Hope you watched the recap show.
Things jump around a bit. Try to keep up. *Spoilers* below as usual.
I didn't feel like I was watching Once Upon a Time for a minute. The cinematography, the fact that it was in New York, and then holy shit it's Rene from True Blood! Ten bucks he's actually Baelfire. As the rain falls outside a pigeon brings him tidings: a single word on the back of a postcard from Storybrooke, ME: Broken. (Does this mean R-stilts has known where his son is the whole time, or does someone else in Storybrooke have a fix on Baelfire's location?)
And then we were hurtled back into familiar fantastical territory. Prince Phillip and a masked warrior finding Sleeping Beauty. They decide not to tell her something, but it's typically cryptic. Phillip awakens her with true love's kiss, sending out the rainbow shockwaves that Oncers should be familiar with, and she wakes up happy. I have a question: how did Aurora get where she was? It seems like she knew what was going to happen to her, which is another deviation from the typical tale. Suddenly they are attacked by a knock-off dementor, and Phillip stupidly picks up the amulet cut from the thing's neck.
Finally, we get back to Storybrooke as the purple cloud melts away. The reuniting goes on for a long time upon a second watching, but I will admit I had tears in my eyes initially. Perhaps the most poignant is the reunion of the Charmings (as I will call them); Emma looked a little shocked to find out that her roommate of some months, a woman she once thought might be a murderer, is her mother and the guy that she judged for cheating on his wife is actually her father. I'll admit, it's a lot to take in. Snow is very about her relationship with Emma – it's definitely going to be one of the building blocks of this season. I loved that Henry called James grandpa. I also love that this show is going to be way less confusing to review because I won't have to juggle two sets of names all the time.
Snow's priorities are way out of whack – she wants to get all family time on Emma, but there are more pressing issues at hand as Grumpy points out. If the Curse is broken, then why are they still in Storybrooke? Did the magic stop them from going back, or is the Curse only partially broken? The Blue Fairy, who you might remember from last season is basically God with boobs, tells them she can't do anything because she doesn't have her wand or fairy dust. Everyone is quick to blame Regina for the strange fog and their current presence in Maine, but Emma knows it wasn't her because she was near her when the smog appeared. Dr. Whale was there too, but that doesn't stop him from whipping the people into a frenzy to go after Regina. Archie appears to conscience things up and remind everyone that letting Regina die isn't right. The dwarfs, Red & Granny, and the Charmings charge off to save the woman who put them in Maine of all places in the first place.
At the house, Dr. Whale calls out Regina. She intimidates everyone, but you know that she's not going to get full-on crazy because her lipstick is a tasteful magenta. (Remember, her lipstick shade determines the sanity of the episode.) She unsuccessfully tries to magic the mob, and you know its surprises her too that her magic is not working. The Charmings roll in to save the day, defending Regina and the rule of law simultaneously. Dr. Whale wants to punish (and possibly sexually harass) Regina, but ultimately the Charmings' plan to lock up Regina prevails.
We, the viewer, know it was Gold who brought the fog to Storybrooke by dropping the true love essence into the wishing well. (You might remember that Emma took the potion from the neck of a dragon at the end of the last season.) He questions Belle about what happened to her for the last twenty-eight years and learns that she was stuck in an insane asylum. I think this must have been Regina's twisted way of helping her, because anyone who knowingly dates the Dark One has to have some major unresolved psychological issues. Even crazier, she still wants to be with him after being locked up for years. Belle makes him promise to not kill Regina, and he agrees. They go back to the pawn shop, presumably to get Belle some new clothes, and we see him get out an amulet. We get a very close up look at it too, just so you can really tell that it was the one around the neck of the dementor thingy that attacked Prince Phillip earlier.
At the jail, Regina tells the Charmings that the fairytale world was destroyed by the Curse. They obviously don't believe her, and go in search of Gold for different answers. Regina tries to magic herself out of the cell, but is interrupted by Gold. Good thing Emma is a Sheriff and not a detective – she would rival Magoo for incompetency. Gold is not there to kill Regina, since he's honoring his promise to Belle (and R-stilts always keeps his promises), but he does have a pretty horrible plan for her. He grabs her hand and promises a fate worse than death. When she pulls away he is holding the amulet and she is looking at her hand in horror.
It takes several scenes to explain why she's so afraid, as well as the identity of the newest player on the chessboard. The masked warrior explains to Aurora and Phillip that the fake dementor is actually a wraith (close enough), then reveals herself to be Mulan. Creepier still, the wraith will attack only the person the amulet has branded, sucking out that person's soul when it finds them. When Phillip hugs Aurora, he sees that his palm been branded by the amulet. Cut to R-stilts in the woods, where he summons the wraith and sics it on Regina. Regina awakens in her jail cell simultaneously, the brand livid on her palm. The wraith emerges from its amulet in a stream of black smoke, and heads off to kill the Queen.
But enough about that! Let's take about how needy Snow White is. Honestly, I don't blame her. Giving up your child must be very difficult for someone who loved her own family so much, but there are priorities and then there are priorities. James warns her not to push the issue as Emma sends Henry off with Red, but of course she does. She's conflicted because she's friends with Emma, but they don't seem like mother and daughter because of their topics of discussion. Like this one:
James: One night stands?
Snow: We were cursed. That is not the point.
Emma is hesitant to open this can of worms just yet. She has abandonment issues which are getting in the way of the happy reunion, but she is also surprisingly responsible and able focus on the task at hand: find Gold and the reason everyone is still in Storybrooke.
They arrive at Gold's store and hurl accusations at him. Gold pretends to not know what they're upset about – Henry is alive, the Curse is broken and their family is reunited. Being the greedy folks that they are, they want to know what the purple haze he brought was. I wish he had answered “Excuse me while I kiss the sky”, but sadly he didn't. Also he won't tell them why he brought magic to the world, but you can bet your last dollar it was to get some revenge and possibly his son. The Charmings head off to protect Regina and Emma tries to get ominous with Gold, saying they aren't done. He comes back with the best line: “Oh I know, you still owe me a favor.” Yeah, bet that won't come up in this season at all.
Belle was in the back of the store listening to the whole exchange. In addition to her on-trend sheath dress, she is wearing a look of profound disappointment. She seems surprised that R-stilts is still a Beast, but really she shouldn't be. He's had twenty-eight years to brood on his lost love, son, and power. If anything he should be worse than he was when they first met. He says that he's sorry, presumably for being the kind of person that he is, but I don't know that I believe him. He chose power over his son, and now over his true love. I think the only person he would give power up for is himself. As much as I love R-stilts, he is essentially a coward. Maybe Belle is catching on to that, because she leaves the shop.
They stop to make camp, but Aurora refuses to sleep. I don't blame her – girlfriend was asleep for a long time. Phillip says he'll only be gone for five minutes, but he gives her an awfully passionate kiss and cries as he walks away. The audience should know at this point that he is doooooomed, especially since he was supposed to get the firewood but Mulan is the one making the fire. Side note: I did not think that Mulan's hair was that long. Or is that some sort of warrior extension in the back? Mulan goes after Phillip, guessing that he is branded and Aurora tries to tag along. She loses Mulan in the woods, but finds a horse.
When she catches up with Mulan, they have a little heart to heart. Mulan lectures Aurora about sacrifice, specifically how it is an essential component of love, and Aurora figures out the obvious: Mulan is in love with Phillip. Mulan has had to watch him search for Aurora, fight beside him and protect him, all in the name of finding another woman. It's kind of like how Snow White and James got together in the first place, only I don't think there are any dwarfs this time around.
Together they find Phillip awaiting the wraith. Both girls try to convince him to fight, or run, or do anything but give himself to the wraith. Mulan even offers herself in his place, but he chooses to die at the mouth of the wraith. Right before his soul is sucked out he turns and says “I love you” but we're not sure who he's saying it to. Ten bucks say they find a way to reverse it later on in the season, he comes back, and can't choose.
The wraith finds its way to the police department, where Regina is helpless in her cell. As it tries to suck out her soul, the Charmings show up to save the day. Snow defeats it with the power of aerosol and lighters (it was totally badass), but nothing can kill wraiths so it's only a matter of time before it comes back. James is all for letting Regina die, but Emma promised Henry that she wouldn't let that happen. Regina seems a little too satisfied that Henry wants Emma to protect her, but she does have a nifty plan. She has the magic hat (the one the Mad Hatter was constantly trying to recreate), and wants to send the wraith to their non-existent land. They wait in the courthouse with burning brooms (instead of flashlights... okay, I guess things can be done for effect) but the hat is not working its magic by the time the wraith arrives.
James and Snow batten down the hatches with booze and fire, but Regina doesn't have the hang of magic in this world and cant' get the hat to do its trick. Emma grabs Regina's arm and suddenly the hat starts to spin like it should. The wraith is caught in the purple whirlpool of trans-dimensional force (Right? That's what that is?), dragging Emma through the portal too. Snow jumps in after her daughter, and James tries to follow but the portal closes before he can get through. Enraged that he's lost his family so soon after finding them, he threatens Regina and she attacks with magic. Guess she has the hang of it now – this was an inconsistency I had troubles with. She is only stopped from killing him by the timely arrival of Henry. Regina claims that there is no way to bring Emma and Snow back, but James swears to Henry that they will find them.
Belle returns to Gold, providing hope that their relationship will be an integral part of this season. Gold asks her to leave for the same reason he did last time – he loves her too much to tie her to his sinking ship. Belle insists this time that she needs to stay, breaking the pattern of their history in the fairy tale world and showing that one little choice might make a huge difference.
Where Aurora once lay sleeping, now Phillip lies in a soulless state. She tells Mulan that it used to be their palace, but won't say how it turned in to a ruin or she came to be asleep for so long. Mulan gives her the amulet – perhaps this will be the start of a friendship for them that will be torn apart by their eventual discovery of a way to save Phillip. As they prepare to leave, Mulan reveals that their part of the land was untouched for twenty-eight years by Regina's curse. There is a safe place from all the strange dangers that now walk the land, and Mulan says they need to go there immediately. Mulan hears a noise, and under the rubble where the wraith first came out and they find Emma and Snow unconscious.
So it wasn't a flashback to the fairy tale world, it was a flashback to the modern world this whole time! Way to turn expectations on their heads writers.