It's not uncommon for Once Upon a Time to hop back and forth between the present and the past within an episode, but in tonight's 'Welcome to Storybrooke,' we're shown the town's past as opposed to the past in the Enchanted Forest.
It helps shed light on what the town was like in its infancy, allows viewers the chance to visit with some dearly departed friends, and explains why recent visitor Greg Mendell (Ethan Embry) was lurking at the town line at the beginning of this season.
One fascinating tidbit gleaned is that the town first appeared on Earth in 1983 with the same gale force winds with which it left the Enchanted Forest. Unfortunately for Regina (Lana Parrilla), on the night of the curse that created Storybrooke, a young Greg - whose name back then was Owen Flynn (Benjamin Stockham) - and his father Kurt (John Pyper-Ferguson) chose the forest on the outskirts of town to go camping. Much of the episode centers on the relationship that forms between Regina and the unexpected outsiders.
Strangers and newly-minted curses aside, it needs to be mentioned that having Jamie Dornan back as Sheriff Graham is something that should be done more often. Dornan has a great on screen presence, and even though he's something of a shallow sex-slave at this point in his time-stream, it's not too bothersome because he is just that much fun to watch. He gets a cool car chase this time around, too. It's also nice to catch a glimpse of Billy (Jarod Joseph), Archie Hopper (Ralphael Sbarge), and Tony Amendola's, Geppetto.
Meanwhile, Regina's relationship with Storybrooke's first unexpected visitors is mercurial at best and adds more proof to how co-dependent this wicked queen really is.
First, she's enraged and threatened by their presence and all but orders them to leave town as soon as possible. Then she's suddenly inviting them over for dinner. At dinner, it seems like she's plotting their demise via her signature apple turnovers when Owen makes the comment that she'd make a good mom and her heart softens so much she's begging Kurt to leave New Jersey and "The Boss" behind and settle down in Storybrooke. Like any good dad, Kurt's danger radar goes off and he decides it's high time he got the hell out of Dodge.
Time does not heal all wounds, because in present-day Storybrooke, Regina's moods shift like a pendulum, taking her from a tearful little girl at her mother's grave to a raging psychopath determined to seek vengeance against Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) to - finally - the mama bear determined to preserve her relationship with Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) by employing the same techniques she'd tried on the Flynns back in the '80s.
Clearly she is a woman bound and determined to have her cake and eat it too. History proves the results never equal her expectations: the curse leaves her in a Groundhog Day-esque loop that bores her after a few days, and she's "forced" to kidnap Kurt Flynn in order to keep him in town and watch his son sob on the other side of the magic town line.
While Regina plots her revenge, Snow retreats to her bed, leaving her family to scurry around and protect her on their own. This wilted flower act is no more winsome than her purer-than-thou naïveté has been in the past and it almost makes one wish Regina would've actually kept Snow's heart instead of giving it back.
At least David (Josh Dallas) and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) show some backbone this time out, and Neal (Michael Raymond-James) learns the cardinal rule of parenting is to never trust the kid who complies too quickly.
Actually, of anyone, Henry is the one making the sensible decisions - rightly determining that magic is the root of all evil in Storybrooke - though no one is in the mood to pay any attention to him. It should be interesting to see how this severely fractured and twisted family fares when attacked from the outside.
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays @8pm on ABC.