The series takes place in the fictional seaside town of Storybrooke, Maine, in which the residents are actually characters from various fairy tales that were transported to the "real world" town by a powerful curse.
It was co-written by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, while Dean White served as director.
In the present day, we see Mr. Gold and Regina plot to frame Mary Margaret for Kathryn's murder. As Regina plays with the ring Daniel gave her while staring out the window, Mr. Gold comes in behind her and asks her for a favor as there are some serious charges put against him and he wants those charges to be dropped. He offers her an idea on how to deal with Mary Margaret, stating that if she wants to inflict pain, then she needs to inflict pain. It also turns out that Mr. Gold and Regina know what happens to people when they try to leave town. When Regina asks how she can trust him, Mr. Gold truthfully responds that he always honors his agreements. Elsewhere, Emma comes out of the diner as David catches up with her where he tries to apologize for accidentally saying that Mary Margaret is guilty. He tells her that he misspoke and believes she is innocent, but Emma tells David that Mary Margaret doesn't need his words, she needs a miracle. Back in the sheriff's office, Mary Margaret is woken by Regina, who wants to offer her a chance to confess, but Mary Margaret stands by her innocence. Regina tells her that confession or not, she is leaving Storybrooke. Mary Margaret then asks Regina why she hates her so much and what did she do to her. Later that morning, Emma, Mr. Gold, and Mary Margaret talk about the upcoming case. Mr. Gold says to use the most valuable asset, which is Mary Margaret herself. Sidney then comes in with tulips, saying he can’t find anything on Regina, but tells Emma not to worry and that he’s still digging. Mary Margaret says she will talk to the district attorney, knowing she has nothing to hide and that people need to see her for who she is. Unfortunately Regina shows up with Albert Spencer, the DA, who then badgers Mary Margaret during questioning, being very obvious in his distaste for the jailed teacher. Not pleased with DA Spencer's hostility, Mr. Gold ends the questioning early.
Hours later, Emma studies the book as August approaches her. Emma tells him that she is grasping at straws at trying to prove Mary Margaret's innocence, which prompts August to respond that she has writers' block and she should go back and re-read what she writes to get new ideas. Believing what he says, Emma decides she needs to re-evaluate the crime scenes. August offers to drive and Emma protests at first, but changes her mind after a moment. While en route, August twists his ankle on the way down the hill to the Toll Bridge. August knows that Mary Margaret is the closest thing to family that Emma has, but before Emma responds to that answer, Emma finds a shard of shovel in the ground where the box containing Kathryn's heart was found. Meanwhile, at the mayor's home, Regina checks on a sleeping Henry, unaware that he is actually awake and radios to Emma via walkie-talkies that Regina is in the shower and the key is under the mat. Emma and August search the garage and discover a broken shovel, revealing that Regina committed the murder. The discovery results in Emma going to Regina with a search warrant to open the garage, but after Emma opens it, the shovel is replaced with a different one. Emma then confronts August and accuses him of telling Regina, but he denies this and Emma walks away. Back in the Sheriff's office, Mary Margaret cries in her cell when Regina comes in to gloat about the trial. Mary Margaret apologizes for anything she did, she doesn’t know what she did wrong, but Regina tells her she deserves this. Back in her office, Regina clutches the ring saying, "We got her Daniel. We got her," while Mary Margaret is handcuffed. Emma later talks to Mr. Gold, who tells her that there is still time for him to work a little magic. In frustration, Emma smashes the vase with the tulips that Sidney brought in, discovering a bug inside and realizes that Sidney was working with Regina. As August comes out of the diner, Emma approaches and apologizes for doubting him and shows him the bug when they suddenly hear a scream. As they approach the back of the alley, they see Ruby crying and a body on the ground: it is Kathryn, and she is alive.
In the Characters' Pasts
In the Enchanted Forest, young Regina rides her horse as her father watches. However, her mother, Cora, approaches and scolds her, telling her she rides like a man and she should use a saddle. Regina laughs, telling her that she was just riding for fun, but Cora was not amused. Daniel, the stable boy interrupts the conversation by offering Regina a saddle, but Regina says she’s done riding for the day, scolds him for interrupting, and begins to stomp away only to have Cora bring her back by using magic. An angry Regina tells her to stop using her magic to control her, but Cora responds by stating that she will stop using magic when she starts being an obedient daughter. With that, Regina promises to be good. It appears that Cora wants Regina to lead a life filled with riches and a high status, but Regina doesn't care about status, she just wants to be herself. Later that evening, Regina apologizes to Daniel for snapping at him and then she kisses him.
The next day, Regina rides out to see Daniel in the woods where he wants Regina to tell her parents about their love. Regina explains to Daniel that she is afraid of her mother’s magic, to which Daniel replies that true love is the most powerful magic of all and it will overcome anything. They are interrupted by a young girl on a runaway horse, screaming in terror and prompting Regina to save her. The rider is a young Snow White, saying she’ll never ride again but Regina tells her that she needs to get back onto the horse and to face her fears. Later on, Regina changes into her riding clothes, but Cora uses her powers to change the outfit into a ball gown and explains that King Leopold is coming to thank her for rescuing Snow White. King Leopold comes in, explaining that Snow White does not have a mother and hasn’t, yet, met anyone who has taken an interest in his daughter. As a result, he asks for Regina's hand in marriage. Her shock takes over, but before she can decline, her mother answers yes for her. However, later that night, Regina runs to Daniel, asking for his hand in marriage, then explains the situation with King Leopold and Cora and cries at the thought of marrying the king. Regina explains that the only way out is to run, to leave the palace, to get married, and to never look back. Regina swears that all she cares about is Daniel and that being queen means nothing, but Daniel says they have to do it properly, giving her a ring off of a saddle and then they kiss. Suddenly, Snow White opens the doors and walks into the stable and is surprised at the lovers' embrace, then cries and runs away. Regina chases after her into the woods and manages to catch up to Snow White after she trips and falls. When Snow White asks why she was kissing Daniel, Regina explains that she doesn't love Snow White's father and tries to explain how true love works to her, saying that true love is the most powerful magic of all. Snow smiles after the explanation but Regina orders her to keep this secret from Cora. Snow White promises to keep the secret.
The next day, Snow White is looking at the flowers. She is reaching up to grab one when Cora comes in and tells her to be gentle. As the two talk, Cora tells Snow White not to fear her and is happy for the two, then asks the little girl why Regina has pulled away from her, knowing that she’s unhappy even though Cora says she would do anything to make Regina happy. Snow tells her how it was hard to lose her mother and Cora does not want to lose Regina, all she wants is her happiness. Snow tells her to not make Regina get married, that she doesn't love her father and that she loves someone else, and that no one should lose someone to another. In what would be a major mistake that began this hatred in the first place, Snow then tells Cora about Daniel. That night, Regina runs into the stable where Daniel is ready to go to make their getaway. They embrace just before Cora finds them and uses her magic to lock them in the stable. Cora is hurt that they would run off without saying goodbye, but Regina says she’s impossible to talk to. Cora says she made a lot of sacrifices to give Regina the life she has now, which leads to an argument. After that exchange, Cora says she will not stop her and Regina hugs her with thanks, then takes Daniel aside to tell him to always do what's best for his children. Unfortunately, after he is embraced by Cora, she rips out his heart and crushes it (in the same manner that Regina used to kill Sheriff Graham). Regina falls to his side and asks her mother why she has done this, to which Cora tells her that it was because it was her happy ending (the same words Regina would later use the day Snow White and Prince Charming got married). After Regina yells and screams of how she loved Daniel, Cora tells her how love is weakness. Cora then tells her to clean herself up and wipe away the tears because now she is going to be queen.
As Regina is being fitted for her wedding dress, Snow White walks in and tells her that she is the fairest of them all. Snow tells Regina about how she told her mother about Daniel. As Regina listens in horror, she turns and Snow notices how upset she is and she apologizes, saying she didn't want Regina to just lose her mother like she lost hers. Snow White asks Regina if she was mad, but Regina pretends to be happy and tells her no stating that she's happy that they're both going to be a family. But after Snow White leaves, Regina's behavior starts to change. Cora walks into the room, sending Snow away to pack and says she is so proud of Regina, who guessed that Cora knew the king was traveling and the steed that Snow was on didn’t go wild on its own. Regina then tells Cora that she should have let Snow White die on her horse.
- Its revealed Regina only became evil due to her horrible controlling mother.
- Though Cora is to blame for murdering Daniel and setting up events to have Regina become a queen, Regina instead blames Snow White; in Shattered Sight, it's defended that Snow was just a little girl who didn't know better.
- Mr. Gold is revealed to have made deal with Regina to have his kidnapping and assault charges from "Skin Deep" dropped in exchange for arranging something terrible to happen to Kathryn. However, he implicated murder instead to trip up Regina to progress the timeline of Emma breaking the curse.
- Regina's frame-job of Mary Margaret has fallen apart. Kathryn is revealed to be alive, meaning suspicion will fall on the mayor for pushing for a murder case and the fake evidence.
"The Stable Boy" was co-written by co-creators/executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, while V veteran, Dean White, returned to direct this installment. The episode was included in Reawakened: A Once Upon a Time Tale – a novelization of the first season – which was published by Hyperion Books in 2013.