Look, I may be one of those people that's constantly overbooked and rarely gets a second to breathe, but you'd better believe that everything will grind to a screeching halt for at least an hour every Sunday night when Once Upon A Time Season 5 kicks off at the end of September. What can I say? I'm dedicated. But while I'm lucky enough to spend hours a day talking about the redemption of Regina Mills and the inevitability of the Swan Queen 'ship, I realize that's not the case across the board. Many of you are going to want to start watching next season to check out Dark Swan in action or to ogle Hook or Robin Hood or whatever, and I want you to be prepared and know what's up with as little confusion as possible.
To that end, I've decided to create a little Once primer to get you up to speed, albeit pretty generally. This is written assuming you know very little about the show, and, given that four season have already aired, it's necessarily pretty general and glosses over some bigger plots. Otherwise, we'd be here until September while I got all meta on you. Before you jump into Season 5, here's what you need to know.
Who Are These People?
A quick run-down? Snow White and Prince Charming are Emma's parents. Emma, formerly the Savior, has a son named Henry that she co-parents with Regina, who's formerly the Evil Queen. Regina also happened to have been Snow White's step-mother back in the Enchanted Forest and blamed Snow for many years for destroying her chance at happiness by spilling a secret that led to her first love, Daniel, being killed. They've since sorta made amends, for the most part.
Hook, also known as Killian Jones, is pretty much the enemy of Rumpelstiltskin, whose wife, Milah, he stole away years ago (though she was more than willing to go). Rumple also happens to be Henry's grandfather, since Henry's biological father was Neal, also known as Bae, Rumple's son who's now dead. Snow and Charming also have a new baby named Neal, who's Emma's little brother but also Henry's uncle, despite being about 12 years younger than him. Zelena is Regina's half-sister that was abandoned by their mother Cora at birth. She happens to be carrying Robin Hood's child, and Robin also has a son, Roland. Belle is Rumple's wife, and that's really all there is to that one.
As things stood at the end of Season 4, Regina was sorta with Robin Hood, Emma was with Hook, Belle was ditching Will (though she failed to let him know that) to get back with Rumple, Snow was still with Charming, and I think that about covers the bases. Of course, nothing is simple and there are no happy endings to bad had for any of those pairings, so I wouldn't get too attached.
The Deal With Emma
Emma sacrificed her soul to become the Dark One — basically the most evil thing in the entire world — in order to save Regina when the Darkness tried to basically devour her after it was removed from Rumplestiltskin. Emma stepped in and tethered the Darkness to herself, and now things are very, very bad. While Emma had faith that the people she loves will be able to save her, they won't be able to do it without Merlin's help.
What's All This Merlin Nonsense?
Merlin is the all-powerful wizard who just so happens to be the one who created the Dark One thousands of years ago, and he's the only one that can banish it for good. We discovered this last season when the Apprentice revealed the news, and now everyone is going to have to journey to Camelot in Season 5 to find Merlin and get rid of the Darkness for good.
What Happened To Rumplestiltskin?
Rumple was the Dark One for hundreds of years, but all that evil took a toll on his health and his heart was almost entirely black and he was nearly killed because of it. In order to save his life, the Apprentice untethered the Darkness from him and attempted to banish it into the infamous hat, but it was too powerful and escaped, hence Emma's sacrifice. In the meantime, Rumple was incredibly weak and has been put into a magical coma, of sorts, until they can figure out what in the world to do with him.
The Truth About Snow White & Prince Charming
While Snow White and Prince Charming have always been painted as the noble do-gooders of the storybook world, we discovered in Season 4 that they actually did something pretty terrible years ago. In order to ensure that Emma would be born good and grow up to be a hero rather than a villain, they sacrificed the soul of Maleficent's unborn dragon baby, cursing her to a life of misfortune. Also, things went a bit awry with that whole deal, because the dragon's egg was sucked through a portal, putting her in the "real world" and separating her from her mother until this past season.
Loose Ends With Lily & Maleficent
We didn't find out until later, but Emma and Lily were actually childhood friends. Both girls grew up in foster care, though Lily ended up being adopted, while Emma bounced around from home to home. Eventually they lost touch, but they were reunited during Season 4 and Emma brought her back to Storybrooke to be reunited with Maleficent. Lily had a lot of residual anger towards Snow White and Prince Charming since she knows her life is pretty much their fault, but all of that seems to have been forgotten about (at least for now), and Lily's main mission is to find out who her father is, since sexy time with dragons is pretty anonymous.
The Horrible Zelena Storyline
If I could, I would ignore the fact that this even exists, but alas... Zelena was presumed to be dead after her attempt to travel back in time and erase Regina from history to ensure she was never abandoned failed spectacularly and then Rumple killed her. Somehow, she came back, but not before killing Marian, Robin Hood's wife, and impersonating her for months in order to destroy Regina's happiness. Zelena is now pregnant with Robin's child and she's being held in Storybrooke's asylum with a magic-stifling cuff. Everyone seems to be pretty cool about the whole thing, which... no. But whatever.
All About Henry
Henry is the son of two pretty amazing women, the Savior and the former Evil Queen, both powerful magicians and badass ladies in general. He has the heart of the truest believer, but even more, he's now the Author — the one person with the power to basically write everyone's "story" and determine how their lives turn out. The last Author turned out to be a bit of a jerk and he's dead now, and Henry is a bit overwhelmed by so much responsibility, so it's hard to say how he'll handle it long-term. Frankly, I think we've got bigger fish to fry for now, so it likely won't get much focus, at least for the first half of Season 5A.