Most shows wait until the finale to incorporate a major plot twist, but for Once Upon A Time, throwing the audience for a stomach-churning loop is just business as usual.
When last we left the Enchanted Forest, Aurora (Sorah Bolger) had finally shown some worth via her connection to Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) in the fiery dream world, even as Charming (Josh Dallas) watched the Mad Hatter's hat portal burn to a crisp. Tonight, Aurora again plays a crucial role, though by the end of the episode, she takes a turn for the worse.
In a nutshell, "Into the Deep" is the Battle of the Villain All-Stars between the four of the major baddies on the show: Regina (Lana Parrilla), Rumple (Robert Carlyle), Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) and Cora. As "the enemy of the enemy is my ally," Regina and Rumple go up against Hook and Cora, with the latter pair as desperate to break into Storybrooke as the former pair is to keep them out. After a season of watching Regina and Rumple duke it out for king of the villain hill, it's interesting to watch them join forces against what they perceive to be an even greater threat.
On the periphery are Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) - pining to return to Charming and Henry - along with their reluctant allies. Clearly, Mulan's (Jamie Chung) loyalties to the Storybrooke pair don't run deep, as her only concern in this episode is retrieving the captured Aurora - to the point that she is willing to steal the magic compass and return it to Cora. Back in Storybrooke, Charming is just as ready to make rash decisions and as soon as he deduces that it will be Snow journeying into the fiery room to make contact, he demands to be the one to be placed under a cursed sleep.
The Storybrooke Villain All-Stars seem all too willing to help the displaced prince in his latest quest, pulling out all the necessary ingredients from Rumple's convenient storehouse of curse chemicals while Regina dusts off the bunsen burner set needed to brew cursed sleeping potions. The curse is delivered into Charming's system by way Aurora's spinning wheel.
In the Enchanted Forest, Hook and Cora have a chess game of their own going on and their pawn is none other than the spinning wheel's original victim. Cora's foot soldiers are a zombie army, thanks to her collection of glowing red hearts, and they capture Aurora with ease. At first, she spurns Hook's help, but he takes it in stride and decides to play the long game. He awakens Sleeping Beauty and, unbeknownst to her, takes a gift for Cora: Aurora's heart. It seems pirates can use black magic too.
The penultimate mirror maze/fiery room sequence with Charming doesn't look as cheesy as some of the previous effects scenes, but the effort is weakened by the trite dialogue that ensues. They both should have realized they wouldn't be able to touch since the room is located in a netherworld as opposed to reality; plus, Charmin's eternal optimism is wearing as thin as Mulan's tough girl act.
The joke's on them, though, because in the end, all of the villains have come out winners. Cora and Hook have Aurora's heart, giving them 24-hour access to Snow and Emma's plans. Meanwhile, Regina and Rumple have effectively deposed Storybrooke's fearless leader and it would be out of character for either of them to not take advantage of the situation. Next week's mid-season finale should be one for the record books if all the villains manage to land in the same realm!
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays @8pm on ABC.