"True North" is the 9th episode of Once Upon a Time.
Feeling their pain from having lived through the same experience, Emma desperately tries to help two homeless children find their birth father before they're separated and put into the foster care system. Meanwhile, back in the fairytale world that was, the Evil Queen coerces Hansel and Gretel into stealing an important artifact from a blind witch.
ONCE UPON A TIME
Henry and Ava sittin' in a tree...
We are treated to the detailed drawings displayed on the pages of an Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk comic book. Henry Mills, the Mayor's adopted soon, is reading the graphic novel, inside the local pharmacy. He shows a grin on his face and nods as he enjoys the action of the story, and a female voice behind asks what he is reading. He turns around, relatively surprised, to face a young blonde girl, a little older than him, and he tells her he's reading the 'Hulk vs. Wolverine'. The girl tells him her name - Ava - and comments that she thinks she's seen him around school; she then asks if he's in Miss Blanchard's class, to which Henry nods affirmatively. A boy shows up, asking Ava if she's almost ready, and the scene appears to become somewhat awkward all of a sudden. Ava tells Henry that this is her brother Nicholas. Nicholas greets Henry, informally, and the Mayor's son seems to be somewhat content to hear that he's Ava's brother. Nicholas tells his sister that they should go, and as he heads out, Ava asks Henry if he wants to come hang out. The lonesome child is happy, and agrees to, putting his backpack on and heading out with his two new acquaintances. However, as Nicholas opens the front door, Mr. Clark (Sneezy's counterpart), the pharmacy's owner, shuts it again with his hand, asking them where they think they are going - right before sneezing. As he takes out a tissue, he tells Henry to open up his bag, and the young man is confused. Mr. Clark says, "Don't think I didn't see you rob me. Open your bag." Henry tells the man that he didn't take anything, and Mr. Clark takes the backpack from him and opens it to find some pieces of candy. "And a liar too," he says. Henry turns to the siblings, realizing that Ava was talking to him so that her brother could put that stuff in there. Ava feels bad. Mr. Clark tells Henry that he's shocked, and then turns to the brother and sister and asks them, "Just who do you think you are?" Ava looks at her brother.
The Woodcutter hands over his compass to his daughter.
Back in the fairytale land that was, in the woods, an axe is seen hacking away at a large tree. A woodcutter is seen repeatedly hitting the tree with his axe, and eventually the long tree starts to tumble and falls to the ground. The woodcutter comments that it's a fine specimen, and his daughter - the counterpart of Ava Zimmer - shows up behind him, as her father says that the wood the tree will provide will keep their family warm this coming winter. The girl wonders if she can have an axe, and her father looks at her with confusion. She then reminds him that he wanted her there so that she could help. The woodcutter admits that he did, and gives her a task: to take the cart and go fill it up with kindling, the drier, the better. The girl agrees, and her father tells her to have her brother (Nicholas' counterpart) accompany her. Before they head off, however, the woodcutter stops them. He heads over to them and removes the compass pendant he wears on his neck, putting it around his daughter. She stares at it with wonder, and he tells her she can have it so that she doesn't get lost. "A family always needs to be able to find one another," he says. He then gives her a little pat and tells them to go, and the two young siblings head out into the woods. The father tells them to be safe, and they smile at him. He picks up his axe to get back to work, and looks on as they leave, sharing one last glance with his daughter.
Hansel and Gretel bump into the Evil Queen.
Some time later, the girl tells her brother, who is playing with his sling shot, that it is getting late and they should go. She finishes packing up the cart with kindling, and proceeds to take her brother's sling shot from him. "Hey," he says, "give it back. Come on, Gretel, give it back." "No, Hansel," she tells him in return, "we need to get back to father." He acquiesces and she checks her compass and tells him to follow her. Hansel takes the cart and obliges. The siblings make their way to the site where they last saw their father, and Gretel comments that this is where they left him. However, the woodcutter is nowhere to be seen. Hansel asks why he isn't there, and they rush off to search for their father. They start calling out for him, with growing concern, and then they hear a noise coming from the nearby road. They rush in the direction of the road, continually calling for their father, until they are met with a pair of black knights riding their horses. The horses come to a halt before the children, but the startled Gretel falls on her back to the road. When she does, she accidentally cracks the glass of the compass her father gave her. Hansel comforts her, but a black knight soon grabs them by the shoulders and brings them to the black carriage being escorted. He then lets go of them and heads toward the carriage, while Gretel puts her compass pendant back around her neck. The door to the carriage is opened and the Evil Queen pokes her head out and asks, "What are you doing in my forest?" Hansel and Gretel look with some surprise at the feared individual before them.
Sheriff Swan arrives on the scene.
In the modern day world, Mayor Regina Mills, the equally feared counterpart of the Evil Queen, is seen standing before the front door of the Dark Star Pharmacy, having been called over by Mr. Clark, who apologizes to her in advance, before going on to tell her that her son was shoplifting. Regina turns to Henry and asks if he was, to which he nods negatively, not saying a word. Mr. Clark tells her to look for herself, pointing at his counter, on top of which is Henry's opened backpack, along with the stolen items. Regina goes to check, getting her hand on an Apollo candy bar, and points out that her son doesn't eat candy, and he knows better than to steal. She then comments, as she looks at Ava and Nicholas in front of her, that it was obviously the two of them. She then says they're going, and starts to walk away with her son, until they are stopped by the arrival of Emma Swan. Emma, surprised to see Henry, asks what happened, and Regina, with one arm over her son's shoulders, reminds Emma that genetics mean nothing. Emma puts her hands on her waist, as though she can already guess what's coming next, and Regina goes on to say that Emma isn't his mother and what happened is already taken care of. Emma responds that she's there because she's the sheriff. "Oh, that's right," Regina says, "Go on, do your job." Emma walks past them and Regina tells her to take care of those 'miscreants'. The Mayor then leaves, and Emma asks Mr. Clark if he called the siblings' parents. Clark tells her that the number they gave him was disconnected. The pharmacy's owner then goes back behind his counter, and the new sheriff asks the teens if they gave Mr. Clark a fake number. They nod their heads in denial, and Emma asks why it is disconnected then. Ava tells her that their parents couldn't pay the bill. Emma looks at the stolen items on the counter, as Mr. Clark puts them back in a basket to restock them. She particularly notices that one of the goods is toothpaste, and realizes that they were just trying to help. Ava nods affirmatively, with a look of fear on her face, and begs Emma not to arrest them, for it would just make things worse for their parents. Emma looks at them with sympathy.
Queen Regina asks Hansel and Gretel for a favor.
Hansel and Gretel's story resumes as they stand before the Evil Queen, with the young blonde begging for the Queen to forgive them, for they didn't mean to bother her; they just lost their father. The Queen feigns a look of understanding, commenting on the "two helpless children, lost and alone, a family torn asunder". "Such a sad and moving story," she says. She then calls for her guards, and turns her back on them. Gretel starts to take the sling shot out of her pouch, and the Queen orders her guards to seize them. Gretel tells her brother to run, which he does, and Gretel starts swinging her sling shot around and hits one of the guards in his helmet with a rock. The Queen is shocked, and the siblings start running up a hill. One of the knights unsheathes his sword, but the Queen stops him. As Hansel and Gretel make their way up the hill, the Queen makes herself appear out of the thin air, amidst a cloud of purple magic. She laughs at them, saying that running from her if is foolish. They turn back and keep running from her, but, with a single wave of her hand, the Queen makes it so that the roots of the trees in the ground become enchanted and entrap the two siblings. Hansel and Gretel are quickly dominated by the roots and left relatively motionless, as the Queen makes their way up to them, chuckling with evilness. "Foolish... but also brave." The siblings struggle to break free from the roots, and the Queen tells them that their bravery may have just spared them and their family's lives. She waves her arm again and the roots let go of the children. Gretel wonders if she's letting them go, to which the Queen replies that she's doing more than that, claiming that she is going to find their father. The teens are confused, and Gretel asks why. The Queen then tells them it's because the two of them are going to do something for her. Gretel asks if them she'll take them home.
"We don't have any..."
In Storybrooke, Emma Swan is seen in the driver's seat of her functioning car. She is stopped in front of a small house, and asks Ava and Nicholas, who are sitting in the back seat, if this is their house. Ava nods affirmatively, and Emma stops the engine and unbuckles her seat belt, as do the kids. Emma opens her door and Ava begs her not to go with them, because if their parents see her they will be so embarrassed. Emma closes the door again and asks them if Henry told them about her super power. The siblings exchange looks of confusion, and Ava tells her that they just met Henry. The sheriff tells them that she has the ability to tell when anyone is lying, and asks them to tell her the truth: "money problems aside, is everything okay at home?" Ava, understanding what Emma means by this, nods and says that they're great, then asking if they can go. Emma agrees, and the kids then leave her car, with Nicholas bringing with him a bag of goods, which Emma apparently bought for them. They go up the steps and wave at her, and Emma drives away in the sheriff's car. Once they see that she's gone, they come back down the steps and make a run for it. They go around the house, climb up a fence and make their way to an abandoned, old, rundown house. They enter through a door and we're shown the room where they apparently sleep, an old basement/tool shack. Ava puts the products on a shelf, but then a noise coming from the floor above them startles the siblings. Ava goes up the stairs and opens the hatch. She enters the floor through it and her brother follows. They enter an old kitchen, with a bit of apprehension, and are startled by a voice asking, "Why'd you guys lie to me?" They turn back around to find Sheriff Swan standing in front of them. She asks them where their parents her; "We don't have any," Ava answers. Emma looks at them with pity.
Emma brings a couple orphans home.
Ava and Nicholas are seen having breakfast in Emma's apartment, and the latter is seen having a talk with her roommate and friend, Mary Margaret, asking her if she knows the kids, and whether they go to her school. Mary Margaret claims to have seen them, but adds that she no idea, no one did. Emma opens up a file on them, and tells her friend that the teens' mother was a woman named Doris Zimmer, who apparently died a few years before. The name doesn't ring a bell with Mary Margaret, and Emma tells her that no one seems to have known or remember Doris. The teacher then asks about the father, to which Emma responds that there isn't one, at least not that they know. Mary Margaret asks what the social services said, and Emma gets a look on her face. Her friend realizes instantly that she didn't report them. Emma points out that if she reports them, she won't be able to help them, they'll go into the system. Mary Margaret comments that the system is supposed to help, and Emma tells her, "Yeah, says the woman who wasn't in it for 16 years." Emma explains to her that the kids get thrown into homes where they are a "meal ticket". The families get paid for these kids, and as soon as they're too much work, they get tossed out and then it all starts over again. Mary Margaret says that they're not all like that, to which Emma replies that all the ones she was in were. Mary Margaret wonders if she assumes they're just gonna adopt them. Emma says that she wants to look for their father; they don't know him, and he might not know that they exist. Mary Margaret wonders if she thinks that when he knows, he'll want them, to which the blonde says that she doesn't know. Emma claims that what she does know is that it's hard enough to find foster families that take one kid that isn't theirs, let alone two. Emma starts to say that it's their best shot, or... and Ava, who appears standing behind her, finishes her thought, tearfully, adding that they can be separated. Emma promises her that that's not gonna happen. Mary Margaret is wary. Ava begs Emma not to let it happen. The two women look with sorrow at the young girl, who looks at her brother.
Emma shows up at the local hall of records, and addresses Mr. Krzyszkowski, the clerk, calling him, however, by a wrong name. He corrects her as he gets up, and adds that everyone calls him "K". Emma introduces herself as the sheriff and explains that she's hoping to look at the birth certificates of Ava and Nicholas Zimmer. He takes out some triplicate forms for her to fill out, and stamps them. Emma agrees to, unenthusiastically, but when Mr. K goes to get her the files she seeks, he apologizes to her, for those documents have recently been removed. Emma asks, "By who?"
Regina tells Emma that she's contacted social services.
"Don't worry, Miss Swan, you can relax," Regina tells Emma, in the former's office, explaining that she's contacted social services, for it turns out that these kids are on their own and they need help. Emma explains that she was trying to help, by trying to find their father. Regina picks up the files on the Zimmer siblings and tells Emma, as she hands them over to her, that the father doesn't exist. Emma opens the folder, saying that he has to, but in the document before her the father's name is given as "UNKNOWN". Regina comments that he exists biologically, but there's no record of him, which means they have no choice. "These children need a home, so they will be put into the foster system." Emma asks if Storybrooke has a foster system, a little incredulous, to which Regina responds that it doesn't, but she's contacted the state. Unfortunately, she says, Maine's group homes are filled, but they've put them in touch with two homes in Boston, a boys' home and a girls'. Emma is shocked. "They're separating them?" she asks. Regina pours herself a drink and says that she doesn't like it either, but her reflection in the wall mirror tells us otherwise. "But we have no choice," she says. She then tells Emma that she needs to have them in Boston that night; Emma is confused, and Regina reminds her that she wanted to be sheriff, and this is what sheriffs do. "Yes, you're taking them." Emma denies this, claiming that she promised to the children that they would not be separated. The Mayor suggests that she stop making promises she can't keep. Emma starts to feel hopeless. Regina walks up to her and tells her that these children need a home, and she's just trying to find the best one.
Hansel and Gretel are lead to the home of the Blind Witch.
Hansel and Gretel are seen following Queen Regina through the woods, with the young blonde holding on to her father's compass. Regina notices this and wonders what it is, to which Gretel replies that it's her father's compass: he gave it to her so that she could find him, but now it's broken. Regina notices something in the distance and Gretel asks her when she's going to tell them where they're going. The Queen stops and tells them that this is close enough. Gretel asks what to, and Regina turns to them and says it's the home of the Blind Witch. The children are somewhat alarmed and Hansel tells his older sister that that doesn't sound good. Regina explains to them that the witch has something of hers, and she needs them to get it back. Gretel wonders what it is, to which Regina simply tells her that it's something she needs to defeat a very wicked and powerful enemy. She adds that it is kept in a black leather satchel inside her house. Gretel asks her why she doesn't get it herself, why she needs them to do it for her, and Regina answers that the house is protected by magic, and she can't enter; luckily, the spell doesn't work on children. She then goes on to tell them that they'll have to wait there until the night falls, and then, once the witch is asleep, they can sneak in. Gretel asks if she promises to find their father should they do this. Regina smiles and says, "Oh, indeed I will. But there's one more thing. The witch's house is... unique. And because of this, you have to take special precaution once you're inside." Gretel asks "Like what?", and Regina says that, whatever they do, no matter how they're tempted, they must not eat anything. Regina then moves some leafy branches out of the way to reveal the Blind Witch's property... containing a house made of gingerbread, decorated with many structural pieces made out of candy. Hansel is delighted by this captivating vision, but Gretel gives him an alarmed look, and his expression changes.
Henry believes he knows the twins' identities: Hansel and Gretel.
Emma is seen at the sheriff's station, going through the files on the Zimmer siblings. Henry walks in, bringing with him his book. He puts his backpack down as he asks if Emma had any luck, to which she says she didn't, with a discouraged look on her face. Henry puts the book down on her desk, claiming to know who the siblings are, and opens it to find their story. Seeing as how they're brother and sister, lost, with no parents, they must be Hansel and Gretel. He shows her a drawing of the two of them with their backs turned to the Gingerbread House, and the image resembles Ava and Nicholas Zimmer. Emma asks, humoring her son, if there's any information in the book about the twins' father, and Henry tells her that he abandoned them. She states that that sounds like a familiar story before packing away her files and saying that whoever the father is, he could be in Laos by now. Henry follows his mother into the adjacent room as she approaches her filing cabinet and assures her that he's in town, and the blonde wonders how he knows that. He explains to Emma that no one leaves Storybrooke, no one comes there, and no one goes, and that's just the way it is, but she reminds him that she came there. Henry says that that's because she's special, telling her that she's the first stranger ever to enter town. Humoring him further, Emma tells him that she forgot before grabbing more files from her cabinets and saying that if the Zimmer siblings' father is around the area, she's going to find him. She sits down at her desk as she begins to rummage through the papers but Henry soon perches upon the same desk and asks his mother if she can tell him about "him". Emma reminds the kid that she doesn't know anything yet, assuming that he's referring to Ava and Nicholas' father, but Henry explains that he's in fact talking about his own.
Henry asks about his father.
Emma appears stunned, clearly discomforted by the subject, but Henry points out that he told her about her parents and now she's even living with her mom. The blonde tries to tell him that Mary Margaret is not her mother, but stops mid-sentence as to not make out that she doesn't believe in the curse. "Please," the kid begs, and Emma leans back in her chair, turning to face Henry, before telling him that she was pretty young and had just gotten out of the foster system and the only job she could get was at a 24-hour diner just off the interstate. Henry seem intrigued by his mother's story, and listens eagerly as she continues, and she tells the boy that his dad was training to be a fireman and also got the worst shifts and so he would always come into the diner and order coffee and pie and sit at the counter, apparently always complaining that pumpkin pie was not available for purchase. Henry smiles as Emma tells him that his father always came back the next night anyway, and the kid asks her if she got married. Emma laughs, answering negatively and saying that it was nothing like that, explaining that they "hung out" a couple of times outside of work and life happened: his got better and hers got worse and she got into trouble. "And went to jail?" Henry asks, already knowing that he was born behind bars. Emma sighs, confirming this, but tells her son that before she went she found out she was pregnant with him, and Henry smiles while Emma goes on to say that she tried to contact his father, however, the blonde soon leans in closer and tells the kid that she found out his dad died saving a family from a burning apartment building. Henry appears saddened by this, and Emma adds, "So... you think I'm the savior, Henry... he was. Your father was a real hero." Henry asks if Emma has anything of his that she's able to remember him by, and Emma thinks hard, leaning back in her chair once more before admitting that she doesn't. Something suddenly dawns on the blonde and she apologizes to Henry, telling him that she has to go as she may know how to find Ava and Nicholas' father. She lifts her files off the desk and begins to leave the sheriff's station and the shot settles on Henry, who hops off the desk and follows his mother.
Emma believes the twins to hold a vital clue.
Back over at Emma and Mary Margaret's place, Nicholas is seen reaching for a cookie whilst he and his sister sit at the kitchen counter and nibble at them. Emma soon emerges from the stairs carrying a cardboard box in her arms, and she walks over to the counter and places the box down on a stool, telling the twins that she wants to show them something. She opens the box and pulls out her woolen baby blanket, the one with "Emma" embroiled upon it, and Nicholas wonders what it is. Emma tells him, explaining that it's something she's held onto for her entire life and is the only thing that she has from her parents. She goes on to say that she's spent a lot of time with a lot of kids in their situation, and all of them - "all of us" - held on to stuff. Emma tells the twins that she wants to find their father but will need their help to do so, asking if there's anything of his that they've held on to. Ava reveals that she might have something, but asks that if she gives it to Emma, if she'll make sure they'll stay together. The blonde assures them of this before placing her own baby blanket back into the cardboard box and focusing her attention back on the children as Ava pulls something out of her pocket and hands it over to Emma who takes it in her hands and realizes that it's a compass. Ava explains that their mother kept it and said it was their dad's, and Emma thanks the two children before Ava asks if she found "them". Emma wonders to whom the girl is referring and she adds, "Your parents." The blonde reveals that she hasn't yet but that she will find theirs, and she continues to inspect the compass as Ava turns to her brother.
Hansel and Gretel discover what they set out to find.
Gretel turns her head to one side and the other as her and Hansel approach the home of the Blind Witch. The girl tucks her father's compass into her dress as her brother runs his finger through some frosting on the outer wall of the edible house. Gretel quickly bats his hand away, reminding him via stare that they're not supposed to eat anything, before grabbing on to the window ledge and beginning to climb through it. From the inside of the house, we are shown Gretel opening the window from behind stacks of colorful cakes and the girl soon hops off the window ledge and makes it inside. Hansel takes one last look behind him before climbing through the window himself and Gretel peers over at the Blind Witch, who's sleeping in a chair on the other end of the room, as she approaches the table full of cakes. When her brother lands inside the house, Gretel gestures for him to remain quiet, and Hansel asks through whisper how his sister can be sure the witch is sleeping. Gretel says that she can't but reminds her brother of what the Queen said: not even a lick. Hansel looks longingly at the mounds of cake before turning back to his sister and agreeing not to eat it, and the two of them creep slowly through the house, approaching the blind witch. Hansel assures Gretel that she was right, hearing the witch's snores and being sure that she's asleep, and Gretel soon spots the satchel hanging on the wall. As the girl walks closer towards it, her brother asks her what she thinks is inside it, but she asks him if it matters, stating that all that matters is getting it back to the Queen so that she can find their father. Gretel continues to approach the satchel, walking past the Blind Witch to do so, but as she retrieves it, Hansel is seen reaching for a cupcake from the table. He looks to his sister, making sure she isn't looking, but Gretel is too distracted with getting the satchel and becomes scared when she hears the Blind Witch make a sudden noise, but passes it off when the witch's eyes remain closed. As she regains her breath, Gretel continues to try and retrieve the satchel, but as she does so, Hansel moves the colorful cupcake closer to his mouth.
Someone's woken up hungry...
Gretel soon manages to grab the satchel and remove it from the wall, walking back past the Blind Witch and towards her brother, however, she is stunned to see Hansel take a large bite from the cupcake, and tries to ward him against it, but it is too late, and the Blind Witch's eyes shoot open. Gretel runs towards Hansel who immediately places the cupcake down, but the Blind Witch draws a large breath before sniffing and turning to the two children from her chair. She continues to breathe heavily as the camera reveals the piles of human bones resting beside her fire place, and Hansel and Gretel begin to run as the Blind Witch stands up out of her chair. The kids run towards the door but the lock slams shut automatically, and so Gretel turns to the open window and leads her brother over to it. However, as they reach it, the window slams shut also, and Hansel and Gretel stand scared as the Blind Witch stands before them, rubbing her hands together in excitement before stating the she smells dinner. The twins look to one another as the witch licks her lips, and they turn back to the hungry villainess with their eyes widened in fear.
Mr. Gold helps Emma... for a price.
The camera moves around the items of Mr. Gold Pawnbroker & Antiquities Dealer as the little bell is heard ringing and Emma enters the shop. Mr. Gold, who's polishing a lamp and places it upon his counter, comments how lovely it is to see Sheriff Swan, telling her that he's flattered she'd take time off her busy schedule for him. Emma approaches the pawnbroker with the compass in her hand and he asks her what he can do for her, at which she places the old compass on the counter and states that she's looking for information on it. Gold picks up the compass and inspects it as Emma asks him if he has any idea where it could have come from, and he notes the detail of the compass, pointing out that the jeweled setting of the compass is crystal. He goes on to say that, despite the very unfortunate shape it's in, it's actually a very unusual piece, placing it down on the counter and stating that the person who owned it obviously had very great taste. Emma wonders where someone like that would buy it, and Gold tells the sheriff, "Right here, of course." She asks him if he knows it and he confirms this, saying that the compass is difficult to forget. She then asks if he knows who bought it and he steps out from behind his counter saying that he's good with names, but not that good. However, he tells her as he limps over to a drawer, as luck would have it, he happens to keep very extensive records. As he rummages through the drawer, he soon pulls out a slip of paper but doesn't tell Emma what's on it, merely hovers it in front of her. The blonde wonders what his price is and he tells her, "Forgiveness." She asks him if he'd settle for mere tolerance and Mr. Gold smiles, telling her that that's a start. The pawnbroker states that the compass was purchased by a Mr. Michael Tillman and Emma asks him if he has any other information on the man. Gold denies this, saying that he has only the name, but that he generally finds that that's all that one needs. Emma gives a nod to the middle-aged man in slight confusion before turning around and exiting his shop, and as she does so, Mr. Gold wishes her good luck on her investigation. The camera then moves down to the slip of paper that Gold put away in the drawer, only to reveal that it's completely blank.
Emma attempts to persuade Michael to step up and be a father.
Across town at a mechanic's workshop, Michael Tillman is seen staring at a file containing photos of Ava and Nicholas before handing it back to Sheriff Swan whilst shaking his head, stating that it's not possible that those two children are his. "Actually, it is," Emma says, but Michael tells the sheriff that Dory, the children's mother - "It was just once." He then turns back into his garage as Emma tells him that sometimes, that's all it takes, and Michael explains that he met Dory when he was camping and they had sex, but it's not possible that he's the father of twins. However, Emma assures him that he is and that these twins have been homeless ever since their mother passed away and living in an abandoned house because they don't want to be separated from each other. She goes on to say that they're about to be shipped off to Boston unless he steps up and takes responsibility for them. Michael, who's trying to continue work on a car, hurts himself accidentally before telling Emma that he can barely manage his garage, let alone two kids. He asks her why he's so sure they're his, before turning back to his work. "Besides the timing," Emma says, taking the compass from out of her jacket pocket and asking Michael if he's ever seen it. He turns to her, recognizing the compass, and approaches it, taking it out of Emma's hands. As he fondly inspects it, he states that he had lost it, and the blonde points out that that was twelve years and nine months ago. As the truth dawns on Michael, Emma tells him that she knows it's a lot, and recounts the time that Henry, the kid she had given up for adoption, showed up on her doorstep the previous month asking for help with something, and she ended up moving to Storybrooke for him. (See "Pilot") Michael tells Emma that he heard about that, knowing that Henry's the mayor's son, but points out that staying in town is a lot different than taking him in. "I don't have my kid," Emma says, "Because I don't have a choice. You do. Those kids did not ask to be brought into this world, you brought them into this world. You and their mother. And they need you. And if you choose not to take them, you are gonna have to answer for that every day of your life. And sooner or later, when they find you, because believe me, they will find you, you're gonna have to answer to them." Michael remains quiet, merely staring down at the compass in his hand, before telling Emma that he's really sorry and handing the heirloom back to her. She appears saddened as he tells her that he doesn't know anything about being a dad and walking away, assuring the sheriff that if it's a good home she's looking for, it's not with him. Emma closes her eyes tight with sorrow as she clutches the compass in her hand.
Mayor Mills tells Emma how to do her job.
Mary Margaret is seen babysitting Ava, Nicholas and Henry when she answers the phone to Emma, who has just left Michael's garage. The blonde tells her roommate that she needs her to come outside right away and Mary Margaret asks if everything's alright. Emma requests that the teacher not say anything in front of the kids before answering negatively. Mary Margaret looks over to the three children, who all smile at her happily.
Outside, Emma tells Mary Margaret that Michael doesn't want the kids. The teacher realizes that Emma doesn't want to tell them but the blonde points out that she can't because all she'd be telling them is that the false hope she's been supplying is exactly that. Mary Margaret tells her roommate that the truth can be painful but that it can also be cathartic. Emma says that she agrees on the painful part, but Mary Margaret reminds the blonde that she told Henry the truth that his father's dead and he's handling it great. "I didn't tell him the truth," Emma admits, and Mary Margaret appears confused. Emma explains that Henry's father was no hero and that her son does not need to hear the real story, before suggesting that maybe they could hide the kids until they find a good family able to take care of them. "Yes, hiding the twelve-year-olds is a good plan..." the teacher says in a sarcastic tone, but Emma asks her if she has a better idea. Mary Margaret states that there isn't an idea, but before she can finish her sentence, Regina approaches and addresses Emma, wondering why she's not on the interstate. Emma asks the mayor what she's doing there and Regina replies that she's seeing to it that the sheriff is doing job. Emma assures Regina that she doesn't have to check up on her as she knows what she has to do, but the mayor questions this, telling the blonde that Ava and Nicholas have to be in Boston tonight.
Hansel and Gretel become prisoners of the Blind Witch.
In the fairytale land that was, the Blind Witch is seen locking Hansel and Gretel into a jail cell within her house. The children appears frightened as the witch reaches through the bars and cheerfully asks them where they are. She soon grabs Hansel's shoulder and moans in pleasure, regarding him as nice and tender before retracting her hand, telling him that he'll make a succulent roast. She then walks away from the cell urging the twins to step up to the bars and watch what she's doing as the witch approaches a large oven and opens it, basking in the mighty flames. The places her hand in the oven to check the temperature as Hansel worriedly turns to his sister and exclaims that he's going to be cooked and that they have to do something quick. Gretel tells him to stay calm and as she watches the witch chop seasoning, she tells her brother that when she opens the cell to take him, not to try and fight, but to grab the key which is in her pocket and toss it through the bars. The Blind Witch places the knife down before approaching the cell and Hansel exclaims that she's coming and that he can't do it and he's going to die. Gretel pushes him to one side of the cell and holds her breath as the witch approaches, her arm ready extended to fell the children's presence. "Gravy or butter?" she asks as she presses her face up against the bars, "Which shall it be?" Her hand's near Gretel's face as the girl continues to hold her breath and she soon stomps on her brother's foot, causing him to yelp out in pain. She smiles a large smile as she opens the cell door and tells Hansel to come with her. As she goes to grab the small boy, Gretel goes in his stead and is pulled out of the cell, leaving Hansel inside as the witch re-locks it. As Gretel is walked over to the oven by the Blind Witch, the girl takes the key from the witch's pocket and throws it to Hansel, who catches it through the bars and uses it to unlock the cell. The witch begins to tie Gretel up and Hansel runs up the stairs of the house, grabbing a cane before running back down, however, he trips on the steps and makes a loud noise as he lands on the floor, alerting the Blind Witch who turns to him.
The Blind Witch is burned alive by Regina.
"Gravy or butter?!" she asks again, this time more angrily, "Gravy or butter?" she proceeds to throw Gretel down to the floor next to Hansel, "How shall I baste you?!" she asks. Hansel stands and goes to hit the witch with the cane, however, she waves her hand and it flies out of his, returning to its place on the stairs. He appears scared, pressed up against the wall, as the witch continues to approach him, deciding on butter and declaring it time to cook, before grabbing the boy and pulling him towards the oven. However, Gretel manages to free her wrists from the rope binding them and Hansel trips the witch on the way to the oven, meaning that she falls on top of the massive baking tray and Gretel is there to help her brother push her into the oven, and close the door. Hansel quickly grab's the witch's satchel as she begs to be let out, but they simply run over to the door, open it, and escape. As they run, the shot moves to a mirror on the Blind Witch's wall which reflects her begging to be let out of the oven, and we are quickly shown Queen Regina watching the exact same thing through her Magic Mirror. The Queen casts a fireball and throws it at the mirror, and in the Blind Witch's house, the same fireball flies out of her mirror and into the oven, igniting the witch and causing her to scream in pain as she dies. In Regina's palace, the Queen takes relish in this before stating, "I would've gone gravy."
Regina gets her hands on a poison apple.
In her palace, the Evil Queen is seen standing in the middle of a room before Hansel and Gretel walk in behind her, accompanied by a royal guard, and she turns to them. "My dear children..." she says before approaching the twins, going on to ask them if they were successful in their task. Gretel answers positively, but says that they were almost made into dinner, and Regina comments on the barbarity of this, before raising her hand to her guard, causing him to bow his head and leave the room. The Queen then approaches Gretel and requests her satchel, and the girl hands it over as Regina says that she's been waiting a very long time for this, hoping that the children haven't let her down. She then opens the satchel and dives her hand in, the children watch expectantly and Regina soon pulls out a shiny, red apple, and stares at it intensely. "You did it..." she utters, and Gretel seconds this, leading to Regina approaching the girl and touching her chest, telling her that she's got a strong heart and reminds her of herself at her age. "We did all that... for an apple?" Hansel asks, disappointed, but the Queen assures him that it's no ordinary apple: it's a weapon. As she walks away from the frightened kids, she adds that it's a weapon for a very particular and devious enemy - one who's still under the illusion that she's safe. Whilst Regina says this, she locks the apple in a box on her dressing table before glancing at her Magic Mirror. Gretel tells the Queen that whatever her plan is, they did what she asked, and so asks her to keep her promise and find their father. Regina approaches them and tells them that of course she will reunite their family so they can live happily ever after. However, she reminds the two of them that they were left alone in the woods and deserve better than a father who would abandon them. Tearfully, Gretel states that he's all they have, and Regina appears sympathetic before kneeling down to face the girl and telling her that perhaps he doesn't have to be. Gretel asks the Queen what she means and Regina tells the two of them that they have impressed her, noting that they aren't the first girl or boy that she's sent into that sticky, sweet house, but they are the first to emerge.
Hansel and Gretel are hit by the Queen's spell.
"And as a reward," Regina starts as she begins walking away from them, "I have decided to invite the two of you to live with me," she turns to the children and curtsies with a large smile, "Here!" Hansel appears excited, realizing that he could live in a castle and the Queen confirms it, adding that they would have their own rooms, personal carriages, valets too, and all of their dreams could come true. Gretel denies this, telling Regina that they want their father back and stating that he would never abandon them, and even if he did, they would never want to live someone as terrible as Regina. The Queen appears insulted by this, asking the children if that's so. The two of them nod affirmatively and Gretel adds that they will find their father with or without the Queen's help, and when they do, they're going to prove her wrong. "We'll see about that," Regina tells them before swinging her hand violently and causing a magical whirlwind and black smoke to form and approach the children. The Queen keeps turning her hand as the smoke twirls around the two children who are oblivious as to what's going on. They remain scared within the whirlwind and begin turning with it as it grows faster and more violent.
"Something bad has already happened."
Ava and Nicholas stare at their reflection in the sheriff's car before Emma opens the door and tells the two of them to come on, trying to say that it's going to be alright but stopping herself mid-sentence, not believing it. Panicked, she hands over Michael's compass and apologizes, saying that they've got to go. The two of them step slowly into the car as Regina and Henry are seen watching from afar. Emma slams the door hard, clearly angry at the situation, and Regina tells Henry that they should go. However, the mayor's kid runs out of Regina's arms and towards Emma, who's buckling up in the driving seat. He tells the blonde that she can't take Ava and Nicholas as they can't leave Storybrooke, and if they do, something bad will happen. Emma sighs sadly and tells her son, "Something bad has already happened." Regina continues to stare harshly as Emma starts the engine in her car and Henry steps back. The sheriff's car then drives away with the two children, on its way out of Storybrooke.
Emma's sheriff's car drives further out of Storybrooke as the blonde stares into her overhead mirror to see Ava and Nicholas in the backseat, both of whom appear saddened and nervous. Soon enough, the car begins shaking and acting irregularly and breaks down in the middle of the road. "You gotta be kidding me," she utters as Ava asks from the backseat what happened and what's wrong. Emma tells the children that the engine's stalled before grabbing her cell phone and beginning to dial. Ava asks the sheriff who she's calling, and Emma looks at the girl in the overhead mirror before turning back to her phone and stating, "Help."
Regina wonders why kids don't like her.
The Evil Queen clutches her shining, poison apple as she stares into her Magic Mirror and witnesses Snow White walking through the forest with seven dwarfs. "Now she's cavorting with dwarfs..." the Queen says based on what she's seeing, "When did that happen?" (See "7:15 A.M.") The royal guard behind Regina tells her that the prisoner she requested is here, and so the Queen tells him to bring him in before waving her hand and causing the image within her mirror to dissipate. The Woodcutter is then pushed into the room by two knights whilst Regina places her apple back into its box and the former begs to be let free as his children are in the forest that she took him from alone and could be in great danger. The Queen turns to him and tells him that she knows all about his children, commenting that the compass he gave "sweet, little Gretel" didn't help her find him. The Woodcutter demands to know what Regina has done to them, but when he approaches the Queen, he is dragged back by one of her guards. He asks her where his children are and she simply states, "Gone." She goes on to say that she told them he abandoned them, leaving nothing but a compass to find their way. "But I didn't bring you here to answer your questions, you're here to answer mine. I offered your children everything, whatever their hearts desired, and they still chose uncertainty because of their blind faith in you. Tell me why. Hmm? Why did your children refuse me?" Regina asks in desperation. The Woodcutter replies by telling her that his children and he are a family, and family always finds one another. The Queen turns away from him sadly before composing herself and telling her guard to release the prisoner. He appears surprised that Regina's letting him go and the knight begins to remove his handcuffs. "You can all be together," the Queen tells him after walking away and turning back to him, "As a family..." The Woodcutter's cuffs are removed and he witnesses Regina add, "As soon as you all find one another." He stares at the Queen who stares back intensely, seeming in great rage.
Hansel and Gretel set off to find their father.
Elsewhere in the Enchanted Forest, Gretel is seen awakening on the woodland ground and sitting up as her brother Hansel lay next to her, still unconscious. She shakes his shoulder, telling him to wake up, and his eyes soon open before the two of them get to their feet. They take a look around at the evening forest and Gretel comments that the Queen let them go. Hansel tells his sister that he's scared but she tells him not to be, assuring him that everything will be fine. She looks down to see her father's compass around her neck and inspects it, she then looks up at her brother and smiles before taking his hand. The brother and sister proceed to walk through the woods, hand in hand, on their way to find their father. However, the camera pans out to reveal that the two children are wandering through an Infinite Forest.
Michael reunites with his children.
Emma is seen resting up against her sheriff's car with, which still contains Ava and Nicholas, with her cell phone in her hands. Inside the car, Ava notices something on her father's compass and tells Nicholas to look, and the boy moves his head to see the needle within the compass going haywire, before settling on pointing in the direction behind the two children, just as a car arrives from that very same direction. Emma approaches the truck as it pulls over beside her and Michael Tillman proceeds to step out. He looks over to Emma's car where Ava and Nicholas stare out at him and he realizes that they're his kids. Emma confirms this and Michael steps closer, asking if the blonde's car is actually fine. The sheriff admits that she just wanted him to see them. Just once. And she goes on to say that she didn't think she could do it either, explaining that she gave up Henry so that she could give him his best shot, and when she saw that he didn't have it, she couldn't leave. "I was just as scared, more probably, but once I saw him, got to know him... I couldn't go back," Emma states. Michael stares at her as his two children stare out at him, and he turns to them before approaching the car. He turns back to Emma, asking if she's taking them to Boston, but she tells him that she doesn't have to. Michael stares back at his twin kids as tears come to his eyes, and he tells Emma, "No. They don't." The sheriff, too, tears up as smiles as Michael walks up the the kids' window. Ava rolls it down and Emma watches happily with a large smile on her face whilst Michael kneels down to talk to his children.
Emma's baby blanket triggers something within Mary Margaret.
In her apartment, Mary Margaret is seen folding laundry on her bed when Emma walks in. The teacher greets her roommate, who approaches her, and asks her what happened. Emma lies down on the bed and tells Mary Margaret that Ava and Nicholas' dad showed up and changed his mind, and a large smile appears on Mary Margaret's face, "Changed his mind?" she asks happily, continuing to fold clothes, "Just like that?" and Emma admits that he may have had a little nudge. The teacher states that it's great they found their father and Emma sits up, saying that she wonders what that would be like. Mary Margaret points out that Emma still could find out, telling her that she can't give up, and the blonde says she knows but that giving up seems like the best plan as she thinks she needs to let go. "No you don't," Mary Margaret assures her, but Emma seems to think otherwise, noting that if her parents wanted to know her, they wouldn't make it so hard to look. The teacher nods, but also says that there could be an explanation, and Emma lies back down saying that if there is, it's something crazy - maybe even crazier than Henry's theory. Mary Margaret wonders what Henry's theory is exactly and Emma turns to her roommate and says, "Well... that my parents put me in a magical wardrobe and sent me to this world to save them." Mary Margaret laughs, finding this cute, and asks Emma who Henry thinks her parents are. Emma sits up again, telling Mary Margaret that Henry thinks she's her mother. "Me?" the teacher asks, but Emma corrects her in saying that it's Snow White. Mary Margaret seems confused by the fact that Snow White has a kid and Emma points out that the book the teacher gave Henry weren't exactly fairytales in the most traditional sense. The teacher jokes that one would think she'd remember that she had a kid, and Emma confirms this, before Mary Margaret points out that she does kind of have her chin. The blonde laughs before saying that she thinks she needs to go and get some air and standing up, waling past the cardboard box containing her baby blanket and retrieving a file, saying that she needs to go and think. Mary Margaret follows the blonde with her pile her freshly folded laundry in her hands and says that she could wait to eat with her, but Emma tells her not to do that ass he grabs her coat and keys and heads to the door. Mary Margaret says that she'll leave her leftovers before looking at her roommates baby blanket and commenting on how pretty it is. Emma thanks her before wishing the teacher goodnight and walking out of the door, and Mary Margaret lifts up the blanket and stares at the "Emma" embroiled on the side. Sh raises it to her nose and sniffs it, and something is clearly triggered within the teacher before she places the blanket back in the box and discards it, proceeding to go and make herself some dinner.
There's a new kid in town.
Outside, Emma is sitting in her sheriff's car going through the file she picked up back in the apartment, looking at information on herself including a newspaper clipping about a 7-year-old boy finding her on the side of the road. She turns to see Henry standing at the passenger side window and is startled to see him before he asks what that is, but she tells him that it's just an old file and asks him what's up. He gestures the box in his hand and tells her that it's pumpkin pie, and that he thought she'd like some. "It was pumpkin, right?" Henry asks, and Emma confirms this before stepping out of her car and joining him beside it. "Henry, about your father..." she says, and he looks up at her merrily, wondering what it is. Emma backs down and smiles at her son, telling him that she's glad she told him about him, and Henry says that he is too before hugging his biological mother tightly. She takes the pumpkin pie box from out of his hands and begins to open it as the two of them lean against the bonnet of her car and Henry tells the blonde that what she did with Ava and Nicholas proves that she really is changing things. Emma looks at him and smiles before becoming alarmed by the sound of an engine nearby. The two of them turn to see a motorcycle emerge from around the corner and drive down the street with a mysterious box strapped to the back of it. The vehicle pulls over opposite them and the man riding it turns off the engine and removes his helmet as Emma and Henry watch him, intrigued. He steps off his motorbike and approaches the two of them, saying hi. Emma says hi back and the man asks them if he's in Storybrooke. The blonde confirms it and the stranger asks if there's any place to get a room around there, at which Henry asks if he's staying. The stranger looks down at the kid and tells him, "That's the plan," before saying that he's just looking for a bed. Emma tells the mysterious rider that Granny's Bed & Breakfast is just up the road another two blocks and the stranger thanks the two of them before turning around and re-approaching his motorcycle. As he does so, Emma points out that she didn't catch his name, but he then points out that that's because he didn't give it. He proceeds to hop back on his vehicle and start back up the engine before driving away and Emma turns back to her son and remind shim that he told her that strangers don't come to Storybrooke. Henry looks up to his biological mother and tells her in a worrisome tone, "They don't." He then looks past Emma to view the stranger drive away further on his motorcycle.
- The title card of this episode features the Blind Witch's Gingerbread house.
- Although credited, Josh Dallas (David Nolan/Prince Charming) and Raphael Sbarge (Archie Hopper/Jiminy Cricket) are absent from this episode.
- The candy bars stolen at the Dark Star Pharmacy by Ava and Nicholas Zimmer are Apollo bars, a make-believe brand which were heavily featured in the TV series Lost (which Once Upon a Time co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz also wrote for).
- This marks the second writing credits for both David-Paul Grove and Liz Tigelaar. It also marks the second directing credit for Dean White.
"True North" first aired on January 15, 2012 in the United States. It earned a Nielsen rating of 3.3/8 among adults between the ages of 18 and 49, meaning that it was seen by 3.3 percent of all 18- to 49-year-olds, and 8 percent of all 18- to 49-year-olds watching television at the time of broadcast. It was viewed by an estimated 9.84 million people, down 11 percent from the previous episode. Once Upon a Time finished fourth in its timeslot among total viewers and third among adults. It aired at the same time as the 69th Golden Globe Awards, which earned 16.8 million viewers. In Canada, the episode finished in thirteenth place for the week with an estimated 1.5 million viewers, an increase from the 1.297 million of the previous episode.
"True North" received mixed to negative reviews from television critics.
- Entertainment Weekly writer Hilary Busis wished the episode "had done more to move the show's master plot forward, especially since watching it meant missing the first hour of the Golden Globes." Busis also wished that Caulfield had received more screen time, calling her performance "superbly creepy."
- IGN columnist Amy Ratcliffe rated the episode 6.5/10, explaining that the tone was "over-the-top" and Emma's actions to hide the children, rather than report them, "out of character." Ratcliffe added on a more positive note that the Hansel and Gretel storyline was a "safe choice, but they made it work."
- Oliver Sava of The A.V. Club was more critical of the episode, and gave it a D. He called the visual effects "hilariously bad," likening the CGI to "a '90s computer game." Sava added, "As mediocre as the series has been, it was on a bit of an upswing with the last few episodes, but 'True North' is a big step backwards... The problem isn’t that these kids can’t act (although that might be the problem), it’s that the writing for their characters is horrible... This week’s episode is straight-up children’s television, and not in the way that it can be enjoyed by all ages. You need to be a child to suspend your disbelief long enough to watch 'True North.'" Despite the critique, Sava did enjoy Caulfield's scenes, as well as Emma and Mary Margaret's conversation concerning motherhood.
Gallery of photographic stills released to promote the episode.