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Once Upon A Time: “The Return”

Illustration for article titled iOnce Upon A Time/i: “The Return”
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It’s the final four episodes of Once Upon A Time’s first season, and the plot is slowly accelerating as the writers try to make something, anything, of consequence occur. Except for Sheriff Graham dying, nothing has really happened this season. David and Mary Margaret cheated, Emma and Regina bickered, Mr. Gold threatened, and then a lot of random characters received spotlight episodes. Have any questions been answered? Not really. This week, it looks like we might finally learn the fairy-tale identity of August, Storybrooke’s stranger-author, but after teasing him to be Rumpelstiltskin’s son Baelfire for most of the hour, the episode ends with the plot still dangling. Once Upon A Time is following the Lost formula of answering a question with more questions, but that’s frustrating when the characters and stories are less than captivating. The best thing this episode does is explicitly discuss fairy-tale business in Storybrooke, which instills faith that the two storylines will intersect at some point. It’s just taking so goddamn long to get there.

Regina and Mr. Gold are much more open about curses and the like than they have been in the past, and Regina’s situation highlights the differences in fantasy crime versus breaking the law in the real world. Now that Kathryn has reappeared, with a story that she was drugged and abducted after crashing her car, Regina has to cover up a trail of lies, something that she wouldn’t have to worry about in the fantasy world.  There’s something to be mined in the contrasts between fairy tale problem solving and crime procedural problem solving, and finding where the latter makes the former implausible is interesting to watch. Unfortunately, Regina solves her problems by having Sidney Glass give a completely fabricated confession to Emma, revealing to the sheriff just how much of a sociopath Regina really is.


Now that Kathryn is back, Mary Margaret is embraced by the town despite that whole homewrecker thing, and she’s trying to build a life without David. When David makes the ill-advised decision to attend Mary Margaret’s welcome home party, she tells him that there’s something that is trying to keep them apart, and that they should listen to it. The number of “David and Mary Margaret longing for each other” conversations better be kept to a minimum, because it feels like the writers are retreading the same ground from earlier in the season. The source of the angst is a breakup instead of David’s wife, but it’s angst all the same, and it’s not like there’s any doubt about where their relationship is going to end up. They’re Snow White and Prince Charming—it’s going to be happily ever after.

As Regina tries to clean up her various messes, Mr. Gold is faced with his own breed of trouble: the potential return of his son, Baelfire. The fairyback fleshes out more of the show’s mythology, revealing Rumpelstiltskin’s role in creating a truce during the Ogre Wars. Baelfire sees the corrupting influence of magic on his father, but Rumpelstiltskin believes that the only way to protect his son is to have even more power. When Rumpelstiltskin agrees to give up his curse if his son finds a way to do it without killing him, and he sets himself up for a betrayal that will haunt him the rest of his life.


We’re led to believe that this episode’s fairyback is August’s story, but it’s actually all Mr. Gold, and this week we see the soft, gooey center of the show’s hardest character.  When Mr. Gold visits Dr. Hopper—because he’s a character on this show and needs something to do every now and then—Gold confesses his feelings about his son, and his fear that his son has come to kill him. I’d also want to kill my dad if he let me fall through a magical portal into another dimension and didn’t follow in after me like he promised. Rumpelstiltskin didn’t need magic or power to be loved by his son, he just needed to be there. He wasn’t, and now he’s paying the price.

When he encounters August in the woods, Mr. Gold has his weepy reunion with his fake-son, admitting to August that he was wrong and should’ve given up his power. Gold’s finally come to terms with his mistakes and asks for forgiveness, but August isn’t his son at all, but a sick man who wants to use Mr. Gold’s magic to heal himself. Even though August isn’t Baelfire, I hope Rumpelstiltskin’s kid shows up at some point in the future, because he has a nice foundation for villainy set up.  The previews for next week would lead us to believe that August is Pinocchio (I approve!), but they also led us to believe that he was Rumpelstiltskin’s son this week. Whoever he may be, he appears to be essential in bringing the fairy tale and real worlds together, so as long as he’s putting events in motion, his presence is appreciated. (Eion Bailey is also pretty dreamy, so there’s that.)


The episode ends with Emma confronting Regina and telling her that she’s about to start playing a completely different game soon. Please Emma, start playing soon, because something substantial needs to happen on this show. I’m just asking for one “oh, shit!” moment that justifies our investment in these characters and proves that it’s not all for nothing. There are three episodes left, hopefully the writers can stick the landing and make up for the inconsistency preceding it.

Stray observations:

  • I really enjoy the recurring joke of Henry getting Mary Margaret a “congratulations on not killing someone” gift.
  • Mr. Gold tells August there’s no magic in this world, but then how come Regina could crush Graham’s heart and kill him?
  • Is Once Upon A Time filmed on the same set as True Blood? I expect a vampire to jump out at any minute during those foggy lake scenes.
  • The kid playing Baelfire does not blink.
  • “I was trying to kiss you on your forehead. It was meant to be sweet.”
  • “Typewriter wrapped in an enigma wrapped in stubble”

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