter Pan has been secured within a box, which Rumpel has put within a bigger box and plans to mail himself so he can smash it with a hammer. But unbeknownst to them, Pan’s malevolent spirit has actually switched bodies with Henry — and as is Peter’s wont, the hybrid kid is already stirring sh– up. One of Panry’s first moves is to suck up to Regina, which aggravates the tension between her and Emma even as it gets Panry closer to his ultimate Storybrooke goal. Emma, though, can feel that something’s up with the kid. Reason 1: He didn’t seem to recognize his all-important story book. Reason 2: He’s being uncharacteristically quiet, except when pitting his mothers against each other or demanding to see Lost Boy Felix imprisoned.

Regina, though, can’t seem to tell that anything’s wrong, even when Panry not-so-innocently asks her, out of the blue, if she brought her vault to Storybrooke — you know, the one with all the magic. He might as well be whistling casually and insisting that there’s nothing to see here. Ah, but poor Regina is so love-starved that her evil alarm bells seem to have been muted; she leaves the kid alone in Henry’s old bedroom, giving Panry the perfect opportunity to summon Marilyn Manson’s shadow from the sail of the Jolly Roger. Sweet dreams are made of this, if you’re a sociopathic monster.

NEXT: Who am I to disagree?

Storybrooke’s denizens begin the next day expecting to deal with perfectly ordinary drama: angst over having a maybe-date with their deadbeat baby-daddies, for example, or the pressure of deciding whether it’s the right time to conceive a royal sister or brother for their grown-up firstborn children. Soon, however, the townsfolk discover that those petty problems are the least of their worries — because the Shadow is on the loose. And it’s already performed a bloodless yet grisly shade-ectomy on the Blue Fairy. (And the family show’s surprisingly high body count continues its upward swing.)

That’s right: Good ol’ Blue is dead. Dead! Like, really dead, not Disney dead! Kudos to Once for delivering a truly surprising twist; who’d have guessed that the show would get rid of one of its longest-running characters so abruptly, and in such an unpleasant manner?

So now everybody knows that Pan’s supposed imprisonment isn’t working out like Rumpel had planned. Emma and her parents head off to Rump’s pawn shop, where they plan to draw their enemy out and get rid of him once and for all; Regina, meanwhile, decides to take Panry to that vault he’s been asking about, since it’s the one place in Storybrooke Pan can’t get to. All together now: D’OH!

Plan A ends up yielding a different result than Emma and co. had in mind. They take Pandora’s Box out to the town limits, figuring that if Pan is released on real-world ground he won’t be able to use his magic against them. (Because on Once, magic doesn’t exist in our land except when it does.) Once the boy comes out of the box, Emma’s prepared to shoot him with her good old-fashioned Earth gun… until she hears him explain, in a panicked voice, that he’s not actually Peter Pan at all.

Rumpel and the Charmings don’t believe the real Henry is trapped in Pan’s body — let’s call this hybrid Heter — since this sounds like just the sort of trick Pan would try to pull. But in the end, Heter manages to convince his birth mother of his true identity by saying something only he would say. Specifically, he knows to tell her that the two of them first connected way back in the pilot, when Henry told Emma he understood why she gave him up for adoption. Though everyone but Emma was prepared to blast Heter into Kingdom Come just moments ago, now they’re all happily accepting him back into the fold. How fickle are fairy tale characters!

NEXT: Curses, foiled by Pan again!

The gang heads back into town, where they meet up with Nealfire, Tinker Bell, and Hook outside of Regina’s father’s crypt. They haven’t been able to get ahold of the evil queen, though — and her vault’s entrance is protected by some pretty strong magic. (Spoiler alert #3: When Rumpel says that breaking the spell will take some time, he actually means “about 30 seconds.”) After a brief pause that gives Emma plenty of time to bemoan her Chosen status — Buffy gives an empathetic nod — they head inside to find that Panry has knocked Regina out and escaped with an extremely important artifact.

That artifact? It’s the scroll containing Regina’s Dark Curse. And Pan intends to use it to cast the hex again. Why? Because doing so would cause everyone in town to lose their memories — after being transported to an alternate universe Maine? — and be stuck in time forever, enabling Panry (and Felix, if Pan’s feeling generous) to rule the roost as he sees fit. In other words: He wants to turn Storybrooke into Never Land. Just when you thought we were out, Pan’s trying to pull us back in! (Note: He better not pull us back into that sunless, plotless hellscape.)

Breadcrumbs

– About Emma’s whole “being the savior means I don’t get a day off” thing: …Does it? The saving’s already been accomplished, nominally; you’d think that would mean at this point, she s a savior in name only.

– While Prince Eric is apparently a cleaver-happy fisherman in Storybrooke, he quickly warms to Ariel once more after Belle leads the belegged mermaid to him.

– Tink almost gets her wings back from the Blue Fairy, until Blue realizes that Tink can’t keep her pixie dust glowing — meaning she still doesn’t truly believe in herself. Expect this to be important next week.

– Grumpy, explaining how he overheard Snow and Charming’s post-wedding fairyback fight: “Thin masonry.”

– The Hook/Nealfire/Emma love triangle is still going semi-strong, though Hook tells Nealfire that he’s going to back off for Henry’s sake — and Emma seems pretty close to pulling a Merida by choosing neither suitor.

– After Michael and John reunite with Wendy — now conspicuously younger than her younger brothers — the Darlings announce that it’s time for them to go home. But what home? They can’t exactly return to their family’s old Edwardian London mansion, can they?

– Fairyback Snow stops an amorous Charming by telling him she’s got something special planned for that night. Charming, possibly using an old Fairy Land euphemism: “I’ll go stable the horses.”

– Did killing Medusa unleash a horde of unfrozen victims on Fairy Land, a la the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?

– Emma wonders if her father is pushing her toward Nealfire because he wants to keep her away from Hook. The prince, charmingly: “You think I’m interested in Hook? Emma, I’m a married man!”

– Did we ever find out what happens to a shadow once it’s removed? Blue may be merely Disney dead after all…

– Regina, gloating from the reflective surface of a shield in the fairyback: “Cranky because your prince is now a statue? I can barely tell the difference.” Somebody better get some medicated ointment to treat that major burn.

– Though the body switch was a huge plot point, we really didn’t get to see much of either Robbie Kay’s Henry or Jared Gilmore’s Pan. Even so, how do you think the boys did?

– Next week: Storybrooke is beset by another colorful curse cloud, and Season 3.1 draws to a close. Think Once will stick this midpoint landing?

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