Warning: Spoiler Alert
When we left Storybrooke in the mid-season finale, Rumpelstiltskin had been banished by Belle after she discovered that he’d deceived her about his dagger (and also stopped him from killing Hook). Regina had watched Robin Hood walk out of Storybrooke to save Marian’s life. The fairies had been sucked into the Sorcerer’s Amazing Magic-Stealing Dream Hat. The Arendellers had gone back to Arendelle and not a minute too soon. Henry had discovered the Author’s book binding room. Rumpel is skulking around New York City, trying to gather some firepower to do… something that is probably not good.
I’m going to interject here and clarify that, after rewatching 4A during the hiatus, I am officially not a fan of the Frozen storyline. It felt unnecessary and awkward, at best. It never developed into a cohesive narrative about any of the characters. Things happened and people reacted but somehow we wound up with nothing substantive happening to any of the main characters except for Regina, Robin, Rumpel, and Belle getting their hearts broken. The mysteries were too conveniently solved while obvious questions went largely unanswered. Overall, I’d like to put that unpleasantness behind us and move forward with season four, and hopefully villains getting a happy ending won’t end with me getting my heart broken. But, no judgments yet. Let’s say at least it can only go up from here.
Well, maybe not. Tonight’s opening sequence shows The Forbidden Forest, a long time ago, and Ursula tentacle-ing around Maleficent’s castle. Maleficent wasn’t expecting any company, she’s reasonably vexed, and even more so when Cruella de Ville shows up with some very aggro Dobermans. The three women have a bit of an Abbot-and-Costello routine about why they’re all there, but Rumpelstiltskin soon appears to clear things up. He summoned the ladies, he admits. They all may hate each other, but they have something in common. They’re all villains, he explains, and the time has come for the villains to get their happy endings.
So, if this beginning is anything to base the rest of the episode on, maybe things aren’t looking up and Rumpel is embracing his fate as The Dark One. And yeah that seems to be the case. He’s staying at Ursula’s crappy, aquarium-filled Bronx apartment. The two aren’t getting along. Not surprising, really. Ursula is frustrated with their lack of progress and Rumple’s vague promises about happy endings. He rebuffs her—she’s whining because her life is crap. And, as if on cue, the computer in the corner makes a bloop and he informs her that their situation is continuing to improve.
He takes her to a gorgeous mansion on Long Island that’s currently being raided by the FBI. Cruella de Vil is appalled by the “theatrics” of the lawmen as an unattractive, portly man (presumably her very rich and probably criminal husband) is being shoved into the back of a car. Rumpelstiltskin and Ursula waltz into the middle of the scene. Normally you’d think the Feds wouldn’t put up with that, but Robert Carlyle has enough charisma to float right past them, even if he’s walking with a cane.
Cruella and Rumpelstiltskin exchange un-pleasantries, but eventually he convinces her to come along for another shot at happy endings. She opens a garage door to reveal that signature car, which has been illustrated as a Panther Deville in the 101 Dalmatians novel and subsequent animated movies, and is being represented here by a 1980s Zimmer Golden Spirit. Not bad. The Dark One gives directions to Storybrooke, and they’re on their way.
Back in Storybrooke, life is getting on as usual as it usually does. Regina is slowly trying to put her life back together and has been reinstated as mayor. Hook and Emma look happy as coffee-drinking clams. Emma has her badge and her leather coat and is back to work as sheriff, and Hook is working on undoing some of the damage he did while under the thrall of The Dark One. He’s started working on how to get the fairies out of the hat, with an police-style bulletin board set up in the library. Belle is assisting him, going through ancient books of magic, trying to translate them. She’s even sent out certain passages to world-renowned linguists, hoping for some help.
Hook is frustrated with the lack of progress, but Belle remains hopeful. Or, as hopeful as someone with a totally devastated and broken heart can be. She speaks of her relationship with Rumpelstiltskin as a mistake in judgment, trying to put it behind her, but her eyes well up with tears when the words come out. Hook tries to reassure her that, regardless of what Rumpelstiltskin did wrong, he did love Belle very much. Belle agrees, and admits that she hopes that he finds whatever it is he’s been looking for.
Emma meets up with Regina, who is poring over one of the blank books from the Sorcerer’s mansion. Regina is trying to put on a brave face, but it’s clear she’s been devastated by her lost love as well. She’s attempting to have one of her barbed-tongued rapports with Emma, but is stopped short when Emma discovers the picture of Regina and Robin that she tore to shreds in the last episode. Helpless, Regina admits that she can’t help but keep it, even if it’s just a cruel joke.
Before she can go to pieces, the women get a call. One of Belle’s linguistic experts, a professor at Oxford, has panned out, and they now know how to get the fairies out of the hat! They’ll just need Regina’s magic to do it, of course.
The crew heads out into the woods to set up the necessary torch fires and other things one needs when one is attempting to release magical entities from a Magic-Stealing Dream Hat. It’s dramatic, but it works, and with a blast of golden light, the fairies are huddled in a mass in the clearing. Everyone’s so concerned over the fairies they don’t notice the black smoke that seeps from the hat box, roiling along the forest floor before it grows wings, develops glowing red eyes, and wings off into the sky.
That demon has a history, of course. Back in the Forbidden Forest, Rumpelstiltskin is leading Ursula, Maleficent, and Cruella through the catacombs of Bald Mountain. He’s explained that the way to their happy endings happens to be the darkest curse ever created, and it’s being kept there. They make it through the magic booby traps Harry Potter Style, with each witch displaying a certain talent to get through them. Cruella mind-controls some bugs, Maleficent eats some fire, and Ursula’s tentacles snatch the curse from its hiding place.
But there’s just one more thing. The curse is also guarded by a Chernobog—a demon who seeks to destroy the wickedest heart he can find. Rumpelstiltskin explains this as he grabs the curse and peaces out, leaving the witches to fight the demon. They manage, although barely, but their alliance is solidified. In the years subsequent, that demon somehow managed to find its way into the Sorcerer’s Hat, waiting until now to be released.
The Chernobog needs to gather strength, apparently, so it flaps off while the rest of the town gathers at Granny’s to celebrate the return of the fairies. Mother Superior is off in a corner, trying to readjust to life on the outside and looking rather sick about it all. Henry doesn’t seem concerned by this, and he encourages Regina to ask her about the blank books.
Mother Superior recognizes the book, and reveals that, even though the books were in the Sorcerer’s mansion, the Sorcerer isn’t the Author. The Author is a totally different guy. He disappeared a long time ago, and no one’s really sure how or why. They’re trying to figure out a way to find him (he left some clues in his works! Like Henry’s book, perhaps?) when a monstrous scream erupts from outside. Looks like that hellbat has found its strength!
Everyone rushes into the streets (because why wouldn’t you do that when you hear terrible screams?) to find the Chernobog sitting atop the clock tower. He takes off as soon as Regina, Emma, Mary Margaret, David, and Hook emerge from Granny’s. They take cover behind a building in order to construct a plan to deal with this. Well, first, Emma makes a punchy remark about accidentally unleashing a demon while freeing the fairies, but since they’ve all figured out where the beast came from, they decide to make a plan to send it away. They can’t send it back into the hat, though. That’s apparently a one-and-you’re-done kind of deal. Sort of like chicken pox! Belle goes to the library to look for information, Mary Margaret and Hook lead the townspeople to safety, and Emma and Regina hide out in the mayor’s office to try to magic up a plan.
As it so happens, Rumpelstiltskin has arrived at the town line with Ursula and Cruella. Here, he reveals more of his plan. The two witches are to make contact with the Magic Dream Team in Storybrooke and offer their help with whatever problem they may be having. They’ll say they’ve changed their ways, like Regina has, and they’re looking for somewhere to start their second chance. They’ll make note of whatever magic is used to get them across the town line. Once they’re inside and no one is looking, they’ll use that magic to let The Dark One in.
And so it happens that Ursula calls Regina from Rumpel’s cell phone (they say they stole it from him and left him passed out in a bar, because why wouldn’t you?) just as the Chernobog is flapping around the mayor’s office. Ursula relates her own experience with the creature and offers insight into why it’s after Regina (evil heart!) and how to stop it.
Regina and Emma use their new-found knowledge and decide to blast it over the town line into a world without magic, after a quick call to Mary Margaret and David to let them know what they’re up to. The two take off in Emma’s Bug with the beast hot on their tail. There’s a lot of swerve-y driving, a smashed out windshield, and it ends when Emma stops short to throw the demon, which is now crouched on the roof of her car, over the town line and into nothingness.
Regina and Emma are getting ready to use The Snow Queen’s scroll to let Ursula and Cruella in when Mary Margaret and David show up to the scene. They were, um, going to help fight the beast? Or maybe they just wanted to make a very strong case for keeping the two newcomers out of their town. They’re evil and they shouldn’t be trusted.
Predictably, Regina bristles at their misgivings. She understands, of course, that there’s risk involved, but since she turned over a new leaf, Ursula and Cruella deserve a chance, as well. Emma agrees, and they toss the scroll across to Cruella, who grabs it and drives across the line. Regina offers the warmest welcome you can offer someone when you don’t trust them. Cruella responds in kind, swearing that Regina won’t regret her decision.
Later that night, Rumpelstiltskin is waiting at the town line. He’s leaning on his cane, unshaven and rather disheveled looking. He’s very much Rumpelstiltskin here, not The Dark One or Mr. Gold, but the crippled spinner who doesn’t trust the world and yet somehow can’t stop getting his heart broken by it. He’s been waiting a while, it seems, and just as he’s turning to walk away, a scroll drops behind him. Cruella and Ursula haven’t abandoned him! He limps across the town line, immediately straightening and discarding his cane as his magic returns to him.
The witches begin to press him further about his plan. He reveals that he was the “Oxford professor” who led Belle to the incantation to release the Chernobog. He knew Ursula and Cruella would be able to give insight into its defeat, therefore earning the trust of the Storybrookers. Cruella and Ursula are to continue to establish themselves in town as reformed baddies, while he goes to work on the next part of their plan to claim their happy endings. Ursula is unhappy about having to rub elbows so closely with Regina, but Rumpelstiltskin assures her that Regina isn’t the threat she used to be. And, he adds, she’s not even the biggest threat in town. That Chernobog was going after the heart that had the greatest potential for darkness, and that heart belongs to Emma Swan.
But that’ll be elaborated on another time, I’m sure. For now, they need to work on getting Maleficent back, who is only kind of dead, as it turns out.
At Granny’s, Henry is going over the illustrations in his book, looking for a sign of the Author. Emma and Hook admire what a fine young lad he is. Emma can’t help but admit how relieved she is to be surrounded by his positive influence. Between him and her parents, she says, she’s been forced to become much more of an optimist. Speaking of her parents, they were supposed to be there some time ago. Wonder what’s keeping them?
Well, here’s what’s keeping them. They’re having a secret meeting with Cruella and Ursula, at the edge of town, in the rain. The two couples trade witty remarks (apparently witty remarks are Cruella’s specialty), but Mary Margaret will not have anyone’s crap. They’re welcome in Storybrooke as long as they’re no longer evil. And also they must swear to never ever speak of what happened between the four of them in the Enchanted Forest. Especially not to Emma. Because if they do, Mary Margaret, concludes, Regina won’t be one of their worries, because she’ll rip their hearts out herself.
Ah, Soap Opera Fairytales. I’ve missed you. OUAT has set itself up for a truly interesting plot with relevant things happening to the main characters. It’s been too long since that happened. I’m glad to have it back. See you next week!
The Story Continues Next Sunday Night at 8:00 pm on ABC