Has Cora (Barbara Hershey) truly breathed her last breath on Once Upon A Time?

It would seem so from tonight’s episode, ‘The Miller’ Daughter.’But then things on this show are rarely what they seem. But whether Cora remains dead or not, this episode seems to set the pace for the remainder of the season.

However, before the twist at the end of the episode, the show returns to the beginning of Cora’s story to help explain some of the choices she’s made over the years. And at the forefront, we discover why it is so important that Cora see her daughter, Regina (Lana Parrilla), take the throne. For this trip back in time, Rose McGowan takes on the role of Young Cora and does a good job capturing the enormous presence that is Barbara Hershey.

McGowan first appears on screen in a peasant’s outfit, looking no more or less unassuming than any of the other guest stars that have flitted on and off the show. It’s not until she is humiliated in the royal court and made to kneel before everyone that the familiar fire is kindled in her eyes. That flame is then fanned into the full-blown hatred Cora will carry with her into her latter years by none other than Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle).

ONCE UPON A TIME Season 2 Episode 16 Cora Rumple Once Upon A Time Season 2, Episode 16: Darkness Falls

Of all the women we’ve seen in Rumple’s life, Cora is by far the one who dovetails best with him. Both come from the lower class and both have fathers of low esteem within the community. Both were pressed so low that they feel the bitter taste of humiliation everywhere they go. However, they’re both equally cunning and neither one can be easily hoodwinked.

Whereas Rumple’s relationship with Belle (Emilie de Ravin) is one that could raise him to his highest potential, his relationship with Cora brings out all of the worst things in him and it’s more than believable that these two could have taken over the world together. It’s probably for the best that Cora locked her heart in a box and left Rumple in the dust as she climbed the ladder of success, because had the two stayed together, they almost certainly would’ve wreaked even more havoc on the Enchanted Forest.

In the end, however, Cora is too ambitious for her own good. Phase one of her plan works in that she gains subjects to kneel before her, and she orchestrates matters to place her own daughter on the throne. Once the curse comes, she has Regina and Rumple right where she wants them so that she can win back her daughter’s affections and usurp Rumple’s position as the Dark One.

ONCE UPON A TIME Season 2 Episode 16 Cora Regina Once Upon A Time Season 2, Episode 16: Darkness Falls

The detail she overlooks, however, is how successful she is in luring Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) into the darkness. As a child, Snow’s views were too black and white for her to accept Cora’s lure to trade one life for another. But one dead mother, a curse, and a lifetime away from her husband and daughter has introduced some shades of gray into Snow’s world and this time the choice is not so clearcut.

The cursed candle Cora gave to Snow as a child becomes her own undoing, and in the end, Snow uses the mother-daughter relationship against Regina and Cora. And the only question that remains is, what will Storybrooke look like now that the lines between right and wrong have become so blurred?

Once Upon a Time airs Sundays @8pm on ABC.

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