You can't swing a cat around here without hitting a “bad boy”.
So, were you wondering who that mysterious fellow at the beginning of the season premier, “Broken”, was? Some of you might know him as Rene from True Blood, where he killed lots of people and was generally pretty creepy. In Once Upon a Time, though, Michael Raymond-James plays Emma's long-lost love Neal and maybe, maybe is the mysterious father of Henry. I'm also hoping he's Baelfire with his memory wiped or something, but that's a question for later down the road.
“Tallahassee” was actually a pretty good episode, and possibly provided a much-needed boost to northern Florida's tourism industry after Sandy. Fun fact: it's the capital of America's Penis, which is also the craziest swing state in the country. No word on if those two things are related. The fervor with which Neal and Emma promise each other they will move there some day implies that it's a magical place where all dreams are possible. Maybe the writers watched that 30 Rock episode about undulaxing and took its message to heart.
The plot of this episode was pretty straightforward: in the present, Emma and Hook climb a beanstalk and manage to exchange un-sexy flirtations during the climb. Like, really, how do two people as undeniably fine as Hook and Emma not have ridiculous chemistry from the get-go. The point of this jaunt is to find a magic compass that will allow them to navigate the purpley-smokey nothing between worlds, ensuring that when they do leave the fairy tale land they will end up in Storybrooke and not some other world.
Before she climbs the beanstalk, Emma tells Mulan to cut it down if she's not back in ten hours. Despite the fact that they have knockout powder and a game plan, I think this was a wildly overoptimistic time limit. Emma of course does not share this limit with her mother/BFF Snow White, who we all know is Overprotective and Emotionally Unstable at the best of times. Mulan agrees, because she honors the warrior's way. Honestly, we need to delve into her past potential dalliances with Philip before she becomes an Asian stereotype.
At the top of the beanstalk, Hook and Emma use the poppy powder on Hurley the Giant to put him to sleep and gain access to his treasure house. Among the treasures inside is Jack the Giant-Killer's blade. The version of Jack and the Beanstalk is more genocidal in this world: he led an army against the giants and killed all but the strongest (that would be Hurley). The giants destroyed their crops of magic beans to spite their conquerors – but Emma doesn't need the magic beans, she can get magic wardrobe dust from Cora. Yeah, I'm sure that plan is going to go swimmingly.
As the episode progresses, it becomes apparent that Emma has a thing for bad boys and she might possibly some day be in to Hook, especially if he keeps talking about his dead love Mila (you remember, R-stilts' wife who left him for a sexy pirate). The knockout powder doesn't last for long – soon the giant is back up and running. Running at them specifically. Emma traps him under the oversized mousetrap inside the treasure house and pseudo-tortures him into giving her the compass. She doesn't kill him though, because she's an ex-con with a heart of gold, and because he agrees to hold on to Hook for ten hours. She double-crosses him before he gets a chance to do so to her, thus ensuring that we will have a Complicated Relationship later on in the season.
In the past, Emma climbs a different kind of beanstalk – one made of EMOTION. Or, you know, the other kind. She's just a young twenty-something in Buddy Holly glasses, stealing cars and hearts. She steals herself a yellow VW Beetle (a familiar one), which has already been stolen by Neal. Together they Bonnie and Clyde through America, until Neal's past comes back to haunt him. He stole some watches in Oregon and wants to ditch Emma so he can go to Canada to escape the charges. Emma declares that she loves him, and offers to participate in fencing the watches. The crime goes smoothly, until everyone's favorite bad boy writer shows up: August W. Booth.
August explains the Curse and Emma's destiny to Neal and offers him a choice: stay with Emma and be in the way, or leave her now with a chance to reunite later. Neal, unlike many of the characters in Once Upon a Time, chooses to play the long game. He escapes to Canada and leaves Emma to serve the time he should have done, feeling pretty guilty the whole time. He gives August the keys to the Beetle and $20,000, to send to Emma for when she gets out. Guess what part of that gift actually makes it to her? Our boy August just can't seem to resist temptation. Neal asks for a way to know that Emma is all right, and August promises to send him a postcard once the curse is broken. Which, you might remember, was the beginning of this season. Can people find Storybrooke now? I thought it was Unplottable or something before.
In prison, Emma receives the key from Neal. She's also pretty pregnant, so I hope that she receives the key somewhat near the beginning of her sentence. This would explain why she never told Henry about his dad – some parents have a hard time explaining sex to their children, let alone “Mommy had a wild fling with her partner in crime before he sold her out for a ticket to Canada.”
There's this weird little subplot about Aurora's nightmares, which are a side effect of the sleeping curse she was under for all those years. In her dreams, she's in a red room with no windows and burning curtains. It sounds like a storybook version of hell. The thing is, Henry is having the same nightmares. In both cases, the Charmings come to the rescue. James lights a candle to keep the bad things away from his grandson, and Snow sits with Aurora while she tries to sleep. It was actually a beautiful idea – candles keeping the nightmares away, and the dream catcher Emma finds in a hotel she stays at with Neal. I'm interested to see where they go with this – it's definitely a teaser for later plot lines.
Next week: A detour into Ruby's past and present, with cameos by St. Cockblock.