Full of derring-do, swoony romance, interesting guest stars, and employing a… particularly flexible and inclusive definition of the term “fairy tale,” Once Upon a Time returns to a TiVo near you on September 25, 2016.
This trippy drama centers on the residents of tiny Storybrooke, Maine, who are all – unbeknownst to themselves, at least at first – actually fairy tale characters whose memories of life in the Enchanted Forest (and environs) have been wiped away by a powerful curse. Who cursed them, and why, is eventually revealed, in part through the efforts of one Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), who is also a fairy tale character (sort of) who was smuggled out of the Enchanted Forest before the curse hit. Emma’s main interest in the town lies in the fact that her son, who was adopted as an infant, lives there. His adoptive mother (Lana Parilla) is the Mayor of Storybrooke in this reality, while in the fairy tale world she’s actually – but that would be telling.
Even though no one has been able to enter or leave the seaside town of Storybrooke since forever, winsome tot Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) is able not only to escape, but to make his way all the way down to Boston and, once there, locate his birth mother, a miserable bail bondswoman named Emma Swan. When Emma drives him back up to Maine, she likes the look of the place well enough to stick around (and who can blame her? I mean, Maine). Through a somewhat remarkable concatenation of circumstances, she’s even elected town Sherriff. This gives her a front-row seat to the low-level power struggle percolating between Mayor Regina Mills and the town’s wealthiest businessman, Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle).
Mayor Regina is frequently distracted from her job and her son by her inexplicable obsession with preventing a romance between meek schoolteacher Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) and coma-patient-slash-veterinary-technician David (Josh Dallas). This gives Henry a lot of free time to follow Emma around and insist that she help him investigate his completely wack theory: Storybrooke’s residents are all from a mysterious world called the Enchanted Forest, where Regina and Gold worked together to strip magic from the world and induce mass amnesia among the population. Emma, in other words, has managed to land smack-dab in the middle of a modern fairy tale.
Good golly, what if the kid’s right?
Fun Fact: Sebastian Stan, pre-Winter Soldier, appears several times as Jefferson, a.k.a. the Mad Hatter.
The Curse is lifted, memories – good and bad – are restored, and people in Storybrooke are all dealing, one way or another, with the fallout. Mr. Gold (a.k.a. Rumpelstiltskin) is reunited with his long-lost son, Baelfire (Michael Raymond-James) – who has a startling connection to Emma and Henry. Captain Hook – he of the heavy-lidded eyes, manly chest, and scrumptious accent (Colin O’Donoghue) – arrives in town, and he has a startling connection to Mr. Gold. (We’re not going to claim that the “startling connection” plot device is overused in this show, but…) Finally, the townsfolk must band together against the two blandest villains on ABC, Greg (Ethan Embry) and Tamara (Sonequa Martin-Green), who are driven out of town, but not before kidnapping Henry and delivering him into the keeping of arch-villain Peter Pan (Robbie Kay).
Oh, and meanwhile, Mulan (Jamie Chung), Princess Aurora (Sarah Bolger), and Prince Philip (Julian Morris) are hanging out in the Enchanted Forest. They mostly sit around and twiddle their thumbs. Aurora takes a lot of naps and communicates psychically with Henry.
Poor Henry undergoes more travails than the heroine of a Colombian telenovela as he is sequentially: kidnapped by Ethan Embry and Sonequa Martin as representatives of the sinister Home Office; rescued by his friends; possessed by Pan’s “Shadow;” and de-possessed (exorcised, we guess?), but at an almost unbearable price. Later, Zelena, also known as the Wicked Witch of the West (Rebecca Mader under a gallon or two of green paint), is revealed to be Regina’s sadly mistreated half-sister and causes all sorts of trouble out of sheer spite.
We quite honestly lost track of all the times the town of Storybrooke was cursed, uncursed, enspelled, and de-spelled this season, but take our word: It was a lot. Also, how are all these people able to run town with their hearts ripped out of their chest? It happens with alarming frequency in Storybrooke. We’ve heard of people surviving having their kidneys harvested, but hearts? Paging Doctor House, stat!
Oh! We almost forgot. With Neal out of the picture – probably permanently, but around these parts you never know – Emma and Captain Hook begin a romance. Oh, and Snow and Charming have a baby! Is the baby kidnapped? Well, of course he is. Also, Regina finds her One True Love in the person of manly Robin Hood (Sean Maguire). Regrettably, Emma accidentally rescues Robin’s wife from prison and brings her to Storybrooke. Awkward!
Fun Fact: Marilyn Manson (yes, that Marilyn Manson) voices The Shadow in Episode 3.8, “Think Lovely Thoughts.” According to Wikipedia, Which Is Never Wrong, 6.66 million viewers turned into that episode. The Universe has a strange and wonderful sense of humor, it seems.
Frozen’s reach extends even unto Storybrooke, as Elsa (Georgina Haig) turns up in town in search of her beloved sister Anna (Elizabeth Lail). Their adventures will place the town at odds with Ingrid, the powerful Snow Queen (Elizabeth Mitchell, who will have a role worthy of her talents someday) – who has (say it with me, everyone!) a startling connection to Emma.
Meanwhile, Henry, as usual not content to leave well enough alone, searches for The Author, who wrote the Book in which all of Storybrooke’s residents’ stories are written down. He’s not the only one who is looking for The Author, however; Maleficent, Ursula, and tacky Mob wife Cruella de Vil (Kristin Bauer van Stratten, Merrin Dungey, and Victoria Smurfitt) each yearn to rewrite their unhappy endings, so they join forces with Mr. Gold, whom Belle has tossed out of Storybrooke on his ear upon finally buying a clue that he loves power more than he loves her (we adore Robert Carlyle in the role, but…you go, girl). Together the team coerces The Author (Patrick Fischler) into rewriting the Enchanted Forest as a bizarro-world in which Regina is an innocent heroine and Snow White is an evil queen, among other creative re-interpretations of the historical record. Henry saves the day by temporarily stepping in as The Author himself and rewriting everything back into place, although he declines a permanent position as Author when it is offered to him.
Alas, there is a Darkness on the land (the most recent Darkness of many; why don’t any of these supposedly powerful magician-types place an unbreakable Spell of Protection over the town and everyone in it so this sort of thing stops happening?), and Emma – who has been spending the entire season confronting the darkness in her own soul, in between gigs saving the town – tethers herself to it, in the process becoming the Dark One. Only one man can save her: Merlin.
And! Saving the best for last, OUaT goes full-on soap opera when Regina’s boyfriend’s wife is NOT Regina’s boyfriend’s wife… she’s actually (wait for it!) Zelena, the Wicked Witch of the West, who was supposedly dead (it’s a long story) but actually assumed poor Maid Marian’s form. The good news: Regina and Robin Hood are finally free to be together! The bad news: Zelena is now pregnant with Robin Hood’s baby. OH NOEZZZZ!
Emma gets to be Dark One for a while, as her friends travel to the Enchanted Forest to locate Merlin (Elliot Knight). They eventually do find him – in the form of a tree; and they also encounter a conniving King Arthur (Liam Garrigan), who wants to turn Storybrooke into “a New Camelot,” which really doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Apparently it is a bad thing, though, because the Storybrooke crowd spends the better part of the season at odds with Arthur, for one reason and another.
Oh, and Merida (Amy Manson) is running around helping people out, kind of randomly, it seems. And Belle is laid under a sleeping curse at some point, probably related to Emilie de Ravin’s maternity leave. (Mazel tov, Emilie!)
Emma’s term as Dark One ends quite unceremoniously, and Hook temporarily takes over the title until it reverts to Rumpelstiltskin, because an unambiguously nice Robert Carlyle is a boring Robert Carlyle. (We love the guy, but you know it’s true.) Team Storybrooke’s adventures also take them to the Underworld, where Hades (Greg Germann) and Zelena find romance. (We couldn’t possibly have made that last sentence up.) Finally, several Storybrookians are sucked down into the Land of Untold Stories, “a place where those who hated their lives chose to flee” (cf. Wikipedia), where they are held captive by Dr. Jekyll’s alter-ego Mr. Hyde (Sam Witwer), who is NOT a fairy-tale character, by gum.
Henry, fed up with all the shenanigans, uses a Grail he finds in the New York Public Library (because where else would one find such a treasure? …other than Mr. Gold’s powder room, holding the toothbrushes, probably) to banish magic from the world. However, experiencing second thoughts, he channels the Power of Belief to rescue his friends from Mr. Hyde; specifically, he gives a speech to a bunch of New Yorkers about believing in magic, and uses their wishes, as manifest in a Wishing Fountain, to bring everyone back. He doesn’t realize that Mr. Gold has made common cause with Mr. Hyde: If Hyde can reverse Belle’s sleeping curse, he can have free rein Storybrooke. What could possibly go wrong here?