‘Once Upon A Time’ S3 Ep 14 recap: Fear and loathing in Storybrooke

Charming faces his worst fear. (Photo credit: Disney/ABC Press)

Sunday’s ‘Once Upon A Time’ had Prince Charming face his ultimate fear and he may have given Zelena the upper hand by bravely overcoming the thing that scares him the most: failing as a father.

Let’s face it, parents can screw their kids up in all sorts of ways and ‘OUAT’ has provided several extreme examples of how much damage bad parents can cause. One could easily argue that Rumple, Regina, and now Zelena all turned to the dark side because of their parents’ failures. Snow and Charming saw how much they hurt Emma by doing the right thing and sending her away. It has taken a long time for Emma to forgive her parents and embrace them because they weren’t around to raise her. Luckily the Charming family lineage seems destined to do good in the world and save people, so she did not stray into darkness. Nonetheless, David hasn’t had much experience being a father, so he can’t shake this feeling of dread and he’s afraid of failing his second born.

Although “The Tower” is not one of my favorite episodes, it does set the stage for more juicy storylines that will unfold in the weeks ahead. Time to dive in!

Fairytale Land, Nine Months Ago: “I can’t escape this feeling of dread…”

Prince Charming is having nasty nightmares. The episode begins with David in the middle of an unsettling dream. He is in Emma’s nursery, she appears to him full grown in a beautiful ball gown and she asks him to teach her how to dance. As she catches on with ease, he says she’s a natural just like her mother. Then he admits, “This is everything I ever hoped for you.” She quips back, “Me too. It’s a shame I never got it.” Oh burn! David awakes, completely shaken, but he hides his distress from Snow, which is good because she has some big news.

Snow White is pregnant! (Am I the only one who was annoyed that Snow so obviously looked totally pregnant when she first broke the news to David? All I’m asking for are tighter above the baby bump flashback shots until Snow is supposed to be completely showing.) David is excited and worried. He wears a brave face in front of Snow, but he spills the beans during a little man-chat with Robin Hood.

Robin sees David in the stables. Regina paid him with gold tipped arrows after he helped her break into her castle. I guess Regina didn’t want to owe him any favors. Robin says he’s sticking around because the castle is a safer place to raise his little boy. One mention of the kid and David’s walls break down. He expresses his fear of failing as a father and tells Robin that he can’t escape this feeling of dread. The creepy nightmares aren’t helping much either. Robin understands and offers a scared-y cat cure-all. Friar Tuck spoke of Night Root, a plant that helps you overcome your fears. The root is easily identified by sparkly flecks that twinkle like stars. He also warns Charming that the forest in which the rare root grows is known to be haunted. But Charming ain’t scared of no ghost, so he valiantly ventures into the woods to ward off the thing that frightens him most: being a bad dad.

When Charming gets the root he hears a damsel in distress yelling from a nearby tower. He scales the tower with the help of Rapunzel’s long locks and we get the low-down on ‘OUAT’s’ new princess. Rapunzel had an older brother who was next line to be king and rule their kingdom. Unfortunately, he died saving his sister’s life. Ever since, Rapunzel has been afraid of failing her parents and kingdom by being a bad leader. She left her kingdom to get the Night Root and overcome her fears. Although Rapunzel ate the root, she still hasn’t been able to overcome her fears. She has been trapped in the tower and continues to be tormented by a creepy cloaked witch.

Suddenly the shrouded witch appears and David fearlessly fights to protect Rapunzel. During their scuffle, David realizes the cloaked witch is actually a manifestation of Rapunzel’s fear and looks just like the tortured princess. All this time, Rapunzel just needed to face herself in order to overcome her fears. She is the only one holding herself back. With a little extra encouragement from Charming, Rapunzel overcomes her fear, defeats her cloaked double and accompanies David back to the castle where she happily reunites with her parents.

Fast forward nine months later and we realize that David is still battling the same inner demons.

Storybrooke, Present Day: “Frustration can be intoxicating.”

The gang rallies together to figure out their next move in identifying the Wicked Witch. Hook has fun teasing that Neal could be a flying monkey, once again proving that he is the most reliable candidate for winning Emma’s affections. Once Emma puts a stop to his adorable shenanigans, they plan their next move. Emma, David and Hook re-examine the crime scene for clues, while Regina keeps her play-date with Henry and shows him around town.

Elsewhere in Storybrooke, Zelena messes with Rumple’s head. She has possession of the Dark One’s dagger (oh no!) and she taunts him with it saying, “Frustration can be intoxicating.” Rumple is clearly at his wits’ end and has reached the peak of his creepiness. He frantically spins straw into gold and eerily chants in his signature sing-song tone, “All the voices in my head will be quite when I’m dead.” So Rumple is either legitimately losing his mind in that cage or he is gearing up for an insanity plea when he gives Zelena her comeuppance. As if things aren’t disturbing enough, Zelena pulls up a chair and literally gets in Rumple’s face.

Zelena identifies with Rumple and understands his struggles in Storybrooke. While shaving Rumple’s face with the Dark One’s dagger, Zelena talks about her father. She says he was a drunk, but even at his worst, he believed in looking his best. He taught Zelena the importance of keeping up appearances. Zelena uses this to relate to Rumple. She has come to realize that in Storybrooke, they must hide how they truly feel on the inside by putting on a brave face. Back in Fairy Tale Land, both of their faces reflected their rotting insides. Once his face has been shaved smooth, Zelena teases that she has big plans for Rumple. Dun, dun, dun.

Isn’t it interesting that Zelena discusses her troubled past with her failure of a father and highlights the similarity of unnatural skin-tone she shares with Rumple? Zelena is a master manipulator, a trait I’m sure she gets from her mother. After this disturbing chat, I still believe that Rumple could very likely be Zelena’s father. We already know she has major issues with Cora for abandoning her and championing Regina. Now she speaks of her father and strives to find a source of commonality with Rumple, another person who rejected her in the past. They aren’t many fairytale characters who have strangely pigmented skin, so I can’t help but think it is hereditary. There has also been a lot of emphasis on blood spells, which makes me wonder if Zelena used a blood spell to track down Rumple’s dagger. How else could she have found it and freed Rumple from wherever he was trapped?

Zelena leaves Rumple to stew in his little cage and returns to town to carry on with her scheme. She stops by Mr. Gold’s shop and immediately toys with Belle by asking if she is Mrs. Gold. Zelena plays the naïve newcomer so well and asks for Belle’s help in finding a gift for Snow and Charming because she wants to make a good impression. As soon as Belle turns her back, Zelena freezes her and removes a chunk of Night Root from Rumple’s safe. Once she has what she really came for, she carries on with her façade.

Over at Regina’s office, Hook, Emma and David find a clue. They see traces of holly berry, which can be found in the bushes near the toll bridge. Just as they are about to head out and track down their lead, Mary Margaret calls David to come home and meet their new midwife, Zelena. David reluctantly leaves, while Hook and Emma track down Zelena’s ironic hide out.

When David arrives at the apartment, Snow has been candidly expressing her concerns with Zelena. (Pet peeve: Why is Snow so nervous about having this baby? She gave birth to Emma thirty years ago in what could be considered the Middle Ages, especially compared to the technology they have now in Storybrooke. It is really bugging me that Snow is acting like this the first time she is having a baby. Does she really need to rely on Zelena so much? Why is she so trusting? Has Zelena done something to her or is Snow just blinded by her excessive optimism?)

Snow offers to make some tea, but Zelena insists on doing it since that will be her job. While she doses David’s tea with the Night Root, David voices his concerns over Zelena. Mary Margaret trusts her because Zelena said she worked with Snow’s beloved nanny, Johanna. David is still weary, but he wants to make Snow happy, so he goes with the flow. As they toast to their new baby, David takes a sip of the spiked tea. As he drinks, Zelena probes to see if David has any qualms about the new baby, but he puts on a brave face and Zelena acts impressed by his courage. After a brief chat, Mary Margaret lets David go and join the others in their hot pursuit. Once again Zelena comments on Charming’s fearlessness. As expected, David’s valor is about be tested.

During David’s journey through the woods, he is challenged by a cloaked figure, just like the “witch” that haunted Rapunzel. He confronts the stranger and unveils his doppelganger. Just like Rapunzel, David must overcome his own fear, this time by defeating it in a duel. After a bit of swordplay, David stabs his Night Root induced baritone alter-ego with his broken sword. Once his fear vanishes, the sword evaporates in a cloud of green smoke. With yet another obstacle overcome, David makes his way to Hook and Emma who have tracked the holly berry back to a farm house.

Emma cleverly provides the voice of reason and speaks on behalf of the audience during times like this. The Wicked Witch is ironically hiding in a farm house riddled with little nods to ‘Oz,’ like a bike with a basket resting on the porch. While scanning the land, Hook and Emma share another moment loaded with hope for Captain Swan fans. Emma is tired of Hook mocking her life in New York and her relationship with Walsh. It all felt real and she truly loved him. Emma admits to Hook that she seriously considered accepting Walsh’s proposal. Once she drank that potion and saw Walsh for what he really was, Emma felt heart broken. It is going to take time to get over it. Hook is pleased to hear this and explains how her heartbreak gives him hope: “If it can be broken, that means it still works.” Oh Hook, if only you knew how you manage to woo us all when Emma rejects your cheeky advances. Moving on…

Hook and Emma find a locked storm cellar. Emma is ready to break in, but Hook wants to be cautious and call in magical back-up. He clarifies that he is acting out of strategy rather than fear. So Emma calls Regina, who has spent an illuminating day with Henry.

While eating ice cream and walking through Storybrooke, Henry opens up to Regina. He thinks Emma pulled him out of school and brought him to this town because she wanted to get out of New York City. He admits he kind of liked the idea of adding another member to their little family of two. Regina sweetly assures Henry that he’ll soon have a larger family than he ever imagined. Given all the crazy drama in this episode, this scene provides a sweet, heartwarming break from all the creepiness and schemes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last for long.

As the episode ends, Regina, Emma, Hook and David all reunite in front of the cellar door. David tells them about his strange victory over his fear in the woods. When he describes what happened to his sword, Regina says that David’s courage transferred into his sword and it is now in the witch’s possession. Sure enough we see the sword make its way into Zelena’s purse. How will having David’s courage help her? Will she have some kind of hold over him now? Does it make her more courageous? Can she use the sword to cripple David with fear? Whatever the case may be, this definitely is not good.

They open the cellar door and as they walk inside, Regina says she can feel the presence of magic. They find the empty cage and notice a strand of gold straw on the floor. They know that Rumple is back in Storybrooke.

It is definitely a relief to have the gang know Rumple is alive and in town. I’m sure Belle will be ecstatic when she hears the news, so will Neal, wherever he is.

What did you think of “The Tower”? Share your favorites moments, theories, pet peeves and more below!

‘Once Upon A Time’ airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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