Emma is forced to make a hat at gunpoint. No, really
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Credit: Jack Rowland/ABC

We all go a little mad sometimes, Oncelers — especially if we’re among the chosen few who know that the so-called “real world” isn’t the only world that’s real. The show’s mythology took a few bunny hops forward in tonight’s episode, which revealed that hats don’t just have the power to transform an outfit into an event: They can also provide a portal into different lands. This one, obviously, transports travelers to the Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss.

But I digress. As our story begins, Mary Margaret is on the move. Henry is under the impression that Emma has set her free — but Emma doesn’t know how her roommate/mother escaped her cell. Though Gold advises against it, the sheriff runs to her adorable yellow Beetle and hits the road, hoping to catch MM before she can completely screw up her innocence plea. Instead, she ends up nearly killing a guy who’s taking an evening stroll. His name is Jefferson, and like all the strangers Emma encounters in Storybrooke, he’s a very good looking dude. More like The Mad Hotter, amiright? (You may recognize Sebastian Stan, the actor who plays Jefferson, from his attractive turns in Captain America and Gossip Girl.)

After apologizing profusely, Emma offers to give Jefferson a lift home. She drops him off at an enormous mansion, address 316 — that’s downright Oceanic, almost! Emma must have been absent the day of her elementary school’s Stranger Danger assembly. She follows Jeff inside and accepts a cup of tea from him. But soon after sipping, the sheriff starts feeling woozy. “Who are you?” she asks accusingly, right before passing out on his couch.

Good question. Like Regina, Jefferson has the same name in both Storybrooke and Fairy Land. But in the interest of keeping things from getting too confusing, I’ll refer to the Jefferson we see in Fairybacks as the Hatter. Anyway: The Hatter lives in an idyllic woodland cottage with his adorable daughter Grace. Though the two of them make a meager living selling mushrooms, the Hatter used to have a decidedly more colorful occupation. We get hints of this when Regina appears at his home, saying that she’d like him to help her out by getting up to his old tricks. The Hatter tells Regina that he’s not interested; he lost his wife because of his work, and he doesn’t want Grace to lose her father as well. He doesn’t budge even when Regina promises to reward him handsomely. Come on — like things could get any more handsome for this guy.

Eventually, though, money talks. When walking through a marketplace, Grace becomes smitten with a stuffed white rabbit. (Hello, March Hare!) Unfortunately, the Hatter doesn’t have enough cash to buy it for her. By the time they get home, he decides it would be worth it to help Regina after all — and, after sending Grace to stay with some neighbors, he grabs a giant hatbox and heads to Regina’s CGI Castle of Evil.

NEXT: That old hat magic

Emma awakens to find herself bound and gagged. Luckily, the sheriff’s got a few tricks up her skinny jeans. After smashing her roofie’d teacup, she fashions a shard into a makeshift knife and cuts herself loose. But escaping the house won’t be as easy as escaping her bonds — none of the windows in Jeff’s living room seem to open. Things get curiouser and curiouser when Emma finds that Jefferson has a telescope that looks straight into her office — as well as a shiny pair of scissors he’s sharpening menacingly in another room. Emma takes a chance by sneaking into a hallway, then ducking into another room. There, she finds that MM has also been captured by Storybrooke’s resident kidnapper.

Though Emma frees her friend, their liberty is short-lived: Jefferson catches them in the hallway. And this time, he’s carrying a gun. Emma lies that she’s called for backup, but Jefferson knows that Storybrooke only has one police officer — and besides, nobody knows they’re at his madhouse. He asks Emma to tie MM up again, then tells the sheriff he’s got a task for her. A millinery task.

Meanwhile, the Hatter arrives in Regina’s boudoir. Before opening his box of tricks, he makes the queen promise that if he does what she asks, his child will want for nothing. Regina gives her word… and the Hatter believes it, proving that he really must be mad. Then he pulls out a top hat and spins it like a dreidel. Soon enough, it’s become a purple, swirling vortex — the kind of tornado that could carry a traveler or two to Oz. He and Regina leap into the eye of the storm.

Still holding his gun, Jefferson brings Emma into a room with an unusual design element: a set of shelves filled with seemingly identical top hats. Then Jeff reveals that he captured MM because he knows about the curse. Jefferson says he was trying to prevent her from getting into an accident while attempting to leave Storybrooke. He further explains that though he had been trapped in his house for 28 years, everything started changing when Emma and her leather jackets rolled into town. (That explains why the sheriff found him wandering beyond his mansion’s gates.) Though Emma thinks he’s insane, Jefferson insists that she’s special — special enough to make his old portal hat work.

The Hatter and Regina have left the confines of Fairy Land and arrived in a sort of in-between world. It’s a room filled with doors to other realms, sort of like the holiday wood at the very beginning of The Nightmare Before Christmas. They walk through a looking glass and into a place filled with tall green grass, giant mushrooms, and puffy white clouds. It’s Super Mario World! No, wait: It’s Wonderland, complete with hookah-smoking caterpillar. He even says “whoooo are yoouuu” as Regina and Hatter walk past; unfortunately, it isn’t set to song, even though the creature’s voiced by Roger Daltrey.

NEXT: “The walls should stay away from me!”

Soon, the world-jumpers arrive at a giant hedge maze — property of the Queen of Hearts. In its center lies something that that monarch has stolen from Regina. Before heading inside, the Hatter warns Regina to stay away from the maze’s walls, which are designed to devour anything that touches them. “I’ve got a better idea,” says Regina smugly. “The walls should stay away from me!” Then she unleashes an enormous inferno, burning a straight path through the labyrinth. Awesome! Did she just eat a Fire Flower?

Regina nabs a box containing her treasure, and she and the Hatter turn to leave. But before they can go back through the looking glass, the Queen of Heart’s guards appear — and they’re not looking to play a game of croquet. Using some nifty magic, the Fairy Land duo manages to evade their captors. Though the Hatter urges Regina to hurry, she stops to grab a bit of a Wonderland mushroom and places it inside the box. There’s a swirl of magic, and suddenly, Regina’s father appears. It seems that a miniature version of him had been trapped within the Red Queen’s maze; nibbling on that mushroom made him grow back to his normal size.

There’s just one problem: Since two non-Wonderlanders walked through the looking glass, only two people can exit through it. And after sternly telling the Hatter that if he truly cared for his daughter, he never would have left her, Regina grabs Henry Senior and heads back to the Neitherlands. Having been left stranded, the Hatter is quickly caught by the Knave of Hearts and his cronies. He’d be even more bummed if he found out Regina screwed him over to rescue someone she’ll eventually murder.

The Hatter is brought before the Queen of Hearts, a mysterious figure who keeps her face hidden behind a veil and speaks only via her right-hand man. When her prisoner won’t reveal how he came to Wonderland, she orders a guard to chop off his head — and the lackey complies. Whoa, Once just went all Game of Thrones! But since this is a family show, apparently, decapitation isn’t fatal — it just causes mild discomfort. After promising to reunite the traveler’s top with his bottom, the Knave tells the Hatter that if he wants to return to his own world, he’s going to need to make a magic chapeau. The quest to create such a cap is what will eventually drive the Hatter mad.

Emma doesn’t immediately start finishing the hat. Instead, she tries to talk sense into Jefferson, saying that the tales in Henry’s book are “just stories. The Mad Hatter is in Alice in Wonderland, a book — a book I actually read!” Oh, Emma, if you had read the book, you’d know it’s actually called Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Jefferson, of course, isn’t convinced. He tells Emma that there are multiple real worlds, all of which have different rules — some have magic, some don’t. Then he gets to the heart of the matter: His daughter Grace is also in Storybrooke, except here her name is Paige and she thinks a couple of strangers are her parents. (Though I can’t tell for sure, these might be the same actors who played the Hatter’s neighbors in the Fairyback.) Jefferson doesn’t dare tell Graige the truth, but if he can get back to Fairy Land, he’ll be able to finally reunite with his daughter. Cue sniffles.

NEXT: Snow fights! Kinda.

Jefferson’s revelation seems to move Emma. She slowly says that if his tale is true, then MM is really her mother — and she wants to believe that more than anything in the world. A relieved, weepy Jeff turns around… and Emma promptly smacks him with the telescope he uses to keep tabs on Graige, calling him a “crazy son of a bitch” for good measure. So much for becoming a believer!

Emma grabs the gun and races to the room where Mary Margaret is trapped. It’s not long before Jefferson also runs in, clad in his fancy fightin’ hat. There’s a scuffle, and Jefferson almost shoots Emma. Luckily, MM suddenly goes full Snow and manages to knock him nearly unconscious with a croquet mallet. She finishes by kicking their assailant out a window. You go, Snow!

Jefferson and his kicky headwear plummet to the earth below. But when MM and Emma look out the window, his body is nowhere to be found — the only thing that’s left is the hat. Guess Emma’s got some magic in her after all.

Shaken but still alive, the ladies head out to find Emma’s car. The sheriff surprises the teacher by tossing over the keys, telling her that she’s free to run if she wants. Emma doesn’t advise escape, though — she wants Mary Margaret to trust that Emma will prove her innocence. She cares about MM so much because she’s the closest thing she has to family — and she’d do anything to keep from losing that.

Mary Margaret takes her daughter’s words to heart. When Regina arrives at the sheriff’s office later that morning, she finds a composed Mary Margaret calmly reading The Daily Mirror in her cell. The queen is furious; she was, of course, the one who left the key for MM to find. Gold had told her that MM would take the bait and run away. In the hallway, the shopkeeper/lawyer/evil mastermind quietly assures the Queen that even though MM didn’t run away, Regina will still get the results she craves. But whose side is he really on?

Emma’s sitting outside the elementary school with Henry when Graige walks past. Seeing the girl triggers something in Emma, and she asks Henry for his story book. She flips to a set of illustrations showing the Hatter — and even though they don’t really look too much like Jefferson, she asks her son if she can hold onto the tome. Maybe Emma’s closer to believing than we thought she was.


– Regina had a few great lines tonight. My favorite: “So now you’re foraging for fungi?”

– I also loved seeing her done up in old lady garb. Methinks that toy seller might also have a few apples stashed in her cart.

– Among Grace’s tea party guests is a stuffed turtle named Mr. Tortoise. I’m guessing that’s a reference to the Mock Turtle.

– Regina’s decor seems to include a tiger-skin rug. Rajah?!

– She and the Hatter also have a history; think they used to date?

– Where do we think those other world doors lead? I saw a few that might be portals to Oz and Narnia. Maybe there’s also one that goes to a universe without shrimp, and one that goes to a universe with nothing but shrimp.

– Like Granny, Jefferson’s still got the scar he acquired in another world. No wonder he favors scarves.

– I loved the Mirror‘s headline for its front page story about Mary Margaret: “Heartless!”

We’re in for a big episode next week — promos promise that we’ll finally find out why Regina hates Snow. But first, tell me your thoughts on “Hat Trick.” Did you like the episode? And are you hoping we’ll see the Hatter again before Season 1 is over?

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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