Once Upon A Time: Choosing Partners

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Episode recaps
Courtesy of ABC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Last week’s mid-season premiere of Once Upon a Time gave me reason to be hopeful for the direction the show is headed in. This felt particularly good, because I was not particularly optimistic after being unexpectedly disappointed by this season’s first half. While part of me is really excited to see the storyline focus on my favorite characters, another part of me is prepared for some really terrible things to happen, because there’s no way Rumpelstiltskin is losing Belle and going down without a fight, and since this is a soap opera about fairy tales I can anticipate that the drama is going make me cry so hard I’ll mess up someone else’s eyeliner. And I would have to, since I don’t wear eyeliner. But anyway.

We left off with Mary Margaret and David sweating hard over Cruella and Ursula becoming the latest residents of Storybrooke. Our heroes have some sort of terrible secret involving those two and Maleficent. Mary Margaret is having nightmares, which leads to late-night whispered conversations over scotch with David. This secret, it’s a whopper, and they’re willing to do anything in their power to get Cruella and Ursula out of Storybrooke before anyone catches on to their secret history. Mary Margaret finds little comfort in the fact that Maleficent is dead. It seems like in OUAT Magic Law, people steeped in dark magic are slightly more resurrect-able than the average non-magic shlub. The Charmings want to act quickly against their newest neighbors before any terrible secrets are revealed.

You see, a long time ago, in The Enchanted Forest, Snow White and Prince Charming were returning from their honeymoon. Snow White is anxious to begin their reign as King and Queen, but things are off to a rocky start—they discover that their guards and the entire city inside the castle walls have fallen to a sleeping curse. They suspect Regina, but it’s Maleficent, Ursula, and Cruella who emerge to greet the returning heroes. They want an audience with the newlyweds, and they claim to have good reason.

That good reason, it turns out, is that they have evidence that Regina’s threat at the Charming’s wedding wasn’t just a bluff. Maleficent admits that Regina stole The Dark Curse, and it’s nothing to be trifled with. They think they might be able to figure out how to get around the curse and the devastation it will bring, but they’re gonna need Their Highness’ help. There’s a fairy-enchanted Tree of Wisdom within The Enchanted Forest, and it can answer any question asked of it. The Queens of Darkness would just ask The Tree themselves, but The Tree is a little picky about who it consorts with. It will take the heart of two valiant heroes to get an answer from it. And Regina is working on that curse so they don’t have much time to lose.

Snow White and Charming briefly deliberate whether or not to trust them, but their status as heroes and monarchs dictate that they do the challenging but honorable thing to try to save their kingdom. Snow White has plenty of reservations, which are realized when Maleficent turns into a dragon to torch some well-meaning, law-abiding bridge guards who refuse passage to the mixed company party. Snow White and Charming are horrified, but Maleficent isn’t fussed over it. By any means necessary, she says. Cruella and Ursula agree.

The next morning the Queens of Darkness are waiting for Snow and Charming to emerge from their tent, but Snow and Charming have split in order to make it to The Tree of Wisdom without the Queens of Darkness. Whatever the tree has to tell them, they can’t trust the Queens of Darkness with that knowledge, they reason. Upon discovering that their traveling companions have beat camp, Maleficent sends of a fiery drone thing from her staff to track them. The Charmings reach The Tree, put their hands in the conveniently placed, hand-shaped molding in some adjacent rocks, and ask how to defeat Regina’s curse. Magic shimmers and pulses outward from the tree in a sharp, red blast. Not much of an answer to their question. Snow and Charming are puzzling over why it didn’t work, and the Queens of Darkness arrive to add their opinions. Their deal isn’t over yet, despite the fact that the Charmings betrayed them, and they need to know why it didn’t work just as badly as the Charmings do.

And Maleficent sees it almost immediately, feeling foolish for not realizing it before. Snow is pregnant. The child she carries is the product of True Love; therefore, it has the potential for great power and good. But apparently another tenant of OUAT Magic Law is that magic often seeks a balance—and where there is potential for great goodness, there is also potential for great evil. The Tree couldn’t give an answer because the heart of Snow and Charming’s child holds the capacity to become the most powerful villain in all the realms. Ever.

Snow and Charming are bravely unimpressed. They will do whatever it takes to defeat Regina and they are going to win and of course their child will grow up to be good because being good is awesome and the best way to be. Well, that’s their initial reaction, anyway.

And so, in Storybrooke, Mary Margaret and David are busy plotting a way to cast out Ursula and Cruella as soon as possible. They’ve arranged to meet Regina at Granny’s, but it gets weird fast because Cruella and Ursula are also there, trying to get the first course of their liquid lunch, but Granny is more interested in chopping lemons and staring at the ceiling than waiting on the two of them. She drops everything for Will Scarlett as he pops in for a couple to-go coffees. As he exits, Regina and Henry enter. Cruella is delighted to see Regina, and asks for a little help convincing the “old bag” to fix them their cocktails. Regina declines, and Ursula and Cruella begin to pop off about Regina’s wicked history of murder and wickedness. Henry is a little uncomfortable, and Regina is furious. Mention her past again, she threatens, and she’ll have the two of them outside the town line before they can say “costume jewelry.” All Hail Regina, Queen of Sass. Pretending to be bored, but probably more than a little intimidated, Cruella and Ursula abandon their plan for drinks.

David is indignant that the two of them would act in such a manner, but Regina wants to be patient with them. She knows what it’s like to be the villain-in-recovery and wants to give them the benefit of the doubt. And besides, she isn’t even worried about their magic. Regina has more power in her lipstick than the two of them have in their whole beings put together. David presses for at least rigorous surveillance, given their sketchy past. Regina agrees, and adds that it sounds like a job for the Sheriff’s Department, not the mayor’s office. She and Henry have to work on the book and she wants zero to do with whatever the Charmings are fretting about.

They all depart the restaurant, and Emma runs into David just outside. She’d planned on meeting them there for lunch and she’s hungry! But David wants to stay hot on Cruella and Ursula’s trail, so he quickly makes up a story about needing to follow the leads they’re leaving and rushes her into the sheriff’s vehicle to give chase.

Cruella and Ursula have given up on drinks in favor of a little shopping. They enter the pawn shop, which Belle is now operating, to be greeted by a sadder, wiser woman than the maid they kidnapped all those years ago. They start trying to Mean-Girls-Regina-George Belle over her breakup/banishment of Rumpelstiltskin. Belle tries to remain calm and distant, but she’s always had a bad poker face. She seems upset at the mention of him, especially as the witches gloat over the miserable condition he’s in. Does she miss him? Or does she just regret that she had to cast him out?

It doesn’t matter. Cruella and Ursula aren’t even there to talk about The Dark One. While they’re distracting Belle, Ursula slithers a tentacle around the shop to lift a wooden box with Maleficent’s crest on it out of the back room of the shop. With the item secured, and Belle’s patience running out, Cruella asks for a hood ornament for her car, and Belle goes to check the inventory.

As Belle searches, Cruella sends a text message. In the most powerful magic I’ve witnessed since the beginning of the show, the text is received several hundred feet underneath the library in a cave that served as Maleficent-The-Dragon’s jail cell. The text was to Rumpelstiltskin, of course. And since the birds have the package, it’s time to gather the dragon’s ashes and start to work resurrecting her.

Emma and David have staked out the pawn shop, waiting for Cruella and Ursula to emerge. Emma is more than a little mystified about David’s urgency and short answers regarding the pair. She presses David a little, but she’s cut short as the women exit the pawn shop. He orders Emma to call Belle to see if anything was taken as he speeds off after them.

Over the phone, Belle tells Emma that she believes something is, indeed missing. A wooden box. Well, Belle, at least you managed to notice what was missing after they left, I guess? That being reason enough to pull them over, David does so immediately.

He orders Cruella and Ursula out of the car and begins to search it. He performs a Hank-Schrader-esque smack to the seat of the car, revealing a hidden compartment with the stolen box inside. He opens the box, and, seeing that it contains what looks to be a sparkly egg in a crow’s claw, gives the all-clear that he didn’t find anything. Emma apologizes for the inconvenience in a rather unconvincing way. David is also rude, and the women are ruffled but clearly relieved that he didn’t seem to have found anything. Emma, disturbed that Belle would have reported something missing that wasn’t really missing, wonders if they hadn’t found another way to hide it. She wants to get a look at the security footage from around the pawn shop to see if there’s anything suspicious. David thinks it’s a great plan, and suggests that Emma return to the station to review security footage and that he go home. He’s palmed the object from the wooden box and wants to get it to Mary Margaret as soon as possible.

He’s not entirely sure what it is, he confesses, but the fact that her two witch friends wanted it means that it’s got to have something to do with resurrecting her. Right? Sure, Mary Margaret agrees. And that needs to never happen because of That Terrible Secret. They figure the only way to make absolutely sure that she isn’t resurrected is to go gather her ashes from the cave and throw them in the harbor. Seems like a solid enough plan.

Back at the sheriff’s station, Emma is reviewing the security footage and is soon joined by Hook, bringing her the much-sought-after grilled cheese sandwich. He wins major boyfriend points! But he loses them pretty quickly when Emma inquires after the brief encounter they had with Ursula earlier in the day. She appeared to know him, ahem, quite well, and Hook wasn’t very convincing or specific in his explanation of their previous relationship. Emma tries again, and Hook clumsily dodges the question again. Emma knows he’s holding something back, but he won’t say anything else. After a very awkward pause, he wishes her luck on the witch hunt and skips out.

Mary Margaret and David are packing up for their excursion to Maleficent’s tomb. Emma, having found something soon after her standoff with Hook and eager to be distracted from her problems, bounds up to the two of them. Security footage shows Cruella and Ursula on the street with the box! She assumes David will want to move on it directly.

But he has dragon ashes to destroy, and he can’t tell Emma that. So, he bluffs about hiking and redemption and the benefit of the doubt, with Mary Margaret chirping in about changing attitudes and reflection on themselves. Emma gets Superpower Face, but appears convinced by her parent’s hearts-of-gold aura. She returns to the sheriff’s station, and Mary Margaret and David exchange the look parents give each other when their kid is juuuuuuust about to find out the truth about Santa Claus.

In the mines on the way to the cavern, Mary Margaret worries over their lies to Emma. David is less remorseful, affirming that they did what they had to do to protect Emma, and they will continue to do so. They reach the cavern and find a pile of ashes in the middle. But, it’s a trap! Cruella and Ursula are waiting for them and quickly render them unconscious. Rumpelstiltskin joins them, asking assurance that his involvement remains a secret. He inquires if Belle suspects anything, but Cruella and Ursula say she didn’t ask about him and seems to have moved on. Well, liar, liar, pants on fire! But what exactly do they have to gain by lying about that, other than watching The Dark One squirm? Well, do you need a better reason?

A bit too coolly, Rumpelstiltskin hands Cruella a dagger and completely disregards her comments about Belle. He reminds her that she “knows what to do,” and leaves directly. Ursula is tempted to just kill them, but Cruella reminds her that there is so much suffering in their future, killing them would be a waste. Of course the trinket was just a ruse to get them to the cavern—what they really need to resurrect Maleficent is the blood of the people who wronged her most, and with Snow and Charming there, they have exactly that.

Maleficent is resurrected in a really badass-looking ball of fire and magic, turning into a dragon first, and then into her human form. Mary Margaret and David regain consciousness and begin to beg and plead explanations to Maleficent. But she isn’t interested. She doesn’t care about their secret, she doesn’t care if anyone ever finds out how exactly they hurt her so terribly. All she wants is their complete and utter suffering. And she’s certain she’s going to get it.

The Queens of Darkness stalk off, leaving Mary Margaret and David to revel in their terror. Mary Margaret realizes that they should have seen the trap coming, but they were so terrified to reveal their secret that they let that blind them to reason. David agrees. They have to tell Emma everything. They go to the sheriff’s station to do just that.

But when they get there, they walk in on Emma having a conversation with Hook. She admits that she isn’t happy about Hook so obviously lying to her, but she is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Her parents, she explains, always look for the good in people and so will she. Upon overhearing this, it’s clear that the Charmings can’t tell their daughter the truth just yet. They need another plan.

And so, after breaking up the romantic scene between their daughter and the pirate captain, they inform them that Maleficent has been resurrected and trouble is assuredly on its way. Hook and Emma are concerned and maybe a little annoyed—what beef does Maleficent have with them, and why would she come after them now? Because they’re heroes, Mary Margaret explains. But we all know that isn’t the reason.

In The Enchanted Forest, after Snow’s pregnancy is revealed, Maleficent pays her a visit in the middle of the night. Just girl talk, between the two of them, she insists. They have something in common more than anyone else in their partnership right now. Maleficent is pregnant, too. And she needs to work with whoever she can to ensure that her child is safe. It’s a compelling argument, but not enough to convince Snow to align herself with the Queens of Darkness. Her child’s capacity for darkness will surely overwhelm her if they turn to darkness to defeat Regina. Maleficent is taken aback—Snow White would see a kingdom destroyed to ensure that her child grows up to be a hero? Snow White isn’t moved. She will defeat Regina because that’s what good does and she doesn’t need help from the likes of Maleficent.

And so the mystery of What The Charmings Did To The Queens of Darkness begins to unravel.

So, since the Queens of Darkness want revenge, a plan must be devised to deal with them. Mary Margaret meets Regina in the rain at night, because that’s how secret pacts are made. Regina is exhausted from a day of trying to extract knowledge about The Book from a very not-remembering-anything Pinocchio (in which she totally snapped at the kid, and then tearfully apologized to Gepetto, and then Gepetto took pity on her and gave her some of August-The-Man’s old things that he saved when he got turned back into Pinocchio by The Blue Fairy which will hopefully help her), and encourages Mary Margaret to cut to the chase.

And so she does. She confesses that because of what she and Charming did, Maleficent lost her child, and that Maleficent is seeking revenge on all of Storybrooke for her suffering. They need Regina to go undercover to discover what they’re plotting and how to put a stop to it. And, above all, Emma must never ever ever find out about her potential for darkness, because she’s so close to being really and truly good. As her mother, Mary Margaret can’t allow this to happen. Regina is doubtful, but eventually agrees that she needs to do something heroic if she’s going to be a hero, after all.

Just in case there wasn’t enough Rumpelstiltskin-and-Belle angst in this episode, during Mary Margaret’s tearful confession to Regina about her past betrayal of Maleficent, we see Rumpelstiltskin looking into the pawnshop’s window at Belle, who is hanging ornaments in the display. She’s soon joined by Will Scarlett. The two smile and kiss and Rumpelstiltskin leans back against the wall like he’s having a heart attack. So, there’s that weekly break-your-heart-into-a-thousand-pieces-Rumbelle scene.
And that’s it till next week!

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