‘Once Upon A Time’ S4 Winter Finale recap: Darkness rising

Brace yourselves for the Queens of Darkness. (Photo credit: Disney/ABC Press via Twitter)

“Once Upon A Time’s” mid-season finale was loaded with heartbreak. Quite frankly, this episode was downright infuriating most of the time. The path to attaining one’s happy ending leaves behind a wake of collateral damage. “Heroes and Villains” marks a pivotal turning point for Storybrooke’s reformed baddies and the people who have loved them unconditionally.

Fairytale Land, past: “The game is rigged. The villains never win.”

Rumple catches Belle snooping around his room full of magical trinkets. She always wanted to see the world and would like to vicariously live through Rumple’s tales from his great adventures abroad. Since he just returned from Camelot, Belle asks him all about his quest.

Rumple has returned with the item he had been searching for: a magical gauntlet that locates everyone’s greatest weakness and can guide him to the thing they love most. Sounds like another dangerous weapon for Rumple to have in his arsenal. As Rumple’s trophy room grows, Belle begins to understand Rumple’s need for such things.

Belle believes Rumple has a hole in his heart and he tries filling the void by collecting magical objects. Rumple doesn’t appreciate her psychoanalysis and magically sends her out to do the laundry. She begins muttering to herself and chastises Rumple. Belle may look like she’s talking to herself, but she knows Rumple is always keeping his ear on her. Yeah, that’s creepy. But it could come in handy if Belle winds up in a dangerous situation. Lo and behold, she does!

An adorable Dalmatian puppy leads Belle into woods and a cloaked figure pulls her away. Rumple quickly follows her tracks and discovers a sand dollar left by her captor. A hologram of Belle appears. She says he must give them the gauntlet or she will die. This will be a test of Rumple’s true feelings for Belle. Is she another disposable pawn or is he really falling in love with her?

Rumple meets Maleficent and he’s about to kill her before she reveals that she brought reinforcements. Ursula and Cruella de Vil (who smells of “desperation and gin”) come out of the shadows, making a dramatic and super cheesy entrance. As the villains approach, Belle bursts into uncontrollable tears. She assumes Rumple won’t make the trade, but he does.

The Queens of Darkness have the gauntlet and are going to use it to discover the heroes’ weaknesses. These villains are tired of watching the good guys always win. Now it is their turn to come out on top. After making that decree, they poof away.

Belle is shocked that Rumple saved her. He masks his mushy feelings behind a threat. The Dark One tells Belle, “If anyone’s going to crush your heart, it’s going to be me.” That’s as sweet as it gets for old school Rumple, who is still as devious as ever.

After Belle is convinced he has lost the gauntlet, Rumple meets up with the Queens of Darkness. It seems as though Belle’s kidnapping was an elaborate rouse. Rumple tells the Queens that demanding a ransom from the Dark One is a fool’s errand. They hand the gauntlet back over to Rumple, but they still want revenge against the heroes. The Queens of Darkness insist that the game is rigged and villains never win. They ask Rumple to join them, so they can defeat the heroes once and for all.

It may take a few centuries, but the Queens of Darkness will eventually get the help they’ve desperately wanted from the Dark One.

Storybrooke, present: “You’d never give up power for me Rumple. You never have, you never will.”

Now that the Snow Queen is gone and the curse has been lifted, the ice wall shielding Storybrooke from the rest of the world can finally come down. Elsa magically removes the wall, but Ingrid’s spell still lingers in the air. If anyone crosses the border, they can never re-enter Storybrooke. Elsa, Anna and Kristoff will need to find a portal to take them back home to Arendelle. Anna tells Elsa they need to urgently return home because Hans has taken over the kingdom. They need to find that portal ASAP. While they figure out a Plan B, Rumple comes closer to reaching his end game.

The Dark One squeezes Hook’s heart and gets the latest scoop. Anna is a danger to Rumple because she knows the truth about him, so Hook must keep her away from the shop. But Hook won’t need to keep her occupied for too long. On this night, the stars in the sky will align with the stars on the Sorcerer’s hat. Once Rumple has ultimate power, he will crush Hook’s heart, take over the world and give Belle the life she always wanted.

After Hook leaves, Belle wakes up to find Rumple serving her breakfast in bed. He says it is time for Belle to see the world, beginning with their honeymoon in New York City. Just as it looks like RumBelle will have their happy ending, Robin Hood must decide if he will follow his heart or do the honorable thing.

The Snow Queen’s death has also defrosted Marian. Regina woefully inserts Marian’s heart back into her chest and heads out to sulk at Granny’s Diner. Suddenly, Marian joins Regina at the counter.

Marian thanks Regina for saving her life. She sees the way Robin and Regina look at each other. It may feel like yesterday for Marian, but she realizes that her husband has mourned her death and moved on. Robin and Regina clearly love each other. Even though it breaks her heart, Marian wants to be chosen by Robin, not loved out of his sense of obligation. If Robin’s heart leads him to Regina, Marian will step out of the way. Wow! That is unexpected and very kind of Marian. Regina has been trying to do the right thing all along, now Marian gives her husband a free pass to be with his new True Love. What ever will he do?

Robin chooses Regina! There is no doubt about it in his mind. Regina thinks of Roland and how this would look to him. (It’s always sweet to see Regina’s maternal instincts like this. She probably imagines how Henry would’ve felt if he were in Roland’s shoes.) Robin can’t go back to Marian and live a lie. He believes the best example to set for his son is to live truthfully and follow his heart. He pulls out the heartwarming illustration of Outlaw Queen from the storybook. It looks like Regina may get her happy ending after all.

Unfortunately, their bliss is very short-lived. Marian starts freezing over from the remnants of the Snow Queen’s spell. Regina says the only solution is to cross the town line and enter a world without magic where the spell will not hold. The only problem is that leaving Storybrooke will be a one way trip. Robin is ready to let his wife go, but Regina insists that they can’t send Marian into that strange new world all by herself. Robin and Roland must leave Storybrooke with Marian, however heartbreaking it may be. Robin and Regina are devastated, but they know this is the right thing to do. The Hoods prepare to leave and Regina braces herself for another painful goodbye. Meanwhile, Rumple is acting fast on his plan.

The magical broomstick leads Rumple and Hook into the mysterious Sorcerer’s manor. Rumple knows there must be a portal hidden inside the house because that is how the Sorcerer brought the Snow Queen to Storyrbooke. The broom uncovers a cloaked door and Rumple sends Hook out to deliver the good news to Emma & Co.

Hook finds Emma at Granny’s and is ready to celebrate because he found the portal. He quips that he may not be the Savior, but he saved the day. As he explains how helpful Gold has been and insists the Dark One’s turned over new leaf, we see that Rumple is speaking through Hook. (Annoying!) He assures Emma that the portal works, they just need to walk through it. Despite his charms, Emma can tell something is off with Hook. Rumple puppeteers Hook to say “See you around, love.” But Hook is trying to fight Rumple’s control with every fiber of his being. As he leaves, Hook holds onto Emma’s arm and tightly squeezes it before letting go. In his way, Hook is desperately trying to get the message across to Emma. It’s a good thing her secret weapon has already alerted Emma to Hook’s unusual behavior. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have time to address it because she needs to get her friends back to Arendelle. While Emma tells them about the portal, Regina prepares to watch her True Love.

Regina sits in her car and watches as Will bids farewell to his friend. Suddenly, Rumple slides into her car. He’s also saying goodbye before he leaves town to go on his honeymoon. Rumple tells Regina that he will miss Henry and his charming attempt at snooping around the shop. Regina fills him in on the gist of Operation Mongoose and her quest for a happy ending.

Villains don’t get happy endings, so she wonders how Rumple has managed to get one. Rumple just took it. He says being good doesn’t mean good things will automatically happen. Then he tries pulling Regina back into the dark side with a nasty temptation: If Marian died, Regina would get the happy ending with Robin Hood that she so desperately wants. Rumple boasts that there is no author for his fate and he’s about to get everything he desires. He just wants the same for Regina. She knows he sounds like the old Rumple and can sense that something is up. Even the way he takes a hold of her hand before walking away is unsettling. But Regina is too caught up in this heartbreaking moment to give it any further thought. After Rumple leaves, it is time for Regina to say goodbye to her True Love…again.

Marian wholeheartedly thanks Regina for everything she has done. There isn’t any time to waste, so Regina tells Marian to cross the line before it is too late. Marian and Roland cross over and she is immediately healed. Robin stays behind for a moment. With tears streaming down his face, Robin Hood passionately kisses Regina goodbye. This is gut-wrenching! Robin joins his wife and son on the other side, unable to see Regina as she tears up and shreds the storybook page that has been taunting her with an unattainable happy ending.

Hopefully this won’t be the last we’ve seen of Robin Hood. Sean Maguire and Lana Parrilla have been magical together. They really ripped our hearts out in this episode with their moving performances. Maguire has been a wonderful addition to the show and Robin has brought out the best in Regina. Outlaw Queen’s relationship has been an epic test for the former Evil Queen. She has had many opportunities to take advantage of her powers and poof her problems away, but she chose to do the right thing instead. If you think about it, Regina is Marian’s hero. Someday Regina will get the happiness she deserves for making such a great effort to transform from a villain to a hero. Unfortunately, not all villains are so eager to change their evil ways.

Rumple is moving forward with his horrible plan. He takes Hook to the clock tower and squeezes the pirate’s heart in his hand. Rumple’s moment has finally arrived and there is nothing left to hold him back. We wait in suspense, fearing the worst, while Storybrooke’s heroes finally discover the truth about the Dark One’s true intentions.

The Charming family, Elsa, Anna, and Kristoff go to the portal. They are eager to return home to first knock Hans off of the throne and then get happily married. Elsa thanks Emma and they hug goodbye. Aww. Kristoff and Elsa step through the portal, but Anna stays behind for a moment. Mr. Gold has been so helpful, so she wonders who this mystery man really is. She is shocked to learn that he is the Dark One. As Rumple feared, Anna exposes the truth about their history together and his plans with the Sorcerer’s hat. Emma is enraged that Gold has been playing them this whole time. Emma puts it all together and realizes that Hook must be in danger. Our delightful “Frozen” friends make their way back home and the Charmings dashes off to the save the day.

In the clock tower, the Sorcerer’s hat aligns with the stars. Rumple places the dagger down and gazes upon the ascending hat showering a burst of purple stars. Rumple’s power is already growing. When Emma and Snow run in to stop him, Rumple freezes them in their tracks. As he squeezes Hook’s heart, Belle rushes in and takes the dagger. She immediately stops Rumple. She commands him to release everyone. Then she tells him to take them to the town line because they need to be alone for what comes next.

It is the moment we’ve been waiting for. We knew Rumple would not get away with deceiving Belle for too long and we knew he would pay a dire price for breaking her heart like this. When Henry paid Belle a visit earlier, they were rummaging through the shop and he discovered the gauntlet. In that moment Belle realized that Rumple has been lying from the start. This an epic blow-out that has been in the making for centuries.

Belle is finally facing the truth. The first time he saved her life and traded his precious gauntlet for her, she thought she saw something good in him. After finding the gauntlet, Belle realized all the signs she’s been seeing have been correct. He’ll never give up power for her. The gauntlet led her to the thing Rumple loves most: his dagger. It is finally clear to Belle that power is Rumple’s One True Love.

Belle wanted to be chosen over power and she tried to be everything for him. Now she is done trying. She knows for sure that he will never change. It is too late. Utterly heartbroken and devastated by Rumple’s betrayal, she says, “Once I saw the man behind the beast. Now there’s only a beast.” Belle commands him to leave Storybrooke and he regretfully backs up towards the town line. Rumple makes his final plea, he swears he doesn’t not want to lose her. Sadly, he already has.

Breathtaking work from Emilie de Ravin. Belle bravely faces her worst fear and her heart has been shattered into pieces. She trusted Rumple and gave him the benefit of the doubt. Now she realizes their whole relationship has been a lie. Instead of acting like a scorned girlfriend, Belle thinks like a leader and a hero. Rumple needs to be stopped before he hurts anyone else. Belle takes charge of the situation and commands Rumple to do the unthinkable: she forces him to live in a world that robs him of his precious power. De Ravin truly poured her heart out in this jaw-dropping scene. This marks a huge turning point for Belle. Her future will be very different without Rumple’s manipulation. Naturally, De Ravin’s display of raw emotion is matched by Robert Carlyle’s genius portrayal.

In another brilliant performance, Carlyle transforms Rumple right before our eyes. He goes from fearless, conniving villain, to a wounded, heartbroken, and crippled man. Rumple cries and says he’s afraid, but his tears will no longer sway Belle. She compels him to step over the line. Storybrooke disappears and Rumple calls out to an invisible and silent Belle. Simply put: WOW. Well done!

After so much heartbreak, we are delighted to see that some couples actually do get their happy endings. Over in Arendelle, Hans has been successfully defeated, so it is finally time for Anna and Kristoff’s big wedding day. As Elsa prepares to walk Anna down the aisle, we see a portrait of their aunts displayed out in the open. The kingdom’s memory has been restored and the girls are glad to have learned the truth about their family. Elsa then asks Anna why she postponed the wedding. Anna sweetly replies that she wasn’t going to walk down aisle unless Elsa was equally as happy. Aww.

Elsa and Anna will be greatly missed. Georgina Haig and Elizabeth Lail have been absolutely enchanting. They brought the best part of “Frozen” to life by creating such a warm and loving relationship between Elsa and Anna. Hopefully we will see them again soon because they have been a delightful addition to “Once Upon A Time”. Elsa’s friendship with Emma was also very fun to watch. Now that Elsa is gone, it is comforting to know that Hook is back to himself and will have Emma’s back.

Despite Hook’s warning to be gentle, Emma vigorously shoves Killian’s heart back into his chest. His deeply passionate kiss expresses all the love and sincerity that Emma could sense was missing from her beau during Rumple’s evil stunt. Hook reassures Emma, “I told you, Swan. I’m a survivor.” Sigh. Captain Swan is whole again. Unfortunately Emma’s new gal pal could use a shoulder to cry on because she didn’t end up getting so lucky in love.

Emma sits beside Regina at Granny’s Diner and offers to be her drinking buddy. She still promises to help Regina find her happy ending, but for now, they can drink away the pain with some shots. She compliments Regina on doing the right thing. Regina sadly doesn’t need that confirmation. She knows she did the right thing because she’s miserable. Emma says that if it helps her at all, Gold is also miserable. That knowledge makes Regina feel better, but Henry bursts in with even greater news. He found something pretty huge at the Sorcerer’s manor.

Henry did some exploring while they were off taking care of business. He pulls down a wall light that opens a secret door and reveals a library full of blank storybooks. This is the Author’s house! Regina and Henry quickly tell Emma about Operation Mongoose. Of course Emma is in. After all, everyone deserves their happy ending.

So it looks the Sorcerer is the author of the storybook. It is interesting to learn that there are many books. Perhaps this means we will begin to explore other worlds full of fantastical characters and spellbinding stories. It makes sense that the mysterious and super powerful Sorcerer would also be the Author. Ever since we learned the Sorcerer had a hand in showing the Snow Queen where she could find her new sister, it made him our number suspect. He practically mapped out the events that transpired by leading Ingrid to Storybrooke and Emma. Where is the Sorcerer now? Is he still writing new stories? Has been held captive by someone else who wants his or her story re-written? Did he go into hiding after his Apprentice’s death? Who could this mysterious Sorcerer be? Is it possible that we have met him already?

It will be very exciting to see the Sorcerer’s storyline unfold in the second half of the season. It is also nice to see Emma, Henry and Regina work together on this mission. Let’s hope Emma and Henry are able to help Regina stay on this new righteous path. It would be heartbreaking to see her slip back into darkness, especially after the way Rumple failed all of those people who put their faith in him. Speaking of Rumple, he may be in a land with no magic, but he’s still up to no good.

New York City, Six Weeks Later

Rumple walks off of a bus on Madison Avenue. He finds Ursula working in an aquarium. (Very funny, “OUAT”.) He says the Author can change the rules for heroes and villains. The Queens of Darkness may finally get the revenge they’ve been seeking. Rumple and Ursula set out to find Cruella and Maleficent. The Dark One has decided to join the Queens of Darkness and take back the happy ending and power he was about to attain.


It was disappointing to see so many new fan favorites leave all at once in this episode. It is too soon to judge, but Queens of Darkness seem a little silly at first glance and Rumple’s submersion back into darkness is just growing redundant. Plus, if these Queens pull Regina back into their evil game, then it will feel like a waste of her redemption. After all the good Elsa, Anna and Robin Hood have brought to Storybrooke, it will be very annoying to see the Queens of Darkness cause cartoonish chaos. However, show-runners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz claim that the Queens of Darkness will be used to take us back to the beginning and explore more of our core characters’ pasts.


In post mid-season finale interviews, Horowitz and Kitsis explain how each Queen of Darkness is a force to be reckoned with. They are learning from their past mistakes and are developing a rival plan that parallels with our Heroes’. Both sides are now in hot pursuit of the Author because they want to secure their respective happy endings. The catch is that everyone has a different idea of happiness. Visit TVLine and Entertainment Weekly to read the full interviews and get more juicy details on what’s coming up in Season 4.

Using the Queens of Darkness to revisit the past also means we’ll being seeing some familiar faces again. Yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Eion Bailey is also set to reprise his role as August/Pinocchio. Earlier, TVLine confirmed Ariel’s (JoAnna Garcia-Swisher) return. Her sea-faring episode grows even more interesting! Today, Entertainment Weekly reports that Ariel will appear in Episode 15, which introduces us to Ursula’s father, Poseidon, who will be played by Ernie Hudson (“Ghostbusters”). Awesome casting! It looks like “Once Upon A Time” is bringing some classic Greek Mythology into the picture. Could the Author have penned some Homer-inspired tall tales? Maybe we’ll meet more Greek gods and iconic mythological heroes down the road.

What did you think of the winter finale? Were you surprised by all the heartbreak and loss? Do you hope to see these beloved characters return? What did you think of the Queens of Darkness’ entrance? Are you looking forward to their arc in the second half of the season? Do you have any theories on the Author/Sorcerer? Will Regina be tempted by the darkness? Can Rumple ever be saved from a life of villainy?

Share your thoughts in the comments below and stay tuned for more scoop.

“Once Upon A Time” returns Sunday, March 1 at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.