‘Once Upon A Time’ S4 Ep 17 recap: Parental guidance

Do the Charmings confess their sins to Emma? (Photo credit: Disney/ABC Press)

Whoa! Did you see all of those twists coming, Oncers? Sunday (March 29) night’s “Best Laid Plans” was a loaded and gripping episode full of game-changing revelations. Fairytale Land flashbacks show us exactly how badly the Charmings wronged Maleficent by altering her unborn child’s destiny. In present day Storybrooke, the Charmings begin facing the consequences of their desperate actions. Emma learns the truth about her potentially dark heart, the Author’s identity is revealed when he’s released, Maleficent gets a glimpse of her baby, and we are left with a haunting fear that Rumple’s life is on the line. “Once Upon A Time” shockingly drops several bombshells before taking a brief hiatus and gives fans a lot to think about over the next two weeks.

Fairytale Land, past: “We are not heroes anymore.”

Snow White and Prince Charming touch the horn of an enchanted unicorn to see a glimpse of their daughter’s future. Charming is pleased to see a sweet baby and his worries are instantly eased. Snow has completely different experience. She comes face to face with an unruly teenage Emma who is on the brink of causing severe pain. When Snow pleads, saying she’s Emma’s mother, the girl callously replies, “I don’t care.” Ouch! That is cold, even for a badass future bounty hunter. Snow’s vision gives the Charmings’ a good reason to worry.

They encounter a peddler who sets them on path to Emma’s salvation. He warns them of Maleficent’s nesting egg and points them in the opposite direction to visit the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The wise old man candidly conveys their options. He has the power to make sure that Emma will be born with a pure, good heart that will ensure her future as a hero. However, in doing so, the darkness within Emma’s heart must be transferred to another vessel. That’s right, to make Emma Good, the Charmings must condemn an innocent soul to a life of darkness.

The Charmings are desperate to secure their child’s fate, so they agree to the Apprentice’s terms. They figure Maleficent’s dragon baby will be born with darkness anyway, so there won’t be any harm in using it as the vessel. Okay, dragon baby or not, this is wrong on so many levels. Looks like we just need to chalk it up to parental instincts.

Snow and David easily charge through Mal’s guards, Cruella and Ursula, and rush into the cave to snatch the egg. Maleficent once again pleads with Snow White, mother to mother. This is probably the sweetest we’ve ever seen Mal look and there is an extra touch of tenderness in Kristin Bauer van Straten’s performance. Snow apologizes for the egg-napping and promises to return her child once they are done. Now for the shocker the Charmings never saw coming.

The Apprentice performs the spell, during his incantation, a portal opens. Part of the deal is that the dark child must be sent to another realm. That is not what Snow signed-up for. She promised to return the egg to Mal, but it is too late. Cruella and Ursula arrive on the scene, but they cannot do anything to stop this heartbreaking situation. As Cruella, Ursula and Mal’s child start getting sucked into the portal, the egg begins to hatch and a baby’s arm punches out of it. That’s right, the Charmings just damned an innocent human baby to a life of darkness in a strange new world.

Side-note: At this point, Oncers who love to theorize might be putting the pieces of the puzzle together. We all know where Cruella and Ursula ended up in the “real world.” Now we can only assume that Baby Mal ended up in the foster system like Emma. hint, hint Are the light bulbs going off? No worries if you haven’t caught on just yet, Mal’s future vision luckily confirms our speculative hunch. Back to the Charmings…

The royal nursery is being prepared for Baby Emma’s arrival and Snow freaks out over the unicorn mobile (If Snow doesn’t want it, we’d love to have it. So cute! Seriously, where did they find it?) She does not want to be reminded of the vision which caused them to do the unthinkable. David gives Snow an alternative interpretation. They sacrificed Baby Mal in order to make sure their baby grows up to be hero. After all, the Apprentice said it is up to them to guide their baby and keep her in the light. Now the Charmings will take every precaution necessary to raise Emma right. Ironically, they don’t end up raising Emma at all and ultimately send their baby off into a strange world, just like Baby Mal.

Storybrooke, present day: “Author or no Author, I am not going dark.”

Picking up from where we left off in “Poor Unfortunate Soul,” Regina needs to take an illustration of the Author’s door back to the Villains. Emma magically conjures up a copy, but Regina decides to snap a photo on her phone instead and heads out. If only she knew how much trouble that misstep would cause.

The glare in the photo is a sure sign that the illustration is enchanted. Rumple says Regina should know that given her extensive knowledge of magic. Uh oh! The Dark One is onto her. But that’s only half of the Heroes’ problem.

Back at the Charmings’ residence, Hook breaks the bad news about Rumple’s plans with Author to Emma and Co. The Savior remains confident, saying that nothing can make her turn dark. Hook explains that darkness creeps up on you and once you have a taste, it is hard to let it go. The Captain has made it abundantly clear that it is taking every fiber of his being to fight his pirate instincts and be truly good. Let’s just hope Emma will never have to face the same battle.

While Captain Swan chat, Mary Margaret and David have a candid conversation about their secret. Let’s be real for a second. They can whisper all they want, but they are talking about this epic secret within hearing distance. At least step outside or something. Emma totally should have heard everything they said. That silliness aside, the Charmings have reason to worry and face a new dilemma. How much further are they willing to go to secure Emma’s fate?

David believes their best bet is to destroy the Author’s door before anyone has a chance to let him out. While they head to the Sorcerer’s mansion to take the book from Henry, the Villains have already set their plan in motion.

Rumple wants the door and Regina does her best to delay a Heroes vs Villains confrontation. She argues that the Savior has grown powerful and will not give the door up easily. Mal has a simple solution for that and casts a sleeping spell over Storybrooke. Luckily, once you’ve been under a sleeping spell, you become immune to it, which means that David, MM and Henry are still awake.

While Storybrooke slumbers, the Villains and Regina head over to the Charmings’ to retrieve the page while Emma and Hook sweetly sleep on the sofa. When they don’t find the page, Rumple realizes that Regina has left it with Henry. Again, we see how Rumple places his own desires over his grandson’s well-being.

Rumple instructs Mal and Cruella to follow Regina. His suspicions have grown and he wants to be sure the Villains get that page. This also gives him some alone time, which leads to a very unexpected teaser. Rumple goes to see Belle at Gold’s Shop. He gently carries her to a softer resting place. He caresses her face and expresses his desire to be with her again. He holds his hand over his heart and conveys a great sense of urgency in attaining his happy ending with Belle before it is too late.

Wait a second: Is Rumple dying?! No no no no no. We know Rumple is a hardcore Villain and massively tortured soul, but “Once Upon A Time” cannot lose a gem like Robert Carlyle. He has always been one of this show’s greatest strengths. Even if an episode is sub-par, Rumple’s scenes consistently create some of “OUAT’s” best moments. Suffice it to say that is very troubling news and the “Heart of Gold” promo indicates that we will learn more about Rumple’s condition in a couple of weeks. Until then, we’ll just have to sweat it out. Moving on…

Regina and her unwanted posse find Henry. She gives the kid a stern talking to (Aww his middle name is Daniel.) along with a look wink wink. Henry gets the message and hands over the fake page. The troublesome trio returns the page to Rumple. He immediately identifies it as a forgery. Regina should clearly know better and the jig is up. They put her to sleep before she has a chance to BS her way out of another page-related flub.

Rumple will need to provoke the darkness with Regina once more. Gulp! Yup, we all have a hunch that he’ll use Robin Hood as leverage, which eerily plays into Regina’s vision. In last week’s episode she dreamt that the Evil Queen appeared to save Robin. What kind of trouble will Rumple put him in? Poor Regina, she’s been doing so well too. This will be the ultimate test to see if she can find a Heroic way to save Robin Hood and defeat the Villains all at once. Tensions just keep on rising!

Speaking of tension, Grandma and Grandpa Charming get a little mean with Henry when they confront him about the storybook. With a little magical assist, the Author pointed Henry towards the hidden key that will unlock the door. Henry is all excited to release the Author and help his mom get her happy ending. The kid thinks the Author will help solve their problems, but the Charmings disagree. David snaps at Henry, demands to have the book and says they must be careful about opening that door. They cannot be certain of what will be unleashed once it is opened. They tell Henry to go home and once he’s gone, Mr. and Mrs. Charming are left with a big decision to make.

David is ready to burn the page and be rid of the Author for good. It would take care of all of their problems. Emma would never know the truth about her potentially dark heart, the Villains won’t be able to corrupt Emma and ruin the Heroes’ live in an effort to attain their own happy endings. Mary Margaret slows her hubby down and takes a moment to consider the gravity of their decision. They will be selfishly condemning another soul to uncertainty or even worse, death. How many more lives are they going to sacrifice to protect Emma? The time has come to face the truth and confess their secret to Emma.

Hook, Emma, MM and David all sit down at the table and we are dropped into the middle of this intense conversation. Emma is outraged after hearing the whole story. She cannot believe her righteous parents behaved in this despicable manner. She wants to release the Author, but before she does, a recovering August tells them the Author’s history. August explains,

“There have been many authors throughout time. It’s a job, not a person, and the one trapped in here was just the last tasked with the great responsibility. To record… to witness, the greatest stories of all time and record them for posterity. The job has gone back eons: From the man who watched shadows dance across cave walls and developed an entire philosophy, to playwrights who tell tales of poetry, to a man named Walt. Many have had this sacred job. Great women and men who took on the responsibility with the gravity that it deserved.”

Did anyone else get goosebumps? Especially when he name-drops “Walt”. Awww. Needless to say, being the Author is very a important job. There is a lot of power that can be abused and that’s what happened with the Author of this particular storybook. He began writing stories and guiding people in the direction he saw fit. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice caught on to what the Author had been doing, so the Sorcerer trapped him in the book before he caused any more harm. Maybe they really should think twice before releasing this troublemaking Author.

Unfortunately, Emma can’t wait any longer. She impulsively unlocks the door. Much to our surprise, the mystery man ends up being the peddler who sent the Charmings to the Apprentice. Once David and MM recognize him, the Author takes off and vanishes. That’s what happens when you don’t take proper precautions. After all this talk about the powerful and potentially dangerous Author, they haphazardly release him. Who knows what kind of havoc he will wreak now.

Elsewhere, Maleficent finally makes Rumple fulfill his promise. He gives her a tiny sneak peek at her baby with a vision of the past. As a baby girl is placed in the arms of a familiar looking grey-haired man, we begin to wonder…Could it really be? He names the baby girl Lily and that settles it. Even if you guessed it, this is still a shocking reveal. Now the importance of Lily’s storyline makes even more sense and Mal finally has a lead to follow.

Later, Mary Margaret reaches out to Emma to apologize and explain herself, but Emma doesn’t want to hear it. When Emma starts storming off, MM pleads, “But I’m your mother.” Emma coldly snaps back, “I don’t care.” Chills! Is Snow’s vision coming true? Is this the beginning of Emma descent into darkness?!

Wow! There is a lot to digest after this illuminating and shocking episode. So much happened and we are left reeling.


Emma and Lily will provide an interesting examination in the nature vs nurture debate. The Charmings did something villainous to secure their baby’s future as a hero and they assumed Mal’s baby would have a predilection for darkness given her mother’s lineage. What the “OUAT” writers have done here is very fascinating. Emma and Lily were basically linked before birth. Emma’s darkness lives inside of Lily and it makes total sense in hindsight. Technically, Lily was apparently dealt a better hand in life when she was adopted by a caring family, but she never felt at home. She constantly caused trouble and would run away. Emma bounced around between foster homes and was betrayed by the only foster mother she ever trusted, the Snow Queen. We saw the making of two mischievous teenagers when Lily caught Emma poorly shoplifting stuff at the mini-mart. Of course, Lily had already mastered the art of the five-finger discount by that point. But let’s face it, Neil taught Emma everything else she needed to know about thieving and such. Although she did it for survival on the streets and she eventually used those skills to capture bad guys, Emma still had a little potential for darkness inside that pure heart of hers. Lily and Emma’s hearts may have been in the same position when they became fast friends. Up to this very day, Emma still regrets parting with her only childhood friend on such bad terms. That’s probably because she knows she lost a truly kindred spirit. The question now is: what became of Lily after she parted ways with Emma? Is she a full-fledged villain raising hell in the big city? Did Emma callus abandonment push Lily into a life of darkness? Or did she find a path that brought more light into her life?

What is happening to Rumple? Did he have a heart attack? Is he really dying? Why can’t magic heal his problem? Would they really dare to kill off Rumple?! We’re just overwhelmed with too many emotions right now. We have nothing but questions on this matter and we are freaking out. How do you feel about Rumple’s health woes?

Will Regina fall for Rumple’s ploy? We know he’ll use Robin Hood as leverage to get Regina to turn dark again. How far is she willing to go for Robin Hood? Will she jeopardize all the progress she has made? Do you think Regina is strong enough to fulfill Rumple’s wishes without losing herself to darkness?

Captain Swan is still going strong. Hook is standing by Emma’s side during this trying time and he will be helpful when it comes to keep her dark desires in check. It is also adorable to see him get jealous over Emma’s fondness for August. He’s right, Emma has a type. But then again, what girl doesn’t like a little stubble and a smooth leather jacket on a man? Nonetheless, Hook understands Emma when she explains August’s importance to her. Aside from Lily, August has been her only friend from life before Storybrooke and magical worlds. On the down side, Rumple’s spell seems to be taking a toll on August. They need adult Pinocchio’s knowledge, but we’re worried he may not be able to stay a “wooden man child” for much longer. Is there a way to keep August around without it making him so sick?

The Charmings are in trouble. They messed up big time and should feel guilty for what they did to Maleficent. Keeping it all a secret from Emma didn’t help matters either. Now their worst fears may become a reality. Even after the Apprentice banished all darkness from Emma’s innocent baby heart, he warned that the Charmings would have to keep her in the light. Granted, Emma is an adult now and should be able to take control of her destiny. She assured Hook that she would not go dark, but we all know it is easier said than done. Every villain has had his or her turning point. Killian turned into a pirate after his brother died. Rumple became the Dark One after Milah left him for being a coward. Ursula became the legendary sea witch to spite her father. Regina, Zelena, Ingrid and so on. Each villain did not start out purely evil. They were pushed over the edge by life’s circumstances, especially after being betrayed by loved ones. Once there is a tiny kernel of darkness it is easy for it to grow and consume one’s heart. Is this the betrayal that will push Emma over the edge? Will Hook be able to keep her grounded now that she won’t turn to her parents for support?

What did you think of “Best Laid Plans”? What revelation was the most shocking? Do you think Emma will go dark? Can the Charmings ever redeem themselves in Emma’s eyes? Where has baby Neal been during all of this? Are you afraid Rumple will be killed off? Share your thoughts below!

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

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