Once Upon A Time flew off the rails during the first half of this season, but its first episode back from winter hiatus makes some promising strides in the right direction. As Emma and Snow White are getting accustomed to life back in Storybrooke, a tragic crime throws them back in the drama, but writers David H. Goodman and Robert Hull are setting up a new plot without backtracking any progress made with the characters. Regina is still trying to be a good guy, but she’s now thrown into a situation that will require her to balance the opposing sides of her personality if she’s going to make it through without further damaging her already shitty reputation.
“The Cricket Game” begins immediately after last episode’s cliffhanger, with Cora and Hook pulling their pirate ship into an East Coast harbor as they make their way to Storybrooke. Hook is eager to skin his “crocodile,” but Cora warns him of the dangers of challenging a fully powered Rumpelstiltskin before turning a good Samaritan sailor into a fish for asking questions about their disappearing boat. Meanwhile, Snow White and Prince Charming are banging in Storybrooke, unaware of forthcoming danger and foolishly forgetting to put a sock on the door to warn Henry and Emma of their copulation. Yup, poor Henry walks in on his grandparents getting intimate, which is sure to mess with his head when he gets older.
That night, Granny throws a welcome home party for Emma and Snow, and Emma causes no small amount of controversy when she invites Regina over to share in the festivities. After learning Regina’s role in getting Snow and her back to Storybrooke, Emma is willing to give the formerly evil mayor the benefit of the doubt that she’s actually changed her villainous ways. The rest of the town isn’t so quick to accept the new Regina and rejects her at the party, and Emma sees why when she talks to Regina as she leaves. Emma has trouble allowing Henry to spend more time at Regina’s home, so Regina throws Emma’s extended parental absence in her face, reigniting Emma’s doubts in her own parenting skills. Emma tells Regina that she spoke to Dr. Hopper, who told her that Regina is genuinely interested in making up for her past mistakes, but telling Regina about Archie doesn’t have the effect that Emma hoped it would. Regina storms off in a huff as Cora and Hook watch from a neighboring rooftop, formulating a plan to break Cora’s daughter for good.
As Regina tries to rehabilitate herself in the present, the fairyback shows just how much of a witch Regina was back in the Enchanted Forest. After being taken captive by Snow White and Prince Charming, Regina is put on the executioner’s block for her misdeeds, and the only regret she has is that she didn’t cause more pain and suffering in the end. Yet even in the past, Henry proves to be Regina’s weak spot as she shows affection to her father when he visits her in prison. There is still the capacity for good inside Regina, and Snow stops her former stepmother’s execution just before the arrows tear her apart. Snow knows that this isn’t the way to end things, essentially taking on the role that Emma plays in Storybrooke when Cora frames her daughter for the death of Archie Hopper.
After learning that Archie spoke to Emma about their sessions, Regina freaks out at him in front of Ruby, who also happens to see Cora enter Archie’s office disguised as Regina later that day. CoRegina strangles Archie while Pongo the Dalmatian watches, and the next morning, the dog runs to Emma and Ruby to bring them to the scene of the crime. Ruby tells Emma about the day before and Regina is brought into custody, but while Snow and Charming are certain of Regina’s guilt, Emma believes her when she says she’s innocent. Surely there’s some kind of truth spell they could use on Regina to find out if she’s lying, but magic is only used when it’s convenient on this show. Emma makes a good point when she says that the old Regina would burn the building to the ground instead of cooperating, and she suggests that they let Regina go while they investigate further.
At Archie’s office, they find that Regina’s file is missing, which Snow and Charming see as further evidence of guilt. Emma comments that in the real world, evidence isn’t that easy to find, and begins to suspect a frame job committed by the only person who would be willing to kill to get back at Regina: Rumpelstiltskin. Emma rushes into his shop and immediately accuses him of murder, but he tells her that he can prove his innocence by magically retrieving the memories of Pongo, the crime’s only witness. Emma says that Rumpelstiltskin can manipulate those memories however he likes, which is why he has Emma use her budding magic skills, giving her a mystical dream catcher that reveals CoRegina killing the beloved therapist.
It’s not the first time Rumpelstiltskin has involved himself in a magical Regina trial—in the fairyback, he offers Snow White a test to see if Regina is capable of truly changing. Snow White gives Regina the opportunity to leave her prison cell if she changes her ways, but Regina immediately takes the opportunity to try and kill her nemesis. The dagger she pulls from Snow’s hand is enchanted, though, and when she tries to stab Snow, the blade causes no damage. Regina is banished from the kingdom and unable to use any magic on Snow and Charming thanks to a protection spell from Rumpelstiltskin, but as the imp later tells Regina, she can still hurt the royal couple if they were to end up in a different world. The fairyback ends just before the events of this show’s pilot episode, effectively closing the door on Regina’s past story until the writers decide to do an episode about kid Regina finding the Aristocats or something.
Back in Storybrooke, Emma confronts Regina about what she saw in the dream catcher, then has the Blue Fairy shoot her with some fairy dust that is easily deflected by the enraged mayor. Regina flees in a cloud of purple smoke, leaving Emma to tell Henry that his therapist was killed by the woman who was his mother for 10 years, but Snow and Charming help Emma get over her parental anxiety by telling her that she doesn’t have to do things alone anymore. Regina watches from afar as Emma tells Henry the bad news, and in just one episode, Cora has successfully taken away everything from her daughter. I’m glad that this show hasn’t turned Regina into a full-on villain again, as her arc this season has turned her into this show’s most intriguing character. Lana Parrilla is a much stronger actress when she’s softer and more vulnerable, and this storyline looks to give her the opportunity to hold on to that weakness while giving her a new foe to fight against. She’s going to have to be at full power if she’s going to take down her mother, especially now that Cora has Archie captive on Hook’s ship (he’s alive!) and is planning on torturing him for information on all of Storybrooke’s citizens.
- I love the haphazardly added “And Emma” underneath Mary Margaret’s welcome home sign.
- The secret ingredient in Regina’s lasagna isn’t poison, but red pepper flakes. She really is changing!
- Emma has apparently been talking to Debra Messing’s stylist on Smash because she’s wearing some ugly sweaters.
- Thank god we didn’t have to see Henry react to Archie’s death close up. That kid can only do so much acting.
- “May I remind you of your PhD from a curse?”