“Tougher than the Rest” is certainly not the first time that Once Upon a Time has separated our heroes across great distances or even dimensions. Once Upon a Time beginning a season (or half-season) with two or more characters having a huge divide between them has been used to the point of exhaustion. This winter premiere manages to make the well-worn trope work, though — by getting rid of it as soon as logically possible.

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A Search for Home

“Tougher than the Rest” is essentially an episode with three different groups of characters all searching for something different. This constant motion and action makes the winter premiere move along incredibly briskly. This makes for an exciting return, even though, with the exception of one, these searches aren’t exactly the most original stories for Once Upon a Time.

The most boring story by far is Emma (not Regina) trying to get the two of them back to Storybrooke from the Wish Land. Emma’s plan is to find the Wish Land’s version of August/Pinocchio and get him to create a wardrobe, just like Geppetto did in the real world, to transport them to Storybrooke. The idea is a nice way that Once Upon a Time gets back in touch with its roots, but this return of August is coming much too late.  

August was always a strange character. He never really jived with Emma like her other friends and love interests. August, to be blunt, never really worked, despite the show’s best efforts. So it is not much of an emotional investment to see him return once again. There is another effort to sell August as Emma’s first protector, but it is as dull as ever. (Apparently, Emma got her name as Emma Swan from a younger August.) It does nothing to strength the connection between the characters because it never really existed. Luckily, Wish-August is disposed of rather quickly when he is easily able to create the wardrobe for Emma.    

A Search for Love

The more compelling Wish Land story comes courtesy of Regina, who of course goes running after Wish-Robin. It doesn’t take long for Regina to find out that Wish-Robin is very different from the one she lost. There is no thief with a heart of gold with this Robin. He is just a thief — a very, very sassy thief. Wish-Robin is basically Regina right after she promised Henry to be a better person. There is a kernel of a very good person inside, but he’s mostly an ass and it is kind of awesome.

Regina, though, figures that a Robin is better than no Robin. With Emma’s urging, Regina invites Wish-Robin back to Storybrooke, and he accepts. Robin says it is because he wants to get to know the woman that a version of himself loved. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if it is revealed later that he just wanted to escape a world where he was a wanted thief. A Robin redemption arc seems in order, and that could be the perfect storyline for Regina.

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A Search for Purpose

Though Emma, Regina and Wish-Robin all (thankfully) land in Storybrooke before the episode is done, there is still a lot going on before that in their absence. Belle and Rumple have a lot of questions for their seemingly evil son, and he is pretty quick to answer. It’s such a relief that Once Upon a Time isn’t dragging out the mysteries of Gideon, or Emma and Regina being stuck in the Wish Land.

Gideon, according to himself, is not evil. He explains that the Black Fairy tortured him and tried to make him turn evil, but he resisted. Gideon always remembered Belle’s love for him, and that kept him sane. (This is cute but logistically impossible.) Gideon is still planning on killing Emma.

Gideon believes that if he kills Emma, he will take her power and become the new Savior. While this could easily be a trick or a lie, it doesn’t seem to be that way. Gideon genuinely appears to believe he is doing a version of the right thing, and that’s a compelling path to take for a villain. While they have tragic backgrounds, villains are almost always evil on Once Upon a Time. Gideon just seems confused and dangerous but not inherently bad. He is a mirror image of season 1 Emma, reluctant to fulfill his purpose and all.

The biggest threat facing the audience, though, comes courtesy of David. David decides that because Gideon arriving in Storybrooke is “his fault,” he is not going to wake Snow until the issue is resolved. David is threatening us with his uninterrupted bland presence, and that is not okay. Not even teaming up with Hook to stop Gideon manages to make it better because David is at his most insufferably vanilla in this episode. He’s self-sacrificing, guilt-ridden and, most of all, useless. 

A Search for a Conclusion

David tries to track down Gideon, but he fails. When Emma comes back from the Wish Land, it takes no time at all for Gideon to find her in the town square. Everyone in the episode basically converges upon them at this moment. Gideon stops them all from interfering with magic. 

Emma’s vision of her death from the season 6 premiere then pretty much plays out exactly as she saw it. There’s just one major twist: she doesn’t die. When Gideon is about to strike the killing blow, Emma shoots light magic at him and, defeated, he poofs away. It’s a real cop-out to Emma’s premonition, but at least Once Upon a Time doesn’t have that gigantic “spoiler” hanging over the season anymore. 

Everyone resolves to stop Gideon in their own way. Emma and the Charming family want to keep Emma alive at any cost. Rumple and Belle, meanwhile, want to prevent their son from chasing power. Rumple does warn that if Gideon isn’t stopped by someone, war might be coming to Storybrooke. It’s an ominous prediction but not a bad way to begin a half-season. 

What did you think? Were you disappointed by how easily Emma avoided the vision of her death? Do you think more time should have been spent in the Wish Land? What do you make of the new Robin? Is it good that he is different from the original? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Once Upon a Time season 6 airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC. Want more news? Like our OUAT Facebook page.

(Image courtesy of ABC)

Derek Stauffer

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Derek is a Philadelphia based writer and unabashed TV and comic book junkie. The time he doesn’t spend over analyzing all things nerdy he is working on his resume to be the liaison to the Justice League.