Sunday’s “Welcome to Storybrooke” taught us that when it comes to family, people will do almost anything to protect and honor the ones they love. In this week’s blast from the past, we see how Storybrooke started off as a pretty boring place. Although the 1983 flashbacks were not as explicitly revealing as some of us may have hoped, it still answered some lingering questions and led to a major game-changing surprise. Meanwhile, in present day Storybrooke we see how Mary Margaret copes with the dire decision she made in last week’s “The Miller’s Daughter.” Mr. Gold and the Charmings desperately try to protect M.M. from Regina’s wrath, but by the episode’s end we realize that not-so-innocent Mary Margaret may need to be protected from herself.
1983 Storybrooke: “I'll find you dad. I promise I'll never stop looking.”
When Regina cast the curse, she literally created a town out of thin air and dropped right in the middle of Nowheresville, Maine. Everyone arrives with a predetermined identity and a memory that goes back as far as they can remember. Every morning Regina wakes up next to Sheriff Graham, she walks down the streets of Storybrooke passing the same scenarios and people day in and day out, until she meets a couple of strangers in Granny’s Diner.
In her hum-drum and monotonous new life, Kurt and Owen Flynn breeze into town like breath of fresh air. Sure, Kurt could be a little more skeptical about the random old-fashioned town that appeared in the middle of the woods overnight after purple-hazed storm rained down on them and totaled his car, but for the time being, he appreciates Regina’s help and uncharacteristically welcoming overtures.
After about a week in Storybrooke, Regina grows exhausted of the same routine. Everyday she bumps into to Mary Margaret and M.M. complacently apologizes when she hasn’t even done anything wrong. Regina can’t feel powerful if there is nothing challenging her. She pays Mr. Gold a visit and voices her complaints about his curse, saying that this is not what she agreed upon. During their chat, it seems pretty clear that Mr. Gold played dumb for nearly thirty years. He goes along with the rouse and pretends not to understand what she means about the curse. He says she is in control, just like she wanted, so there is nothing to be unhappy about. However, her power doesn’t seem to carry the same weight as it once did. Everyone obeys her because they have to, not because the want to. The only people to have challenged her so far are the Flynns.
Earlier that day Regina went to sit in her regular seat at Granny’s, but young Owen was already there and he refused to budge. When the Flynns finished their meal, Owen ran up to Regina and gave her a lanyard (Remember those?! Nice ‘80s call-back) as a token of his thanks for letting him sit in her seat. After her conversation with Mr. Gold, Regina decides to invite Kurt and Owen over for dinner.
During dinner we get some backstory on the Flynn’s. Kurt’s wife died six months ago, so he decided to take Owen on a trip out of their New Jersey home to help him cope with her passing. It is strange seeing Regina in this family-style dynamic. She sort of flirts with Kurt with not-so-subtle comments like: “What goods a new life if you don’t have anyone to share it with?” She then bonds with Owen while they bake an apple turnover (Did anyone else still fear it might be poisoned? Regina and apples never mix well). Owen asks why Regina isn’t a mom because she would be good at. The little guy even opens up to her, sharing his grief and Regina understands what it feels like to have a piece of your heart missing. When they return to the table with the turnover, Regina makes a bold move and asks Kurt to move to Storybrooke. When she sees something she likes she really goes for it. Regina enjoys one night of playing house, so she tries to adopt a family overnight. Kurt kindly appreciates her offer, but their home is in New Jersey and that is where they belong. It looks like Regina finally got the challenge she’s been hoping for, so what will she do now? What she always does, violently force Fate’s hand into giving her what she wants.
Storybrooke may not have magic in 1983, but Regina can still control people’s hearts. Did you ever wonder why sweet Sheriff Graham ended up in the sack with Regina? It’s because she kept his heart in a box and commanded his every move. Regina asks Billy the mechanic to delay the repairs on Kurt’s car so they are forced to prolong their stay, but she is too late. Kurt already picked up the car and is heading out of town. Regina rushes to her office and whispers new instructions to Graham’s heart. She tells him to accuse Kurt of drunk-driving and arrest him so that he can’t leave Storybrooke. Just then, Kurt had stepped in to thank her and heard everything. Graham rushes in and still arrests him for drunk-driving even though there is no car in sight, so we know the heart-script plays out word for word regardless of one’s situation. Kurt manages to break free, runs to his car and floors it out of Storybrooke as fast as he can. In an action-packed car chase, Graham cuts Kurt off right before he reaches the borderline.
Kurt tells Owen to save himself and run away. He reminds Owen of the keychain he gave them while they were camping before the storm hit and he promises to always be with him. Owen doesn’t understand why Regina is doing this and she says she just wants them to stay with her. Owen initially liked the idea of staying, but not if it’s like this. Regina apologizes, saying, “Sorry. I just wanted us to be happy.”
A little while later, Owen brings a couple of cops to the Storybrooke borderline but the town doesn’t exist. The magic of the curse cloaks Storybrooke from all outsiders. Regina watches Owen make a vow: “I'll find you dad. I promise I'll never stop looking.” As he determinedly gazes upon the long empty road, Regina pokes her fingers into the magical barrier that protects their fairytale town.
Present Day Storybrooke: "I will have my son and I will have my vengeance. I will have everything."
Picking up from where we left off after Cora’s death, Regina sobs over her mother’s tomb and has an interesting conversation with Mr. Gold. She knows he was behind Cora’s murder, but she will take all of her revenge out on Mary Margaret because it was ultimately her decision to go through with it. Gold advises Regina to be careful because her vengeance will cost her Henry’s love. Nonetheless Regina promises, "I will have my son and I will have my vengeance. I will have everything."
In a new twist, Mr. Gold does the right thing and warns the Charmings about Regina’s revenge. Henry walks in on their chat and wants the lies to stop. Emma tells him that M.M. killed Cora and Henry is appalled. He says in shock, “She's Snow White, she wouldn’t hurt anybody.” While Henry wraps his brain around the loss of Snow’s righteous innocence, David tells Gold that he must help them stop Regina. Family ties aside, Mary Margaret saved his life, so he owes her. Not being one to break a deal, Gold returns to get scoop on Regina’s plan.
He finds her shortly after she discovered a scroll in Cora’s dress. Gold knows what this means and rushes to tell the Charmings. Regina plans to cast Cora’s Curse of the Empty Hearted, which has the power to make someone love you. The curse would give Regina Henry and revenge because to make the curse work she needs Mary Margaret’s heart. Gold warned them and feels his debt has been paid, but David isn’t satisfied. Gold breaks the situation down for them: “The only way you can end a blood feud is by spilling more blood.” Emma and David entertain the thought of causing more bloodshed when Henry steps in as the voice of reason.
In another delightful performance by Jared Gilmore, Henry knocks some sense into his family. He snaps, “You used to be heroes. What happened to you?” Gold simply counter-notes that Cora was dangerous because she did not have a heart and Regina is dangerous because she does have one. How they deal with this dilemma is up to the Charming family.
Emma takes Henry to meet his dad at Granny’s. Neal wants to take Henry to New York until this Regina situation blows over. There’s no magic in New York, so he’ll be safe. Henry thinks they would be better off getting rid of magic in Storybrooke instead of running away from Regina. Moments later, Emma returns to their table and sees that Neal’s scheming senses have gotten rusty because Henry made a run for it when he “went to the bathroom.” In the midst of this, Regina pays M.M. a visit at home and promises to exact her revenge because Gold won’t always be there to protect her.
Getting back to Henry; the youngest Charming is running through the woods and bumps into Greg, who is out on a nature walk. He takes a photo of Henry’s bag, which peaks our suspicions about what the mysterious stranger has in mind. The two of them part ways and we soon realize that Greg took a snapshot of Regina’s phone number. He tells her that Henry is in the woods and she heads out to find her boy. Meanwhile, the Charmings and Ruby reach the same conclusion after tracking Henry’s steps and learning that he took dynamite from the Dwarves’ mine.
Regina finds Henry trying to blow up the well and stops him by magically making the dynamite disappear. Soon after, David, Neal and Emma arrive on the scene. Henry confronts Regina saying, “The curse won’t make me love you for real. It’ll be fake.” However, Regina still thinks the curse will make them happy and give them everything. Echoing Owen’s words from the past, Henry repeats, “Not like this.” Once again, Henry shines as the voice reason as he desperately pleads for Regina’s help, “Magic is ruining everything. It makes good people do terrible things. Please help me get rid of it.” With that said, Regina magically burns Cora’s scroll.
Over at the Charmings’ apartment, M.M. has a candid chat with Mr. Gold and asks how he can live with himself after causing so much pain. Gold says that if he tells himself he’s doing the right thing often enough, then he eventually starts to believe it. But Mary Margaret is not Mr. Gold, so she does what she thinks is the right thing to do.
M.M. knocks on Regina’s door and asks to be killed before anyone else dies. Regina says Henry would never forgive her, but then again, she “never learns from [her] mistakes.” Regina rips out Mary Margaret’s heart and notices a black spot. Snow White has a black heart. Regina explains, “Once you blacken your heart it only gets darker.” After this epiphany, Regina discloses her new plan to M.M.: “I don’t need to destroy you, you’re doing it yourself… You’ll bring down your family and then Henry will be mine. I can have everything thanks to you.”
As the episode draws to a close, the camera pans away from Regina’s house and shows the scene from Greg’s perspective. He caught yet another one of Regina’s magic tricks on his cell phone. A close up on his keychain gives us an answer we’ve been searching for this season. Greg is Owen all grown up and he is searching for his father.
What did you think of the episode, Oncers? How do you feel about Snow White’s darkened heart? Are you surprised by Greg’s identity? Do you think Kurt is still alive in Storybrooke?
- Groundhog Day, Storybrooke style: The flashback shed some light on the mystery of Storybrooke’s existence, but its primary purpose was to tell the Flynn’s story. This is definitely an unexpected twist. Did Regina ever wonder what happened to Owen? Has she been too preoccupied to think he could return now that Storybrooke is open to outsiders? Why hasn’t she looked into Greg? She should feel threatened by a nosy stranger who is lingering in her town.
- Regina’s need for a sense of purpose and power: An interesting aspect of the past was Regina’s reaction to life in Storybrooke. She wants power, but she also enjoys the struggle that comes with. So far, the only perk of the curse seemed to be bedding Sheriff Graham, which is still pretty gross if you really think about the way she is taking advantage of him. Regina also needs something to live for and Owen showed her that having a family could give her a new sense of purpose in this modern life. We still didn’t discover how she got Henry, but it’s safe to bet that Rumple arranged the whole thing. What did Regina do for all of those years without Henry? Did she go to Gold and ask how she could get a child in Storybrooke? What happened if they reached out to “outsiders” in the past? Hopefully we’ll get an episode explaining the details of Henry’s adoption sometime in the future. For now, it is interesting to see how the seed of motherhood was planted by Greg so long ago.
- Snow White’s dark heart: This is really bad, Oncers. How do you feel about Snow’s dark heart? Is this a disruptive plot-line? Is it too risky to mess with such an iconic character? Snow was tempted once before in the past, but David stopped her before it was too late. This time Snow acted completely on her own and David couldn’t stop her from doing something she’d always regret. This is not fun to watch and it sucks to see one of the purely good guys get tainted. Snow’s darkness goes against the core principles of the fairytale and Henry is clearly disturbed by his family’s weakness in the face of adversity. Are the Charmings’ slipping because they’ve been in Storybrooke? Did the curse play a hand in M.M.’s willingness to go dark? Have they been pushed too far because of Cora and Regina? Can Henry save his family from getting darker? Will Dark Snow have a domino effect and cause other good people to blacken their hearts? Regina warned Snow that a blackened heart will grow darker, so will M.M. continue to make bad decisions in the future? If you darken your heart, is there any way to brighten it again? Can good deeds reverse the darkness?
- Greg's agenda: Will Greg reveal his true identity to anyone in Storybrooke? Will he ask anyone for help? Who is "Her"? How much does she know? Could Neal's fiancee, Tamara, be the mysterious "Her"? Does she know the truth about Neal's identity? Has she been using him to help Greg find his father? What are your theories on Greg and Tamara?
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‘Once Upon A Time’ airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.