After a relatively strong start to the new year, ‘Once Upon a Time’ veers back into Emma’s troubled past and a pair of orphaned twins in Storybrooke. This episode focuses on the story of Hansel and Gretel, known as Nicholas and Ava in Storybrooke, and Emma’s burning desire to exert her motherly instincts on someone – anyone, please?
Here there be spoilers!
Nicholas and Ava are introduced as light-fingered children in Mr. Clark’s convenience store. Nicholas pops a few candies, some cereal, and other items in Henry’s backpack. Mr. Clark halts them at the door, finds the contraband, and calls their parents. This brings Regina into the picture swiftly, with Emma following close behind to handle these criminal misfits.
Though stealing cereal is a dire offense, Emma doesn’t arrest the children and instead drives them home. Gretel and Nicholas are skittish about the prospect of Emma coming into their house.
Emma discovers that the twins are squatting in a dirty, abandoned house (foreclosures hit Storybrooke too) and that their mother is dead and their father is nowhere to be found.
In fairytale land, Hansel and Gretel accompany their father as he chops wood in the forest. He sends them off to gather kindling, giving Gretel his compass so that she can find him when the task is done.
However, when they return, their father is gone, and they end up face-to-face with the Evil Queen and her bushy weave. She threatens and chases the children for a bit, but, after wrapping them in vines, decides to use them in her evil plot. In exchange for her aid in finding their father, the twins agree to sneak into the Blind Witch’s house and retrieve a black satchel, containing an unknown item. Perhaps a better weave.
In Storybrooke, Emma takes it upon herself to save the twins from being lost in the same foster system that made her miserable. She tracks down their birth certificates, only to be foiled by Regina, per usual. In another mayoral office confrontation, Regina tells Emma that, as part of her sheriff duties, she will be taking the twins to Boston to their new foster homes.
Meanwhile, in the magical forest, Hansel and Gretel are warned by the Evil Queen not to eat anything inside the Blind Witch’s house. The children gaze on the glory of the inflatable gingerbread house in the distance.
At the sheriff’s office, Henry returns with the fairytale book and reveals that Nicholas and Ava are Hansel and Gretel. After a moment, Henry asks about his father and Emma lies through her teeth. Henry asks Emma if she has anything of his father’s, giving Emma the perfect opportunity to end the conversation before he can inquire about her jailbird days. She asks the twins if they have anything from their mother, and Ava reveals a broken compass, just like the one Gretel’s father gave her.
Emma takes the compass and visits Mr. Gold at his pawn shop. Mr. Gold notes the unique properties of the compass and gives Emma a name of a man in Storybrooke – a man named Mike. As Emma leaves, Mr. Gold slips the paper with the name on it back into his impeccably kept records, but it is blank.
At the candy house, Hansel and Gretel sneak in through the window and see the surprisingly sexy Blind Witch napping in her chair. Ever the responsible one, Gretel warns Hansel not to eat anything and creeps over to the Blind Witch. She snatches the satchel, using her light-fingered skills, but Hansel bites into a large chocolate cupcake. The Blind Witch awakens, smelling Hansel, and locks them in a cage.
In Storybrooke, Emma tracks down “Mike” at the local mechanic shop and confronts him with overwhelming, life-altering news with no proof other than a broken compass and Emma’s deductive reasoning. In fright and confusion, he apologizes and says he is not fit to be a parent.
Back at the candy cottage, Gretel concocts an escape plan as the Blind Witch blathers on about gravy and butter. The Blind Witch comes to prepare Hansel for basting, but Gretel slips out, grabs the key from her belt, and tosses it to Hansel. In the only deft move he ever makes during the show, Hansel manages to get out of the cage. He then blunders about and alarms the Blind Witch. In her delirious anger, the Witch tries to wrestle the children into the oven, but because she is blind, the twins lock her in the oven instead and run away. From far, far away, the Evil Queen watches as the Blind Witch flails in the oven and sends a fireball through the mirror to finish her off.
Hansel and Gretel return the satchel to the Queen, and the content is an apple. The twins are unimpressed, and Gretel is adamant about finding their father. The Queen offers them all the things she can – their own rooms in a castle, room service, and chauffeurs – but the children only want to be reunited as a family. She sends them off into an endless forest, and then throws their father, who had been captured all along, into the forest as well.
On the road to Boston, the twins and Emma travel in distraught silence. The car sputters to a halt and Emma calls up the mechanic – yes, the same one from earlier. At first, Mike is apprehensive, and Emma babbles for several minutes about stuff that should be shared with a therapist. As Mike’s eyes fall on his children, he cannot bear for them to leave and, presumably, he drives them back to Storybrooke in that sweet tow-truck.
Later, while sprawled on Mary Margaret’s bed, Emma reveals that Henry thinks that Mary Margaret is her biological mother. Mary Margaret takes a liking to Emma’s baby blanket, but seems confused by her familiarity with it.
In the final scene, Emma and Henry are hanging out on the street at night when a male stranger parks his motorcycle across from them. After a mocking exchange, the man drives away, motorcycle roaring. Emma remarks that Henry said there were no strangers in Storybrooke, and Henry confirms. Could this new guy be the Big Bad Wolf?
This episode emphasized all the things I don’t particularly enjoy about Once Upon a Time. The story of Hansel and Gretel is a story about two children dealing with a gristly and frightening witch. Here we have an inflatable candy house, a gasping Blind Witch, and children who read lines like cold, wet fish. Gretel was an admirable, defiant young woman, but her brother was hapless, hopeless, and mopey. The story fleshed out some of Emma’s background and motivation, but did little to further the main plotline and felt like filler. Here’s to hoping someone in Storybrooke starts having some Sheriff Graham-esque flashbacks next week!
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