‘Once Upon A Time’ S4 Ep 15 recap: Catching fire

Can the Heroes trust Regina? (Photo credit: Disney/ABC Press)

Sunday’s (March 15) “Enter the Dragon” was another installment in Season 4B’s slow-burning long-con leading up to the Author’s big reveal. Fairytale flashbacks disclose how Regina helped Maleficent get back into her powerful fiery form. We also see how the frenemies became trusted allies in the fight against heroic happy endings. In present day Storybrooke, the former gal pals team-up again when Regina goes undercover and discovers what the Queens of Darkness and Rumple have planned. Unfortunately, most of the hour was disappointingly predictable and the fun didn’t really get started until final frame. We can honestly say that “Once Upon A Time” left us wanting more.

Fairytale Land, past: “You need to remember who you really are.”

Young Regina is still under Rumple’s tutelage. She is growing weary of Snow White’s good fortune and wants to deal out a juicy dose of magical comeuppance. She found Maleficent’s spell book among her mother’s belongings and asks Rumple to help her use the book to finally exact revenge on Snow. Rumple, being a bit of riddler, sends Regina on a mission instead. If she wants to learn how to practice Mal’s magic, then she should go straight to the source.

Rumple transports Regina to a barren wasteland scorched by Mal’s wrath. The only thing that remains is a burning tree set ablaze by Maleficent’s dragon’s breath. Regina needs to learn that great power and revenge will come in due time. So he sends his eager pupil to Maleficent.

Regina asks Mal to teach her magic, so the dragon lady tests her abilities by having her light the fireplace. Once there is some heat in her cold fortress, Maleficent comes out of the shadows and she looks like she has fallen on rough times. Now she is creating magic potions just to take the edge off. A sleeping curse elixir of sorts is her drug of choice. Apparently, Mal has been in a slump ever since the square jawed King Stefan (played by the totally underused Sebastian Roche) broke the sleeping curse she cast on her nemesis, Briar Rose.

Mal is so broken up over it that you would almost think this could be taking place after she lost her baby, but we know it is not since Regina is still the Dark One’s apprentice. Plus we know that Regina ultimately betrays Mal to conjure the Dark Curse and they’re just becoming buddies here. So what is the deal with Maleficent? Why has she given up all hope? Why is she urging Regina to give up on her vengeful crusade? Did King Stefan leave Mal for Briar Rose? There is more to this story and it feels like all the juicy parts have been left out.

Here is what we do know: King Stefan and Briar Rose’s daughter, Aurora, is getting married. Regina lights a proverbial fire under Mal’s butt, saying how she is enraged by the new generation of heroes getting their happy endings. Enough is enough and Regina wants her revenge. Mal may be in despair now, but Regina quickly whips her back into shape.

Maleficent simply says she lost her fire long ago. This would be so much more interesting if we found out how she lost it, but it looks like that story will be left for another episode. Regina takes her to the burning tree, the source of her dragon’s breath. Mal is suited-up, horns and all. She breathes the fire in, but nothing happens. Suddenly, King Stefan and his men arrive.

He warns Maleficent not to disrupt his daughter’s happiness. Mal tries to fight back, but her magic still isn’t working. The guards tie them up and once again Mal has become hopeless. However, Regina refuses to back down. She magically burns her rope-cuffs off and enlists Mal’s help in an attack against the king. Mal dragons out and the men are all toast.

Later, Maleficent appears to Aurora on her wedding day. She boasts of how Aurora’s father failed to protect his little princess. Mal pricks Aurora’s finger and says she has a special curse in mind for her and Prince Philip. Well, we all know how that story goes, at least for the most part.

Regina returns to Rumple having learned her lesson: Revenge is a dish best served cold. There is no need to rush or even to kill. Regina helped Mal get her groove back and realized she already had all the teacher she needs in Rumple. Regina now knows that she doesn’t need to kill Snow White to have her revenge. Instead she takes away something that Snow loves by casting a sleeping spell on her precious pony. The future Evil Queen is in it for the long haul and she’s ready to learn everything the Dark One has to offer.

Storybrooke, present: “Everyone’s going to have to pick a side.”

The underwhelming and predictable present day arc plays out like a silly sorority romp paired with a very obvious misdirect and highly expected “twist” ending, which all lead to the episode’s most thrilling moment.

Regina goes undercover as a villain and must win the Queens of Darkness’ trust by enduring a hazing ritual which includes drinking, destruction of property, and a game of chicken. After Regina passes their tests, Maleficent brings her into their circle of trust. While Regina is reliving her naughty party girl days, the Charmings fill Emma in on their grand scheme.

Naturally, Emma thinks this is a dangerous idea and starts to worry when Regina misses her check-in time. However, Regina soon eases some of her worries when “the Charming softball team and their pirate mascot” all show up to the secret rendezvous in the library. Regina still doesn’t know all the details, but she has learned that the Queens of Darkness are also searching for the Author. She is about to join Maleficent on a mission and promises to keep the gang informed, but that isn’t good enough for Emma.

The Savior vowed to help Regina with Operation Mongoose and this mission is part of it. No matter what happens, Emma will have Regina’s back. Swan Queen is really becoming quite the dynamic duo. Emma tails Regina and Mal as they drive over to Marco’s. As it turns out, Regina’s task is to kidnap Pinocchio. Mal waits by the car while Regina gently puts Marco and Pinocchio to sleep, so she can painlessly abduct the boy.

Emma sneaks in to see Regina and she doesn’t like where this mission is headed. She is afraid to leave this all in Regina’s hands and still wants to tag along. Emma has been on edge since the Queens came to town. Her superpower is going nuts and she feels like she’s being lied to. Regina keeps her promise and stays mum about the Charmings’ big secret. Instead she explains how the villains have taken a page out of the heroes’ playbook and are working together. The heroes may need to break some rules for the greater good. Regina also assures Emma that she can handle whatever the Queens dish out. Of course, stubborn Emma won’t back down, so Regina does what she thinks is best.

Once Mal and Regina have made their getaway with Pinocchio, Emma awakens to find a text on Regina’s phone: “I GOT THIS.” The gang will just have to trust Regina and hope that their double agent doesn’t switch sides if the Queens somehow sweeten the pot. While Regina is busy dealing with the Queens, others in town are taking extra precaution to protect themselves.

Hook crashes Belle and Will’s date. Palpable tension still lingers between the Captain and the Knave, but neither care to share the details of their beef with Belle. Killian has an important matter to discuss with Belle, so she cuts her date short and they go to Gold’s shop. Right off the bat, something feels fishy about all of this, but the next scene really gets our spidey senses tingling.

Hook asks Belle where she hid the Dark One’s dagger. If the Queens of Darkness have entered town, then Rumple could have returned to Storybrooke or at least be on his way. They need to be sure the dagger is hidden some place safe. Hmmm, could this be Rumple disguised as Hook? It sure feels like it. If you have any doubts, Hook’s line of inquiry adds to our suspicions.

Killian asks about Belle’s relationship with Will. Is it serious? Is she happy? When Belle says that Will makes her smile like she hasn’t smiled in years, Hook practically bites his tongue trying to say that he’s happy she’s found love. He also seems a little relieved to know that she will never really be able to get over Rumple, her first True Love. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce all the clues here: Rumple is totally masquerading as Hook and Belle painfully is falling for it.

Unfortunately, Rumple’s rouse works seamlessly. Really, Belle, you are too smart for this. We expect better. Belle retrieves the dagger, revealing its hiding place. Then she hesitates a moment. What if Rumple is playing a trick? Hook says she should command him to stand before her. Ugh! Really?! He’s spelling it out at this point. She orders the Dark One to stand before, which he is technically doing already. Yes, it is that annoying. So Belle cluelessly hands the dagger over the Dark One. Once she is out of sight, Rumple’s Hook mask fades away and our suspicions are confirmed. Boo! This is so beneath Belle and the viewers at this point. Was anybody in the audience actually fooled by this charade? Moving on…

Rumple has the dagger, meaning he once again has full control over his actions. Mal brings Regina to their secret hide-away, Gold’s cabin in the woods, and Rumple reveals himself to the Evil Queen. Now Regina is filled in on their end game. Echoing what we discovered in the flashback, Rumple admits that sometimes the teacher must learn from the student. In this case, it has taken a brutal fall for Rumple to see the light. They are all hell bent on getting their happy endings and they don’t care who gets hurt in their quest for eternal happiness. Finally this mission’s goal is revealed: The Queens of Darkness and Rumple have another method of interrogation in mind for the formerly wooden boy. Oh yeah! We all know where this headed, so let’s get to the juicy stuff already!

Rumple uses his dagger to transform little Pinocchio back into August. Woohoo! This is part we’ve all been waiting for. August is back! Finally! Sadly, this is where “Once Upon A Time” leaves us hanging. We’ll have to wait until Sunday to get the answers we’ve been longing for.

Will August be able to help find the Author? If he has any answers, will he share his insights with the villains? Can Regina break him free from the villains’ captivity? How will Emma feel when she sees August again? How long will Regina be able to keep her cover?

Despite some of the silliness, the acting was stellar, as always. Lana Parrilla’s performance wonderfully captured Regina’s journey from villain to hero in this episode. From soft voiced, youthful, ambitious Regina to the reformed Evil Queen, desperately trying to do the right thing. It has been a treat to see such strong and powerful female characters working together or conspiring against each other. All of these can hold their own and aren’t afraid to kick some ass.

On the next “Once Upon A Time”:

“Enter the Dragon” had some painfully predictable moments, but Sunday’s “Poor Unfortunate Soul” seems to be full of promise. Here is ABC’s official description:

Hook leverages his complicated history with Ursula to find out what she knows about Gold’s endgame. Gold and the Queens of Darkness torture August for information about the Author as Emma, Mary Margaret and David race to find them. Regina grows concerned for Robin Hood’s safety while she struggles to maintain her cover with the villains. In a Fairy Tale Land flashback, when a restless young Ursula enlists Hook’s help to run away from home, she soon learns it isn’t wise to trust a pirate, on “Once Upon a Time,” SUNDAY, MARCH 22 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.

“Once Upon a Time” stars Ginnifer Goodwin as Snow White/Mary Margaret, Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan, Lana Parrilla as the Evil Queen/Regina, Josh Dallas as Prince Charming/David Nolan, Emilie de Ravin as Belle, Colin O’Donoghue as Hook, Jared S. Gilmore as Henry, Michael Socha as Will Scarlet and Robert Carlyle as Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold.

Guest stars include Eion Bailey as August, Merrin Dungey as Ursula, Victoria Smurfit as Cruella De Vil, Sean Maguire as Robin Hood, Christopher Gauthier as William Smee, JoAnna Garcia Swisher as Ariel, Ernie Hudson as Poseidon, Tiffany Boone as Young Ursula and Kristin Bauer van Straten as Maleficent.

”Poor Unfortunate Soul” was written by Andrew Chambliss and Dana Horgan and directed by Steve Pearlman.

If everything goes as we hope, this has all the makings of a fantastic episode. For starters, the guest star list is full of fan favorites. We’ll see Ariel, August and Robin Hood. Woohoo! Plus, we’ll meet Ernie Hudson’s Poseidon and learn about Hook’s mysterious past with Ursula.

What did you think of “Enter the Dragon”? Did you see those twists coming? What are you most excited to see in “Poor Unfortunate Soul”?

“Once Upon A Time” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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