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'Once Upon A Time' Recap: A Darker Side Of Neverland In 'Second Star To The Right'

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Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 21 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," titled "Second Star to the Right."

This time last season, Henry had taken a bite of poisoned apple turnover (dun-dun-dun!) and in the Fairytale Land flashbacks, Snow was rallying her allies to rescue Charming and take down Regina once and for all -- so comparatively, "Second Star to the Right" felt a little lackluster. Although the possibility of blowing Storybrooke off the map sets the stakes pretty high, the episode was missing the sense of urgency that permeated "An Apple Red as Blood."

That's not to say that the episode didn't have its moments, of course -- Emma and Neal's "I love you" was suitably dramatic (the poor guy really doesn't have the best luck with being hoisted out of portals) and what we learned about Neverland was deliciously tantalizing.

We have yet to glimpse "OUAT's" version of Peter Pan, but this iteration of his shadow was decidedly less mischievous and more creeptastic than the Disney version -- even more so after Wendy's admission that it doesn't let any of the children leave when they start getting homesick, ensuring that nights in Neverland are filled with the eerie wailing of Lost Boys missing their parents. Does this mean that Hook might actually be the hero in this version of Neverland?

Neal certainly didn't seem glad to see him when he first noticed the pirate in New York, but with Neal's working knowledge of how to sail a pirate ship, it would make sense if the pair were once allies of some kind. Many of those mysteries seem likely to be resolved in next week's finale, from what Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis told us last week.

While I'm intrigued about who might be behind Tamara and Greg's "home office," we've seen a few too many secret initiatives, cryptic prophecies and mysterious puppet-masters on ABC shows of late, from "Revenge" all the way back to the J.J. Abrams school of enigmas, and I hope that the reveals can live up to the expectations that such plot devices inevitably create in the audience.

The idea of magic having touched our world before makes total sense -- especially given the Darlings' encounter with Bae and the shadow many years before Storybrooke came into existence -- and I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that all our fairytales originated from true stories in other realms (although it's better not to try to examine the logic of those timelines too deeply).

I'm not against the idea of a secret anti-magic group trying to rid the world of curses, per se, but Tamara and Greg have been so cartoonish and one-note that it's been hard to take them seriously. Greg actually has a completely justifiable reason to hate Regina -- she murdered his father and buried him in the woods -- and yet the show goes to great lengths to ensure that the audience won't have any sympathy for him because he's such a mustache-twirling villain who seems to like electrocuting people for kicks.

It would be nice to see a little more depth from the duo (and a little more of Tamara's motivation) since the show continually gives Regina second/third/fourth chances to redeem herself after truly heinous acts. (Seriously, she murdered the poor kid's father and orphaned him just because the guy dared to try and stop her from trapping them in a strange town after inappropriately stalking a minor she'd known for a day? The morality in this show blows my mind sometimes.)

It's tiresome watching Regina going full-on scorched earth every time she doesn't get her way -- erasing Henry's memories was a particular low point -- so I wish the show would either go all in on making her The Evil Queen she's always been, or fully redeem her and shift the power balance once and for all. After two seasons of Regina being the worst, then kinda nice for 20 seconds, then THE WORST again, the fact that the other characters keep hoping for the best from her doesn't illustrate their inherent goodness and purity so much as an apparent short-term memory problem.

Everyone -- Snow especially -- should've adopted a "once bitten, twice shy" approach long ago, what with all the parent murdering that's gone on. Yes, Regina has suffered and lost, too, but as Hook recently pointed out, a quest for vengeance leaves you with nothing but loneliness after that thirst is quenched, and Henry's reaction to her "blow up Storybrooke" plan before she erased his memory should've been proof enough of that.

I'm surprised at how fond I've grown of Neal in the short time we've known him (especially since I also loved August and remain baffled by the way that character was handled), so I'm rooting for a reunion either in our world or back on the other side of the portal in the finale. The dysfunctional Charming/Rumplestiltskin clan is far too fascinating not to be explored further, and I'm interested to see how Lacey might further exert her bad influence on Gold now that Neal's not around to guilt trip him.

What did you think of "Second Star to the Right"? Do you think Hook might be Neverland's hero? Who do you think is pulling Greg and Tamara's strings? Weigh in below!

"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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