We begin in fairyland past with the miller’s daughter, returning to her mill to find her father drunk and asleep – apparently a habit of his. In frustration she has to deliver the flour herself to some grandly appointed castle structure (what these medieval style palaces and structures don’t have servant’s entrances? They haul several bags of flour through thoroughfares in castles used by the nobility?) Hauling the heavy bags of flour, one of the wealthy noblewomen deliberately trips her. It’s princess Eva from the northern kingdom and the (presumably) king announces that the miller’s daughter won’t be paid for the flour and must apologise to Eva. The miller’s daughter is furious and calls Eva a girl. The king demands her name – the miller’s daughter is Cora. She is forced to kneel and apologise – and remain kneeling until the nobility have passed.
In present day real world, Neal, Emma, Henry and Rumple are sailing back to Storybrooke in this odd pirate ship that is faster than modern transport (apparently). Emma asks Rumple about the dagger – whether Cora and Regina could use it to force Rumple to do anything, including kill them all. He says they could and comments that Emma probably wants him to bleed to death from his injury now. She denies it, pointing out he’s Henry’s grandfather, he’s family now. (Argh… ok taking this rant to the bottom of the page). Emma calls Snow to explain their situation and Rumple’s wound.
Which is listened to by Regina and Cora who have tapped the phone – with Cora being unhappy at being called “wicked.” She’s also concerned that Rumple has been warned about the dagger and has time to think, and he is very clever (I have to admit “Rumplestiltskin has time to think” would worry me too). Regina points out his injured and they see his name beginning to fade on the dagger – he’s not injured, he’s dying. And if he dies like this, his Dark One power will disappear too. Regina wants to use his power to get Henry back before he dies but Cora doesn’t want to speed up Rumple’s death (uh-huh, she has other plans for him). Instead, Cora will stab him with the knife and claim his power. Regina protests, Henry would never forgive that, it wouldn’t get Henry back – which is the whole point. Wait, is it the whole point? (At last, Regina gets a lightbulb moment). She accuses Cora of trying to just get power and Cora says yes – to protect themselves, because if they don’t have the power they’ll spend the rest of their short lives on their knees, which she won’t do again.
Back to fairyland past when Cora sneaks into a royal masquerade ball, wearing a fancy dress. While there she makes a very snarky comment to a masked man expressing pity for Prince Henry having all these rich woman attend to try and buy him. Of course, the masked man is Prince Henry. They dance but before the dance can barely begin the king cuts in – recognising Cora he degrades her as beneath him again and points out she still has straw stuck to her dress. She fights back accusing him of selling his own flesh and blood for money, he admits they need money but they’re still better than her and what can she offer – she claims to be able to spin straw into gold. But since she’s been insulted, she won’t help – “good luck whoring your son.” The king counters by announcing to the whole ballroom Cora’s claimed ability and adds that she will spend the night locked in a tower full of straw. If she turns it to gold, she can marry the prince – fail and she dies.
Back to Storybrooke where they help Rumple out of the boat, Henry introduces Neal to Charming as his dad and Charming asks Rumple if Cora has control of his dagger getting the responds that since they’re all still alive, then no, no she doesn’t. And Mary Margaret has grown some sense and is angrily declaring that they’ll stop her and kill her. Of course Charming has a full blown “no you’re too goo and pure and you just can’t!” moment (Charming has shown willingness it execute in the past – but Snow’s just toooo precious?). Henry is loaded off on Ruby to keep him out of the crossfire while they go to Rumple’s shop.
Back to Fairyland where a desperate Cora is considering jumping out of the window and is visited by Rumplestiltskin. And look who can spin straw into gold and is willing to do so – in exchange for her first born child (with extra lovely snarkiness) so she can then demand the hand of the prince and make him kneel before her. She says no – she wants to be taught, which impresses Rumplestiltskin enough for him to tell her his name.
Back in Storybrooke, the gang in Rumple’s shop are preparing for battle with invisible chalk. And Emma and Neal clearly have more issues what with Neal adding to the “surprises” he’s sprung on her with his fiancée. Then Mary Margaret finds the candle – the candle the fake fairy had that would save a life in exchange for a life. She asks about it but Rumple says he has it for a rainy day. It’s the only thing that can save Rumple’s life. Mary Margaret protests she couldn’t do it to save her own mother – why would she for him. He counters that she’s an adult now and their interests are aligned; they need to find Cora’s heart (which isn’t in her body) use the candle over it and return it to her body, killing her but healing him. Mary Margaret suggests using Cora’s heart to make her “do the right thing” and leaving Rumple to die, but points out he’s Henry’s grandfather and how sad Henry would be to see him die.
But first they need a protection spell which Rumple is in no state to cast – that’s Emma’s job. Rumple talks her through the process, imagining and realisation rather than over thinking it. Magic is about emotion not thought
Back to Fairyland in the past where Rumplestiltskin gives the same lesson to Cora – describing his moment when he thinks of the man who made him kiss his boots in front of his son. He remembers that, the anger of it and thinks of ripping out the man’s throat instead – that is how magic is made., Cora sums it up as bloodlust, and he doesn’t deny it. She thinks of being made to kneel, made to apologise to a child – and no matter what she did or how good she was she would never be more than she is now. Rumple asks what she wants to do and she says she wants them to bow, to make their necks crack from bowing, their knees freeze and break from kneeling. Oooh I like her. Imagining it, she spins straw into gold. Rumple says she’ll do much more than that – don’t stop until they’re on their knees. There’s lots of interesting and intense flirting going on as well.
Next day in court she spins gold for them in the throne room, with Rumple, cowled and hooded, looking on. King Xavier is stunned “you’re just a Miller’s daughter” but Cora replies she’s so much more. The King tells her she’s earned the prince and he kneels before her and she accepts his marriage proposal.
Back to Storybrooke and Mary Margaret is still troubled about the choice ahead and doing what has to be done. At which point Regina and Cora arrive, battering down Emma’s protection spell with ease. As they enter, Emma urges Regina to think about what she’s doing but she won’t listen. Mary Margaret sneaks out the back door.
There’s a battle and despite original wins (charming being quickly thrown out of the shop), Cora drops the Dark one Dagger while avoiding a sword slash from Neal and Emma manages to hold a knife to Regina’s throat. With Neal ready to grab the dagger, Cora has a choice – Regina or the dagger. She calls the dagger to her hand. Emma doesn’t stab Regina but throws her at Cora; she and Neal flee into the back room, Emma raising a new protective barrier. Cora turns to Regina with the plan but then staggers, shakily – someone is in the vault with her heart. She sends Regina to the vault while she attacks the barrier.
Back in Fairyland, Rumplestiltskin greets Cora in her wedding dress with a kiss. He compliments the dress and she says “all brides have to be snow white” to which he responds “when you see the future, there’s irony everywhere.” But Cora has been examining her choices – 5th in line to be Queen and she’s not sure she wants it. Rumple says he can only give her darkness and isolation but she asks “and love?” and he agrees that he can give her that. He offers to amend their contract – rather than getting her firstborn child, he changes it to she giving him his child. They both come together and want this really want this – but there’s one little thing. Cora hasn’t forgiven the King for his humiliation of her – she wants to kill him, to show him his heart before she kills him so he can see it as he crushes it. And this is why Rumple loves her. I’m kind of in awe of her too.
Leaving the awesomeness that is past Cora, we return to Storybrooke present and the Wet Lettuceness of Mary Margaret in the vault looking for Cora’s heart. She finds it and lights the candle over it, she whispers Cora’s name – then blows out the candle.
Back to fairyland and Cora the awesome finds King Xavier winding his treasure on spindles. She tells him she doesn’t love his son. He says he never expected her to – it’s about alliances not love. Love is a weakness. And he knows about Rumple and presents her options – run off with the evil imp for love or stand next to his son with a crown on her head and citizens at her feet. Love or power. If that’s the choice, she says even having a heart is a liability – putting her hand on his chest. We don’t see what happens, but we see her walk away with a heart in a box.
In Storybrooke, Rumple is getting weaker and asks Emma to talk to Belle. Emma gets Belle on the phone, despite her not remembering him. He tells her who she was, her good qualities in an amazingly well done and beautiful call (even if “who she is” is a big list of what she makes Rumple feel like). The call is overheard by Neal who is choked up and stunned. This allows them to have a heart to heart about Rumple’s going back on their deal and be choked up and grieving together.
In the vault Regina confronts Mary Margaret and Mary Margaret says she was going to give the heart to Regina – Cora can’t love her, she doesn’t have her heart. Maybe, with it, she can (the cursed heart). Regina tells her that Cora took out her heart to protect herself but Mary Margaret questions if it worked – did the person she was actually survive without love. Mary Margaret keeps talking about how Cora never really loved Regina and what it would be like to have an actual mother (what a total stranger who shares your biology?) and make a real family Henry can be part of – or just be the dark one.
In Fairyland, Rumple waits for Cora who arrives, late, with the box. He realises something isn’t right. Cora said she could take the King’s heart but chose not to, she’s not going with Rumple. Her heart is in the box – her heart was stopping her from forcing them onto their knees as she said she would. Rumple is astonished, they had a contract – but she says the contract meant he only got his own child – and any baby she has, won’t be his.
Charming finds Mary Margaret at the tomb and sees she’s very disturbed. He asks, in horror, what she did and Mary Margaret says he was right – this isn’t her. Just as Cora breaks down the barrier and uses her purple smoke to teleport Neal and Emma out of the way, leaving her with the dying Rumple.
Rumple lays on his death bed and asks Cora if she ever loved him, his vision never told him that. She says that’s why she ripped her heart out - he was her weakness, the only man she ever loved. She raises the dagger to stab Rumple – and Regina returns her heart. The dagger drops from Cora’s hand – Rumplestiltskin’s name fully restored as he opens his eyes, awake and aware. Cora looks at Regina, smiling and happy
Cut to fairyland and Cora presenting her baby to the court that all kneels before her “her name is Regina, for one day she will be Queen”.
Present Cora’s joy is short lived as she collapses with a wound appearing on her chest – a mirror to the wound of Rumplestiltskin, that now heals. Cora is cradled in Regina’s arms and she says “this would have been enough, you would have been enough.”
She asks Rumple what’s going on – he stands healthy, with his knife back and entirely healed. Regina accuses Rumple of stealing her life – but he says “I did nothing” (awesomely like everything else in this episode) just as Mary Margaret rushes in screaming at Regina to stop. Too late
Ok, my rant. I truly hate Once Upon a Time’s “family” message and idea. What’s family? People you share DNA with. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done to you, it doesn’t matter how estranged you are, it doesn’t matter if they’re complete and utter strangers to you – so long as you share that DNA you’re FAMILY and it’s SPECIAL and IMPORTANT
But raise a child from an infant until he is 12 years old? Not family. Not motherhood. A man and a woman he has never met before are his “real” parents and instantly become mom and dad; a man who has been, at best, a manipulative enemy all his life, is Henry’s grandfather and quickly acknowledged as such. About the only person the show recognises as Henry’s “family” who has spent any actual time with him is Mary Margaret/Snow White. Is anyone looking at Cora as a grandmother for Henry? They’ve actually implied Regina as a grandmother figure for Henry (loosely) because she is Snow’s stepmother.
Rant over, now may I just gasp in awe at this one. We not only have Cora’s backstory that explains so much more of this complex character – but she is several kinds of awesome – ruthless and dangerous and more than a little evil but brutally determined. And yes, Rose McGowen does an awesome job this episode. The scenes, the emotion in this episode was immense – Rumple and Cora’s performances were amazing.
This adds so much not only to Cora’s backstory, but also to Rumplestiltskin’s – why he consider love to be a trick when he first met Belle, why he was so wary.
And Cora’s last words? She chose power when asked to choose between love and power – and on her last words says love would have been enough. So well done. So much awesome… except – Regina just got another body blow. At the same time “owe we murdered Cora” uh-huh, choice was murdering Cora or having her achieve ULTIMATE COSMIC POWER and murdering everyone.