I was right! And wrong. There is history between Cora and Eva. But they’re not sisters. Young Eva’s a royal shit who abuses commoners for no particular reason. Young Cora’s quite a feisty—and shrewdly intelligent—peasant. But this history leaves a lot of questions. Is Cora’s only beef with Eva that she tripped her once? How did Eva go from being a brat to the uber-honorable queen of “The Queen Is Dead”? And how did Cora go from being a princess to… what was she when we first met her? She wasn’t royalty. Was she?
Hey! Once Upon a Time incorporated an actual fairy tale! And it was pretty close to the Brothers Grimm version. But better, or at least more in line with the personalities of the players. Rumpelstiltskin teaches the miller’s daughter, aka Cora how to spin straw into gold (rather than do it himself). With her gold-spinning success, Cora is set to marry the prince. But she loves Rumple. The king, however, convinces her to marry for power (his son the prince) rather than love (Rumple). So she removes her heart to not feel her love. (There’s other stuff that goes on in Fairy Tale Land, but it’s not that memorable.) Cora marries the prince, then gives birth to Regina. So Regina is actually a princess. Did we know that before? If so, why is Cora so set on her marrying “the king,” aka Snow White’s dad? Wouldn’t she have become a queen anyway? Perhaps it all relates to how we first met Fairy Tale Land Cora and Regina not as royalty.
In present day, Neal (with Henry’s help) sails Emma and his father back to Storybrooke to save Mr. Gold. (Why haven’t they given him a first name?) Cora and Regina learn via a phone tap (or, as Cora calls it, an enchanted box—ha!) that Rumpelstiltskin is dying. Rather than let him die and all his powers gone, Cora plans to kill him with his magic knife and become the Dark One. Regina begins to think this is what he mother’s been after all along, not to help her get Henry back.
Back at Gold’s shop, Emma, Neal, David and Snow prepare for the battle. Gold tricks Snow White into finding the two-sided, life-for-life candle from last week. He wants Snow to kill Cora so that he can live, and plays the “Henry’s grandfather” card. Even on death’s door, Gold is a manipulative son of a bitch. He tells Snow to cast the curse over Cora’s heart (since Cora removed it ages ago), then reinsert it into Cora’s body, and she will die.
As Cora and Regina attack the pawn shop, Snow escapes to Regina’s family vault. Cora senses someone is looking for her heart and dispatches Regina while she continues the siege on Gold, et al. Snow White finds Cora’s heart and casts the spell. When Regina arrives at the vault, Snow gives her Cora’s heart, explaining it’s the reason Cora never loved her. If Cora had her heart back, Snow continues, perhaps she could be a real mother to Regina. The speech is so heartfelt (so Snow White), it’s shocking to realize it’s all to manipulate Regina.
Just as Cora is about to kill Gold, Regina returns and inserts Cora’s heart. The change in Cora is magnificent, as is Barbara Hershey. She beams at her daughter. I think Regina is supposed to be expressing ultimate joy, but it looks like she’s sneering. (Perhaps it’s because we’ve never seen Regina this happy, and it’s disconcerting.) Gold’s poisoned wound transfers to Cora.
Snow regrets what she’s done. She and David rush back to the shop to stop Regina from implanting the cursed heart, but they’re too late. Cora has died, and Regina now knows it’s Snow White who’s responsible.
Once again, Robert Carlyle proves he deserves an Emmy nod for bringing out the softer side of a hard man. While Gold is dying, he calls Belle, who’s still in the hospital suffering from amnesia (and anxiety). He doesn’t ask that she try to remember him, but rather tells her who she is: someone who helped her people, a beautiful woman who loved an ugly man, someone who finds goodness in others, and makes him want to be the best version of himself. “So when you look in the mirror and you don’t know who you are — that’s who you are.” It’s absolutely lovely. As is his scene with Neal/Baelfire, who finally witnesses his father’s ability to love.