Tonight we're in the Enchanted Forest, near a shabby looking windmill, and a man who's either dead, drunk or sleeping in a really awkward position. Guess number two turns out to be correct, when a beautiful young peasant woman pushing wheelbarrow rolls up and reads him the riot act. The drunken man is the local miller - that's the guy that grinds the grain into flour, for those of you who aren't busy reading trashy historical romance novels or active in the SCA.
The young woman delivers the flour to the nearby castle, and as she's hauling the bags, she's deliberately tripped by a snooty princess in a tiara and gorgeous dress. She falls, spilling a bit of the flower onto the princess's shoe. The king intercedes and refuses payment on the flour, and further demands an immediate apology - from the peasant girl - for having the audacity to dirty a princess's slipper. When the king condescendingly asks the peasant girl's name, we learn that she is none other than our own Cora, in her youth, and DAMN. Just...DAMN girl.
The king orders her to kneel, and then forces an apology by threatening to use another Miller. Cora glares up at the smug princess -now identified as Ava (yes, that Ava - Snow's mother as a much younger girl) and she gives her a stilted apology, with hatred shooting out of her eyes with the power of a thousand burning suns.
Forward to the Atlantic ocean, and ahoy the Jolly Roger! Gold is ensconsed in a bunk, bleeding his life away, and Emma asks him if it's true about the dagger - if Cora has it, can she force him to kill them all? Gold confirms it, and adds "You're hoping I bleed to death now, aren't you?" Emma is firm when she replies, "You're Henry's grandfather. We're family now. And I'm gonna save you."
Emma calls David, who calls Snow to let her know that Gold and company are on their way back to Storybrooke, and Gold is dying. Cora and Regina happen to be listening in on that conversation, thanks to a strategic wire tap (on a cell phone?) and Cora is worried. A forewarned Rumple is a dangerous Rumple. She picks up the dagger and Rumplestiltskin's name is slowly disappearing off it, one letter at a time. When he dies, the dagger will go blank and all that power will just be pissed down the drain.
Cora will have none of that. The only solution, she says, is to become The Dark One herself. Regina looks more than a little wary, clearly doubting her mother's motivations. "If we lose this battle, we will spend the rest of our lives on our knees in front of them," Cora grits out. "That is something I will never do."
Flashback to the magnificently costumed Enchanted Forest and what looks like a royal ball, complete with masquerade masks and glittering ballgowns galore. Into the party sneaks Cora, in an utterly jaw-dropping blood-red gown (and matching lipstick) that she's stolen from somewhere. She makes small talk with the prince, a likeable enough guy named Henry.
And this is where continuity becomes a serious issue for me. This guy is easily a few inches over six feet, and we know from his name that he's going to end up being Regina's beloved father, Henry. He's also cleary hispanic, as is his father. They may not identify as such in the Enchanted Forest, but they both have a lingering Spanish accent. Somehow, over the course of thirty or so years, Prince Henry shrinks a good foot in height and loses his accent entirely, becoming a stodgy little white guy. Ain't magical osteoporosis a bitch! WTF.
Sorry for the rant. That has always bothered me.
Anyway, she and the prince get flirty and daddy the king intervenes once he realizes who Cora is. He can't have his son marrying just anyone - Princess Ava is an heiress, and the kingdom needs her money. In a rash move, Cora lies her ass off and claims that she can turn straw into gold but won't do it since the king has been such a jerk to her.
The king calls her bluff, and gives her one night locked in the tower with a pile of straw and a spinning wheel. If she can successfully turn straw into gold, she can marry his son. If she fails, she dies.
Forward to Storybrooke, where Snow is still on the warpath and David is talking her out of taking vengeance, reminding her again and again of her exceptionally pure heart. Yeah, no pressure Snow.
The Jolly Roger makes port and Emma sends Henry off with Ruby for safety, They all head to Gold's shop, preparing to barricade themselves behind whatever magic he can throw up as a defense.
Flashback again to the Enchanted Forest, and Rumplestiltskin pays a visit to the tower where Cora is imprisoned, offering to spin her straw into gold. In return, he wants her firstborn child. She eyes him craftily, then says something that throws him.
She asks instead, to be taught. She wants to learn magic, because she wants power - true power. If he gives her that. she'll give him her child. (I'm writing these retroactively, remember. My eye is twitching over that line...)
Forward to Gold's in Storybrooke, where everyone is in battle mode. Gold asks Snow to fetch him a blanket from a cabinet, and there in the cabinet is the dark candle - the one that could have saved her mother's life. Gold says he's kept it "for a rainy day," and makes it clear that it's exactly such an occasion.
"I wouldn't use the candle to save my own mother," Snow points out. "What makes you think I'd use it for you?"
Gold tells her that for once, their interests are aligned. Snow, for all her seething and talk of vengeance, is thoughtful. "There's no coming back from murder," she says. Then she reminds him that the candle will only work if she can whisper Cora's name over her - but Gold lets her in on a secret: she only has to hold it over her heart - and Cora's heart isn't in her chest. The tricky part is that she has to get the heart back inside Cora's chest once she's cursed it.
In the other room, Emma is using magical invisible chalk to make a protective line at the doorway, and there's a wonderful moment where Neal teases her a bit while she's using it, having just found out that Emma has magic. She snarks back, and Neal is so clearly full of himself he automatically thinks she's prickly because of his fiancee. Emma denies that shit straight up. Then she (with a little guidance from Gold) casts her first ever protection spell.
I want to stop here and give serious kudos to Bobby Carlyle - his portrayal of a dying man is perfect, his body weakening and degrading as the minutes tick by: gasping, hands shaking...flawless.
Flashback to the Enchanted Forest, where Rumple is telling Cora that magic comes from emotion. He remembers that asshole that made him lick his boot all those years ago, and he and Cora get into this dark, oily, skeevy kind of flirt thing that makes your skin crawl while it's still sexy as hell. Cora remembers how it felt having to bow to those pompous royals and thinks about how much she wants to make them bow until their damn bones crack and break, and voila! She can do magic. She and Rumple clearly have a little sumpin-sumpin going on.
The following day, she spins her straw into gold, the king honors his bargain, and in front of the horribly affronted Princess Ava she accepts Prince Henry's proposal.
Forward to Storybrooke, where David is picking up on Snow's frazzled nerves. Cora and Regina show up throwing magic balls of fire, trying to batter down the protection spell. They get in the door, and Snow sneaks the hell out, running for the vault - and Cora's heart.
Emma, David and Neal try to hold Cora and Regina off. Cora realizes someone's after her heart, and sends Regina off to protect it as she advances on Mr. Gold.
Back to the Enchanted Forest again, and it's the day before Cora's wedding to Prince Henry. She and Rumple are clearly lovers, and when he remarks on her white dress, Cora replies:
"Brides have to be snow white."
"When you see the future," Rumple quips, "There is irony everywhere."
Cora confesses that she's not as happy about all this as she thought she'd be. Fifth in line to the throne is too far down the line of succession. She asks Rumple what he can give her instead and he offers her nothing but darkness and isolation. Then Cora bends over and employs the big guns, stuffing her milky-white cleavage in his face and asking for love, instead.
Rumple is clearly still a very, very lonely man and come on...a guy can only take so much provocation (and that's a lot of provocation. At least a D-cup's worth). He offers to amend their deal. Instead of some random child, she will now owe him his child - with her. She agrees, and the deal is struck.
There's only one pesky thing she has to do before she can run off with him, though. She wants her vengeance on the king for humiliating her. Rumple helps her out by showing her how to take a heart out and crush it to smithereens.They seal the promise with a kiss, and I wonder how the hell she does that without getting any gold glitter on her face.
But I digress...
She visits the king in his quarters to tell him that she doesn't love Prince Henry. The king doesn't care. Love is weakness, he tells her. She can run off with Rumple in the name of love or stand next to Prince Henry with a crown on her head and citizens at her feet.
"If the choice is love or power, then even having a heart is a liability, don't you think?" she cooes, running her hand along his chest.
Forward to Gold's shop, where he's dialed the phone so he can talk to Belle one last time. She listens intently as he gives a very, very cheesy death speech so soppy with sentimentality that it would have made me roll my eyes if anyone other than Bobby Carlyle had to play it. He takes that dreck and makes it sing, and Neal is suddenly seeing a side of his Dad that he never knew existed.
Gold tells Neal he's sorry for everything and Neal, despite his anger. holds his father's hand.
Now we're in Regina's vault, where Snow locates Cora's heart just about the time that David realizes she's gone. He takes off to find her. Snow lights the candle and creepily whispers Cora's name over the heart just before Regina shows up to find out what the hell she's doing.
Snow puts on a placid face and tells Regina she's there to get the heart so that she can give it to Regina. Maybe with a heart in her chest, Cora can finally love Regina the way she needs to be loved. She tells Regina she can finally have a family that Henry can be a part of, or she can let Cora become The Dark One. She puts the heart in Regina's hands, so that she can make her own decision.
Back in the Enchanted Forest again, Rumplestiltskin is waiting at the crossroads for Cora - and it's apparent she's long overdue. When she finally shows, she's distant, changed. She tells Rumple she's staying and marrying the prince. She's taken her own heart out, to protect herself from love, and now because of that, she can no longer love him. Nor will she ever have his child, per their contract. Any child she has now won't be his.
And we fly forward to Storybrooke again, where David comes upon Snow, who is guilt-stricken over what she's done. Cora is finally through the last protection spell in Gold's shop, and Gold's life is hanging by a single letter left on the dagger. Cora quickly whooshes Neal and Emma out to the forest somewhere, and then...guess what?
Yep...she starts monologin'. When will villains ever learn? She confesses that Rumple was the one great love of her life, and the sole reason she ripped her own heart out but she's still gonna kill him anyway. She leans in to make the death blow and then grimaces as Regina has suddenly shoved her own heart back into her from behind.
She turns in wide-eyed shock, and then a moment later we see the wound in her chest - Gold's wound, now transferred to her, and with her dying breath, she finally flashes back to Regina's childhood, and she looks up at her daughter with love as she says, "This...would have been enough...you would have been enough."
And then she dies in Regina's arms. Holy crap. Tricked into murdering your own mother! Regina starts to blame Gold, but Snow rushes in, screaming Regina's name, trying to stop her a little too late and Regina realizes it was Snow all along. We end on a close-up of Regina's seething, furious face.
I'm giving this one five dark daggers out of five.
This one had it all - great backstory, exemplary performances, sexy, oily chemistry and invisible chalk. Well done, actors, director, costumers, and writers (despite that cheesy Gold monologue). Well done.