Pop psychology continues on this week’s installment of Once Upon a Time, where we move from daddy issues to mommy issues. The overarching concept is the shadow of legacy cast by one’s parents and from which we (unsuccessfully?) struggle to escape. This week’s case study: Snow White.
We’re flashing way back tonight, to a young and very pink Snow, back when her mother was still alive! It’s the earliest we’ve seen our heroine, and she’s not the woman we now know. Ushered by Mama Snow to receive an early birthday present, the princess runs into a servant (Downton’s Mrs. Patmore!) trying on her tiara. Yes, it’s a transgression, but we don’t expect our beloved Snow to react as she does, bitchily telling off the kindly woman; luckily Mama Snow talks some manners into the girl, which make an immediate and lasting impression, which is not exactly how parenting works but oh well. Snow has just learned the important life lesson that being royal doesn’t make someone better than anyone else; she also gets the tiara in the end, so I guess it was an easy pill to swallow.
Back in the present day, Mary Margaret and David are having some sort of indistinct lovers’ quarrel. She’s whining because someone got her a gift, and it’s altogether not a flattering five minutes for this character. I guess her gripe is the acknowledgement of her birthday (?) which maybe is justified since she’s technically got to be something like 50 by now. Begrudgingly, she opens her present… and GASP! It’s the tiara! A delightfully soapy twist, and what I thought would be a setup for an episode-long intrigue over the sender, but whom we immediately learn was Johanna, the servant who once sullied the thing with her own lowly head.
David heads off to work at the sheriff’s office, but before I have time to be derisive about that, Hook comes out of nowhere and knocks Charming’s block off! He then locates his hook, hidden in the clandestine location of the first unlocked drawer he opens. Onward!
Back to the missus, Snow also makes quick work of finding Johanna in her garden, despite having previously not even known she was in Storybrooke. It’s a sweet reunion, though. Apparently Johanna found the tiara in Mr. Gold’s shop and got it for Snow. They reminisce about the dearly departed Mama Snow, but then a sound in the woods signals some action. This was all getting a bit mawkish anyway.
Following the sound, Snow stumbles directly upon her nemeses, another troubled mother-daughter pair. Regina and Cora are in the forest searching for the dagger, but the map’s no good. In order that the trip not be a total waste, Cora announces their master plan for Snow to overhear, and it’s so obvious you almost wonder if the Big Evil is doing it on purpose. Armed with this knowledge, Snow dashes off to find David and form their own counterattack.
Once David regains consciousness, they regroup at – where else? – Granny’s. Snow decides to use her understanding of Regina’s relationship with Cora (gained because, once upon a time, she and Regina were something like mother and daughter) to manipulate the former queen into stalling her mother. All Snow need do is instill some doubt in Regina, nurturing the discomfiture she already has with her mother’s motives. It’s actually a pretty smart plan, but as we all know, the best laid plans…
Meanwhile in New York, Neal is taking Henry for some pizza and bonding while Emma and Mr. Gold sulk ten steps behind them. Adding insult to injury, Mr. Gold is STILL wearing Bae’s old filthy shawl as a mark of his humiliation and rejection. Awkward. While father and son chow down, the chaperones hang back for a heart to heart in which Gold once again proves himself the most observant character by a mile when he calls out Emma for lying to Henry about his father to protect herself, not the boy.
Keeping with the lunchtime set-pieces, Granny’s is now the scene of Snow and Regina’s showdown. Snow lays all her cards on the table, playing it straight with her formidable rival. She makes the incendiary claim that a war is starting (hello, season 3!) and offers Regina one last chance to choose the right side. To this, Regina poses the incredibly valid question, “What did it ever get me?” Snow will have her own similar crisis of faith by episode’s end, but for now she takes pity on her foe. She implores Regina that Cora doesn’t care about Henry, or Regina, only power. Regina responds by snarling, “Power’s how you get things.” This at least inspires confidence that Regina isn’t just blindly following her mother; she at least has learned from past mistakes.
Back in the past, Snow’s mother is in dire straits. She insists she’ll be well again in time for her daughter’s birthday ball, but anyone who knows the Snow White story at all or has been watching this show knows she’s knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door. Johanna, now the girl’s dearest companion (remember, this is the same day as the Super Sweet Sixteen-ish tiara affair), ferries her away to spare her seeing the worst of it. It’s also Johanna who suggests that if medicine cannot cure the queen, perhaps magic can. Snow’s mother even had a confidant skilled in it, which OMFG IS OBVIOUSLY CORA, RIGHT? Ugh, maybe it’s just the Blue Fairy, but that would suck and the Cora thing would be amazing because it means the entanglement between Regina and Snow goes so incredibly far back.
Once again, Hook is doing his part to hurry along the pacing of the show as he appears in the lobby of Neal’s apartment building and immediately stabs Gold in the chest with his hook! I’m not sure whether to lament that the best scenes are the shortest or rejoice that in brevity comes quality.
After an interminable commercial, Emma clocks Hook over the head with a trash can. Neal turns up and is like, “It’s Hook,” to which Emma asks, “You know him?” Bitch, he has a hook! Honestly. Then Neal’s steely regard for his father melts and he’s all, “Papa?” He immediately launches into a plan to save the guy, because unforgiveable betrayal or no, family is family. Hook’s hook is poison, as it happens, and has no antidote in this world. The only way to save Gold is to get him back to Storybrooke, and congratulations, we’ve just solved the problem of how to get Neal back to Storybrooke as well! Oh, and a car won’t be fast enough, so Neal’s going to captain the Jolly Roger, because that’s a skill he has for some reason! I don’t even mind the incredulity when it’s this absurd.
Young Snow is just beginning her long dark night of the soul when she seeks and finds the Blue Fairy (ugh). The trip is a bust, though, because the Fairy can’t/won’t help her; cheating death is a dark undertaking and not the sort of thing fairies traffic in, she claims. Apparently the fairies’ version of the Hippocratic Oath isn’t taken quite so seriously, though, because a moment later she’s agreed to be Snow’s dealer as long as she keeps it on the down-low. Oh, AND Blue just happens to have the forbidden dark magic object on her person at the drop of a hat! Highly suspicious, but not to a desperate and naïve young girl. The item is a candle that can save her mother’s life, but to do so Snow must choose another’s life to sacrifice in her stead. Heavy. Stuff.
Snow insists she can’t use the candle and steal somebody’s life, even to save her mother’s, because her mother only ever wanted Snow to be good. It seems like an awful lot of moral strength for a little girl who earlier that day was laying into a servant just for touching her tiara. Would she really mourn the death of some stranger if it meant keeping her mother alive? I suppose the point is that her mother’s words stuck with her, but I just have trouble with her quick acceptance of and conviction in this newfound morality.
Grown-up Snow and David have sought the help of the Blue Fairy as well, only here she’s “Mother Superior,” which is hilarious because in Fairy Tale her costume consists of the most ludicrously cleavagey dress possible on a family show. She uses like a buttload of magic to try to unlock the door of Gold’s shop for the couple, which begs the question of whether they’d ever heard of a brick through the window. One of these options doesn’t work and one isn’t considered, so they implore Mother Superior to employ dark magic, just this once (and by the way, I’m not sure these sort of exceptions really square with the moral absolutist standards you’ve been holding everyone else to, guys. Coughhypocritescough.) Snow references one previous time the Blue Fairy made the exception for her, but Mother Superior denies it, which means: The Fairy young Snow met was most definitely Cora in disguise!
Before that reveal, though, Snow says her final farewell to her mother. Mama Snow is proud and relieved that she taught her girl well, and corrects that resisting darkness wasn’t fear, but strength. This, we know, will form the basis for Snow’s nature for the rest of her life… at least so far.
Her mom dies then. Heartache ensues. Johanna is around to comfort Snow. Life sucks.
The older Snow, with David in tow, retrieves Rumpelstiltskin’s fabled dagger from its awesome hiding place in the hand of the clock in the clocktower. Emma, truly the prodigal daughter in this story, placed a well-timed cell phone call to relay its location. But alas, Cora and Regina are on the scene to make everyone’s life a lot harder. Snow is despairingly smug, which obviously means she’s about to have her world rocked. First Johanna is conjured, then has the still-beating heart unceremoniously ripped out of her chest. Cora totally rips off Voldemort and declares, “You see in the end, it isn’t good OR evil that wins. It’s power.” This logic doesn’t necessarily hold, since she’s pretty much evil incarnate, but I get the gist.
In a final flashback, Snow is having the worst birthday ever. Her pink party dress, symbolic of her youth, is gone. The tiara she once craved is now more a burden than a treat, and she has to learn quickly to put on a brave face for the people. She stands bravely at her mother’s funeral bier, in that moment becoming a ruler, someone who makes the selfless sacrifice of her own emotions for the good of the people. Much later, Johanna takes the girl to bed, begging the question of what her father had to do that was better than coming to this funeral? Now that the corpse is alone, Cora comes to pay respects, if by respects you mean vengeful and needless explanation of her entire evil plot. Yes, she poisoned the woman laying before her. Cora laments the fact that her own daughter never did or will love her as the dead woman’s daughter loved her, and therein we get the first infinitesimal inkling of why Cora is who she is. She then satisfies expectations by vowing to turn Snow White’s hear black as coal, so yay!
To that end, the modernized clocktower-dwelling Cora reveals all to Snow: yes, she was the Blue Fairy and killed Snow’s mother, catch up girl! Snow ekes out the pained question: “Why?” And Cora simply says that she wanted to make her own daughter the queen. Class issues run deep, apparently. There’s a great moment at this bald statement where you see that even Regina is surprised and interested, but she recovers ever so quickly. Cora then poses the ultimatum: the dagger or Johanna’s innocent life.
Cora knows what Snow will do, though. She always knew, and so did Snow, and sadly so did Johanna. That’s the problem with being the good guys: everyone knows one hugely simple way to defeat you. So Snow surrenders the dagger, and I’m forced to reference Game of Thrones again in pointing out that goodness and smartness are NOT mutually exclusive. Cora throws Johanna out a window to her death anyway, teaching Snow a hard lesson she might have learned watching the Disney movies about her own world. It’s almost sad when Regina sums up, “You see where good gets you?” Because we do see where it gets you (which is depressing in its own right), and we see both how Regina went so wrong and that Snow is about to go the same way.
Regina and Cora repair to Chez Regina, decorated in gorgeous shades of (moral?) black and white. Facades down, Regina unravels that literally everything in her life has been engineered by Cora, as far back as her saving Snow on the runaway horse that one fateful day. Cora is amazingly consistent, responding only “And what does this knowledge change for you?” To Regina, the answer is probably “Everything”, but you have to wonder, does it really change anything? This follows the same thread as Rumpelstiltskin’s prophecized fate in last week’s episode: Just as knowing what’s going to happen doesn’t mean you can change the future, knowing why something happened doesn’t change what happened.
Regina is left worrying that her and Cora’s interests no longer align, and the cunning older woman knows, but assures Regina there are still tricks up her sleeve.
Not really fitting into the rest of the story, Neal and Emma are grabbing the car en route to the Jolly Roger. They’re even getting along pretty well, until a beautiful woman turns up and reveals herself to be Neal’s fiancée. Not only does this suck for Emma because obvs she still holds a (not dark magical) candle for him, but it’s going to throw a bit of a wrench in the plan to keep him in Storybrooke (unless she winds up being Tiana or something.)
Finally, David tries to console his wife as they bury Johanna. And if Snow thought she was facing a crisis of faith as a child, she had no idea what she was in for. The grand lesson of holding on to good has cost so many lives and so much happiness that it begs the question what they’re saving, or if “Good” really even is that. Is the cost worth the moral high ground? These are massive, difficult, intrinsically human questions that this show should be tackling, and bravo for finally getting back on track! Snow is hardening, visibly. David promises (emptily?) that they will bring Regina and Cora to justice, but Snow doesn’t care about justice anymore. She vows instead to kill Cora. DO IT!
Next week: Showdown! Regina/Cora and the Charmings! AND SOMEONE WILL DIE! (Well, someone important; no offense, Johanna.)
The problem with watching Once live: having to see even ten seconds of AFV. We call that YouTube now, and it’s not compulsory.
Why doesn’t Storybrooke just hold a mass meet-and-greet so everyone can find each other?! What else could be more important? For shit’s sake, they had that big festival where they sold all the candles but they can’t do this?!
Cora in disguise is getting to be as troublesome as Polyjuice Potion, in that they need to retire it somehow because why doesn’t everyone just do it all the time
There was a throwaway line in the middle of this episode in which Neal revealed that our world wasn’t the first he entered upon leaving Fairy Tale, because if it were he’d be a couple hundred years old by now. First of all, chronology is confusing on this show. Second, that’s the second tantalizing allusion to other worlds we’ve had, the first coming from – of all people – Henry after realizing that Dr. Frankenstein didn’t hail from Fairy Tale. I’m looking forward to this opening the world up to a vast host of characters, but also to maybe an episode about young Baelfire in Neverland… where maybe he went by the name of Peter…?
Horrible Henry Line of the Week
It’s a tie! When asked by Emma if he likes the New York pizza: “Yeah. It’s delicious, cheesy, and doesn’t lie.” Burn. And, to Mr. Gold: “So, should I call you Grandpa now?” Okay, that one was actually kind of funny.