‘Once Upon A Time’ catered to their fans’ desires in the highly anticipated and gripping winter finale. If you have been worrying about a gut-wrenching cliffhanger at the end of “Queen of Hearts,” your troubles were eased last night with a pleasant surprise.
As ‘Once’ closes out the first half of the season, we can enter the New Year with the comfort of knowing that the Charming family has finally reunited. But that wasn’t the only shocker. Last night’s fairytale flashback revealed more back-story on Regina and Cora’s severely twisted relationship and showed us how the manipulative duo first met Hook. In the present, Emma & Co. overcome all odds and find their way back home, Henry prevents Regina and Gold from going through with a plan they would all regret, and Hook provides Cora with a back-up plan that sails them straight into Storybrooke.
Fairytale Land: “Love is weakness…your grip on my heart is just too strong.”
Hook sneaks into the Evil Queen’s palace, slashing his way through her guards, until he reaches Belle’s secluded room. He explains how the Dark One plans on killing her father, so he is there to rescue her and destroy Rumple before he causes her any harm. Hook knows Belle grew close to the “monster” during her captivity, so surely she knows how to kill the murderous “beast.” When Belle insists she has no idea how to kill Rumpy, nor would she ever want to, Hook’s cunning charm calluses into a swift life-ending swing at innocent Belle. Suddenly, Regina blows the door open and magically apprehends the captain’s sharp appendage before her hurts the Evil Queen’s precious chess piece. Although Hook deems Belle’s lack of knowledge to be useless, Regina knows she can be used to manipulate Rumple in the future. Since Regina and Hook have the common goal of destroying the Dark One, she recruits the handy pirate for a favor and offers him help in return.
Years ago, Regina cast her mother into Wonderland. Before she activates Rumple’s curse, Regina wants Hook to enter Wonderland, claim Cora’s heart and bring her body back with him. Regina wants her mother dead because she can’t risk having her enter Storybrooke once the curse has been cast. She takes out Jefferson’s magic hat and explains the rules to Hook. The number of people who enter Wonderland must equal the same amount of people leave it. She sends a dead guard through the portal with Hook so that he can return with Cora. Regina then enchants the captain’s hook so he can retrieve only one heart. Knowing that Hook witnessed how Rumple pulverized Milah’s heart in the past, Regina is confident that the vengeful pirate will be able to capture Cora’s heart with ease.
Hook pays Cora, the Queen of Hearts, a visit. He thrusts his hook into her chest, but her heart is missing. Cora removed it years ago and kept it hidden, so no one could take it from her. She explains to Hook that the key to holding a heart is having complete control over its owner. Then she reaches into Hook’s chest, holds his heart, and demands answers. Hook exposes Regina’s entire plan and Cora seems truly surprised by her daughter’s actions. Instead of killing Hook, she decides to use him. Cora says Regina should’ve killed her herself and strikes a deal with the savvy pirate.
Cora tells Hook that the curse would send everyone to Storybrooke with no memory of their past. Hook would be able to kill Rumple, but there would be no satisfaction in murdering his “crocodile.” Cora wants Hook to take her back to Regina, so she can rip her daughter’s heart out herself. In return, Cora will help Hook exact his revenge.
Moments later, we flashback to twenty-eight years ago and watch Cora rests in an open tomb as Regina says goodbye. With a few tears in her eyes, Regina apologizes and explains that she killed her mother out of love. Regina learned from Cora years ago that love is a weakness and her love for Cora would put her at greater risk in Storybrooke. Regina lays a rose on Cora’s chest and leaves the chamber. Once the coast s clear, Hook hops in and asks why Cora didn’t claim Regina’s heart. The maleficent mother has come up with yet another plan: Cora needs to be there for her daughter in the future, so they need to be protected from the curse.
While Regina casts the curse, Cora and Hook stand on the outskirts of the Enchanted Forest and the Queen of Hearts casts a gigantic protective field over the surrounding area. Cora tells Hook that the curse will be broken in 28 years. He feels like that is too long to wait, but Cora explains that it will feel like mere moments for them because her spell freezes time until Emma breaks the curse.
Post-Curse Fairytale Land: “Love is strength.”
Emma & Co. enter Rumple’s old cell and discover that the magic squid ink jar is empty. Aurora finds a scroll hidden in the walls and Emma’s name is repeatedly written all over the page. Suddenly, Aurora closes the cell door just as Cora and Hook arrive in the dungeon. Aurora gives Cora the compass and is shocked by her own actions. Cora reveals that she has been controlling Aurora’s heart and Hook proudly admits it was his gift to her. He casts blame on Emma for betraying him at the beanstalk. He shows Emma the Giant’s last magic-less bean and says it is just like her, “dried up and useless.” Emma believes he would’ve done the same to her, but Hook leans in close and declares that he would not have left her. Hook and Cora run off with the compass, Aurora’s heart, and the Giant’s shriveled bean, leaving the ladies trapped in Rumple’s old cell.
Once again, Emma blames herself and is unnerved by how much Rumple plotted out these huge heroic moments in her life. She feels more like a pawn rather than a true savior. Snow comforts her and tells her not to worry because good always defeats evil. After a bit, Snow remembers watching Cora practice magic from her spell-book and realizes they’ve had the ink with them the whole time. Snow blows the ink off the scroll and the dark magic mist opens the cell door. They rush out, but Aurora stays behind and asks to be tied down so Cora can’t use her to sabotage their plans. Mulan ties her to the cell door and then the three of them hurry to stop Cora before it is too late.
Meanwhile, it looks like evil is taking advantage of a head start. Cora takes Hook to the barren Lake Nostros and resuscitates its healing waters by magically bursting a geyser from below the sandy surface. Cora hands Hook the wardrobe dust, he tosses it into the geyser and the portal to Storybrooke opens. Cora grabs the compass and as they prepare to jump in, Snow shoots the compass out of her hand. During the tussle, Aurora’s heart hurls towards the portal, but Hook catches it in the nick of time and hands it over to the girls. Emma sends Mulan back to Aurora, but before she leaves, Mulan gives her an enchanted sword that will protect them from Cora’s magic. Emma and Hook flirtatiously swash-buckle a bit until she gets a hold of the compass and punches him out. Cora closes in on Snow and vows to take her heart to Regina. As Cora reaches towards her chest, Emma jumps in front of Snow and receives Cora’s blow to the heart. Cora scoffs at Emma, reiterating that love is a weakness, but not this time. Cora tries to yank Emma heart out, but it won’t budge. Utterly shocked, Emma pauses and tells Cora that she is wrong, “love is strength.” A magical purple force thrusts Cora aside, giving Emma and Snow enough time jump into the portal.
Later, we see Mulan successfully insert Aurora’s heart back into her chest. With Emma and Snow’s mission complete, the two princesses are left to start a journey of their own. They are going to find a way to reunite Phillip’s soul with his body.
As for Hook and Cora, the wardrobe’s portal has closed, but Hook already had a back up plan prepared. They will use the lake’s magic water to revive the Giant’s magic bean and open another portal to Storybrooke.
Storybrooke: “Good always defeats evil. You should know that more than anyone.”
Gold has an unpleasant chat with Regina, while Henry sweetly reads Snow White’s tale to sleeping Charming. Some of Henry’s kindness has rubbed off on Regina because she is actually concerned about Snow making it back to Storybrooke soon enough to cure David with True Love’s kiss. However, Gold is focusing on a greater threat at hand. Since David hasn’t woken up, they can’t be sure Snow got his message, which means that Cora could be the one who comes through the portal. Gold believes they must destroy the portal to protect Storybrooke. When Regina hesitates, he reminds her that if Emma and Snow don’t return, she would become the only mother in Henry’s life. Regina likes the sound of that and definitely doesn’t want Cora in Storybrooke, so she helps him out.
Regina tells Henry they are going to help Emma and Snow make it safely through the portal. He is pleasantly surprised by how much she has changed and appreciates the effort she has been making. After Henry’s premature praise, Regina and Gold go to the mines and suck all of the magic out of the fairy dust diamonds. When Leroy and Ruby see that the magic has vanished, they run to tell Henry. Charming Jr. now realizes that Regina and Gold must be stopped.
Gold leads Regina to the wishing well, the place where lost things can be returned. Gold casts a spell over the portal that will kill anyone who enters through it. Suddenly, Henry and Ruby rush into the forest. Gold flings Ruby aside, while Henry runs to Regina and begs her to remove the spell. He convinces her that good always defeats evil, but Regina is afraid of what Cora will do, especially to her son. Henry asks her to have faith in him and believe that what he knows and feels is true. Regina makes her first sincerely caring sacrifice for Henry and absorbs the green shockwaves from the curse they cast over the wishing well. Henry starts to panic when he doesn’t see Emma and Snow immediately and everyone fears the worst.
Moments later, Emma and Snow White emerge from the well and scoop Henry up in theirs arms in a long-awaited embrace. Emma tells Regina that her mother is a “piece of work” and for a second it seems that their fear of Cora and love of Henry could bring them closer together. Snow White asks to see Charming, so they all hurry back to Gold’s shop. Snow kisses him and breaks the sleeping curse. Rumple also apologizes to Emma for ever doubting her. Emma confronts him on rigging the game of her life by setting her up to do what he wanted, but Rumpy says that isn’t so. He simply knew that Emma would be born out of True Love and that would make her the strong woman she is today. Emma confesses what happened when Cora tried to take her heart. She wonders if Gold played a part in that magic moment, but Gold says that solely Emma possesses the magic that blasted Cora’s hand out of her chest. Rumple had nothing to do with it. So it seems, with True Love, comes great power and Emma is only beginning to reveal what she is capable of as the product of True Love.
Now that the Charming family has reunited, Ruby invites the gang to Granny’s Diner for dinner. Henry thanks Regina for proving that she has changed and then runs off to join his family. As Regina is left behind, Gold congratulates her on reuniting Henry and Emma and taunts her by saying, “maybe one day they’ll even invite you to dinner.” Regina remains heartbroken and alone, while the Charmings are happier than ever. But the story doesn’t end there.
As the winter finale concludes, the wide shot of Charmings & Co. spins around and pans out on Storybrooke’s horizon, revealing a flying ship in the distance. Captain Hook sails the sky towards Storybrooke and Cora stands by his side with Regina’s rose in her hand. Watch out dearies, mother is coming…
What a satisfying episode! It was pretty wish-fulfilling, given the circumstances and possible loose ends. Can’t wait to see what is coming in the second half of Season 2.
What did you think of “Queen of Hearts”? Did it live up to your expectations? What surprised you the most? What moments got under your skin?
- Homecoming: Thank you to the ‘Once’ team for not leaving us hanging with the portal open and no idea of who would come through in January. This was the perfect way to launch the second half of the season.
- Captain Hook: Hook is really hard to read and he is a very convincing liar. Was he genuinely offended that Emma left him behind? Would he have preferred to team up with Emma over Cora? What will make him stay loyal to Cora once they arrive in Storybrooke? Love the use of Hook’s infamous quote: “Good form…but not good enough.” His flirty exchanges with Emma are becoming even more risqué as the season progresses. What did you think about their sword-wielding tussle in the sand? It will be very interesting to see what kind of havoc he wreaks in Storybrooke. Hopefully, it will include an entertaining reunion with Smee.
- Regina: The Evil Queen really pulled through for Henry in this episode. It was kind of sad to see her left behind, even though she hasn’t earned everyone’s trust yet. One good act can’t undo all of her past wrongs. Has Regina really changed? Could she unite with the Charmings to take Cora down for good? Or will Mommy Dearest pull her daughter back to the dark side again?
- The Charmings are awesome: It is adorable to see how Henry is a reflection of Snow and P.C. He always has faith in good and believes in his family. Emma is starting to come around, hopefully she will stop blaming and doubting herself so much. This family is proving to be uber powerful and this reunion will only make them stronger. It will be fascinating to see if Henry will also start to develop some magic of his own. Do you think it could happen? What would you like to see in the Charmings’ future?
- Rumple: His apology to Emma seemed sincere. Can we start trusting Rumple now? Will he use Emma now the he realizes the power she can possess?
“Once Upon A Time” returns with new episodes on Sunday, Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. on ABC.