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Once Upon a Time - Tougher Than the Rest - Review

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Welcome back Once Upon a Time fans! This midseason premiere was satisfying, like putting on your favorite sweater right as the cold nights set in. I enjoyed "Tougher Than the Rest"; it felt like a return to form for the show. The story was tightly paced and gave fans many different things they wanted. I do wish we could have spent a little more time in the wish realm, but the fact that Sir Henry is riding around looking for revenge makes me think that perhaps we aren't done with that other world just yet. "Tougher Than the Rest" is a great introduction back into Once Upon a Time after a long hiatus. I noticed and appreciate how stripped down the cast seemed. We didn't get scenes with Aladdin or Jasmine because they weren't really needed; the focus was on the core cast and belief.

With all the inclusion of alternate realities and the small flashback we got to young Emma, (probably the most cynical we've seen her so far), choosing her name thanks to August, the timeline for this show becomes a bit more tangled, but I'm ok with that. I'll even forgive the fact that the rules for the enchanted wardrobe have been bent a little. What's most important to me is the feel of this episode. It feels like a classic Once Upon a Time story. We are being set up once again for a battle for Storybrooke, but it's not from a giant threat, a villain of the week, or a true outsider. We are seeing Emma's dark half in Gideon, what would happen if the savior hadn't had the influences she did. The result is a true conflict of evenly matched dark and light we haven't seen before.

Being in the wish realm allowed us to revisit many familiar aspects of Once Upon a Time. We get to bring August back into the fold, though his story about belief wasn't the most stimulating part of the episode. I hope his reintroduction here allows Once to use his character more effectively. I'm also curious as to what he was writing. Again, I'm hopeful this will let Once to circle back to Henry and his role as the Author which is an important plot line that's been neglected for a while now.

Now, to address the elephant in the room. Robin Hood is back and I hope it's permanent. This is Once Upon a Time making right what happened to the Prince of Thieves last season, and while I don't think it does well for Regina's character to have found this loophole after her time mourning and trying to make peace with what happened, it's still a welcome development. "Tougher Than the Rest" even took a moment to remind the audience that "pixie dust doesn't lie", that Robin and Regina were fated to be together. Does this cheapen Robin's sacrifice? No, I don't think so. The Robin of the wish realm felt that there was something missing in his life, he felt unfulfilled and freely decided to follow Regina. It's also important that Emma looked Regina in the eye and told her to put on her big girl panties and that she deserved this chance at the happiness. As I said before, it may not be seen as a healthy thing for Regina to try to make peace with her loss only for it to be undone since this isn't the man she knew, but at the same time Regina determining that she does deserve a happy ending is another step forward for the Evil Queen. I'm looking forward to Robin's return into the lives of all those who knew him in Storybrooke and how that will be explored since he is both the same person and he isn't. I will say, for a moment there I thought Once Upon a Time was going to fake us out with Robin not being allowed through the wardrobe, since it was a big plot point in earlier seasons that the wardrobe could only take two. Or one if you listened to the Blue Fairy (who is now looking even more shady since these rule don't apply). I'd rather have the rules of the wardrobe be bent and Robin return, than having them upheld and Regina have her hopes built up then dashed.

Keeping Snow White asleep this episode allowed Charming to take more of a center stage, which the character sorely needs. Charming can be an interesting part of Once Upon a Time when he is allowed to be, and while I enjoy seeing Snow and Charming battling side by side, having either character go off on their own is something we need because while Snow White is well rounded and fleshed out, we've been only getting the same in bursts for Charming. Hook could use the same treatment now as well. Neither character had much of a role in "Tougher Than the Rest", though Wish Realm Hook was a delightful gag. It wasn't so much his appearance as his mannerisms that cracked me up and he was used sparingly enough to not be annoying. I think we need to see Hook do more comedy because that short scene was just plain entertaining and poked the right amount of fun at Once Upon a Time's resident dashing pirate who is often front and center when it comes to advertising the show.

And did my ears deceive me? Did Rumpelstiltskin say he was wrong in this episode? That is refreshing, as was the conversation Belle and Rumple had at the wishing well. I've said before, I wanted to see this pair reconcile but not pretend as if they didn't have problems, which we saw in "Tougher Than the Rest". Given Rumple's actions in the first half of season six they are too far gone to go back to the way they were. I'm pleased they are operating like a divorced couple who know that maybe their relationship won't work out, but they are both working together and slowly making amends for the sake of their son. Also, seeing Rumple and Gideon standing side by side reminds me of how ridiculously good the casting department for Once Upon a Time is because the resemblance between the two actors is striking.

Rumple's relationship with Gideon is very interesting. The Dark One is more aggressive with his second son than he was with Baelfire and think this is the most self-aware we've seen Rumple. If he can stay like this for the remainder of the season I'll be satisfied. It's true what Rumple said, that he tried to gravitate towards those who didn't have darkness in their hearts, but with Gideon that darkness is there and it's providing a weirdly effective bonding situation between father and son. The writers aren't trying to recreate the conflict and relationship between Rumple and Baelfire. Instead we are seeing a son who more like his father than he would like and a father who knows what it is to want to show a parent that they've surpassed them.

Honestly, in the final moments of the episode, when Emma and Gideon squared up in the middle of Storybrooke, I thought we were seeing the confrontation in her visions . Even though this was the season opener and I knew there was more to come, I got a thrill of excitement. While I'm glad the albatross of these visions no longer seems to be hanging around Emma's neck, her clothes were different. Obviously there's more battles to come and I'm interested in seeing how we will get there. Speaking of which, Rumple mentioning war coming to Storybrooke reminds of what was said all the way back in the pilot, that the savior would come and the "final battle would begin". Are we there, are we about to see it? And who is the guy who keeps repairing that poor Storybrooke clock tower?

Join us next week for the intriguingly titled "Murder Most Foul"!

Edit: Due to lack of sleep while writing the author mixed up "Pleasure Island" and "Treasure Island", resulting in an observation that made no sense. The line has been removed from the review and the author is turning in her Mickey Mouse Club Card.

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