Jack Rowand / ABC

Once Upon A Time Tries To Escape Its Fate

The show course-corrects as it returns from hiatus. But is it enough?

I have, in the past, been a pretty staunch advocate for Once Upon A Time, but even I'm pretty over it now. It's not that I don't still enjoy it -- I do, for all the reasons I always did: the costumes, the world-building, the comedy both intentional and not, the over-the-top Disney villains made real, the costumes again some more. It's that I no longer care about any of it. I write about this show every week and after three months away I didn't actually remember most of what had happened in the fall. I probably shouldn't admit that to you, but it seems important.

I think the biggest problem for me is that what made the show fun for me has always been the camp elements and the riffing on stories that are in the canon, but now its own world has gotten so big that it's just riffing on itself. Which is great if you want a supernatural soap, but I want Greg Germann doing an impression of a cartoon of James Woods and Lana Parrilla acting opposite herself and Aladdin with unintentional homoerotic subtext (more than usual). Which is why I'm so surprised by how much I liked this episode, despite its having absolutely none of those things and spending a lot of time on obvious course correction. But, well, course correction was needed! Who wants to watch Belle and Rumple mope at each other for another eleven episodes? (They're not back together, but they've called a truce.) I personally would have preferred it if Robin had stayed dead, but I get that a lot of other fans missed him, and he sure was charming this week. And since he's technically a different Robin, maybe he won't be as boring as the original ended up. Wishworld (which is what they're calling it in the press notes, so I'm just going with it) had just the right amount of comedy, and even managed to illuminate our characters a bit. And I'm never going to complain about the return of Eion Bailey.

So does my atypical praise mean that this was an atypical episode of Once Upon A Time? Let's go to the numbers.

Once Upon A Time-ish Element Present?
F-ed Up Fairy Tales Nope! We're strictly in OUAT-world this week, so while we spend plenty of time with fairy tale characters, the mythology being built on is all from the show.
Good vs. Evil, But Which Is Which? Gideon explains that the Black Fairy raised him in a place where time moved differently, which is why he's now twenty-eight years old. She toughened him up, but failed to make him evil. "In all of those dark years, I always remembered you, mother," he tells Belle. "I tried to follow your example." What a relief! Oh, but he's still totally going to kill Emma, so that he can take her Savior powers and free the Black Fairy's land from her rule.
Family Feud Even though they haven't seen this dude since he was a baby -- which was yesterday for them -- Belle and Gold aren't too psyched about their son wanting to kill their friend, or their friends now wanting to kill their son. And Gold still wants to be a better dad than he was to Baelfire, even though that ship seems to have sailed with Gideon being fully grown and all, so he tries to help, but Gideon is all, "Screw you, Dad, I can do it myself!" Gold admits to Belle that he's addicted to darkness, but he seeks out people who are light, like her, to balance it out. Belle recognizes that protecting Gideon is wrong, but she's rationalizing it because he's her son. They'll work together to find a way to stop him.
Shut up, Henry Wishworld Henry is still chasing after Regina and Emma after the events of the last episode. They hide behind a log, and he determines that they must have crossed the river, instead of, you know, looking behind the log that's right there. He's even on horseback so he has a good vantage point. Henry, an idiot in all worlds.
True Love's Blah Blah Blah Wishworld Marian died before Robin could marry her, so this version of Robin "never knew love" (not what he said, but okay), and is just a plain old robber, not the kind who gives back to the poor; he's also pretty sad. He also hasn't aged like everyone else has, so Emma wonders if this is actually Real Robin's soul, which "had to go somewhere" (wasn't the whole point that it didn't?). So Regina asks if he wants to come with them back to Storybrooke, and he figures things aren't so great for him where he is, so he may as well. This isn't our Robin -- he's never met Regina before now -- but it gives them a second chance. "Why not get to know the woman one version of me was willing to die for?" Aw, I guess.

Meanwhile, David tells a sleeping Snow that he's not going to wake her until he settles all this. Way to put no faith in your entirely capable wife, dude. Also, does that mean he'll never sleep? Or can he sleep normally if he just doesn't kiss her first?

All Magic Comes With A Price Emma and Regina find Pinocchio in Wishworld so that he can make them a cabinet like the original one that brought Emma to our world. They go to an enchanted glade to carve a tree, and there's no price exactly, but only one enchanted chisel that can do the job, and a lot of yammering about being worthy, and somehow they chop down a whole tree and cart it back to Pinocchio's workshop using only a chisel, and Emma never thinks to enchant any of the other tools or anything. The rules really aren't explained well.
You Can't Escape Your Fate Unless Maybe You Can Who's To Say? In a flashback, teen Pinocchio and tween Emma have very different interpretations of "The Ugly Duckling." She thinks it's about a swan who mistakenly believes she's a duck. He says, "It's about belief. If we believe in something strongly enough, we have the power to change our fate." This, we learn, is the origin of Emma's last name, as she leaves the streets and chooses it for herself.

In the present, Gold, offering to help Gideon kill Emma, tells him that "fate's a tricky business. It still requires work and planning." That's actually...the opposite of how fate works?

Pinocchio suggests that Emma leave her sword in Wishworld, since it's destined to kill her. "No," she says. "I can't let fate dictate my actions anymore." Again, literally what fate does.

And then back in town, Emma's vision -- which Gideon has shared -- comes true! Only she wins! She beats Gideon, but doesn't kill him because Gold asks her not to, and he teleports away. So, guys, obviously that wasn't actually the vision and it's going to happen again later. You're all idiots.

This Show Has A Deep, Rich History Wishworld Pinocchio gives Emma a carved swan, and quotes teen real Pinocchio. Back in Storybrooke, she visits August and asks if he was the boy who saved her from the streets all those years ago. I could have sworn she knew that he'd been sent to watch over her by now, but I guess not! In any case, it's a sweet reveal.

Points, too, for thinking through what might happen twenty years after the defeat of the Evil Queen in an alternate Enchanted Forest. Belle died, locked in a tower with no one to feed her, and Hook went completely to seed, having remained a pirate. Good pieces of business.

...As Long As It's Convenient I didn't catch any continuity errors or ret-cons (unless you want to count aging a character twenty-eight years overnight, and bringing another character back from the dead with a new version of himself, which, fair).
Phrasing! "Carve wood and get us home."

"Ordinary tools are no good on enchanted wood."

"A true wood carver must always be in conversation with his tool."

O, Canada! Nope! Even our young Emma and August are okay on the accent front.
Wig Cop On Patrol Wishworld Hook is drunk and paunchy and old and generally a mess, and his wig is no good, but that's also sort of the joke, so I'll give it a pass. Belle, however, has taken to wearing her hair in a thick braid which does nothing to help her "Miss Midwest Checkout Queen" situation. Though there's a part that at least hides the lace in front.
Drag Queen Realness No! I feel so betrayed! No Evil Queen, and just some quick-cut glimpses of the Black Fairy.
Green Screen Fakeness Also no, just Storybrooke sets and pretty forest exteriors. What show am I even watching?
It's A Small World After All Maybe they're saving it all up for the impending musical episode?
8 / 15
Final Score
53%
Once Upon A Time
47%
A much better show, I guess?
Almost all readers liked this episode
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