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'Once Upon a Time': Cruella De Vil, Ursula the Sea Witch enter the fray

"Once Upon a Time" is back, and it wastes no time telling viewers the stakes in the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" episode.

In the behind-the-scenes/here-we-are-so-far show that preceded the actual episode, show creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz were tight-lipped about Season 2.0. But what we do know is that Rumpelstiltskin has been kicked out of Storybrooke and decides to join with the likes of Ursula the Sea Witch, Cruella De Vil and Maleficent to not only get back into the town but to  go after the being that is seemingly responsible for all of their terrible defeats: The Author.

The author, who may or may not be the Sorcerer who created the Sorcerer's hat, is also the subject of a search by Henry, Emma and Regina as the group tries to get the once evil queen her happy ending. Now we're back to the beginning.

It all starts in the past, at a fateful meeting in the Forbidden Fortress, the home of Maleficent, which suddenly has a trio of unwanted visitors. Ursula and Maleficent and Cruella meet through trickery -- a summons by Rumpelstiltskin. Rumpel tells the trio that he can help provide a happy ending. All they need to do is find a being known as the author.

In present-day Storybrooke, things are going well for everyone. Henry's at school, Emma Swan and Captain Hook are dating, Belle is working in the library, Regina's back to being the mayor, and Snow White and Prince Charming are doing odd jobs.

Everyone, that is, except the fairies, who are still trapped within the magical hat. Hook and Belle spend their time looking for a way to get them out of the hat as Hook harbors a lot of guilt for his part in their capture. The duo bonds over both having been manipulated by Rumpel -- Hook forcibly by magic and Belle by her blinding love.

As for the banished dark one, Rumpel has been bunking with Ursula in her small New York apartment. She's been letting Rumpel stay there, hoping that his promise of power comes to pass. Rumpel sees a particular part of his plan start to come to fruition when he receives an email. It's time they go to meet up with Cruella, who, just as they come up, has seemingly lost her riches as her rich suitor is being led away in handcuffs. Well, not all of her riches. After a persuasive talk by the dark one, she and Ursula and Rumpel get in her awesome car and seemingly make her way toward Storybrooke.

Regina has been continuing her quest to find the author as well. Emma is helping, in her own way. Snooping around Regina's mayoral office for a bottle opener, Emma finds the page that Robin Hood found: the one showing Regina's possible happy ending. Regina had ripped it apart and re-formed it. As she explained where the page came from, Belle and Hook burst in. They've found -- through a translation emailed from a professor at Oxford -- an incantation that will help free the fairies from the Sorcerer's hat!

Regina enacts the spell using the dark one's dagger, and is able to bring back the frightened fairies. They are extremely shaken, including the Blue Fairy, who reluctantly thanks Regina. The mayor, though, is shaking herself a bit. We don't know why, but we do know that something else, something looking very evil, also escapes from the hat.

In the past, Cruella, Ursula, Maleficent and the dark one attempt to find the author. Each has a special talent that Rumpel uses along the way to thwart traps laid in their way. Cruella talks to flesh-eating creatures to gain access, Maleficent banishes dragon fire and Ursula grabs the object they seek with her tentacles.

But, of course, Rumpel was lying. He just wanted them so that a demon that seeks out the most evil of hearts would devour them, instead of him.  The demon was guarding the object that Rumpel now has in his possession. He leaves them there to die as he walks away.

Back to Storybrooke. Regina confides in Blue that she's trying to find the author. Blue tells the group that the author and the sorcerer are very different people, but she doesn't know where either is. They're making progress in tracking down one of them, but Regina is frustrated. Then comes the roar, and the appearance in the town of the creature that Rumpel sacrificed Cruella, Ursula and Maleficent to -- a huge flying beast perched atop the clock tower.

In the past, the beast tried to sort out who's heart was blackest, and it went after Maleficent. The trio had made a deal that the whichever two got out to the top of the cavern, the other two would help the remaining one escape. Cruella and Ursula do get out of reach, and actually go back for Maleficent.

Regina utters one of the best lines of the show when, after Hook calls her the evil queen, she say, "Can you drop the 'E' word already?" Regina and Emma unite to blast the beast, temporarily stunning it. Everyone else scrambles to act as they usually do in crisis mode. Belle with the books, Snow White gets the townspeople to safety, and Captain Hook goes wherever he goes. As they try to plan what to do next, Regina gets a call.

Rumpel's plan involves letting Ursula and Cruella use his cellphone to call Regina.  Regina is not  letting them into the city, but Ursula and Cruella somehow know that there is a hellbeast loose in Storybrooke, and because they've faced it, they know how to defeat it. Sigh. So Regina will let them into Storybrooke, provided the information they give her helps she and Emma defeat the beast.

It works. They are able to beat the beast by throwing it beyond the magical borders of Storybrooke. No more magic, no more magical creature. Now, a deal's a deal, and Regina and Emma, despite the warnings of Snow and Charming, allow Cruella and Ursula into the town by using the scroll of the Snow Queen. We assume that means that these two powerful evildoers will also get their powers back. Uh-oh.

Turns out, they won't do it alone. Later, they go back and bring Rumpel over the town line. Cruella and Ursula believe Regina was the one with the blackest heart that defeated the hell beast, but Rumpel says it was Emma Swan who held the darkness, and that she's the danger that they will most need to be ready for. He was the one who leaked the spell on how to free the fairies to Belle, and in turn was the one who helped free the beast. As he says, without powers he was still devious and clever enough to pull it off. But, with all his magical power and brain power, they'll still need to be at full strength to face the town and find the author. So that means resurrecting Maleficent somehow.

Their deal with Rumpel is not the only secret that Ursula and Cruella are keeping. Meeting in the forest after dark, Snow and Charming make it clear that Ursula and Cruella will keep whatever secret they have between them, especially from Emma, or Snow will "take their hearts." And not in a nice way. Oooohhhh.

Despite the backlash of grouping the three villains behind Rumpel, the season seems to have started off on a good note.

jevon.phillips@latimes.com

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