Is love weakness?
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Jared S. Gilmore, Meghan Ory, and Robert Carlyle.
Once Upon a Time successfully manages to advance the plot, while also sparing time to focus upon the key relationships at the heart of the show in their mid-season winter finale. It’s almost as if the writers are working down a laundry list of unresolved plot points to hastily wrap up before we move on to the next chapter. We discover that Cora ended up in Wonderland after she was banished through the looking glass by Regina, becoming the Queen of Hearts (a highly apt name considering her aggressive proclivities when it comes to ripping them out of people’s chests); that Hook can remove hearts because of an enchantment placed upon his hook by Regina; and that Cora and Hook (along with a small section of the Enchanted Forest) were protected from the curse’s effects because of a protection spell cast by Cora right before the curse hit. On top of that, the show also finds time to focus and develop its core characters: namely Regina, Cora and Emma, while also providing decent screen time for all the major players. However, ultimately it concludes on a wholly frustrating cliffhanger, certain to make viewers tune in after the Winter break.
In the Fairytale land of old, Regina enlists Hook’s help to dispose of her nefarious mother, Cora. Why Hook, you ask? Predominantly because he broke into Regina’s castle and menaced a captive Belle, in the foolish hope that she might have some useful information that would help him eliminate Rumple. Regina enchants Hook’s…hook and sends him through Jefferson’s hat to kill Cora. However, once arriving in Wonderland, Hook discovers that he is unable to remove Cora’s heart as she does not keep it in her body, and is persuaded to join Cora’s side when he learns that Regina’s curse will rid all of them of their memories. Returning to the Enchanted Forest, Hook presents Regina with Cora’s “dead” body, and Regina admits, when she is alone, that she had to have Cora killed because her love for her mother is her greatest weakness, and she needed to have no weaknesses to enact the Dark Curse. Seemingly persuaded off murdering her daughter, Cora instead decides that her daughter will need her in the future, and so protects a section of the Enchanted Forest from the Dark Curse’s effects so that, once it is broken, she can return to Regina’s side and support her.
Gold is determined not to allow Cora in to Storybrooke, and preys upon Regina’s insecurities to enlist her help as well. Regina, to her credit, does try to resist Gold, stating that she wants to change for Henry, and she does withstand Gold’s needling about how, with Emma gone, Regina will be Henry’s only parent. The tipping point for Regina is the need to protect Henry from Cora, so the dastardly pair set off to the mines and steal the magic from the diamonds that the dwarfs found. They then use this magic to curse the enchanted portal that is opening at the Wishing Well, so that anybody who tries to pass through it will perish.
In the Enchanted Forest, our band of heroes alight upon Rumple’s old jail cell in the hopes of finding the squid ink that they can use to defeat Cora, but are instead trapped by Cora, who uses Aurora as her puppet. Cora steals the compass and abandons the group in the cell, leaving them without hope of escape. Cryptically, Emma has found a scroll in the cell that merely states her name over and over, convincing her that there was nothing really special about her, but rather that Rumple manufactured her and manipulated the situation from the start. Ignoring Emma’s blatant and time consuming self pitying storyline, Snow realises that the scroll is the ink, and uses some tricks she observed from Cora to blow the ink off, destroying the cell bars and allowing them to escape.
Mulan, Emma and Snow catch up to Cora and Hook at Lake Nostros, which Cora has magically restored and has successfully turned into a portal. In the ensuing fight, Mulan manages to get Aurora’s heart back, while sparks fly between Emma and Hook as they essentially have sword sex (???), but Emma successfully manages to steal the compass and knock out Hook. Meanwhile, Cora has Snow precisely where she wants her, and is eager to take her heart so that she can present it to Regina, but Emma jumps in the way and receives the brunt of Cora’s heart-ripping attack. Bizarrely, Cora is unable to remove Emma’s heart and is instead knocked backwards by a powerful magic, allowing Snow and Emma to grab the compass and leap into the open portal. Elsewhere, Mulan successfully pushes Aurora’s heart back into her body (because apparently we can do that?) and the two decide to find Phillip’s spirit.
Henry successfully manages to persuade Regina to reverse whatever she did the portal, predominantly by incessantly whining about how good will always triumph over evil and how she wants to change, and all of that stuff. So, Regina absorbs all of the magic from the portal, allowing Emma and Snow to safely come through. For her trouble, she is rewarded by Henry completely ignoring her so that he can loudly proclaim “Mum!” and frog leap onto Emma. Snow hurries off to revive Charming from his curse, dragged there by Ruby (who had been promptly yeeted across the forest by Gold, but apparently is completely chill about that). Emma takes the opportunity to confront Gold over her deep insecurities over whether or not she is special, forcing Gold to confirm that while he foresaw her destiny, he did not control it. Elsewhere, Henry embraces Regina and reaffirms his faith in her and how she is changing, before promptly completely abandoning her to go and have a celebratory dinner with Emma, the Charmings and the rest of the citizens of Storybrooke, without even a backwards glance or goodbye. I mean, honestly, the woman just protected all of you from Gold (guaranteed everybody will forget about Gold’s role in this whole debacle and just focus upon Regina) and allowed them to travel back to Storybrooke and this is how she is repaid? And, of course, Gold cannot resist the urge to twist the knife, by telling her that, “maybe next time they’ll invite you to dinner”. Savage. Gold continues to be the worst.
As a sinister ending, while we see the happy band of recently reunited heroes traipse recklessly down the middle of a road to Granny’s diner, Hook’s ship appears on the horizon, carrying Hook and Cora to Storybrooke using his petrified magic bean. Because letting a happy resolution lie just wouldn’t be appropriate.
This episode did a tremendous job with balancing its three storylines. While the return of flashbacks after the wonderful last episode wasn’t necessarily necessary or welcome, these at least helped to fill in some narrative blanks and answer some burning plot-related questions in a satisfactory way. Additionally, the quest to prevent Cora’s arrival in Storybrooke, both in Storybrooke and in the Enchanted Forest was full of action and tension, while also managing to fit in some satisfactory character moments.
Regina and Emma were the main characters to be aided by the character development in this episode. Through the flashback, we continue to learn more about Regina’s complicated relationship with her mother. While we thought we understood everything there was to know, as last we saw Regina had banished her mother through a looking glass to remove her from her life, we now come to understand that Cora is Regina’s weakness: that Regina’s love for Cora is a fragility that she cannot allow. It’s also helpful for us to understand that that was the perception of love that Cora cultivated in Regina, and goes some way to explain Regina’s attitudes towards the others in Storybrooke. Truly, throughout the entire time there, the only meaningful connections that Regina has made is with Henry. Other than that, she has not let anybody else in. In the present day storyline, we see Regina’s vulnerabilities shine through. She is clearly anxious about Henry’s shifting loyalties and his feelings towards Emma as a threat to their own connection, and she evidently values Henry’s continued faith in her and her innate goodness. Regina is also eager to prevent Cora from passing through into Storybrooke, not trusting herself, considering her love, to be able to defeat her and protect those around her from Cora’s terrible deeds. It’s ultimately this concept that spurs her into closing the portal, so it’s a sign of great development and commitment towards her promise to Henry that she doesn’t immediately give into Gold’s goading about eliminating her competition for Henry’s attention.
Emma also receives some meaningful development. We continue to see her sense of uncertainty and discomfort at the concept of being the Saviour, taking the opportunity within Rumple’s cell to see the worst and reconceptualise herself as merely a pawn in Rumple’s game. We saw this thought pattern back in season 1, as Emma struggled with the idea of being responsible for a town in the first place, so it was realistic for this plot line to come back again. Furthermore, we also learn that Emma’s abilities as the Saviour extend beyond just breaking the Dark Curse, as her immunity to Cora’s powers demonstrates a deeper and more profound level of magic at play.
Some gorgeous performances this week, as well. Any episode that focuses upon Barbara Hershey continues to be delightful, as she evidently relishes the role of Cora. The chemistry between her and Colin O’Donoghue continues to be captivating to watch. On the subject of Colin O’Donoghue, his charming rogue’s flirtation with Jennifer Morrison’s Emma dramatically heats up in just the few moments that these two share on screen, setting the scene for a potential romance between the two, which has been teased since their voyage up the beanstalk together earlier this season. Lana Parrilla also continues to act her socks off, kicking it out of the park in both time periods this week. Despite her dreadfully distracting Evil Queen garb this week, Parrilla managed to peel back the steely veneer that usually typifies the character to express her vulnerabilities concerning her mother. In the present day, the sense of hurt demonstrated by Regina when Henry and the others go off to dinner and leave her behind is truly emotional, and is making huge strides to portray Regina as a sympathetic character: no mean feat considering her myriad depraved acts throughout the show.
- Hook met Cora when Regina sent him to kill her.
- Cora protected herself and Hook from the curse so that she could support her daughter when the time came.
- Snow and Emma manage to overpower Hook and Cora and return to Storybrooke.
- Cora and Hook also manage to get to Storybrooke.
- Aurora (reunited with her heart) and Mulan leave in search of Phillip’s soul.
- Some brilliant humour this week. Emma’s “Isn’t that what spell books are? Spells in a book?” was absolutely perfectly timed and delivered, not to mention apt considering Snow’s nonsensical garbling.
- Aurora thankfully survived this week’s instalment despite having her heart ripped out and in Cora’s possession. Strangely, Hook was more than willing to give it back to the heroes, and Mulan somehow managed to perfectly place it back into Aurora’s body. Unfortunately, it looks like this may be the last we see of these characters for now. While I never really got a handle on Mulan in these episodes, Aurora was really starting to develop and come into her own, so hopefully we will catch up with these two and their quest to find Phillip at a later date.
- Hook and Emma’s sword fight can only be described as aggressively euphemistic.
- Hook’s assessment of Belle as “pretty, but useless” unfortunately sums up the portrayal of the character so far. In half a season, she pretty much just shows up and eats in every episode, and is yet to do very much other than the time she broke up with Gold in Episode 4, then promptly reunited with him. Hopefully the writers get a clearer sense of what to do with her character soon.
- What was with that strange light up floor in Belle’s cell? Who fitted that? Who made a prison cell and decided “Hey, we should have a lit floor in here?”. Literally nobody. That’s crazy.
- Why was Belle wearing such an alluring number in prison?
- I wonder where Cora is hiding her heart, and whether this may, in fact, be the key to defeating her when the time comes.
- I ship Mulan and Aurora. There. I said it. As you were.
- I am seriously annoyed that not a single person who skipped off to Granny’s thought to invite Regina. It’s just common courtesy, guys. I bet they’ll still talk to Gold and interact with him whenever they need stuff, despite the fact that he too wanted to destroy the portal – and Emma even agreed with him that that’s what she would have done in his situation. Yet, they continue to villainise Regina. It’s tiresome, and frustrating, but I have a feeling that it’s going to go on for quite some time to make us feel as bad as possible for Regina.
- Henry’s constantly shifting mindset and allegiance is getting really annoying at the moment. He flits between “Oh my god she’s evil, she lied to me” to “maybe you’re changing. You’re good on the inside, I know it!” to “You used magic, why would you lie to me and be evil” to “You’ve changed. I’m so proud of you.” Like, pick a lane kid. Either you believe in her, which is totally fair enough, or you don’t. If you believe in somebody, then you need to believe in them properly and actually trust them when somebody else says that they were lying. Absolutely ridiculous.
- On that note, why did Rumple even need Regina so that he could close the portal? The entire plot line revolved around him using his wand to steal the magic from the diamonds and then he cursed the portal. Regina just sort of stood there and watched. So really he didn’t need to trouble her at all.
Once Upon a Time ties up several plot points in its mid season finale, with a satisfying pay off and a frustrating cliffhanger.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.