I was so excited when I saw the promos for this episode. First, because they actually cast a person of color (the Enchanted Forest is an Aryan dream, isn't it?) and second, because this was Rapunzel. Rapunzel! I couldn't wait!!
And as Storybrooke has taught me, fairy tales are made to be shattered.
Anyway. We start this evening in the castle during the lost year, and David is looking confused. I know, he does that a lot, but this time, he's hearing a baby cry, so he goes to investigate. He enters Emma's former nursery - which we know from Season 2 is in the other castle and demolished - but the room appears to be intact, including that iconic unicorn mobile (Sidenote prediction: They call back to that thing so damn much, it's got to be flagged for something in the future. It's cursed or carries an enchantment or something. I'm calling it now).
Standing in the room is Emma, in full princess-wear, asking him to teach her how to dance for her first royal ball.
They share a strangely sorta-uncomfortable-to-watch dance because it skirts the line of not being terribly fatherly when it all gets creepy. The sky darkens and dolls heads spin (I laughed at that, to be honest - cheesy as hell) and she condemns him for being a terrible father.
The wardrobe opens and she gets sucked in as he tries in vain to save her. "Don't fail the next one," she begs, and David bolts upright in bed, only to discover Snow is up, having taken an Enchanted Forest version of a pregnancy test (whatever that is) and she cheerfully informs him that she's knocked up. At first, he looks like this:
But then he gets his groove back and tells her he's thrilled. -ish.
Forward to Storybrooke, and the cadre of main characters is brainstorming on the best way to find the Wicked Witch, not even considering questioning anybody new in a town with a population that numbers in the hundreds.
Emma and David are going to look for physical evidence while Regina protects Henry.
Back to Zelena's farmhouse, and she's visiting poor, babbling Rumple, who's spinning and singing away. Zelena has the dagger, and is relishing having him as her lapdog.
Rumple encourages her to kill him, singing in a really creepy voice, "All the voices in my head will be quiet when I'm dead..."
Oh, but she's not there to kill him. She's there to give him a shave, instead. She wants him presentable. While she's shaving, she tells Rumple about her alcoholic father who used to force her to repress her emotions. Luckily, here in Storybrooke, she's got a fresh start. She nicks him with the blade just to get his blood.
Next stop for Zelena is Gold's shop, where she addresses Belle as "Mrs. Gold," really hitting her where it hurts. She plays the sympathetic midwife card and asks Belle to help her find a baby gift for Snow. Then she freezes Belle and uses Rumple's blood to open his safe, finding a dark, glittery lump of something and taking it.
Over at Regina's office, Hook, Emma and David are looking for clues and come across some crushed holly berries that conveniently grow only in the Northwest corner of the woods. David has to leave to go interview the midwife, so Hook and Emma take off together.
Flashback to the Enchanted Forest during the forgotten year, and David is sneaking out to the stables for a drink only to be discovered by Robin. Our outlaw is sporting a new quiver full of gold-tipped arrows courtesy of Regina. Robin notes David's stress level is high, and over a shared drink, David confesses that he's terrified of this fatherhood thing. He's lost his confidence and it bugs him that he can't get over it.
Robin clues him into a magical root called Nightroot that if digested will help you overcome all your fears. He warns that it grows in a haunted part of a forest.
Forward to Storybrooke, and David sits down to interview Zelena with Snow. Snow is gushing about Zelena, but David, in a rare moment of being the smartest guy in the room asks if they can trust her since they barely know her.
Zelena kindly offers to make them some tea, all while playing warm and friendly, and then she slips some ground up, glittering black lumpy stuff in David's tea. He drinks it down.
Back again to the EF a year ago, and David is digging up the nightroot, which is black and glittering, when he hears a woman screaming for help.
David climbs a vine on the side of the tower until he catches hold of her braid (not realizing what it was, of course). She tells him her story - she's been trapped there for years. She left home to get the nightroot because she was worried about ascending to the throne after her older brother was killed, and she's been trapped in the tower ever since. A hooded figure keeps attacking her, and "she" won't let Rapunzel leave.
And what a coinky-dink, there she is now!
Forward to Storybrooke, and David heads off to find Emma and Hook, taking his trusty sword along with him instead of his gun. Okay.
Old habits die hard and all that. We see a hooded figure watching him from afar.
Meanwhile, Regina and Henry are bonding over ice cream and she's telling him that Storybrooke is like a big family. Henry confesses that he thinks Emma is running from Walsh. Regina asks if Henry liked him, and Henry's just tired of it only being the two of them, him and Emma. Regina tells him that one day, he'll have more family than he knows what to do with.
Over in the forest, Hook and Emma are trudging along and he's grumpy about trekking after danger again. Emma knows he's hiding something and confronts him, but he stays mum. He asks her if she was really considering marrying a monkey and Emma says yes - but she got her heart broken, as usual.
Then Hook steps closer with his soulful, soulful eyes and tells her that if her heart is broken, that means it still works.
Right in the feels. And she turns and walks the hell away. This woman is freaking nuts.
Further back in the woods, we see David, being followed by his mysterious hooded figure, which remains just out of sight. He leaves Emma a voicemail saying he's found the witch and goes after the figure.
Flashback to Rapunzel's tower where she's urging David to get the hell outta dodge before "she" arrives, but he refuses. The figure tosses him against a wall and we fly forward to David in present day, getting knocked flat by his hooded figure.
Emma and Hook, meanwhile, have found the farmhouse, complete with a basket-bearing bicycle (how's that for alliteration?) Emma's about to go into the cellar but Hook reminds her that heading into a dark cellar isn't a great idea without backup. Emma decides to call for Regina but instead gets David's voicemail.
David, on the other hand, is face down in the dirt but surprises the figure by leaping to his feet and running it through with his sword. The hood falls back to reveal him staring at himself (and when I first watched this I thought for a moment they'd resurrected his evil twin brother, but no, it's David).
Flashback to Rapunzel, who is facing her nemesis - herself. David recognizes that this is the magic of the nightroot - it makes you face yourself so that you can defeat your fears. He plays cheerleader, trussed up in a coil of hair, until Rapunzel gets it handled by cutting her own hair and killing her dark self.
Present-day David is now fighting his dark self, who comes complete with a transformer-type voice box. He goads David about being afraid and weak and David grows some backbone and defeats that ugly part of himself.
Emma pulls up just as David's sword breaks and mysteriously disappears. David explains the freaky doppleganger thing and Regina recognizes the signs of nightroot immediately. She asks him where his sword is and seems wary that it's gone. The nightroot has imbued the sword with magic. The sword is now a symbol of his courage, and it's missing.
Back with Rapunzel now, who tells David she had some serious survivor guilt. Her brother died saving her life. David encourages her to reconcile, and she's greeted by overjoyed parents. He confesses to Snow that he's terrified, and she reaffirms what a great father he is and tells him they're in this together.
Forward to Storybrooke, and Zelena is looking at the sword, hidden in her Mary Poppins carpetbag. She reassures Snow that Auntie Zelena has the whole baby thing under control and they hug like new besties.
At the farmhouse, Hook throws the door open, Emma draws her gun, Regina's ready to lob a fireball and they all head down into the cellar. Regina can sense the dark magic, but there's no one there. David finds a piece of straw that's been spun into gold, and they all know that Rumple is back.
I'm giving this one two nasty clumps of hair out of five.
They took a badass princess with spunk and heart and turned her into forgettable milk toast. I can forgive the omission of Flynn Rider (supposedly, we won't be seeing him on OUAT since his character is so like Killian Jones) but no Mother Gothal?? Seriously???
What the hell, Once Upon A Time? You deserve a cast iron skillet to the back of the head for this one.