As Homer Simpson once said: “Oh, I see! Then everything is wrapped up in a neat little package!”
That’s about where tonight’s midseason finale—which may as well have been titled “Falling Action”—leaves us. The Snow Queen has been vanquished; the ice wall around Storybrooke has been KO’d; the rest of the Frozen folk have retreated back to the Disney store, where they belong; season 4B’s secondary antagonist, Rumplestiltskin, has gotten what he deserves; Hook has regained both his heart and his mojo, if that concluding kiss with Emma is any indication. Even infrequently-mentioned Operation Mongoose has been partially successful: Henry and Regina have discovered the Author’s house, if not the Author himself.
“Heroes and Villains” isn’t quite as definitively conclusive as last year’s midseason finale—an hour that would have functioned perfectly well as a full series wrap-up—but it did have the whiff of a hand firmly closing a storybook called The One With the Frozen Tie-In. Which isn’t to say that we’ll never see the Arendelle gals again. (A brief wish: Before we do, could we maybe just find out where Mulan’s been hiding? Please? Has she, like, been impersonating a tree to save her mother from being conscripted into the Ent Army?)
Ah, but come next March, the Storybrooke crew will be facing down a whole new team of villains. Hence tonight’s fairyback, which formally introduced the dynamic trio: Skinny Ursula, who’s somehow gone from legendary goddess to corporeal octopus lady (and from Yvette Nicole Brown’s voice to Merrin Dungey’s person); Not-Angelina-Jolie Maleficent, played as ever by the fabulous Kristin Bauer van Straten (can you believe she hasn’t appeared on this show since 2012?!); and the only one who hasn’t yet had a presence on Once, Victoria Smurfit’s Cruella de Vil. Of these three “queens of darkness,” Cruella is the obvious outlier—One Hundred and One Dalmatians takes place in real-world London, not a mystical magic kingdom. Kitsis and Horowitz have promised to mitigate this by revamping the character’s backstory, giving Cruella origins in the Enchanted Forest and “some magic of her own.” As of now, it looks like that magic includes the ability to conjure up adorable dalmatian puppies out of thin air. (Wait… so she can make coats out of them?! Maybe it’s kinda like eating farmed salmon instead of going fishing.)
Said puppy has a purpose: to lure Fairyback Belle away from the safety of pre-Storybrooke Rumple’s clothesline. The Dark One soon learns that his indentured servant has been kidnapped. Unless he pays a hefty ransom—in the form of the gauntlet he just spirited away from Camelot, a realm that’s been mentioned a few times on Once but never yet seen—her captors are gonna give Beauty the ax.
Because Rump knows how hard it is to find good help these days—and, oh yeah, because this is the point in the timeline where he’s feelin’ Belle but still playing it off like Megara—he reluctantly heads to the spot where the Trio has demanded him to go, gauntlet in hand. (That spot, by the way: “Demon’s Bluff.” What, Terror Lake was too much of a schlep?) There, he and we first see the villainous ladies in action. There are quips aplenty; Ursula purrs that it’d be a shame to crack Belle’s pretty vocal pipes, while Rumple greets Cruella with, “I thought I caught a whiff of gin and desperation.” Clearly, he’s dealt with all three of the Queens, who tell them that they want the gauntlet for the same reason Regina wants to find the author of Henry’s book: it’s enchanted with the power to reveal a person’s greatest weakness, which they think can help them achieve their own happy endings.
Much as it pains him to give in, Rump tosses over the gauntlet in exchange for Belle’s life. But that’s not the end of the story…
NEXT: Snap back to reality/oh, there goes gravity