Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Once Upon a Time...Bargains Were Made

I know I am quite behind on episode recaps.  It's convention season, and the convention for which I volunteer is particularly short-staffed this year, meaning I'm working in three different departments. The event is next week, so after April 8, more timely posts can be expected.  It certainly helps that "Once" won't be airing new episodes until the end of April.

Once Upon a Time Season 2 Episode 16: "The Miller's Daughter"
The New York group reconvenes with Snow and David when they reach Storybrooke, Bae having sailed Hook's ship there.  The group hurries to Rumpel's shop, where he tells Emma how to cast a protective spell upon it (being too weak from the poison to do so himself) and the others prepare for a fight with Cora and Regina.  When Rumpel asks Snow to get something out of a cupboard for him, Snow is shocked to find the black candle given to her by Cora so many years ago.  Rumpel advises her to use it on Cora, instructing her to get Cora's heart in order to cast the spell.

Rumpel makes what he believes is a farewell phone call to Belle and reconciles with Bae before Cora and Regina break through the barriers.  While David, Emma, and Bae are distracted by the fight, Snow slips out and heads for the mausoleum, where she finds Cora's heart and casts the spell that will exchange Cora's life for Rumpel's.  Realizing Snow is gone, David eventually goes to find her, but not before Regina confronts Snow.  Snow manipulates Regina into believing that the reason Cora is so power-crazed is because her heart is missing (which is actually true, as we learn from the fairybacks) and offers the cursed heart to Regina, who takes it.

Returning to the antique store, where Cora is about to kill Rumpel with the dagger in order to become the Dark One herself, Regina reinserts her mother's heart, believing this will stop her from killing Rumpel.  Cora genuinely smiles at her before collapsing to the floor and dying from the poison.  Snow runs into the store, shouting for Regina to stop, but it is already too late.

In the fairybacks, we meet a young Cora who is tired of being mocked for being the miller's daughter.  After having to apologize to a princess who tripped her while carrying a large sack of flour, Cora attends a masquerade ball and chats with an enamored Prince Henry.  His father recognizes her, however, and calls her out.  Cora boasts that she can spin straw into gold, and after convincing the king that it takes time, she is locked in a tower and told to have it done by morning or face execution.  Enter Rumpel.

Rather than accepting the bargain of giving up her first-born in exchange for his spinning the straw into gold, Cora demands to be taught how to do it herself.  This intrigues Rumpel, who takes a liking to her and changes the bargain so that Cora will give him a child of his own.  He instructs Cora to harness the power of her emotion to cast magic, and she successfully transforms the straw. 

In exchange for the gold, Cora is betrothed to Prince Henry, though she continues her dalliance with Rumpel.    As her wedding night nears, she is torn between the power she will gain as Henry's wife and her love for Rumpel.  She decides to take the king's heart and run away with Rumpel, but after a conversation with the king, in which he says love is weakness, she changes her mind.

She meets Rumpel as planned, but tells him that she will be marrying Henry.  When he inquires whose heart is in the box, she admits that is her own, for it is only without her heart that she will be able to leave him.  Rumpel demands the contract be fulfilled by her first-born, but is reminded that the contract no longer requires such a trade.  Cora leaves him fuming there, and, months later, gives birth to Regina.

Continuing the trend of good writing, this episode explored the reasons behind Cora's hunger for power, while making the audience sympathize with her for the first time.  Her rags-to-riches story certainly doesn't exonerate her, but it at least humanized her.  I wish that this story arc had been extended to season's end, or that this particular episode ended the season.  

What was more interesting was Snow's decision to use the black candle.  We had seen her vow to set things right no matter the cost, but having her actually dupe Regina into killing her own mother was perfect.  I'm looking forward to seeing how this further affects Snow's and Regina's relationship, and I hope to see Snow continue to do what's in the interest of the greater good.  It sometimes feels to me like David is trying to shelter her from the evils of the world, attempting to make her into a passive homemaker.  Whether or not she does anything else "dark," I certainly hope that she stands up for herself in regards to her wishes to remain in our world.

Aside from a feeling that the denouement of the Cora story arc was rushed, another good episode.  Where do we go from here, though?

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