This week, the show returned to its ongoing theme of parents and children; specifically, the sacrifices a parent makes for their child and how that is brought to bear on the development and perception of how a child views parenthood.
There are parallels all over the place: King George and Charming, Cora and Regina, Snow and Emma, Ruth and Charming. But in addition to that, there’s an interesting look at how parenting isn’t something inherently contained in mere blood, but by ownership, responsibility and the depth of care a parent can give to a child.
In the ongoing plot in Storybrooke, we’re shown that David Nolan has put himself in the position of Henry’s prime caregiver, sending the boy off to school and trying to keep him out of harm’s way. But he’s not the only one doing that. We’re also shown that Regina really does have Henry’s best interests at heart and, even though the boy tricks her and emotionally manipulates her into leaving her office so he can steal her skeleton keys, it’s only when Henry is potentially put in danger that we see how much she loves him. She sends Charming to rescue Henry from her vault because she thinks that the boy won’t go with her. And, my feelings about Henry’s treatment of Regina aside, I have to point to this as proof that Regina really IS changing and that Henry has become her focal point for wanting to change.
However, the main story of the episode takes place in Fairy Tale Land. Or, at least, what’s left of it. And my excitement about that was only increased when I realized that Barbara Hershey’s Cora was back. And how.
The major development of our Fairy Tale Land adventure was encapsulated in the growing – and changing – relationship between Snow and Emma. I thought Ginny Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison did a great job with that and you know, it can’t be easy for them, having to essentially go back to the beginning with these characters and start a newer, fresher relationship between them both.
Their developing affection for one another as mother and daughter is offset by flashbacks to when King George was focused on capturing Charming and Snow. We get some great action sequences and are introduced to Lancelot. Yep, that’s right. THAT Lancelot. I’m with Emma when we meet him in the “safe haven” of Fairy Tale Land and her response is a rather laconic and weary “Really?”. Despite some of my reservations about JMo’s choices in performance, I have to say that she always nails the world-weary sarcastic part of Emma, hands down. And those facial expressions at the dinner table (chimera? Yum! It’s like turducken!) were just priceless. I think I’m rather enjoying discovering Fairy Tale Land through Emma’s eyes and it’s a lovely contrast that the show has set up for us as the audience.
Cora outs herself as Regina’s mother and Emma looks surprised. I kind of think that Emma sometimes thinks Regina was hatched, or found under a bush or something. Yes, Emma dear, Regina has a mommy and even though she’s telling you that “the apple fell very far from the tree” WE all know that’s not true, don’t we?
When Snow comes round, her instantaneous reaction is to protect Emma from Cora. “As bad as you think Regina is, this woman is worse” she tells her. But, Emma being Emma, she basically blurts out to Cora that not only does she have a son, but that she “kind of” shares him with Regina. Um…what? It’s complicated? You’re going with that, are you, Emma? Because from where I’m sitting, that’s just a whole new episode of “Henry Has Two Mommies” RIGHT THERE. Also? Telling your nemesis’ evil mother ALL about your situation back in Storybrooke? Bad move, Sheriff Swan. Bad, bad move.
I think it’s interesting, though, that Snow is so dead set against Cora. Given our scant flashbacks to the two of them interacting, it really seems that Snow, at least, has an understanding of exactly what sort of relationship Cora and Regina had. Never mind the confession at Daniel’s grave, where Snow found out that Cora had killed Daniel, I’m really hoping that this will lead to Emma having some understanding of Regina. Evil isn’t born, it’s made, after all. And if anyone is the maker of Regina’s evildoing, then it’s got to be the woman right in front of them who lies, cheats and threatens her way throughout the entire episode.
As far as villains go, though, Cora’s got it going on. And I have to admit to a prescient feeling of dread as we find out that she’s killed Lancelot, assumed his form and will do anything to get to Storybrooke. “I want to see my daughter,” she says at the end of the episode. Oh dear god. Because yes, by all means, let’s mess Regina up some more, shall we? And yes, I know, I know, Regina’s eeeeevil. But nobody deserves a mother like Cora. Not even someone who grew up to be the Evil Queen. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I like the direct contrast between Cora and Ruth, however. Charming’s mother is the epitome of maternal care, excited to meet her future daughter-in-law, obsessed with having grandchildren and making the ultimate sacrifice for her child and his happiness. It’s a wonderful way of examining what a parent SHOULD be and what a parent IS. And I have to wonder if this example isn’t precisely what informed Snow about being a good parent and making sacrifices for a child that are difficult to endure.
Ruth, shot by a poisoned arrow courtesy of King George’s men, refuses the magical waters of Lake Nostos in order to lift the curse that George placed on Snow, ensuring that she would never have children. To Charming’s mother, her own life is meaningless when balanced against the progeny of her son and his true love. It’s a far cry from ripping out Daniel’s heart under the guise of “doing what’s best” for one’s child and provides a mirror for us to look into and imagine what might have been, had Cora given thought to anyone’s desires but her own.
There’s even a contrast between that and Storybrooke, where David thinks that keeping Henry away from magic is the best thing for him, and where Jefferson thinks that staying away from Grace is what’s best for her. As parents, David and Jefferson are making choices that they think will protect their children. But both are proven wrong, and here’s where I have a bit of an issue with young Henry. You see, the kid is actively seeking to reject the woman who has cared for him his entire life, and throwing himself into the arms of a woman who is, essentially, a runner when things get a little too real. His belief in the fact that blood is thicker than water runs rife in this episode, as he uses Regina’s emotional attachment as a weapon whilst at the same time convincing Jefferson that reuniting with Grace is the right thing to do. I wish the kid was written a little better, you know? Because his outright defiance of everyone and everything (he skips school, he steals Regina’s keys, he breaks into her vault, he messes with those nasty serpents in the box he finds there) makes him a distinctly unsympathetic character to me. And even though I want to see happy families all round, I can’t help feeling that Henry is constantly rewarded for his actions instead of them being brought to bear on his conscience. At this point in the show, I’m not even sure Henry HAS a conscience to be pricked by facing up to what he’s doing.
All that aside, I really did enjoy the Fairy Tale Land action in the show. Lancelot was a great addition to the cast (hot, hot, HOT) and it was somewhat fulfilling to see him turn from punisher to savior in the space of one episode. And even if the Lancelot who interacted with Emma and Snow in the present day wasn’t REALLY Lancelot, we got to see him be a true hero in the flashbacks, coming to Snow and Charming’s aid through a sense of honor that we associate with his legendary tale.
My greatest joy in the episode, however, was probably Emma. You know, when Mulan is all up in her face about ogres, Emma treats her with the same sort of dismissive confidence that I’ve missed from JMo’s performances. She’s also a nice foil for Mulan, who appears to have no sense of humor whatsoever. Maybe that’s what happens when you become a warrior. Either way, I did sort of love how Emma manages to mess things up without even really trying. I mean, a gun against an ogre? Really, Emma? Did you learn NOTHING about fighting Maleficent last season?
“Have you ever seen an ogre?” Mulan asks. “Pretty sure I’ve dated a few,” Emma responds. Oh…yes. Well, haven’t we all, Emma? I remember this one girl who…
No. Wait. Not important right now. Or ever.
What’s great about the scene with the ogre as it attacks Emma and we fear for our hero’s safety is that Snow really comes to the fore. Mary Margaret Blanchard seems a million miles away as it’s Snow who saves Emma’s life, dispatching the ogre with pinpoint accuracy and skill with a bow and arrow. I think I like this woman a lot, and it’s actually a lovely character note to see the sort of traits that have been passed on from mother to daughter. That, if anything, is more convincing than all the speeches either Snow or Emma might make about family and parenthood.
Which brings me to my favorite scene of the entire episode. Snow takes Emma back to the castle she shared with Charming and Emma sees the nursery where she should have grown up. “I was going to teach you how to walk in here, how to talk, how to dress for your first ball. You never got to do any of it. We never got to be a family.”
Oh, my feels. And unexpectedly so. I never thought I’d be teary-eyed over Snow and Emma, but Ginny Goodwin really sells this scene. And so does JMo, when later she confesses that she’s not used to anyone putting her first. For me, this is the crux of Emma’s character, the thing that has made her into the person she is. And it’s ironic really, as the very reason she was in our world in the first place is precisely because her parents put her first. HER safety was paramount above theirs, but it’s only now that she seems to realize it. It’s a beautiful scene, in which Emma tells Snow that she’s been angry at her for “so long”. But she also knows that they “gave up everything for me” and her halting, choked admission is just beautiful as mother and daughter have a proper reunion, tears and all.
Before they leave the nursery, Snow looks back and sees it as it was, warm and bright and with the giggling laughter of an infant echoing in her ears. Ouch. And all that’s been taken away from her is painfully obvious to us all as well as to Emma. I think that’s probably one of the most enduring themes of this show, though; the inability to make up for lost time and the reality of having to deal with the past, as unchangeable and set as it is.
This is also explored in Storybrooke in the burgeoning relationship between Charming and Henry. David turns up with two wooden swords and teaches Henry some moves (and Josh Dallas is probably the cutest man ever in this scene and will make someone a lovely daddy one day; just saying). He can’t make up for lost time with Henry, but there’s an optimism between them both as he tells the boy that he can’t get Emma and Snow back without him. Aww, male bonding. Now, if only Charming can get Henry to stop being such an ass to Regina, I’ll gladly go with him and his “feelings” and “I will always find you” schtick.
But, as usual, there are no happy endings in Storybrooke. At least, not right now. And from a parked car, someone is watching David and Henry indulge in some machismo and swordplay. It’s King George. Oooh, I do love me some Alan Dale. And, considering that George is a Bitter Betty when it comes to love and marriage – he previously told Snow that he was in love and lost his wife – I can’t help but think he’s going to try and enact some terrible revenge on David.
You see, one thing I’ve learned from watching this show is that a happy ending isn’t easily won. Nor is it a given for anyone. And with George and Cora on the rampage, I can’t help but imagine that things in Storybrooke are only going to get a LOT worse…
Notable mentions: When Aurora is a total princess and stumbling through the wood, Emma takes off her jacket and offers it to her in a very gentlemanlike manner. Where in frilly heck did those Sacred Arms of Plenty come from? I don’t remember Emma being so…well, BUFF last season. I may have even swooned a little.
The venomous look that Red gives Charming when he mentions being caught with their “tails between their legs”. I’m willing to bet that girl’s bark is JUST as bad as her bite. And I can’t wait to see more when Red’s episode finally rolls around this season.