Before you get your hopes up, know that this episode suffered from a distinct lack of Rumplestiltskin.
Plot-wise, I've been looking forward to an episode like "What Happened to Frederick" for a while. I had so many unanswered questions: how did James's marriage to Abigail fall apart, who is the mysterious writer who came to town, and will David ever figure out that divorce is legal in Maine? All these things, and more, are answered in "What Happened to Frederick".
We open with a chase scene, James escaping from his impending marriage to Abigail and being chased down by cloaked men. The more flamboyantly cloaked men were hired by Abigail, who wishes to help James escape. It turns out that she doesn't want to marry him either for some undisclosed reason. She also knows that he loves Snow White, even though he is convinced that she does not love him back (based on the blackmail you might or might not remember from a few episodes ago).
Back in the "real" world (What is reality anyway, guys? Is it in our hearts, in our minds, or a physical thing around us? Sorry, I'm bored by this episode.), Kathryn has gotten into law school. This of course makes sense because we knew that she had goals outside making her marriage work, and because she is the only independent woman on the show. Wait, we didn't know any of that? Really, out of a show that has so many female archetypes, you picked prickly Abigail/Kathryn to be the most human role model? I don't know how I feel about this, writers.
Anyway, to go to law school Kathryn and David would have to move Boston. She views this as a chance to start over, he views it as the end of the little game he's been running on these two women. For someone so concerned with honor and true love, David has made a mess of things. He discusses things with Mary Margaret and agrees to tell Kathryn the truth, but when it comes to it he can't do it. He simply says he doesn't love her and she should move to start over without him.
This is a big week for romance in Storybrooke, as Emma finally gets to go on a date with the mysterious writer. His name, we find, is August W. Booth and I could not make that up if I tried. I don't even know where they pulled that name from – if anyone well-versed in Disney lore has a theory, please post it in the comments below. Anyway, before their date we are treated to some Memento-esque shots of him restoring the book of stories to their original splendor. The video game handheld Regina gives to Henry to replace his book is a poor substitute compared to this craftsmanship.
In the fairy tale world, James and Abigail try to out-honor each other. Abigail wants to help James leave, but he won't until she explains her motivations. She takes him to a shrine (which sharp-eyed viewers will recognize as the new item in the opening credits), where a knight stands mid-swordthrust. The knight is Abigail's beloved, Frederick, who was changed to gold when Midas touched him by accident. They've tried everything to restore him – the only option left is fetching water from a sacred lake which is guarded by a demon. James, being the "honorable" not-prince he is, decides to fetch that water so Abigail can be happy again. Which is... sweet, but I don't know how consistent it is. But I'll tone down my inner skeptic and try to roll with it.
Speaking of watering holes, it's time for that date between Emma and August. He picks her up on his hog and makes Granny swoon a bit. Instead of getting Emma drunk and taking advantage of her, as she almost states was her expectation, he takes her to a well that possesses magical properties. This is the frame for my favorite monologue of the episode, about the magic of water and its importance in various cultures. Because Once Upon a Time is totally culturally sensitive, you guys. Please try to forget the genie episode!! All that aside, I cannot for the life of me figure out who he is. Like, really, where does he fit in to Storybrooke's mythology? I think he's the guy who wrote the stories, but I'm open to other ideas.
Kathryn finds little comfort when she goes to Regina for a shoulder to cry on. Regina is not surprised that David ditched her, given his affair with Mary Margaret. Kathryn is blindsided by this news and by covert pictures Sidney took of David and Mary Margaret making out on street corners. Really discreet, you guys. They should write a book called "Once upon an Alimony Proceeding". Kathryn flies off the handle and accuses Regina of being a horrible friend. She is quickly becoming my favorite character in this R-stilts/Sidney/Archie-less episode.
At the grade school, Mary Margaret is on the phone with David. He lies to her some more and she hangs up happy, only to be assaulted by Kathryn. Because soap operas have no sense of decorum, she screams at Mary Margaret about infidelity in front of elementary school kids before rushing out of the building. In her mad dash, she runs into a young man of indeterminate age. Is he the gym teacher or just jailbait? You be the judge!
James has arrived at the lake and it's time for those misleading Arthurian images from last week's previews. They're misleading because James does not receive a sword or blessing from a benevolent spirit; he makes out with a siren who changes her appearance to look like Snow White. There is some terrible CGI and "woo look at our technical expertise" shots before he, inevitably, falls into the water. Using that quick thinking that has done him so well in the past, specifically with the dragon and at no other time, James picks up a knife and stabs the siren.
He collects some water and returns to the shrine. There, Abigail pours the water over the golden knight and he is revealed to be... the young man of indeterminate age! And not the writer like I totally thought it would be! His name is Frederick, and he seems like a decent guy in that meathead way all princes except Phillip have (Sleeping Beauty, represent). James departs with their blessing, off to find Snow White and win her back.
After their date, Emma finds the book of stories in its little lockbox. She stops by the school to give it to Henry, who takes many words to say that operation Cobra is back on. His faith in Emma, the Curse and the whole business is restored. This does not bode well for anyone.
Meanwhile, Mary Margaret is taking a turn as Hester Prynne. Google that reference if you don't get it, this shit is highbrow. She yells at David for not coming clean and tells him to take a hike. Kathryn visits Regina and tells her that she's leaving without David; she wants to start anew in Boston. She also wants Mary Margaret and David to be together because they have true love, so she's written them letters to that effect.
Regina, being the uber-bitch she is, can't have that. She takes one of the letters and burns it while Kathryn tries to leave Storybrooke. We all know what happens to people who try to leave for good: they can't, and they probably die. As-yet-unnamed-Storybrooke-version-of-Frederick finds her car, abandoned. Dun dun dun!!!
In two weeks: the search for Kathryn! More guilt and angst! More Red Riding Hood, maybe?
Written or Contributed by: Tricia Long