"New York City Serenade" brings us back from the midseason hiatus on "Once Upon a Time," offering a whole new story line and leaving Neverland far behind. Emma and Henry are in New York, blissfully ignorant of the magical world, while the menagerie of heroes, creatures, evil queens and pirates that inhabited the Enchanted Forest have been banished from our real world. But something has happened to make Captain Hook return to the Big Apple for Emma. Oh, and there's a Wicked Witch now, but we'll get to that. You're caught up.
Prince Philip and Princess Aurora watch as the curse that sent many of the denizens of the Enchanted Forest to Storybrooke reverses, and purple-smoked magic brings back the seven dwarfs, Snow White, Prince Charming, Granny, Captain Hook, Neal/Baelfire, Belle, Evil Queen Regina and more. Aurora gives them an update. Ogres are gone, things are OK, and Sleeping Beauty is pregnant. Snow proposes that she and the Queen return as a united group, and they plan to set out for their castle in the morning. But, Aurora and Philip are keeping something from them.
In New York (a year later than the Enchanted story line), Emma seems to be living the cosmopolitan lifestyle. She's still a bail bondswoman and has a new boyfriend. A nice dinner is interrupted by Hook, who is still trying to convince Emma that her family needs her. Despite being a rapscallion, he hasn't gone over the edge yet, apparently, which is why Emma doesn't punch him in the face. So, interlude over, Emma's boyfriend, or Walsh, asks her to marry him. She wants time to think, but back home, Henry thinks it's a good thing. "You're always looking for something to be wrong. Sometimes it's OK to accept things that are good," says wise video-game player Henry. That wisdom doesn't stop Emma from finding Neal's apartment through a message given to her by Hook. She keeps following her gut instincts, even though a weird guy in leather with an accent gave her that message. In this reality, Neal was never supposed to have known about Henry, but she finds proof that he did in the form of a camera with Henry's name on it. This, in turn, leads her to meet Hook in Central Park. He presents a potion to bring back her memories, but she gives him handcuffs and a trip to the police station jail for harassment instead.
Back in the Enchanted Forest, Snow and Charming try to console Neal, who wants to see if his father, Rumpelstiltskin, is really dead, and get back to Emma however he can. Regina said there's no way to do it, but Baelfire and Belle don't seem to want to accept that. Hook also seems a little down and leaves the assembled as he begins his quest to find the Jolly Roger. Once a pirate, always a pirate. As Hook tries to leave the camaraderie behind, Regina tries to leave her heart behind. Snow White catches her burying it, but convinces her that Henry would want her to keep her heart. She does so, and for her righteous deed is attacked by a creature that scratches her ("I don't run from monsters; they run from me."). Despite her bravado, she and Snow are rescued by Robin Hood, who stumbles across the group with his Merry Men.
In New York, Emma sees photos of her life in Storybrooke, a life that she doesn't at all remember, when she develops photos from a camera in Neal's apartment. She springs Hook from jail and takes his potion -- and the memories return. (For such a suspicious person, she trusts her gut an awful lot!) Now she knows who she is and realizes that there must be trouble. Of course, she must tell Henry this unbelievable tale and return to a rebuilt/remagicked Storybrooke, and of course, she has to tell her new almost fiance. Luckily, the all-knowing Henry set up a dinner that night with her beau. Thoughtful he is. Walsh arrives, possibly thinking that he'd hear an answer to his proposal. He does -- no. Can't do it. Family matters make it impossible and ... "I wish you hadn't taken that potion." What?!!? How'd he know? Ah. Walsh is a ... creature. It is the same type of creature that attacked Regina and Snow, and we may as well call it what it is -- a flying monkey. Much more fearsome than those versions seen in "The Wizard of Oz" or "The Wiz," but despite that, Emma manages to fend it off by whacking it in the head a few times with a pipe and throwing it off of a building. Nope, her magical past was never far behind even if she didn't know it. She decides it's time to go back to Storybrooke.
Pulling Henry out of school, Emma takes him, along with Hook, and sets out for the rebuilt Storybrooke. Figuring out how to tell Henry about all of this will probably take at least a couple of episodes, but we won't worry about that now. Storybrooke is whole and not at all destroyed, so Emma sets out to reconnect with Snow and David. How they, and Storybrooke, returned is another mystery for another episode. They, we can assume everyone in Storybrooke, have all lost a year and any memories of that year. One big thing, though, is that Snow is pregnant. How'd that happen!? No one remembers, remember?
Back in the Enchanted Forest, someone has taken over the castle. Regina discovers that a protection spell has been put on the castle that was once hers and Snow's, and she means to destroy whoever is inside. Robin Hood offers refuge for the night in the Sherwood Forest. They can come back in the morning to confront whoever it is. That 'whoever' is the Wicked Witch. Elegant and green-skinned, she has some of Regina's blood from the earlier flying monkey attack and plans to do something nefarious with it. As she says, "The Queen may be evil, but I'm wicked -- and wicked always wins." Great line/slogan, and an exciting start to the second half of the season.
These mini seasons do help to compress the action, hopefully making things a bit more intense. The coming battle with the Wicked Witch would seem to be more direct magical fisticuffs than the Neverland scuffle with the scheming Peter Pan, but twists and turns await.