As one door closes—the Frozen arc—another opens: Say hello to the Queens of Darkness.
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OUAT RECAP
Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC
GINNIFER GOODWIN, JOSH DALLAS

That’s about where tonight’s midseason finale—which may as well have been titled “Falling Action”—leaves us. The Snow Queen has been vanquished; the ice wall around Storybrooke has been KO’d; the rest of the Frozen folk have retreated back to the Disney store, where they belong; season 4B’s secondary antagonist, Rumplestiltskin, has gotten what he deserves; Hook has regained both his heart and his mojo, if that concluding kiss with Emma is any indication. Even infrequently-mentioned Operation Mongoose has been partially successful: Henry and Regina have discovered the Author’s house, if not the Author himself.

“Heroes and Villains” isn’t quite as definitively conclusive as last year’s midseason finale—an hour that would have functioned perfectly well as a full series wrap-up—but it did have the whiff of a hand firmly closing a storybook called The One With the Frozen Tie-In. Which isn’t to say that we’ll never see the Arendelle gals again. (A brief wish: Before we do, could we maybe just find out where Mulan’s been hiding? Please? Has she, like, been impersonating a tree to save her mother from being conscripted into the Ent Army?)

Ah, but come next March, the Storybrooke crew will be facing down a whole new team of villains. Hence tonight’s fairyback, which formally introduced the dynamic trio: Skinny Ursula, who’s somehow gone from legendary goddess to corporeal octopus lady (and from Yvette Nicole Brown’s voice to Merrin Dungey’s person); Not-Angelina-Jolie Maleficent, played as ever by the fabulous Kristin Bauer van Straten (can you believe she hasn’t appeared on this show since 2012?!); and the only one who hasn’t yet had a presence on Once, Victoria Smurfit’s Cruella de Vil. Of these three “queens of darkness,” Cruella is the obvious outlier—One Hundred and One Dalmatians takes place in real-world London, not a mystical magic kingdom. Kitsis and Horowitz have promised to mitigate this by revamping the character’s backstory, giving Cruella origins in the Enchanted Forest and “some magic of her own.” As of now, it looks like that magic includes the ability to conjure up adorable dalmatian puppies out of thin air. (Wait… so she can make coats out of them?! Maybe it’s kinda like eating farmed salmon instead of going fishing.)

Said puppy has a purpose: to lure Fairyback Belle away from the safety of pre-Storybrooke Rumple’s clothesline. The Dark One soon learns that his indentured servant has been kidnapped. Unless he pays a hefty ransom—in the form of the gauntlet he just spirited away from Camelot, a realm that’s been mentioned a few times on Once but never yet seen—her captors are gonna give Beauty the ax.

Because Rump knows how hard it is to find good help these days—and, oh yeah, because this is the point in the timeline where he’s feelin’ Belle but still playing it off like Megara—he reluctantly heads to the spot where the Trio has demanded him to go, gauntlet in hand. (That spot, by the way: “Demon’s Bluff.” What, Terror Lake was too much of a schlep?) There, he and we first see the villainous ladies in action. There are quips aplenty; Ursula purrs that it’d be a shame to crack Belle’s pretty vocal pipes, while Rumple greets Cruella with, “I thought I caught a whiff of gin and desperation.” Clearly, he’s dealt with all three of the Queens, who tell them that they want the gauntlet for the same reason Regina wants to find the author of Henry’s book: it’s enchanted with the power to reveal a person’s greatest weakness, which they think can help them achieve their own happy endings.

Much as it pains him to give in, Rump tosses over the gauntlet in exchange for Belle’s life. But that’s not the end of the story…

NEXT: Snap back to reality/oh, there goes gravity

Meanwhile, in present-day Storybrooke, Elsa takes down the ice wall, barely breaking a sweat. (All together now.) This means that her work on Earth is truly done; it’s time for her, Anna, and Kristoff to head back to Arendelle, where billions of dollars await. One wrinkle: They need a portal to cross between worlds, and those things are in short supply.

Enter Rumple, who has a vested interest in getting the Frozen crew the hell out of Dodge as quickly as possible. (Remember, Anna’s the only one besides Hook who knows the truth about Rump and the Sorcerer’s hat. You did remember that, right?) Thankfully, his Honeymoon Mansion is more than a cozy romantic getaway; as an adorable enchanted broom reveals, it’s also the home of a portal leading, wouldn’t you know it, straight back to Ice-land. (Ahem.) Rumpel conveys the message to our heroes via Hook, who’s still under the Dark One’s command. Soon all will be well, and everyone will be back in their rightful place! Right?

Not exactly. Let’s flash over to poor Regina, who’s really being put through the wringer tonight—all because Ingrid’s death means Marian’s no longer a maid-sicle. Bad news for the queen: Once she’s revived, Robin’s wife embraces her husband, overjoyed. Good news: Shortly thereafter, Marian tells Regina that she doesn’t want Robin to be with her if he’s only there out of obligation; she’ll step aside if he really wants to be with Regina. (Marian: Surprisingly forgiving of the woman who murdered her in an alternate timeline!) Bad news: When Regina sees Marian and Roland together, she assumes Robin will want to stay together for the kids. Good news: Nope, Robin’s really, truly serious about leaving his wife for her. Bad news: Suddenly, Marian’s collapsing. Worse news: It turns out Ingrid’s spell hasn’t totally dissipated; unless Marian steps over the town line into a world without magic, she’s a goner. Worst news: If she does, in fact, do that, another remnant of Ingrid’s spell will prevent her from ever stepping foot into Storybrooke again.

Meaning Roland will have to go with her.

Meaning Robin will have to go, too.

Meaning Regina’s happy ending is pretty much dead on arrival.

Cue sad trombone. You’d think between Emma, Regina, and Elsa (and Rumple, if they could persuade him to help), there’d be enough power in this town to stop that damn line on the road from being such a nuisance. You would, however, be wrong. Marian and Roland cross over to the other side; after one last passionate true love’s kiss, Robin does the same. Regina is left alone again. Naturally.

Well, that’s a bummer. But it won’t be the episode’s last dramatic exit.

NEXT: Give ‘im hell, Belle

Cut to the portal, where the Charmings are finally bidding adieu to their visitors from another franchise. There are thank-yous; there is a blonde-on-blonde embrace. And, just before she goes through the door, there’s Anna, who only now thinks to ask about this Mr. Gold the other heroes are always going on about. It seems incredible that none of them has ever called Rumple by his true name in front of Anna, but here we are. Presumably, the princess finally tells them that he’s in possession of a certain magical hat…

…because the next time we see Snow and Emma, they’re in the clock tower, trying to get to Rump before he can use the hat to cleave himself from his dagger. But Rumplestiltskin is too close to attaining his goal to stop now. He freezes the savior and her mother, moves to squeeze Hook’s heart into dust… but finds himself strangely unable to follow through. Huh? Why?

Because Belle commanded him not to. TWIST! She really is a funny girl—and it turns out she’s also the secret hero of the episode. Belle tells her husband to drop the heart, release Emma and Snow, and transport herself and himself to the town line, where she proceeds to explain what just happened. See, earlier in the episode, she accidentally discovered that old Camelot gauntlet in the pawn shop. She thought Rump had given it up to save her all those years ago; its presence proved that Rumple later recovered the glove from the Queens of Darkness, indicating that he never actually gave up power for Belle’s sake. The gauntlet then led her to the Dark One’s real dagger—the one she’s holding in her hand right now. Erm, how did Rumple not notice that she’d gained control of it? Could the answer be… magic?

Enough nitpicking. The point is, Belle has finally realized that her husband never really reformed—and she knows now that there’s only one way to save Storybrooke from him. So the bookworm commands the Dark One to walk across the line, banishing him to a life in a world without magic… and a world without Belle. Phew! On one hand, way harsh, Tai; on the other, good for Belle for finally growing a spine.

Last year’s midseason finale ended with Rumple “dying;” this one closes out with him facing a fate worse than death. Even his limp is back once he travels headfirst into the real world.

Ah, but don’t forget one important thing: Rumplestiltskin didn’t achieve all he achieved with magic alone. He’s also an unusually clever sort… which explains how, six weeks after being exiled from Storybrooke, he’s made his way to a New York City aquarium, staffed by a certain familiar-looking baddie. That’s right: Rump’s planning a grand return to Storybrooke, and he needs Ursula (and her coveralls) to help get him there. But before they can storm the castle, as it were, they’ve got two more stops to make… did somebody say “it’s time to get the band back together”?

Breadcrumbs

– Henry, who has I think not gone to school since season 1, spent the day poking around Rumpbelle’s cozy honeymoon hideaway… and discovered a library full of blank books, waiting to be filled with the fates of fairytale characters. Please, please let this mean a Pagemaster crossover is coming in season 4B.

– Oh, and in our Arendelle wrap-up: Anna won the kingdom back from Hans by punching him in the face, and she and Kristoff are finally getting married.

– Henry to Belle: “Thanks, Grandma.” Belle to Henry: “Yeah, you know—Belle’s good.” Hee!

– In that travel cloak, Fairyback Belle kinda looks like she’s on a journey to Cleavage Village.

– The Trio tell Fairyback Rump that Belle’s being held captive via an enchanted sand dollar; it plays a very “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi”-esque message, featuring Hologram Belle.

– The Merry Men are also chilling by the side of the road when Robin and Marian cross over, which reminds me: Are we going to get more Knave of Hearts next year? Because so far, his being a series regular has meant very little to Once at large.

– Still confused/upset about the return of Bad Rumple, after he had made such progress toward the light side? He’s got a bit of an explanation for why he went bad again: “Coming back from the dead and being slave to the Wicked Witch tends to do that to you.”

– A musical summary of their last scene—Rumple to Belle: “We could have had it all!” Belle to Rumple: “It’s too late to apologize!”

Follow me on Twitter: @hillibusterr

Episode Recaps

GINNIFER GOODWIN, JOSH DALLAS
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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