Once Upon a Time has become a series obsessed with re-telling itself. The recursive nature of the show was painted in broad strokes during "Heartless," when Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) sat Emma (Jennifer Morrison) down and reminded her that her parents were forced apart by a sleeping curse, then found each other, then had her, then lost her, then found her again, and then of course there was that time she went back to the past and had to reunite her parents after accidentally fudging up their meet cute, Back To the Future style.
We didn't just revisit literal illustrations of Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming's (Josh Dallas) much-rehashed first meeting (which was one of the earliest episodes, and then the exact same footage of the meeting aired, albeit in a different context, in the two-hour Season 3 finale), we also saw all those cherished moments in a gauzy montage that looked lifted straight out of a fan video from YouTube, when the couple grasped this week's MacGuffin later in the episode.
Then the show got a chance to reuse more Season 1 footage when Snow was Sleeping Cursed by the Evil Queen and Charming kissed her awake.
Big reveal! Charming and Snow met earlier than either of them realized. Also! They are now caught in a tandem Sleeping Curse. When Charming kisses Snow awake, he immediately falls asleep; if she returns the favor and wakes him up, she'll fall asleep. They can't be awake at the same time! Sounds restful, honestly. Kind of jelly.
Season 6, after crashing town with a dirigible-load of presumably Untold Stories, has dedicated the last five episodes to re-hashing plots from previous seasons, plots that were already deconstructions of familiar stories. We've now seen the third remix of how Prince Charming and Snow White first met. And our big bad for this season is a contrived resurrection of the big bad of Season 1, the heart-obsessed Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), with the same tenuous motivation.
What is going on, Once Upon A Time ? I thought Aladdin and Jafar and Jasmine were in town? Or if you do want to really dig into Charming and Snow's perfect love, maybe show them once in a while with their newborn son? Snow just returned to work and they're dealing with an infant for the first time. There's real meat there. (Incredibly, the idea that they'd be abandoning baby Neal had zero impact on their suicide pact later in the episode, when they showed up at a grave yard in front of an utterly unimpressed town to offer up their shared heart to the Evil Queen to save Storybrooke from her Death Water. Not exactly his best chance, dudes!)
It could be the series is still sore about the failure of its more ambitious spin-off, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. Or maybe the quick death of the highly praised and always original Galavant has made OUAT tentative about breaking new ground. Maybe showrunners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz find themselves more focused on other projects currently, and the writing staff is trying to stick to the tried and true leitmotifs that have carried OUAT forward in the past. Who can say?
Yet while the A-story plot suffers from not taking chances, it's forging ahead with one very bizarre romantic relationship that sours one of the best dynamics in the show — namely, Gold (Robert Carlyle) and the Evil Queen hooking up out of nowhere. Out of all the dozens of 'ships launched by OUAT over the years, I think it's fair to say fans would have placed Gold and the Evil Queen as dead last on the big list of couples they wanted to see happen, after either Peter Pan's Shadow + Maleficent or Anna from Frozen + Elsa from Frozen.
But boy, is this couple happening, and in comparatively explicit fashion for the family series. Like, it was confirmed in this episode that they had offscreen sex, and I'm pretty sure one of them is a phantasm so I'm not even sure how that works. Is anyone happy about this?
It certainly hasn't put the Evil Queen in a better mood, it's cut her off from Zelena (Rebecca Mader) as an ally, and it won Gold an epic tongue lashing from Belle (Emilie de Ravin), who seemed weirdly unemotional about, uh, adultery. I could have spared a minute this episode for Belle wiping a tear from her eye over the destruction of her marriage, but I guess we had to make room for the Magical Montage Sapling.
I have always said the plot is irrelevant to OUAT's overall emotional impact. We aren't following the action; we just want to see our favorite characters dealing with it. But seeing them deal with exactly the same actions starts to feel almost claustrophobically oppressive. As if time is a flat circle in Season 6 of Once Upon a Time, across which the purple clouds of freshly-cast curses and the sonic booms of curses freshly breaking roll, but from which there is no escape.
-Gold & Evil Queen: still icked out?
-Where is baby Neal?
-Could the Evil Queen get ghost pregnant?
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.