Things are heating up over at ‘Once Upon a Time’! In the last episode, Hook managed to get his revenge on the crocodile which meant that Emma, Henry, and Neal have to return to Storybrooke in order to save Mr. Gold. and Cora’s plan to become the new Dark One is one step closer to being attained.

But did you ever wonder why Cora is so cold? This week we find out as the episode not only explores the backstory of the evil Queen but also her attempts to fulfill her evil plans.

What do you mean I have to apologize?!

The episode begins in Fairy Tale land where we see a young Cora who is a daughter of a miller who would rather drink himself to stupor than work for his wages. Cora delivers the flour to the king that her father was supposed to do earlier that day and as she heads to the kitchen, Princess Eva (yes, Snow’s mother before she became queen) trips the lowly peasant girl. Cora is indignant and King Xavier is none too happy with her insolence. He threatens to no longer use her as their flour supplier unless she goes on her knees and apologizes to the Princess. Humiliated, Cora does as she is told.

The real world portion of the episode picks up with the Storybrookians (what else would you call the people from the town of Storybrooke, right?) heading back to their town on Hook’s ship. Emma confers with Rumple about the dangers of Cora and Regina now owning the dagger and tells him since they’re family now, she’s going to save him.

Back in Storybrooke, Regina has bugged Mary Margaret’s phone and they find out that Rumple is dying. This is not acceptable to Cora because if Rumple dies before being stabbed with the dagger, the Dark One’s powers will fade into nothingness. She’s determined to make sure she becomes the Dark One and makes plans to kill Rumple herself.

This is where Regina realizes that her mother is in it for the magic and not for the love of her family as she has told her daughter in the past. But Cora insists that it is for Regina and Henry. Without her gaining the powers, they will “spend the rest of their short lives on their knees.” Apparently King Xavier’s treatment of her has left her truly traumatized.

Sign on the dotted line and you can have the Prince…

See one night back in Fairy Tale land, young Cora decided to crash the masquerade ball at the castle. She managed to catch Prince Henry’s eye and they although they shared a dance, her happiness was short lived as King Xavier cuts in. The jig is up as the King recognizes her as the miller’s daughter. He tells her to leave and to further her humiliation, he rubs in that his kind is miles above lower class peasants like her and she has nothing to offer to help the kingdom’s coffers. That infuriates her so she makes up a lie and tells him that she is special because she can spin straw into gold but since he has insulted her, she won’t help the kingdom.

But the King is too smart allow her to get away with such a lie, so he announces her claim to everyone in the ball and states that if she can indeed spin straw into gold by the next morn, she can marry Prince Henry.

Trapped, Cora doesn’t know what to do. If the straw is not turned into gold, the King will order her death. Just then, Rumplestiltskin appears and offers Cora a deal. He tells her he will turn the straw to gold for her first born child. But Cora ups the deal and asks that he also teaches her magic.

Rumple reveals the secret to suing and Cora finds out that they share a common experience of humiliation at the boots of others who think they are superior to them. At this point, Rumple is digging the evilness that is coming out of Cora.

The next morning, Cora shows the King the gold and Prince Henry proposes.

Coming back to the present, Emma, Neal, Gold and Henry arrive in Storybrooke and are met by David, Ruby and Mary Margaret. Gold confirms that if Cora was controlling him with the dagger, they would be dead by now. This enrages Mary Margaret as she’s had enough of Cora destroying everything and everyone dear to her and is bent on vengeance. David tries to talk her out of it saying she has a pure heart and he’d like to see it stay that way, but you know the ol’ saying… a woman scorned…

Three muggles and a noob witch against 2 evil Queens? Sounds like a fair fight.

The group prepares for battle at Gold’s pawn shop and he shows Mary Margaret that he has the candle that was given to her to save her mother. He tells her she can save him. Just curse Cora’s heart with the candle and place her heart back into her body. She will die and he will live. Of course, Mary Margaret counters that she could get Cora’s heart thus control her to do the right thing and allow Gold to die. Kill two birds with one heart stone. But Gold asks can she live with the fact that Henry will then know that she killed his grandfather? Damn her pure heart!

Gold teaches Emma how to cast a protection spell around the building by telling her to use her emotions and feelings just like he taught Cora. However, the spell really has no effect against the two evil queens. As Cora and Regina walk into the shop, Mary Margaret uses this opportunity to sneak away to find Cora’s heart. The muggles and novice witch are no match for the witchy women but Emma manages to gain the upper hand over Regina and shoves her into Cora so that Neal and her can get to Gold.

As the queens are about to follow, Cora feels a pain in her chest. She tells Regina to head to the vault where Mary Margaret already is at and is in the process of cursing it with the candle wax.

Cora, in the meantime, is going after Gold.

Cora’s choice: Follow her heart with Rumple or choose power and marry the prince.

So how did their relationship sour since Rumple did after all help Cora gain the Prince’s hand? Well, on the eve of her wedding day, the student and teacher had a short tryst and she tells him that being 5th in line to be queen is not exactly what she wanted. She tells Rumple she wants his love (which makes him happy as he has the hots for her) which prompts him to amend the contract from her giving him her first born child to her giving him his first born child. She agrees but under one condition: she wants to kill the King for humiliating her by showing him his heart as she crushes it. This is a turn on for Rumple and he proceeds to show her how to do it. They seal the promise with a kiss. Ew….

The time has come for Cora’s revenge. She tells the King she doesn’t love the Prince but he already knows it. He tells her to make a choice: run off with Rumple in the name of love or stay with the Prince and become Queen of the Kingdom. Love or power; the choice is hers.

She made her choice. Cora meets Rumple in the woods as promised but with her heart in a box. She tells him that she chose not to take the King’s heart but instead took hers out instead. She knew her heart would stop her from really getting what she thought she deserved and now any baby she has won’t be his to take.

Later, in a scene very reminiscent of ‘The Lion King,’ (after all, we’re dealing with Disney here), Cora lifts baby Regina up above her head as the Royal Court bows announcing one day she will be queen. (At this point, I’m expecting the “Circle of Life” to begin playing….Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba..)

Back in Storybrooke, Gold is near death and asks to speak to Belle on the phone. He speaks from his heart and tells her who she is in his eyes:

“I know that you’re… confused about who you are. So I’m gonna tell you. You are a hero who helped your people. You’re a beautiful woman who loved an ugly man. Really, really loved me. You find goodness in others. And when it’s not there, you create it. You make me want to go back… back to the best version of me. And that never happened before. So when you look in the mirror and you don’t know who you are, that’s who you are. Thank you… Belle.”

At this point, the romantic gesture has not only won my heart but brought a tear to my eye. Kudos to the writers and to Robert Carlyle for making someone who can be so despicable at times to show that underneath it all, he has a heart of gold.

Gold is not done showing his regrets as he apologizes to his son and tells him that he loves him. The disappointed little boy in Neal is still angry, but the man he is now holds the hand of his dying father in forgiveness.

Regina finds Mary Margaret with Cora’s heart. She tells Regina that she’s there to give it to her because she knows the Cora can never really love her because she doesn’t have a one. Guess Snow White no longer has a heart that’s pure as she has now crossed the line with her use of manipulation and duplicity. She tempts Regina by telling her this is her chance to really have a loving family with Henry or she can live with the fact her mother is the Dark One.

The ramifications of Mary Margaret’s action has now hit the former princess…

Cora finally gets close to Rumple and before he dies asks her if she ever really loved him. She replies, “Why do you think I had to rip my heart out? You were my weakness. You were the only man I truly loved.” But before she can stab Rumple with the dagger, Regina places Cora’s heart back into her body. Cora smiles with love for the first time at Regina.

Gold suddenly feels alive and before Cora can give Regina a hug, she clutches her chest and falls to the ground. The poison that once ravaged Gold’s body is now coursing through Cora and she dies.

Regina is heartbroken. For a brief moment there was love between them. She accuses Gold of stealing Cora’s life but he knows what really happened. Mary Margaret runs in to try to stop Regina and that’s when the evil stepmother realizes this was all Mary Margaret’s doing.

The fecal matter has truly hit the fan now!

Love is a funny thing. Some seek this elusive feeling as a means of acknowledgement. It can make one weak and prevent them from achieving greatness. In some cases, it can break the wall of anger so that forgiveness can come forth. And in others, it can redeem you. Love can bring out the best in a person or be your downfall. Yet even when considered a curse, it is still a precious commodity hoped to be obtained by those who don’t have it. And this episode of ‘Once Upon a Time’ beautifully expressed all that.

I really enjoyed ‘The Miller’s Daughter’ and would love to know what you thought of the episode! Share your thoughts in the comments below.