While some networks are still on winter hiatus, ABC is not among them and tonight they kick off the second half of the season with a new episode of Once Upon A Time.
When last we left Storybrooke, things were looking up. Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) had found their way back home and true love’s kiss awakened Charming (Josh Dallas) from his enchanted slumber. But two other characters have also managed to slip into town under the radar, and if tonight’s any indication, this party’s just getting started.
The first thing to celebrate, however, is that last year’s practice of jumping back and forth between only two realms – the present in Storybrooke and the past in the Enchanted Forest – is reinstated, hopefully for the remainder of the year. Not only did the first half of the season require an encyclopedic memory to keep all three timelines safe, it also took away some of the charm of the original premise and made certain episodes choppy and disjointed. And did anyone miss Aurora (Sarah Bolger) or Mulan (Jaimie Chung)? No, didn’t think so.
Fortunately, taking the third timeline out of the equation does nothing to minimize the number of plot twists shoved up the writers’ sleeves. As revealed in the winter finale, Cora (Barbara Hershey) and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) sailed into town, though their presence is now more felt than seen – especially Cora’s. She’s got an axe to grind with her daughter for banishing her to Wonderland so many years ago and she’s choosing to employ the old “divide and conquer” method to exact her revenge.
Despite all of the enemies Regina (Lana Parilla) has made along the way, coming into this episode she still had Henry’s (Jared S. Gilmore) affections and a wafer-thin layer of trust between she and Emma after the work she did to bring Snow and Emma home to Storybrooke. It also feels like she is genuinely trying to change for the sake of her son, though that doesn’t preclude the occasional temper tantrum. Cora must be a quick study, because it doesn’t take her long to decide on the perfect plan to crush Regina once and for all – by framing her for the murder of the beloved shrink, Doc Hopper (Ralph Sbarge).
In a flashback, more history is revealed depicting how evil Regina once was as queen. After Regina overthrew the king, Charming and Snow set a trap for her which temporarily strips her of her powers and allows them to imprison her. Charming and Snow go back and forth about what to do with her and finally settle on a test. The twist, of course, is that the test comes from Rumple (Robert Carlyle), and by now even naive Snow should realize that there’s always a catch when it comes to Rumple.
The catch is that by granting Snow and Charming protection from Regina in their own realm, Rumple has lulled them into a false sense of security and given him the window of opportunity to suggest to the now-banished Regina that there are realms beyond their own that they could travel to. This ultimately gets him one step closer to his own goal: Reuniting with his son.
Meanwhile in Storybrooke’s present, Cora is at work sowing her own seeds of doubt concerning Regina. Even though Emma is quick to point out that the murder has all the tell-tale signs of a set-up, the one thing they all put far too much trust in is magic. Yes, it’s hard to deny the testimony Emma and Gold retrieve from Pongo the dog, but the story still seems a bit too contrived to be true. This does culminate in a good, loud shouting match between Henry’s two moms in which they both make excellent stabs at the emotional jugular. And in the end, you can’t blame Regina for apparating out of Dodge once the tables start to turn on her.
In the end, however, it’s Cora and Hook who come out on top. Cora declares that her daughter’s spirit is now sufficiently crushed for her to launch her main assault. And she has given Hook a gift in the form of an imprisoned Doc Hopper, which she assures him will bring him one step closer to enacting his own revenge on Rumple. Of course, if Jiminy/Doc Hopper is alive and well, it means some other poor Storybrooke soul has bitten the dust. Fortunately, there are plenty more episodes where this one came from.
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.