Once Upon A Time, in the Enchanted Past, young Cora (Rose McGowan) is the daughter of a drunken miller. When she's delivering flour to the palace, she is inexplicably (thus far) but purposefully tripped by visiting Princess Eva (Eva Allan). So much for Eva's "Peasants are people, too," schtick from last week. That said, I hope and actually expect there's more to Cora's hatred of Eva than we get in "The Miller's Daughter." Anyhow, King Xavier (Joaquim de Almeida) orders Cora to apologize and remain on her knees until the royals have left the premises.
Cora crashes a royal masquerade ball but her mask can't hide her from the King, who cuts in while she's dancing with Prince Henry (Zak Santiago). After exchanging a few barbs (she accuses him of whoring out his son, while he belittles her station and her stolen straw-flecked gown) Cora claims she can spin straw into gold and tries to swan off. King Xavier stops her and mocks her claims before his guests. When Cora says it will take time, Xavier tells her she can spend the night in the tower. If she spins straw into gold, she can marry Prince Henry. If she fails, she shall die.
From there on out the tale mostly follows the Rumpelstiltskin story, or would, if Rumpy wrote it down in a letter to Penthouse. Instead of spinning the straw for her though, Rumpelstiltskin makes a deal to teach Cora how to spin straw into gold, provided she gives him her firstborn. The next day, when Cora demonstrates her ability to King Xavier he makes good on his word and Henry proposes marriage.
As the wedding approaches, Rumpy visits the soon-to-be bride. It's clear they've been canoodling and Cora has developed feelings for her sparkly lover. She is ready to give up her royal marriage for a chance to be with him. At first, Rumpy says all he can give her is darkness and isolation, but when she says he can give her love, he agrees. Cora admits love is what she wants, so Rumpy amends their contract. She no longer owes him a random firstborn child, but rather his child. There's just one thing; Cora cannot forget her humiliation at the hands of the king. She wants to tear out his heart and crush it. This turns Rumpy on so he agrees to show her how. They seal their deal with a kiss.
When Cora meets with King Xavier, she learns he knows about her affair with the Evil Imp. Telling her that love is weakness, Xavier says she can run off with her lover, or she can enjoy all the trappings of royalty and all the power it brings. Later, meeting with Rumpy, Cora reveals that she chose to rip out her own heart, rather than Xavier's. It was stopping her from reaching her goals. Rumpy is furious and accuses her of never loving him. With tears in her eyes, Cora listens, but since her heart is in wooden chest rather than her fleshy one, I'm pretty sure her tears for the Crocodile are only crocodile tears.
Present. Henry helps Neal sail the Jolly Roger back to town. Meanwhile, Cora and Regina listen in on the Charmings' phone conversation. In what might be the most delightful moment of the hour, after Cora hears Snow refer to her as "that wicked woman" she knocks the speaker off of Regina's desk. When Regina chides her, Cora says, "I don't like what that enchanted box was saying." Regina tries to explain how it's just a phone tap, and everyone under fifty feels for her, as she tries to be patient with her technology-impaired parent.
Once the Charmings have pawned Henry off on Ruby, the rest of the Storybrooke story revolves around Neal, Emma, Snow and Charming trying to protect Mr. Gold. When Snow is alone with Gold in the back room of his shop, he asks her for a blanket and directs her to a cabinet, but inside she finds the Life-for-a-Life candle. Rumpy wants Snow to use it to save him, but she points out she didn't even use it to save her own mother and asks what makes him think she'd use it for him. Rumpy says, "You're all grown up, now. And for once, our interests are aligned." I don't often quote in recaplets, but that line -- especially the first sentence -- has me thinking all the thoughts.
Anyhow, Gold says Snow can find Cora's heart in Regina's vault, burn the candle over it and whisper Cora's name. He allows that the tricky part of this plan involves shoving the heart back into Cora. Snow suggests she could instead use Cora's heart to force her to do the right thing and Gold would die. This would take care of two evils at once. Not liking the sound of that, Gold says he can just imagine how Henry will feel when he finds out Snow killed his grandfather.
Gold teaches Emma to cast a protection spell over the shop, which is but a momentary inconvenience for the Evil Regals. Once Regina and Cora are inside, the only thing keeping them from Gold is a magical chalk line. (I'll explain in the recap.) Snow manages to get out, and Charming is again knocked out. He seems to be in a race with Hook to become the Rupert Giles of this show.
Snow heads to the vault as Neal and Emma try to fend off the Evil Regals. Once Neal and Emma are in the back room, behind the magical chalk line, Cora senses that someone is approaching her heart and dispatches Regina to the vault, to retrieve it. Meanwhile, in the back room, Gold asks Emma to place a call to Belle. Once he's got her on the line he melts everyone's heart, Neal's included. I hate doing this in recaplets, but I have to quote Gold at length, now. It's too good to gloss over. He even manages to salvage Belle's character a bit. It's that good.
When Belle answers the phone, she reminds him she doesn't remember him. Gold says, "I know. I know. It's just uh... Sweetheart, I'm dying." After Belle says she sorry to hear that Gold continues. "I know that you're confused about who you are, so I'm gonna tell you. You are a hero who helped your people. You're a beautiful woman who loved an ugly man -- really, really loved me. You find goodness in others. And when it's not there, you create it. You make me wanna go back -- back to the best version of me. And that never happened before. So when you look in the mirror and you don't know who you are -- that's who you are. Thank you... Belle." Oof.
After the call has ended, a tearful Neal says he didn't know his father had that in him. Gold replies, "Oh, I'm full of love. I've spent a lifetime looking for you -- for a chance to say I love you, and I'm sorry." There's more talk between them that will keep 'til the recap. Suffice it to say that Gold reaches for his son's hand as asks if he might grasp it. When Neal says he's still angry, Gold replies, "I know." This is enough to break the logjam. Neal is Baelfire now. He clasps his father's hand and rests his head on it.
Regina finds Snow at the vault. Snow presents Regina with Cora's heart and says that without it, Cora is incapable of giving Regina the love she craves. As she waves the bait of real motherly love and the start of a family worthy of Henry, Snow tells Regina the choice is hers.
Later, when David finds Snow outside the vault she's clutching her head in her hands. Telling David he was right, she says, "This isn't me." Oh, Snow. No it isn't. "The Miller's Daughter" is full of strong acting, but Ginnifer Goodwin's performance in this small scene just blows me away.
Back at the shop, Cora breaks through the last barrier and promptly poofs away Neal and Emma into the woods, which makes me say, "I see what you did there, Jane Espenson." Of course poofing them away so easily raises the question of why she didn't poof away all four of her opponents when she and Regina first entered the shop. Too powerful magic continues to vex this series. I'd love an episode in which some of the villains powers are somehow limited, in both Storybrooke and L'enchantement.
Once she's alone with Gold, Cora tells him she had to rip out her heart because he was her weakness -- the only man she ever truly loved. Standing over his bed, she raises the dagger in the air and is about to plunge it into the Dark One, when Regina enters and shoves Cora's heart back into her chest. The change in Cora's expression is remarkable. Regina instantly responds to the love she has finally found in her own mother's eyes, but her joy is short lived. As Cora's legs give way, Gold looks down to see that his wound has been instantly healed.
Regina catches the falling Cora, who now bears Rumpy's wound. Meanwhile, Rumpy reaches for his dagger. His name, which had been disappearing throughout the episode, is once again fully engraved on the dagger -- in all its misspelled glory. Cora looks up at Regina and says, "This would have been enough. You would've been enough," and then dies. Looking at the fully healed Rumpy, Regina assumes he cast the spell that stole her life but he says he did nothing. Just then, Snow and Charming barge in. Snow is yelling, "Regina! Stop!" Alas, it is too late. Regina looks up at her nemesis and hisses, "You did this." And I did this, that is, I went into so much detail that you should probably expect to see a few of these paragraphs plagiarized in the recap. Oops.
There is an awful lot I love about this episode. I love Snow's dilemma (even as I regret her choice) and respect that Once Upon A Time has gone there with her character, even though it's not what I wanted to see. That said, the backstory set in the Enchanted Past fails to move me at all -- which is why this episode did not get a better grade.
I understand writing young Cora as a strong and even bold character, but her dialogue sails her right past Bold Beach and leaves her shipwrecked on Impudence Isle. Her lines with the royals take me completely out of the episode. Physically, Rose McGowan is well cast as a young Cora, but even prior to ripping out her own heart, she does not delve to the emotional depths that Barbara Hershey seems to reach without breaking a sweat. To be fair to McGowan, I'm not sure what else she could do with what she was given.
It is jarring, and not in a good way, that Eva, the same benevolent Queen we met last week, is such a petty Princess this week. Of course, the character matures between this week's events and those of "The Queen Is Dead;" I understand that yet even the young Princess is a little too long in the tooth for such childish, nasty behavior. As I said up top, I fully expect there is more to Cora and Eva's backstory and that someday we'll get it. That's wonderful and I look forward to it, but that does nothing to explain Eva this week.
Complaints aside, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Michael Raymond-James, Barbara Hershey, and of course Lana Parrilla and Robert Carlyle bring their A games. If I could ignore the flashbacks, I'd give this episode an A based both on their performances and the Storybrooke writing. I have more to say but this is nearly a recap already and I don't want future me to use hatred of present me to fuel any dark magic, so I'll let it steep a bit.
I will be back with the full recap, ASAP. In the meantime, please grade the episode at the top of the page and then come on over to the forum, where we promise we won't post in invisible, magic chalk.
Previously on Once Upon A Time, Hook travels to Manhattan, and with his poison laced hook, he stabs Rumpelstiltskin in the chest. Baelfire says he can pilot the Jolly Roger back to Storybrooke. Snow overhears Regina and Cora's plans to find the Dark One's dagger. Cora, disguised as the Blue Fairy, gives wee Snow White a magical Life-for-a-Life candle. Cora crows over Queen Eva's corpse. Adult Snow accuses Cora of killing her mother. Cora admits she did, in order to make Regina queen. And...
Now on Once Upon A Time, we open in the Enchanted Past, as we so often do, and that really ticks me off for only one reason. I like to do the Previously to Now, juxtaposition, but the Now always ends up being a Then, if you see what I mean. Why won't the show cater to my peculiarities?
In the Enchanted Past, we meet youngish Cora (Rose McGowan), who is the Miller's Daughter we've been so long expecting. Her drunken father is passed out on their wagon full of flour that should have already been delivered. Cora upbraids him, throws his cup and pushes the wagon all the way to a...
Random Kingdom. The young version of Snow White's mother, Eva, is played by Eva Allan, which I'm spelling out, because my mother (who is nothing if not quick on her feet) didn't realize until we talked who the young princess was supposed to be. I don't blame her, because we just met Eva last week, and she was sweet, kind and fair (and played by Rena Sofer), and this week, she's a spoiled brat who trips Cora for no given reason. I already complained about this at length in the recaplet (and understand it will likely be explained in the future, but I don't care) so I'm letting that go now. Really. To add insult to injury, when Cora falls, the sacks of flour she was lugging spill open, and then King Xavier (Joaquim de Almeida) tells Cora she won't be paid for the flour this, and makes her apologize, on her knees, to Eva.
Apparently, Eva is an honored guest from the Northern Kingdom, which I only mention because it's great to have even the tiniest morsel of kingdom differentiation in the Fairy Tale flashbacks. Cora is unbelievably (and I mean that -- I can't buy it) rude to Eva and to the King, but I already complained about that in the recaplet, too. Bah. I hate recaplet-writing me. So yes, the apple that is Regina didn't fall far from Mother Tree. Cora chooses to become a murderous, vengeful wretch because of this small incident. I'm already emotionally disengaged from this character and we're about two minutes in. That doesn't bode well for the rest of McGowan's scenes. Title card (featuring a spinning wheel).