Potions and witches and questionable decisions, oh my -- Once is back!

By Hillary Busis
April 30, 2015 at 08:38 PM EDT
Jack Rowand/ABC
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Welcome back, Oncemen! (Like “huntsmen”? As in Sheriff Skinnyjeans? Maybe I should have thought this one through.)

After a three-month Hiatus Curse, our story returned tonight in fine form. Or, you know, in some kind of form. I suspect your reaction to the episode as a whole will all boil down to how you felt about that 11th-hour “holy crap, Christopher Gorham is a flying monkey?!” twist. Thought it was a delightful way to introduce Once‘s sure-to-be-warped version of Oz? If so, you were probably on board with “New York City Serenade.” Fall closer to the “you have got to be kidding me!” end of the spectrum? If so, you were probably… less enthused. Either way, you’ll likely agree that the hour could have used a little less conversation and a little more action — though I think we can also collectively applaud the show for giving Emma back her memories as quickly as it did, rather than drawing out the process. (Never fear, though; Henry’s own journey toward enlightenment is sure to bring its share of frustrations.)

But before we check in on the happenings in Manhattan, let’s travel back to one year ago, Once-time — the moment when the Charmings, Regina, Nealfire, and whoever else this episode had budget for reappear in the Enchanted Forest. The gang immediately find themselves deposited at Prince Phillip and Princess Aurora’s Love Gazebo, where the royals greet the newcomers warmly. After establishing that Castle CGI — onetime home of Snow and Regina — still stands, the onetime Storybrookeites head off to start repopulating their kingdom.

After they leave, though, Aurora and Philip have a tense conversation. She tells him that they have to let “her” know that the Charmings et al have returned. Philip is reluctant to tattle — but Aurora worries that if they don’t, the mysterious “she” will harm their unborn child. Who might they be talking about? Let’s just say if you care to find “her,” look toward the western sky.

So the loose fellowship treks onward, save one very important pirate — Hook decides to ride away from the group on a horse he just stumbled upon. Unless that horse was a human in Storybrooke and is actually named, like, Frank. Hook says he’s heading off to look for the Jolly Roger, or another ship to plunder — but Snow knows that he’s really just brooding about being separated from Emma. And soon enough, another angsty reformed villain elects to strike out on her own. Snow peels off from her comrades to find Regina crouched in the woods, burying the plastic heart that’s causing her to feel all sorts of unpleasant feelings — despair over losing Henry, jealousy that Emma gets the kid all to herself, fear that this place doesn’t even have mayoral elections. Snow uses her princess powers to convince Regina that a lifetime of feeling bad is better than a lifetime of feeling nothing at all, and it’s all very Once-by-numbers… until the flying monkey shows up.

NEXT: Emma’s deeeluxe apartment in the sky 

Oh-ee-oh, yo ho! Regina is nearly carried off by the beast before she and Snow are rescued by a dashing figure in tight tights: Robin Hood, whom you may remember as Regina’s secret second soulmate. Much like many good romances, it’s quasi-dislike at first sight — for Regina, anyway. Robin “smells like forest,” she sniffs, and his right-hand Merry Man Little John fails to give her the deference she thinks she deserves: “Show some respect,” Regina sneers at him, “or at least some restraint at the buffet.”

All quips are forgotten, however, when the ever-expanding group arrives at the fringes of Castle CGI… and they realize that their progress is being blocked by a protection spell. Why do I suspect that if our heroes examined that invisible dome a little more closely, they’d see that it’s covered in green fingerprints?

Flash forward one year, where Emma and Henry are enjoying the type of lifestyle usually found only in ’90s sitcoms. They’ve got a palatial apartment filled with all sorts of cups; Henry has friends with cool names like Avery; Emma is even dating a furniture shop owner played by Christopher Gorham. And that furniture shop owner — named Walsh, which will be important later — wants to marry her.

Naturally, hearing his proposal sends commitment-phobe Emma into a tailspin. They’ve only known each other eight months! She has Henry’s needs to consider! Walsh is secretly a flying monkey! But even though she’s freaking out, her beau stays superhumanly (heh) calm and collected, ensuring her they don’t have to tie the knot right away. After all, if they want to hold the ceremony at the Central Park Zoo, they’ll need to book at least a year in advance.

Memory-wiped Henry, for one, is in favor of an Emma/simian match. He tries to convince his mom to just say yes, and his words go a long way toward changing Emma’s mind. But there’s one other wrinkle that Emma’s been keeping from her son: The dashing rapscallion who keeps following her around town, insisting that her memories aren’t real. Pretty sure I pass that guy on my way to the train every morning.

At first, Emma deals with her swashbuckling stalker the way any self-respecting woman would: She gets him arrested for assault and criminal harassment. And yet something about his words — and the fact that he points her toward Neal’s apartment, which contains a camera filled with photos of Emma and Henry in some town in Maine she’s never heard of — make Emma skeptical of her own skepticism. So eventually, she springs the mysterious stranger from a local precinct — or the “brig,” in his words — and agrees to take a swig of the mysterious potion he offers her.

NEXT: Why you should take candy from strangers

Emma immediately dies of ricin poisoning. Just kidding! She gets all of her memories back — and  recognizes the dude who’s been following her as the one and only Captain Hook. Moral of the story, kids: When a dude in heavy guyliner offers you a drink he’s been carrying around in his pocket for days, always say yes.

So now things are just a wee bit more complicated than they were before. Emma knows she has to go back to Storybrooke, which has apparently regenerated, and she has to bring Henry back with her — but first, she has to tell Walsh that she isn’t going to marry him. Her boyfriend takes the news rather well… by which I mean he goes from Jekyll to Monkey Hyde in three seconds flat. The savior fights him off fairly easily, though it’s got to sting to learn that you’ve been dating Donkey Kong for the better part of a year.

Finally, it’s time for Emma, Hook, and Henry to make the trek we knew they’d have to make sooner or later. Back to New Storybrooke they go, even though Henry’s still suffering from an acute case of memory tampering; Emma has told him that they’re going north because she has a case to work in Maine. Oh, and that Hook is a “client,” even though she doesn’t run a treasure-burying agency. The kid is still asleep when Emma climbs the stairs to the apartment she once shared with Snow, then knocks on the door — only to find that her father is, in fact, back in Maine. Charming is amazed and delighted to see Emma, but tells her that all is not well: He and the other ex-residents of Fairy Land are cursed and trapped in Storybrooke. Again. And someone or something has erased their memories of the past year; the last thing they can recall is saying goodbye to Emma the day Regina’s curse was truly broken.

Emma is confused. If their memories were wiped, how does Charming know a year has passed? Cue Snow, waddling into the room — and sporting an enormously pregnant belly. Hey, that’s one way to have art imitate life!

And now we get our first glimpse at the creature who’s put season 3’s second arc in motion — a familiar-looking, emerald-skinned vixen with a naughty glint in her eye and an apparent beef against Regina. From another computer generated castle far away, she slinks over to the monkey who attacked Snow and her stepmother, collecting a sample of the queen’s blood. “Now I shall get my revenge,” she purrs. “The queen may be evil, but I’m wicked. And wicked always wins.” Well, unless it’s an alphabetical contest.

NEXT: The return of Breadcrumbs!

Breadcrumbs

– Christopher Gorham’s character is named Walsh. The actor who played the lead Flying Monkey in The Wizard of Oz was named Pat Walshe. The more you know!

– Partway through the episode, we spy Henry playing something called Diablo — a role-playing game that pits its hero against the Lord of Terror. It’s perhaps worth noting that the first game in the Diablo series ends with the hero martyring himself, attempting to contain the villain within his own body… while the second game in the series begins with the hero having been corrupted by the spirit he tried so valiantly to vanquish. Foreshadowing?

– When Hook surprises Emma in a restaurant, she doesn’t shout at him and make a scene… but she does pick up her butter knife real threatening-like.

– We see Robin Hood and Little John — but where’s their fellow Merry Person Mulan?

– Thought Rumpelstiltskin was really dead? Given what Jennifer Morrison told me when we chatted last week, you might want to temper that expectation. (Also: Seriously, someone thought he was really dead?)

– 89 Wooster Street, where Nealfire’s apartment is supposedly located, actually looks like this.

– Hook calls his New York cell the most barbaric prison he can imagine: “They force-fed me something called baloney.” (Note: I’m aware that the real stuff is called “bologna,” but I’ve got a feeling the police weren’t exactly giving Hook top-sourced mortadella imported from Italy.)

– Regina doesn’t know who’s blocking her castle, but she will: “I’m going to find out who’s eating my porridge.” Props to Lana Parrilla for making that sentence sound threatening.

– Why doesn’t Henry get his memory back? Because Hook only had enough potion for one person, naturally. And because if someone isn’t spending several episodes trying to convince another person that magic is real, it’s not really Once Upon a Time.

– Who fought off the Flying Gorham? Why, it was Emma, on the roof, with the lead pipe!

– We haven’t heard anyone say it on the show yet, but in case you were wondering, Once‘s version of the Wicked Witch is named Zelena. Not Elphaba.

– Next week: It’s a Jane Espenson episode. Hurray!

Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.
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  • 10/23/11
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