This week's homage to the past explores Regina's desperate attempt to have her revenge at the same time as she tries to fill the hole in her heart.
First, in 1983, an innocent father/son camping trip is interrupted when the newly-arriving town of Storybrooke lands in the middle of the Maine woods. Said father, Kurt Flynn (John Pyper-Ferguson), and his son, Owen (Benjamin Stockham), are stranded in Storybrooke for a while. Owen bonds with Regina (Lana Parrilla).
But when Regina decides to keep little Owen to be her very own, his father fights back. Owen manages to escape Storybrooke's limits, but Mr. Flynn isn't so lucky. Unable to return to Storybrooke, Owen vows to find his missing father, no matter what.
Flashing forward to modern times, Regina wants revenge on Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) for killing Cora. Realizing that she can't kill Snow without losing Henry's love, she decides to enact a spell to make Henry (Jared Gilmore) love her.
Seeing his adopted mother and his biological family talking about killing each other, Henry makes his play. He tries to destroy Magic, but only succeeds in convincing Regina to back off.
Snow White, distraught by her role in Cora's death, asks Regina to kill her to end her misery and their feuding. But Regina realizes that Snow has blackened her own soul with the murder. All Regina's hopes to destroy Snow White and win back Henry are coming true by Snow's own actions. Oh, the irony!
And the mysterious Mr. Mendell (Ethan Embry) is revealed to be the all-grown-up Owen Flynn. He has taped proof of magic and is still obsessed with finding his father.
The "Groundhog Day" effect in 1980s Storybrooke was a lot of fun. It was great to see Sherriff Graham (Jamie Dornan), trampy Ruby, comatose David, Marco -- the old gang was back again!
Again, the recurring theme that "all magic comes with a price" is highlighted. First by Regina's growing discontent with the results of her curse, then by Henry's argument for destroying magic, and finally by the stain on Snow's heart. What started out as Rumplestiltskin's signature line has morphed into a classic running motif.
The scene near the end between a despondent Mary Margaret and the triumphant Regina was gorgeously acted on both sides. Kudos to both ladies for playing off each other so well.
Nerd alert! Did everyone notice the tiny "Tron" reference in '80s Storybrooke? Sure, it's a shout-out to yet another Disney (and Horowitz/Kitsis) property, but it was cool anyway.
So, Mr. Gold didn't know about his previous existence at first? Or was he faking that? Why? And if not, what would have awakened his memory? How long ago? It's a very intriguing little setup.
And finally, it was hilarious to see poor Sherriff Graham show up to follow Regina's order to arrest Mr. Flynn for drunk driving -– while the guy is standing in the mayor's office. Awkward!
WHAT DIDN'T WORK
And the award for Least Surprising "Surprise" goes to … the reveal that Greg Mendell is Owen. Seriously, who didn't see that coming from the earliest moments?
(By the way, the award for Most Surprising "Surprise" goes to … David finally remembering he has a gun!)
For a town with such a huge secret to keep, they sure stopped worrying about having Mr. Mendel lurking about. A few episodes ago, they were on the verge of killing him to keep their secret, and now no one can even be bothered to keep an eye on his whereabouts? I know our gang has a few things to worry about, but surely they could spare a dwarf or a fairy for a little light detective work.
The Curse certainly did its homework oddly thoroughly. It provided an immediate, fully-stocked, individually-themed life for each person in Storybrooke, complete with new names, new occupations and new wardrobes? Then the whole thing was appropriately staged to be in keeping with the era of the new and unfamiliar land they were dumped in? That's an awful lot of work for one poor little curse ...
GIVING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
"Welcome to Storybrooke" was written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. It was directed by David Barrett.
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
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