Angst is the flavor of the week, afflicting Emma, Snow -- and even Rumpelstiltskin. Also: Rufio shoutout!

By Hillary Busis
April 30, 2015 at 08:43 PM EDT
Jack Rowand/ABC
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Uh oh, dearies — we’ve reached the part in our story when everyone is being afflicted by crippling self-doubt. (Or, in Emma’s case, the part where she… continues to be afflicted by crippling self-doubt.) It’s a necessary step along any hero’s journey. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly the most scintillating subject in Once‘s repertoire. At least Rumbelle supporters and Captain Swan crew members each got a little something to snack on; the rest of us will just have to hope things get more exciting when Tinkerbell flits into our lives next week.

Tonight’s “believe in yourself” theme stretches all the way from Neverland to the season’s first Fairyback, set during a yet-unelaborated stretch of Once history: the period between Charming awakening Snow and the couple’s wedding. These are heady times, characterized by disgruntled dwarfs, Regina’s wrath, and Snow White’s crisis of confidence, which strikes when her stepmother offers her a Joker-esque deal. Since attempted murder and cursing hasn’t exactly worked in Regina’s favor, she’s got a new proposition for the princess: Snow, Charming, and the dwarfs have one day to get the hell out of Dodge. And for each day they defy Regina’s orders, the Evil Queen promises to kill one innocent as punishment.

Nobody ever taught Snow not to negotiate with terrorists: She’s all for giving in to Regina’s demands and retreating far, far away. (But not there.) Charming, though, knows that they can fight the villainess and win — provided his betrothed only believes in herself. And the best way to make Snow believe in herself is, of course, to lie to her.

Charming tells the princess that Rumpelstiltskin has pointed him in the direction of a magical weapon that will help her defeat Regina once and for all. The weapon, as it turns out, “was formed by a benevolent mage [named] Merlin, from a realm called Camelot.” (Timeline check: Tonight’s fairyback takes place before the pair met Lancelot, so it makes sense that Snow doesn’t know any Arthurian lore.) Snow draws “Excalibur” from a stone and almost immediately gets her mojo back. When Regina returns for another threatdown, the princess even draws blood from her enemy.

Too bad that, as Rumpelstiltskin himself soon informs her, the sword’s a fake. (“Shoddy craftsmanship, too. Then again, what can you expect from a shepherd? Lucky it wasn’t made of wool.”) At first, Snow is royally and understandably pissed. But when Charming mansplains that he only lied for Snow’s own good, she quickly forgives his trespasses. Is season 3’s budget big enough to fund a glimpse of Snow and Charming’s war against Regina?

NEXT: She really is a funny girl…

On to confidence crisis #2! This one belongs to Rumpel, who has recently performed his own shadow-ectomy. (He’s dispatched the shade to hide his dagger, the only weapon with which the Dark One can be killed.) While wandering through the jungle, he’s surprised by a familiar face: Belle. Wait, what’s Belle doing there — nursing a squirrel baby?

Though it seems almost inconceivable that her sudden appearance isn’t some sort of mind game courtesy of Pan, Belle — or her spirit/astral projection/whatever — swears that she’s there because Rumpel has unconsciously conjured her. Rumpel is way too quick to believe this explanation, though perhaps you would be too if something that looked an awful lot like your long-distance girlfriend was in town for one night only.

Anyhoo, Belle provides the same service for Rumpel that Charming provided for Snow — making him believe that he has the capacity to do the right thing, which in this case means saving Henry even if it ensures Rump’s death. His first step, Belle says, will be to stop holding onto his cowardly past — here represented by that straw doll Rumpel received last week, which isn’t actually one of Bae’s old playthings. (My b!) Instead, it’s the last object Rumpel’s own deadbeat father ever gave his son — before abandoning him. It’s not a Disney story without massive daddy issues!

Rumpel drops the doll over a cliff, thus physically and literally letting go. Awesome; two doubters down, one to go! Er, actually strike that. While wandering through the jungle again, the Dark One is disturbed by mysterious noises. Smoke monster! Smoke monster! Nope, it’s just the literal straw man, which lands neatly at Rumpel’s feet — and can’t be destroyed, even by Fiendfyre. Looks like letting go will be easier said than done.

Which brings us to the story of Emma, who’s being disturbed by a different mysterious din as the rest of the Magical Breakfast Club (or MBC, as the cool kids nobody but me calls it) slumbers. It sounds almost like crying children… the perfect introduction for Peter Pan, who then materializes for a bit of midnight taunting. He’s also arrived to give Emma a special present: a map that will lead her straight to her missing son. There’s just one problem — the piece of paper he hands over is totally blank.

NEXT: Mischief managed

Unfortunately, this parchment won’t fill itself in when you solemnly swear you’re up to no good. According to Pan, Emma can unlock the map’s secrets only when she stops denying who she really is. Riddles! Calling herself an ex-Bostonian doesn’t work; neither does citing her past as a “bail bonds person,” a description I will never not find funny. Even admitting out loud that she’s the Savior doesn’t work. What gives? Finally, Regina grows frustrated enough to snatch the map away. She knows she can’t break Pan’s spell — but she can transform the map into a Pan homing device.

Alas, Regina’s idea works all too well, and in no time the MBC has been drawn straight into a trap. Pan tut-tuts Emma for disobeying his rules — then sics his Lost Boys on our poor heroes. The good: Hook fights off one of them, sneering, “Remember what I did to Rufio? Well, it’s a far worse fate for you!” HA. The bad: Charming takes a poisoned arrow for Snow. And though he tells his wife that the point only pierced his jacket, the prince’s honesty track record isn’t exactly great tonight.

Eventually, Pan calls off the boys — if he murdered all his playthings, there would be no guests for his evil tea party! But even though the threat has dissipated for now, Emma’s still spiraling down into a deep despair.

The last thing she needs is a pep talk from her mother. Even so, Snow tries to comfort Emma. And as they talk, the truth finally comes out. Emma admits that she can’t escape from her old perception of herself: “a lost little girl who didn’t matter, didn’t think she ever would. A little girl who cried herself to sleep at night because she wanted her parents so bad, and could never understand why they gave her up.” Despite her reunion with Snow and Charming, the Savior still doesn’t feel fulfilled — deep down, she’s still a sad, lonely orphan.

And with that, the map finally fills itself in.

They’ll set north for Pan’s camp, where Henry is being held captive, in the morning. In the meantime, Emma’s got some Hook-flirting and berry-picking to do. Just don’t think this means smooth sailing — er, jungle-walking — for the MBC quite yet. Before the night is through, Pan shows up for one final taunting session. He sneers that just as Emma hasn’t forgiven Snow and Charming, Henry hasn’t forgiven her for abandoning him: “By the time you get to him, he’ll never want to leave this island,” Pan says, gloating. Oh, and as for Emma? “When we’re finished,” Pan adds, “you won’t just feel like an orphan — you’ll be one.”

Cue Charming examining his poisoned wound. Where’s a magical curse candle when you need one?

NEXT: Theories about Neverland’s perpetual twilight, and other breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs

– I hope that every time Once badmouths adoption or the foster care system, Disney donates money to Foster Kids Charity or something.

– I’m starting to wonder if the sun even exists in Neverland. “Never” is how often they turn on the lights in this place.

– You may remember that Ruth, Charming’s mother, was also struck — and, eventually, killed — by a poisoned arrow back in the beginning of season 2. (It is totally okay if you don’t actually remember that.)

– After telling Emma that the stories she’s heard about Peter Pan aren’t true, Hook gets curious:

Hook: “In these stories, what was I like? Other than a villain. Handsome, I gather.”

Emma: “If waxed mustaches and perms are your thing.”

Hook: “I take it from your tone perms are bad.”

– Obviously, fairy tales etc. exist in Once Upon a Time‘s universe. I’m curious, though — does Disney? Update: How quickly I forgot Bae’s line about the Mulan movie! Still, though, you’d expect Emma (or someone) to bring up the show’s corporate overlord more often than she does.

– Oh hey, it’s Giancarlo Esposito’s Magic Mirror! Wonder if he could see what happened to Walt.

– Actual snippet from my notes tonight: “Snow and her weave are failing to hit a bullseye.” Seriously, though — that fairyback hair was ratty. She should ask Red to refer her to a better stylist.

– Between Hook and Emma’s flask-sipping and Charming’s round of shots with the dwarfs, this was a particularly boozy episode. As long as nobody starts hallucinating pink elephants, I think I’ll be okay.

– Can Rumpel’s shadow really hide that dagger somewhere Pan won’t find it? The little jerk seems to be pretty much omnipotent when he’s on his home turf.

– Regina’s evil senses are tingling: “He’s there. Pan. I can feel his smugness.”

– The queen also finds Grumpy’s lack of faith disturbing. How’s that for Disney/Lucasfilm synergy?

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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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