Welcome back, Oncemen! (Like "huntsmen"? As in Sheriff Skinnyjeans? Maybe I should have thought this one through.)
After a three-month Hiatus Curse, our story returned tonight in fine form. Or, you know, in some kind of form. I suspect your reaction to the episode as a whole will all boil down to how you felt about that 11th-hour "holy crap, Christopher Gorham is a flying monkey?!" twist. Thought it was a delightful way to introduce Once's sure-to-be-warped version of Oz? If so, you were probably on board with "New York City Serenade." Fall closer to the "you have got to be kidding me!" end of the spectrum? If so, you were probably... less enthused. Either way, you'll likely agree that the hour could have used a little less conversation and a little more action -- though I think we can also collectively applaud the show for giving Emma back her memories as quickly as it did, rather than drawing out the process. (Never fear, though; Henry's own journey toward enlightenment is sure to bring its share of frustrations.)
But before we check in on the happenings in Manhattan, let's travel back to one year ago, Once-time -- the moment when the Charmings, Regina, Nealfire, and whoever else this episode had budget for reappear in the Enchanted Forest. The gang immediately find themselves deposited at Prince Phillip and Princess Aurora's Love Gazebo, where the royals greet the newcomers warmly. After establishing that Castle CGI -- onetime home of Snow and Regina -- still stands, the onetime Storybrookeites head off to start repopulating their kingdom.
After they leave, though, Aurora and Philip have a tense conversation. She tells him that they have to let "her" know that the Charmings et al have returned. Philip is reluctant to tattle -- but Aurora worries that if they don't, the mysterious "she" will harm their unborn child. Who might they be talking about? Let's just say if you care to find "her," look toward the western sky.
So the loose fellowship treks onward, save one very important pirate -- Hook decides to ride away from the group on a horse he just stumbled upon. Unless that horse was a human in Storybrooke and is actually named, like, Frank. Hook says he's heading off to look for the Jolly Roger, or another ship to plunder -- but Snow knows that he's really just brooding about being separated from Emma. And soon enough, another angsty reformed villain elects to strike out on her own. Snow peels off from her comrades to find Regina crouched in the woods, burying the plastic heart that's causing her to feel all sorts of unpleasant feelings -- despair over losing Henry, jealousy that Emma gets the kid all to herself, fear that this place doesn't even have mayoral elections. Snow uses her princess powers to convince Regina that a lifetime of feeling bad is better than a lifetime of feeling nothing at all, and it's all very Once-by-numbers... until the flying monkey shows up.
NEXT: Emma's deeeluxe apartment in the sky