There's an old saying about those who don't learn from history and what their doom is and apparently Once Upon A Time believes that's true when it comes to fairy tale characters as well. "The Evil Queen" might flip back and forth between Storybrooke and the Enchanted Forest but essentially it's the same story in two different settings.
First, we learn that there is always a guy behind the scenes pulling the strings. In Storybrooke right now the strings section is being directed by Tamara (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Greg (Ethan Embry). Their story picks up in the clock tower where they've got Captain Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) stashed and for being "outsiders" they know just how to lean on the Captain to get what they want. Back in the Enchanted Forest's past, the puppeteer is none other than Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) who by now is as adapt at turning people to his will as spinning straw to gold.
At the center of it all is Regina (Lana Parrilla) and she proves that whether in the Forest or in town, she's got a spectacularly large blind spot when it comes to how people view her. Let's start in the Forest. This story is somewhat predictable: bad girl goes undercover, discovers how much she's hated, is rescued by her enemy who is open to giving her a second chance. On the cusp of getting that second chance, however, Regina and Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) just happen to stumble upon the body dump from the queen's mass-execution; Snow takes it all back. Literally.
Painful for the queen to watch her shot at redemption slip through her fingers. Painful for Snow because these were people who gave her sanctuary. Painful for the audience whose intelligence has just been insulted. Are we really supposed to buy that Regina slaughters an entire village and still thinks the people - well, the ones who are still alive, at least - will love her once Snow is also hunted down and killed? Did we really need Snow vomiting sappy, expositional dialogue like it was going out of style? What makes Regina see Hook in the present as being any more trustworthy than Gold was in the past? And why, after all of that, would Regina think she could win Henry's heart by wiping Storybrooke off the map?
History aside, there are plenty of awkward moments going around too. Like that one where Tamara and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) collide and Emma gets a peek at the Storybrooke/Fairy Tale name list Tamara has stashed in her purse and they both exchange false grins while lying through their teeth. Or that covert move Emma teaches Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) to warn her while she is snooping around Tamara's apartment; the one he uses on Neal (Michael Raymond-James). The one Neal taught Emma in the first place. And of course the search turns up nothing, further discrediting Emma's fairy-tale spidey-sense. So much for Operation Praying Mantis.
Fortunately, Emma and Henry will always have chocolate ice cream and Henry has inherited his grandma's naive optimism sans any memory of Regina's planned genocide. Perhaps it's also fortunate that there are only two more episodes left in the season. Between the magic bean storyline; Belle's (Emilie De Ravin) amnesia; Tamara and Greg's evil master plot; Tamara, Neal and Emma's twisted love triangle; Regina's hidden kill switch; Rumple's prophecy concerning Henry; not to mention the planned trip to Neverland next week, Once Upon A Time has become more like Snow's runaway horse than the next Lost. Will this all make sense in the end or has the show lost its magic?
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays @8 on ABC.