The pace quickens as we finally travel back to Storybrooke -- and learn who Pan's been keeping prisoner
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Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Ah, there’s that forward momentum we ordered! After weeks of running in place, tonight’s episode felt pretty action-packed from start to finish. What’s more, it actually advanced season 3’s master plot. Thanks to the events of “Dark Hollow,” Rumpel and Regina have secured a tool that can defeat Pan; the MBC has secured a way to leave Never Land; and Pan has secured the help of Henry, who’s been tricked into finally helping the ageless boy save Never Land’s magic — or whatever Pan is actually using Henry to do. What’s more, Ariel got legs, Belle got a renewed sense of hope, and we got a peek inside Pan’s other bamboo box. (Welcome to the game, Wendy!)

Let’s begin where the episode did — in Storybrooke, where Belle has just watched her boyfriend and his effed-up family slip away through a watery portal. Rumpelstiltskin has entrusted her with instructions on how to throw up a cloaking spell before more of Pan’s lackeys arrive in town. With the help of seven minor miners, the Blue Fairy, and the veins of fairy dust running through the town, Belle does as she’s told. Unfortunately, she gits ‘er done juuust after two mysterious, evil hipsters have driven their red convertible past the spell’s barrier.

No worries; the interlopers lay low for nearly a week, because of completely reasonable reasons. On the fifth day, though, Storybrooke gets another unexpected visitor: Ariel, bearing Regina’s Magical Leg Bracelet (not to be confused with Forrest Gump’s magic leg braces) and a message from Rumpelstiltskin to Belle: “My True Love went to Never Land, and all he got me was this crappy sand dollar.”

Psych! Once Belle points a magnifying glass at the shell, she conjures up a hologram, which immediately starts to perform Tupac’s greatest hits. Psych again! It’s a magical hologram of Rumpel, who urges her to find a hidden object that has the power to vanquish Pan… though he neglects to tell her what that object is, or where it might be. Before you can say “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi,” the hologram has disappeared. “He’s really into being cryptic, isn’t he?” Ariel helpfully observes.

Thankfully, Rumpel has given Belle one clue: the object’s location can be divined using “the strength of [their] love.” And as any Once fan knows, those words must refer to only one thing: our old buddy Chip the cup, last seen restoring the semi-princess’s memory in season 2’s finale. She intuits that it may help to put Chip back in Rump’s cabinet — no, he hates sleeping in the cupboard! — and voila, a trap door appears on the floor of the pawn shop. What could the Dark One have hidden down there?

NEXT: It is the beating of his hideous heart!

Meet our next MacGuffin: A tiny cube that Belle identifies as Pandora’s Box. (Not that one.) Legend has it that inside lurks the world’s darkest evil — which has to be enough to crush the boy who wouldn’t grow up. But before Ariel can spirit the box away to Never Land, our sleuths find themselves at the mercy of those two wicked hipsters. They overpower the gals, tie them up, and smoothly reveal that they’re working for Pan, all without ever getting a hair out of place. Then they slouch off, presumably to grab some kombucha and take in a screening of Blue is the Warmest Color before destroying the box.

Ah, but they didn’t count on Ariel morphing back into the catch of the day! A quick re-fishening helps the mermaid wriggle out of her bonds. Soon enough, she’s freed Belle as well, and the two set off toward the mines — where Belle assumes that the hipsters must have gone to destroy Pandora with a dwarvish pickaxe. (Belle’s intuition: Much more reliable than Emma’s internal lie detector!) They arrive in the nick of time. Like, literally just as one of the interlopers tells the other one, “Here, use this pickaxe.” Once. ONCE. Come on, you can do better than that.

Anywho, the ladies propel a cart — Belle’s old nemesis! — toward the tragically hip twins, successfully preventing them from smashing Pandora’s box into smithereens. And after victory is won, they learn some intriguing news: The guys aren’t true believers in Pan’s cause. In reality, they’re a pair of familiar faces who have been roped into Peter’s employ against their will… because he’s been holding their sister hostage for nigh upon a century.

Holy smokes — the hipsters are none other than John and Michael Darling, all grown up! Raise your hand if you saw that coming, and not because you, like me, read actor James Immekus’s IMDB page before tonight’s episode began. (Yo IMDB: Way to police spoilers.)

So Ariel brings the box back to Never Land, along with a message for the Evil Rs: Along with defeating Pan, they’ve got to save Wendy Darling. The girl in question is currently stuck in Peter’s second big bamboo box, though her captor briefly lets her out just so that she can trick Henry into believing Pan’s story about Never Land’s draining magic. How? Why, with feminine wiles and a fake incurable cough of death, of course. Considering how many stories he’s read, you’d think by now Emma’s son might know how to spot a trap.

NEXT: A love triangle with legs

Meanwhile, Nealfire finally reveals how the Magical Breakfast Club and co. can book their ticket off this sun-forsaken island: by hitching a ride with Pan’s world-jumping shadow. (If Regina and Rumpel built a magical submarine, do you think Ariel might be able to escort them home instead?) First, though, they’ll need to capture the slippery shade, who likes to hang out in a super edgy part of Never Land called Dark Hollow. You know, because the rest of the isle is so well-lit.

Our resident love triangle — Emma, Nealfire, and Hook — sets off toward the hollow, stopping first in Bae’s old boy cave to snag his coconut star map. Wait, that’s not a star map after all; it’s a shadow vacuum. You know, one of those coconuts. Along the way, there’s much tension… especially once Bae finds out about Hook and Emma’s steamy makeout sesh. Gentlemen, gentlemen — does the phrase “triangulated desire” mean anything to you?

Apparently not! At one point, when Hook and Emma are alone, the pirate tells the savior that he’s still a diehard Captain Swan shipper: “When I win your heart, Emma — and I will win it,” he promises, “it will not be because of any trickery. It will be because you want me.” Just call it the line that launched a thousand GIFs.

Bae and Hook’s passive aggression turns into straight up aggressive aggression once they reach Dark Hollow. The plan is to catch the shadow’s attention with a candle flame, then use the flame to suck him into a coconutty prison. But when Nealfire can’t get the wick lit, Hook snatches away his lighter. The two start squabbling in earnest, barely noticing that three Sim ghosts — I mean, Pan’s shadow and two accomplices — are about to attack.

If you tuned in to “Dark Hollow” after tonight’s “Previously on Once…” segment, you might be filled with suspense right about now. Everyone else can guess what will happen next — as Hook and Bae are incapacitated, Emma taps into her still murkily defined magical powers and lights the candle. Mimi finds her stash; the shadow is trapped. And after they’ve escaped the danger, Emma sets her love interests straight: If she has to choose someone, she says, she’s going to pick Henry. (Not in a Boardwalk Empire kind of way. Gross, guys.)

NEXT: Three more reasons why Ariel’s the best


– As the episode ends, the real man in Emma’s life is about to go with Pan to the ominously named Skull Rock, ancestral home of pirates in Disney’s animated Peter Pan. Might Tiger Lily be hiding there? Or are Pan‘s racial politics problematic enough that Once has decided to steer away from making her a character altogether?

– Did you notice the little bear hanging from John and Michael Darling’s rearview mirror? It looked an awful lot like cartoon Michael‘s beloved teddy.

– Also: The Darlings’ car has a Minnesota license plate (so they didn’t drive to Maine from England!) that reads 0920 EAW. Speculate away!

– Every dwarf but Grumpy thinks Storybrooke’s been a lot more pleasant since the Charmings left. To wit, in the last five days: No murders! No wraiths! No giants crushing Doc’s Miata!

– Jiminy Human wonders why Belle is so glum. Belle, in response: “It’s just, [Rumpel] said he was going off to his death.” Oh, just that?

– Another minor plot point: Snow finally forgives Charming for lying to her about the poison, and swears to stay in Never Land if he truly is stuck there forever. It won’t be so bad; think of all the self-righteousness they can throw at the Lost Boys!

– “He’s a prince. The kind with legs.” “I’ll find him and tell him how I feel, as long as he lives near the beach.” Oh Ariel, you have officially become my favorite! I’m sorry I was so crabby about your introductory episode.

– The little mermaid, getting her first glimpse at all of Rumpelstiltskin’s treasures: “Look at this stuff!” A chorus of viewers raised on “Part of Your World”: “Isn’t it neat?”

– I love how quickly Tinker Bell believes that the MBC had captured Pan’s shadow. “I need proof!” “Here is a coconut.” “Oh, okay, SOLD!”

– So like, the Magical Breakfast Club remembers that the lid of Bae’s coconut contraption is full of holes, right?

– What do you think the dark evil that can defeat Pan is? I like the idea of it being the ravages of age; a receding hairline and some arthritis would screw that brat up something good.

– Is it worth wondering why Wendy is still 13ish even though Michael and John have aged, or should we just chalk it up to rando magic?

– Regina rewards Ariel with a revamped magical bracelet that will give her legs whenever she wants, “or a fin; whatever [Eric’s] into these days.” Hee!

– Next week: It’s time to save Henry, except “Save Henry” is the episode that airs two weeks from now. Hmm! Also: Emma and Regina are maybe going to steal the moon?!

Episode Recaps

Once Upon a Time

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

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