Emma Swan wonders if the residents of Storybrooke, Maine are somehow actual characters from legendary children’s tales. Parallel worlds unravel in this modern take on classic fables where a curse has trapped famed storybook characters in our world.
Emma does not believe in Henry's stories, and she brings him back to Storybrooke, where she is captivated by an unusual boy. Concerned for the boy, she decides to stay for a while, but soon discovers that Storybrooke is more than a simple town. It's a place where magic has been forgotten, but it's still there, where fairytale characters come alive, even though if they do not remember who they once were, and the Evil Queen, is now Henry's foster mother. An epic battle is beginning, and for the good side to win, Emma will have to accept her destiny and fight for it.
Regina tries to force Emma out of Storybrooke and out of her and Henry's lives permanently. Meanwhile, it is revealed how the Evil Queen released the curse upon the fairytale world.
Mary Margaret is astonished at the outcome after she reads to John Doe from the storybook while visiting him at the hospital. Back in fairytale world, Snow White and Prince Charming meet up for the first time.
A pregnant woman enlists Emma's help to escape from Storybrooke - and from the enigmatic Mr. Gold - while a secret deal made between Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin is revealed.
As Sheriff Graham deputizes Emma, the ground shakes and a giant sinkhole mysteriously appears at the edge of town. But a curious Henry’s life is placed in danger when he decides to explore the innards of the sinkhole to see if its contents can link the inhabitants of Storybrooke to the fairytale world. Meanwhile, back in the fairytale world, Jiminy Cricket yearns to leave the family business and transform into the person he wants to be.
David - aka John Doe - must choose between staying with Kathryn or leaving her to be with Mary Margaret, with whom he's fallen deeply, and inexplicably, in love; and Emma catches Sheriff Graham in a lie. Meanwhile, back in the fairytale world that was, Prince Charming is about to encounter a life-changing event that will forever alter his destiny.
One of the town's residents begins to remember their fairytale past, and Storybrooke mourns the loss of one of their own. Meanwhile, in the fairytale world that was, the Evil Queen attempts to find a heartless assassin to murder Snow White.
Regina and Mr. Gold play dirty politics and take opposite sides when Emma runs for a coveted Storybrooke public office against Sidney. Meanwhile, back in the fairytale world that was, Rumplestiltskin tries to track down the ultimate power source in order to help his son avert the horrors of a meaningless war.
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.
Mary Margaret and David continue to grapple with their unrequited love, and Emma and Regina grow suspicious over a mysterious new stranger in town. Meanwhile, in the fairytale land that was, Snow White yearns to ease her breaking heart as Prince Charming’s wedding to King Midas’s daughter approaches.
A dejected Sidney enlists the aid of Emma to help uncover evidence that could expose Mayor Regina as the corrupt person she really is to the townspeople of Storybrooke. Mary Margaret and David continue their secret rendezvous while trying to figure out a way to unleash their forbidden love.
After Mr. Gold's house is robbed, Emma keeps a close eye on him when it looks like he wants to track down the criminal and dole out some vigilante justice as payback, and Valentine's Day finds Mary Margaret, Ruby and Ashley having a girls' night out. Meanwhile, in the fairytale land that was, Belle agrees to a fateful deal to give up her freedom in order to save her town from the horrors of the Ogre war.
With their love for each other growing stronger, David finally agrees to tell Kathryn about his relationship with Mary Margaret and put an end to his loveless marriage. Meanwhile, in the fairytale land that was, while runaway groom Prince Charming searches for Snow White, he agrees to aid Abigail on a dangerous mission to recover something precious that was lost to her.
Unlikely allies Mary Margaret and Leroy team together for a good cause to help the Storybrooke nuns sell their candles during the town's Miner's Day festival. But Leroy makes a promise to a nun, Astrid, that he may not be able to keep; and Emma looks into the mysterious disappearance of David's wife, Kathryn. Meanwhile, in the fairytale land that was, Grumpy finds forbidden love with beautiful but clumsy fairy Nova.
After Ruby quits Granny's diner and with her self-esteem at an all-time low, Emma hires her as an assistant in order to help Ruby discover what it is in life that she's good at; and Emma continues questioning David about the disappearance - and possible murder - of Kathryn. Meanwhile, in the fairytale land that was, Red Riding Hood yearns to run away with her true love. But she, along with her fellow townspeople, are virtual prisoners when a bloodthirsty wolf continues on its relentless killing spree.
Mary Margaret hires Mr. Gold as her attorney when Emma is forced to arrest her for the suspected murder of David’s wife, Kathryn. Meanwhile, back in the fairytale land that was, Prince Charming sets out to stop a determined and unhinged Snow White, whose memory is still clouded by Rumplestiltskin’s potion, from assassinating the Evil Queen.
While searching for a missing Mary Margaret, Emma is kidnapped by a man whose affinity for hats has him teetering on the edge of madness. Meanwhile, viewers will be transported outside of the fairytale land that was for the first time when the Evil Queen persuades a skillful man of magic to come work for her one last time and travel to Wonderland in order to help steal something from the Queen of Hearts.
Emma continues her exhaustive search for evidence that will prove Mary Margaret's innocence in the murder of David's wife, Kathryn. Meanwhile, in the fairytale land that was and before evil blackened her soul, Regina must choose between betraying her mother, Cora, and marrying for true love, or betrothing royalty and living a regal - but loveless - life; and the event that caused the Evil Queen to loathe Snow White is revealed.
Mr. Gold attempts to uncover the true identity of August, Emma confronts Regina about her involvement in Kathryn's disappearance, and David tries to apologize and reconcile with Mary Margaret. Meanwhile, in the fairytale land that was, Rumplestiltskin agrees to comply and do whatever it takes if his son can find a way for him to safely give up his powers and turn back into the loving man he used to be.
August tells Emma how to beat Regina and how she can get custody of Henry, while Regina hatches a plot to seduce David now that Mary Margaret is back at work. In the fairy-tale world, a plan to save Snow White and Prince Charming’s daughter unfolds and is agreed to by Geppetto, who has his own child’s safety in mind.
Henry pleads with Emma to stay in Storybrooke and continue her quest as the savior of the fairytale dwellers, and Regina concocts a plan that could rid her of Emma forever. Meanwhile, back in the fairytale land that was, Snow White enlists the aid of her fellow fairytale cohorts to attack the Evil Queen and save Prince Charming's life.
Emma and Regina team together in order to find a way to save Henry's life. Meanwhile, in the fairytale land that was, Prince Charming attempts to escape from the Evil Queen's clutches in order to reunite with Snow White who, unbeknownst to him, has already taken a bite of the Queen's poison apple.