For a season and a half, I have avoided writing commentary for Once Upon A Time. Well, the show has reached a level of commitment and story progress that I just can’t keep silent any longer. For those unfamiliar with my reviews of Fringe, you should know that I write commentary, not recap. That means I’m assuming you’ve seen the episode and can remember what has happened. That also means that anything in these pages will not be spoiler safe. This is the first and only warning.
The first half of the season did an admirable job with Mary Margaret and Emma’s journey through the Enchanted Forest and subsequent return to Storybrooke. Now they are back home and unbeknownst to them, Cora and Hook are there as well.
I’m going to start out with a big “I told you so!” I know many were crying foul thinking the story was ruined by revealing Dr. Hopper’s murder in the trailer. I’m sorry but that was an obvious setup as I warned at the time. Do not trust these people with their trailers or sneak peeks – they are setting you up. Frankly, they are brilliant in my opinion and I tip my hat to them.
A few small details to note before addressing the Big Story… First, Hook continues to be a puzzle. After the portmaster is turned into a fish, he still has the compassion of kicking him into the water. Or is he just hiding the evidence? Also I like the running gag with Ruby. “Never mind… Wolf thing,” or my favorite, “Go take yourself for a walk.” Priceless! Next, Cora shows up and people start going missing. Will nobody miss the portmaster or whoever was Hopper’s doppelganger? Finally, what is the price Emma will pay for using magic and how is Henry going to deal with two magic using moms?
Now to the Big Story. Or perhaps I should say Big Stories? There appear to be 5 major story-lines up in the air right now:
- Neil, August and Emma.
- The triangle of Emma, Regina and Henry.
- Gold and his search for Bael, complicated by Belle and now Hook.
- Regina’s redemption journey, now with Cora added.
- Oh, and let’s not forget Aurora and Mulan’s quest to save Philip (though I believe that is really a secondary story this season).
I won’t even try to untangle all the given and potential cross-over’s between these arc. That’s a lot of balls to keep in the air at once. Early in the season I had concerns, but they have handled the story so impressively that I’m willing to trust that they have their story well planned. In fact, in the writers’ eyes I’m betting they only see two interconnected stories and the others are just subplots.
This episode focused on the Emma/Regina/Henry triangle and Regina’s redemption – if they are even separate stories at the end of the day. First, in seeing more of the back-story behind the war between Snow and Regina, that while I have immense sympathy for Regina now, I can’t say that I actually feel sorry for her. Everyone’s reaction to her in Storybrooke is understandable. Considering the number of times and ways she’s tried to kill them it would be foolish not to be concerned. She has a lot to prove.
That said, Regina’s story does have some parallels with the Christian salvation processes. I.e. conviction, repentance, justification and sanctification. We’ve seen the conviction and repentance – seeing what you are and turning away from that old self – during the first half of the season. This happened in two steps; when Regina finally let Daniel go and when she lifted the spell at the well. And both done on faith, as well. Neat, eh?
The justification is seen in Emma’s forgiveness of her past on Henry’s intervention and mirrored with Snow/James for Emma’s sake. That somewhat fits in with Emma’s “savior” role. Now we have the rest of the season to work through the sanctification process.
For those unfamiliar with Christian theology, sanctification is the lifelong journey and process of putting your evil self behind and embracing God. It’s a slow process, footnoted with the step backwards that typically comes with every two steps forward. I think that is where Regina is now. While we’ve seen several steps forward, I do think we are about to see a step backwards with a lot of help from Cora.
Yes, I do think Regina’s repentance is real. The entreaty by Daniel and her subsequent letting him go. Her fleeing rather than fighting; something totally out of nature with the old Regina who readily killed both her parent for revenge. Then there is the emphasis through the flashbacks to the Enchanted Forest on how Regina couldn’t change. There’s simply no point in showing us that back-story unless she was going to be redeemed.
So, where is the show going from here. I’m going to focus primarily on the Regina/Emma/Cora arc and save my thoughts on Rumple for my next post with one exception that relates to the former. Rumple is going to call in his favor from Emma. I think it’s pretty obvious it will be to help him find Baelfire. Her regular gig, after all, is finding people. I mention this, because I think the writers are going to need Emma out of the way a bit for the initial part of the interactions between Regina and Cora.
First, a few thoughts on Cora. It’s obvious that she is far more powerful than Regina and nearly, perhaps, as strong as Gold. She has also gone where neither God nor Regina would go. She has taken out her own heart. I think that is going to be very significant. We’ve already seen the result, I believe, in her total lack of feeling about killing. In Cora’s case she kills simply as a matter of convenience. There’s no righteous anger, revenge or any other emotion whether justified or not. There is no conscience. I hope they don’t take this into yet another redemption story. At some point there is a place that you go that is beyond redemption and I think Cora has gone there. The fact is, there is unrepentant evil and it must be defeated. Otherwise you have cheapened the journey that Regina is on.
Since sanctification is a back-and-forth process, I fully expect Regina to initially fall right into Cora’s plan. The fear she has backslidden fully into evil is part of the drama of the story. Yet, as some point she is going to have to face a choice. In her case, I suspect it will be when Cora wants her to remove her own heart. The irrevocable step, as it were. Regina will have to decide if she truly does think Love is a weakness. Will she give up her love for Henry or the love and pain from the loss of Daniel? I fully expect to see a flashback of Daniel telling Regina to “Love again” at this point.
I also suspect – though I’m far from certain – that we will see Regina and Emma working together defeat Cora or perhaps something even worse. I’ll get to the something worse later. But where Cora is concerned, I can see the story coming to a quest for Cora’s heart. We could see Emma and friends finding it first but Regina stopping her. Remember magic always has a price? Regina won’t let Emma pay that price. In a very dramatic moment of choice between saving Storybrooke – if not our entire land – or her mother, Regina will pay the price and kill Cora.
The juxtaposition would be immensely powerful. Regina killed her beloved father out of selfish greed for revenge. Regina later kills her evil – but still beloved – mother out of selfless need to save others. Now Regina is embracing Good not for her own self-interest, but for the service of others regardless the price to herself. I don’t think that will lessen the grief of her action or remorse for her past. Even with forgiveness, deeds still have consequences. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Regina thanking Mary Margaret for believing in her so long ago – just before they foreshadow returning to Mulan and Aurora’s story.
There are still two things in this season that seem to have been forgotten – at least by the fans. First, there is the Book of Spells. We’ve been given little reminders of it, of course, but it has largely dropped out of the story. However, a lot of emphasis – indeed an entire episode – was placed on it early in the season, so you know it’s going to play an important part later. Oh, and don’t forget… there’s still “Emma ink” on the scroll from Rumple’s cell. I don’t think we’re done with that yet, either.
Second, and equally obvious, is the wraith. Clearly it is going to have to be confronted and defeated. Assuming Aurora and Mulan are successful in their quest to find Philip (which I bet leads to this land), I doubt that the wraith is going to ignore its prize being taken. Sure it was sent somewhere, but those supposedly imprisoned forever “somewhere’s” rarely prove to be either. Regina was marked, too. Is she still? Will that play into the story?
This analysis has gone on quite long, but I’m trying to squeeze ten episodes of thinking into only a couple thousand words. I do hope you will add your thoughts to the comments. Next up? My thoughts on where story of Rumpelstiltskin will go.