Oh, what a tangled web Once weaves! Tonight's episode reintroduced the Fairybacks before abruptly shifting to present-day Fairy Land, thus proving that the show has no intention of limiting itself to its old narrative structure. Then it revealed more of Regina and Rumpelstiltskin's history, giving us tidbits that could wreak havoc on what we thought we knew about the show's timeline. Finally, it ended with a humdinger of a twist that completely upset our assumptions -- raise your hand if you were sure that Cora had been sent through the looking glass into Wonderland, where she became the Queen of Hearts -- and raised a slew of new questions.
Once certainly has a lot of magical balls in the air, and I worry that this juggling act could lead to important questions not getting answered or, worse, being replaced by more and more questions. (Nobody wants the whole Lost connection to go too far, after all.) Thankfully, a resonant theme about parental control and some great acting by Lana Parilla's hair helped things from getting too tangled tonight. We can only hope future weeks turn out the same way.
Enough preamble! Here's that recap you ordered. After the return of magic and last week's Dementor attack, Storybrooke is a shambles. Telephone polls have been toppled; cars have been flipped over; cute knit caps have been blown hither and yon, separated from their One True Scalps. A crew of fairy figures including Red, Jiminy Human, and the Blue Fairy are trying to help by running a crisis center. Kudos to Meghan Ory for keeping a straight face while directing victims like a werewolf FEMA agent at the Storybrooke Superdome: "If the wraith damaged your house..."
Meanwhile, Charming is having a supremely unsatisfying meeting with Regina. When he questions her about the magic portal hat -- which is looking worse for wear after transporting Emma and Snow -- Regina tells him that she's long since forgotten where she got it, meaning that he'll have to dig a little deeper if he wants to learn how to retrieve his wife and daughter. It's unclear whether Regina is lying to throw James off the scent or she actually doesn't remember Jefferson -- it's possible that the wraith snacked on some of her memories in last week's episode.
Charming then heads to Red's Red Cross station, where he's immediately inundated with requests for help from various Storybrooke residents. They need somebody -- not just anybody, but their prince. He can't answer their queries, and he also can't figure out how he'll ever get to Snow and Emma. "You'll find another way!" chirps Henry. "In the book, things always look worse before there's good news!" Cue Grumpy, who immediately bursts on the scene with a blunt message: "TERRIBLE NEWS!"
See, he and the dwarfs have discovered that the town's border is now sponsored by Lacuna, Inc. In plain English: anyone who tries to leave Storybrooke will lose all their memories of Fairy Land. And no amount of hand-clapping or heel-clicking will bring them back.
NEXT: Freakout city, population: Storybrooke