Holy cow, it's here. It's finally here! The endless hiatus is over, and we are packed and ready for the highway to hell!!
We begin with Emma waking up in her VW Bug on a street in Portland, and we all let out a girly shriek as we see Neal pop up in the back seat in a wonderful callback to S2.
He's warmth and love personified as he warns Emma not to go to the Underworld. He's in a better, but vague place (let's not get into dogma, here, we're trying to run a show) but he felt he had to come through to try to talk her out of this trip to the Underworld. She tells him no, and then wakes up in Charon's boat.
We land in the Underworld, which, as we all already know from the teasers looks like a dilapidated version of Storybrooke in sepia tones.
And now we flashback to Regina the Evil Queen terrorizing a village and demanding the heart of Snow White. One of the villagers tries to make a deal with her and in glorious impatient Regina style, she's hacked off about pie so she kills him without bothering to hear what he has to say.
"Blueberry? Freakin' BLUEBERRY??"
She heads back to the castle and her beloved Daddy tries to talk some sense into her. He begs Regina to turn away from her mother's legacy of corruption, power and darkness.
Ahead in the Underworld, Snow decides to visit Granny's which is now run by the blind witch of Hansel and Gretel fame in Season 1. In walks David in black leather and he plants one on her - holy cow it's James! I love me some Evil Twin Charming. God help me, I do. Evil Twin Charming makes my heart (and libido) go bumpity-bump.
And now I have to wonder if they're writing Snow's pregnancy into the show (Ginny Goodwin has hinted that they will be) and we'll find out it's James's baby or something. Wouldn't that be a hoot! Hey...don't put it past them, folks.
Henry goes looking for Neal, hoping to find him in his old room at Granny's but of course, Neal isn't there. Emma reassures him that Neal is in a better place but doesn't bother to let the kid know that he communicated with her and he sends Henry his love. WTF?
Flashback once more to Evil Queen Regina, and Daddy is hitting up the magic mirror to put through a call to Cora in Wonderland. He realizes that was a lousy idea and tries to end the call so he can go and talk to Snow White, but unfortunately, he left the line open and Cora stepped through. Because apparently you can do that with mirrors now. Even though Wonderland has a rule that she can't leave unless someone else came in. Whatever.
Forward to the Mayor's office in the Underworld now. Regina strolls in and after a warm reunion, Cora tells Regina to do what's best for herself and to forget her friends.
She wants her daughter to leave immediately and Cora has a boat ready to save her, Robin and Henry. Regina balks, and Cora narrows her eyes and sets her jaw, poofing them away to the edge of a fiery chasm. This is apparently the worst part of hell, and Cora illustrates this by tossing the previously seen murdered villager into a whirlwind of flame that sucks him down, down, down.
Regina is horrified by this, but it only gets worse. True to her former persona (and apparently having learned nothing in the afterlife), Cora threatens to throw Regina's beloved father into the fiery pit if she doesn't leave and now.
On the other side of hell, Rumple decides (as usual) that his way is the best way and goes off on his own. There in his shop sits his beloved chipped cup and saucer, and we see a tearful flashback of his goodbye to Belle. And there stands his Peter Pan cornhusk doll.
Oh, Peter, how I've missed you! It turns out the Dad has taken over the family business and is running Gold's shop. Peter pleads with Rumple to sacrifice one of his living companions so that he can return to the world above and be Rumple's bestest buddy. He gives Rumple the potion he was seeking, claiming there are no strings attached, and a skeptical Rumple takes it.
The potion is the ale of Sinead from the land of Dunbroch, which lets us talk to the dead, if you recall from episode 9 of this season. Rumple tells them that Hook has a grave here in the Underworld (huh?) and if they pour the ale on the grave, they can talk to him and find out where he is.
Flashback to the Enchanted Forest, and we see Regina's Daddy meeting Snow White. He begs for mercy for his daughter, and then suddenly transforms into Cora. She takes Snow's heart just as the real Daddy Henry shows up, and she intends to gift it to Regina for her birthday. Daddy follows behind her, obviously not thrilled with this turn of events.
Forward to the Underworld cemetery. Emma pours the ale on the grave, and a bloody and battered Killian (who still manages to look hot somehow) appears before her. Unfortunately, Rumple gave them the alcohol-free ale or something because they've got video, but no audio. So much for magic. Killian vanishes without giving them a clue as to where he might be.
Emma urges everyone to take the boat that Cora is sending for Regina. David and Snow refuse to go, but Emma begs Regina to save Henry, along with Robin and herself. 'Cause she just now realized that she dragged her son into hell. Or let him walk there voluntarily.
Flashback to the Enchanted forest, and Cora is handing Regina Snow White's heart all gift-wrapped in a happy heart box. The magic mirror is summoned to show Snow hanging out with Charming and the Dwarves, and we have a moment of panic as Regina tries - and fails - to kill her nemesis.
I say panic because I thought for a moment we might see some screwing-with-past-events-by-recreating-the-timeline kinda thing. Whew.
Anyway, we learn that Daddy dear gave Snow her heart back and swapped the present for another heart in the vault. In retaliation, Regina shrinks Daddy down to bite-size and loads him in the box, but not before he lectures her again about redemption and compassion.
Forward to the underworld, where Regina pours the last of the magical ale on her Daddy's grave. He comes through nice and clear, unlike Hook, so I'm guessing Hook is pretty far down in the labyrinth where the wi-fi doesn't work so good but Daddy is in a luxury hotel with multiple routers because he was mostly a nice guy.
Daddy's got a message for Regina: Stay. Stay and help your friends, no matter what the cost to him. He encourages her to "spread hope" and do her old man proud.
Flashback again to Regina's castle. Oh, the horrible, bilious tones of bad CGI...there's just nothing like the pallid flesh tones that green screen evokes. Cora is still hanging around so Regina tells Cora to buzz off. Sidney the mirror pulls her back to Wonderland, but not before Cora yanks the box with Daddy in it right out of Regina's hands. Of course, Regina put a spell on the mirror so it can't be used as a portal again, so Daddy's stuck in Wonderland until Season 2.
Ahead in the Underworld, we're back at the fiery chasm, and Cora is ready to pitch her hubby into the pit (really...haven't most women held that fantasy at one time or another?). She hits him with fire, apologizes to Regina and poofs away - but it doesn't work. Instead of being pulled into the chasm, a magical stairway to heaven shows up. It turns out Daddy's unfinished business was standing up for Regina against Cora. I really, really like that. His complicity in allowing his wife to raise their daughter to be a megalomaniac always bugged me.
Then young Henry steps forward and I got smacked right in the feels.
Oh, God, the emotions as Regina's Daddy is introduced to his namesake. He bids his daughter farewell, reminding her to do the right thing
So now we see Regina stepping up as the newly appointed savior of the underworld. Rumple wants nothing to do with this nonsense, and behaving like the perpetual asshole he is, he tells them they're on their own. Henry christens the new quest "Operation Firebird" and off they all go as the beat-up clock behind Regina ticks forward by a minute. Regina gives us a smile full of hope, and I am LOVING IT.
Cora meanwhile, descends the library elevator to face our newest villain: Hades. He's not a happy camper because every time the clock ticks, it means a soul has left his domain. Cora made a deal with him but failed to hold up her end of the bargain by getting Regina to leave so Hades decides to punish her by sending her back to her peasant life - complete with ratty peasant garb. She lifts a heavy cart full of flour with a whimper and plods away as his hair goes up in garishly delightful CGI blue flames.
I have to tell you guys, I am LOVING where this is going. Regina as the new savior? Operation Phoenix? Suffering Hook (and oh, isn't suffering Hook so damn torturedly gorgeous?) And according to next week's preview - the possibility of some genuine Bandit Snow?
I'm giving this one five phoenixes out of five.
They can drag me to hell anytime.