Once Upon A Time

‘Once Upon A Time’ S4 Ep 21 recap: Mothers and Daughters

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“Mother” digs deep opens old wounds. (Photo credit: Disney/ABC Press)

Sunday’s (May 3) “Mother” explored the delicate relationship between mothers and daughters. As we have seen over the past four years, Heroes and Villains have both been greatly influenced by their parents’ actions. Oftentimes one child suffers at the expense of another’s success. Zelena was cast aside and learned to fend for herself in Oz, while Cora paved the way for Regina to evolve into the Evil Queen. Maleficent failed to protect her baby when the Charmings damned Lily to a life of darkness to save Emma’s soul and secure her future as the Savior. All four daughters have suffered in different ways because of their mothers’ desperate actions. Now, these relationships continue to be tested and strained when Lily and Zelena are brought back to Storybrooke. “Once Upon A Time” delivered another heavy episode full of revelations from the past and present, which culminate in a worrisome cliffhanger.

Fairytale Land, Past: “You’ll never be happy. You don’t know how.”

A deeper look into Regina’s grim past, reveals the depths of the Evil Queen’s desperation to be freed from her overbearing mother’s control. Cora appears on the anniversary of Daniel’s death. The Evil Queen is still heartbroken by the loss of her True Love and she harshly is taking it out on an innocent wedding party. Seriously, Regina has come a really long way since the bad old days.

Lana Parrilla’s seamless transitions between Evil Queen and Hero Regina are so wonderful. She makes it look effortless. Yet we never forget how it is a constant battle for Regina to remain in control of her emotions and powers. Looking back on the young Evil Queen, we gradually realize that her rash behavior may have caused the most harm to herself.

Cora has returned to make things right for Regina. She murdered her daughter’s first True Love, so now she has set out to give Regina a second chance. Cora heard about Tinker Bell finding Regina’s soulmate. She figures Regina could use a little love in her life to take the edge off. Regina (and the viewers) are skeptical, but Cora insists on proving her wrong.

The Queen of Hearts travels to the tavern in search of the man with the lion tattoo. Instead of finding the archer with a conscience, she encounters the corrupt Sheriff Nottingham. He explains how high and mighty Robin Hood is married and living a heroic life with his Merry Men. Cora decides to improvise and comes up with a plan.

She tells Regina that she has found her new True Love. Cora gives Regina a magical make over. For the first time in years, the young Queen looks like her true self, wearing a beautiful ball gown in soft colors, letting her dark hair down and dawning a smile. This could be a wonderful new start for the Evil Queen.

Regina eagerly greets her mystery man with the lion tattoo. Once they have some time alone, she realizes that the tattoo is fake. Regina actives the magic tattoo and animates a mini-lion that starts ferociously roaming all over the Sheriff’s body. Awesome! Arguably one of the best CGI moments of the series. Plus it is hilarious. The lion attack scares him enough to spill the beans on Cora’s plan. Cue the epic mother-daughter showdown!

You can’t fake True Love, so Cora’s plan was plain stupid. When Regina confronts her on it, Cora says she thinks it would do Regina good to settle down and have family. Unlike Cora, Regina needs to feel loved. Even if her man isn’t the one, Cora believes having a child would give Regina the love she’s been missing in her life. Here’s where things get super heavy and disturbing.

Regina decodes Cora’s suggestion. What her mother really means is that she wants a grandchild to use and manipulate. A baby heir would give Cora easy access to the throne. She can kill the Evil Queen and take over. Well, Regina will never let that happen. She will no longer be Cora’s little plaything.

Cora says Regina is wrong and has completely misunderstood the situation. She warns that Regina is the only one getting in the way of her own happiness. Nonetheless, Regina shockingly drinks a magic potion that makes her barren. She willingly endures the pain because she knows this act will make Cora suffer even more. Regina will never be able to bear her own children. She pays a heartbreaking price just to ensure that Cora loses leverage in their twisted and endless struggle for power. Cowering in pain, Regina commands her mother to return to Wonderland.

Wow! When Regina adopted Henry, we assumed it was part of this cosmic plan that tied into her curse and the Savior’s arrival. We didn’t seriously consider the possibility that Regina genuinely longed for a child and couldn’t have one of her own. We know she always sincerely cared for Henry. She changed her whole outlook on life just to win him over and become the kind of mother he deserves. We’ve even seen her dote on little Roland, showing how she’s eager to be part of a loving family. Now Zelena’s pregnancy stings even more. Ironically, the Wicked Witch can give Robin Hood something that Regina cannot. Geesh! After so many years of darkness, Regina really does deserve to have her happy ending.

Storybrooke, Present: “My happy ending is finally feeling at home in the world.”

There are a lot of crazy things going on in the present. We’re holding out hope for Outlaw Queen in the midst of Zelena’s shocking pregnancy, Emma is living in the danger zone of darkness, Lily wants revenge, and Rumple’s heart is one evil deed away from becoming totally black.

Outlaw Queen’s happiness hasn’t been completely compromised, but it is definitely complicated. Robin is still all in and wants to make this weird situation work. So what if Zelena is preggers? Regina and Robin still truly love each other and that kind of True Love is worth fighting for. That’s sweet and all, but Regina needs to keep it real. Zelena’s pregnancy is not a nine month problem. The Wicked Witch’s love child is a life-long obstacle and needs to be taken into consideration. For starters, Regina just wants them all to go back home to Storybrooke. Then they can gradually sort things out.

Regina throws Zelena into a cell, like the one that she kept Belle hidden in for all of those years. She threatens to do the worst to her malicious half-sister. Once Regina has the Author at her disposal, Zelena will no longer be a threat. Regina wouldn’t even think of obliterating the life of an innocent babe just to spite Zelena. Would she? While Regina lets Zelena sweat it out under lock and key, we gain some insights on the Author’s needs.

Rumple wants Emma to turn evil because once her heart darkens, her blood will reactive the ink. Well that’s interesting. As Rumple’s condition worsens, he grows even more desperate for Emma to turn. It is rare to see the Dark One be so weak, so you can’t blame former villains for rubbing it in. Hook especially enjoys toying with Rumple’s tender emotions. Regina, on the other hand, uses his feebleness to her advantage.

Regina storms into Gold’s Shop and sees how badly Rumple is suffering. He is literally cowering in the corner from pain as the darkness continues consuming his heart. He doesn’t have much time. He reveals the quill to Regina and assures her that it is better for everyone if the Dark One doesn’t take over. They need to heal his heart before all love is lost. Regina is in no mood to play dynamic duo with Rumple, so snatches the quill and whisks the Author away.

In a delightful moment, the Author channels his inner Evil Regal and fangirls over Regina. She is by far his favorite character to write for and she gets screwed over the most. So true! Poor Regina. She shows him the drawing of her happy ending with Robin and he admits that he wrote it for her. It was part of his experimental writing in another book. The fact that it just appeared out of the blue means that there is something…some kind of a greater power is looking out for her. Like what? The Sorcerer? Someone higher up? God? This is all very mysterious and fascinating. Way to drop another big tease in there, “OUAT.”

Anyway, the Author is eager to help Regina get her happy ending, but there’s a hiccup. He tells her about Dark Emma’s blood charging the ink and Regina says it won’t be a problem. Now, before you judge her too quickly, take a moment to think. Wait for it…Did it come to you yet? Yup! That’s right. Emma will remain unscathed. Since Lily contains Emma’s darkness, her blood will do the trick. Phew! Speaking of Lily, her reunion with Maleficent does not turn out as planned.

Lily and Emma sure have a lot in common, including how to hold a grudge. Emma still gives her parents the cold shoulder (you are breaking their hearts, kid, let it go already!) and Lily stares daggers at them. When Lily finally sits down with her mother, she is totally underwhelmed. Lily wants revenge, but Mal wants to focus on sharing a happy future together instead. This Annie Hall suit wearing blonde chick is the badass dragon lady she’s been dying to meet? What happened to that powerful woman? Why didn’t she try harder to protect her baby egg? Why didn’t she kill the Charmings for the pain they caused? Lily sees her mother as a pushover. This mushy crap is not what she signed-up for, so she bolts. Ouch! Poor Maleficent.

Oddly enough, history repeats itself, with a twist. Mal reaches out to the Charmings. They are the only ones who can understand the way she feels right now. Emma gave them a hard time when she first arrived. They agree to help Mal and try to keep Lily from leaving Storybrooke. Meanwhile, Lily is waiting at the bus stop in hopes of catching a ride out of town. Aww, that’s a nice try newbie.

Regina sits beside Lily and tries reasoning with the young woman. She needs to give Mal a chance. You have to give Regina kudos for trying to finesse her way into getting what she needs, but Lily isn’t easy to manipulate. Ultimately, sweet talking doesn’t work, so Regina just slices Lily’s palm and takes the blood she needs to activate the ink. As Regina poofs away, Lily’s eyes burn yellow. Uh-oh.

Like mother, like daughter. Lily dragon’s out and flies for the borderline. Luckily, Mal and the Charmings were already driving in that direction. Dragon Lily aims for the Charmings and knocks Mary Margaret out with her tail, so Mal gets her dragon on and makes it a fair fight. Whoa! It’s a full-on dragon showdown. Only on “Once Upon A Time,” people. While they battle in the sky, Emma and Hook arrive on the scene.

Earlier, Hook took Emma out for chat as they gazed upon the calming horizon. Once more, he pleaded with Emma to forgive her parents. All they have ever done is try to protect her. They have dedicated their whole lives to making up for the wrongs they committed. He says that before Emma was born they just wanted to make her happy and when she came to Storybrooke, they wanted to make her proud. Does Emma really wants all of their efforts to end in failure? Sigh. Such a moving speech, endearingly executed by Colin O’Donoghue. It really is a sweet scene and it is nice to see that when all else fails, Killian manages to get through to Emma.

Emma rushes to Mary Margaret’s side as she slowly awakens from the severe blow. She finally forgives her parents and understands where they were coming from. Plus, she missed them. Awww! Yay! Finally, the Charming Family is back on the same page. David and Hook share a bro-moment and exchange a sweet look when Emma embraces her mom. That is just too adorable. Does this mean Hook is practically part of the family now? Group hug! Okay, moving on…

The dragon war simmers. Lily and Mal transform back into humans and sit down to talk like civil beings. Mal gives Lily her baby rattle and they both confess their true feelings. This is the moment they’ve all been waiting for. Lily admits she was a little scared, especially after everything she had read. Mal just wants to make up for lost time. She’s done the revenge thing and it’s not all that awesome. Her daughter has finally come home and she doesn’t want to waste a second of their precious time together. Another beautiful mother-daughter moment played with such sincerity and tenderness. Well done, Kristin Bauer van Straten and Agnes Bruckner. Two relationships are intact, so let’s see how Regina is doing with that enchanted ink.

Lily’s blood did the trick, the ink illuminated with magic and Isaac the Author is ready to write away. Regina and Zelena go head to head in another intense scene. Zelena pleads for the life of her innocent child. Cora ruined both of their lives in very different ways. Zelena feels the pain of a motherless childhood and Regina bears a heartbreaking reminder of Cora’s brutal manipulation and control. If Regina essentially kills Zelena, she will be no different than their mother. She will heartlessly throw a baby away.

Robin walks in while Regina ponders on her past and she makes a surprising decision. The Author sits waiting with quill in hand and Regina tells him to write nothing. For the first time in her life, Regina is happy and she’s aware of all the goodness in her life. Zelena scoffs, but Regina clarifies that Robin Hood’s True Love is not the only thing comprising her happy ending. Regina is happy within herself, she is comfortable in her own skin and is surrounded by people she loves. She proudly says, “My happy ending is finally feeling at home in the world.” Huzzah! Let’s hope Regina can finally hold onto that happiness.

Woops! We may have spoken too soon. Isaac writes himself out Zelena’s cell and joins Rumple back at the shop. Rumple hands him a book titled “Heroes and Villains” and the Author starts writing: “Once Upon A Time…” Rumple ominously says that it is time for Villains to get their happy endings. The tables are about to turn. Gulp!

Another solid episode. Kudos to Jane Espenson for cleverly capturing all the crazy family drama and elevating the stakes. Bravo to the cast! The acting was superb, as always. So many goosebump inducing moments. This show has so many powerhouses and it is a joy to see them all work together. We’re left hanging on the edge of our seats until Sunday’s insane season finale. Judging from the promo (embedded), it looks like there will be some major role reversals. Prepare to be creeped out!

What did you think of “Mother”? Were you shocked by Regina’s heartbreaking flashback? Are you glad Regina is taking the high road with Zelena? Are you rejoicing in Regina’s happiness? Did you enjoy Mal and Lily’s complicated family reunion? Are you relieved that Emma finally forgave her parents? What do you think the Author wants out of this epic fairytale rewrite? Share your thoughts below!

“Once Upon A Time’s” two hour season finale airs Sunday, May 10 at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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