Once Upon a Time 1.19 Review: "The Return"

By John Keegan and Edmund Boys

once_upon_a_timeWhen a show relies on mysteries, its success is measured not by how good the mysteries are, but how well it pays them off. The creators of "Once Upon The Time" cut their teeth on the show that reveled in redefining those payoffs, to the joy of many (and frustration of some.) While their current show doesn't aspire to the mind-bending extremes of "Lost", "The Return" makes it clear they're not above toying with audience expectations. They seem to revel in playing puppetmaster, but more on that later.
After lurking in the shadows for a few episodes, Robert Carlyle again shines as more pieces of the Rumplestiltskin puzzle are revealed. On the fairy-tale side, we see the continuing effects of taking on the Dark One's mantle. Absolute power has corrupted absolutely. The villagers' casual reaction to the donkey dealer's demise speaks volumes about how common-place such acts have become. It provides a powerful impetus for his son, Baelfire's, desperate quest to free his father.

It comes as no surprise that Baelfire's efforts lead directly to his father losing him. It has been long apparent that loss is a defining moment. What is surprising is its connection to our world and Storybrooke. Rumplestiltskin's fear and cowardice at following Baelfire down the vortex are the actual source of the curse, not the Queen's revenge. I look forward to seeing him negotiate the deal, apparently doing her bidding, while getting exactly what he needs to affect a reunion.

Once-Upon-a-Time-ABC-The-Return-Episode-19-550x366The Storybrooke side of this tale I found less convincing. Dovetailing Mr. Gold's hunt for August's identity with Rumplestiltskin's loss forced on us the assumption he was the lost Baelfire. Perhaps the hope was some of the earlier, more sentimental plot twists, like Cinder-Ashley's, would help us buy into this one. But, as the show has returned to a darker tone, this twist became a predictable straight shot to disappointment for Mr. Gold.

The hints dropped in this episode, never lying, increasing stiffness and immobility, combined with Geppetto's appearance in next episode's trailer, seem to close the book on August's identity. Not that there aren't questions left. How did Geppetto jettison him from the curse? How has a puppet transformed by magic survived so long in a world without any? Not to mention, how he came to write the book, and plant it with Henry.

Kathryn's reappearance brings that unfortunate soap opera closer to a welcome end. David finally apologizes, shedding some of his cowardly doofus image,. (Now he just has to work on those inappropriate physical gestures. Estranged wives don't welcome stealth pecks on the head.) Mary Margaret quite rightly keeps him at arm's length. He will have to offer tangible evidence of a change of heart to regain her good graces. I'm sure it'll be tied to shaking off effects of the curse, but that can't save this plot-line from being the weakest of the season.

Which leaves the other wayward, or at least one-sided, love story, the tale of poor Sydney. Taking the fall for Regina was expected, and, having been complicit with Regina all along, he does bear a measure of the guilt. However, I do wonder if all his misdirection and play-acting presages one final twist, but a real one this time. After all, who has more dirt on the Queen than her mirror?

All in all, this was a serviceable episode, and a good set-up for the run to the finale. The more heinous mis-steps have been smoothed over, the last pieces of back story are coming out in a satisfying manner, and the battle lines between Regina and Mr. Gold are clearly drawn. How the wild cards of Emma, Henry and August disrupt the best laid plans of Queen and monster promises to be a fun ride.

John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Edmund Boys is Critical Myth's reviewer for Once Upon a Time.

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