We catch up with Once Upon a Time season six after its winter break with episode 11 titled ‘Tougher Than the Rest.’ The episode airing on March 5, 2017 begins in Minneapolis in 1990 with a young Emma tearing pages from a book of fairy tales to stay warm. A handsome young man approaches, asking what she’s doing and Emma tells him she ran away from a crappy group home. He grabs the story of the ugly duckling from her before she can toss it in the fire. He explains the best fairy tales are about transformations, reminding her the duckling becomes a beautiful swan. They disagree over whether the duckling was a swan all along but just didn’t know it, or if her belief that she could be a swan transformed her into the creature. “If we believe in something strongly enough, we all have the power to change our fate,” the kind stranger says.
The stranger takes her to the police station where she tells the officer she’s been on the streets for a few days. Asked her name, she replies, “Emma,” and adds “Swan” after a little pause.
And now we’re back in the present day with Robin Hood (Sean Maguire) holding up Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) as they were about to step through the portal and return to Storybrooke. Robin doesn’t recognize Regina, and she hands over her jewelry while looking heartbroken. He rushes off as Henry (Jared Gilmore) and two soldiers arrive on horseback, searching for the Evil Queen to make her pay for murdering his grandparents.
After Henry rides off continuing his search for the Evil Queen, Regina asks Emma how it’s possible Robin didn’t age but everyone else did. Emma reminds her this place isn’t real, and Regina is anxious to go home. An idea pops into Emma’s head on how they might accomplish that.
Back in Storybrooke, Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) and David (Josh Dallas) search for the hooded figure, meaning to capture it before Emma returns. David’s determined to catch him before he can come anywhere near Emma. Hook, who is just as anxious, tries to be the voice of reason but David’s heavy into blaming himself for everything that’s going on because he made the wish to give the Evil Queen what she deserves. He refuses to wake Snow until he fixes everything, and Hook assures him he’s with him – despite any misgivings.
Over at Belle (Emilie de Ravin) and Rumple’s, they’re astounded their son, Gideon (Giles Matthey), is now 28 years old. He tells them time moved differently with the Black Fairy and although she tried to make him evil, she failed. He always remembered Belle and the memory of her goodness is what kept him from turning to the dark side. But that said, he still wants to kill the Savior so he can become the new Savior, with all the powers that entails. He says he wants to free another realm from the Black Fairy, and Rumple (Robert Carlyle) tells his now-grown son it won’t be easy to kill Emma. However, he’s had a vision and has seen her death “at his hand.”
Emma’s idea for returning to Storybrooke involves a visit to Pinocchio. He gives her a huge hug, relieved she’s alive after being captured by the Evil Queen. Flash-forward a few minutes and Emma and Regina have revealed the truth and Pinocchio seems to accept it, mainly because his father believed in him. He wants to know how he can help and Emma asks him to carve something to get them home. She reminds him his father made a magical wardrobe that transported her between worlds. Emma asks if he still has it, but unfortunately Pinocchio dismantled it. However, he knows where the enchanted wood came from and thinks he might be able to replicate his father’s work. Regina somehow sneaks away, leaving a note instructing Emma to return home with Pinocchio. Regina says she can’t go back until she gets a question answered. Her question: is Robin better off without her?
Regina spots him in the tavern and enters as everyone screams, “The Evil Queen!” and flees – except for Robin. She asks if he’s happy and Robin replies, “You’re a strange one.” He says his life’s great and he couldn’t ask for more. Regina says, “So you were better off,” which, of course, Robin doesn’t understand. Teary-eyed, she gets up from the table but he stops her from leaving. He wants to know why she cares about his happiness, but before she can answer the Sheriff of Nottingham arrives. He arrests Robin and is happy to get to arrest the Evil Queen as an added bonus.
Emma and Pinocchio find the enchanted tree and he’s brought a special chisel to carve the wood. They discuss Emma’s role as the Savior in her world and how it’s her fate to die protecting her family. She tells him the sword in her hand is the one that will end her life. Their discussion’s interrupted by an older, ragged Kilian with long grey hair and a beer belly.
Once again to Storybrooke we go, with Rumple tracking down Gideon and Gideon declaring his mind’s made up and there’s no changing his path. Rumple tells Gideon that if he wants someone to pay for his painful childhood, then let it be him. Rumple takes the blame for not protecting his son and letting the Black Fairy take him. Rumple slaps Gideon, demanding he hit him back but Gideon refuses (although his hand, which is hidden from his dad, does turn red hot.) Gideon tells Rumple he doesn’t need his help and vanishes.
Meanwhile, Killian claims he’ll kill Pinocchio in order to rescue Emma, but an exasperated Emma tries to convince him she doesn’t need rescuing. As Captain Hook takes a bow, Pinocchio easily disarms him and Hook’s upset because there’s a reward out for returning Emma. Pinocchio wants to know how Emma knows this pirate and she confesses she lives with a version of him in the other world. As Pinocchio and Emma are preoccupied discussing the other Hook, the paunchy Hook in this world snags the magical chisel. He wants to duel Pinocchio but Emma sends him flying with a little magic.
Emma looks down at Killian’s unconscious body and says, “I really need to get home and get somebody off the rum…and the dessert.” She sends him back to the Jolly Roger and even though he left the chisel behind, there’s a problem. The chisel’s broken and Pinocchio can’t fix it. He needs magic to carve the tree, saying he’s not as good as his father.
The Sheriff of Nottingham has Regina and Robin locked up in a carriage, and Regina apologizes to Robin for his current predicament. He’s upset that now he’ll never be able to accomplish anything, and she reminds him of all the good he’s already done by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. “Give to the poor? Why the hell would I do that?” asks Robin. She can’t believe he’s a common thief and that that makes him happy. She doesn’t believe it and wonders about Marian. Robin reveals he and Marian were never married because she died before they could wed. He has no one. Regina asks again if his life makes him happy, and Robin confesses he hasn’t been happy for a very long time.
Rumplestiltskin shows up, sending the Sheriff and his men flying through the air. He lets Regina and Robin out of the cage, but he won’t free her from her magical restraints because when he went looking for Belle and all he found were her bones. Belle starved to death and Rumple wants Regina to pay for her death.
And now we’re back in Storybrooke with David talking to the sleeping Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin), telling her he can’t wake her until he finds the man who’s going to kill Emma. He swears he’ll stop the man and fix their problems.
Hook and David go over a map, trying to figure out where in Storybrooke this hooded man could be hiding. Belle joins them, revealing the man’s name is Gideon. Hook and David are incredulous because her son is an infant, so she explains he aged faster in the other realm. Belle says it’s not his fault he’s trying to kill Emma and adds that Rumple’s out looking for him now. Hook asks the right question: is Rumple stopping Gideon or aiding him? Belle admits she’s not sure. She thinks if she can talk to Gideon, she can stop him. She asks for their help, but David’s leery of promising not to hurt Gideon. Belle thinks they can keep him from hurting Emma and asks David and Hook to trust her.
Rumplestiltskin locks Robin and Regina in a cell, and Robin apparently has been told the whole “fake world” story and is trying to understand what it means for him. Robin’s surprisingly quick to believe in the other world where he was a folk hero and the Evil Queen cared for him. Robin says he doesn’t mind believing that and asks if he’s a scoundrel in this other world. Regina says no and reveals he’s dead. He asks if the other Robin had a good life and Regina answers, “I think so. I hope so. He helped a lot of people which he was proud of.” Crying, she tells him he loved her. Robin says, “That sounds like it was a good life, even if it was too short.” (This scene is heartbreaking!) Robin then lightens the mood by easily breaking them out of the cell.
Emma’s decided to try carving the tree without Pinocchio’s help. It’s not working so she puts down the tools and opens a special box with her name on it that she finds in Pinocchio’s toolbox. Inside is a carved swan!
Emma confronts Pinocchio, asking about the swan. He says it’s a birthday present for a princess who has everything and that he’s always liked swans. He adds, “It reminds me of a story my father used to tell me when I was dreaming about becoming real.” They discuss “The Ugly Duckling,” with Pinocchio telling Emma his father always said if you believe in something hard enough, you can change your fate. She can’t believe she just heard the same words the young stranger said to her back in 1990 when she ran away from a horrible group home. Emma can’t believe the young man was Pinocchio, telling him his advice changed her life. Pinocchio smiles and says, “You became the swan.”
Emma hands Pinocchio a chisel, telling him he can do this if he believes he’s a master carver and as good as his father ever was. She tells him to change his fate.
Back at the enchanted tree, Pinocchio’s fate has changed and the chisel works. He creates a new wardrobe and Regina arrives with Robin in tow right after Pinocchio’s finished his work. Regina says they have to get out of there because everyone’s looking for them. She asks for a minute and apologizes to Robin that she dragged him into this. He hands her a feather and says it’s his lucky feather from a very lucky arrow. Regina is astonished, telling him when “her Robin” died, a feather got lost on its way to her from him. She thinks this feather means he’s in a good place and that he lives on in this Robin.
After Robin walks away, Emma asks Regina why she doesn’t just bring Robin with her to Storybrooke. Emma points out this Robin hasn’t aged and wonders if maybe the feather means Robin’s soul is in this Robin and it’s why he’s different from the rest of the familiar people they’ve run into in this world. Emma asks why she’d walk away if any part of her Robin is in this Robin, and Regina confesses it’s because she’s afraid of tempting fate. Emma declares, “We make our own fate,” and tells Regina it’s her turn to do that.
Robin’s been eavesdropping and tells Regina he’s in! She reminds him it might not work and he replies, “Then again, it might.” He’s willing to risk it, saying things are looking bleak for him in his world. Plus, maybe he’ll get to know Regina better – the woman who one version of him would die for. (I’m not crying, you are!)
Pinocchio opens the portal’s door and Emma steps through. Regina thanks Pinocchio for his help and then steps through.
Next, we see Emma in Storybrooke, sword in hand. Regina comes through next but no Robin. Regina confirms they went into the portal together and Emma tells her she’s sorry it didn’t work. Regina asks for a moment alone, and Emma leaves her to mourn Robin once again. Of course, that’s when Robin arrives and Regina gives him a huge, lengthy hug, which she immediately apologizes for. He’s okay with the hug and Regina takes him to a vantage point where he can see the city of Storybrooke lit up at night. She officially welcomes him to Storybrooke.
Emma walks down the middle of Main Street, alone. Gideon appears behind her and Emma wants to know what he wants. The fight is on, with swords clanging as they duel. Gideon fairly easily disarms Emma and then makes his old sword vanish, keeping just Emma’s sword which she foresaw would cause her death. David, Hook, and Henry race up followed closely by Regina, Robin, Rumple, and Belle. Rumple yells for Gideon to wait, with Belle telling him he doesn’t have to do this. Before anyone can act, Gideon freezes them in place.
Gideon tells Emma he only wants to hurt her, not the others, as her hand begins to shake. He asks if she’s ready to die and she says she’s fated to die but won’t be doing that today, sending Gideon flying. The sword shatters and lands near his body. Emma holds a piece to Gideon’s throat as Rumple begs for his son’s life. Gideon says he doesn’t need his father’s help and vanishes.
The spell’s broken and everyone runs to give Emma a hug, except Belle and Rumple. Emma can’t believe that was Belle’s baby and Robin walks up and can’t believe Hook looks so spry. Everyone’s stunned to see Robin and Emma explains he’s the Robin from the alternate reality. Hook’s confused but latches onto the “spry” comment, wondering what happened to him in this alternate reality. Emma says it’s okay but that they’re switching to water. Hook asks, “What? For drinking?” and Emma says yes.
Emma pays a visit to Pinocchio who’s seated at a typewriter. She asks if he knew she was the young girl he told to go to the police station. He admits he knew and that he kept tabs on her as she was growing up. She shows him the pages of the “The Ugly Duckling” she still has in a box, and Pinocchio reveals he was happy when she picked Swan as her last name.
Rumple catches up with Belle and they have a heart-to-heart. Rumple says he wanted his son’s life to take its natural course and that he has the power to change his fate. He admits he was wrong in wanting to use the shears on Gideon. He confesses that all his dark life he’s sought out those who are light which is why he sought out Belle. Rumple doesn’t want Gideon to kill Emma, calling it an irrational act of someone blind with pain. He doesn’t want that for his son. Belle says that she protected Gideon, even knowing what he wanted to do.
As Belle wonders if it’s too late to help him, Gideon’s shown in the clock tower. Rumple suggests that if there’s something they can do to help him, they should do it together. Gideon smashes the glass in the clock as miles away Rumple tells Belle war is coming to Storybrooke.