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Once Upon a Time - Tougher Than the Rest - Advance Preview

After what felt like an extremely long winter hiatus, Once Upon a Time is due to return March 5th for the back half of its sixth season. Typical of Once’s premieres, things pick up right where they left off, and in this case it's right after Regina and Emma miss their portal home. The two are left stuck in the wish-version of the Enchanted Forest, while, back in Storybrooke, Charming and Hook walk the streets looking for Gideon.

There's a fair bit of action in the beginning, as Emma and Regina have no time to waste figuring out a plan B to get home, since their son and his entire kingdom think Emma's been kidnapped and Regina still has evil plans at heart (she did assassinate the King and Queen, like, earlier that afternoon, so the kingdom is sort of justified). The bulk of the episode is fairly stagnant, though, as the characters' plans take them in different directions. Emma's scenes present an interesting callback to her dynamic with another character from way back in the first season, and Regina seeks out Robin, of course, after realizing that everyone in the Enchanted Forest seems to be better off without her. That's an interesting concept, especially considering the previous episode was about how different, and arguably worse off, Emma was in the Wish Realm, so it's a nice switch to see the benefits of the Wish Realm. I think Regina has probably come to understand the negative consequences of the choices she made as the Evil Queen during the many seasons she's spent redeeming herself, but to actually see how things would have been otherwise is another story.

Back in Storybrooke, everyone is scrambling in the wake of Gideon's return. Charming and Hook set out to find him, and Charming seems a little worse for the wear. Rumple and Belle have an easier time finding Gideon, unsurprisingly, but Gideon has his own motives and zero allies in Storybrooke, as much as his parents want to salvage their relationship with him. Rumple and Belle have an incredibly difficult relationship and things are still contentious between them, but in this premiere they do find common ground in ways you wouldn’t expect.

As a whole, I found the episode lacking; with so many characters pulled in different directions, things felt unfocused and generally somewhat tedious. There's a lot of standing around and talking about hope, fate, exposition, etc. and not a lot of heart. It's clear that big things are being set up for the rest of the season, but watching ground being laid doesn't make for a very interesting episode in and of itself. There are a few highlights, and the prospect of the rest of the season is intriguing, but it's not enough to save this from being one of the weaker premieres Once has turned out.


There's a substantial flashback that reveals some important origin information for Emma Swan.

We see quite a bit more of the Wish Realm, including what Captain Hook and Belle are up to. Hook's scene is pretty enjoyable.

Gideon's motives are explored more, but they are not really clarified just yet.

The lion tattoo is referenced, as is the legend of Robin Hood.

The Wish Realm is pretty straight-forward, but we are left with some interesting things that are not explained. Are they purposeful or are they loopholes? Only time will tell!

Emma does find out who the hooded figure is.

Pinocchio is back! His wish-self is a bit like the wish-Emma, compared to the Storybrooke versions we're used to.

 Lines to listen for:

“Can you fix it?” “No. I cannot.”

“It’s okay! I’m not going to let him hurt anyone!”

“I believe in you, Emma.”

“One doesn’t usually come to a tavern for talking.”

“You can change your fate.”

“I’m sorry, do you know him?”

“I ran away, okay?”

“You might have my sword, but I’ve got your… this thing.”

“The duck was always a swan, he just didn’t know it.

“Regina can take care of herself.”

“I’ve spent a lot more time around swords than dresses.”

“I’m not my father. I’m not… good enough.”

“Impeccable timing, as always!”

“Belief is the first step.”

“War is coming to Storybrooke.”

Have I said too much? Or worse, not enough? Feel free to speculate below, and ask any questions you like about "Tougher Than the Rest". If I have any not-too-spoilery answers, I'll try to address a few in the days leading up to the premiere.