Since the beginning of the season, the pieces on the giant chess board that is Once Upon a Time have been slowly but steadily moving into place. And now, the time has come and the larger strategy is being unveiled and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen next.
This episode deals with two game-changing events: the search for Rumple’s (Robert Carlyle) dagger in the present and the death of Snow White’s (Ginnifer Goodwin) mother in the past.
Along with the search for the dagger, the narrative also centers on the fallout from the family ties revealed in “Manhattan.” While Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) and Neal (Michael Raymond-James) enjoy some father-son bonding time over pizza, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Rumple find themselves in the doghouse with their respective sons. Fortunately, Neal doesn’t employ the passive-agressive tactics against Rumple like Henry does to Emma, but it’s still not pretty.
Punctuating this awkwardness are Rumple’s random bursts of anger at Henry. Even knowing what he’s seen concerning his future and the boy’s, the flare-ups seem out of proportion and make the story disjointed. Fortunately, the family tension is dissolved with one vicious swipe of a hook – as in Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) himself – forcing them to focus all available energy on saving Rumple instead. As luck would have it, this also brings to light the tidbit that Neal is engaged. Shocking. Or not.
The heart of the story, however, is in the past with the Young Snow (Bailee Madison) and her mother. Rena Sofer might not be known for her maternal roles, but she is well-suited for the part of Queen Eva. The scenes between she and young Madison are nothing short of touching. The queen takes an active role in the parenting of her daughter and is not afraid to reprimand the young princess for being short with the servant, Johanna (Lesley Nicol). Queen Eva tells Snow that the tiara is far heavier than it looks.
But on the eve of her big birthday ball, Eva’s health takes a mortal turn, and their faithful servant suggests that Snow seek out the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy) for a magical cure. Alas, the magic that Snow is offered isn’t something she can stomach after all. The tearful scene at her mother’s deathbed has a lot of heart and for once the dying monologue doesn’t come off as cheap or trite.
The biggest reveal of the night is something that should come as no surprise for those keeping score at home, though it’s interesting to watch the characters react to it on screen. Finally, Cora (Barbara Hershey) is unveiled as the master puppeteer both in her own daughter’s life and in Snow’s. It’s she who poisoned Queen Eva and orchestrated the events that led to Regina (Lana Parrilla) moving in as Queen. The jury’s still out on whether Regina is thankful or not.
As for Snow, the question to be explored for the remainder of the season is how many agonies she can endure before her heart moves from the pure white desired by her mother to the blackness Cora seeks. This development has potential because it taps into that human truism that doing the right thing doesn’t mean you always get the happy ending.
The danger, however, is that the writing will lean too heavily on cliches or dialogue too saccharine to be swallowed by a post-modern audience. Let’s hope for the best.
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays @8pm on ABC.