An episode called "Save Henry" delivers what it promises -- though naturally, there's a twist
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Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

On this post-Turkey Day weekend, let’s all give thanks to “Save Henry” for finally getting us off the dark, dreary island of Never Land, tying up the first half of season 3 with a magical little bow… and then, in true Once fashion, reminding us once more that happy endings are never as uncomplicated as they seem.

The episode also explained something that fans have been wanting to know for years: how, precisely, Regina came to adopt Henry. Strike that: The episode sort of explained this. According to tonight’s fairyback — er, Storybrookeback — er, garden-variety-flashback — Regina’s earthbound yearning for a child is a direct result of her earlier patricide. Killing Henry Sr. left the Evil Queen with a hole in her heart, one she’s decided to fill 18 years later by procuring a child. But as Smash viewers know all too well, the adoption process can be long and torturous — which is why Regina turns to Storybrooke’s friendly neighborhood Dark One, a man who knows a thing or two about cutting through red tape with bedazzled scissors.

Naturally, her instincts are correct. Quicker than a cackle, Rumpelstiltskin — still, at that point, known around town only as Mr. Gold — finds a baby for Regina in Boston. (Um, how? Let’s hold onto this question.) Because the queen agreed to a closed adoption, it’s some time before the kid’s incessant crying prompts her to have Sidney Glass dig up the birth mother’s medical records… thereby revealing that baby Henry is none other than the spawn of Emma “Notso” Charming-Swan.

After Regina discovers the kid’s parentage, she’s understandably bemused. But when she confronts “Gold” about his apparent string-pulling, she’s met with a calm mask of apparent naiveté — one that may or may not be genuine.

Hang on a minute. Kitsis and Horowitz have said that Rumpelstiltskin regained his Fairy Land memories when Emma came to town in Once‘s pilot — specifically, when he heard the prodigal princess say her name aloud. So even though this detail has never really been made clear on Once itself, at this point in the narrative, Rumpel shouldn’t know the true identity of baby Henry’s mother. How, then, did he just happen to set Regina up with the one kid in this universe who has ties to the magical realms — not to mention the Enchanted Forest’s savior? Especially given his current lack of magic? Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but it sure seems like there’s something funny going on here — either retconning or misdirection that has to be more fully clarified at a later date.

NEXT: Regina takes a tipple

Anyhow, learning who Henry’s mother is nearly drives Regina to send the kid back on the Orphan Train and out of her life for good. In the end, though, she decides to keep the baby after all. (Boston Adoption Agency Worker’s inner monologue: “Yes, this fickle woman who almost returned her baby will certainly make a great and attentive mother. No need to have a social worker ever check up on her again!”)

And just to make sure that she can concentrate on parenting without constantly worrying that some blond bail bondsperson with a shoddy inner lie detector is going to come and take her baby away, Regina also brews up a handy forget-me-now potion, which erases her memories of both Gold’s suspicious dealings and the identity of Henry’s mother. Elsewhere, new moms whose own kids have driven them to drink nod in sympathy.

Back to the future! In Never Land, Henry’s three parents just can’t wake their mostly dead son. (Have they considered trying chocolate?) The kid’s great-grandfather indulges in a few moments of gloating before helpfully explaining that he has Rumpelstiltskin trapped in Pandora’s box — so much for Pan the master tactician — and flying away to TP Tiger Lily’s teepee or whatever. Regina manages to keep the damage from getting any worse by casting a preservation spell over Henry. The spell, though, has an arbitrary shelf life of one hour, meaning that the trio had better meet up with the rest of the MBC and figure out their next move fast if they want to avoid being stuck in this storyline for another week.

Upon arriving back at the Lost Boys’ camp, Regina predictably starts champing at the bit to get her torture on. Emma, though, wants to take a different approach. As she realized way back in episode 2, the Lost Boys are exactly what it says on the tin — neglected, hopeless children who just want to be nurtured and bossed around by someone who’s a few years past puberty. So Emma gently explains that she, too, once was lost but now is found, then swears to bring all the kids to her dalmatian plantation in Maine — if and only if they tell her where she can find Pan.

Lead boy Felix isn’t won over by this show of maternal affection, perhaps because he’s harboring some Mulanesque feelings for Pan. But the younger boys are a different story — and after being promised a neat evening on the MBC’s own Pirates of the Caribbean ride, they spill the beans on Pan’s likely location.

NEXT: Hint: He’s not at Neverland Ranch

So where is Pan hiding — Cannibal Cove? Crocodile Creek? Mermaids’ Lagoon, among those sea wenches who are inexplicably different from Ariel? Nope: He’s at his “thinking tree,” which I immediately assume to be Never Land’s version of Dawson’s creek. (Pan, as Magical Elf Paula Cole, wails: “I come out here to think sometimes.”) I am obviously wrong; it’s actually the tree where Malcolm ‘Stiltskin the malcontent was transformed into Peter Pan the perpetual teenager.

Regina, Emma, and Snow head off to find their nemesis there. Upon arriving, they’re distracted by Pandora’s Box, which Pan has just left on top of a rock. Trust Snow not to think this looks suspicious. It is, of course, a trap; the trio is soon captured by a set of vines that shoot out from the thinkin’ tree’s trunk. Pan appears right on cue for another sneer session and villain monologue, explaining that this is no ordinary enchanted wood: It feeds off of regret, something the ladies have in spades. (Or, in Regina’s apparent case, hearts.)

There’s one tiny wrinkle, though, that Pan didn’t count on — and that’s the depth of the Evil Queen’s sociopathy. See, Regina has done some stuff. She’s persuaded a lovelorn genie to murder her good-guy husband; she’s murdered one of Rumpelstiltskin’s magic students just to prove a point; she’s slaughtered an entire village while in pursuit of Snow White. By all means, she admits, “I should be overflowing with regret.” But here’s the thing: “I’m not.” Why? “Because it got my my son.” And with that, the mama grizzly easily shakes off the vines, reaches into Pan’s chest, yanks out Henry’s glowing gold heart, then calls it a day. This Mother’s Day, we should all write cards and sonnets and epic poems celebrating Regina’s awesomemess.

With heart and Pandora’s Box in tow, the gang returns to the Jolly Roger. Henry’s heart is restored; Rumpelstiltskin is freed from his mythical prison; Marilyn Manson’s shadow is blasted onto the ship’s sail via cannon, giving the vessel the powers of flight and world-jumping. Various characters (Emma and Charming, Nealfire and Rumpel, Tinker Bell and Wendy) are left with nothing to do but engage in a series of heart-to-hearts. There’s that neat little bow I mentioned earlier; it’s even got a sprinkling of glowing green pixie dust.

NEXT: Psych, made ya look!

Of course, things aren’t actually quite that simple. Pan has been weakened but not wholly defeated; while Henry is resting belowdecks, his great-granddad appears and attempts to steal back that juicy glowing Truest Believer heart. When he discovers that Regina has cast a spell protecting the contents of Henry’s chest, Pan goes instead for Plan B: Ripping off the kid’s shadow. (Note: We still don’t really know what happens when a person’s shadow gets ripped off, save for the fact that it apparently killed Growen.) He’s stopped in the nick of time by Rumpelstiltskin, who uses blood magic and Pandora’s Box to trap his father once and for all. Phenomenal cosmic power… iiiitty bitty living space!

Except, wait — did you catch the way that both Pan and Henry’s eyes flashed as the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up was being sucked into Rumpel’s cube? Because in case you didn’t, “Save Henry” is about to spell it out for you: Pan has pulled a Freaky Friday, switching bodies with his descendent and speaking unconvincingly with Jared Gilmore’s mouth. Does this mean next week’s episode will revolve around a Battle of the Bands?


– For those keeping score: Tonight marks Henry’s second Disney Death.

– I’m so glad that thanks to this last-minute switcheroo, the awesome Robbie Kay’s Once arc hasn’t yet drawn to a close. Not to slag off on Gilmore… but do you think there’s any chance the show might make the body switch permanent?

– Adventures in cast juggling: Ruby, who can soon be seen protecting Sawyer from harm on CBS, is mentioned but not shown. And Sidney Glass/the Magic Mirror, currently plotting in post-apocalyptic America is heard but not seen. Regina also never considers asking Sheriff Skinnyjeans to impregnate her, possibly because she knows how busy he currently is not impregnating some other girl.

– Is Rumpelstiltskin’s dagger still hidden somewhere in Never Land? What about his shadow?

– Oh hey, it’s Dr. Whale! Think he’s been playing poker with King George and Hansel and Gretel all season?

– Shortly after getting Henry, Regina can’t make the kid stop crying — but he quiets instantly when in “Mary Margaret”‘s arms. Think he could sense his grandmother, or is Snow just warmer than the queen?

– Hey, episode director Andy Goddard: Nice cut from the bonsai trees in Gold’s pawn shop to the jungle of Never Land.

– When Regina nearly gave baby Henry back, John and Michael Darling nearly got custody of him. (Boston adoption agencies give children to college-aged brothers?) Because Regina eventually came back, the Darlings were then forced to bide their time playing Follow the Leader for 11 years straight.

– Wendy gives Tinker Bell the last of Never Land’s pixie dust; Tink briefly gets the dust to glow with magic when she starts to believe in herself. Think this means it’s coming into play before the second half of season 3?

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