‘Once Upon A Time’ recap: Has Regina met her match?

We got more than one surprise in this episode, and for me one of them is that, yes, the show appears to be back on track. After the endless, dreary sludge of Neverland, we're back in Storybrooke AND Fairytale Land with complimentary story lines, a mystery, and a new big bad worthy of Regina's bad side. Spoilers after the jump, yo.

It's only right that the Wicked Witch would be such a worthy adversary for Regina because (surprise!) she's her sister. While I'm a little leery of another familial connection driving the plot (remember the whole Peter Pan brouhaha? He's my dad! And he's my granddad! And he looks younger than we are! This is SO WEIRD!), at least this time it doesn't feel entirely pasted onto the plot. Instead, it's pretty straight forward — Regina had every advantage, and we can easily believe the Wicked Witch has been burning with rage over all she hasn't gotten. 

We dug a little deeper into Regina's emotional state this week, and if I had forgotten how great Lana Parrilla is over the midseason break, this was an excellent reminder. We got the sour and the sweet, but mostly we felt how deeply she's missed Henry, and how difficult it is for her now that he's back in Storybrooke and has no idea who she is. It's hard to say which is worse — knowing he's a world away or being offered a handshake instead of a hug.

This year has had a fair amount of Regina and Emma working together (often reluctantly), and this week's episode did a nice job of playing on our old biases and opening the door to a newer, nicer Regina. Not too much nicer, though. Watching her grin in Fairytale Land as she informs Robin Hood that she finally has something to live for — “someone new to destroy!” — was perfectly in character and yet pretty damn funny. We'd never want Regina to be completely nice, and I think for the rest of this season we're going to get the Regina we've long wanted — like that Las Vegas Cosmopolitan hotel commercial, she'll have just the right amount of wrong. 

The Lost Boys of Neverland had their merits (or I should say, could have had their merits — we got more one-note evil than conflicted, homesick angst), but the Flying Monkeys put them to shame. They're terrifying, and worse, we discover they could be friendly faces who've been transformed by the Wicked Witch — it won't be so easy to take out a Flying Monkey knowing it could be one of the Seven Dwarves or, say, Little John (didn't you love it when Dr. Whale said, a la “Star Trek,” “I'm a doctor, not a vet”?). 

The biggest surprise, though, was the discovery that Zelena/Wicked Witch is keeping Gold/Rumple locked in a cage, where he seems to have become more Rumple than Gold and, yes, almost Golum-level crazy. Zelena makes it clear she has plans for the poor guy (she, like Regina, learned magic from him), and I'm curious as to how she brought him back, why he's in this state and how she's going to use him in her master plot. These are good questions to have, mind you — the Wicked Witch is a character I think we'll enjoy digging into, and Rebecca Mader plays her with an arch wit that I can get behind. Why does the Wicked Witch have an English accent? No idea, but I'll let that slide. 

I'm happy to let oddities go in part because the show just seems to be so much more fun these days. Snow gets grossed out by the prospect of cradle cap, Charming's deadpan reaction to Little John's transformation into a Flying Monkey, the Wicked Witch showing off the dress she stole from Regina — there's humor amidst the drama, something that seemed sorely lacking earlier in the season. 

Best of all is that everyone has finally sorted out (thanks to Emma and Regina's plotting) that the Big Bad is the Wicked Witch. The question is, of course, if that's more than they can handle. Whatever happens, though, I'm back in. Are you?

How are you enjoying the Wicked Witch? Were you surprised to see Rumplestiltskin? What did you think of the Flying Monkeys?