"Once Upon a Time" started with a boy, Henry, figuring out that the characters in a book he was given, fairy tale characters, were actually real and living in his town. It's that book now, and the author of it, that's driving the character motivations -- and now the author has been found.
But, we'll get to that. First a journey to the past. After a premonition by an evil queen, Snow White and Prince Charming are determined to make sure that their child is good, and will not be an instrument of evil. So, of course, you hunt for a famed unicorn to get some clarity. Touching the horn of a unicorn allows them to get a glimpse of their child's future. Charming got a good glimpse -- a cute baby, nothing out of the ordinary. Snow did not get that glimpse. Instead, Snow met the teenage Emma Swan -- and teen Emma reaches into Snow's chest and pulls out her heart, then turns it into dust. But she's her mother! "I don't care," Emma says.
The heroes are trying to figure out what it means to have the author inside the book, and how to get there. Regina has to do something because she is supposed to return to the villain crew of Cruella, Maleficent and Rumpelstiltskin, with the coveted page showing the whereabouts of the door to the author. But, something's wrong with August, and even the Blue Fairy can't figure it out. Being changed from wooden to a boy, then back to a man, then temporarily wooden, has maybe taken a toll. Anyway, to help out Regina, Emma conjures a forged page, but Regina just takes a picture of the real page with her cellphone. They might know it's a fake.
Meanwhile, Capt. Hook tells Emma and Snow and Charming and Henry that the villains plan to make Emma go dark -- corrupting the savior is one of the things they'll have to do to get their happy endings. She assures them that that's not happening. Snow and Charming know it's possible, but are keeping that to themselves. If the bad guys get to the author, he may have the power to "unsavior the savior" with just a stroke of his magical quill.
Regina, returning to the villain HQ, presents the cohorts with the photo of the page. Rumpelstiltskin knows automatically that the door in the photo is not only a door, but that it's a magical door, a portal to the author, and that the sorcerer is the one who put him there. They need the actual page, but Regina tells them that the savior was guarding it. Maleficent has an idea.
Dragon lady Maleficent casts a spell that somehow puts the town to sleep for a while, everyone except those who have been under a sleeping curse before: Snow, Charming and Henry. And smart little Henry runs away with the book to the Sorcerer's house, though the villains are on his heels.
Speaking of the Sorcerer ... Snow and Charming meet the Sorcerer's apprentice. They meet him in the past Enchanted Forest as they flee from Maleficent. An unknown peddler of trinkets (shady; something's up) tells them the path they should follow through the forest to get to him, and he, of course, knew that they were troubled by visions of their child's future. They can banish the potential of darkness for their child, but they have to find another vessel to put that darkness into. A messed up choice.
On cue, Maleficent in the present wants to know what Charming and Snow did with her child. In the past, Snow and Charming steal Maleficent's egg in order to have the Sorcerer's apprentice put Emma's evil inside of it. It was going to be bad anyway, right? That was Snow's irrational reasoning. Cruella and Ursula show up at the last minute, trying to stop Snow and Charming from harming their comrade's offspring, but they are pulled into a vortex that travels to the real world, with Maleficent's baby. Nope, even though it was in an egg, it was a baby. This pushes Snow and David over the guilt edge as they see a baby's arm in the egg as it vanishes. So that's how they got to the real world. We'll bring this up later, but the prevalent question is: Where is Maleficent's baby? The half-dragon son or daughter of a sorceress, imbued with the evil side of another powerful person, would be an interesting 30-year-old to meet.
Henry finds the key to the book. After all of the searching during the second half of this season, Henry is right on the edge. He stares at the book for a while, and the author(?), shows him where a key is in his house -- with a spotlight from inside the book. He finds it in a drawer ("No way!"), but before he gets to use it, Regina, Cruella and Maleficent arrive to take the magical page away from Henry. Regina and Henry, though, are on a cool mother-son wavelength, and it actually looks like Henry gives away the copy that Emma made, not the real thing.
Rumpel, of course, knows right away that the page is a fake, and he has Maleficent knock out Regina. He knows she knew it was fake, and now she can't be trusted. He does have plans for her, though.
Back in the city, Emma is told about the whole situation. How Snow and Charming put the evil that was in her into another being -- a baby. Even that was not foolproof, it just gave her a better opportunity to choose good (I think). Emma is pretty upset, probably over the act itself, but also mainly because of the lying. She'd felt all along that they were keeping something from her, and that's probably something you shouldn't do to a woman with trust issues like Emma's.
The feeling of guilt that Snow and Charming feel in the present was matched in the past. Having taken Maleficent's child from her, Snow and Charming can't seem to get over what they did. They know they have to be the "best people they can," and that's the only way they'll be able to overcome their guilt.
For Maleficent, it's not as easy. In the present, she implores Rumpelstiltskin to show her what became of her child once it came through the portal. The little girl was adopted, and named Lilith, or Lily. Rumpelstiltskin warns Maleficent that it'll just cause more pain to know. But, "I don't care how much it hurts to know its fate, I need this," says Maleficent. Now she does, and we'll see what that means -- though we know that she will try to find Lily.
August has awakened. Now that they have the key and the door, they can set the author free and get some answers. But, as August finally explains, it's not really the author, it's an author. There have been many, including a man named Walt. Awesome Disney reference -- and I would've liked to have heard a Brothers Grimm one as well, but maybe that's coming. We learn that the Sorcerer and the Sorcerer's apprentice banished that latest author into the book because he was writing his own versions of stories, and not adhering to the storytelling rulebook.
And now Emma wants to free this very powerful being who can change their lives with the stroke of a quill. And, she does it. It's the shady peddler of trinkets that Snow and Charming met long ago in the Enchanted Forest on their way away from Maleficent! Great, but instead of being helpful, this author just runs away as soon as he's released.