'Once Upon a Time' recap: 'Lily'
Emma comes face to face with Mal's long-lost daughter, who's got plenty of secrets of her own.
Son (or daughter) of a witch!
It’s a good thing “Lily” ended with something of a bombshell—because otherwise, tonight’s highly-anticipated installment felt like a bit of an anticlimax. For any other show, an episode that has a plot you can easily explain in a sentence (Emma and Regina leave Storybrooke to track down Maleficent’s daughter; they do) wouldn’t necessarily be cause for concern. On Once, though—which is at its best when it’s being crazy-go-nuts-bonkers—these sorts of hours tend to land with a whimper rather than a bang.
Even the fairyback was more snoozy than gripping—perhaps because a) it was a regular ol’ flashback rather than a B-plot set in the Enchanted Forest, and b) it hit all the same beats as the flashback sequence that introduced Lily in the first place, remixing them only slightly and concluding with a different twist. As a reminder: Young Lily and Young Emma met each other as 15-year-old delinquents, became fast pals, then separated—as far as we knew, for good—once Emma learned that her new BFF had lied about her home life.
As it turns out, the two actually had one more encounter, apparently not long after the first. Sometime after running away from crazy Snow Queen Ingrid’s group home, Emma came to live with another foster family. (Which… how does that work, exactly? How’d she get from the streets to the Cleavers‘ place? And when exactly, did Emma come to live with the Swans? Were they the family she mentioned in the show’s pilot—the ones who adopted her, then gave her up at three years old because they wanted to have their own children? Also, who does that? Can someone get me a Carrie Mathison conspiracy cork board so we can plot this all out?)
Ahem. Anyway: Emma’s living with a nice, normal family when Lily somehow tracks her down, pleading that she needs her old friend’s help. What she doesn’t explain—until Emma happens to catch a news report, forcing her to come clean—is that Lily got roped into armed robbery, and she’s currently hiding from the cops. She needs to skip out of town for good—but before she goes, Lily persuades Swan to sneak into the cartoonishly graffiti-covered flophouse where she and her boyfriend have been squatting to retrieve the one belonging that has any meaning to Lily: the necklace she got from her birth mother. Suddenly, I’m picturing Lily in a red wig, belting out “Tomorrow.”
Lil’ Emma’s errand is successful—until she arrives home to an angry set of foster parents, who demand to know where she was and inform her that Lilly has disappeared… along with their entire vacation fund. Aww, man, now Wally and the Beav will have to wait weeks to make their s’mores! The scene ends with Emma exiting her new home, but not because she’s been kicked out—it’s because her foster father (whose name, apparently, is Bill) makes the mistake of accusing her of endangering “our” children. As in, his and his wife’s natural-born kids. As in, a group of which Emma will never be a part. That stings.
Angry as Emma is at her soon-to-be-former foster parents, she’s even more livid at Lily—especially when the bad seed slithers up beside her at a bus station, saying that the two of them can live like damn hell ass kings with all the money she’s stolen. When Emma rebuffs her, Lily tries a new tactic; she reveals that her adoptive family has kicked her out, and says that nothing in her life seems to go right anymore unless Emma is around. Aaand we have officially entered Heavenly Creatures territory.
Even so, Emma wants nothing to do with her cursed counterpart—and so she walks away from Lily forever. Little does she know that Lily’s about to get a crash course in why, exactly, her life seems to be on a downward spiral—from none other than the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
How did the Apprentice manage to cross over into our world and track down Lily? Why does Lily’s increased potential for darkness translate to Chris-Pine-in-Just-My-Luck Syndrome, especially when she’s living in a land supposedly Without Magic? If the Apprentice told Lily everything she needed to know about her true parentage and the Enchanted Forest, why, exactly, did she need to construct her own Storybrooke-related conspiracy cork board once she grew up and morphed into Agnes Bruckner?
All worthy questions, perhaps—but they’re not ones you’ll see answered in the episode’s A-plot. Instead, it finds Maleficent defecting from Rumple’s team and joining forces with the good guys… so long as they can help her track down her daughter. Who, Emma soon discovers (thanks to… microfilm?! Man, Storybrooke really is trapped in the Stone Age), just so happens to be her old pal Lily.
NEXT: Swan Queen road trip, anyone? (Yellow punch buggy, no punch backs!)
And so Emma and her yellow Bug head out of town, on a mission to return Mal’s cursed kid. But she’s not alone: Regina is tagging along, both so Emma can help her rescue Robin and so that she can help the savior stay on the straight and narrow, despite Emma’s rapidly blackening heart. Well, and, presumably, so that the two of them can order the Business Women’s Special when they’re on the road.
At first, it seems like their trip is going to be a bust: The address Emma found for Lily leads her and Regina to another flophouse, where a jerky neighbor informs them, in the least sympathetic terms possible, that Lily died in a car wreck years ago. “Pretty sure she was drunk,” he says. “Not that anyone missed her.” Seriously, what is wrong with this guy? Is the building he lives in called the Asshole Arms?
Fate, however, has other plans. As the dejected pair is driving away from the Asshole Arms, they almost run into a wolf (which, okay, is maybe not a totally crazy thing to see in New England) and get a flat tire… right at the road leading to the diner where an alive-and-well Lily is working, under an assumed name. Land Without Magic my foot.
After spotting her old pal’s distinctive star-shaped birthmark, Emma launches into her spiel—telling Lily that all of her problems are really Emma’s fault, saying that she can explain more if Lily comes with her. Lily, though, isn’t buying what Emma’s selling. She informs the savior that her life is actually just peachy, that she has a family of her own now, and that she actually hasn’t thought about Emma in years. All three, of course, are bald-faced lies—which Emma can tell instantly, because apparently this week her internal lie detector is working.
Relying on Emma’s “superpower” is about as logical as asking Charming to solve a differential equation. In this case, though, it works; when a suspicious Emma and a more skeptical Regina snag Lily’s real address and break into her apartment, they find evidence of neither a husband nor a child. You know what they do find? This—except instead of photos of Abu Nazir, it’s illustrations of fairy tale characters and a map marked “Storybrooke??” It’s a lot to take in, but Emma and Regina hardly have the time to before they hear a familiar engine starting outside.
Yep: Lily has pulled an Emma, stealing the Bug for herself. Which would be bad enough even if it didn’t have something very special in the glove compartment—Ingrid’s scroll, which will allow Lily passage into Storybrooke. Thankfully, Emma’s got a few street rat tricks up her red leather sleeves; it’s not long before she’s hotwired a car of her own.
And they’re off, speeding and swerving dangerously down a twisty country road in a manner I am not emotionally equipped to deal with yet. It all comes to a head when Emma finally cuts Lily off, they both step out of their cars… and the savior punches the anti-savior right in the face the moment Lily mentions Snow and Charming. The darkness is real! It gets even realer when Lily, no longer feigning ignorance, says that Emma’s parents deserve to be punished. Because that’s the moment Emma pulls out her gun.
Now, we know that there’s no way Emma’s actually going to pull the trigger. Magically whooshing a cartoon villain off a cliff is one thing; shooting a defenseless muggle from point-blank range on the side of the road is quite another. This is Once Upon a Time, not Breaking Bad. Still, the scene that follows still manages to be tense as Lily tries to goad Emma into shooting—and Regina, of all people, plays the angel on Emma’s other shoulder, telling her that she’ll ruin her life, and Henry’s, and countless others if she takes Lily’s.
So, you know, she doesn’t. And the next time we cut to Emma and Lily, they appear to have struck some kind of truce. Lily’s even going to join Swan Queen on the next leg of their road trip: hiking to New York City to save Robin from Zelena’s clutches.
The good news? When they arrive at Nealfire’s old apartment, Robin is still alive and well. The bad news? He’s refusing to come with them back to Storybrooke… because, as the Wicked Witch herself gleefully announces soon after returning home and dumping her Marian disguise, she’s pregnant. Hoo boy. Where’s a magical wardrobe when you need one?
- It’s pretty tangential to the main action, but: Belle also gets her heart back tonight, thanks to the unlikely team of Rumple and the Knave of Hearts. (Evidence that Regina’s goodness may mean she’s slipping: She sets a protection spell around her office designed to keep only Rump out. Girl. You really didn’t think that one through?) Perhaps more importantly, after returning the heart, Rumple tells Belle that he’s formally stepping aside so that she and Will can be together. Hmmm… not sure I buy it. Because if he is, then what happy ending could he ask of the Author?
- So like… what does “potential for darkness” even mean, if Emma doesn’t have any within her yet she’s still capable of “dark” acts? I’m sure the answer, as always, is “magic!”
- We kinda-sorta meet the Sorcerer in tonight’s cold open. He is… a talking cloud of smoke. Which, given Kitsis and Horowitz’s origins, shouldn’t be a shock.
- Guests at Cruella’s funeral include Rumple, the Author… and Emma, standing 10 feet away and giving them her best “SOON” face.
- Lily’s birthmark is star-shaped, her assumed name is Starla, and her given name, Lilith, means “of the night.” Themes!
- The car that Emma and Regina steal has a vanity license plate reading “SYLVIA.” Any guesses about to its significance, if any?
- Regina calls Cruella’s death an “accident.” Regina is as good at spotting accidents as Emma is at spotting lies.