Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 9 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," titled "Queen of Hearts."
We knew that the creative team behind "Once Upon a Time" had something big in store for the show's winter finale, but it was still great to see all the plot threads tied so definitively together in "Queen of Hearts," making for an action-packed hour.
I don't think anyone doubted that Snow and Emma would make it back to Storybrooke in one piece, but I did wonder whether we'd see both Cora and Hook taking a trip through the portal (my money was on Hook alone, but it's fitting that the couple that schemes together also travels between worlds together, I suppose).
It was also great to get another glimpse into Regina and Cora's backstory. We discovered that Hook and Cora first met because Regina dispatched the pirate to kill her mother (who had fashioned herself into the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland during her banishment) after our Evil Queen took Cora's earlier lesson about Daniel to heart: "love is a weakness."
And just as Regina killed her beloved father to augment her power back in Season 1, she also knew that her mother held too much sway over her to be brought into the land without magic, admitting to Cora's not-so-dead body, "Your grip on my heart is just too strong. For what I need to do, I can't have any weakness." Unlike her father, though, Regina apparently knew she wasn't strong enough to come face to face with her mother and do the deed herself. But I'm betting hooking up Hook and Cora will come back to bite her in the ass now that the dastardly duo have found a way into Storybrooke with the help of the Giant's magic bean. (Dead Giant? I doubt it.)
So Cora's motivation for getting back to Storybrooke allegedly isn't revenge -- she wants to help Regina "pick up the pieces" now that the curse is broken. Somehow, with a mother that manipulative, I don't buy her altruistic intentions; do you? As Robert Carlyle pointed out during our recent interview, Cora is "world-domination nasty," so a heartfelt reunion probably isn't on the cards.
Though there were many beautiful moments throughout the episode, "Queen of Hearts" was a real showcase for Lana Parrilla. Between Regina's emotional revelations to her mother and the heartbreaking look of devastation on her face when Henry (twice) abandoned her for Emma, you couldn't help but feel for our erstwhile Evil Queen.
She truly seems to be trying to change and become a better mother, and what's worse is that it will probably be our heroes' lack of consideration for her that will push her back into darkness. What's the point of being good if everyone still treats you like you're bad, one might ask? Would it have killed the gang to invite her to dinner? Sure, it might've been awkward, but Regina was the sole reason they made it back through that portal, so a free meal at Granny's would've been small recompense.
The hour's other major revelation built on what we saw in the season premiere, when it was Emma's magic touch that seemingly activated the hat portal. This week, Cora tried to steal Emma's heart and found herself unable to pull it from our heroine's chest, before Emma zapped her away with a waft of power. Not too shabby.
Emma was certainly having a crisis of confidence in "Queen of Hearts," wondering if she was just a pawn in Rumple's larger scheme, but the imp turned out to be an unlikely motivator, pointing out that Emma never needed the feather to fly -- the magic was in her all along! As the product of true love, she might possess the strongest power of all, and although Rumple created the curse, everything Emma's done since has been because of her own strength. Let's just hope she doesn't turn to Rumple for magic pointers, since we saw how well that turned out for the once-innocent Regina.
And then there was Snow and Charming's latest reunion; despite how many times the pair has already saved one another, the emotional impact never seems to wear off. Now I'm hoping we'll see some actual father-daughter bonding time, since Snow and Emma have had weeks of frolicking in the Enchanted Forest together, and Charming's a little behind.
It looks like we're saying farewell to Aurora and Mulan for now, although the pair have a renewed sense of purpose after discovering that Phillip's soul can be reunited with his body (and he's cute, so I'm glad to hear it). They've finally become besties after all their trials and tribulations, and I just hope that the next time we see Aurora, Mulan's given her some fight training and turned her into a fellow ass-kicker, because the damsel in distress routine was depressing me.
It does feel like we've been treading water in some ways, waiting for our heroes to return to Storybrooke, so I'm excited to see the plot kick into high gear after the winter hiatus. Now our heroes (and villains) are all back together, so sparks are sure to fly. When "Once Upon a Time" does mythology, it's one of the most gripping shows on air, so "Queen of Hearts" was a fitting end to the first half of the season. I'm looking forward to seeing where the series takes us in 2013.
"Once Upon a Time" returns Sunday, January 6 at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.
What did you think of "Queen of Hearts"? How do you think Emma will deal with her new magical abilities, and what will happen when Cora and Regina come face to face? Weigh in below!