In its winter finale, Once Upon A Time took us on an intense ride, tying up most of the first half of the season’s lingering storylines. At the same time, the action-packed hour gave us further back story on the relationship between Hook and Cora while dabbling in the affairs of Hook and Regina and presenting us with some pretty heavy mommy issues that, although always under the surface, were brought to a head in a big way.
Although most of the Storybrooke characters (surprisingly) made it out of “Queen of Hearts” unscathed, the preview for what we’ll see in 2013 makes it clear that things won’t be happy for long: seems that despite Emma and Snow’s best attempts at foiling their plot, Cora and Hook found a way into Storybrooke after all via Hook’s pirate ship. I suppose will be a story for another day, unless we’re to believe the magical bean that Hook resurrected with the help of Cora’s magical lake had something to do with it.
As the episode’s namesake suggested, we were treated to the reveal of Cora being unmasked as “Her Majesty” in Wonderland, the place where Regina had apparently banished her to. It’s here that she was first introduced to Hook (sent by Regina in the hopes he could kill mommy dearest) and where the bond between the two was originally formed. We’ve been teased for a few episodes about Hook’s history beyond what we know of his relationship with Rumplestiltskin, so it was a thrill to see aspects of his character explored and see more of his connections with other “big bads” of the fairytale world.
Hook remains as much of an enigma as all our other fairytale villains, a corrupted soul turned evil by events of his past but who still possesses some sense of humanity – especially where their Achilles’ heels are concerned. It’s clear he’s riddled with a need for revenge and will kill without a second thought – but he’s also not so uncaring that he’ll let Aurora’s heart be lost. What we see with Hook is a man so consumed by extracting his revenge that he would believe anything in order to succeed, even if it means being conned into doing so (indeed, it seemed that he was eager to be useful in whatever way anyone more powerful wanted him to be, so long as they could promise him what he desired. As an aside, I loved seeing Hook interact with Belle back in fairytale world and it made me wonder exactly who else Hook might have been in contact with in his past.)
As for Regina, it’s no secret that her kryptonite is her mother while her worst enemy remains her insecurity to be loved thanks to her mother’s (and to a lesser extent, Rumple’s) manipulation. This episode capitalized on those facts tenfold, as we witnessed the culmination of Regina’s first-half-of-the-season struggle. Give up the only thing she’s ever depending on to make her more powerful in hopes that she can be enough for the son she so desperately cares for? Trust his instinct to help rather than hurt because it’s technically the right thing to do? (And because, as we’ve seen, love always wins out?)
The old Regina wouldn’t even consider such options, but the newly redemptive Regina ends up taking her son’s words over Rumplestiltskin’s warnings, safely opening the portal so that Emma and Snow to Storybrooke – without Cora, as Henry had correctly predicted. I have to admit that with the nature of this show, I didn’t expect Emma and Snow to actually make it back – and if they did, I expected it to be with a cliffhanger of Cora and/or Hook on their heels, much like the season premiere. I suppose it’s fitting that the two would continue to travel together (and in fact, I think Cora and Hook may be my new favorite power couple after these past few episodes.)
While we can believe Regina has made progress on her path towards redemption, I don’t believe it will be a smooth ride for the rest of the season – for multiple reasons. It’s safe to say that once Cora arrives in Storybrooke, Regina will be hard pressed to keep herself from giving into manipulation and anger, which will lead to her to possibly slide backwards on the redemption scale. And a woman who desires nothing but true love is not going to sit back and let herself be satisfied with the fact that her help resulted in still not being “good enough”, as evidenced by the end of the hour when we saw how the townspeople snubbed her. I’m consistently in awe of Lana Parrilla’s talent, especially when we get episodes that have such a contrast in her personalities between the past and the present, and the unmasked emotion that she let loose all over her face after seeing Henry walk away with Emma made it clear that we won’t be seeing her a backseat when it comes to what has always been a core battle between the two mothers: the need for love.
Which, as we’re constantly reminded in this show, is the most powerful thing in the world. It’s the reason why Cora wasn’t able to kill Emma, and the reason why Regina’s curse didn’t hold out as long as she thought it would. In more pertinent matters, it’s ironically Regina’s love for Cora that causes her to “kill” her and Cora’s love for Regina that causes her become adamant about returning to Storybrooke so she can reunite with her daughter (I don’t buy that the Cora/Regina reunion will be all rainbows, however…at least, not without a deeper sense of malice from Cora’s end.) My gut feeling is that when the series returns, a big plot point will include Cora’s quest to be reunited with her daughter (and by default, Hook’s unending quest to kill Rumple) which means we’re heading into some pretty harried territory come January and I can’t wait to see where it all ends up.
With Emma and Snow safely back in Storybrooke, our “core four” of the fairytale world was broken. Aurora chose to stay behind so that Cora (still in control of her heart) couldn’t be a danger to the group and when the time came, Mulan chose to stay with Aurora and return her heart. It seems that the two ladies finally will have some sort of storyline with setting out to retrieve Phillip’s lost soul, which further corroborates my theory that we haven’t seen the last of Aurora’s late love. And I can’t imagine that sooner or later, they won’t either end up in Storybrooke or somehow be reunited with Emma and Snow (or perhaps other fairytale characters.)
- While Cora’s fairytale identity was revealed, there was another reveal that was (for now) kept secret: where does Cora actually keep the heart she taunted Hook about? In a safe like the ones Regina has? Somewhere else in her body, thanks to magical powers? A bigger question: can she actually be killed?
- Sometimes I can’t get over how far Emma Swan has come. From being entirely skeptical throughout most of the first season, to accepting her fate as the daughter of two historic fairytale characters, to fighting a dragon and a giant, to sword fighting Hook and Cora. One of my favorite things about this program has been seeing Emma’s progression as a character, and this episode brought that full circle with Emma’s conversation with Gold wherein we finally learned exactly why he wanted those hairs from Charming and Snow some years ago (Emma was the product of “true love” meaning every power she had – that she believed came from someone pulling her strings – actually came from her own potential.)
- Speaking of sword fights – how awesome (and hot!) was that battle scene between Cora, Emma, Hook and Snow? Colin O’Donoghue has taken almost every measure to make Hook one of the most interesting (not to mention attractive) characters of the season, commanding your attention no matter what the nature of the scene is.
- I should be used to these feelings from LOST, but no matter how many times I see a Snow/Charming reunion, I still get overly emotional (thanks Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin.)
- We finally found out how the portion of fairytale world that Mulan mentioned at the beginning of the season was saved from Regina’s curse – knowing that the curse was coming, Cora worked some magic of her own and managed to shield part of the land. Which begs the question: just how powerful is Cora? Is she some sort of seer, since she correctly predicted the longevity of Regina’s curse as well as the fact that Emma would break it?
Your turn! Did you enjoy the episode? What did you think of the cliffhanger? Weigh in below!